Tuesday, July 14, 2020
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The rage of flames

“Cooper, please be a good boy today and do not stray away like last time.  Just stay with the herd. Okay?” 

Mother rubbed her moist muzzle against my neck and I cuddled her back. She was always so warm and I hated disappointing her. But, somehow I always run into trouble. And all because of that Murphy. 

Murphy was my best friend but, his ideas always invited trouble. Last time, he told me about that spectacular butterfly garden and the special magic it bestows upon the visitors. Mother didn’t believe the story. So we decided to follow a butterfly couple to reach there and prove our point. Believe me, I had no intention of hurting mother. I knew, as the alpha doe she had the responsibility to protect the whole deer herd. She could not possibly help me in my search. So I embarked on the mission with Murphy. Rather, I had planned to catch one or two and gift her on the return. It was not more than few minutes had I hopped behind those colourful aphids that I realised I was alone in an unknown territory. To be frank, I was anxious for a few moments, but, I was confident I would find my way back. I tried looking for Murphy and in the process lost my targets. I was already trying to trace my way back when, like always, mother arrived from somewhere and dragged me back. She even pulled my ears for being naughty. That too in front of Fanny. It was so embarrassing. She was grinning widely at my despair. Sometimes mothers can be so inconsiderate, I tell you. Always telling me don’t do that, don’t go there, stay away from the fence. For God sake I was full eight months old, but she just refused to accept the fact and kept treating me like a baby. 

   ***

“Hey, Cooper come over here. I have something for you.”

There was a voice behind the bush. It was Murphy again. Must be up to some mischief. I decided to ignore.

“This is yummy. You’ll regret missing it, Cooper. Then don’t come to complain.” He continued. 

Murphy was eating something? Without sharing with me? 

Now the curiosity was too much, so I peeped behind the bush. 

He was licking something from a shiny thing. 

“Try it.”

“What is it?” I asked. The yellow, gooey thing didn’t entice me much.

“Just try.”

Still sceptic, I licked it slightly. It was delicious.

“What is it? And where did you find it?”

Murphy looked around and lowering his voice whispered back, 

“I don’t know exactly, but the humans were calling it some weird name, peas… nut…butt… I am not sure. Wait, wait, I remember they called it  peanut butter.” 

Then, with a wink added, “We can have more if we sneak out for a while.”

That was a blasphemous act. Even for the rule breaker Murphy, it was too much. He broke the number one rule of the herd. Never indulge with humans. Those cunning animals mustn’t be encouraged, ever. We hated humans. That was the very first lesson taught to us.

“You interacted with the humans? We are warned never to…”

“Sshhh… Do not shout. You’re such a cry baby. They are not as bad as your Mother thinks them to be. Okay, you do not want it, fine. I will go alone. Just keep this a secret. Can you at least do that?”

And soon he was out of sight.

***                             

For the coming few days, Murphy kept vanishing now and then. And always returned with some treat. Some he shared, some he did not. But, he never failed to share his experience with the humans. The beautiful and kind humans. Not at all like what mother described them. I was already doubtful about my mother’s knowledge about humans. Murphy was right. Perhaps she was indeed too tight. And her thought influenced everyone in the herd.

Like the other day, even Fanny tried to warn me about hanging too much with Murphy and probably doing something I ought not. How audacious of her! Yes, true, I liked her beautiful, big eyes and full smiles and always tried to befriend her, but, that did not mean the six month old fawn had the right to lecture me. I have avoided her ever since. Murphy was my only friend.

***

Soon I wanted to meet the courteous bunch too. When I expressed my desire, Murphy planned it all. While the herd would be grazing in the lowland, we would sneak out for some time and  reach the fence from the other side to the south, where the humans are camping. And we would return before anyone notice.

For the first time I was visiting this side of the forest. Mother never allowed me before. The trees were less dense here, bushes much trimmed. Some clean tracks across the paths these men locomote everyday. Following the tracks we reached the fences. 

“Hey look the little dear has brought a friend today. Such a cutie it is.”

These humans were real chatty patty. They were continuously chirping and giggling amongst themselves. Though, couldn’t understand a word, from their gesture we could make out they were talking about us only. And they were so happy and warm. Especially the one with long golden hair and porcelain skin. Her blue eyes twinkled with glee as she offered me some colourful treats. They were delectable. I could have stayed there forever, but, mother would be angry if she found out, so we hopped back. While returning, however, I noticed the most curious thing. Some of the humans, with short hair, sturdy built, were pouring some sticky liquid on the grasses. May be another kind of delicacy. Would try the next day, I thought, as we rushed back to be with the herd. The humans are different, but I loved them.

 ***

As the dusk befell, my favourite time of the day seeped in. The night forest was all for serenity that flows as cool river waters. It was a melody without a rhythm, music without sound. I could spend hours just gazing the starry sky, lost in serendipity. A wild smell enhanced the eerie enchantment of the woodland, my only true home. Its woody incense was from centuries of snapping branches crashing to the forest’s floor and rotting silently. But today the air smelled different.  The otherwise calm breeze was throwing caution to the inmates of the jungle. Something sinister was awaiting us. We all became alert.

Suddenly a commotion broke the meditative silence of the woods. Everyone was running. Perplexed, I started looking for mother. 

Then I saw it. A ghastly orange grin, tearing through the verdant woodland. Unfettered flames, devouring hungrily, everything that was alive and sacred for us. The wildfires rage sent billows of black smoke into the sky  and the pleasant temperatures jumped to an oven-like sear. 

“Run, Cooper, save yourself.” Mother looked terrified.

And after hesitating for a minute I started fleeing. I knew Mother would come too. She always did. So without thinking where I was going, I followed the running animals. 

Soon the air was too smoky to breathe and hot enough to scorch the skin. I thought I would die. Just then there was a push from behind. It was Murphy. 

He was burnt at places and gasping for breath. 

“Run to the North. The humans have ignited the flames in the south. I saw them. Run in the opposite direction.”

He was too weak to run but, I tried to pull him too. He was my best friend after all. But, there was no time left. As one by one all the trees that sheltered so many with their spreading canopy of green burst into flames I had to leave him and started speeding northward. I did not remember how long, in which direction or what made me run, but, I reached the northern fence alright. Exhausted, torn and injured. 

The firefighters were working endlessly, water was dumped from old bombers and they were pretending to put off the fire. The treacherous human.

And then a miracle happened. It started raining. But the damage was done. By the morrow we will stand on the ashes and pray for the spirits of our brother and sister spirits who dwelt in the trees, pray that they found a safe harbour. I strained my eyes to find Murphy, Fanny or Mother amidst the chaos. I waited for them to appear from the burnt furnace. But, the wait went in vain. None could probably make it alive out of the inferno. Our home, the green abode was presently nothing but, lifeless sticks of charcoal. 

“Don’t be afraid, little deer. We are here to save you.”

The traitors were trying to say something to me. They even offered me water. Huh, another malicious trick. I tried to kick them in the face, but, was too fatigued to put up a fight. All my punches, my protest went in vain. Soon I found myself locked away in a moving thing and was going miles away from my beloved home.

***

I currently lived in an enclosed place. The humans called it a zoo. A true irony,  it was. They wanted our land. They couldn’t beat us in court so they brought cheap petrol and a cheaper matchbox. Now nothing stood in the way of their progress. They would build factories and buildings where our home once flourished. And in return they have rehabilitated us in these coops. So Cooper’s destiny is now in the coop for the rest of his life reminiscing of the leafy paradise and sighing at the starless skies. Some fate! This zoo can never be our home.

 Hundreds of human come everyday to see us and many more similar unfortunates. We are compelled to put up shows for those gutless spectators. A price for availing the man-made shelter. Sometime they even threw some treats for us. But, I never touched them. Cooper learnt it the hard way. Cooper now hated humans.

***

Photo By: Toa Heftiba

***

This is an entry for #InnsWoods, #Artales18, A Room8 writing event. Checkout the event guidelines here:  https://writers.artoonsinn.com/artales18
The event is sponsored by Manoj Paprikar, Author of Death at Midnight by ArtoonsInn room9 publications. Manoj Paprikar is a doctor by profession and a writer at heart. Through his latest venture with room9publications, he earnestly brings forth the plight of the medical profession that affects both the healthcare providers and patients at large.
Get your copy of Death at Midnight here:
www.artoonsinn.com/shop or
https://www.amazon.in/dp/8194132649

Room8 appreciates your rating of the story out of 10 in the comments.

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Sreeparna Sen
Sreeparna Sen
Sreeparna Sen, a Banker by profession and a Computer Engineer by education, finds her solace in writing. Aspires to become a published author someday. When she is not poking her nose in the bank documents , you can mostly find her nose in a book or Facebook.
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