No Cure For Homesickness
While this story uses characters and the setting from my series Infinity, reading it is not required to enjoy this story!
145 Years B.N.
"You know what I miss? Fall."
Dimitri was really just saying that to himself as he began to submerge into a daydream, but it just so happened that the spotted Draik had an audience. He glanced over to the glowing Buzz sitting a few feet away from him that was examining the wind-up toy that he held. When Flicker heard what Dimitri said, he looked at him with bewilderment.
"Why would you miss that? Doesn't it hurt?" Flicker asked. Dimitri wasn't sure how old Flicker was, but he figured that he couldn't be much older than he was; he was probably in his early twenties at least. Yet Flicker had a surprising amount of naivety and innocence despite that and his bulky appearance.
Dimitri rolled his eyes. "Autumn," he corrected himself with a groan.
Flicker was still baffled, however. "Never heard of it."
Dimitri quickly came to the realization that he was at fault for the confusion that was brewing. Three years of living in Moltara and the Draik from Neopia Central still had to remind himself that many of the things he used to live with on a daily basis on the surface were completely absent in the Moltaran's lives.
Dimitri straightened himself up from leaning against the tunnel wall and scratched his shaggy red hair as he began to piece together a description. He was in the middle of a break from working on a mine lift, but the mechanic figured that a slightly longer one couldn't hurt. Flicker appeared to sense the oncoming of a explanation, so he let the clockwork toy Bruce waddle away as he shifted his attention to Dimitri.
"Up on the surface we have these things called seasons. Long story short, they're certain times of the year that affect the kind of weather you get. Autumn is just one of those seasons," Dimitri began. Dimitri noticed that the word "weather" puzzled Flicker slightly, so he decided a different approach by asking, "Do you know what trees are?"
That seemed to be something that Flicker was aware of. "I think so. Those are what roots come from, right?"
"Right. Well, some roots but not all of them. Anyway, when autumn comes, the leaves on the trees change color and fall off. That's basically the first thing that comes to mind when someone speaks of the season," Dimitri said.
Flicker raised a eyebrow, appearing to be concerned about what he was told. "I thought trees needed leaves to survive? Wouldn't the leaves coming off be a bad thing?"
Dimitri laughed. "No, no! The leaves fall off because it gets too cold for them. The tree itself is fine and the leaves grow back when it gets warmer. It's natural."
Flicker looked relieved when Dimitri said that. He began to relax himself into a more comfortable sitting position as he looked at Dimitri with amazement and curiosity. "You said that the leaves changed colors? I've only heard of green leaves."
Despite his earlier effort to straighten his posture, Dimitri found himself sitting back against the wall again. His smile began to widen as he closed his eyes and painted the picture in his mind. "Throughout the whole summer you could look at a forest and see nothing but green, green, and more green. But once autumn arrived, everything changed. The forest went from just one color to this massive mixture of red, orange, and yellow. The ground changed color too when the wind carried the leaves and carpeted the land with them. Seeing it from the ground was one thing, but getting see miles of it stretching over the hills from an aerial point of view was something else."
Flicker didn't say anything that time. Instead he listened attentively and with great interest, encouraging Dimitri to keep talking.
Dimitri obliged, continuing, "Some people think that the autumn is a miserable season. They say it's cold, rainy, and dark. All of that might be true, but I liked to pay more attention to the good things that autumn brought." Dimitri began to chuckle to himself as he brought up as many recollections of autumn as he could muster. "When I was a kid, there was this old yellow Ruki that had a huge yard. And every autumn he'd rake the leaves up into what looked like mountains to someone as young as I was. One year me and a few of my friends decided to dive into each and every one of them. The Ruki got mad at us and made us rake all the leaves back up, though. But it was worth it, you know?"
At that point, Dimitri noticed that he was telling Flicker less about the autumn in general and more about his personal experiences of it. But when he became entrenched in those thoughts, Dimitri didn't mind telling the stories one bit.
"I think the best part about autumn was all the fruits and vegetables that came into season during that time. The apple harvest was especially big where I came from." Dimitri then pointed at Flicker. "I bet you would you like that, Flicker. I knew a few Buzzes back home who saw the days that the orchards were open for picking as the highlight of the year.
"Oh you could do anything with apples. Put them in a pie, make them into a sauce, or just eat them raw. It's been so long since I've eaten anything with apples in it. It's funny, because during those months, I couldn't imagine going without them," Dimitri said, his mouth starting to water at the thought.
"Then when the weather started to get really cold, you'd go inside, sit by the fire, and warm up with something hot to drink or eat. Heh, sometimes it got frigid enough that I'd start getting out the borovan a few months early. After being outside in the crisp air all day, it was a great way to spend the time before going to bed." Dimitri recounted.
Flicker sat silent in thought for most of the time, but he then perked up and smiled as he said to Dimitri, "Well hey, Moltara's always warm. And we have lots of hot food!" Flicker cringed a little as he seemed to remember how he burnt his tongue the other day by trying to dig into a pot of molten meatballs the instant Dimitri took them off the fire. "Really hot. But if you liked doing that sort of thing back on the surface, then Moltara's a great place for you, isn't it?"
Dimitri gave a laugh under his breath. "It doesn't feel as special if you do stuff like that all the time. And even so, it was just... different back home."
Home. The last word he said caused Dimitri's eyelids to lower again in reminiscence. He remembered the things he told Flicker about. But he also thought of other memories that were far too numerous to speak of in one sitting. The wind would always ruffle Dimitri's red hair while he hopped from rock to rock as he crossed the stream and searched for all the creatures hiding in the shallow water. He had always disliked the winter and the snow that came with it, so he and his friends would perform their own version of sledding by sliding down hills covered with slippery leaves while riding on the lids of trash cans. And one year Dimitri –whom never had much skill with agriculture but still desired to help with the harvest- used the knowledge he had of mechanics at that time to create a machine that would slice apples by itself. The machine ended up turning them into sauce instead, but his elders encouraged him to improve on the invention, not to give up and scrap it all together.
Those experiences were just memories now. That's all they were and all they would ever be for the rest of Dimitri's life. He knew and fully accepted that when he came to Moltara to learn from the exploration team that it was to be a one-way trip. Going back home and seeing all the friends he left behind was impossible. Even if there was not thousands of miles separating him from Moltara and his birthplace, there was the matter of keeping the existence of the Moltarans secret from the rest of Neopia. If all of Neopia knew about Moltara, the state of the world as it was at that time would make it so that attempts to conquer the land would surely come from that knowledge. It just wasn't worth the risk.
Dimitri's thoughts suddenly snapped back to the present day when he heard Flicker speak to him. Flicker looked worried as he watched Dimitri's become nostalgic in a somber sort of way. Flicker looked around awkwardly, apparent that he didn't know quite what to say to Dimitri. "You really do miss autumn, huh?" Flicker guessed, unable to read Dimitri's thoughts based on his facial expressions alone.
"Yeah... And a lot of other things," Dimitri answered quietly.
Flicker's head lifted up to the ceiling of the tunnel. He brought it back down before pointing upwards. "Aren't there trees up on the island above us? You could just go up there and see the leaves changing color!" Flicker said in a positive tone, attempting to cheer Dimitri up.
Dimitri shook his head, though. "The island is tropical. It doesn't go through the seasons like my home did." Dimitri grimaced and sighed. He began to regret taking everything for granted when he lived on the surface. When he lived so deep underground now, even the simplest things such as sunlight felt more like a distant dream than a reality he used to live with.
When Dimitri saw that Flicker's failed effort to lift his spirits up began to get him down, the Draik groaned, "Sorry. I'm... I'm just getting a little homesick, that's all."
Flicker gave a slight tilt of his head at the word. Naïve as always, Dimitri thought. Therefore, he explained, "It's when you're away from your home and you want to go back, but –for whatever reason- you can't." What he said was closer to his own feelings than a definition.
But Flicker replied, "No, I think I know what you're talking about. I think I know that feeling."
Dimitri raised his eyebrow. "You do?" Surprised, he asked, "Aren't you from Obsidian Quarry?"
Obsidian Quarry was their current location, albeit in an abandoned mine tunnel located on the edge of the city. They both worked for the same person: Granite, the head of the mining company. Dimitri was just a temporary worker hired to repair a mine lift, but Flicker's employment status seemed to be a lot more vague and permanent.
"Nope," Flicker answered. "I don't really know where I'm from; I don't remember a whole lot about it. But it's weird. I don't know a thing about my home, but I feel like I miss it somehow. Homesick, like what you said."
Dimitri exhaled and narrowed his eyes in curiosity. His permanent residence was in a cave called Central Cavern, not terribly far away from Obsidian Quarry. He lived in a apartment with two other Buzzes, both of whom were refugees from another city. Dimitri had to wonder if Flicker was from the same place they were. But if what Flicker said about having very little memory of his home was true, then there weren't many answers Dimitri could get by questioning him. And it wasn't like the three Buzzes he knew were the only ones in all of Moltara; they could turn out to be from completely different cities. The only way to know for certain was for Dimitri to get Flicker to meet his housemates face-to-face.
That was something that couldn't be solved at that moment, however. Dimitri glanced at his watch, realizing that he was way past the time he usually allotted for break and that Flicker had been in the tunnel for far too long. "Hey, you've been here for a few hours. Granite's going to get angry if you don't get back soon," Dimitri recommended to Flicker.
Flicker widened his eyes and grit his teeth in alarm once he realized that fact. He promptly stood up in preparation to leave. "Ugh, yeah, I really need to get going..."
But before he left, Flicker suddenly reminded himself of the reason he was supposed to be there. Flicker cleared his throat, crossed his arms, and stood up straight so that he brought himself to his full height as he looked down on Dimitri. "Alright, you better get back to work and speed it up, or else I'm going to do... err, something. You jerk." Now Flicker could go back to Granite and honestly say to the brown Meerca that he threatened Dimitri like he was ordered to, even if his currently vibrating wings indicated that he didn't mean a word of it.
"That last part was a little unnecessary..." Dimitri muttered under his breath. He then said to Flicker dismissively, "Alright, I'll keep that in mind."
The intimidating scowl Flicker wore immediately disappeared as he smiled and said, "Okay. Thanks for letting me stay!"
"No problem. Tell Wingen that he ought to stop by too when he's not busy!" Dimitri told Flicker as the Buzz began to exit the tunnel.
"Alright, I will. See you later!" Flicker's voice echoed as he replied to Dimitri while moving further away.
Eventually, Flicker's glow disappeared from the tunnel, leaving it to only be illuminated by the lanterns Dimitri set up around him. Standing up, Dimitri approached the broken mine lift with tools in hand and got back to work.
For as long as he worked on the lift, Dimitri's thoughts were entirely focused on the knowledge he needed to do the job exactly right. But once Dimitri decided to call it a day, go into his tent, and get some sleep, he found that the memories he was so absorbed in earlier began to come back to him. He chuckled to himself, figuring that his memories of the surface were never going to leave him alone.
The only medicine that could cure homesickness was far out of his reach. But Dimitri had decided that even if those thoughts were always going to be present, he wasn't going to let them overwhelm and depress him. By that point, he knew how to turn the nostalgia that intended to dishearten him into something he could find comforting.
Dimitri pulled the covered over himself and closed his eyes. He fell asleep imagining the light rain on the roof and the autumn leaves rustling in the wind.