The Owners vol. I: Alone
Half asleep still, eyelids glued tight to one another, he fought his way to full wakefulness. His vision was blurred. Light deprived in their slumber, his pupils were too dilated to cope with the sudden light flooding into them and he was forced to blink rapidly just to focus. He had only a fraction of a second, to react to what he feared was coming.
“Please don’t …” throat still clogged with sleep, his voice was almost unrecognisable, even to him.
Caught in his peripheral vision, the wickedly sharp talons looked even longer and fiercer than normal. Curved like scimitars, their ends honed down to razor sharp glistening points, they seemed to hover for a moment over his face, before journeying downwards toward his throat. All was silent and still now. Only the talons moved.
The drone of an insect outside served to shatter the silence, its thrum a seeming answer to the staccato drumbeat of his heart. Perspiration salted his face and adrenaline flooded his veins. He could feel his blood pumping, almost hear its rhythm, as it coursed through his jugular…even as the talons descended.
Swooping down in a rapid arc too fast for him to counteract, he at once perceived the beauty of the deadly implements in their gleaming blackness. As if in slow motion he watched, fascinated, as their lethal points impaled the sheet which covered his body, puncturing the material as if it had no more resistance than paper. And then tossed it to the floor.
“EEEEKKBBRR.” Second time around, the noise was no less awful.
Distracted for a moment from the creature who stood before him, his gaze was drawn to the sheet, which had not at once fallen into a crumpled pile, as he would have expected, but instead retained some tension of shape, as though it now covered and obscured some other hidden monster.
“EEEEKKBBRR!” the creature cried once more, causing the boy’s name to echo around in his head, finally bringing him fully awake and aware of his surroundings. That high-pitched almost electronic whine, fading into a clicking rasping noise, never failed to get his attention.
This time, the talons descended to his hair, ruffling it with a strange combination of irritation and tenderness. Their lethal potential held in tight check, the sharp points scraped gently across his scalp in a rather pleasant way, bringing forth a set of shivers which tingled down the length of his spine. He rubbed his eyes and stretched lazily on the soft bed. He hated being woken up in this way.
Unconsciously, he reached for the sheet, intending to drag it over his head and go back to sleep. But his questing fingers found only his nightclothes. The cover was now on the floor.
For a moment, a fragment of the dream he had been immersed in, lingered in his mind, and there was a vague memory of something significant that had happened once. But then like an ephemeral puff of smoke, it vanished without a trace.
“EEEEKKBBRR,” his Owner called once again, hopping up and down on his thin scaly legs whilst flapping his wings furiously. This wing beating business and the flurry of dust it kicked up, always caused San to cough. Belatedly, he tried to cover his mouth but the tickle was already there in the back of his throat and his body launched itself into full scale paroxysms of coughing.
Unfortunately, this agitated his Owner even more, who then accelerated the hopping and wing flapping, causing San to cough even longer and harder.
“Stop flapping around,” the boy managed to gasp out. “It just makes you look like a huge chicken, you know. It’s not exactly a threatening look, if that’s what you were aiming for.”
OwnSan’s bald head was almost scraping the wooden ceiling and was causing San to nod his head up and down very quickly, just to keep him in sight. Put together with the coughing, this resulted in him feeling quite sick, his head movements were so jerky and rapid. Instead, he swallowed back any further coughs and tried to keep his head still and only move his eyes, keeping them fixed on his Owner.
This wasn’t any better or easier and made him wonder if his eyes might roll themselves right out of his head. San sniggered at the idea of his eyes rolling around on the floor, following OwnSan wherever he went, following him up and down, round and round and round, rolling and rolling.
“Now that might just give you a bit of a shock,” he stated, knowing full well he wouldn’t be understood anyway.
Sensing that his Pet was not paying attention, the Eyon took a huge breath, causing his feathered chest to expand, and prepared to shriek again. It was doubtful that OwnSan realised San found it all highly amusing – Eyons were not known for their sense of humour, but still, it didn’t pay to be openly laughing.
The Eyon’s chest puffed out to its full extent, displaying his colours of muted green and grey, interspersed with swirls of gold.
Colourful and beautiful as OwnSan was, San couldn’t help but be reminded of the chicken dinner he had had he previous evening. This made him snigger even more as the ludicrous image of OwnSan perched on a giant plate appeared in his mind.
Groaning now with suppressed mirth, he shook his head in an attempt to rid himself of such thoughts. Clearly, the Eyon was in a hurry this morning.
“EEEEKKBBRR!” he squawked impatiently once more, his scaly throat clicking and screeching out the strange mixture of sounds even more than normal and turning it almost into a reproach, rather than just San’s Eyon name.
The boy swung his legs to the floor. “Ok, ok, I get the message, Clickclickclicky,” he said jokingly, using the nearest attempt he could make, to match the sound of his Owner’s Eyon name, CLCLCLEE.
This had a strange effect upon OwnSan, who now stood, head cocked to one side, as if waiting for San to say something else in his strange sounding version of Eyon, which didn’t quite manage to hit the right notes.
“So what do you expect? I’m Human. And if you care to remember, I once tried so hard to match your shrieks, that my lips dried up and cracked.” San touched his lips at the memory, his hand unconsciously trailing down to rest on his throat, which had also suffered badly in the attempt, becoming raw and strained.
OwnSan remained rooted to the spot, listening intently and regarding San with eyes very wide, as if he had never really seen him before. As if he was looking at him for the very first time.
“You know I was actually worried that my tongue might be permanently stuck to the roof of my mouth, after that.”
“Yyymklllllljjjhhdiiieeerroooo,” shrilled the Eyon, either in response to what he assumed San was saying, or regarding something completely different, there was no way of knowing.
“I haven’t a clue what you are on about but look I’m getting up, ok?” he shuffled himself to the edge of the bed, preparing to shift his weight onto his legs but in no real hurry to do so.
“Yes, yes OwnSan, I’m getting up,” he groaned, as he stood, stretched, pulled off his nightclothes and discarded them in a heap on the floor. He would tidy the room and remake the bed later. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Did it really matter, anyway? He’d only be getting back into it later, messing it up once more.
Seemingly happy that his Pet was now responding appropriately, and recognising the human version of his name in San’s sentence, OwnSan stopped flapping his wings and jumping around. “Kkkkbrr,” he called to San’s retreating back, ruffling his feathers happily this time.
Unpuffed up, the gold feathers looked less majestic than before. San wasn’t sure if the colour had really changed, or if it was some kind of illusion. And whether it was done deliberately to get attention, or just happened naturally and without any effort.
OwnSan waddled into the other room, leaving him alone to ponder that thought. Taking full advantage of the solitude, San headed for the washroom, deciding a little impromptu experiment was called for. He took the largest breath his chest could hold and shook himself all over. Cheeks puffed out with the held-in breath, he regarded himself in the mirror. He looked rather ridiculous but basically no different to how he had before.
He could just make out a high-pitched whine and series of clicks, coming from the other room. It sounded vaguely like “Kkkkbrr.”
“Hmm and Kkkkbrr to you too,” he mumbled to his reflection, “whatever that means.” Like all Pets, he was happy to respond to the few phrases he recognised and if the truth were told, ignore those phrases which he vaguely understood but didn’t want to obey. He figured that being dumb was pitiful, but acting dumb when it suited you, well that was nothing short of genius!
Opening the Clean Zone cubicle doors, he stepped inside and waited for them to fully close behind him, before choosing the first selection from the programme panel in front of him. He pushed the button and sighed as the perfect mixture of warm water and steam washed away the last remnants of sleep.
Mischievously, he leapt up and down under the water spray, flapping his arms and nodding his head in an imitation of OwnSan. “Kkkkbrr,” he told himself.
Eventually the water ceased its flow but just as it was replaced by a current of warm air, thick with a scented moisturising fluid, the washroom door opened and OwnSan entered the room.
It was an unprecedented situation and unfortunately for the Eyon, too good an opportunity to miss. Body and hair still soaking wet from his shower, San ignored the drying cycle and instead, wrenched open the cubicle doors and launched himself out of it, in one quick movement.
OwnSan, was clearly taken off guard. Then suddenly as he realised his Pet’s intentions, his face morphed into a mask of horror and he shrank backwards and away from San, as if trying to press himself through the wood of the closed door.
Dripping puddles onto the wooden floor where he stood, directly in front of his Owner, San clenched all his muscles tight into him, before he shook himself vigorously, jettisoning water in every direction, with OwnSan somehow becoming the unwilling recipient of most of it.
“UUUHHHHHGGGTTTT,” he shrieked, holding his wings out to the side and looking aghast down the length of his body. With an urgency that rather startled San, the Eyon began to brush away the droplets of moisture, shaking himself and fluffing his feathers at the same time.
“Oh ok. Um, sorry,” San apologised, watching the commotion he had caused. “I guess it wasn’t as funny as I thought it would be.”
Mostly the Eyon looked the same as ever, except for around his chest, which had taken the brunt of the splash. Here the Eyon’s body looked deflated, strangely pushed in. Probably it was just that the wet feathers now clung to his skin, instead of puffing out but the sight of it make San feel a little sick. It looked indented, like a cavity. Like a wound.
San swallowed the lump which had arisen in his throat. The feeling of uneasiness, of a wrongness here, which sometimes was so strong, it woke him in the middle of the night, resurfaced. Not for the first time, he wondered what would happen if he left his Owner. Assuming of course, it was even possible to leave.
Still rubbing at his feathers to help dry them, OwnSan turned abruptly from San and hurried back through the door. All at once San felt miserable. He had upset his Owner with his stupid prank. How much worse would they both feel, if he abandoned the Eyon who cared so much for him?
Unwittingly, his eyes sought out their reflection in the mirror. He supposed he didn’t really look any different to how he normally did. His skin was the same shade it always was, a sort of burnished olive. And his nose and mouth were as distinctively wide as before. His eyes were still brown, his hair still dark blonde and he still had a smattering of freckles that could just be seen on his nose - but he was starting to feel different.
Whatever it was that was causing this change of feeling was not apparent from the outside. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. And it wasn’t all the time either. It was just that sometimes…sometimes he had this feeling that things should be different to what they were.
He shook his head to clear it and hurried back to the bedroom. Now was not the time to be dilly dallying with idle fancies.
“I’m out now and getting ready” he called, his tone trite and apologetic, trying to make it up to OwnSan for spraying him.
Turning his back on the rumpled bed and abandoned nightclothes – what he couldn’t see, he didn’t need to fix – he selected a stripy red top and grey trousers from his wardrobe. Pulling them on quickly, he took a moment to run his fingers through his hair in a vague attempt to smooth it into some form of style.
But on the very brink of leaving the room, he stopped and instead returned to the wardrobe. Squatting down, he reached into the furthest left hand corner, fumbled around for a moment, then when his fingers found what they sought, he grasped it and pulled it out into the light.
Light bounced off the small metal object as he turned it his fingers. Examined so many times, over so many years, its image was imprinted in his mind, the weight and feel of it stored in his memory. Yet it still held some magical power over him, so that he became transfixed at the sight of it.
The size of a small flat pebble, it was almost circular. He lightly ran his finger over its one smooth curved edge and one roughly hewn one. It still looked as if a part, almost half, had been roughly hacked off and no attempt had been made to smooth this newly made edge. There was also a small hole in the top, through which, a worn old strip of leather had been fed. Too small for him now that he was fourteen, it had once been a necklet.
He remembered wearing it when he was younger. Wearing it every day, until one day the leather was suddenly too tight, too small for his neck. He had removed it then and placed it for safekeeping in the wardrobe. But out of sight, had not meant out of mind. Not for him, anyway.
No other Pets had anything like it and everyone who saw it remarked upon it. But no one could explain it. Nor did they seem particularly bothered by that fact. Only San did. Only he felt that there was some truth there, waiting to be found and that maybe the truth resided as much in the missing part, as in the part that he had in his keeping.
Something occurred to him. If there was one person who might possibly understand the significance of it, it was probably the one person San had never spoken to …yet, anyway.
Closing the wardrobe door without replacing the necklet, he instead wound the leather strap round and round his upper arm, till it was tight enough to tie and not slip down. Then he carefully folded the short sleeve of his top over it, so that it was hidden from view, whilst the lower part of his arm remained visible. He didn’t know why he was being careful to keep it hidden, it just seemed important and he went with his gut feeling.
That done, he hurried through the wooden doorway, the metal cool against the side of his arm, where it lay. “I’m on my way,” he called, finding that the occasional progress report halted any potential wing flapping flurries. The floorboards felt warm against his bare feet and he was suddenly struck by the beauty of his home, here in Low Forrest.
The harsh sunlight, which pierced the window in its strong and direct glare, was now mellowed and softened in the burnished reflections of the polished wooden walls. The knots and imperfections of the wood resembling tiny worlds of intricacies, too complex to be fully understood.
In passing, he glanced through the window to find the view as breathtakingly beautiful as ever. An amazing variety of trees stood like proud sentinels around a spectacular natural lake. Trees stretched on into infinity in every direction – luscious light-green foliage appearing to vie with emerald and jade for the eye’s attention. Yet the trees also seemed to be collaborating with one another, joining forces in an attempt to outdo the drama of the brilliant blue sky reflected in the shimmering perfection of the silvery lake.
This scene, with its myriad colours and composition was so intense and so contrastingly stunning, it almost made San’s eyes hurt. Each tree was unique, either in size or shape or shade to its neighbour, just as the houses lodged within the heart of the tree, sitting snug amongst its highest branches were different. There were large tree houses and small ones, round ones and rectangular ones and even some which didn’t fit any one particular shape but instead were a weird blend of curves and angles.
Similarly the colours of the houses were all different. No, actually he thought, that’s not true. The colour was all the same – green – it was the sheer variety of shades of green which made them seem so dramatically different. Yet what struck San at that precise moment, was how each tree house conformed to and in fact complimented, the size and shape of the tree it was lodged in. It was almost as if each house had merged and blended with the branches to become a living part of its tree.
The day was warm but a slight breeze rippled its way across the surface of the lake and was answered in the shimmering of the leaves on the trees. To San it almost looked as if the trees were waving to one another, calling “How are you this fine morning?”
A vague memory tiptoed once again through his mind but like a fleeting shadow on a wall, it evaded his grasp and was gone. All he was left with, was that feeling of wrongness, that somehow things were not as they should be.
Shaking his head as if awed by the wondrous sight before him, he approached OwnSan who was already plugged in to his machine and oblivious to everything around him.
Striding towards the kitchen, he spoke to his Owner as if the Eyon were actually interested and listening, it helped him feel less alone, less abandoned.
“Ah what wonders I will create for us this morning, my Owner, I will surely surpass myself!” His sarcasm went unnoticed as usual.
He was relieved to see that the wet feathers had dried out and looked completely normal once more. The butterflies which had been fluttering in his stomach ever since the prank, now seemed to dissolve and disappear and were instead replaced with hunger pangs.
Working swiftly if not particularly skilfully in the kitchen, he cooked up what he hoped was an appetising breakfast. He filled two plates from the steaming pans in front of him, and carrying them back into the other room, placed one in his own place and the other ceremoniously in front of OwnSan.
“You will see that we’re trying out a new recipe today – congealed scrambled egg with shell, on a bed of cremated bacon. I’ll excuse you if you don’t applaud me for my inventiveness.” He softened the jest with a wide grin. Life was just too boring if you couldn’t stick your tongue out at it every now and again.
Belying its looks, this time the food actually tasted ok and if you could tune out all the slurps, grunts and general noise which came out of the Eyon’s full to overflowing mouth, it was a rather pleasant meal. San chattered on between mouthfuls of food.
“I slept quite well, thanks for asking. And no, I wasn’t too hot or too cold but I could have done with another couple of hours. Oh and it would have been nice to have awoken to birdsong, rather than Eyon screech! ”
It was a one-sided conversation, more of a monologue really but he preferred that to the alternative – the empty silence, where his inner-most thoughts grew in significance and importance, until they were all consuming.
OwnSan sat erect beside San, symbols and figures scrolling rapidly across the screen in front of him, whilst he shovelled food into his mouth with one taloned wing tip. The information moved so quickly, each line seeming to blur into the next, that there appeared to be no definition of meaning. A single talon from OwnSan’s other wing tip extended into the input terminal of this electronic box, serving to connect him directly to the machine.
There was a thin keening noise, only interrupted by occasional soft bleeps, coming from somewhere in the room. Even after all these years of living together, San was never sure if it was the machine which emitted the noise, or if it came more directly from his Owner.
He had once spent an entire afternoon trying to ascertain the source of the noise, completely without success. Frustrating as it had been, he had learned something that day – if you were going to spend time and effort doing something, you may as well make sure it was something worth doing. He intended to stick to that philosophy.