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IX. The Locals

A club struck him right above his eye, and the last thought he processed before his brain switched off his consciousness was, “That was a giant fucking rat.”

He dreamed of… well… odd things, as his mind lay in the unrequested darkness of forced incapacitation.

He was back home in his shitty apartment, but it was nicer. Even nicer than it had gotten in the recent days. He had all the amenities of a regular place; TV, dishwasher, a fridge full of food, and when he opened the door and walked out into the freshly painted hallway and newly laid hardwood floors he saw something truly strange.

He saw smiling, attractive people all going about their business. After he passed each one he saw them smile? At him? That was extremely odd.

As he took the stairs down to the street, he passed an attractive woman on the step. She smiled as he walked past, but his smile turned to fear when he saw what was sitting in her handbag.

A plump red eyed chinchilla.

Screaming himself awake, he found he was no longer in the Stepford dimension of his existence, but was still in the even more bizarre one of the virtual reality world he had willingly stepped into.

His shout had propelled his head forward, but he found the only way he could make it rest was to lean backwards. He was tied and staked at each of his appendages, and the knots were so tight, they were clearly meant to keep him in an extremely uncomfortable, and unrested position.

His positioning was secondary however to the tribe of large rat people who were all standing around him and apparently offering some sort of judgment.

The large black furred one was standing silently ahead of the others, and it was hitting a rounded obsidian cudgel into one of its large clawed hands.

“You heard him,” the big one said, “he's with them!” It barked and snarled with two large rodent incisors gleaming in the firelight.

“He's a chinchilla spy!” Another shouted.

As bizarre as his life had become, this moment truly stood out for him. In a forest that only grows violent piles of shit. This one. This one stood alone.

“I hate the chinchillas,” he sputtered out, coughing a bit of dried blood and part of a tooth with it.

“Liar,” the big one breathed, and bent down to eye level with the captive.

“I say we kill him now!” He roared and lifted his cudgel high in the air.

“No,” a quiet but firm voice said from the back.

He couldn't see who had spoken. But the hush that came over the crowd of rodents and the parting of it spoke volumes.

“Let me see,” an old voice said, coming up behind the tied and prostrated man.

“Yes, I think he's innocent of the evil chinchilla taint. He has been used by them, yes, but not corrupted. Yes, yes..” the old rodent said and turned away.

“Cut him free,” he added and returned to the center of the camp and to his customary place by the large fire.

“Bring him to me. Let's hear his story.”

“But -” The large black one started.

“We are not chinchillas. We are people of the seeds. We are Guinea Pogs,” the old one said with a strong but polite rebuke in his words.

God-damn guinea pigs. He thought to himself as the.. Pogs cut his hands and legs free from his binds.

He stood up slowly and rubbed the sore places on his flesh. It was strange to a guinea pig that stood six feet tall. The big one must have been close to 6'-5”, a giant among any species. It growled but let him pass, and found a matching step right behind him, large club in hand.

He was still rubbing his wrist when he made his way into the large crowd of rodents and was pointed to a blanket at the left side of the elderly pog.

“Tell us your story, traveler. How did you wind up here with the people of the seed?” The old pog gestured to the large stew pot and a smaller guinea pig handed him a smoothed earthen bowl and filled it with several ladle spoons full of a warm and earthy smelling soup.

The smell was intoxicating, and the old rat was very generous to allow him to eat before relaying his tale of woe to the now captive audience.

He left the part out that they were all just code in a gaming simulation he was playing, but he had to admit all of this seemed very real.

In his telling, he consumed two more bowls of the delicious soup, finding various seeds and vegetables in the mixture. It was the most healthy thing he had eaten in years. Too bad it was digital.

When he had finished the old rat said somberly, “We have heard tales like yours before. Travelers whose lives were stolen by the foul chinchillas and their dark magic.”

The crowd all nodded in sad agreement.

Curiosity taking over now he decided to ask, “Can you tell me about them? About the chinchillas I mean?”

The old pog looked into the fire and nodded his consent.

“Your fate seems to be tied with them. The least I can do is let you know with whom it is you dance.”

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