Jacqueline has rested the laptop on her half-bare thighs, and as she slides her fingertip over the touch pad, the order travels through an HDMI cable from the laptop to her LCD television, where the cursor moves on a vertical plane over the rows and columns of illustrations. They depict beasts that may have come from fantasy, from prehistory, or from the instructions that some paleontologist was dictating to a painter while they both were tripping on peyote.
The wild child had grabbed one of the scarlet pillows and dropped it on the carpet, then she flopped down on the pillow and curled into a tight ball with her arms folded under her chin and her knees tucked into her chest. Now she’s mesmerized by the parade of still beasts on the TV screen as Jacqueline scrolls up and down.
How would it feel to have been snatched from a boreal forest, where the comings and goings of ants may have seemed interesting, and dropped into this modern world of traffic jams and smartphones? A world that drowns us with so many choices that we prefer to slump down in a chair and let the hours pass. Meanwhile, we daydream about how nice it would be if the decay of our bodies accelerated exponentially, to free us from the responsibility of figuring out how to fill productively the time we have left until we are thrust violently into a pitch-black oblivion, where we’ll forget that we were once human.
When I return my gaze to the screen, Jacqueline has clicked on a thumbnail to load the original image: an artist’s rendition of a hulking beast with wood-brown, shaggy fur, who is standing on its hind legs, which are thick like tree trunks, to reach for a branch laden with verdant leaves. The beast’s bone-white claws are curved and solid like a sabretooth’s canine teeth. Those sunken, amber-colored eyes, that are surrounded by ovals of black fur in a swan-white face, stare at me with disdain. I escaped the monster’s grasp through a doorway between worlds, but now that it has found me, it will burst out of the screen to reduce me, as well as Jacqueline and the child, to piles of bones stripped clean of flesh.
I gasp, then spring up from the sofa and jab my finger at the TV screen.
“Th-that’s the monster that almost tore us to shreds!”
Jacqueline lets out a noise of confusion.
“It resembles a cross between a gigantic bear and a sloth. That tail looks far less impressive than what you suggested. Are you sure, Leire?”
I slide down from the sofa onto my knees and grab the child’s shoulder. She looks at me over her shoulder, open-mouthed.
“You recognize it, right?” I ask as I point at the screen with a quivering hand. “That’s the monster that wants to roast us into a meat pie!”
The child speaks nonsense in her high-pitched voice as she fiddles with one of her animal hair bracelets. I fear that she’s not quite sane.
“At least nod or something, kid,” I say, defeated.
Jacqueline clicks a link; it leads to the website that contains the original picture. The screen fills with a wall of text that imitates Wikipedia. My girlfriend narrows her eyes and pinches her lower lip.
“Megatherium? It’s Latin for ‘great beast’.”
“How can they call something with such an ugly name?”
“So they are giant sloths, right? Funny, I didn’t know they existed. Where do these animals live? Let’s see… Like today’s sloths, they were pure herbivores that ate leaves and grasses…”
I click my tongue.
“Anyone can write vile lies on Wikipedia. There are plenty of morons out there with nothing better to do than ruin everyone else’s life. I’d also bet that the scientist who first described this species had a crack pipe in his hand. I’m telling you, the child and I stood in front of that monster. It was pining for our flesh. The claws alone could have severed us at the waist, and its body could have squashed us flat as a piece of paper. Let’s name that beast… Hrafnagelr! It’s a male with two penises that he uses to hunt his prey, and he makes sure to castrate them first. It’s a shame we don’t have a picture of his scrotum.”
Jacqueline nods as she listens to my babbling.
“Once he’s satiated,” I continue, “he tosses his victim’s guts out of his cave onto the shore, so the fish can feed on them. However, that’s only the beginning of the monster’s terrorizing: he rips out the tongues of those who annoy him, and even castrates himself to find out how much pain he can endure. Everyone in the world will eventually kill themselves so they can become a part of Hrafnagelr’s fur.”
Jacqueline, focused on the screen of her laptop, snaps her head back. As she reads on, her face pales. She straightens her spine and shifts her gaze to my eyes. Any trace of my girlfriend’s self-assured self has been wiped from her expression; she looks as if someone pushed her off a platform and now her feet can’t find a floor under them.
“Leire… these animals went extinct twelve thousand years ago,” she says in a shaky voice.
After a moment, we turn our heads in unison to appraise the child. That chestnut-brown, disheveled hair has only ever been combed with fingers. Her ash-colored leather tunic is worn and scratched as if by bending branches. Her necklace displays teeth pried out from downed beasts. The twisted animal hair that she uses as bracelets may have been found on the forest floor, or harvested from corpses. Jacqueline took off the child’s crude boots, because they had been tracking mud over the hallway floor; the girl’s bare feet are dirty, and their nails jagged.
Our guest’s eyes dart like a wary beast’s between the two strangers that are staring at her, trying to decipher the meaning in this tense atmosphere. Under our focused gaze, she narrows her shoulders, her pupils tremble, and she crosses her hands over her chest.
Jacqueline puts the laptop aside, then lowers herself to the carpet. She strokes the child’s face.
“Somewhere out there,” my queen starts in a thin, quavering voice, “somehow happening at the same time, this child’s parents must have noticed her missing and they are searching for her, calling her name with desperation. But those thousands of years are already gone, aren’t they? Her parents endured the rest of their lives wracked by guilt. They never saw their precious daughter again.”
Jacqueline’s eyes brim with tears. She scoots closer to the girl and hugs her, mashing the ten-year-old’s face against that holy pair of breasts. The tit-meat bulges over the child’s cheeks while her eyeballs roll around in their sockets.
“Sorry, doll, but I doubt you will ever return home. Still, you don’t need to worry, because we will keep you safe.”
Are we now responsible for this child’s wellbeing? As the realization sinks in, a shudder shakes my bones. Until fifteen minutes ago this child had never seen a television, but forget about that tool of conformity; this girl would be unable to name a single board game. How would she ever navigate the modern world? Although she’s still a child, I recall that the first four or five years are fundamental to build the neurological pillars upon which the rest of her future depends. Isn’t she doomed to become a mental recluse forever isolated from the surrounding society, no matter how many sights and experiences we drag her to discover? And what about the damage that my manic paranoia will do to her fragile mind?
I swallow the knot in my throat.
“Are you sure about adopting this girl, Jacqueline…? Think hard, because this decision might haunt us for the rest of our days. She’s obviously mentally damaged, and I bet her eyes glow in the dark. She probably hasn’t heard of the Big Bang or the Industrial Revolution or the Spanish Inquisition. She may come from a prehistoric tribe of cannibals. And do you own any toys that she might enjoy, other than dildos?”
Jacqueline flings her head back and shoots me a teary-eyed look that shuts me up, but she must have recognized my concern. As she pulls away from the embrace, a trembling thread of saliva connects the meaty curve of her right breast to the child’s wet lower lip. Our guest is focused on the mighty pair, maybe assessing them as weapons.
Jacqueline licks her thumb and washes the girl’s eyebrows with that fingertip.
“She has lost everything,” my girlfriend says with determination. “She needs us. It will take her years to understand the world we live in, and she’ll always feel different. But anything is better than abandoning her.”
I hug my knees to my chest and rest my chin on my wrist. My brain is buzzing, my temples are throbbing. My stomach churns like an unruly tide. I should have slept for a full night; I’m unequipped to consider the ramifications of taking care of a prehistoric person who will likely live for about five more decades. But if we surrender this child to the government, they’ll confine her in some center for minors, where she’ll be preyed upon by this country’s uninvited guests, or she’ll become some politician’s plaything. Besides, the prehistoric tribes were likely as peaceful as they could, except for the occasional acts of cannibalism to replenish their stock of meat.
I lower my head in shame.
“F-fine, but make sure she keeps her hands off your tits. She’s about ten, not five.”
Jacqueline giggles like a drunk.
“Of course. My boobs are my insurance for survival.”
Alright then, we have a pet, an exotic one. I would have preferred a cat, but you gotta work with what you’re given, even if it’s a strange forest girl from the Ice Age. She likely needs a mommy as much as I do; thankfully, Jacqueline can draw upon her boundless reserves of love to provide this child with enough affection that she won’t kill us in our sleep. Along with fresh clothes, tasty food and a warm bed, the girl will forget her parents soon enough. For what remains of the night, maybe a good scrubbing in the bathtub will rid her of dirt and fleas, then we’ll put her to sleep in the spare bedroom.
My latest contract with the hospital where I work ended last Saturday, and I’m very unlikely to be recalled until three weeks from now. That means that I have spent most of yesterday, as well as this entire morning, working on this chapter and the following one, of which I’ve finished the first draft. Apart from writing, I intend to exploit these three weeks to research certain locations that my characters will visit, take walks in the sun, read manga and a few books, masturbate to VR porn, and play through my ongoing campaigns of “Arkham Horror” and “Marvel Champions”.
Minus points to Jacqueline for failing to notice immediately that the Megatherium was extinct. Leire likely knew that, but her mess of a brain failed to connect the dots and realize the ramifications regarding the child she kidnapped from the Ice Age.
I used a neural network to generate images from this chapter. Here’s the link.