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Queen of the Acadian Forest

From the Woods of Earth to the Wilds of a New Planet

By Kait ThursdayPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 16 min read
Queen of the Acadian Forest
Photo by Daniel Peters on Unsplash

No one can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. I'd been lying on a very strange bed in a very strange place for the better part of three days. Aasir kept saying, "It's trauma. She's in shock," to The Others. He often spoke Urdu with them, so I didn't know what they were saying. He spoke to me in English, repeatedly saying, "Please eat something or drink something; they may intubate you if you don't. I'm afraid if they do, then it will traumatize you more." I think I did eat and drink after some time because he started saying different things. Things like: "You must come and see; we are going so fast. It's incredible!" "It may be easier to manage if you come and ask them questions. They can explain about Earth. I truly believe they don't want to hurt us." I heard everything he said, yet his words had minimal impact on me. Once, I heard him quietly praying, and I think I asked him, "Why?" As I lay there, I sometimes thought about our first day on the ship. I thought of his first words to me, "Hello Eva, I'm Aasir. It's pronounced 'Ah-sur.' I know it can be difficult for Americans," he then frowned and said, "well, I suppose there is no America anymore."

Aasir explained that Earth was gone. He said The Others told him they had recovered as many humans and animals as possible. He said, "We're the last three they got out." By three, he meant himself, me, and a cat he called something that sounded like "Chotu." He said, "It means small." At first, I could talk, eat, bathe, and scratch Chotu behind the ears, even though it made me sneeze. We became friends during our first few days on the ship. We talked about Earth. It seemed impossible to me that it was gone, so I pretended like it wasn't. I said things like, "When we get back to Earth, we should go..." Aasir played along, but I could tell it made him sad, so I changed the subject every time. Once when he was particularly sad, I said, "What did you do before the war?" He didn't smile but said, "I was a doctor in Kashmir before they dropped the nukes." I said, "And during the war?" He said, "Medic in Ontario. And you?" "Arborist in Maine before and an assembly line worker at a chemical weapon manufacturing plant in Ontario during the war, well, after they cut down my forest." We didn't talk about the war much after that. We talked about other things, what our hobbies were (gardening for him, writing for me), whether we had children or spouses (no, all), and where we thought The Others were taking us (their home world for him, our home world for me). That made him sad again.

The Others never oppressed us. In fact, I hardly ever saw them. I didn't like to see them. They looked all wrong. Aasir said they were projecting a form of themselves they thought we could cognize. They looked sort of like people. Well, like a hologram of people. Well, like a hologram of people that never stopped moving. Well, like a hologram of people that made me seasick. They flitted back and forth like they were on an old tube tv with lousy reception. It's no good trying to explain their faces because I never looked at them for more than a few seconds at a time. They spoke English, though each of their voices sounded like 1000 people speaking at once, so I couldn't really understand them. Aasir did most of the talking for me. He said their Urdu, Hindi, Pashto, Spanish, and Punjabi were easy to understand. Unfortunately, I only spoke English and a tiny bit of high school French so I couldn't try a different language with them.

After about a week, the spaceship started to make me claustrophobic. It reminded me of the factory and the barracks I'd existed in during the war. It reminded me of thousands of trees on fire, their ashes choking me and leaving dark rivers on my cheeks as they mixed with my tears. I think I went a bit funny then. I think I went a bit mad. One night I awoke with Chotu on my face. I couldn't breathe and felt the fire in my lungs again. I screamed for hours with my hands clutching my throat. Aasir called it "a PTSD-related panic attack." I called it "my heart trying to escape my chest."

The spaceship seemed small. There were a few rooms we did not have access to, one was the cockpit, and the other was the cargo hold. I thought there might have also been an escape pod, and I began searching for it when I thought no one was looking. I don't think I wanted to steal it at first, nor did I want to harm The Others. I just needed to know I could get out if I wanted to, that the ship wasn't a prison. I thought about Earth a lot, and there was a great deal of delusion in my thoughts. I thought of my grandma, who died long before the war, saying, "Climb a tree whenever you get sad, dear, you'll see the world from a different perspective, and it will put you in your place." I knew I needed a different perspective; the only problem was that there were no trees to climb anymore. I didn't share these thoughts with Aasir in case The Other's overheard us, though I sometimes whispered them into Chotu's ears.

On our twelfth day on the ship, I found the escape pod. I found the entrance to the cargo hold first. The cargo hold was full of strangely shaped metal containers, some cylindrical and others oblong. I quickly discovered that I wouldn't be able to open them. They all seemed to be humming. The buzzing noise was how I found the door in the first place. They'd disguised it as a blank stretch of wall, but I could hear it. I leaned against it as casually as I could, and it opened. Once inside, I looked around for a while and became fascinated by the containers. I listened to them for a long time and wondered if they spoke to me in a language I couldn't understand. Gradually, I became convinced that they were singing, and I sat on the floor, humming with them and trying to match their pitch. I left the room after a few hours to go to the restroom. As I washed my hands in the sink after using the facilities, I realized that the cargo hold could be on the other side of the wall from the restroom. So, I dried my hands and began to lean on the wall between the toilet and the shower. It worked. A door opened, but it didn't lead to the cargo hold.

The escape pod was smaller than the restroom and shaped like an egg. It contained a single seat and a control panel with four unlabeled buttons in different colors. There was an additional button on the metal ceiling. On impulse, I pressed it. The ceiling began to slide back quietly to reveal the most breathtaking sight I had ever seen. There were specks of light, stars streaking through the blackest space. No, that's not right; I was streaking by them. The ship was racing through space at a pace my mind couldn't comprehend. After a while, I began to wonder how it felt like I stood still while clearly moving at a breakneck speed. Then a line from some physics textbook or another came to my mind, "For the astronauts on the International Space Station, gravity is but a dream." So, how was I standing at all? I had no answers. I never went to college, so I thought of asking Aasir, who went to college for a long time if he knew how these things worked. Then I thought better of that idea. I pressed the button, said goodbye to the stars, and slipped back into the restroom.

Over the next two days, I thought of stealing the escape pod. I thought there must be supplies in the cargo hold that I could also steal. However, I didn't actually think stealing the pod would be a good idea. For one thing, I had no idea how to fly it, and for another thing, I had no idea where we were. I kept finding myself wandering into the cargo hold and humming with the containers. I honestly thought I must be going mad. Aasir didn't ask where I kept going or what I was doing. I think he talked to The Others more often to give me privacy. Perhaps he thought I was going mad, too. Finally, I tried prying open a container in the cargo hold. I now wish that I had not.

I forced my fingers beneath the lid on one of the containers. The humming became louder as the lid slowly lifted. It also released an icy mist, like the kind you see around dry- ice. When the top opened fully, I was suddenly back in my forest as it burned down. I saw my crewmates lying motionless and covered in soot. I heard the deafening crash of a quaking-aspen hitting the ground a hundred yards from me. Felt the world tremble as a 200-year-old elm burst from the quick temperature change. Saw the soldiers coming toward me. Felt the tears evaporating from my cheeks. Felt the stun gun drop me to the ground. Saw the leaves drifting to Earth all around me. Felt the ax pried from my electrocuted fingers.

Three days later, I was lying on the very strange bed in the very strange place. The Others had found me in the cargo hold, but Aasir brought me back to our room. He stayed with me most of the time, sometimes talking, always concerned. He told me, "They did not kill the bodies in those containers. They plan to use them to create medicines to help the surviving humans. Eva, they explained everything to me." I didn't believe him. I no longer trusted him. I felt loneliness more profound than I could put into words, not that I was attempting to speak. Finally, I decided, or maybe it wasn't a decision at all, that I had to escape. I remembered the first time I'd held my ax and my grandma saying, "There is a power that comes from tending to the trees. You are queen of the Acadian Forest when you hold this ax."

I told Aasir I wanted to use the restroom and take a shower. He was so relieved to hear me speak that he began to quietly cry as he said, "Yes, a shower will help you feel better." His crying made me feel guilty, as I knew I wasn't bringing him with me. I really did use the restroom and take a shower. Then I dressed in one of the strange velvet tunics The Others had provided. I thought space might be cold, so I pulled on a pair of leggings too, and as my hair was still wet and dripping down my back, I wrapped it in a dry cloth. I leaned against the blank stretch of wall and entered my last hope.

I decided to push each button on the control panel in order. I sat in the chair, facing them for a long time. I had chosen not to look at the sky as I might get too frightened. I pressed the first button, and all that happened was the door closing. "That wasn't so bad," I muttered to myself. I pressed the second button, and a panel to my left slid open, revealing provisions. "Well, at least I have food," I said. I pressed the third button, and a screen arose from a thin slot directly behind the controls. I hesitated, then said, "Press it, Eva, don't be a coward. You don't want to be a body in one of those containers." Then I sneezed and realized that I wasn't alone in the pod. Chotu rubbed against my legs which made me feel braver, somehow. And so, I pressed the fourth button.

Nobody can hear a scream in the vacuum of space, or so they say. The pod stuttered and rumbled. I knew it was disconnecting from the main ship, but something was wrong. I floated off of my seat, and I couldn't breathe properly. Chotu was floating and gasping too. I caught and held him with one arm as I pressed the first button with my free hand. The door opened, but the pod had disconnected from the ship. I was wrong about space being cold. Every inch of my body was on fire, especially my tongue. I saw the trees burning and tasted the ash again, but I fought falling under with everything I had. I came too quickly, but I was already drifting out the door. I held onto the doorframe and Chotu the way I had once held my ax. "You are queen of the Acadian Forest," I told myself in my mind. Then I saw the reason we weren't hurtling through space anymore: we were orbiting around a planet, a planet I knew at once wasn't Earth. I tried apologizing to Chotu, but I'm not sure I managed it before I fell into darkness.

I awoke in an even stranger bed in an even stranger place. The walls were made from two-way mirrors, and I could see outside from every wall. Outside! I nearly sprang from the bed before realizing I was secured to it with thick padded straps on my wrists and chest. I then realized many tubes and monitors were attached to my arms and a very uncomfortable one in my nostrils. I wasn't in any pain, but I began to feel overwhelmed by discomfort, and I was afraid that my mind would slip again into the memory of my beloved Acadian Forest burning down. I took several deep breaths and said in my mind, "You jumped out of a spaceship; you must be in some sort of hospital." After a few moments, I returned to normal.

I began to gaze around at my surroundings. I was inside a glass dome with shiny metal floors. There were many of The Others outside, moving around slightly outside of my field of vision. I got the feeling that they couldn't see me through the glass. It hurt my eyes to try to see them, though, so I gave up. Inside the dome were three other unoccupied beds, all made from the same gel substance as the one on which I was lying. These beds were red and tall, unlike the short blue gel beds on the spaceship. There was also a small white foam table, and resting on top was the lifeless form of Chotu. Tears leaped into my eyes as I realized he was breathing. I had not killed him with my foolishness. The relief of knowing he was alive was the happiest I had felt since before the war.

A square door, like the ones on the spaceship, opened as soon I looked at it. Aasir entered and gave me a weak smile. He sat on the white foam table next to my bed and began speaking with no preamble. He said, "You asked me once why I pray, and I have an answer though it requires some explanation. My parents died when I was 6. I hardly remember them. They left me in the care of my elder brother Azban who was only 20 years old and in university at the time. He enrolled me in a non-religious boarding school called Srinagar Boarding School, so I never set foot inside a mosque."

"When Azban left university, he went into politics, which has historically been a precarious career choice in Pakistan. He married a wonderful woman from the Indian part of Kashmir named Chandrakanta, Chandra for short, and I came to live with them as though they were my parents. Chandra kept a small Hindu temple in our house, and I often saw her caring for the idols inside it, polishing them and offering them the first bite of every meal. I was still learning Hindi in those days, so I couldn't ask her about her rituals, but they fascinated me. Two years after they were married, she fell ill. Her illness was very rare and difficult to treat, but it did not prevent her from having a son whom she named Aahan. Her elderly mother, Mahi, came to live with us to help care for the baby."

"We were a real family for a few years. Mahi loved cricket, and she often took me to matches. When I mastered Hindi, Chandra told me fantastic stories about her gods and goddesses, while Azban interjected all of the stories he remembered from the Quran. Mahi and Azban knew several languages and taught them to Aahan and me. We were happy for a time, but Chandra's illness worsened, and I vowed to become a doctor to find a cure for her. At the same time, Azban's job became increasingly more stressful, and he was gone more often. One day I arrived home from school to find Mahi had passed away. One year later, so did Chandrakanta."

"The next few years were challenging. Azban and I did everything we could to give Aahan a good life. Azban took a new position at work and could be home more often. However, he made many political enemies in the process. I started university but stayed close to home. By the time I became a doctor, the political unrest inside Kashmir and the rest of Pakistan had grown. Little did I know then that the entire world was on the precipice of war. The first casualties in Kashmir were Azban and Aahan. Their murders were televised. I lost many days after they died. I cannot remember anything from that time except that one day I found my father's old sajjāda; in English, you would say prayer rug. I unrolled it on the floor in front of Chandra's temple, where I polished all the idols before bowing down and reciting the prayer I remembered my father speaking."

"I left Kashmir and fled to Canada, but the war followed me there like a ravenous hound. I was recruited as a medic and began treating all manner of patients. They considered me valuable because I knew many languages, so I often treated generals and politicians. On my last day on Earth, I was called to the chemical weapons factory in Ontario to treat a colonel who had accidentally gassed himself whilst doing some kind of inspection. I heard the fire siren, and two soldiers rolled my patient outside. Something told me not to leave. I heard the first bomb drop and understood that the wrong alarm had sounded, ushering everyone outside instead of underground for the air-raid. I ran down as many stairs as possible until I reached the living quarters beneath the building. That's when I heard you."

"You were yelling, 'Please, not my trees!" It startled me, and I ran towards your voice. The barracks lighting was dim, and it took me a few minutes to find you. When I did, I knew that you were mentally far away. Your hands covered your ears, and your eyes were wide open, though they were not focused. You were screaming and begging someone not to burn down your forest. I knew you were having a panic attack, and I tried to drag you to safety, but you began fighting me. Finally, I gave up in despair and left you to your yelling and flailing as I searched the room for pillows to protect your head. That's when I found Chotu. He was hiding underneath a bed and seemed very frightened. I scooped him up along with a pillow and brought them back to you. When you saw Chotu, you stopped panicking. The joyful tears on your face reminded me of my brother caring for his sick wife and newborn baby, and I wanted to care for you and protect you as I had failed to protect them. So now, when I pray, I ask Allah, Shiva, Durga, and any other god who will listen to protect you and save you from the horrors that plague your mind. I honestly don't know what I believe anymore, except that your panic attack kept us in the safest part of the building and that you calmed down right on time for me to cover you and Chotu as the bomb fell on the factory. The timing seemed divine to me."

Tears flowed down his cheeks when he stopped speaking. I attempted to take his hand, but I was still strapped to the bed, so I said, "The Acadian Forest was my family and home. The day it burned down felt like my last day alive, and when I get scared, it's like I'm back there again, watching my beloved trees wither to ash. Thank you for protecting me, and I'm sorry I didn't tell you what I was feeling sooner." He wiped his eyes, took my hand, and said, "When you are well enough, I will take you outside, Eva. Trees cover most of the surface of this planet. You will have a new forest to be the queen of, and Chotu will come with you to explore." I smiled and said, "Will you come with us too?" Aasir smiled too and said, "Why, of course, I vowed to protect you, and anyway, I would like to learn how to climb a tree." So, when I recovered, The Others told me I was free to go anywhere I wanted but to return if I needed anything. So, Aasir, Chotu, and I walked into the forest together. The wind rushing through branches moved us along in our journey towards healing.

Sci Fi

About the Creator

Kait Thursday

I'm a poet and a novelist, but my friends call me a starving artist. I've been writing for twenty years and have no plans to stop. I post new content to Vocal every month, but I have ADHD, so remind me if I forget.

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    Kait ThursdayWritten by Kait Thursday

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