“Preparing for takeoff. Batch 11–01 preparing for takeoff.”
Amelie pressed her nose against the glass cage, barely registering as the pilot’s announcement rang in her ears. Her mother said the glass was “fortified” because they were too strong and could cause damage if they broke out of the cage too soon.
She was crammed into the cage, as large as the apartment she lived in with her parents, with nineteen other people, including her parents. It swayed precariously on the tail of the aircraft that took them further and further from the ground, away from the skyscrapers and roads that wound through them, until the city receded to nothing but pinpricks of light.
And then it became too dark out to see anything. They were drifting past the clouds and breaking through the skin of the planet she had known all her life.
“Goodbye, Earth,” Amelie whispered, her breath making the glass fog up momentarily. “I’ll miss you.”
“You’ll love the Wilderness, Amelie,” her father said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “It’s clean and peaceful, and there are animal friends that talk, and you don’t have to worry about grades.”
The Wilderness did sound fantastic. But why then did her parents send her to rehabilitation school to get trained if the place were so peaceful?
“That’s because we were too ill-behaved and there were too many wars and diseases,” her father explained when she voiced that thought. “We destroyed Earth and had to start from ground zero, be retrained for normal society. This is our chance to return to civilisation, so to speak.”
“Because we’ve been good?”
He beamed. “That’s right. We’re survivors, Amelie.”
The pilot’s voice returned on the intercom embedded in the top four corners of the glass box. “The beasts are arriving. Prepare for landing. Batch 11–01 arrives in 10 … 9 … 8 …”
When at last they touched down (a rather rocky landing that made Amelie’s stomach churn and clutch her parents’ hands), everything went black. The lights in the glass box died, and only the green Exit sign glowed five feet to her right. Everyone formed an orderly line facing the sign as the cage doors slid open with a sigh.
Amelie had to rub her eyes and do a double take – for there seemed to be a fox standing at the doors dressed in a red and grey uniform. It stood like a man would, on its hind legs, but its face was definitely fox, and he had a well-brushed red tail that peeked out from under his well-pressed jacket.
Amelie was about to remark on that to her parents when the guard frowned down at her. “This one looks too young,” he said.
“But she’s turning twelve in two days,” her mother pleaded.
He considered. “She has her documents ready, I suppose?”
Her mother fished out a brown envelope and handed it to him. “Here.”
He scanned through the papers. “And she’s been trained?”
“Yes,” her father said without hesitation.
“Very well. Welcome to the Wilderness.” The guard waved them through.
The Wilderness, Amelie discovered, was Earth on another level.
Where there were humans on Earth, the Wilderness had animals. Bears that flew taxi-planes, dogs that delivered food, herons that mailed letters, hybrids that ferried passengers from the pier to the streets.
There were creatures from the storybooks her mother used to read to her when she was a child: mermaids with bright blue hair working as baristas, centaurs unloading cargo in the bay, harpies modelling at a street photo shoot, and minotaurs in pressed shirts and leather shoes entering and exiting buildings.
Amelie and her parents stared as they took it all in from the aerial view of a taxi-plane, their first ride courtesy of the Earth Embassy. The city sprawled across acres and acres, extending far beyond Amelie could see, dotted with floating air fountains and parks that glistened like emerald woven carpets. Every so often, the buildings would move, like giants walking on stilts, before settling into a new spot. The city was in a constantly reshuffle, and everything – everything – seemed to be alive.
There was barely another human in sight.
“Where do we fit in?” Amelie asked her parents, but neither of them had an answer for her.
The Wilderness looked like it could eat you whole. Humans like her did not run the place. Here, they were just another species of animals released into the wild. Amelie wasn’t sure if she liked it here. Already, she missed Earth, with its quiet predictability and humdrumness, its neat roads and immobile buildings and animals as pets, not overlords of an urban jungle.
Amelie clutched her parents’ hands and gave them a tug. “I want to go home.”
Her mother bent to stroke her head. “This is home now, baby,” she said.
“We’re survivors, Amelie,” her father said. “We’re the few who survived on Earth. So we’re going to survive the Wilderness too.”
It sounded more like a prayer than a promise.
About the Author
Joyce hails from the tropical island-city of Singapore, where she spends the perennially sunny days writing YA novels and short stories. Since graduating with a degree in English from the National University of Singapore, she has won a nationwide novel-writing competition organised by the National Arts Council and published her YA contemporary romance, LAMBS FOR DINNER (Straits Times Press, 2013). She subsists on green tea and baked pumpkins, and blogs about books, writing, and TV shows at The Writes of Passage in between writing her next novel. You can read all of her short stories here.