I initially wrote this story as part of an anthology where the world due to end by way of an alpaca-lypse. Yep, you read that right–an alpaca-lypse. I was just starting out as a writer and it was a bit of a stretch for my imagination but overall, this was a very fun story to write! Enjoy!
A Neck Above the Rest
The war with the Llamas had gotten out of control. The humans were largely ignorant to the secret battles but every alpaca birth, every new grazing beast, was an encroachment on Llama territory and a threat to their survival. Since the birth of our kind, the relations between our two races has been tense but one could say the war started when the humans took an interest in us and made the delineation between us all the more clear. The world was still young and the population of the human tribe was concentrated in the valley of our great mountains. Valued for our wool and embraced for our gentle dispositions, the humans nourished our growing numbers with care and love. Our larger counterparts were relegated to a more custodial position protecting us from other animals, of all things. A role they reluctantly accepted for if they were to refuse it, the humans would most certainly find another, more delicious, purpose for them. Of course, the occasional mountain lion or coyote would “sneak” through and disturb our peace but blame was hard to appoint.
And so we have lived, forced to be in such close quarters with our sworn enemies.
Until the year the war turned against us.
Our side suffered extensive casualties when the introduction of plants poisonous to our kind ruined our pastures and killed over eighty percent of our population. The true cause has not been determined but most suspect it was the doing of the llamas. We’ve barely been able to survive since then. But thanks to the effect the plant had on some of us, we’ve developed an evolutionary miracle. Our spit now had the corrosive power of sulfuric acid and was our saving grace against the llamas. The only problem is that using the newly acquired advantage takes a serious toll on the alpaca who used it. At most, an alpaca only has ten occasions where they could trigger acid spit before it completely degrades the throat and mouth. While the method does have incredible stopping power, using it more than needed would do more damage to the population than good. Luckily, this has discouraged the Llamas from retaliating but we fear that soon they will take advantage of our weakness and launch a full scale attack that will eradicate Alpaca kind for ever. We have come to a point in the war where we can change the course of history forever and save all Alpacas.
Or die trying.
The elders of the Alpaca tribe, led by the Most High Neck, had created a weapon. This weapon had the power to destroy all Llamas in existence and end the war for good.
Unfortunately this weapon, by way of the fallout it creates, would also destroy the humans.
There were arguments both for and against using the weapon. On one hand, the humans cared for us, kept us in our rightful place above the Llamas. On the other, our kind will go extinct if we don’t.
My name is Go and this is how the war between the Alpacas and Llamas finally ended.
On the final day we needed to make our decision, I woke up like any other day that came before it. My siblings were already awake and engaged in a mini debate similar to what gripped our herd in recent days.
“We survived before the humans and we will survive after they are gone!” Kabo, my older brother, had risen among the ranks rapidly and was considered one of the highest Necks among us. He was one the staunchest supporters of using the weapon.
My younger sister, Eila, was the exact opposite. She was sickly as a cria and relied heavily on the humans help to survive. She tended to get a bit more emotional when subjects such as these came up.
“If we acted in this way with no regards for the lives that would be lost, then we are no better than the llamas! We should resume talks with their leader and see if we can’t come to some amicable solution. We have lived this way for so many years, can’t you see there’s enough room for all of us? We can join together and leave the humans behind!”
“Resume talks?! There is no reasoning with the llamas. We have tried over and over again and there has never been and there will never be a truce! The sooner you and the others realize that, the sooner you will get over what it is we have no choice but to do.” And then he left. That would be the last day he and I would be in the same room as brothers.
The truth was I agreed with her.
I didn’t understand this war. I went through all the training and trials like a good macho but I could never bring myself to hate them.
“Why didn’t you say anything GoGo? He listens to you! He would’ve listened to you.”
“I’ve already tried, Eila,” I lied. I hadn’t really tried. Sure, I’ve had discussions where I’ve expressed my thoughts but when Kabo disagreed I didn’t do anything to try to convince him. I just let him have his thoughts and he left me to mine. And ever since Kabo was granted rank as a High Neck we hardly even talked anymore.
I decided to leave before my horrible secret came out. You see, unlike me, Eila was a fighter; any time she had an opportunity to talk about the injustices of the war or the stiff-necked beliefs of our leaders, she took it. This didn’t leave her very popular with some of the others in our tribe but she had more than a few on her side. She was a leader.
My place was close to the humans. My inability to get emotionally invested in this war had left me an outcast. Publicly shunned, the humans naturally thought the rest of my kind was excluding me because of some sickness so they fussed over me constantly. The little programming I did receive caused me to abhor their attention, my imposed punishment, but after a while I grew fond of it. Especially the young female who oversaw my grooming. I can tell she is well respected by her tribe and has several young ones of her own. She hums when she grooms me, like my mother. Of all humans, she is my favorite.
It is she I think of losing when thought of the weapon crosses my mind. She does not deserve to die, her family does not deserve to die, because we cannot control ourselves.
It was on that day, the end of days, that I made my decision. I had never felt so sure of anything in my life. I had finally chosen a side and committed to it more than any other alpaca, even Eila.
I was going to warn the humans.
How you ask? While humans have only been to able to crudely interpreted our sounds, we alpacas find their sounds to be quite easy to understand and mimic. Of course, direct contact with humans is forbidden according to Alpaca Law but if they are going to be wiped out what could the harm be?
With only hours remaining I decided to make my move during my ear inspection. I was sure to be alone with her and out of sight. When it came time to do it the sounds stuck in my throat. What was I supposed to say? Where do I start? I settled on using a sound that her young ones made to get her attention.
“Mamah,” the word came out clear and loud. I was quite proud of myself.
“Wow, little one, I’ve never heard you make that noise before. It’s almost as if you said my name!”
“Yes, I suppose I did say your name. Please. Try not to react.” But it was too late. She had dropped the tick removing apparatus and began to scream. So I did the only thing I knew to do and screamed with her. Either because she truly felt concerned for me or because she didn’t want any one to come and witness her breakdown, she set about comforting me when it was I who had scared her.
Adding yet another to the many reasons why she was worthy of salvation.
She shushed the both of us until things had settled down and there was no sign of any one coming to check on us. She sat on the stool in front of me and stared at me. So I tried again. The words flowed easier this time.
“Mamah, please. Do not be afraid. I must tell you something. Your life depends on it,” she tensed up at my voice but did not scream. Her voice was small and quivering compared to mine.
“S-so you can talk?”
“Yes.” This was going to take a while if it was going to take her this long to catch on. I spoke as clearly and simply as I could, “humans are in danger. Big fight of Alpacas and Llamas is over. Big tool will end Llamas. And end Humans.”
“Big fight? You mean to tell me that you are in a war? With the llamas. And that you have a weapon that will destroy the llamas and humans. When? When is that going to happen?”
She was surprisingly astute. I should have allowed her the courtesy of shock but nevertheless I was pleased. I knew I had made the right choice, if I could get anyone to listen it would be her.
“Tonight?? Well, what kind of weapon is it?”
“One of great destruction and death. Only the Most High Neck and those of High Neck status know exactly how it will be triggered but it has to do with our spit.”
“Yes, it is very, what’s the word, melty. It will destroy everything in its path and only those who know the safe places will survive. Alpacas from over all the land have been preparing this weapon and they will release it tonight unless the Most High Neck says otherwise. I plan on bringing you and your tribe to one of the safe places and changing the Most High Neck’s mind.”
“Is that allowed?”
“I don’t know but I have to try. I have to try and save you.”
“Why? Why me?”
“Because of the way you hum. Because of the mother you are. Because of all that humans do for us. And because, of all humans, you are a neck above the rest.”
She looked at me and then the ground and then back at me. I could tell she was taking time to process this but that was a luxury we did not have.
“We do not have much time. It is now or never.”
She looked out at her family and turned to me with her answer, “What do I need to do?”
I was ecstatic. Any fear of reprimand from the High Necks was gone and I felt like I had a purpose. I showed her the location on the first peak of the tall hills where my herd is usually seen grazing, just past the high stone wall dividing the valley from the mountain range. After slight protest, I revealed the hidden path only Alpacas know and told her to meet me there when the sun is red in the sky.
I returned to the graze lands and she returned to her tribe hopeful that she could make them believe her. I found a place next to Eila, who was usually the only one to let me graze so close. She stopped chewing to talk with me.
“There’s a lot of activity in the human tribe. What do you think has gotten them so riled up?” Her eyes scanned the scene and her ears with pricked in an effort to hear but all conversation was taking place inside their shelters.
Just as I told Mamah to do.
Even so, I could tell some were unhappy with what she was saying and brushing off her warnings. I wasn’t sure whether I should tell Eila what I had done. She was my sister and only friend left and I didn’t want to chance losing her too. But she wanted to save the humans, didn’t she? Surely, she would understand why I did it? What other choice did I have? I had finally chosen a side and it was hers!
I decided to tell her. Everyone was going to find out tonight anyways and I didn’t want her to be surprised. Maybe she could help me.
“I told one of the humans about the weapon. They are going to gather themselves and meet me at the path before sundown,” I blurted out. It was done and my secret was secret no more. I was oddly calm. Eila on the other hand was not. She spit out her cud and yelled in the loudest whisper she could.
“WHAT?! You broke ancient Alpaca Law? You know we are not to communicate with the humans! How could you, Gogo?”
“It was the only way! They are going to die and I don’t want that so I decided to do something about it. Isn’t saving the humans what you have been talking about this whole time?”
“Yes, but not by cluing them into the fact that our society exists! That we can talk! We should’ve just—“
“Just what, Eila?. Hoped that a war that has been raging since the dawn of time would suddenly be resolved in one night of talking? On the eve of the greatest attack in Alpaca history? In all of history? At least my way has a chance of working. If we can’t save all of them at least we can save some. I thought you of all alpacas would understand.”
“I……I do understand, Gogo. I do. And you’re right. What can I do to help?”
A weight was lifted off my shoulders and we prepared for the evening. Eila gathered together those who supported her stance and they met me at the foot of the path towards the safe place. The rest of the herd had slowly been migrating up the hill while the llamas stayed ignorant in their territory at the border of the graze lands.
Mamah arrived as planned but only had a few of her human tribe with her. Six family units at the most. No one else believed her and so they went about with their lives and awaited their destruction. I stepped forward and spoke with my favorite.
“Is this all?” Those that traveled with her stood with gaping mouths and wide eyes at my ability. They knew now that Mamah was telling the truth.
“Yes, little one, this is all I could get to come with me. It was very hard to convince the others.” She put her arm around one of her younglings and sighed.
“Very well then. This will have to do. Follow me.” Eila and her faction brought up the rear of the odd group and we made our way to the top of the hill and into the cave of the safe place.
We were the last to arrive.
We were not well received. I could see Kabo standing near the Most High Neck with a look of hatred on his face. If it weren’t for EIla standing next to me I might have turned tail and run but as she stood there proud and neck strong, her strength gave me strength.
A loud grunt from the Most High Neck quieted the cave and the crowd split to make way for their leader. He walked towards me and the humans. It was a slow and powerful walk, one that only the wisest and strongest of us could possess. He stopped in front of me, and in Alpaca language, began to speak.
“What is the meaning of this?” His eyes bore down into me but with a reassuring look from Eila I answered him.
“Oh Most High Neck, I have brought these humans here so that they may be spared from the aftermath of the great weapon. Surely, they can serve as an example for us noble Alpaca to find another way.”
He spat at my feet and the acid sizzled loudly. He disapproved.
“And how, I wonder, did you get these humans to pack up their belongings and follow you to our safe place?”
“I spoke with Human noises and told them about the coming danger. There was no other—” The crowd grew loud with outcries from the rest of the alpacas. The Most High Neck screamed so loud that it echoed throughout the cave and we all shut up.
“You broke Alpaca Law? One of our most sacred and important commandments? I assume you know the penalty for this?”
It was death.
“Yes, I do, my Most High Neck. But I cannot live in a world where I did not at least try. I would rather give my life for this than to live haunted by my cowardice until the end of my days.”
My sister Eila smiled and added her voice to debate, “There are many among us who feel this way, your Most High Neck. Many of us believe that the humans are too precious of a resource to squander. They mend our broken bones, nurse our pregnant hembras and care for our crias as if they were their own. If there was a way for you to call off this attack—“
“I will do no such thing. We survived before Humans and we will prosper long after they are gone. They are a young race and the earth will not miss them. End of discussion.” The Most High Neck turned and headed back towards the platform where his chosen generals stood. He addressed all Alpaca in the cave now.
“My tribe, whom I love so much, the time has come for us to end this war. The time has come for us to end all Llama.” The entire cave shook with the stomping of feet, an obvious show of approval from the masses. “While there are some of you out there that may not agree with what I have decided to do and I say to them this: I tried. Just like the Most High Neck before me and the Most High before him and on and on to the beginning of this war, I tried to reason with the Llamas and there was nothing, NOTHING, I could say to make them see reason. But I am not without a heart. Tonight, one of our young Alpacas has brought a group of humans into our secret place. And while he has broken one of our most sacred commandments, he has also shown a great deal of bravery. He upholds a great Alpaca belief and is a prime example. All life is precious. And as so, it is my decision that those humans who are in our presence now shall be spared from the great weapon and allowed to care for us in the time after. This is final. Now, High Necks, release the weapon.”
Mamah touched me on my flank and I turned around to face her. “Little one, what is going on? What happened? Did you convince him to see the humans in the valley?”
“Your tribe is going to safe.”
“That’s great! You did it, little one! So we can go back to our homes?”
“I’m afraid not, Mamah. The other humans you brought with you tonight are your new tribe. The Most High Neck has decided that you and your group are to allowed to live with us in the time after this. The others will not make it. I am sorry.” She ran outside and I followed, wanting to comfort my favorite even though I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t happy. I told her about the weapon and I saved her, why is she still sad?
I wish I hadn’t followed her out there. It was my first time seeing what the great weapon was and it was horrible. After we were gifted our acid spit, the Most High Neck from over one hundred generations ago decided that we should set out to collect all we could in one place and unleash it on the Llamas when we had enough. The stone wall separating our lands from the lands beyond was actually a dam holding back years of our acid. When the Most High Neck gave the word, the dam was broken and the great weapon unleashed. She sat on the cliff overlooking the valley and watched as the valley was destroyed by wave after wave of our acid spit. The screams of human and Llama alike filled the night air as the great weapon dissolved everything from mountain base to the great plain. By sunrise, all that remained was the scalded land and stench of what lived there before.
It was done. The Llamas were gone. The humans were gone. Except for my favorite’s new tribe, the whole world was Alpaca. And with our herd of Humans we begin a new era.