|* Written for Groanology. Word count 2655. Allowed range 1200 to 3200. Rough draft. Due June 30.
Revised 6/23 at 11:45pm
Revised 6/24 at 11:04pm
I Think, Therefore I Amputate
Leon sneezed. The dust in the hardware store got to him, but it sure beat working at Chuck E. Cheese. He shuddered thinking of how the brats ran around screaming, their parents ran around hitting them for screaming, and the staff tried to mop up spills without tripping anyone. Leon only made it three months before he stopped mopping and started whacking. A mop handle wasn't half as good as four-inch incisors and razor-sharp claws, but it was all he had handy in broad daylight.
Leon moved his cart down the aisle stocking light bulbs. Mr. Jamison said that an empty shelf was an unprofitable shelf, and insisted that Leon walk every aisle, every hour, filling in gaps. Leon thought it was stupid, but he didn't mind the chance to linger near the windows and watch the babes saunter in and out of the Ambiance across the street. Yowza!
Finishing up, Leon checked his watch. Aside from the girl-watching, the hardware store job bored him, but that day was different. At nightfall, Leon was going hunting. He had to be out of town and up in the mountains before the moon came out, or Mr. Jamison might find that an empty coffin was an unprofitable coffin.
"Leon." The call came from near the front of the store. Leon groaned. He was tempted to duck out, but if he didn't punch out there would be hell to pay.
"Be right there, sir, " Leon called. Mr. Jamison demanded respect, though he'd probably get more if he were taller and less bald.
"I need you to take these supplies over to Judson Art Center, Leon. It's an important order--don't screw up."
Leon rolled his eyes. Every order was an important order. No matter, at least not many people brought their brats into the hardware store. He would be happy if he never saw another kid in his life--except maybe once a month, under a full moon.
Damn, he couldn't think like that. One hard part about being a teenager was you were always hungry.
"I'm on it, sir. I was just about to take off for the evening, going camping, so I'll run these over tomorrow before I come to work."
"Are you crazy?" Mr. Jamison stared at him. "You can't go out there. Every day, people come in here talking about animals that have been torn to pieces, and you want to go camping. What is it with you teenagers? You never listen to anybody. No, you run over to Judson now, and then head straight home before nightfall. Whatever is out there is nothing to fool around with." Mr. Jamison walked off, shaking his head.
Leon stuck his tongue out at the retreating back. If only Mr. Jamison knew who was the biggest threat out there. Leon smirked. He went to load the car he'd borrowed from his dad, but cringed as a blonde in a leather miniskirt walked by and stared at the beat up station wagon. Why couldn't his dad drive a pickup like a normal guy?
Hefting the boxes out to the car took longer than he'd hoped. There must have been twenty boxes, and some were heavy as hell. By the time he was done loading, it was late. In July, he could have made it to the art center and on to the mountains before dark, but not in October. The sun was already low in the sky.
Shit! Leon turned on the radio and screeched out of the shopping center, headed for the hills. While he drove, he wondered what was killing all those animals. Maybe a really big cougar. A couple months back, he'd come across a cougar while hunting. The huge cat stared at Leon with hungry yellow eyes, then crouched and leaped through the air at Leon. Leon licked his lips at the memory.
Forty-five minutes later, Leon peered out into the dusk, looking for the old lumber road. A car passed going the opposite direction and Leon swore. If he didn't find the old road before dark, passersby were going to find a whole new meaning for road rage. Leon's ears itched, always a warning sign.
There it was. Leon turned hard into the rutted drive and floored it. Careening through hanging branches, he bumped and rattled all the way to the lodge. Everything he saw was tinged red, so he didn’t have much time. He slammed on the brakes, yanked the key out of the ignition and hurled it out the window into the underbrush. Throwing open the door, he threw himself out as his body stretched and transformed. A ferocious hunger overtook him.
Standing erect, sleek black fur on seven feet of muscle, he raised his head and howled at the moon showing over the top of the trees. Answering howls punctuated the night, but he ignored them. Ordinary wolves. An evil glint in his eyes showed his disdain. Good eating, but no competition for me. On the other hand, maybe some were female.
Suddenly, a scent in the air made Leon stop and glare around. This was nothing he had ever smelled, and Leon had killed and eaten almost anything that moved in those mountains.
Slinking forward silently, Leon followed the scent down the hill. Ahead, he could see the small lake reflecting the full moon. Not a ripple crossed the lake, protected from wind by the mountain and the tall trees which surrounded it.
Leon wanted to howl, but the smell was an ancient, fierce odor which awakened some genetic memory. His hackles rose as he loped down the hill. He was wary, but not afraid. Other creatures felt fear when Leon was around; he felt only hunger and rage.
A tiny splash froze Leon in his tracks. He stared at the widening circle. A fish? Perhaps. At the edge of the trees, he stopped. The lake was utterly still now, but the smell was everywhere, and it smelled of poison.
Without warning, the water in the center of the lake churned and boiled. Leon stepped back into the shadows, and stared in shock at the creature which emerged from the roiling surface. At first, he thought it was many different creatures, but as they rose above the water, their necks joined. The monster had seven separate heads, each fanged and breathing smoke and fire and noxious fumes. Each head moved separately, but Leon sensed coordination, a purpose.
This was beyond Leon's experience, beyond even his nightmares when he was a pitiful, scrawny human. The name Hydra came to him, but he could recall nothing of the monster except that it had something to do with Hercules.
Leon watched and tried to quell his growing hunger. This beast might be beyond him. Its size didn't worry him, but how could he deal with all those venomous heads at one time? Leon crouched and lay down in the shadows, determined to think and plan, and not just rush in against such a foe.
The monster whipped its heads around with amazing speed as it waded toward shore. Most of the time, the heads were close to each other, but Leon could see gaps, moments when a head was on its own. He extended his long, razor-sharp claws. The blood lust was rising in him, and the monster looked more and more like a juicy, raw steak waiting to be seasoned.
Crouching, Leon watched the heads. The pattern was becoming clearer, and he mentally prepared himself. As the top two heads swung down, and the others swung left, Leon leapt to the right. Slashing with his claws, he ripped through the necks of the two top heads. With a roar, he bit through another neck, then threw himself backward to avoid the other heads which jabbed at him.
Pumped up after taking the monster by surprise, Leon dashed into the shadows and turned back to plan his next move. The hydra crashed through the branches toward him. Leon could barely believe its recovery time. As it reared into the air against the bright moonlight, he was astonished to see that there were not four heads remaining, but ten.
He had no time to figure out what happened before the hydra charged at him. Biting, snapping, spewing flames, it fought more ferociously than anything he had ever encountered. He slashed and bit and clawed, but each time he removed a head, or even smashed it in, two heads grew in its place.
Leon roared and howled, but the beast was growing more powerful with every swipe of his claws. He turned and ran, feeling the fiery breath of the hydra singeing his fur. He ran faster, but the hydra kept up.
For the first time, Leon felt fear. It licked at his heart like a flame, and spurred him back up the hill toward the lodge.
The hydra followed.
Leon ran into the clearing, turned toward the road. Determined to escape, but desperate, he misjudged his turn and crashed into the car. His survival instinct kicked in, and he managed to open the car door with a claw and squeeze into the small space.
Crash, clang, smash. The hydra's heads beat against the metal frame, denting and bending it, but not making it through. One tremendous crash turned the safety glass in the front windshield white with a million fractures, but repeated pounding drove the crystallized glass inward.
Leon had almost no room to turn around. The boxes of supplies cut into him, and he howled as he twisted and turned to avoid the vicious fangs of the heads now poking through holes in the windows. Each time he turned, he felt a new jab or nick, but the hydra couldn't get a good grip on him.
Leon looked around for a weapon which would hurt the hydra without giving it a chance to regenerate even stronger. There was nothing in the car other than an old french frie bag and the boxes for Judsons. He hated to touch those, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Extending a sharp claw, he sliced through a box. Nothing but plastic tubing, which he couldn't pick up as a wolf. It figured.
The next box had all kinds of tubes and jars of glue. He glared at it dubiously, but shoved it aside. The serpents kept nipping and jabbing, and Leon was getting woozy. There had better be something better soon. He ripped open another box, which was full of sacks of QuickSet post cement. He groaned, but then had an idea. Shredding the sacks, he scattered the fine powder into the air.
The reaction was instantaneous. The heads thrashed and writhed, then pulled back out of the holes. Leon was left in peace, at least for a moment. He would have been relieved, but his eyes stung as badly as the hydra's must have. Unfortunately, he didn't have any way to get away from the blinding, irritating cloud.
Leon clenched his eyes closed. The burning eased after a while, but it was not until he felt fangs dig into his shoulder that he opened his eyes again. There was a difference though. The fear he had felt was replaced by a seeting anger. This fucking hydra is going down, he thought, and the thought cheered him up.
As the heads slithered back through the holes in the windows, more heads than before, he waited, trying to ignore the pokes and smacks. Wait for it. Wait for it. Finally, when there were serpents everywhere, Leon reached into the box with the glues and started batting tubes of glue everywhere.
The hydra fell for it.
Fangs bit and sliced and shredded the tubes, and the super-glue inside sprayed into open mouths and over eyes. Soon, every set of jaws was glued together, and some of the heads were stuck to each other or to the sides of the car, preventing the rest of the heads from pulling back. Leon would have been stuck too, but whenever he found part of him sticking, he wrenched it free, leaving tufts of sleek hair stuck to the seats and the door. It hurt like hell, but he didn't want to be trapped.
The best thing was, the serpent's couldn't shoot fire from their glued-together mouths. The spouts of flame stopped. Leon looked about and howled with laughter. From outside, the mountain rang with answering howls.
While the hydra tired itself out trying to shake free of the glue, and the eyes that were not stuck shut glared at Leon impotently, he set about figuring out how to get out of the car. He tried to get at the door, but didn't have the dexterity to shove aside the heads, which thrashed whenever he came close. He had stopped the hydra, but he was trapped. Leon slumped against the seat, his fierce energy dissapated.
A sudden slap woke Leon, a vicious hit which hurt worse than those before it. Startled, he blinked the sleep from his eyes. Then he looked down. "Oh no," he muttered. The moon had gone down while he slept.
Leon looked around at the dozens of venemous green eyes, staring at him. "Jesus Christ on a stick!" He scrabbled backward, but another vicious slap and a searing pain let him know that he was far more vulnerable as a scrawny teenager. He swore again, but it didn’t stop the heads, circling now for the kill.
Leon threw anything he could reach at the heads, but it made little difference. Even a heavy roll of duct tape glanced off the head of a nasty looking serpent that repaid the blow with a hiss and a slap. It couldn't bite him, but he would be pummled to death just as surely.
Duct tape. A wild idea occurred to Leon. He grabbed another roll, and tore off a long strip. When the next head swung toward him, he plastered it against the roof of the car with the duct tape. It hung there, unable to move.
Leon tore off another strip. "Who's gonna be next?" he shouted, and another head pounced. Leon didn't get a good grip, but he managed to slap the strip of tape on serpent's head. When it withdrew from the car, the tape stuck in the hole, and the head wiggled there, half in and half out. Leon laughed.
It took a while, but Leon duct taped all the heads together and to the sides of the car. Smaller now, he was able to kick out a portion of the back window and climb out of the car.
The hydra looked forlorn and ridiculous with its many heads, there must have been two dozen by this point, almost all stuck inside the station wagon. The two heads that remained outside hung back warily, as if the monster couldn't figure out what power this scrawny kid had, but certainly didn't want to mess with him anymore. Leon almost felt sorry for the monster, but he felt sorrier for himself. His dad was going to kill him when he heard about the car.
On the other hand, he though, maybe he'll get a pickup now. Feeling more cheerful, Leon walked quickly through the overhanging brush, trying to come up with a good story to tell Mr. Jamison. For a moment, he played with the idea of telling the truth.
You see, Mr. Jamison, I was attacked by the mythological beast which has been killing all the animals around here, and I fought it off with glue and duct tape.
Nah, he'd better go with a car accident. That would work better for his dad's insurance anyway. Whatever story, he needed to get back to the highway and hitch a ride into town, or he would be stuck back at Chuck E. Cheese sweeping up after kids, and that was a fate much worse than the hydra's.