Short Fiction: No Man’s Land

Writing 150(This is what I came up with for a Thursday prompt two weeks ago, boundaries. I wanted to return to Matthew from my previous story and see how he was doing after the transformation was complete. This story doesn’t end so much as stop, and I’ll need to take a couple more stories to focus specifically on endings. But for now, here’s the story.)

“There it is. That’s the edge of the reservation.” Kikkitik gestured with one long forearm towards the unassuming low fence they were walking towards. Matthew was surprised by its modesty; it was a simple wooden post fence, lined with wires that may or may not be electric. It stretched over the plain that served as the outside edge of the chimeral reservation, as far as he could see to the north and south. It couldn’t have been higher than three feet. He could have stepped over it easily, and Kikkitik could simply crawl over it herself. There was a dirt road just beyond it, and beyond that a slope that lead to more grassland. They stopped thirty feet before they reached the boundary. Matthew knew Kikkitik wanted no part of it, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to flirt with it, either.

He had been on the reservation for nearly a month now, but this was the first time he had taken the tour. There were a number of reasons he didn’t want to leave the confines of the small compound that served as their home, but one by one Kikkitik had resolved them. She was patient and steady with him, and it was the least he could do to reward that effort with the walk around the ground she had been pushing for. That didn’t mean he was ready to face the world beyond the reservation just yet, though. Expanding the world he was in was adventurous enough.

He had changed and lost everything he knew. Right now, he was a hulk of a creature, nine feet tall with the solid and shaggy build of a bear. His head was a mixture of bear and beaver, oversized incisors and prominent canine teeth in a boxy, short muzzle. His ears were broad and long, his nose was large and sensitive, his eyes were dark and small. It took him several weeks to navigate the vast gulf between his old body and his new one, and even now he was unsure of how things worked. He shouldn’t be able to talk with the strange shape of his mouth, or the teeth that were too large or small and in all the wrong places. But he spoke anyway.

“I was expecting something more.” He heard his voice, deep and rich and rolling. He sounded like the noble warrior from a fantasy movie. It didn’t suit him.

Kikkitik’s mandibles clacked together several times, making a thick and heavy knock-knock-knock-knock sound that he had learned was laughter. “Most people do. But it doesn’t take much to keep us in here, or the rest of the world out there. Both groups decided they’d rather stick to their own kind a long time ago.”

“Mmm.” Matthew turned to look at her. She was something out of most people’s nightmares, the unholy cross of a praying mantis and a millipede blown up to vehicular-sized proportions. Out of all the chimera on the reservation, she was easily the most unnerving. But she was quiet and thoughtful, patient and pragmatic. She had carried him through his transition to reservation life, kicking and screaming. He now considered her his best friend. “I’m not sure that’s such a good thing. It’s only a matter of time before one of us gets tired of tolerant isolation.”

She looked down at him, her antennae waving consideringly. “That may be. But for now, this works. We have time and space to consider who and what we are.”

“And it gives them time to figure out that they don’t want us around, whatever it is we decide we are.”

Kikkitik knocked once. “So untrusting.” She was practicing her vocal inflection, he could tell. It didn’t quite convey the amusement she had been aiming for, but it carried across enough that he knew what she was trying to do.

He grinned at her in the way he learned, opening his jaws, sticking his tongue out over his lower incisors. It was his best approximation, but it still didn’t look quite right. The instinctive reaction made it look like he was snarling far too much. “Have you watched the news? Chimera aren’t exactly being embraced out there.”

“I don’t watch television anymore, no. It makes me feel too weird. I guess I haven’t seen anyone hating us yet. I’ve only seen them.” She nodded, and stretched out a forearm as far as it would go. Matthew followed her gaze, over the fence and down into the small valley to the east.

His eyesight had gotten a lot worse, but his hearing and smell had gotten a lot better. He lifted his nose to the wind and sniffed, then swiveled his ears in the direction she pointed. He caught the scent of gasoline, sun-baked metal, and people. He heard the hum of generators and idle chatter too distant to make out clearly. He could barely make out the speck of sunlight glinting off a metallic surface, too, but that didn’t tell him nearly as much as his nose and ears did.

“Who are they?” he rumbled.

“They’re people who’ve gone out of their way to contact us. When they see us near the boundaries of the reservation, they hold up signs telling us we’re welcome and still thought of as people.” Kikkitik chittered. Matthew had no idea what that meant.

Matthew had no idea what to think about those people at the bottom of that shallow hill, either. Immediately his mind conjured images of those kooks outside of Roswell or Area 51, welcoming aliens and asking to be lifted to higher states of consciousness. Did those people think of him as something more than human? Did they think his transformation had given him any answers to life’s questions? He wanted to run down there, just to tell him that he was as scared and confused as the next man. He didn’t have any answers. He barely had any friends.

“That’s kind of nice,” was all he said.

Kikkitik chittered, then turned away from the fence to begin the long walk back to the compound. “Give it time,” she said. “People are always freaked out by the things they’ve never encountered before. And right now, we’re just on the edge of what they know. They just need time to absorb that.”

Matthew was silent, but he fell into step beside her. Whenever he had to jog, he had to fight the urge to fall to his hands and run on all fours. He had his doubts about her optimistic view, but he hoped she was right. That small fence made an effective boundary between their worlds right now, but it wouldn’t hold forever. Sooner or later, human and chimera would need to deal with each other.

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