Entry to 'Short Shots'.
And all the human beings were trapped in their homes, afraid of a deadly enemy that they could not see or hear. This enemy had already claimed many, many victims, but did not seem to be appeased. So, the humans were fearful of stepping outdoors, meeting friends, touching anything new or even breathing the air without filtering it first.
The wisest among the humans knew it had been their own fault. They had, after all, ignored every warning sign, disregarded every cry from their mother, the Earth. They were responsible for the creation of this enemy. Their heedless actions helped the enemy to flourish, to spread, to seek more prey.
But in the absence of humans outdoors, a great upheaval was taking place. The mountains were heaving, the clouds were splitting and gathering with a fervid rapidity. The ground shook. It wasn't an earthquake. It was something else.
Something seemed to be rising from the depths of the Earth. Something was being born.
Feeling the pangs of the Earth giving birth, other creatures took shelter as well. They went in to their caves, their burrows, their nests, their hives. So there was no living eye to watch as the light emerged. It was fettered, at first, by cords. Umbilical cords? Nobody knew. But slowly, as it emerged, it broke free of the fetters and hung there, suspended, white-hot, gleaming.
Was it alive?
It had been born. Didn't that imply that it had life? But it wasn't behaving like a live thing. At least, not like any known live thing.
Since there was nobody to watch, there is no record of how long it hung there – suspended just above the tips of the blades of grass. After what might have been minutes or hours or days, it moved. With a soft whooshing sound, it skimmed the blades of grass in a zig-zag fashion, almost as if it was following a trail or scent, or perhaps the call of some distant voice.
So it skimmed, till the grass gave way to dry mud and the dry mud gave way to tarred roads and the tarred roads branched into smaller and smaller roads. It wove its way through small lanes, turning and twisting till suddenly, it shot straight upward.
Natasha wasn't surprised.
She had been lying on her side on her rather hard bed, unable to fall asleep. Propping her head up on her palm, her elbow pressed into her pillow, she had been staring at the open window. When the shiny orb appeared, she knew that it was what she had been waiting for.
She didn't get out of bed at once. With her eyes, she followed the orb as it entered through the window and lowered itself on to the rug on the floor. It glided across the rug and stopped inches from Natasha's bed. Then, she sat up. Her blanket fell off her in a heap on the bed, revealing the purple-rabbit sweater she always slept in. When the purple-rabbit sweater was in the laundry, she wore a plain white T-shirt to bed, but the sweater wasn't often in the laundry. She had two pairs of bright orange pajama bottoms, so she always had one of those to sleep in.
She sat up and stretched. Should she put on slippers? Somehow, she didn't think she needed to. She stood up and looked down at the orb. "Will you be able to take my weight?" she asked. The orb glowed purple and orange for a second and then went back to its original white hot light. Natasha turned. She was now backing it. She lowered herself slowly. She was sitting on the orb. She shuffled a bit, made herself comfortable and felt for something to hold.
There was nothing. She would have to keep her balance.
"I'm ready," she said.
The orb rose. It felt neither hot nor cold under her. She wasn't afraid of falling. She wasn't afraid of anything at all. In fact, she wasn't feeling anything much. She knew she ought to be excited, but she wasn't. This just seemed to be the way things should be, this was what should happen, and she had to be part of it.
The orb knew how to maneuver and they were out of the window and on the street in a trice. Then the orb retraced its route. Back along the narrow streets, back to the main tarred road, back up the muddy tracks ... back to the clearing where it had been born. The orb stopped at the brink of the crater its birth had left behind.
Natasha took a moment to look around, to breathe the air and admire the wild beauty of her surroundings. Then she alighted – slowly, carefully. The orb moved around till it was on the other side of the crater and casting its light for her to peer downward. She knelt at the crater's edge and craned her neck to see what its depths would reveal.
"She is here," the blades of grass whispered.
"She is here," the trees echoed.
And then the clouds, the mountains, indeed all of nature seemed to be vibrating with the words, "She is here."
Slowly, the living creatures emerged from their caves and their burrows and their nests and their hives. They grunted and snorted and roared and neighed and sang and hissed and buzzed. "She is here! She is here! Natasha is here!" They gathered speed, they grew louder. "Natasha is here!"
Natasha felt the air tingle, the grass rustle, the ground shake as they neared. Afraid of falling down the crater, she backed away. Her gaze fell on the creatures now approaching her. It was colour and movement and sound – but most of all, it was something intangible – a feeling of belonging, of family. She knew all of them. She was their sister, they were her kith and kin.
They drew nearer and nearer and nearer ... but ... did they not see it? They were heading straight for the orb, for the crater just beyond it, heedlessly, madly. She wanted to cry out, to warn them, but somehow she could not. Just as a hoof was raised, poised to fall on the orb, the orb melted away to nothingness. The crater closed. There she was among the gigantic mountains surrounded by thousands of two-legged, four-legged, six-or-eight-legged and no-legged beings who were suddenly silent.
Every eye was turned on her.
She stood up and looked all around her, turning a full circle, three hundred and sixty degrees. Though there were thousands of them, she felt she was looking each one personally in the eyes as she gazed. When the circle was complete, she took a few deep breaths and spoke.
"Why am I here?" she asked.
The silence was immense, and yet, the answer came. It came as a chorus of thought, of feeling from each one and the group as a whole. "You are here to save your species."
All at once, she was struck by the absurdity of it all. Here she was, barefoot, in the most bizarre mismatched outfit, being called upon to save the human race. She couldn't help adding, "And why am I in pajamas for this great responsibility and honor?"
She had never heard thousands of creatures laugh before. It was a magnificent sound. Leaning on the nearest one of them (a pony), she guffawed too.
Many minutes later, there was silence again. Then, the eagle spoke.
"You have been called here because you have seen the light that comes from the depth of compassion and knowledge. You have seen it manifested, it has brought you to us. Now you must save your species from this enemy."
"You mean this deadly disease, this virus?" she asked.
"We mean a deeper, deadlier disease. We mean a more contagious virus. We mean human selfishness and greed and arrogance. We mean ignorance. We mean the focus on money at the cost of every natural resource. Yes. Money is bought at a great price, but humankind sees only money, not the price it pays for that money."
"But I'm only me, barefoot in my pajamas. What can I do about it?"
"Awaken the other sleepers. Tell them. Whisper, speak, shout. Tell them, Natasha. Else they'll remain forever trapped by the enemy they cannot see or hear. They cannot see it or hear it because they refuse to understand. What they call the enemy is the shadow or the reflection of the true enemy. Tell them."
"Will they listen?"