The needle slid into the cat’s back. Connor watched, intensely focused, as though giving an injection would be the hardest thing he ever had to master. He imagined his cousin’s face as she watched beside him; it would probably be pale with nerves. Dr Vole, his uncle, depressed the plunger before pulling the needle out. He smiled and said something to the cat’s owner (the pair couldn’t hear through the glass separating this room and the treatment room) and helped the grateful-looking woman put her cat back in its cage.
His cousin, Maria, sighed audibly as her father threw the needle away.
“I don’t think I’m going to be a vet,” she confided in Connor.
“Oh, good,” he replied. “I’ll need someone to do all the boring paperwork,” he teased.
Maria punched him playfully in the arm.
“Ouch, don’t do that!” Connor cried in false hurt, rubbing the spot where her fist had made contact.
Dr Vole entered the viewing room and regarded his daughter and nephew with an expression of amusement.
“What are you two arguing about?” he asked.
Maria folded her arms across her chest.
“Connor said I’ll be his receptionist when he’s a vet.” She grinned wickedly. “If he gets to be a vet.”
“Cheers,” Connor said, amused by this.
Dr Vole smiled.
“You know he was just teasing you. You can be whatever you want to be as long as you’re willing to work for it.” He looked at Connor. “So was that interesting? I know you didn’t hear anything but I can’t give you any proper work experience until you’re a little older.”
“That’s okay, Uncle Dave,” Connor replied. “Yes, it was interesting, and I, unlike Maria - ” Here he poked out his tongue at his cousin. “- am totally unfazed by the sight of needles.”
“Ew, I don’t like seeing your slimy tongue,” Maria said, her tone childish.
Connor rolled his eyes.
“Stupid boy,” she shot back.
David Vole was leaning back against the wall, casually watching as the pair fought.
“Is anyone actually hungry?” he interjected, though there was no hint of impatience in his tone. “Because it’s my lunch break now.”
Connor and Maria immediately stopped bickering.
“Is Aunt Mabel cooking?” Connor asked.
Dr Vole nodded, smiling.
“See you later, smelly fairy,” he said to Maria before striding out as fast as his legs would take him without running. When he got outside he dashed to the front door of the house next door, Maria hot on his heels. Maria’s father watched them as he locked up the surgery, saying goodbye to his colleagues and the receptionist as they walked off to buy lunch together in town.
When he arrived at the table lunch was served: pasta with cheese and bacon sauce. He sat down opposite his wife, between the adolescents, and the four began to eat.
After just one taste of the food, Connor commented, “Delicious, as ever, Aunt Mabel.”
“Mm, it’s good, Mum,” Maria agreed.
“Can’t beat home-cooking,” Dr Vole said.
“Thank you, dears. I’m glad you like it.” She had another couple of forkfuls of her food before she said, “Hey, Connor, d’you know if your mum will stop by for dinner one day? She was in such a rush when she dropped you off I didn’t have the chance to ask.”
“Well, what can I say?” Connor said. “She’s always eager to get rid of me.”
The other three laughed.
“I’m sure that on Friday or Saturday she’ll be free in the evening,” he told his aunt. “She loves your cooking so she’d love to be here.”
“We’ll hide you if she doesn’t want to see you,” Maria said, both teasing and conspiring.
“Thanks, Maria. I’m sure my mum would appreciate that.”
The meal continued with that light-hearted sort of conversation and afterwards Maria, Connor and Mrs Vole played a board game together while Dr Vole returned to the surgery.
After the game, Connor fetched a book from the guest room where he always slept when he stayed over at Aunt Mabel’s. He sat reading in the living room while Maria played on the family’s Wii.
Subsequently he took a nap on a deckchair in the family’s back garden, basking in the summer sun like a cold-blooded animal. Before he woke, he heard foreign words spoken in a whisper in his mind - perhaps the remnants of a forgotten dream. If he’d had to write them down, he’d have written ‘Monda te requia, homo sapiens.’
‘How odd,’ Connor thought, conscious once more. The first three words had belonged to an unrecognizable language (though from the French word ‘monde’ and the English ‘require’, he guessed they might mean ‘The world requires you’), but the last two had clearly been the Latin taxonomical name for humans.
How odd for his mind to use a weird language and then switch to Latin. How odd for him to hear voices and yet not dream of a speaker. How odd for his mind to disobey the normal rules and construct a dream out of an experience he’d never had.
Connor wondered if he was right in his guess that the words meant ‘The world requires you, human’. If so, what could it possibly mean?
Unseen eyes of molten topaz watched the boy with the confused expression on the odd wooden chair with the striped material forming both the back and the seat. The watcher was the one who had spoken.
‘All will be explained to you in time, child,’ he said, but this did not catch the boy’s attention either. The eyes blinked, and then disappeared.