Written by Nika Harper & Illustrated by Wednesday Wolf

Under the mossy overhang of toadstools, and tucked in between boulders that nobody thought to explore, the Ovae lived. They bustled about, balancing their tumescent heads on overwhelmed white bodies, always moving in one direction or another to do what must be done. That could be anything. They gathered, and busily explored their area and the newness around them at all times, speaking in their little line language like dots in the air. Their inkspot eyes peer into the world for only a few days before they are lost to it.

One was different.

He was six nights old, and he did what the rest of the Ovae did. He gathered, led by the examples of others, and he made little nests of moss bits and tiny fibers ripped from foliage far bigger than his body. He listened hard to the chirps and stutters like language punctuation in codes he could not interpret. The chattering was incessant, a constant babble of information he could not bring himself to make. He watched, and he followed, and he wondered why.

The Ovae were peaceful. They moved for as long as they could move, and when they couldn’t, they stopped. When they were ready, they would move again. They had built no structures to live in, but for the gathered nests under private ledges of rock. Living consisted of moving fibers back and forth between the environment and the nest.

Their purpose was not clear.

He was seven nights old, though night didn’t exist to the Ovae. They kept on doing what they always did, bumbling into each other often, some unfortunate cracking incidents along the way. One Ovae scampered headlong into another, sprawling him outward and toppling over himself. Two cracked white heads, caved in under chips of cranium and oozing. This did not bother the rest. A new destination was marked in the crowd, who rushed forward to gather armfuls of viscous yellow fat and rush it back to the nests.

Gooey yellow deposits were placed and covered with light moss, as the Ovae sought to build another nest close by. The bodies of the lost were trampled underfoot, reduced to sandy gristle in the ground, their only grave marker being crusty dried headjam and a sour smell. Nobody noticed.

He wondered why.

They often ventured outside the compounds, into a world much bigger and mightier than them. They scattered in arranged patterns, tiny dark shadows beneath them as they traversed twigs and sticks in search of more detritus to haul back. They did not look at one another. They would chatter their sharp clicks and gaze, unseeing, over one another as they passed. He noticed. He saw that no eyes met his, and nobody paused, nobody stood still. They just moved, all automatic, all searching. He stopped to look, jostled on either side when an Ovae found the quickest path to the nest was right through him. He stood away from the movement and looked for the eyes of others.

A creature came down, too large to be fully seen, and pecked at the ground with a sloughed beak. His brethren disappeared in this cruel mouth, but others seemed not to notice. Some moved away, scattering and worrying not about their fallen kind, yolk brains streaking the forest floor. There did not seem to be screams. The creature would eat its fill and move on. The Ovae continued the only way they knew how.

He wondered how.

He was nine nights old, and a bit bigger than the rest of his kind. Their shells were still fresh and tender, smooth ripples in the dome visible when they got close. The old nest seemed to bustle with activity. There were many more Ovae crawling from it, testing their legs, balancing liquid heads on spindly bodies. Some spattered the ground with their ill-fated attempts at existence. Not even moments after emerging, they scoured the area for bits of gravel to add beneath the new nest. He watched them as they moved, none of them aware. He watched the rest as they rushed to and fro. When one stopped, perhaps to rest, he got closer to see if they acknowledged him. The face was blank of comprehension. At once, he was shoved off balance by a charging Ovae, crashing his head into the one in front of him, their head caving beneath his. He reached up to feel a trickle of ooze on his own head.

It was harder to walk around after that.

He was eleven nights old, and knew to stay away from the uncovered areas where the beaks swallowed you up. He gathered soft bits of moss for his own head, placing them across a chasm where the skull no longer met itself. He dipped the moss in fallen yellow fat to keep it in place. He was careful not to bend his body and spill out his goo, but mostly stood still and watched the nests. Every hatching was met with strewn infant yolk and stumbling white bodies intent upon their purpose they were born for. He watched for any who did not chatter, who stood still, who moved their heads away from their objectives.

There were none.

He was thirteen nights old, if anyone knew what a night was, and he was slowly getting bigger, yet no other Ovae lived long enough to grow as he did. He tacked a piece of skull over his own now gaping absence, using moss to gum up the leaks and keep the smaller skull in place. It could only cover so far. His head sloshed when he moved, so he stayed still, near the nests. He watched for others, he watched for answers. He tried to click out the patterns he heard. Nobody heard him. The nests were built and rebuilt under his attentive eye, wiping an ooze drip off his cheek. Chips of white grain came away with it.

He was alone.

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