My name is Albus.
The story of how I got my name is a long and twisted one, replete with linguistic nuances and peculiarities. When Master first saw me he thought that I looked like a rat. With his usual noble directness, he started calling me “Krysa” – which, apparently, was the word for those rodents in his native language. “Krysa” was quickly anglicized to “Chris” by Little Miss and her numerous friends. One thing led to another: I became Christopher Columbus, then just Columbus, then (courtesy of Little Master) “Wumbus”, which eventually – and inexplicably – was transformed into “Albus”. The irony of the name (Latin for white) is not lost on me, especially when I’m engaging in the daily activity of grooming my pitch-black fur.
On the contrary, my childhood friend Coney was – and still is – as white as virgin November snow. He is exceedingly cute, with “innocent angel” written all over his face. The color does play an important role in that perception; I don’t think I was ever thought of as “cute”, and Mistress even considered my countenance “gloomy”. Coney and I are both purebred Rexes and have nearly identical features. In fact, we could probably pass for twins if we were of the same color, even though we aren’t even closely related. Otherwise we are, without doubt, completely ordinary representatives of the proud, yet very common species Oryctolagus cuniculus. That is, we were that until the Event.
The Event was predicted by many humans and discussed extensively in the media of the United States of Democratic West. Curiously, the humans continued to lead their usual fussy, thoughtless lives, as though nothing was happening. Shelters were built, and a certain general nervousness was felt, particularly during political debates; but for the most part, they preferred to ignore all the omens – even such unmistakable ones as the murder of the President or the declaration of global war by the Caliphate. Eventually, the bombs fell.
Several of them detonated over Moscow, State of Russia. Our family lived in a secluded house in a rural area within the city limits. My vocabulary is much too poor to convey the sickening, mortal panic that overwhelmed us all. The entire house shook violently; nauseating smells, wildly dancing flickering lights and unbearably shrill sounds filling the air. I don’t know how Coney and I survived all that. At some point, Little Master rushed into our room, opened the cage door, and grabbed us both. I think Master was yelling at him from the porch, roaring: “Leave them and get out of the house!”; but Little Master pressed us tightly against his chest and started running. Then the ceiling collapsed right over him. He threw us towards the corridor, and within a few seconds was buried under the rubble.
Coney and I kept sprinting like mad, leaping over obstacles. The front door was ajar; Master stood outside, his burnt, disfigured face covered with blood and soot, holding Little Miss and screaming savagely, his voice feeble and hoarse. I think I saw Mistress’s body lying on the ground not far from there. Coney and I squeezed past Master and flitted into the nearby bushes. I ran blindly through the darkness, my hind paws nearly falling out of their joints. Then something exploded, and I passed out.
I have to say that all my memories from before the Event are incredibly blurry, as though they belonged to another creature. I’m not entirely sure whether everything happened just as I described. I also don’t know how long I stayed unconscious. My first completely clear recollection is a very bright light directed at me, accompanied by a gust of powerful wind, almost gale, which penetrated my entire being. Much later, getting acquainted with special literature, I learned that the effect could have been caused by the high level of radiation contaminating the atmosphere. It is unclear why that radiation, instead of killing me outright or slowly poisoning my organism, made me to what I am now. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When I regained all my senses, I felt myself lying on some sort of a stone slab, shivering from cold. It was dark and very quiet; I could hear my own heartbeat echoing in my inner ears. My first post-rebirth experience was a violent onslaught of previously unknown thoughts. They were frighteningly new, flooding my consciousness in a relentless current. Who am I? What am I? They were so drastically different from the usual “when do I get my portion of hay” or “Little Master, please keep petting my forehead”, so completely alien to my former self, that for a second I was convinced that I’d become insane. Blood pulsated in my temples with sweeping, terrifying force, seemingly threatening to burst my skull open. I emitted a prolonged howl – and suddenly realized it was formed out of words:
That scared me so much that I rolled off the stone slab, landing on all four paws. I sniffled greedily, slightly turning my head left and right. Coney was nowhere to be smelled. I was in a burrow of sorts, so small and narrow that I could hardly stand without brushing the walls with my whiskers and touching the ceiling with the tips of my ears. I quickly made my way out of it, and onto the ravaged surface of the Earth.
What I saw amazed me almost as much as my recent discovery. It was still very quiet; apparently, the nuclear assault had subsided. Heavy smog blotted out the sky. In the distance, the city of Moscow lay in ruins, pillars of smoke piercing its desecrated body. Right in front of me, behind a patch of what I perceived to be moss, was something that looked like a mangled children’s playground, with blocks of concrete, wooden planks, and a multitude of smaller, colorful objects jumbled into one large pile. Two tiny dolls lay on a thin path leading away from it, in the direction of the city. I hopped towards them and gently picked them up. It took me a while to recognize in them the mutilated bodies of Master and Little Miss.
Startled, I leaped into the air. The bodies of my former owners dropped out of my paws and onto the ground.
Coney stood behind me, a weak smile on his face.
The sound of my own voice shocked me once again.
We embraced awkwardly. The touch of his smooth, silky fur was soothing.
“Coney ... This –” I nodded at the bodies. Two large tears welled in my eyes.
“Yeah ... I know.” He swallowed hard. “We’ve become big, Albus.”
“It’s not just that...” My voice was quivering. “What is happening? Is this a nightmare? Look at us, Coney! We ... we can talk.”
“In English, no less.” Coney chuckled. “That was the family’s preferred lingua franca. Master ... the husband was Russian, the wife Chinese. They even used to joke about being enemies. You know, China and USDW didn’t get along ... hence the bombs. Or maybe it was the Caliphate. I guess we’ll never know, since USDW dropped a few on both of them as well. Anyway, it’s done. Look at all that.” He waved his forepaw. “And then there is the radiation. Lots of it. Though it doesn’t seem to affect us, for some reason. It’s been more than two days after the blast, and I don’t feel anything unusual.”
I wiped my eyes.
“Coney.” I tried to speak calmly. “I know all that. The question is ... how do I know? How do we know? It’s as if we were dead ... dead and then reborn. Do you even remember how we were before ... before this happened? We were only interested in food. And now –”
“Now I’m still interested in food.” Coney laughed, patting me on the shoulder. “What do you say we get ourselves some nice radioactive carrots? I sure hope they’ve mutated into something even more gigantic than us.”
“Coney.” I looked into his eyes. “Aren’t you ... sad?”
“Sad?” He seemed surprised. “Why? Because we are out of our cage and can do whatever we want?”
“No ... But Master, the whole family...”