Just a Bad Dream

Damien came awake with a start. At first, he didn’t know where he was. Slowly his vision cleared and he looked around. He was safe, on the highest branch in his tree, sort of. His front claws were embedded in the branch such that they went beyond the bark and punctured the wood beneath. His back legs were dangling. At some point he had fallen off the branch. Despite the ache in his shoulders and his precarious position, Damien let out a long sigh of relief. He was safe, back in the forest. It had all been just a bad dream.

As the forest faded into nothingness, Damien had found himself inside that familiar cage. He desperately wanted to escape but deep down, he knew there was no escape. He would be locked away forever but he still had to do something. He tried biting the bars with his teeth and his only reward was a sore jaw. Out of desperation, he ran head-first into the bars and everything faded to black as he slumped on the floor. And then black became red and the next thing he knew, Damien was floating with his eyes closed.

Slowly, Damien opened his eyes. Everything looked distorted and the wrong color. He knew he was still in the cage, but he was seeing through the eyes of another. The air reeked of fear. He had a sense of running from something terrible, something big and scary. Damien shook his head. He wasn’t quite sure what was happening, but the scent was familiar to him and strange at the same time. While trying to figure out what was going on, Damien heard a voice.

“I’m trapped. I need to hide.”

Damien sensed the voice more than heard it, like when that human in the park spoke to him using the Dowchee. His human! That’s what was familiar. Was he seeing through her eyes? How was this possible?

“Are you alright?” Damien asked. There was no response. Maybe his human couldn’t hear him. This time he shouted. Still no response. It was like he didn’t exist or he was being completely ignored. This made Damien feel very small and inconsequential, a feeling he hadn’t felt since he was wandering the forest alone as a pup.

A sudden change in direction threw Damien off-balance and brought him out of his daze. His claws gripped the floor to keep from sliding. He saw walls all around made from cinder blocks. He remembered seeing blocks like these somewhere. But where? He looked around some more as the smell of fear intensified, reminding him of a trapped animal about to be devoured by a predator. He wanted to run but there was nowhere to go. Then it dawned on him. He had seen these blocks at the bottom of some of the buildings in the city. He must be inside one of them. Well, sort of. He was still trapped in that cage, he reminded himself. He was seeing the inside of one of the buildings.

Suddenly the cage tilted, throwing Damien backward into the bars and then forward to the other side of the cage. As he slid back and forth a few times, Damien could smell sheer terror and he himself felt the need to run as far away as he could get.

“Three… Four.” Again, Damien sensed this rather than actually heard it. Counting? Why would anyone be counting right now, Damien thought. “Great, what did I do now?” As Damien removed his paws from in front of his eyes, he started shaking. He became acutely aware of the floating sensation as a pair of steel-blue eyes looked back at him, a little too close for comfort despite the appearance of seeing everything through a tunnel. And then came the noise. Damien flinched at the sound of a distant voice, deep and booming. Someone was shouting.

“But I already told you what happened!” This time Damien could really hear his human’s voice. It sounded far away and distorted, but it definitely belonged to the human he felt a connection to. At this point, Damien realized that he had been thinking of this human as belonging to him. This didn’t seem quite right. Maybe they belonged together? Damien desperately wanted to help but he wasn’t quite sure what was happening. He could feel his bond with this human strengthening and decided that he belonged with her, his human. And she belonged with him. “What do you want from me?” This time his human was shouting too.

“Just tell me what really happened,” the deep voice boomed, so loud that it rang in Damien’s ears. The eyes staring back at him turned icy with rage. There was a coldness to those eyes that made Damien shiver despite the protection offered by the cage. He felt compelled to help his human somehow. But what could he do? He was stuck in a cage and still not sure what was going on.

“I swear I was telling the truth.” Damien could hear the poorly hidden strain in his human’s voice even though it sounded distorted and far away. He could barely breathe now because the scent of fear was so thick it was stifling. Desperate to do something, anything, Damien shook the cage with his paws. He no longer saw the blue eyes. Now he could make out shoes hanging above a concrete floor. It looked a little like the sidewalks in the city. Slowly the smell of terror began to dissipate. Damien could still hear his human arguing with the other one but it was becoming muffled and farther away. Everything kept receding until Damien could see and hear nothing.

Damien felt relieved. He had a strong distaste for the chaos going on around him. He wanted to take his human far away from this noise, but he was trapped in that stupid cage again. Damien used the silence to collect his thoughts. He had to get out of the cage if he was going to do anything at all. Damien sat and contemplated his escape. His musings were interrupted by more shouting from the booming deep voice.

“Okay, I lied,” Damien heard his human say, sensing defeat in her voice. “It happened just the way you said it did.” The smell of fear was gone, replaced with an emptiness that made Damien’s skin crawl. The blue eyes were staring at him again. They were softer now, not so icy and cold. Just when Damien’s skin stopped crawling, everything faded away. He was alone again.

“Here we go again.” He sensed this rather than heard it. In the dark silence that followed, Damien became more and more restless. He could feel heat coming from below. At first it soothed him and helped him shake off the coldness from before. The heat continued to build, first becoming uncomfortable and then unbearable. The floor of Damien’s cage became so hot he couldn’t stay still. He had to get away from this burning heat. Not knowing anything else to do, Damien flung himself against the bars. This must have done something because Damien could now hear muffled sounds and see a dim light in the distance. The heat kept building. “What the hell? He won’t let me down until I tell him what he wants to hear and then I get a lecture on telling the truth?” When Damien sensed this, his feet began to burn. He flung himself against the side of the cage again and again. He had to get away from this heat! It must have worked because Damien saw those blue eyes again and started hearing the booming voice, although it was too muffled to decipher any words.

“Wow, dad, you really outdid yourself this time. You got four.” Damien had never heard this tone in his human’s voice before. He wasn’t sure what to make of it. It was enthusiastic but lacking warmth, like a joke without humor. And there was a biting edge to it. Perhaps it was just the distance and distortion making her voice sound different. In an instant, all the heat disappeared. Damien froze like a deer caught in headlights. Any softness that had been in those blue eyes was suddenly gone, replaced once again by a flash of rage, this time even more intense.

“NO,” Damien screamed, “STOP THIS!” He thrashed around the cage. It was useless. Damien’s human couldn’t hear him or didn’t want to. Why was she doing this? It made no sense to him. Damien picked up the scent of fear again. He wanted to look at something else, but all Damien could see were those cold, piercing blue eyes staring at him. The ice in those eyes had an edge like a blade. This made Damien more uncomfortable than he had ever felt.

“What the fuck is it with you and the random numbers?” The volume and force of the voice knocked Damien off his feet. The bottom of the cage was warm again. Damien remembered the counting. It stopped at four. Sounds started to become muffled again but the blue eyes remained clear, still burning with cold rage. Damien imagined a fire that burned cold instead of hot. That’s what he saw in those eyes and it frightened him. He had never been so scared in his life. During a moment of sheer terror, time seemed to stop for Damien and he started to understand. He had hit the front of the cage four times. But why bring it up now?

“Go ahead and hit me, you bastard,” Damien sensed. “Why don’t you hit me hard enough to break something this time?” It was becoming uncomfortably hot again. “I dare you.” As nausea and dizziness settled in, Damien began to pant and drool.

“What’s going on down there? And why is there mud all over the floor?” This was another voice, higher in pitch and farther away. It sounded distorted like the other voices. Damien heard anger in this voice too. It seemed like all the voices except his human’s voice had anger in them. Damien mostly heard fear in his human’s voice. The blue eyes disappeared and suddenly Damien was falling. Everything seemed to get fuzzy.

“Pussy. I knew you wouldn’t do it.” This was the last thing Damien sensed before he hit the ground. The impact was jarring. Damien came awake with a start. At first, he didn’t know where he was. Slowly his vision cleared and he looked around. He was safe, hanging from his tree with his front claws deeply embedded in the highest branch. Despite the ache in his shoulders, Damien let out a long sigh of relief. He was safe, back in the forest. It had all been just a bad dream. A horrible, nasty bad dream.

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Quick Update on Damien

I haven’t written for a while, so maybe a quick update will get me started again…

Damien has spent the last few months keeping to himself. The only visitor he even acknowledges is Te, who brings him food and water daily. He’s been spending day and night up in the tree and only comes down to eat. He still wants to talk to Te but hasn’t been able to bring himself to ask the questions he’s so curious about. Damien spends his days leaping from branch to branch and his nights sleeping fitfully, plagued by nightmares. The branch he sleeps on hardly has any bark left. Damien has started to question his earlier decision, no longer so sure it is the right thing to do. He is trying to figure out what he truly believes and has no plans to go anywhere until he gets some clarity. Whenever Damien hears the elders calling him lazy, he just climbs higher into the tree so he can be alone with his thoughts. He realizes that the task ahead of him is daunting. It’s hard for him to really make sense of the world, given his shaky foundation. There is no strong guiding light from his past, only weak contradictory ideas. Except for Te, who continues to be kind and supportive of Damien while respecting his boundaries, Damien feels utterly lost and alone. He has no concept of how much time has passed while he’s been attempting to put the pieces together. He is just starting to figure out how broken the pieces of his past are and that they don’t quite fit together correctly. He has a feeling that Te can help with this but he’s still trying to figure out how to bring it up. For now, he is content to remain isolated in his tree. He knows that he will talk to Te when he is ready.

The Thinking Tree

Damien relaxed atop his perch high in a tree as he pondered the recent events in his life. He was a creature driven mostly by instinct, but he could be thoughtful at times. This was one of those rare times. Damien knew that things had changed when he injured himself on the streets and couldn’t make it home on his own. He knew how the elders felt about him going out of the forest but once he had made the decision to explore the streets, something compelled him to keep going back. A smaller animal may have been detained at the park, but Damien had a reputation of being strong-willed and unpredictable. That, along with his size and strength, made him a formidable opponent under the best of circumstances. During a temper tantrum, he was unapproachable. Damien tried to relax and focus on the warmth of the sun on his back. Needing an escape, he had climbed high enough to be alone.

 

Damien’s claws suddenly dug into the branch upon which he was laying.

 

“You may be fully grown, but you are not yet an adult!”

 

The words of the elders rang in his ears. He could not escape these words, even near the top of the highest tree in the forest. Damien had been the target of a lot of harsh words from the elders since he woke up from his ordeal. He disagreed with the elders on more things than he could count. He did not want to do things their way. He was not a fan of tradition and refused to follow tradition unless it made sense to him. Damien knew he was a part of this community guided by the elders, but he also felt like an outsider. Perhaps this was why he resented their rules and outdated ideas so much. His biggest disagreement centered around people. He did not believe they had fully severed ties to the Dowchee. They certainly did not cultivate their connection to the life force, but he did not think they shunned it. That one person he visited with had a weak connection to the Dowchee, although she probably didn’t realize it. If there was one, there must be others too. Maybe the teachings of the Dowchee had been lost to the people. They couldn’t possibly have forsaken it, as the elders would have him believe. How would they know anyway? They were just a bunch of old fogies who locked themselves away in the forest.

 

Damien pushed those thoughts from his mind and again focused on the warmth of the sun on his back. He wanted to relax and regain his strength, but thoughts of the elders kept creeping into his mind.

 

“Old enough to know the proper way to behave…” Damien scoffed as his claws again dug into the tree. Just how was he supposed to know the proper way to behave? There were many clans in the forest and each had their own “right way” of doing things. He didn’t really fit in with any of the clans, so just how did they expect him to figure this out? No one understood him, except maybe Te. Damien hadn’t come across another creature like Te in the forest.

 

Damien thought back to his first meeting with Te. He had been a cub, alone in a remote part of the forest. He couldn’t remember his parents. He had been alone as long as he could remember. He learned to forage for food and defend himself on his own. He had been playing at a pond when Te approached him. Damien was fascinated by the pond. He could see another creature just like himself in the pond. It mirrored his every move. He loved to play with it, chase it, dart this way and that. The other creature always kept up with him. He would swipe his paw at the creature in the water and it would disappear. It was fascinating to him. He was playing in this way when he heard Te. The sounds coming from Te were interesting enough to catch his attention. Damien had never heard anything like it. Later, he would learn that it was speech. Te motioned, and Damien followed. He did not know where they were going, but this little red creature was intriguing, so he kept following.

 

After many hours of walking through the forest, Damien found himself in the company of more creatures than he could ever imagine. There were all different kinds of creatures, most of which he’d never seen before during his short existence. Te brought Damien before a small but diverse group of creatures, all very old. They made the same sounds as Te. Damien heard “orphan” a lot. It was decided that Damien would be placed with the Grizzles because he was about the same size as their cubs. He was happy with the Grizzles at first. He learned how to talk and enjoyed playing with the other cubs. But they grew much faster than he did, and when they got bigger, they got slower. Damien loved to play rough with the cubs, but he got faster as he grew and became bored and disinterested. When it became clear that he was not fitting in with the Grizzles, Damien was taken before the elders and placed with another clan.

 

Damien spent the rest of his life bouncing from clan to clan and never felt at home with any of them. After many failed matches, the elders had stopped trying to place Damien in a clan and just let him wander among the clans that would take him in. He fit in best with the Vilkas and the bigger groups of Kattes, so he spent most of his time with those clans. The clans were so different that Damien never really developed a solid foundation on which he could build his life. The one thing Damien did learn is that there is no one right way to do anything. The Vilkas did most everything in large groups, which they called packs. Their way of life was defined by teamwork, cooperation and order. The Kattes were more solitary creatures, spending most of their time alone. Their way of life was defined by self-sufficiency and self-reliance. Damien spent most of his childhood divided equally among these two groups, making sure to spend some time visiting with the Grizzles, who were the first to take him in.

 

As Damien pondered his childhood, he grew angry. How could the elders expect him to know what was right? Each clan had its own idea of right and wrong, and he didn’t really belong to any of them. Sure, the Grizzles and the Vilkas and the Kattes would all say he was a part of their clan, but he always felt like an outsider. He knew he was different. He wasn’t like any of them. Without the structure that others had while they grew up as part of a single clan, Damien was left with a jumble of values and practices to sort through on his own. Damien had developed his own way of life with bits and pieces from the various codes of conduct used by the different clans. He was doing the best he could with what he had. Why wasn’t that good enough for the elders? Damien decided that the elders’ expectations of him were unreasonable. He was his own being, with his own ideas and values.

 

Damien realized that he would never conform or fit in anywhere. Even though the creatures had welcomed him as one of their own, he would always be an outsider. Suddenly, he felt very small and alone. Damien felt a mix of defeat and determination. He certainly owed this community something for raising him, but at the same time he did not belong. He knew he was right and the elders were wrong, especially when it came to people. He made up his mind that he was leaving the forest when he felt better. The elders were unreasonable and inflexible. Maybe he wouldn’t return. Damien was unsure about his future. He had a lot to think about. Maybe he’d talk the matter over with Te. Damien knew for sure that he wanted to find that person connected to the Dowchee. Of that much, he was certain. He would prove the elders wrong. Beyond that, he just didn’t know.

 

With an action in mind, his next step being to find the person connected to the Dowchee, Damien was finally able to relax. Slowly, his mind cleared and his claws loosened their grip on the tree. Soon, Damien was asleep.

Note to the Reader

Damien is currently lounging in a tree contemplating various aspects of his life.    I started out exploring Damien as a character through my own interactions with him.  A story, complete with other characters, has started to develop around him.

There is a new character I’d like to explore and develop here in my sandbox, but she has no place in Damien’s world.  While Damien is resting, I am going to take the opportunity to start working on something else.  I don’t expect this new character to find her way into Damien’s world, so don’t waste your time trying to figure out how she will tie into the story.  She won’t.

Damien has his fans, and he will be back, but this next post is unrelated and thus will be in a new category.  Enjoy.

Reunion

I couldn’t believe my eyes at first.  Was it really Damien?  I glanced at Te and looked back into the trees at Damien.  Yep, that dark form hidden within the safety of the forest was definitely Damien.  I had so much to say but didn’t know where to begin.

 

“You’re welcome,” Te said sharply.

 

“Oh, uh, thanks, Te,” I managed to mumble almost incoherently.  Te seemed placated so I turned my eyes again to Damien.  “Damien, I…”  My voice trailed off.  I couldn’t find the words I needed.

 

“There’s no need for words.  He’s been asking to see you.  He wouldn’t say why,” Te explained.

 

Damien and I just looked at each other for several minutes, each studying the other.  Te was right.  There really wasn’t a need for words.  The look on Damien’s face said volumes.  I’m sure my own expression told him just as much.  It was like we had an entire conversation with just our eyes.  Damien had been looking for something in me.  When he was satisfied he found it, he turned and slowly disappeared into the forest.  I was relieved but disappointed.  Damien was going to be fine.  I could feel it in my heart.  But I was hoping that he would come out into the park.  I knew I wasn’t welcome in the forest.

 

“The elders don’t think Damien is ready to come out of the forest yet,” Te explained.  “To be honest, they can’t understand his desire to interact with people and don’t agree with it.  They would keep Damien in the forest for the rest of his life if he would listen, but they know that Damien will ignore them if they ask too much of him.”

 

I thanked Te for the explanation.  The forest had elders?  I could hardly believe what I was hearing.  I had always thought of the forest as just filled with animals, with no organization whatsoever.  I was genuinely surprised.  But, I reasoned, if there were things like tiny talking dragons in that forest, maybe there were full blown democracies and monarchies as well.

 

Te had given me just enough information about the forest to make me want to learn more.  I wanted to know everything about the forest.  What kinds of creatures lived there?  What went on from day to day?  What exactly happened between the forest creatures and the people so long ago?  I turned to ask Te about all this only to find that he was gone as well.

Wandering the Park Alone

Meeting Te left me with so many questions.  On my way home from the park, I realized that Te didn’t tell me anything about himself aside from his name.  He had told me plenty about the forest and the park, but nothing at all of himself.  Also, Te had told me just enough about the forest to make me want more.  How were the forest creatures so different from people?  What happened to drive them apart?  What else was in that forest?  I had to know more.  I wanted to know about Damien’s home and why he alone ventured out beyond the park.

 

For days after meeting Te, I went to the park every day looking for answers.  Sometimes I’d spend hours there walking the paths or sitting on one of the benches.  I didn’t see Te or Damien or anything unusual for that matter.  After about a week, I realized that I had promised to return to the park, but Te never said he’d come see me again.  What if he didn’t come?  He had told me he’d watch over Damien.  I thought that would include status updates while I was at the park, but maybe Te wasn’t going to leave the forest again for me.  I thought about giving up on Te.  He had promised me nothing.  But what about Damien?  Where was he?  Was he ok?  I had to keep coming back to the park.  Damien would probably be in the park before he was back on the streets.

 

I don’t know how many days went by, but I kept going to the park every day, at least for a couple minutes. Damien had largely been a silent companion, but I found that I missed him deeply.  His presence had a way of motivating me and keeping me going.  Sure, I hadn’t known Damien for long and I had lived most of my life without him, but now that he was gone, I was beside myself.  Even when I wasn’t with Damien, I could feel his strength.  Just knowing Damien was out there gave me a new life of sorts.  I knew he was being cared for in the forest.  The forest was his home.  But I didn’t like not knowing how he was.

 

While I was pondering all this, I had been sitting on a bench particularly close to the forest.  I was so lost in thought, I didn’t see or hear anything going on around me.  I had become a prisoner of my mind, trappend in my own world.  The spell was broken, however, by a tiny smack to the face.  Instinctively, I looked to the side and saw Te jumping from my shoulder to the bench.

 

“Ow!  Why did you hit me in the face?” I exclaimed.

 

“I had been tapping you on the shoulder but you didn’t notice.  I had to get your attention somehow,” Te retorted.

 

I started to say something else but Te cut me off.  “Look behind you.”

 

I turned around and saw trees.  Was this some kind of trick?  I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.  The grass was perfectly manicured right up to the tree line, where the forest lay beyond.  I looked at Te, but he was just staring into the trees.  I followed his gaze, hoping that would help me find what I was looking for.  Still, I only saw the tree line behind me.  I stared and searched the tree line until my eyes became strained. What was I supposed to see?  Then my focus shifted.  I could see into the forest a little.  As I looked past the tree line, I saw it.  Several feet into the forest was a pair of yellow eyes.  Damien!

Walking With Te

After dragging Damien’s limp body into the forest, I was immediately escorted back to the park. The forest creatures allowed me just far enough into the trees to conceal Damien and then without a word, they made it very clear that he was under their care now. Words were not necessary. I knew at once that I was to return to the park. The creatures within the forest did not like my presence there but tolerated it for Damien’s sake.

I found a bench in the park and just stared blankly ahead as I pondered what had just happened. Eventually, I sensed a presence next to me. When I turned to look, Te was sitting next to me on the back of the bench. How long had he been there? How long had I been there? For the first time, I took a good look at Te. He was so small! I’d never seen anything like Te. He looked like a tiny dragon, covered with red scales and his underbelly was blue to match his tiny wings. Those wings could not possibly be used to fly. They would never support the weight of Te’s body. They were much too small to be of any use. Then I noticed the tiny white horns just starting to protrude from behind Te’s ears, which looked too large for his body. Then it hit me. A child! Te must still be growing. Sure enough, Te’s feet seemed too big for his body as well. Our eyes met and locked for just a moment. Te had no doubt been scrutinizing me while I looked him over. Why was Te sitting next to my head? What was he doing in the park while Damien was in the forest? Finally, the creature spoke, as if he had just read my mind.

“You seemed concerned,” Te said in that high squeaky voice. He had come to check on me.

“How is he?” I asked.

“He will be fine. He just needs some rest and to stay out of trouble for a while.”

I wasn’t sure. Could Te be trusted? I’d never seen him before I stumbled upon Damien in the park. Besides, he’s just a child. What does he know? I’d believe that Damien was ok when I saw it with my own eyes. But clearly I would not be permitted into the forest to check on Damien myself. My only option was to believe what Te was telling me. After all, Te didn’t have to seek me out. Why would he leave the forest just to lie to me?

“Thanks,” I managed to mumble, still lost in thought.

At Te’s suggestion, we took a walk around the park. I had been sitting on that hard bench for so long, my legs were numb. Pain and tingling shot through both legs as I stood up. Te waited patiently as I gingerly stumbled around stomping my feet in front of the bench, waiting for my legs to wake up. Eventually, I was steady on my feet and we slowly walked down a path through the park.

Perhaps I had been quick to judge Te. We talked as we walked. He appeared wise beyond his years. He told me of life in the forest and about the mistrust they had for people. He was surprised that I was allowed so far into the forest even though I was obviously there to help Damien. I learned about a long history of conflict between the forest creatures and people. Differing ideas and values had led to a deep-seated mistrust and fear between the two worlds. In the distant past, the creatures of the forest and people mingled freely but eventually their differences drove them apart. For a time, the park was a place where people and the creatures of the forest could come together peacefully, but as time wore on, the rift grew deeper and the forest creatures stopped coming to the park. I had not known any of this history. Te sure knew a lot for a child. In fact, I know very little about the forest creatures. Maybe Te wasn’t as young as he appeared.

I realized suddenly that day had turned to night. I was so engrossed in Te’s stories that I hadn’t noticed the sun sinking below the horizon. I had to get home. Te promised to look after Damien for me and I said I’d return to the park soon. I walked home slowly, thinking about this odd creature called Te. He never did answer my question about what he was. In any case, I was looking forward to our next meeting and hoping for good news about Damien.