Author: Maniksha (@_poetism)
THE FIRST MEETING
It was a lovely day to be outside. The sun was penetrating the thick fog that had covered the city of Pangon for the first time in months.
Jiro stood in his garden, taking in the greenery around his home. It was a lovely day to be outside. But his school started in an hour, and his father would be mad if he played hooky, no matter how much the man loved him. After a few more moments of deliberation, he decided it was better to ask for forgiveness and left for his favourite haunt. The forest was a mere half an hour’s trek from his house, anyway.
The Oakwood forests of Pangon were one of the few functioning ecosystems left on this earth. He had often visited these woods with his father, who took it as an opportunity to teach Jiro about the different flora and fauna. Sometimes his father would dare him to climb the tallest trees or race along with him. He cherished those memories. Then there were days when he would explore the woods all by himself. Pangon had clear boundaries which ran along the forest to prevent the outside horrors from infiltrating the city. No, the beasts were not the threat. Almost all the predators were gone during the mass extinction event after the nuclear war. The boundaries prevented the entry of humans from the other side, the Underworlders.
The sun filtered through the canopies of large trees and illuminated the area with an ethereal glow. After some ideal wandering, Jiro discovered a new trail littered with barberry bushes. Feeling adventurous, he followed it. Soon he stumbled upon a small brook that sometimes disappeared and then reappeared down the path.
It was peaceful, Jiro thought, enjoying the occasional bird songs and picking some ripe Barberries that had caught his eye. He was careful of the poisonous plant as he plucked the red fruit and deposited it in a makeshift pocket he had made of his handkerchief tied to his belt. He marched along happily, soaking in the surrounding beauty when a voice startled him.
“What are you doing here?”
He swivelled, the fruits fell out of his pocket and scattered on the ground.
“Gosh, you scared me!” Upon discovering that it was a boy his age, standing tall in front of an oak tree, Jiro recovered quickly. He didn’t like the tone of the boy.
“I’m exploring. Not a crime now, is it?” He said while assessing the damage to his berries. What a waste! He had spent quite a lot of time picking the ripest ones.
The stranger did not move away. He observed Jiro for a while, who was busy saving whatever fruit he could, and said, “You are from the city, aren’t you? We don’t allow city people here.”
Although there was no malice behind the statement, Jiro did not take it kindly. “Not allowed! Do you know who governs the city?”
The boy shrugged.
“My father! And everything here comes under his rule,” Jiro said, hoping to impact the stranger.
The boy laughed.
“How dare you?” Forgetting all about berries, Jiro strode towards the boy, who did not move from his position beside the tree. Instead, he took out a sharp stick-like object and started twirling it in his hand.
Jiro halted mid-step, his eyes trained on the movement of the stranger’s hand. The object looked sharp.
“You have crossed the border alright,” the boy said. “This land belongs to us.”
It took a moment to sink in, and then the alarm on Jiro’s face was comical. He looked around. How far deep into the forest had I come, he wondered. Though getting lost was not his primary concern right now. There was a more pressing matter. If Jiro had crossed the border, that meant the boy in front of him was an Underworlder. He started backing away slowly, not taking his eyes off the stranger.
The boy laughed at that. “Running away now, are we?”
Jiro froze, like an animal caught, and let out a shaky breath. “You are going to kill me.” It was a statement. He knew he had foolishly let on early that he was the General’s son. There was no way an Underworlder was going to let him go alive.
“Relax!” the boy said, putting the stick, which Jiro was sure was some weapon, back into his pocket. “I would have killed you if I wanted to by now.”
“Then you won’t stop me from going home?”
“I won’t.” The boy held back a smile. “But do you know the path to go back to the city? It is not as straightforward as you think.”
“I know this forest. I can find my way back, thank you.” Gaining back some confidence, Jiro replied to what he thought was a condescending question.
“And yet you got lost.”
“I wasn’t lost. Just…”
“Ah just didn’t realise that you have crossed the border.” The boy cut in as he moved closer to where Jiro stood.
“There was supposed to be an electrified fence or something all around the city,” Jiro justified.
The stranger was only steps away from Jiro when he stopped and bowed a little to reach his height, “Well, then you should run back to your papa, tell him that his precious city is unprotected here.”
“Don’t tell me what to do.” Jiro leaned away in anger. He was being mocked, and he did not like it one bit. Deciding to end this weird conversation, he turned back and started walking along the trail that he had taken.
“Oye, take the first clearing to your right,” the stranger instructed from the back, “and don’t just follow the brook. It will mislead you.”
Jiro huffed loudly. Without looking back, he replied, “I know.”
“You didn’t tell me your name,” the stranger shouted behind him. Jiro ignored the boy, wanting nothing more than to get out of there as soon as possible.
“I am Yen,” the boy shouted again as Jiro made the right-hand turn as instructed. He could feel the smugness in the stranger’s voice.
The encounter left Jiro confused. He had met an Underworlder, yet made it out of there alive. He should report this Underworlder to his father. But halfway home, he decided against it. He knew his father would hunt down the Underworlder for sport. At least he should tell his father about the lack of security measures in the forest.
Yet by the time he reached home, he had decided against that too.
Act 2 is here!!!
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