Home is no longer safe.
This place with the shade and flowing water and bountiful trees, this place where my family has laughed and sang our songs of survival with each dawning spring, this place where I was born and thought I would die. This place, the land where me and my mother and her mother before her lived and thrived, is in danger.
We used to live in harmony with the Men, used to share with them our rivers and the places where sunlight strained to reach the ground, but they changed, grew to love less of this world which provides for us.
First, they cut down the life-giving trees. Next, they came for us. I watched my kin die at their hands or be taken away still living, their bodies carted off to places far beyond the boundaries of this place.
Home is no longer safe, so I run.
I leave behind the trees and shade, darting out into a world full of short grass and unfiltered sunlight. I feel exposed here, with nothing to hide me, and run as fast as I can, hoping to find shelter once again. I stop once or twice upon spotting vibrant purple and red flowers, their sweet scent compelling me, yet I don’t dare linger for too long.
Soon, I happen upon a series of odd-looking structures. Around them, I see Men walking about. This, then, must be what they call a City.
I wish to avoid the City, not wanting to run into any Men, but it appears to stretch out forever in every direction, almost as vast as the place I once called home.
Weighing my options–forward to some unknown future or back to a forever-spoiled past–I find that I have no choice but to venture into the City. I run, attempting to be simultaneously swift and cautious.
Avoiding all the Men is hard, but I manage to do it, sneaking between legs and carts drawn by horses. I decide to rest when the sun has started its descent in the sky and the Men have begun to enter the strange structures which must be their dwellings. I sit beside a small pond encased in stone and close my eyes.
My dreams are flashes of memories: feasting on nuts within my den, watching white flakes fall from the sky, waiting for green to sprout from the ground.
I am awakened by a soft sensation on the top of my head. I open my eyes to see one of the Men crouched above me, one hand outstretched to graze my fur. This one is smaller than any of the Men I have previously seen–most likely a Child–but I still attempt to escape its presence, unsure whether it would wish to cause me harm.
The Child makes an expression of displeasure but doesn’t attempt to catch me. Instead, it reaches into a hole in one of its garments and takes out a pile of acorns, which it lays on the ground between us.
Wary yet suddenly aware of my hunger, I move forward slowly, pausing in front of the pile to ensure the Child doesn’t intend on playing some sort of trick.
When nothing happens, I begin to eat. The acorns taste delicious and I soon finish them.
Once I am done, the Child reaches out to me again. This time, I allow it to pick me up, its kindness reminding me of the tales I had heard of Men long ago, before they began taking away our houses and our lives.
The Child takes me to its dwelling, stashing me inside the collar of its garment upon entering. It walks for a while before depositing me on top of a strange, soft rectangle. I quickly scurry beneath the rectangle, finding comfort in the relative concealment.
For several sun and moonrises I remain there, nourishing myself with the acorns the Child daily brings me. Eventually, however, the Child moves me once more.
Much of the journey passes in a blur of confusion, the Child having again hidden me within its garment’s collar. However, I am able to distinguish the strange feeling of traveling at a high speed as well as hear the rough neighs of horsesong.
When everything has settled, I find myself in a large, slow-moving contraption which bears no resemblance to anything I know of. Surrounding this contraption is more water than I have ever seen in my life; no land can be seen in any direction.
The Child is gone now and I have a strange sense that we shall not meet again. Although I mourn the loss of what could be called companionship–a similar type of wish I have only previously known with my kin–I feel somewhat excited. I am far away from home now, with no idea of what life will hold for me. All I can tell is that it will be far different from anything I could have ever dreamed of.
The contraption I am on continues to travel through this endless water, a countless amount of time passing. I spend the hours between sunrise and sunset hiding from the Men who wander around the construction. After moonrise, I leave my hiding place to watch the tiny dots of light that scatter themselves across the sky. I recognize in some of them forms resembling a tree, a nut, my sister’s tail.
After spending so long in this manner that I find myself almost unable to recall the sight of land, the world around me changes once more.
The contraption makes contact with land and the Men depart from it. Among them, I catch one last glimpse of the Child.
I, too, after I am sure no Men remain to see me, scurry off the contraption.
This land feels unlike that which I am used to. The water is darker, the trees strangely silhouetted, the air itself different.
Even so, I think, this could be home.
Written by Tejini from Falls Church, VA