|Things Were Better Then|
|Written:||March 16 - March 22, 2015|
|Released:||March 22, 2015|
|Theme song:||Say It Ain't So|
|Things Were Better Then track listing|
Kuriza hadn’t meant to go looking for monsters. He hadn’t meant to get out of bed and step outside, where the rain was falling hard and his breath was misting in quick puffs in front of his face. But he couldn’t sleep. Kuriza couldn’t leave well enough alone.
Ahead, between endless rows of Planet Trade Organization dormitories, the streets had turned to mud, overrun with rainwater in torrents and puddles. For a moment, Kuriza wanted nothing more than to run out there and jump in them and shout and throw mud at everything and nothing together. But he couldn’t.
Lingon, Kuriza’s guard, stood just outside his room with his back to the door. His skin was as dark as the mud in the streets, and though he was a stupid slave, he had sharp eyes. Kuriza feared Lingon would tell Lord Frieza that his son had snuck out again and stayed up all night - that is, if the man caught him. That would get Kuriza in a load of trouble. The boy’s heart quickened with the pitter patter of the rain. He wouldn’t let that happen.
Frieza’s son stayed with the shadows as he moved around Lingon. He movements were fluid and precise, like the falling rain, and soon he was lost amongst neverending streams of droplets. Once Kuriza made it around the first corner, Lingon could no longer see him, so the boy began to run down the street with quiet glee. Lightning flashed; Kuriza jumped with a burst of freedom; he smelled the mud and felt the rain on him. His body was drenched. It was all so real. Yet it wasn’t cold. Kuriza couldn’t feel what he didn’t think about.
The boy was careful to keep out of eyeshot of the other guards he knew patrolled the other dormitories. They were no better than Lingon, and they wouldn’t be able to spot him in the rainstorm if he didn’t make too much noise. Kuriza began to run again, his arms thrust behind him, the wind-rain in his face. He closed his eyes and let the storm carry him onward.
Where he came to a stop, covered in mud and glee, Kuriza saw a larger building - his father’s personal compound. They were only staying on this planet for a fortnight, so his father’s palace hadn’t been built from scratch - it was just an old warehouse left by the last outpost to occupy the planet before the dreaded space-badger infestation of the 701 Age had wiped everyone out. Only now was the Planet Trade Organization beginning to repopulate the planet, licking its wounds and starting over. Surely, Kuriza’s father wasn’t pleased with where he was staying. But he couldn’t do anything about that. Palaces don’t grow on trees after all.
Guards lined the front of the building, though Kuriza knew they were nothing more than formalities; his father did not need them. Frieza didn’t fear a single person in the universe. In truth, Kuriza didn’t either - except for the monsters that haunted his dreams.
“They feed on little boys and girls who stay up past their bedtimes,” his father had warned him as he had tucked Kuriza into bed that night. “Giant, ghastly things with sharp teeth and long, bony arms to grab with out from the darkness! Ho ho ho!” Frieza had chuckled, his face going red as the humor got to him.
“Bu… but, I’m stronger than most children. I bet the monsters are afraid of me! My father’s the strongest warrior in the universe, after all!” Kuriza had protested.
“Ho ho ho! Scared? Scared?! No, no, no! They’re starving, Kuriza. Hungry for your flesh. They will eat you as easily as they will any other child.” Frieza had pointed his finger at Kuriza then even as his son’s eyes had widened in horror and his tail had begun to tremble. “I don’t want you staying up too late ever again, do you hear me?! You are my son, Kuriza. You will obey my orders, or you will be punished. The emperor of the universe does not suffer insolence from anyone, not even his son.”
Frieza had went to leave when Kuriza had decided to press the issue: “But father, c-can the monsters sneak into my room and eat me while I’m sleeping?”
Frieza had grinned. “Only if they know you’ve been naughty. What do you think happened to your older brother? He would stay up all night, disregarding his father’s rules, and play around and wander the streets until the sun came up. He had not a care in the world. But he disrespected his father and brought shame upon his family’s name. So one night, a particularly hungry monster came and snatched him up.”
Kuriza hadn’t known he’d even had a brother. He wanted to ask his father about him - what was his name and what was he like? - but fear had kept Kuriza’s voice trapped in his throat. For a long while after, he stayed in bed, hiding from the dark images in his mind until he could bear it no longer. Anything was better than that. He didn’t want to think about the monsters eating him. He didn’t want to be scared anymore. So he went outside to clear his mind. And maybe he would find a monster out there, or maybe one would find him, but ever since Kuriza had come outside, a bold happiness had coated him like an aura and prevented the cold from getting in again. Now that he was deliriously sleepy, he was ready for them.
There was a feral space-badger with dark spotted fur digging in the trash bins behind his father’s makeshift palace. Kuriza threw a bit of mud at it and it scampered off. The boy laughed and chased the thing for a while until he slid into a puddle and lost the thing in the grey night. For a while, Kuriza sat in that puddle, letting the rain pound down upon him. On the one side was the darkness, and on the other, a large window peeking into the palace of the emperor. Kuriza stared out into the darkness and dared it to come at him.
“If there’s a monster out there, come and get me! I bet I can kill you!” he taunted. He was too tired to really understand what he was saying, yet he didn’t care.
Then, a light flickered on to his left, and Kuriza jumped up. He saw it coming from a room inside his father’s palace, and the boy ran up to the wall to peer inside. There was his father, pacing back and forth, talking to someone on his scouter. Kuriza couldn’t hear what his father was talking about over the pounding of rain, but he could tell Frieza’s voice was agitated, almost infuriated. Soon, Frieza began to yell at his scouter. He ripped it off his head and brought it around to his face, screaming and spitting into its microphone, his face burning red again. But there was no humor this time.
The only words Kuriza could make out were ‘father!’ and ‘not fair… Cooler has more…!’ but the rest was just noise to the poor boy. He felt anxious watching his father and for a moment, he felt the cold of the storm on his pale flesh. His tail twitched unconsciously.
Then, Frieza screamed and looked in Kuriza’s direction. The boy thought his father had seen him, so he ducked out of sight. When nothing happened, the boy lifted his head again just in time to see Frieza throw his scouter with such force that it left a huge crater in the side of the far wall. Frieza screamed again, and then a bright light covered his body and then the entire room, and it was all Kuriza knew.
When the light faded, after a time, there stood in that room not the boy’s father, but something different - something hideous and evil and scary - something new.
“Monster…” Kuriza muttered thoughtlessly. He knew the being that stood before him was Frieza, but it was not his father, not the father he knew and loved. Frieza’s head had become elongated and sharp, with spikes growing from the sides of his face. His body was longer, bulkier, and covered in spikes, too. His arms and legs had grown so that he stood much taller than he had before. “Monster…” Kuriza said again, this time thinking it through. He realized his father’s transformation looked much like the monsters he had described to Kuriza that very night.
Frieza was ranting to himself, throwing things, and kicking things, but he did not notice his son. Kuriza was completely shocked upon seeing this - he hadn’t known his father could change into a scary monster at will. Did that mean he had eaten his last son for staying up late? Did that mean he was coming for Kuriza? Did he know his son was outside the window?
Panic hit Kuriza like needling raindrops and he felt his entire body quivering with fear. The thought of being eaten, being taken, came to him again, and he regretted his previous boast. Exhaustion had made him stupid, and that made him ashamed. Kuriza felt small and helpless; he felt like a monster was watching him. He ran.
He fell. The boy had tested his luck in the best of times and now the mud was slicker and the water puddles deeper, and he was not ready. He fell face-first into the slush and felt his nose scrape against a pointed rock. Kuriza let out a little whimper and rolled over, feeling his raw nose. The brown sky above him was shooting fierce daggers at him. Blood was on his fingers for a moment, and then it was all washed away and the boy was on his feet again running back home. He didn’t have time to think.
It felt as if he was drowning in the flood, unable to escape. No matter how far he ran, Kuriza knew monsters pursued him, waiting to feast upon his bones. He was too small to escape them, too stupid for challenging them. They would never stop hunting him.
Then he saw Lingon ahead and Kuriza let out a cry of hope. He waved his hands above his head through the storming rain and the soldier saw him. Relieved, Kuriza rushed up to him and hugged Lingon, sobbing profusely.
“Lord Kuriza?” the squat-faced alien asked, puzzled. He turned around to look at the door to the room behind him. “How’d you get out here?”
“I-I snuck out!” Kuriza cried. “I’m so sorry! Please, the monsters are chasing me! Help!”
“Monsters? What monsters?!”
Not looking up, Kuriza pointed behind him into swirling darkness and sobbed. “They’re out there! They’re going to eat me!”
Lingon laughed nervously and picked Kuriza up, cradling the boy in his arms. Patting the little lord on the head, Lingon opened the door and walked into the boy’s room. “Now now master Kuriza, there ain’t no monsters out there. Monsters is fake. They don’t exist.”
“But I saw one!” Kuriza shouted, not wanting to specify which monster he had seen.
Lingon shook his head and set Kuriza down. “Your eyes must’ve been playin’ tricks, sir. There’s nothin’ out there. Come on, let’s get you cleaned off before you go to bed.”
Lingon found a towel in the bathroom and began wiping the mud and water and fear from young Kuriza’s body. “Yo-you won’t tell father, will you?” Kuriza asked with a shiver.
The alien shook his head. “No sir. I’m here to protect you, master Kuriza. Ain’t no monsters, real or fake, gonna get you, s’long as I’m around. I promise you that.”
And that helped, a little. But then, a thought returned to Kuriza that he had tried to run from - that single thought that had scared him half to death before: He was his father’s son. The same blood ran through Kuriza’s and Frieza’s veins. So what did that make him? Was he no better than those predators hiding in the shadows? Was he one of them?
Lightning danced across the sky in his dreams. The rain was not so bad now that he was asleep. He stood silently, heroically, in the midst of the storm. They were watching him, but he wouldn’t let them see him afraid. He wasn’t afraid. He was swimming through the sky, dodging rain drops. He was free. It was as perfect as could be. He was happy, for once. His nose was bleeding again, but still he kept grinning.
Then, another golden bolt impacted the cloud-ridden sky and he saw his father hovering in the air in front of him, anger and disappointment clinging eagerly to his lips. “The emperor of the universe does not suffer insolence from anyone, not even his son,” his father whispered.
His father charged up a death beam and shot him with it. The boy felt the pain shoot through his throat as he fell from the sky, spinning end over end, seeing nothing but grey and brown and darkness. But when he landed, the boy found the darkness to be not so complete - shapes of varied jagged and menacing shapes moved about on the edge of sight just fast enough that he couldn’t get a good enough look at them before they were gone. But he knew they were there. The boy stood up and the rain came harder still. His tail was shivering and he couldn’t control it. He was so tired, so cold. They were going to eat him, he realized, and there was nothing he could do about it. He wanted to scream but there was no one to scream for.
And then from the blackness ahead came a beast so wretched it took the breath from the boy’s lungs. Tall and grotesque was its shape, its horned, stout body composed of white and pink. He knew what it was, and he didn’t. The boy trembled and cried. He took a step back, but the creature was on him, the face on its elongated head studying him with a desperate, hungry look. He waited for it to make its move. All it did was smile.
Thunder boomed. The monster’s teeth were unbelievably white up close. The boy stared into its eyes and felt something he could not explain pang through his heart. And then everything else was forgotten - the monsters, the cold, the anxiety. The sounds and smells of the storm evaporated. It was just the boy and the creature. A calm washed over the boy then, as instinct took him. He placed his hands on the creature’s face and studied it. He knew that face. It knew him.
Its head was as big as the boy. It could swallow him in an instant. Yet, he did not panic. “You’re a monster. You’ve come to eat me,” he said matter-of-factly. Somehow, he was not scared of it anymore.
“Aren’t we all?” it replied in a booming voice.
He stared into the creature’s red eyes. Rain poured down the boy’s face and his white-and-red body, but he did not feel it. “I know what you are,” the boy stated after a while and then let go of the creature. His green eyes rippled like puddles that had been jumped into. The boy looked over his hands, arms, and lower body. The same blood coursed through both of them. He and the monster were One.
He pointed at the fearsome thing defiantly. “I know what I am too.”
Like father, like son, Kuriza understood. Still, that did little to quench the weariness that tugged so relentlessly at his beating heart.