Toxic Evolution

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Chapter 1

Astrid

by: pensively
The forest is hauntingly beautiful at night.

To anyone else, every chirp and crackle would be cause to jump, but when you've lived there for as long as I have, it's closer to a lullaby than a fuel for panic. Owls hoot in the distance. Cicadas chirp. The wind stirs the leaves and branches, placing each tree in a state of constant unrest. The silver moonlight barely pierces the thick canopy overhead, but here and there a tiny patch of light will appear. The harsh city lights have vanished over two decades ago, making the stars stand out against the deep black canvas.

Crouching near the stream, I resist the urge to plunge one hand into the pristine silver waters, knowing that they could very well be toxic. A dark shape lazily propels itself through the water, a pair of large, yellow eyes glancing at me lazily. I study it carefully as it swims around in a wide circle, easily resisting the rapid flow of water pulling it in the opposite direction. Pulling out my journal, I scribble something down.

Studying mutated wildlife has been one of my main pastimes since I was kicked out of the village. I don't have much else to do besides read the occasional book, and without an activity to keep me occupied, I know I would quickly grow restless. Studying mainly consists of me jotting down what I see about odd creatures and plants, and sometimes reviewing the notes later on.

The aquatic creature before me has a sleek, dark body like a fish; scales, fins, etc. It has enormous yellow eyes that, unlike a fish, have a pair of eyelids drooping over it, as well as dull red pupils. I can see a pair of uneven, jagged teeth poking out from between its lips, and spikes run along its spine.

Shooting me one last curious look, the fish-like animal darts away, following the toxic waters.

Several decades ago, science made a mistake involving toxic waste. It leaked out into the environment, polluting the air and water, as well as poisoning much of humankind's edible food and drinkable water. Nature began to go haywire; vines and trees and even flowers started shooting up and growing into cities at a pace that people couldn't control.

The population started getting angry, blaming the government, as plants begun to take over their home. Riots broke out and, before long, the government crumbled. Not knowing what to do, people began panicking as the cities themselves also began to fall. With little resources, the people began getting increasingly worried.

To make things worse, animals has also begun to mutate. Once-tame creatures like domesticated livestock and dogs began growing odd features; extra teeth, claws, and appendages. Wild creatures who had made their home in the overgrown forests came soon after, becoming even more dangerous, and posing a threat to the broken society.

With the government fallen, humanity broken apart, and almost no resources, people began to come together again to form smaller societies and alliances. Villages began to form once more, and with the cities fallen, people were forced to construct them from scratch and begin new lives.

Then the humans began mutating.

It was a gradual happening. Here and there, someone would suddenly sprout a patch of fur, or a couple of feathers, or a scale or two. But as the mutations began to change into claws, fangs, and grew more and more apparent, the rest of the population grew fearful. Scared for their safety, they shunned and exiled the rare sliver of people who had begun an ascent into the unnatural.

My name is Astrid, and I am one of these people.

I was around nine when I woke up and discovered that my entire body and my white-and-yellow pajamas had all turned a shade of bright blue. Confused, I turned to my parents, who discovered my odd ability to suddenly change the color of my skin and clothing. Not wanting me to get booted out, they kept it a secret, helping me get it under control. For a little while, things were okay; the council at the head of our village was oblivious to my unique ability.

Unfortunately, that phase only lasted so long. After a little while, a second feature began to develop: pale green scales. They began popping up nearly everywhere, and it wasn't much longer until the council discovered this. Naturally, they did what had long since been deemed sensible: they kicked me out.

I was actually luckier than most, though, because my parents still cared about me. They snuck out when they could to bring me supplies and help me get acquainted in the overgrown wildlife that I live in today. But as I had learned, secrets always come out one way or another, and the council sent my parents away to a nearby village to not only punish them for helping a mutant, but to ensure that I would not receive further help.

It has been a long time since then. Now I live in the forest, content in my life of solitude. I don't do much other than study, read, and occasionally exercise my camouflage ability. Not long after my exile, I developed a third abnormality: suction cup-like objects on the bottom of my hands and feet that allow me to climb up vertical surfaces. Using this, I built a small home up in a tree, which keeps me safe from most dangers. It's nothing fancy, or even large, but it keeps me sheltered.

Sitting on the bank of the stream, I glance up at the moon, which is high in the sky. I know that most people are probably deep in slumber, but I don't even feel remotely sleepy. Living in the wild, I've developed an odd sleep schedule. I don't usually fall asleep until the sun has reached its peak in the sky, and by the time the moon is coming out, I'm awake.

Sprawled out on a river bank, I watch the silver waters, glowing in the moonlight. Every now and then, an odd creature will pass through, and I'll have the change to scribble something new down.

A new shape splashes through, but this time, its head and body isn't submerged. It balances on two legs, crashing awkwardly through the stream. Its body, similar to the other creatures I observed, is covered in sleek scales, which are a reflective silver. A pair of bright blue eyes shine like sapphires. Two tiny, feathery limbs hang at its side, flapping frantically, its fruitless efforts doing nothing to help it. A pair of silver legs with tiny, bird-like claws at the end dig themselves into the mud as it stumbles along. A black beak opens and closes, strangled caws escaping as it tries not to fall.

Acting on an impulse, I reach out to stabilize it, my hands running along its slipper sides and holding it steady. I quickly retract my hand, seeing that dark red streaks have shot through my skin, as they do when I am startled. The creature blinks at me, no longer unsteady, and utters a low caw.

I giggle. Despite its awkwardness, it's almost cute. It caws a second time, waddling up to me and rubbing its head against my hand.

The fish-bird backs away, settling down in the stream, its legs tucked awkwardly under it, and watches me with its brilliant blue gaze. I snicker a second time, already jotting down notes about it.

"I guess you're not leaving for a while then, huh?" I whisper. The fish-bird caws in reply.

"Okay then. Neither am I."

Content, the fish-bird ruffles the wet feathers by its side. I giggle second time, unable to resist. Settling back myself, I continue taking notes, stealing glances at the odd creature in between.

All in all, it wasn't a bad night.

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