Although she resembled them somewhat in species-form, she was different from the start. At first the parents were not aware that her senses were sharper than theirs, but they soon began to notice that she seemed to be attuned to a different reality than their own, and they became afraid of her.
They couldn't turn her away. She was, after all, genetically their offspring, and there were laws, customs, social mores and religious expectations governing these relationships. They had to keep her and provide for her and accept her publicly as "their own." In any case, there were socially-approved training methods, including various forms of torture, that were known to secure, at the very least, an outward compliance with the prescribed species-behaviours that kept things humming along smoothly.
Training did not change her. Although she tried to stay roughly within the lines the parents drew for her, she felt adrift, missing something she had never experienced. She would lie awake at night staring at the moon and stars and feeling a terrible sense of separation from the freedom they had to possess the darkness. Instead, darkness was often a place full of terror. If she howled in fear at night, the mother would rush to pick her up lest she awaken the other children. They would rock back and forth in the chair, the mother clutching the small creature to her chest; but the little thing only cried more. The body of the mother did not offer any consolation. Its contours were stiff and unyielding, as if they were made of cloth-covered wire mesh.
There was no place for her in the family pack because her way of being was outside its boundaries. Although she was articulate and could speak quite correctly, at least to the family's satisfaction, she seemed incapable of understanding the fundamental concepts that were the basis of their social order. The idea that she needed to justify her existence was completely foreign to her, and so her efforts to learn how to "become somebody" were sporadic and desultory. Their system of categorising reality made no sense to her at all, and so she didn't bother much with it. Words associated with their economic system, like "stocks" and "bonds," seemed to hold other, unpleasant meanings for her, so much that she instinctively and visibly recoiled from their sound. They filled her nights with dreams of fences and nets and cages.
As she grew, she became more and more aware that something was calling her. Whether it was calling from within or without she couldn't say, nor could she tell what it was calling her to. But the calling was becoming more insistent every day. She grew more and more restless.
It was a hot summer day when she first broke her training and began to wander. As she lay in the sun on the cool grass listening to the hypnotic buzzing of cicadas, her instincts overruled her hesitation to disobey and, looking over her shoulder to make sure she wasn't seen, she wandered away from the parents' territory. After that, she wandered whenever the right opportunity presented itself and when the urging of the call could not be resisted. Outside the square confines of the parents' territory she found what seemed to be an unbounded world. Of course, there was too much of it to see all at once, and maybe there were boundaries.
In her wanderings over time, she often found herself returning to the same places. She began to know them intimately through their phases, when the creeks ran low, and when they ran high, and when they meandered slowly beneath a lacy mantle of ice crystals. She often sat on a high hill under a young tree with whom she felt especially close, and watched the changes of light and shadow across the distance. She would put her head back, nose to the air, and breathe in the colours of the autumn leaves, and later, their warm, fetid aroma when they had fallen to the ground and were soaked in rain. Her nostrils caught the dry whiteness of new snow. In this way she began to learn that every place had its own distinctive smells and diffusion of light and ambient sound, and that these changed, sometimes from moment to moment. Each place had its unique and complex sensory signature and a specific set of coordinates that mapped themselves onto the landscape of her mind and created an abstract picture of the calling.
One day, her wanderings were interrupted by a different calling.
"Feral child, where are you?" It was the voice of the mother. It was harsh and imperious. "Feral child, you come here right now!"
She realised that she had grown dignity, and it was because of this, rather than fear, that she slipped silently into a stand of small trees and made her way down the hill, circling a swamp to approach the parents' territory from the back. She lay down in the grass in her usual place and closed her eyes as she waited for the mother to exhaust herself. She pretended to be asleep as the mother's angry footsteps approached her.
"Well?" the mother demanded.
She opened her eyes slowly as she turned her head upward toward the angry face of the mother. Her gaze was steady, not challenging, but holding her space. She no longer needed to speak the parents' language to assert her intentions. Her firm gaze told the mother that from then on the feral child would try to escape at every opportunity.
After that, she was fitted with a harness that fastened in the back, with a leash that was tied to the backyard clothesline. She could no longer answer the calling. When she tried to run toward it she would reach some invisible boundary that snapped her body painfully back into the circular prison no matter which way she ran. She learned quickly that there was no escape from the harness, except in her dreams. And so she lived in her dreams more and more. Sometimes a small child who lived in a nearby house came to play with her. She enjoyed doing things the child liked to do, chasing and catching a ball or watching a caterpillar climb a blade of grass. But her thoughts were always outside the boundary, where she was free to wander.
Lately she had begun to catch glimpses of someone else lurking around the edges of the parents' territory. At first he was only a shadow, but gradually he allowed her to see more of himself. And one day, when the air was heavy with the sweetness of the first flowers of spring, there were hints of another scent, more pungent but not unpleasant. She looked, and there he was, dark and magnificent, sitting boldly on the grass nearby. The look in his soulful brown eyes poured over her like sunshine. Breathless, she wondered, "Is he the calling?"
Suddenly there was a loud squeak, the sound of the screen door opening, followed by a cacophony of voices and the clumping of many shoes, large and small, on the porch. She turned, but the wonderful creature had already disappeared into the woods — not too far, though, because his scent was still strong in the air.
"We're going for a ride in the car, feral child. Do you want to come?" The mother's voice sounded strange and syrupy. The brothers and sisters chimed in, "Yes, feral child, come for a ride with us," The mother strode across the grass toward her. As she reached for the leash to unfasten it from the harness, the feral child did something she had never done before. She growled.
Fear crossed the mother's face as she backed away. "All right, then. Stay home!" As the family climbed into the car, the feral child heard the mother say to the father, "We have to do something about her soon. This can't go on." The doors closed and everything was silent for a moment until the car made the sound of rolling thunder, and they were gone. She lay there in the silence, wondering if the creature would return — no, she knew he would. She only wondered how soon.
There was a sound from the bushes near the woods. She turned, expecting to see him, but it was the child from the nearby house. The little girl bounded over and plopped her round little body down beside the feral child. She stroked her arm sympathetically and then pointed to the porch, giggling. The magnificent creature was sitting there, looking triumphant. He seemed to nod at the child, who nodded in return. She turned to the feral child and smiled, "You go free," she said as she unfastened the harness and slipped it off. What wonderful words, you go free. Now the wonderful creature stood by her side. They kissed the child on her cheeks, and then loped silently into the woods.
After a day of discovering new places and revisiting familiar ones, they sat together under the young tree on the high hill and watched the sun go down. In the distance they could hear the mother's voice. "Feral child, where are you? Come home. We love you." There was something ominous in the tone of the mother's voice, but the feral child didn't feel threatened. After a while, the mother stopped calling, and other sounds rose into the night, sounds of crickets and frogs, and occasionally a nighthawk. The feral child nestled against the warmth of the male, and he nuzzled her neck. The moon was full, perfectly round, gleaming like a giant pearl above the trees. The feral child knew that, at last, she possessed the darkness.