The Stray

By Elizabeth, BE
China Unlimited Europe 2015Am I dead? I feel nothing. I taste nothing. I only see.

Oh God, I can’t hear. Why is everything so quiet? The silence dents my brain. It oozes out into the spaceless void that are my immediate surroundings. I feel terrified.

Why am I here? If I don’t think, don’t remember, this terror will consume me. Before this I think I had a life. A normal life, the kind with friends, family, a job, a dog? I seem to recall something along those lines. But they are blurry at best. I focus back into now.

The planet earth, the blue globe is stretching out before me. I do not remember how I got here. It all looks like a picture from some space magazine: ’12 billion years into the future!’ or ‘What are black holes made of?’. The semblance is uncanny. It’s odd that I remember such details but forgot how my own life used to be like.

I think I loved my dog. I just remembered something furry, happy and fast. But what was its breed, the color of its fur? Only general feelings remain. The surge of affection I feel eases my mind. The terror is still there but on a second plane. I am relieved.

Curiosity takes over. Hanging in space, with nothing that resembles a body, only a flurry of emotions as my guide, I look around. Stars, moon, sun, all of them are where they’re supposed to be. Still the earth captures my interest more. Suddenly I can feel myself moving, closer to earth, closer still. I can’t stop! I enter the orbit, so fast. Everything flashes by in an instant. I see less than half of the globe now. Knowledge comes gradually, in large chunks and sharp bits of glass that pierce my head at odd intervals. There’s Africa and Europe, and the ocean. I think I like the ocean best. It soothes my mind. The insight pangs ease up a bit. I realize that I don’t know much about the ocean. This suits me just fine. I gently drift above it relaxing in my ignorance. I see waves, dolphins, airplanes. I don’t even have to focus. I see people now. My head flicks through them like channels on a remote controller. Zip, zip, zip. A girl skipping ropes in a playground, laughing. A tiger roars in a zoo. Couples dancing in the street. Somebody is roasting beetles. A stocky dog wags its tail. I stop. This isn’t my dog but I am curious nonetheless. A boy calls out and the dog patters towards him. They leave together. I try to flick away again but something holds me back. I follow the boy.

The air is thick here, tense with people and emotions hidden under the surface, always just on the brink of eruption. The streets are bursting with activity. Signs are written in a foreign language. Another stab and I recognize it as Chinese. The boy moves effortlessly through the crowd, the dog never far behind. He enters a brightly lit shop. The dog stays outside waiting patiently. I look around. The people here are different. Loud but friendly they go along their business, serious eyes set deep into their faces, crinkling smiles at friends, impassive towards strangers.

The boy leaves the shop carrying a small parcel. He moves into a quieter bit of town. Up ahead there is something blocking his passageway. A shadow moves from behind a trashcan. It growls. A stray, his survival depends on what he can scavenge for the day. The boy takes a step back. His dog, almost half the size of the beast, bursts out from behind him. All fangs and guttural noises. I cringe, waiting for the end that is bound to come. But the large dog whimpers suddenly, the tail between its legs it slinks back into the shadow. I look closely at the champion. His head held high, fur bristling in excitement, a sense of righteousness in its canine eyes. That is what scared the stray away, not overwhelming force but sheer willpower to protect his master against all odds. I smile.

I had forgotten about the boy. Now he takes a step closer. Takes out something from his package. It’s a piece of meat. He throws it towards the skulking stray, then the boy and the dog leave side by side.

I relax, realizing that I had been tense this whole time. I know now why I lingered. Everything fades away.

***

‘He’s waking up’ Someone whispers.

I moan. Try to sit up but don’t even manage to lift a finger. A shadow bends above me. It mutters something along the lines that I had a terrible accident, but now everything is going to be ok. I do not remember anything.

I mutter something under my breath.

‘What did he say?’ Another voice asks anxiously. Silence, then the first one answers incredulously: ‘I think, I think he said he wants to go to China!’

I smile and drift off.

the sting Milestone

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