This isn’t a tragedy. This is a performance.
Our stage is the forest. The sunny glares and dimpled ground, streams and other lengthy barriers. The forest is a stage and a habitat. It is our life. It feeds us and takes our thirst away and builds our bones. Without it, we slowly die into the ground until we become part of the forest itself.
Our act is not planned. Well, it didn’t start off planned. Performances mean entertainment shows, not planned productions. We walked into this trap and gave the audience it’s delight. Our act is a gruelling mess: spindly limbs and bloody cuts. After we got tangled up in a web of business, though, it all became planning and training. Planning and training. Hurting and breaking.
Our purpose? There isn’t one. There never is one. We do not believe the motto: everything has a purpose. Scratch that, some of us are just here for fools and nest-warmers. Some of us are just air inside bodies that keep us breathing, but lifeless. We are not alive because being alive means you can feel life around you, you have emotions, you FEEL.
And finally, our audience. This one is tricky, because half the time, we are the audience itself. We like to watch each other fumble around the trees and slip in oily mud. We like to be amused, even if we are the ones doing the amusing. This world is chaos without entertainment. But then it started going downhill, and we realized we never would have wanted this, or for anyone to watch it.
A performance. A stage. A twisted non-purpose and an audience. This is all an act, a half-planned act, but it was going to happen anyways.
Not because everything has a purpose, but because we are only breathing, not alive.
Rage is a key factor. Anger and madness are the most powerful of emotions, and the most unsteady. Emotions are like toys. They are just the same as moss balls and feathers. You play them up, throw them around, but if the enemy should take hold of them, they then go out of control.
Valencio. Terrence. Bird. Howl.
These are the four that represent the hundred. The hundred villains that mar desolate lands. These are the mad ones. These are not just rogues, they’re the game-masters, directors, producers. They put us in this performance, and if we didn’t do a good job, we’d be taken out.
They found us wandering. There are three of us and four of them. We were starving and running from the world, but that never worked out. We just ended up in the subsection, the forest, the home of rotting branches.
Valencio was the leader. No doubt. Someone with that name had to have high caliber and drive.
Terrence was the pitiful gay, madly in love with Valencio, like something out of all stories. He wasn’t even brawny though. He was just a body (lifeless but breathing, something familiar) that did the work. Valencio had the brains and the voice. The direction.
Bird and Howl were our trainers. They danced around us with a ferocity of old wounds, and taught us all our tricks. It was black magic. It was reality. It was a performance.
The four of them found us. And first, to show they meant business, they beat us into the ground. Halfway in, halfway out. Halfway part of the forest, halfway lifeless bodies.
Valencio did not breathe. He smoked. He fumed. He had red ears and dark fur. He was always mad at someone or something. Eventually, all the time put into the show calmed him down enough to just a normal psychopath. Because that’s what is normal, to us. Because we can’t stand up enough to make a difference.
And yet, during training time, he shoved that all down and became calm. It was all about the game to him. Drive. Caliber. These two words were many in Valencio vocabulary. Caring wasn’t.
Terrence was the puny tom that gave him the blazing air he needed to live. Unlike the rest of us, Valencio was truly alive. He had a purpose. Something which none of us ever, ever had.
Summer ended as the plans were made. Valencio made it all up one night to be seen as strong, and then spurted it out to us broken bodies. Terrence agreed hungrily. Howl and Bird thought, trained their minds in split seconds, and their jobs were made.
Valencio called it a presentation. Presentation, performance, transition. It was the same thing stuffed into multiple words. It all had the same “purpose,” which, again, never actually had one. One of the many things without one, but Valencio said it did. It’s always a back and forth, a debate; opposition.
“You will perform well. You will succeed in your act and do it correctly, or your tongues will be strewn out through your digestive system. Understand?” Valencio licked his lips and gave a toothy gleam. Psychopath, drive, caliber.
Terrence leaned in as if to scare us into nodding.
Bird and Howl unsheathed claws.
It took about a moon. The performance wasn’t all that intricate, it was just explosive.
Valencio groomed his fur and put on a large smile, viciously handsome. Bird and Howl, who we realized never identified as a single gender, moulded together to watch as one. Same crumpled fur, same narrow eyes: we realized they were twins. Sisters, brothers, or just twins. It didn’t matter.
Terrence hunted for hours and brought back only the bumpiest and juiciest prey for Valencio. Watching him eat it must have made Terrence lose a couple babies, if you know what we mean.
We curled all the loose vines up into bushes. We swept away the clogged dust from the ground’s pores and cleaned the area. We hid away all imperfections, like that was possible.
We chose a place where the trees hugged overtop us in a loving canopy. Only, to us, they weren’t trees.
We called them green ghosts. Mint phantoms. We had names for them because they weren’t just trees, they were protectors. They were watchers. Everywhere we went, our stage was filled with them. They floated in circles, with the trunks as rusty chains, and always watched. Their leaves sheltered us. Their bodies gave us shade. They hung around for eternity. They were green ghosts because they were so lifeless, even more than us, that they were farther than lifeless at all. They watched, breathed, stayed, but never changed.
The green ghosts wept their leaves as they watched us perform. We do not blame them.
Eventually, we weren’t the only audience. A true, intact audience was summoned roughly.
Valencio called them Clans. At least that was what he whispered into our ears, coursing it through our minds. First he whispered it into hers, then his, then mine. I am not a he or her, I am the same as Bird and Howl. I am myself. I do not need terms to choose me, mostly because I’m not truly alive.
She is Brin. She is black and smoky white. She is the bait. She sets us up and does the little side tricks, waiting for the main act. The is an appetizer, the small vole. We are the flaring Eagles, the main feast.
He is Cypress, the most lifeless of us all. He is a dull and simple brown. He sleeps and eats and is constantly fallen apart. He used to love Brin, but then we ran from the world and lost ourselves. Maybe we never were truly alive at all, in our lives. Maybe the green ghosts only followed us across the forest because they pitied us. Cypress is the tools. His body is mouldable. We shape him and throw him and cut him all in this gleefully dark act. He is Cypress, he is lifeless, and he is the first to die.
I am Aria. I am silver and white, pretty to them, desperate to myself. I am the main subject. I lead the act and hurt the others. I support, stand, and I cannot shake. Ever.
I flip and turn and make myself pretty so I am more entertaining, so the creeping toms can defile me better with their eyes.
Brin, Cypress, Aria. Valencio, Bird, Howl, Terrence. We are the cast and crew of the show. We run this performance. We ran into each other and Valencio was thirsty and angry and driven, so he made this show in one moon, and finally obtained an audience. This is a half-planned act, but a performance nonetheless.
He obtained an audience:
He ripped out Bird and Howl’s throats the day of the performance. Their unfurling, gagging screams echoed throughout the entire forest, bounding off the green ghosts. Me and Brin added to the cacophony with our sudden screeches as their bleeding bodies melted on the ground. Cypress slept; dull, brown, lifeless.
First “ThunderClan” came running. They were ruffled and drowsy in the dawning day, but as they saw the scarlet mess, they woke.
“ShadowClan, RiverClan, WindClan.” They came as one, a jumble of cats. For once, I felt a piercing emotion. The first thing to miss me alive in a long, long time. It felt unreal, fake, distant.
Nervousness. An emotion I would never wish upon anyone when they finally became lively again.
Valencio made a speech on a jutting rock, the green ghosts making shadows on his pelt. The Clan cats watched, too shaken to protest. Bird and Howl rotted.
“Welcome, dear cats. This is a performance that has been in the making for the last moon. Hard work and effort was put in by me, my friends, and the cast. Please give a warm, warm–” he emphasized it with a violently happy smile–“welcome to the one and only…Green Ghosts!”
We chose our name in the days before. Valencio gave us that small bit of freedom. Brin looked up into the swirling sky and mad her decision. The night started its change, and we only stared up.
Cypress wasn’t breathing enough to make a decision, and I nodded.
The Clan cats watched in awe as Brin started it off. She threw up limp squirrels into the air, and caught them in her jaws perfectly as they came back down. Soon, she rubbed them in greasy water and tried again, only failing once. As her act ended and she left the stage, the rocky platforms, I watched Valencio cut her open for her failure backstage.
Suddenly, I made a connection. My name is Aria, and my mother once soothed me to sleep by her stomach with old stories. She told me my name meant air, the air that gives us life and makes the world bright.
Now, the air is choked out and small. It only fills my body enough to keep me breathing, not alive.
I am air, but I am not alive.
Cypress did his act of blood. He cut himself and watched it drip, always twisting his body so it would land in his mouth. Sadistic and disgustingly entertaining. Then he would spit it out and smear his paws in it, until his brown fur turned maroon, and he was a whole different cat overall. Still dead.
Brin came back, ripped apart, and did her next act. Cypress did a small one.
I tried mine, and I succeeded. The next emotion to hit in that moment: relief. A happier, more sudden emotion, like eating something after years of starving.
Then I saw horrific and gaping expressions on the Clan cats, and nervousness came striking back in.
Then, the grand finale. My heart raced, beating out of my chest, echoing around the forest. The green ghosts curled up, scared of any outcome that could happen that wasn’t complete success.
Brin supported Cypress on her back and shoulders. He stood upon her. Her face did not contort with pain, and her limbs did not shake. She stood, fully lifeless now, and supported him.
Then, she hoisted him into the air, and he flung across the stage, landed on my back and shoulders, and I held him.
For once, the first time, the worst time, the audience cheered.
And, it was time. Brin padded over. She stared up at Cypress’s back.
Her destination. Few cats stacked upon each other like scattered bags, prey, anything. All an act, but exploiting us completely.
She steadied. We steadied. I breathed. They both breathed. I was close, but none of us lived.
Brin leaped, and missed her target.
She was so afraid of the air, the air that was not keeping her body alive, and struck out to find solid ground so she wouldn’t call.
She clawed out Cypress’s eyes and veins and finally gained hold, only for them both to topple, flaking on cold rock.
Her bones broke. He died on the spot, slippery chaos.
The Clan cats went into tragedy. They scattered, all shaking and shattered, and left the performance immediately. They did not return. They did not want to.
The morning went by and turned into a dark evening.
I turned, looked at Valencio, backstage.
He smiled, padded over, and stomped on Brin’s neck.
When he walked away, my third emotion struck: sadness. The worst of them all.
I broke down and cried at her gasping, beautifully repulsive body as she gurgled for air.
I asked one question between my desperate sobs that rang out across the forest. The stage was a mess now, broken and dirty, dusty, imperfect. Vines fell out of bushes. Bacteria gathered.
“What was our purpose? The purpose of this act?” I screeched, cried out to Brin.
She looked up with final breaths. “Maybe to please the green ghosts?”
Valencio departed with Terrence, his last words being:
“I’ll spare you. You are my favourite, Aria. You did your first act good, and you tried. That’s all that matters. And see, the purpose became clear, did it not? Thank you, Aria, for helping me achieve my dream.”
I stopped. I never asked what the purpose was. Why was Valencio so, so tightly obsessed with this one performance? Why? I never found out. I never asked why us three were so grossly important, or why I was his favourite.
I just weeped up at the sky at midnight and made an excuse, to myself, of: “to please the green ghosts.”
I lived inside that forest for a few moons, eating, drinking, breathing.
I breathed and did my necessities to continue to breathe, but I never learned to live. The emotions I had that one night faded away.
For the rest of my days, I stayed breathing, lifeless, never alive. I thought of Cypress and Brin and Howl and Bird and I breathed harder until I cried, wished Valencio and Terrence could escape my memory.
I sobbed out air and brought it back in.
I finished the act, completed the performance, and let the scars stay in my body for life.
The green ghosts stayed. They watched everything I had. They become my only friends, the only things keeping me breathing.
At one time, I heard them asking: “was this all your fault?”
Again, again, I nodded.
The green ghosts had watched the performance.
The green ghosts stayed for an eternity, but they were just as dead as me.