Comatose - Part 1
Jack was alone in his jungle world.
He knew he was alone. The trees were always still, and the silence was broken only by his own breathing. There were no animal tracks; no fish drifting down the river, pushed forward by the current. There were no birds tweeting or flying in the light of the setting sun, and there were no broken twigs or scratched tree trunks. There was no one.
Which is why the noise made him jump.
It was quiet and high-pitched, a yelp or a scream. Jack froze, his hand curled tightly around the hilt of a makeshift knife. He searched the bushes around him, peering through the green leaves and brown earth for another colour, a brighter, nicer colour. There was nothing. Jack relaxed his muscles, letting the jagged edge of the knife stroke his thigh. He was dressed in a small pair of shorts that were frayed and ripped at the edges. Their faded blue pattern could still be seen through the smeared mud and stains.
Jack swallowed and started walking again, his back bent and his feet light. It was a skill he had practiced ever since he had first arrived in this strange world. His noisy footsteps had sounded horribly out of place in the silence - the steady creeping made him feel better. He felt safer knowing he was invisible, intangible, that if someone did arrive, they wouldn’t see him or hear him for a very long time. The creeping did have another advantage, of course. It helped him avoid the Dark.
There was a sudden rustling from the bushes and Jack darted backwards, his hand tightening on his knife. So there was something here with him. He wondered whether it would be friendly or whether, like the Dark, it would try to devour him whole. Jack tilted his head past the bark of a tree to look at the bushes again. They were still rustling, the emerald leaves jerking and twitching, catching the light of the golden rays that shot down from between the trees. Friend or foe?
With nimble grace that he had also been practicing, Jack leapt onto the tree, his bare feet curving round the trunk. He scrambled up it and held on tight. He clung to a branch and edged along it, positioning himself above the bush, and then, his thin arms flexing and his back arching, he swung around and hung down from the tree, his knees locked into place and his hair grazing the top of the bush. He held his knife upwards and waited. He could stay still if he wanted, wait for the monster to pass, or he could let go and slice through skin and bone until the threat was gone forever.
It took a minute for something to happen; the leaves shook one last time, and someone crawled out of the bush, tears dropping to the dirt below. Jack narrowed his eyes and tensed his muscles. The person was small, tiny and in an odd way, lopsided. It was a boy, with shaken blonde hair and a thin gown that was patterned blue with red dots. He was sobbing, weeping, his tears spilling down his anguished face and his chest heaving as he tried to regain his breathing. His eyes, shadowed with puffy red skin, were a dull brown.
His cries sliced through the silence and a fresh onslaught of tears fell to the ground. Jack watched the crying boy for a moment and then, the ghost of a smile on his lips, he slowly let himself drop, landing with a small thud. The boy didn’t notice, and Jack took a step forward, tucking the knife into the waistband of his shorts. The boy still didn’t turn around - he just kept crying and sobbing and weeping for his mum. Jack began to feel a bit awkward. He had been in this place for months, maybe years, and his social skills were slightly off. He couldn’t remember the protocol for this - was he meant to tap the kid on the shoulder? Was he meant to say something? Was he meant to leave? Jack, in his infinite wisdom, didn’t know. So, he did the only think he could think of.
He didn’t know where the tune came from. It just...happened, erupted from his mouth and streamed into the air, the melody drifting through the jungle like an immense satin ribbon. It twisted and twirled and rose and fell. It sounded like a lullaby, but Jack couldn’t be sure. The boy stopped crying and looked up, his face the picture of terror. Jack kept singing, letting the song soothe his creaking, unused throat. He remembered singing in the past but like all of his memories, it was faded, warped by time and an overactive imagination. He remembered singing the song before...was it a theme song to something? He thought so. Two brothers, fighting shadows and the dark.
The song finished and Jack looked down at the boy curled up on the dirt. His eyes were wide and his mouth was open slightly, fear and amazement mixed together. Jack gave him a little smile - his facial muscles twinged painfully at the exercise - and he held out a hand. The little boy stared at it for a second and then he grabbed it. Jack hoisted him to his feet. “I’m Jack.”
The boy scrubbed his head with one hand and wobbled, almost falling over. Jack suddenly realised why he looked lopsided - he only had one leg. The other was an unprotected stump, cut short just above the knee.
He would have to get a crutch. “My name’s...Pitley.”
“Pitley? I’ve always loved that name.” A smile fled across the little boy’s face and he lurched forward, grabbing the hem of Jack’s shorts and pulling them down slightly. Jack grabbed his arms and steadied him. “Do you want me to carry you?”
Pitley’s face creased for a second and, shutting his eyes against a fresh flood of tears, he nodded. Jack bent
down and hooked his arm under the boy’s leg, pulling him into a baby lift. “There we go. Are you ok?”
“Y-yes,” Pitley hiccupped, bowing his head. A tear slid down Jack’s chest. “I want to go home.”
“I know. But we just have to wait a while, ok?” Pitley looked up at him and nodded, and taking a deep breath, Jack started walking.
He didn’t know what to do, or what to say, or how to act. He couldn’t remember being with a child, or being a child himself. He didn’t know whether to be painfully honest or stupidly casual. He didn’t know where they would sleep - he usually climbed a tree, but the kid had one leg. How was he meant to cope with that? He would have to make a crutch and help him walk. What if he needed to be fed? Jack never ate in here, but what if Pitley had to eat and drink? What if the Dark ensnared him? What then? Would he be alone again?
Jack walked for a while, his thoughts chasing each other like dogs on a track. Eventually, he stopped and put
Pitley down at the base of a tree. His eyes were closing. “Thank you,” he whispered as Jack sat down beside him.
“No problem. What age are you?”
“I’m six. What...what ‘bout you?”
“Fifteen, I think. I don’t know. I honestly don’t know anymore.”
There was no reply. Pitley’s eyes had closed and he was snoring gently. Jack smiled at him and, curling up beside him, held his hand. Poor kid. Only six, and he was destined to a life of fighting the shadows and running from the silence. Poor Pitley. Poor Jack.
There was nothing they could do to change their fate - they were now locked in this world of no beginning and no end, where the Dark could eat you and the sun never fully set. The Dark was a different kind of dark. It was a bright dark, a light dark, the dark you saw just as you closed your eyes and drifted off to a troubled sleep. Jack had never been touched by it before, but just by looking at it, he could tell it was bad news, and he knew he had to run from it. Sometimes it glowed white, and he could see his mother and father...but it was only for a second and then there was nothing, just the Dark chasing him through the trees.
Jack pushed the thoughts of the Dark to one side, and let himself fall into sleep.
“It’s a new drug called Campiliaxenor....it might work...we’ve been trying it on other patients...”
“And have they woken up?”
“So far, yes. It stimulates...brain cells....adrenaline...If you give us permission, we’ll use it on your son at the same time we try it on Mrs Pirelli’s son...”
“What - the boy in the next bed?”
“They’re both comatose...we can help them with this drug, Madam. This could work. We just need your approval...”
“But what if it doesn’t work?”
“There are no obvious side-effects if the drug doesn’t work. Brain function will increase, and muscles may begin to twitch...if it doesn’t work, your son will be the exact same as he is just now.”
“So...it’s a win-win situation?”
“I wouldn’t phrase it like that myself, but I suppose you could say that.”
“We’ll do it.”