The inferno darted its multiple tongues back and forth, greedily licking off every speck of life in its path.
How long had it been? I felt half-dead already, and the fire beckoned me, its voice sultry and seducing. But I had to stay awake. I had to convince Kiara to go seek a sanctuary into the waters of the stream.
“Oh Cooper, What are we going to do!! The entire forest is up in flames.” She sobbed. Did mamma and my sisters make it in time? I hoped the warning reached them in time.
“There is no way I am letting you die in this fiend fire.” I held Kiara close in my broken pincer. The currents were in her favour and she could swim to a safe distance before the fire heated up the waters. But this was one obstinate crab.
“The stroke of death is as a lover’s pinch, which hurts and is desired.” Kiara’s compulsive urge to quote random lines when nervous took over. I suddenly realised, I never asked her where she picked those pearls of wisdom from. Now I would never know. There were so many things about her that I would never know. It made me want to weep.
2 years ago.
My first ever memory was Mamma carrying me on her back. “You are soft and vulnerable. Mamma is going to feed you till you are as strong as a rock and can bite off mama’s pincer.”
“Deal !” A five-month me was deeply in love with Mamma. We lived by the stream; lining the forest. There were a thousand smells, some tempting, some nauseating, hundreds of sounds and an occasional flash of blinding light if I peeped out of my Rockhouse. The stream was often frequented by humans who called themselves campers. They piqued my interest.
“Mamma, can I go and play with them? They look so colourful.” Freshly moulted, I felt too important to be hiding under the rocks.
“No Cooper. The company of those high and mighty ain’t for us.” Mamma sighed. She held me close and offered me fresh beetles, my favourite food.”We are scorpions.” She continued. “Black, poisonous and humans do not like us. They crush us at the first chance they get. Stay away.”
Unlike our neighbours, Mamma lovingly nurtured her brood of eight baby scorpions. She put us to sleep every night before she went away to dance with Gaaza, her boyfriend.
I often asked my sisters what Mamma saw in Gaaza. “His stinger is too pointy.” I would sulk. My sisters would giggle and blush furiously at my outburst.
The forest seemed to have an unwritten protocol and rule-abiding was a norm. While my neighbours and sisters were content under the musty rocks hunting for worms, I yearned for a social life. Mamma always praised how tall, dark and broodingly handsome I was. I agreed. I had seen the gals shoot furtive looks at my stinger and blush scarlet when I caught them staring.
So one afternoon, as Mamma was off for rendezvous with Gaaza, I sneaked out of my shanty to mingle with the “Celebrities” of the forest. Brushing aside my clingy sister Pedra, I got ready.
“I am sure they will love me. Mamma is needlessly protective.” I patted down the fine fur on my body. I had rehearsed my introduction all night. “Maybe they will invite me home. Honestly, our locality is too grimy for my taste and we could do with brighter and bigger place, Pedra.” I declared.
My appendages made cheerful clicks as I skittered along the stream to reach the spot that served as a watering hole. The sun was a bit too strong for my taste, yet I rushed ahead tingling with anticipation.
I was in for a rude shock.
“Eeks, stay away from me, you Scorpion!!” The fox-cub kicked me away with its paws.
“God, look at the pointy thing he has…Such a Freak!!” The gazelle whom I wanted to befriend was downright cruel.
The young monkey went a step further and tried to stamp me with its feet. I lifted my stinger in panic and emptied my Telson* over its foot. It was the worst move on my part!
“Oh look, he has come to kill us, the vulgar creep! Mother was right, Scorpions are evil, the untouchables. Is he even allowed to be here?”
Half blinded by the sun and dehydrated, I ran as far as possible as the truth dawned on me.
Freak…Was I a Freak… an untouchable? Scared and ashamed, I buried my head under a flat rock much further down my shanty.
A blue something crawled across the rock. It moved funny like it was drunk and hid itself under the rocks every half minute. Was it some fat neighbor I never saw before?
Eight eyes. Pincers like me, but no stinger. “Are you hurt? I can help!!” the sound of my voice startled it and it fell into the stream.
I hurried forward to help and pulled out the strangest blue-crab who lived in the Woods. Her name was Kiara.
Kiara was born in rogue waters of the Bay which the stream flowed into. A year back, her ravenous mother tried to eat her for lunch. However, the tides turned in Kiara’s favour, quite literally. Shell-less and traumatised she washed at the far end of the stream and settled into the brackish waters.
Even among the Crabs, Kiara had a reputation for eccentricity. She was somewhat of a hoarder. She never mingled with other crabs and kept the shiny objects the campers left behind to under her rock.
The news of my humiliation at the hands of the High and the mighty of the Woods had leaked to my locality. Some sniggered at my disgrace others were amazed at my sheer folly. Mamma was disappointed though. Her pride and joy had put his life in jeopardy for something beyond their means. I suspected she was secretly ashamed, that her son thought he was too good for her friends and family.
“All hail the Scorpion King.” Other scorpions scorned whenever they saw me. Mamma did not talk to me. I was lonely and hurting.
I started hanging out alone by the far end of the stream, away from the jeers. Sadly, this meant I spent more time with a certain nerdy crab than I cared to admit. She would be toying with those unintelligible things mouthing copious nonsense from time to time.
“Do you know, it is not normal to speak like this.” I tried taunting her.
“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” She retorted.
I had no comeback. I just sat there twiddling my pincers. Gradually, I got bored of sulking alone and sat beside her. She seemed too absorbed in her tinkering to bother. Two blue spots on her shell made her look like a bespectacled teacher.
“Why do you keep collecting this junk? Why are you so curious? Other critters make fun of you.” I wanted to know.
“Better to be curious than judgmental, isn’t it?” She smiled at me. Well, that shut me up.
I discovered later, she was just too shy. I once saved her from a fox who almost caught her and we struck an unlikely friendship. She was everything I never wanted to be : Coloured, shelled and alone. But unlike me, she was content with her place and pace in life. This irked me a lot. “How can you be so satisfied with such a lousy life?” I would ask her and she would say, “When you meet your expectations, that is satisfaction.”
I never knew why I wanted to be with her. By sunset, I would be at her place with a lame excuse, watching her feed insects to the abandoned baby crabs.
“Always love your mother, for you will never have another.” She consoled me once after I had a row with Momma. But I was sulking and wanted to make her miserable too. “You are never gonna mate if you stick your head under the stone every time another crab creeps by.”
“Cooper, the Blue Crabs mate only once in their life. I want my only time to be memorable.” Her voice was always dreamy. I secretly loved the lilt in her tone when she said this.
“Good luck not devouring your kids as a post-partum snack.” I sniggered and she had a rare lapse of temper.
“Ouch, take your pincer off my underbelly Crab…Mamma is going to wonder who is finally giving me those hickeys!!” And we rolled off the rock, laughing like idiots.
It was another full moon night. I heard my sisters evangelize tonight being the season of Scorpion Dance* and left my house before Mamma made me attend a dance with another bimbo.
I found Kiara sitting over the rock, glowing a beautiful bioluminescent shade of blue. My cynical heart skipped a beat.
“Are you up for a “Promenade-á-Deux*?” I whispered in her ear.
“Aah, the famed scorpion mating dance?” Her eyes went dreamy again. “Too bad I am not a scorpion.”
“Too bad indeed, but we can still dance with our pincers. I smiled. “Just for tonight, Let’s pretend.”
And so we danced to the tune of crickets under the moon.
Suddenly the mood shifted.
“Did you hear that?” Kiara’s ears perked up. Someone is coming.”
I squinted around trying to pinpoint the source of Kiara’s worry. Clambering down the rock, I crawled towards the small pathway, the source of the noise.
“Set the nets there. This stream has a decent crab population.” I heard those words with growing trepidation. Three humans. They had come to capture crabs. Kiara.
One of them readied his net and other bent down to place the tent on the ground. There was a packet beside the tent that smelled funny. Without a second thought, I stung this guy at his ankle.
The next events seemed to unfold in slow motion. The guy dropped the burning stick and there was a small explosion over the packet. Next moment, the tent lying further was ablaze.
Just like that, the fire started. It spread along with the hay and crept into the bushes like a shot arrow. It moved from tree to tree and the flames grew bigger every minute. The guy I stung collapsed on the ground stepping on me in the process. The other two carried him away in their vehicle.
My right pincer broke and bled as I searched for Kiara like a lunatic.
“Th..those men. Th..the forest is on fire.” Kiara had spotted me writhing in the glow of the fire and come to me.
“Kiara, leave now. Jump into the stream. It is just a few metres away.” I thought about Mamma, my sisters and my agony increased.
“The neighbouring crabs have seen the fire and are swimming towards your house. They should be alerting your family and other residents on the riverside. The crocodiles and frogs have dispersed and will spread the word to the monkeys and others.” Kiara sensed my fear.
I gave a faint sigh of relief.
“I will hold you. Let us swim together.” Kiara tried supporting me. But I was heavier.
We somehow hobbled to the very edge of the stream. I took one look at her in the full moon. Then I pushed her off right into the waters.
The current carried her away from the stream and the fire. And me. She tried to swim back but the current was too strong.
I finally collapsed on the bank, broken and bleeding. Kiara would be okay. A small blue speck was moving away at a steady pace. I watched it for a long time, finally experiencing the ineffable contentment I always saw on Kiara’s face. When you meet your expectation, that is satisfaction…I closed my eyes and a peaceful sleep overtook me.
Telson : The venom gland
Promenade-á-deux : The scorpions have a mating dance wherein they hold each others pincers and dance back and forth. Also called Scorpion Dance.
Photo By: Nathan Lindahl
This is an entry for #InnsWoods, #Artales18, A Room8 writing event. Checkout the event guidelines here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/artales18