On the inside, Sky was a very serious man with little time for playing around. Unless he had his clipboard and research papers on hand, he paid no mind to my antics. I brought him frogs and rocks and other natural "treasures" and he would just dismiss me with a flick of the hand. "Go away, I'm studying," he murmured. He frowned if I ever called him dad or father. The disapproving looks he gave pierced my soul. "What am I doing wrong?" I wondered. He must have brought me here for some purpose. If research was his life's work, shouldn't I be his most important experiment?
I'll never forget the day I was playing in his lab and broke an expensive piece of equipment. A bug had somehow gotten inside and, being a hyper cub, I pursued it. The moth fluttered wildly through the lab each time I approached, weaving past the crystal flasks and scalpels, finally landing on a bubbling labyrinth of glass tubes. I pounced it a split second late and the entire set of glassware flew over the counter. Busted glass and volatile liquid splattered in all directions. The damage was done. My soft pawpads were embedded with shards and blood poured down my wrists.
I ran outside as fast as I could with blood seeping down my forearms. Reaching out to my father with tears streaming down my face, I showed him my quivering, bloodied paws. The only words out of his mouth were, "Why were you in my lab? Did you break anything?!" Rushing inside, the clipboard he held fell to his feet when he gazed upon the disastrous scene ahead. His eyes could have burned a hole into my own. Suddenly the glass in my hands didn't seem so painful.
Now, one thing I should mention is that Dr. Sky was not a violent man. He was callous, cold and uncaring but he never once laid a hand on me in anger. He ordered me to get out, his voice cracking a bit, so I ran outside to tend to my own wounds. I overheard him on his phone, shouting about warranties and insurance and money. It was always money with him.
"You cost me too much to care for, if I didn't have to feed and clothe you I would have this catalogue's latest model equipment by now." If I asked him for ice cream money, he would tell me to get a job so I could pay for it myself. I was merely a small cub with tiny, uncoordinated hands and I sometimes wondered what he ever wanted me for to begin with. The only time he seemed even remotely proud of me was during a school fundraiser when I had gone door-to-door selling chocolate bars. According to Dr. Sky, if I wasn't making someone money, I was wasting his own money and his time.
I stopped seeking his approval after the laboratory incident. The path I wore into the woods as a child grew ever deeper with the passing of seasons. I fashioned a staff from the most beautiful birchwood I could find on my travels and used it for stability on my long hikes. I studied the birds and the fish and even the tiniest of crawling bugs. Some of the smallest creatures found I learned to be the most vital to the ecosystem. I made sketches of every different plant and animal I encountered. My field guide and staff were my most prized posessions.
Unlike Dr. Sky, money didn't motivate me much when I was young. The things I treasured most as a cub were things that money couldn't buy. The song of a rare bird, the thrill of finding a new bug to draw in my sketchbook, listening to the waves crashing and the painted clouds in a perfect sunrise. I sometimes wondered if Sky loved nature, just differently. He was always trying to change the natural order in his lab, but surely he must have cared about it in his own way.
At the end of each day, I would climb the Observatory tower and curl up in the tiny bed at the end of the crescent shaped room. The Observatory was a seven floor circular tower with a winding spiral staircase. The highest floor contained a massive telescope, a star map and finally my bed attached to the back wall. The top floor was my designated room and I never saw Dr. Sky while I was up there. I returned to the tower only to sleep at night.
Shortly before entering adolescence I started camping out in the woods. I made a little hammock in the tall oaks and would gradually spend more time there than my bed in the Observatory. Often I wondered if there were others out there feeling as lonely as I did. Solitude was a friend I knew well, but there were times I would have loved nothing more than to share my adventures and stories with someone else.
One afternoon I decided to take a walk along the shore and as I sat down to watch the ducks, I noticed a young boy across the lake being taught to fish by his father. They looked the same, both were brindle canines with similar features. The boy was a smaller and more enthusiastic replica of his father, very much like Sky and I. What surprised me most was the way the boy's father acted, smiling and laughing, teaching his small son the correct way to cast his rod and reel it back in.
I watched them for hours, living a little through them, dreaming about Dr. Sky teaching me new things and us simply enjoying each other's company on a beautiful day. Was it normal for parents to take such good care of their kids? Maybe this father was the exceptional sort. I wasn't sure if what I witnessed was ordinary, but every night I went to sleep wishing that someone loved me that much.
Nature was my true guardian then, it held me and protected me when Dr. Sky was too busy to care. Over time, I harnessed the power of various elements in my walking staff and carried them with me, using them to do some good in the world. Dr. Sky may have been a greedy, self-serving cog but thankfully I only inhereted his outward character.
The final straw was when Dr. Sky changed the locks to the Observatory tower where I slept. At this time I was sleeping more often outdoors on the platform I built in my favorite sketching tree. While I didn't care so much for my childhood home in the Laboratory, a little part of me still wanted to make amends with Sky somehow. "Perhaps as an adult he would be a more relatable person," I reasoned. More than anything, I wanted answers. What was my whole purpose of being? Was my existence accidental? But just before I could gather enough courage to talk with him and forgive him of his wrongdoings, he shut me out of his life forever. "Some people have no business ever becoming a parent," I thought. We never spoke to each other again. I could only move on and hope to find my own little shred of joy in the world. I was truly alone now. With this new independence, I ventured out alone as an adult.
Some years later, I ran into someone who once worked closely with Dr. Sky. They told me that he started a new family not long after I left. Part of me wishes I'd never heard that. "Some people never learn from their mistakes," I thought. There was a chance he sought redemption and wanted to do things differently this time, but it was far too late for me. Those days were over now and it was time for me to move forward.
I was so fortunate to find Lunati when I did. One night, I went into town and discovered a tavern that had just opened. I took quick notice to the timid, soft-spoken white mouse with flowing arctic blue hair and iridescent butterfly wings. My affairs before her were short lived distractions. Immediately I knew she was different. Luna led me on wild and wonderful adventures for a whole month before things got serious. I finally had time to truly get to know someone and this only brought us closer together.
Every night I would meet her at the bar for drinks and smokes and we would share stories, some deeply personal. Our discussions carried on well into morning and long after the bar had closed. We'd walk down the rainy streets together and settle in whatever rooms had vacancy, talking for hours. There were nights I hoped the sun would never rise. I enjoyed her company so much, and for once, I felt like I had built a meaningful relationship.
We were handfasted and officially declared life partners after many wonderful years together. Our travels even took us as far as the fabled Isles of Nimbaterra where we eventually settled. While I was happy to finally have some companionship, my depression persisted and fought relentless against any fleeting sensations of joy.
It seemed no matter how well I was doing, negativity followed me everywhere and pulled me back down into the abyss. Anxiety took hold at the worst possible times, usually when I was alone. Dr. Sky frequently popped into my dreams to haunt me with his new "family." What ever made him want new spawn after pushing me away for so many years? Why even bother? Perhaps guilt was eating away at his conscience after having failed me? Furthermore, why did I still care? Bridges were burnt, I now stood with Lunati on a bright new path towards raising our own family.
Lunati spent most evenings keeping track of finances at the bar. Our resort on the Isles was proving to be a success but this meant we would inevitably have less time together. The native opium poppies that grew around the islands brought an influx of new guests. It wasn't long before curiosity took hold and I decided to try them for myself. All of the negativity, anxiety and pain I had melted away the first time I tried opium. This became a habit over time that I didn't think twice about, as the poppies grew in abundance throughout the Isles.
Every day I'd wake up, start the day with poppy tea and help train our resident alchemists. Over time I became absorbed in my profession and spent all night in the library or on training. Lunati and I were up to our necks in work and spending much less time as a couple. Eventually, I took a step back and had a long, hard look at what this was doing to my life.
I was becoming like Him. Hard working, emotionless, an overachiever. I had to get out of this now before I was consumed. I decided to make the flight back to the woods I explored as a cub. For days I wandered quietly in self-reflection and solitude. My sketching tree was gone, blown down by a storm long ago and reduced to rotting debris. I set up camp for a few weeks and detoxed myself from the opium. Away from the temptations of Nimbaterra, I suffered silent and alone through the effects of withdrawal, both mental and physical. My world, normally full of color and life, felt desaturated without opium.
Yet somehow, in the darkest time of my life, a vibrant shade of green caught my eye. It twinkled beneath the stars, dazzling with dewdrops. A vine, climbing up from the splintered remains of my favorite tree. I watched as gradually more vines sprouted up from the decay. They ached to touch the sun, just as I did. The will to live of nature's children struck a chord with me. After a couple of weeks in solutide, my cleansing was done and I returned to Nimbaterra to be with my partner again.
Some scars never fade, and that's alright. When I turn over my hands to look down at the faint grey lines today, I don't recall a father who neglected me. I remember the day I learned how to be strong, alone.