He did not know where he was.
It was black everywhere. It was almost as if he had his eyes closed, as though he were asleep or unconscious. But he did not; when he gazed upon his body, he could see the red of his gloves and his cape, both almost blinding compared to the darkness. They were just as bright as they had always been, so his body was not transparent like that of a ghost. When he brushed his hands against himself, he could feel his soft, glossy fur that was camouflaged with his surroundings. If there was any uncertainty left behind after these observations, it dissipated when he unsheathed his claws and dragged it across his torso. A thin trail of blood was left in its wake, slowly oozing from the newly made cut.
If this were an ordinary situation, he might have left this spot already to look for a sign of where he could be. But he had not moved a muscle since he found himself here, because this was not an ordinary situation. There was nothing here, nothing he could see for miles. It may have been pitch black all around, but that was all. There were no buildings, no people; there were no galaxies or celestial bodies in the far distance. There was no plant life or animals, nor any kind of terrain. There was no light at the end of the tunnel, nor sounds to give him a clue. No scents or smells to be found, nor warmth or cold or anything. For all he knew, he could be standing on a pillar, and if he moved he’ll fall off into the abyss.
What was worse about this situation was that he could not remember how he arrived here. He could not remember being kidnapped or falling unconscious. He could not remember anything prior to this moment.
What was he supposed to do . . .
He only blinked once on this thought when he was blinded by white light. He tried to protect his eyes from the painful glare when he realized something had appeared before him. The choice between keeping his vision and discovering what was in front of him was a battle of temptation, but in the end curiosity got the better of him. Slowly but surely he raised his arms above his eyes to see what had materialized on the ground. But when he did, his arms dropped to his sides in shock.
A small, blue bat was lying on the ground near a large white and brown badger. Their bodies were ripped to shreds, bleeding with bones poking out of their skin and body parts dismembered. The bat, her entire right leg was separated with a trail of blood leading it back to her pelvis. Her wings were tattered to the point that she would never be able to fly again. The once bright yellow heart on her chest was dull and stained, and her closed eyes were stained with tears. The badger, his flesh arm was missing and his bionic arm was tied around his torso like a rope, squeezing the life-giving breath out of his lungs. His once large but charming build was now paper thin with his spine and ribs escaping their meat prison.
They were not moving.
There was no room for idleness. Any thoughts of hesitation were gone as he ran towards the two bodies, seemingly lifeless. In seconds he was on his knees and shaking both figures violently.
Adorabat! He tried to scream her name, but no sound was produced.
He could not say a thing. His throat had become dry and thick with his cries, but mute. But he kept crying and screaming, looking for anything, any sign that they were okay. The more he shook them, the more it seemed it was not going to work. Soon his own body was shaking as tears spilled over the rims of his eyes. Why was this happening . . . ? Why . . . ?
In a second of frustration and violence, he grabbed fistfuls of their fur, but when he tried he fell through. Their bodies had not moved and inch, but his hands when through them as though they were not there.
Shock paralyzed him as he looked at his thin, slender fingers that could no longer hold his friends, two of the most precious people in his life. His useless hands that could not help them; his stupid hands that did nothing but screw everything up and burden everyone he loved.
“Mao Mao.” The sudden, new voice scared him out of his skin, but it only took a second for him to realize he recognized it.
Wait, is that--?
He slowly turned his head, expecting to know the one who called him by his name, but when he saw her, he wished he had not.
His sister, all of his sisters, were lying on the ground and hurt, just like Adorabat and Badgerclops. The only one that showed any life was just behind him, crawling on her belly like a beggar. Blood was dripping down her face and staining her fur as well as her clothes. She looked like she was barely clinging to life as she gripped his hand closest to her. Her fingers were ice-cold, but her breath was hot and feverish. He could feel his heart being torn apart as she smiled at him and whispered in his ear,
The black and white world of Mao Mao’s dream shattered under his feet and he fell into the abyss he had once been so afraid of. The fall only lasted a few seconds before he landed on his back, nearly breaking his spine as though he had been thrown into a lamp post, struggling to breathe as the sweat from his body drenched his clothes and the blankets on the bed. He had a death grip on the mattress, for fear that if he did not hold onto this world he would fall again, still shaking from the fright he suffered from.
After a minute lying on his bunk and processing everything that had just happened, he finally came to the conclusion that he was awake. His respiratory system began to function again as oxygen filled his lungs, the sudden refreshing air almost knocking him out unconscious. His heart that beat so quickly, so uncontrollably, began to calm down, but it still felt anxious. In his gut his stomach was performing back flips and jumping hurdles and his head was pounding like a grandfather clock. It was the feeling of falling that put him in shock, but it was the dream that kept him scared stiff.
Despite looking through hazy, film-laden, it was clear he was in the bedroom he shared with his friends. He was lying on the bottom bunk, as he had been when he first fell asleep. The many weapons and tools he shared the bed with were at his feet, looking far more comfortable and relaxed than how he felt. His fur felt thick and unsettling from the sweat that coated his body; his gloves, feet, and bedding were damp from perspiration that he had done while he was asleep. But somehow he was frozen, left shivering in the dark, that seemed to only make it colder.
It was so dark . . .
. . . Just like the place from his nightmares . . .
Mao Mao shot up from the mattress, almost hitting his head on Adorabat’s bed, an action he would have surely regretted when she and Badgerclops awoke from the abrupt disturbance. He could not stay here any longer, or else he would suffer the same fate as his dream. Before he got out of bed, he rubbed the pads of his feet against the drier section of his bunk to avoid leaving a trail of wet paw prints on the floor. As soon as they were nice and dry, he silently set his feet on the ground and slipped out of the room, careful to make sure his friends were still asleep.
The hallway, he found, was even worse than the bedroom with a lack of windows. With every step his heart pounded and his feet moved faster until he was running. It was only a few yards to the living room but it felt like hours before he ran into the end table, biting his tongue from the sudden pain of stubbing his toes and getting jabbed in the abdomen.
He doubled over, holding himself as he turned on the lamp. It wasn’t terrific--he would have preferred turning on all of the lights--but it was still better than being in the dark. For a minute he stood still, hunched over and breathing hard through his mouth. The impact of the table made him nauseous, which was only amplified by his already-feeling sick. People always said you felt better after you throw up, but Mao Mao did not want to throw up; if he threw up, Adorabat and Badgerclops would hear and they would come running. Sure, they would help him feel better, but they would also interrogate him. He didn’t want that.
After a moment he felt well enough to move, so he sat down on the couch, bringing up the foot he stubbed to inspect.
It didn’t look horrible, although there was a small amount of blood near one of his claws. Seeing how it wasn’t bad enough for a bandage, he only wrapped his hand around the injury to stop the bleeding. When his foot was being handled, he slowly rocked himself back and forth, a soothing motion after everything that transpired that night.
He still could not believe what had happened, what he had seen.
His closest friends, his dear sisters, the people he loved most in the world, they were all dead. They were like bleeding skeletons, thin with hardly any skin on them, broken beyond repair.
How could he have let something like that happen?
Why . . .
Why . . .
Just as he could feel tears threaten to spill over his eyes, the sound of soft, heavy footsteps caught his attention. His ears swiveled towards the direction it came from, the hallway that led to the bedroom. Mao Mao could have recognize the sound from anywhere and his head whipped around to see Badgerclops, still tired and obviously confused.
“Ugh, Mao? Why are you awake? It’s, like, two a.m.,” he yawned, rubbing the sleep out of his one good eye.
Crap, the black cat thought, caught like a deer in the headlights. Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap. “Oh, good, good morning, Badgerclops!” He did his best to smile, but it came out awkward and sheepish.
His large, sleepy friend was awake now and looked concerned. “Dude, are you okay?” he asked, moving closer with the clear intention of sitting on the couch with him.
Instinctively, Mao Mao scooted further away, laughing but nervously. “Ha ha, silly old Badgerclops!” he exclaimed. “Of course I’m fine; what kind of hero would I be if--?”
Before he could finish what he was saying, the badger wrapped his big arms around his small body, enveloping him in a hug. “A normal hero, with problems just like everyone else,” he finished for him.
For what felt like the longest time, Mao Mao’s face was buried in soft fur, with opposing worlds of warmth and cold making acquaintance with his back. It was clean and pleasant to touch unlike . . .
He felt himself shudder with the onset on fresh tears. He found his hands holding onto Badgerclops tighter and burying his face deeper.
Please don’t leave.
Don’t let go.
Badgerclops was taken aback by the sudden gesture, but he didn’t resist. He only pet the back of Mao Mao’s head to comfort him. “You know you can talk to me if something’s wrong, right?” he whispered.
The black cat didn’t answer, he wouldn’t even lift his face to look at him.
Even though he couldn’t see, he could feel one of Badgerclop’s arms wrap around his legs as support, and the rising off the couch. “It’s late,” he said quietly, “we should go to bed.”
No. Please no. I can’t go back there. I can’t.
His big strong friend easily carried him back to the bedroom. He acted as though Mao Mao weighed little to nothing, like he was a small kitten.
Or a child who needed consoling after a nightmare.
Mao Mao’s grip on his fur got tighter.
He was pathetic. He was an adult, a full-grown man, and he was suffering from a silly dream.
He tried to hide his face, just like the shame he felt over his realization.
This was ridiculous . . .
“Okay, we’re here.” Badgerclops’s voice was reduced to a whisper, undoubtedly to avoid waking up Adorabat. He looked to Mao Mao for any kind of reaction that they had arrived at their destination, but he wouldn’t look at him. “Do you want to sleep with me on my bunk?” he asked.
He didn’t want to admit that that sounded wonderful, like the thing he needed most. The longer he was like this, the more infantile he felt and he was hating every second of it.
Badgerclops didn’t wait for an answer before he carried Mao Mao in one arm and used the other to ascend the ladder to the top bunk bed. It was clear he wasn’t used to doing this as he shifted about to accommodate for the both of them. “Comfortable?” he asked, seeking the black cat’s approval. He was now on his friend’s soft belly, warm and pleasant. It was nice, and somehow nostalgic . . .
Before he knew it, he could feel his muscles relaxing and the stress from before melting away. He was already drowsy and could feel himself falling asleep.
Badgerclops smiled. “Sweet dreams, Mao Mao,” he whispered.
As the friends drifted off, the last thing he remembered the sound of his heartbeat.