CHAPTER EIGHT – THE TRUTH
That night, as soon as Luke and Sarah had walked back to camp, Luke built a moss bed beside Sarah's. When night fell, all seemed at peace in the camp. Everyone had quietly been mewing to each other, telling stories about their own adventures in the wilderness, and people were more than happy to eat what the foragers had prepared. The camp was looking much more like a camp than it did when they had first found the island, and in the three days they'd been feline it had improved impressively. There were now beds for everyone, lined with feathers, and a few cats had even constructed a little cave filled with various medicines. Thanks to Rosa's ironic knowledge of herbs, they were prepared in case anything happened out in the woods. It struck Sarah as odd that the fox was the only hostile creature out there, and she couldn't stop thinking about her own human body back at the cabin, or the man's body. The murmurs had died down to sounds of sleep, and soon enough even Sarah was softly purring.
"Morning, Sarah." Max's familiar voice woke Sarah up from a dreamless sleep. "I'm going out on a hunting trip with Jack and Edward. Wanna come?"
"No thanks. I've got some stuff to take care of."
"Suit yourself!" As Max left Sarah's view, she arose to her feet and stretched. She was going back to the cabin today, but before she set off on her walk she stopped to eat. She really was starting to enjoy the things foraging patrols brought back, though she felt incredibly guilty admitting it. Come to think of it, the food seemed just as perfect as the rest of the camp. The perfectness of everything was starting to creep up at the back of Sarah's mind. She didn't mind it, but something about it scared her.
Shaking herself, Sarah leaped out into the forest and started to follow the trail back to the cabin. Her cat-self seemed to know its way around, and Sarah was grateful that it seemed to know what it was doing. It was the perfect time just to stroll through the forest and dream.
Wait a minute.
Hadn't she said that before? Sarah thought back to their first day at Camp Claw and had the strangest sense of dèja Vu. Just stroll through the forest and dream. The words repeated themselves through her mind, over and over, and then the fearful voices from her vision came into mind. Sarah began to reflect on everything that had happened so far.
She thought about the people at the cabin, and what they'd said about a "mutual experiment."
She thought about how natural her reflexes were.
She thought about how Ethan could breathe.
She thought about the perfect food, perfect forest, and perfect luck.
Just stroll through the forest and dream.
The final piece of the puzzle clicked into place. Sarah realized she was dreaming.
Sarah dashed back to the island as fast as her feet would carry her. "How can I still feel pain, how can I still get hungry, how is this all happening," Sarah's mind whirred. Back when Edward was talking about why they were hallucinating, he mentioned sleep deprivation and drugs. "Drugs! Drugs, probably in liquid form… The soup!" As Sarah leaped over roots and brambles, she felt more pieces of the puzzle clicking into place. "Hallucinations are common side-effects of sleep-inducing drugs! Come to think of it, before I fell asleep a man was talking about a ‘mutual experiment.' He must have been the one who drugged me!" Sarah burst into the camp, only to realize that Max and Jack were out hunting. She burst into the medicine cave.
"Rosa! I need you right here, right now! We're going to go get Max and Jack!"
"Okay, I'm coming," Rosa called from inside. When Sarah broke into a run, Rosa didn't hesitate to follow her. Rosa was used to following Sarah's crazy ideas, and it wasn't particularly strange that Sarah wouldn't explain right away.
"The solo-chef… He would have been able to easily plant the dosage in each of our soup bowls… But why would he do it?" Sarah's thoughts continued to whirl as she reached the field. Sure enough, Max, Jack, and Edward were sitting out there, their chests puffed in pride of their prey. "EDWARD!" Sarah yowled, and skidded right into her friends.
"Whoa, easy there Sarah! What's the matter?"
"Edward, right now, I need to know one thing: what is a mutual dream?" Edward tilted his head to the side in confusion but started to speak anyways.
"A mutual dream is a dream in which multiple people experience together. It is a mystery in the world of Science as to why the phenomenon occurs, but many people have experienced it. It only happens when people's REM cycles are in sync, which basically means they fall asleep and wake up at the same time," Edward finished. "Now, tell me why you're asking." Jack, Max, and Rosa leaned in closer. Sarah's fur spiked up as she was a bit uneasy, but she relaxed and then began to explain.
"I've figured out why we're all cats." Her friends' eyes widened in surprise. "The soup we had, back at the cabin, was tainted with a special kind of sleep-inducing drug. It causes hallucinations at first until it comes into affect about three and a half hours later. The drug must have been so powerful it could easily cause a person's brain to stimulate realistic pain or hunger. We're all just stuck in the same dream," Sarah finished with a sigh. "None of this is real."
"W-why would someone do that? Why would a class of smart junior high students be just pawns in somebody's drug test?" Rosa was shaking a bit.
"I haven't figured that out yet, but I have hope. You see, when I fainted a few days ago, I dreamed that there was an escape. I called it the void, and it could be our way out. All we have to do is find it."
"Well, we'd better find it fast," Jack spoke up. "We can't just stay asleep forever, can we?"
"No," Edward said. "Eventually, our sleep cycle will end. But time passes in dreams much slower than in waking life, and if the drug was powerful enough to stimulate pain then it would surely be able to keep us asleep." Max's eyes were bouncing from speaker to speaker, but he didn't say anything.
"How are we supposed to wake up? Can we just… kill ourselves?" Rosa asked.
"No. We'd still be asleep, just not dreaming anymore. We'd need to find something purely terrifying; something that would scare us so much that we'd jolt awake at once," Edward said thoughtfully.
"That's why we need to find the void! It must be the way out! We need to tell the others right now," Jack exclaimed.
"Now, Jack, let's not do anything hasty. How do you know how people are going to react? Imagine what Ethan would say. While he's asleep, the drug seems to help him breathe. Do you really think he's going to want to go back?" Edward said.
"Yeah," Rosa agreed. "Lucy probably won't want to wake up either. She goes on every day about how great it is to be feline. I doubt she'll want to wake up."
"How can you say that!?" Jack's fur bristled and his tail shot up aggressively. "Our families are waiting for us to snap out of it! Our mothers, our fathers… How do you think they'd feel if they knew we were choosing to stay trapped in our own minds?! And my brothers… how am I just supposed to forget them for this?" Jack had two younger brothers at home that looked up to him, and Sarah understood why he was so distressed.
Max suddenly stood up and leaned up against Jack. "I don't have any brothers or sisters at home, but I get it. I want to go home too. But we need to think about this. We don't know where this ‘void' is, and it might really scare people if we tell them that they're dreaming. I mean, imagine if people were to think that they could wake up if they die? People would end up trapped, asleep, unable to reach the void, and empty. We need to reassure them that they're going to be okay." Jack nodded solemnly. It was rare for Max to be the voice of reason, and yet here he was, offering very practical advice.
"Let's sleep on it," Sarah suggested. "We'll decide what to do in the morning." Her friends agreed, and they decided to take the long way back to the island.
They traveled through the sticky marsh, sheltered from the sky underneath the trees. They went behind the thundering waterfall, sprayed and refreshed by its waters, and they skipped across the stones that led to the island. It was incredible what their imaginations had created. This world truly seemed like a paradise.
When Sarah got into her comfy moss-bed and had finished her rabbit, she realized something important.
She didn't know where "home" really was.
CHAPTER SEVEN – THE FOX
Sarah opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. It was her human self, lying peacefully on that bed, and she couldn't believe it. Her legs were shaking so hard she came close to falling off the bed, but she caught herself. She peeked over at the bunk beside hers, but couldn't tell whether or not someone was sleeping there. Someone like Rosa. Sarah leaped gracefully onto the bed, pulled away from the covers, and braced herself to see her friend's eyes shut tight, but nobody was there. Above her, Lucy's body was gone too. It was just Sarah in this room. Just Sarah's old self.
"Sarah, you'd better come see this!!" She heard Nicholas' yowl and she dragged herself away from room 203 down the stairs. Edward, Nicholas, Jack and Emily were all sitting attentively in front of the motionless man. Sarah jumped onto the table and asked Nicholas what was happening. "The man started to blink!" Sarah squinted. She didn't see the man moving.
"I think your eyes were tricking you," she snorted.
"Please, believe me! I saw him move!" Sarah focused on the man as hard as she could. Not a muscle in her body twitched, and she carefully eyed the man and every part of him, like she was sizing up her next opponent. Sarah's eyes started to sting from staring so long.
“I’m sorry Nicholas, but this man didn’t move, and probably won’t for a long time.”
Sarah and her patrol investigated the cabin, but nothing seemed to be wrong. The car outside had vanished with the man, and all of the doors to each room had closed, even room 203.
"Does somebody want to check out the rooms?" Edward asked.
"No!" Everyone turned to look at Sarah, who's fur had suddenly bristled so much she looked twice her size. Sarah was filled with the sudden urge to hide what she'd seen, but she didn't understand why. Something inside her simply told her to defend room 203. She let her fur lie flat. "No. I already checked this room, but it reminded me so much of all of our hallucinations that it was like a shock to go in there again. I don't think you guys should either."
"She's right," Edward said. "Coming here was a big risk: we easily could have triggered the hallucinations again."
"That man we saw… how did he just go?" Emily spoke up. Sarah was thankful that the conversation was shifting.
"We should go back to the island." Everyone nodded. The cabin was starting to feel like a cage. The cats went out the back window, but Sarah knew she would be coming back here. She needed to see herself again. She needed to see her human self.
About halfway back to the camp, Sarah stopped and started pretending to sniff around. "I think I smell a mouse, you guys. I'm going to catch it, and I think I need some time to myself. I'll meet you guys back at the island?"
"Sure!" Nicholas led her patrol through the trees and Sarah waited for them to be out of hearing range. Then, she started on her real mission: finding out what went on back at the cabin. She moved swiftly through the forest, carefully retracing her steps back. "I'm going to figure out what's going on," Sarah said to herself. "And I'm going to do it quickly.
A blood-curdling howl rang through the air, causing Sarah to jump three feet into the air. She pointed her ears straight up, trying to pinpoint the origination of the call. It rang out again, this time with a hint of fear. "I'm coming!" Sarah shouted back, racing over roots and trees. Her cat feet propelled her through the woods faster than she'd ever gone before, and it was more exhilarating than she'd thought. No wonder Ethan and Max loved to run so much. But now was not the time for a pleasant dash. Someone was in danger.
She came around the corner of a large oak to find a large, bushy-tailed fox snarling and arching its back dangerously. At first, Sarah couldn't figure out what it was growling at. Then, she saw a glimpse of a black cat with snowy-white markings behind the growling canine. Sarah was frozen in place. The snow-cat's life was in danger, and yet she couldn't get herself to move.
"Please… HELP!" Jolting back to reality, Sarah closed her thoughts away and let her instincts take control. She gave into her new form, and desperately tried to tell it one thing: don't run away. Her cat body listened.
Sarah pounced at the fox, unsheathing her claws and clinging onto its back. The fox reared, trying to shake her off, but she hung on tight. The fox lurched out at the snow-cat, but he was quick to dodge. The fox whipped around to face him and threw Sarah off into a tree. She winced and tried to stay conscious. She could see the snow-cat wearing out from the effort of dodging each claw swipe, and she managed to pick herself up off the ground. The fearful voices from her vision returned to echo in her ears, but Sarah ignored them. Then, she had an idea.
"Lure the fox out into the open! I've got a plan!" The snow-cat didn't seem to hear her but was luring the fox out into a clearing anyways by swiftly ducking and dipping. "We need to fight it off together! I'm coming up on your right!" Sarah maneuvered herself around trees and then managed to get in the fox's eyesight. "When I say go, follow my lead!" The fox hesitated for just a moment when deciding which cat to attack next. It didn't make sense to Sarah why it was so aggressive; foxes would usually flee when it was two against one like this. "GO!" Sarah followed a pattern she'd learned in her dodgeball class at school. First, she dodged a fox's claw swipe by backing up just out of reach. Then, she pounced forward, diving at the fox's face, her claws striking it hard. She dipped underneath the fox and knocked it off balance, and finally, she slashed out at its back paws and knocked it over.
"Dodge, dive, dip, duck!" Sarah yowled. The fox regained its balance and was angrier than ever. The snow-cat fell into sync with Sarah, the two of them matching the fox blow for blow. When the fox had been knocked over for the second time, it spat out at Sarah and her ally then turned tail and ran.
For a long time, neither one of them spoke. Sarah's urge to attack melted into exhaustion and her thoughts flooded back in a wave. What was the snow-cat doing here? Why was the fox so keen on hurting them? What was going on back at the cabin? Part of her was terrified. But another side of her was exhilarated and amazed. She'd just fought off something almost twice her size, and she'd survived with just a few bumps and bruises. It was almost too good to be true, just like the island territory and how Jack was perfectly safe coming back. She looked over at the snow-cat, who was panting heavily on the earth. This once-human kid had been in perfect sync with her all the way through their showdown, and they had turned out to be a good team. Yet, she still didn't know his name.
"Thank you," the snow-cat breathed. Sarah smiled, and then sat up a bit.
"Even after all this time, I still don't know your name. I didn't recognize you from our class, and for that I am sorry. I've just been calling you the "snow-cat" this whole time!" The snow-cat made an odd sort of chuckle.
"Luke. That's my name." Sarah started to laugh in a way that sounded strange when it was coming from a cat, but it didn't matter. "And there's something I need to tell you too," the snow-cat said. Sarah's fur started to stand up a little. She was worried Luke would ask her about why she was out here, and she didn't think she was ready to tell anybody about the discovery she'd made back at the cabin.
"Sarah, I… I've been meaning to say this for a while. When we turned into cats, I was honestly afraid. I didn't know when I was going to get back home to my family, or when someone would find out about us, or any of those things. But being here, in the forest, has taught me something. We have nothing to fear here, not even foxes. We don't need to study for tests anymore, we don't need to stress over homework, and we don't need to be anywhere anytime soon. As a cat, in this world we've woken up in, I don't have to worry about any of that anymore." Sarah listened closely, considering his words. "That's not all. I… I've never been much of a team player. I like to keep to myself, but fighting off that fox with you…" Luke shuffled his paws awkwardly. "I want to stay here, Sarah. And I want to stay here with you." Was Luke… confessing?
Sarah didn't know how she felt anymore. She'd thought that she'd wanted to go home and find out the truth about these cats. But when they'd been fighting together, Sarah thought of nothing but protecting Luke. As much as she hated to admit it, she'd felt something too.
"Let's go to the island. Let's go… home," Sarah said with a smile. And with that, the silver tabby and black-spotted cat stalked off through the forest.
|Heyo! I'm a younger artist who has a terrible habit of comparing my work to others... Here is where I hope to overcome that! I love Pokémon and I'm absolutely obsessed with foxes. I like techno music too. Yup yup.|