Tales of a strange creature living in the forest had been whispered amongst the community.
|Tales of a strange creature living in the forest had been whispered amongst the community. The elders had scoffed and shaken their heads, gray beards swaying as they frowned.
"Tall tales," they grumbled. "Ignore them and fix your attention on the town. On survival!"
The twenty-year war had been crushed out of existence a few years before when several viral bombs exploded all over the world. So many had died. Those that lived still struggled for food, to rebuild proper shelters, and to protect their small communities from wild animals and marauders.
"They're just children's stories," Caze scoffed.
"He's right," Braealyn said, tossing back her head. I found myself glaring at the girl. Daughter of the High Elder, Braealyn had appointed herself boss of our gang.
"Before long mothers will use these whispers as a way to keep their young ones obedient," Olver nodded at Braealyn and Caze.
I stomped my foot, catching their attention. Every eye fixed on my face.
"It's not a story," I grunted. "Yahr himself has seen the beast."
Olver shook his head and Braealyn flat-out laughed. "Yahr?" Caze rolled his eyes, "Yahr hasn't been right in the head since the war. Everyone knows that, Herlee."
"He thinks unicorns steal our grain!" Braealyn giggled.
"I'll prove it!" I shouted. Their laughter died away and the smiles that stretched across their faces faded into solemn, hard lines.
"What?" Braealyn sniffed. "You're going to trek into the wild woods and find this creature? Bring it back as a prisoner?"
"No," I scuffed the dirt with my boot and avoided their gazes, mulling over the idea before raising my eyes and staring each of them down. I pulled my knife from its scabbard at my side. "I'll just bring back its head. That'll be proof enough."
Caze gasped. "You—you can't!"
"Why not?" I lifted my chin. "If this thing is real, then we need to protect ourselves. Who knows how many might be in its clan? It could turn against us. We could find ourselves in another war!"
"But—killing it?" Olver hissed, glancing over his shoulder to make sure our conversation wasn't overheard. "That's murder, Herlee!"
"Well, I'll try to bring it back alive. But if it doesn't cooperate..." the knife glinted under the sun before I tucked it back into my scabbard.
"When are you going to go?" Braealyn asked.
"Right away," I glanced at the sky, noting how the sun stood directly overhead. "Yahr says the creature's hut is less than seven miles north. I should be back by dusk." I sucked in a deep breath, gave one last wave, and ran toward the trees that bordered our village.
The walk was peaceful. I grinned at the birds singing overhead and at the startled rabbit that dove for cover when I passed by. Eventually the trees became less dense and I glimpsed a field of corn. It looked like Yahr was right. Something was living out here.
I paused to survey the area, keeping one ear tuned for the bark of a dog, if one existed. All I could hear was a crow cawing in the corn. I squinted. At the far end of the field was a wooden shack. I figured that's where the creature laid its grotesque head.
Slipping through the stalks, I crept to the cabin. The birds still chirped and the sun blazed down on my shoulders. I wiped at the sweat gathering on the back of my neck and, keeping one hand on the handle of my knife, nudged at the door with my foot. It swung open with a squeak that sent my heart to my throat. When the creature failed to rush out and attack, I side-stepped into the dwelling.
A colorful quilt thrown over the back of a lumpy couch caught my eye. A sink full of dirty dishes hogged the far corner. A wooden cutting board topped with a loaf of bread sat on a rough table. My breath felt like it was coming in short gasps as I took in the layout of the room.
The sense of being watched made my skin crawl. I squeezed my eyes shut, willing myself to turn around. When my feet finally cooperated and my legs completed a 180, my eyes flew open and I saw it peeking around the corner, gawking at me.
"You—you're—" I found myself stuttering. Bolstering my courage, I pulled out my knife.
"A human," the creature licked its lips nervously. I noted the being's dark hair and eyes, realizing suddenly that the person was a male.
"It's true, then," I whispered. "Your kind does exist!" I stepped back a pace as the human moved forward. He held up his hands, showing he held no weapon.
"Don't worry," his grin was lopsided. "I won't hurt you." His eyes flickered to my head. I reached up self-consciously with one free hand. The snakes that looped over my scalp hissed at my touch.
"Shouldn't I have turned to stone by now?" the human asked. I blinked and pursed my lips.
"Because of the stories," he said. "Medusa turns men to stone, once they see her beautiful face."
"My name isn't Medusa. It's Herlee," I corrected. I lowered the knife an inch, his comment finally registering. "Beautiful?" I arched a brow and his face flushed red.
"I'd love to hear more about you. Maybe we could talk over a cup of tea?"
My tongue felt tied in knots. I'd braved the forest to bring back proof of a hideous human living in the woods but now I wasn't sure. I slowly tucked the knife away, curious to hear his story. I could always kill him later.
Written for: "WEIRD TALES CONTEST"
Prompt: Is That You, Medusa?