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Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2213604
Something has frightened the horses. Screams!!! 2/21/2020
The Hunger

"Listen!" Cormac summoned the others to silence. "Something has spooked the horses."

Four heads turned, attentive to the sounds. In the distance were whinnies. Not the sort with which the people were greeted, but panicked ones. The horses were scared. Bann could almost sense the hoof beats thundering through the ground. "Wolves?" he asked.

Cormac suddenly leaped to his feet and gathered up his sword, his bow. Bann did likewise. "It could be but... I'm not sure. They have met with wolf before and I do not think they would be quite so frantic. Their instincts would know it best to make silent haste.

"So what then... ?"

Cormac looked at the women. Bronwen and Aine looked pale and nervous, not sure whether to pick up their own weapons and follow the men. "Stay, keep the fire burning and the door locked. Do not open it, even if you think we have returned. You will not see us before daybreak."

Bann frowned; what was Cormac thinking? To remain outside throughout the night with something on the hunt out there, something that was terrifying the horses that were used to going to war, was surely foolishness. It was clear that Cormac would say no more in front of the women, so Bann slipped on his cloak and kept his tongue still until they were outside and the door was closed behind them.

"What do you fear?" he finally asked, as they began to make their way through the wind and rain towards the high pastures. "If not wolves, do you suspect an invasion?"

Cormac shook his head. "You heard the horses. This fear of theirs is not a natural one."

"Well, what then? Shapeshifters? Werefolk? Vampires?" Bann shuddered, hoping that his brother would not have noticed his sudden display of fear.

"That I do not know, but I very much fear it is something that will take all our courage to face." Cormac turned, looked forward where others could be seen also making their way towards the horses. "Make haste, brother. We do not want to be left behind."

Bann thought that he would rather like to be late arriving. Perhaps, then, the beast in whatever form it was taking would already be slain without him having to face it at all. A cowardly thought, he chided himself, and as punishment forced himself into a faster run.

It was hard going and progress was slow, with the high pastures being uphill all the way. Cormac and Bann forged onwards, their leg muscles hurting, their lungs burning, but their will not to be last pushing them into keeping up the pace. That was until a cry ripped through the air and caused them to freeze.

"A horse?" Bann whispered, knowing that there was nothing equine in the sound that had reached his ears.

Cormac simply shook his head, then reluctantly forced himself to carry on. Their destination being above them, there was no chance of getting even a glimpse of their foe before they came into it's own view. Not knowing what they were about to be facing made it hard to decide which weapon to immediately equip themselves with. Another scream shattered the air, and one of the horses galloped past, so close that the brothers could feel the heat of its breath on their exposed skin.

"Best be prepared for anything," Cormac said. He clutched his sword in his hand. "Take your bow, Bann. One of us is bound to be right."

Finally reaching the top of the hill, the brothers froze. The sight in front of them was truly horrific; there was a severed arm, a leg, and way off to the left there was what looked from its shape to be a severed head. These had not been neatly detached, but torn or chewed. And where were the rest of the bodies?

The stench was over-powering; a mixture of blood, human waste and rot filled their noses and mouths and made the brothers gag. It was hard to make out anything in the darkness, but there, just ahead, was a tall shape. It looked to be as tall as a tree but was so thin. It bent down and swooped up another man. Before he had time to kick of scream, the tree, no, the creature, brought him up to its mouth and bit down. Only when it had consumed all it wished did it look around.

"Look, brother," whispered Bann. "I swear the thing is growing, even now."

"A wendigo," Cormac breathed out the words. "I thought such creatures were no more than the product of myth."

"A wendigo? I do not know of such a thing, but we must destroy it." Bann lifted his bow.

"And what good do you think an arrow would be against such a creature. It feeds on humans, growing with each consumption to be left starving, ravenous... Our only chance is to flee."

"Brother, I never thought to hear you suggest the coward's way," Bann spat at the ground. He lifted his bow, pulled back on the string and loosed an arrow. It hit the wendigo, bounced to the ground after causing no harm but drawing the creature's attention their way.

"For the sake of Aine," Cormac pleaded: "just turn and run."

Bann could not move but instead found himself entranced by the empty red eyes. He could not find the strength to turn and run. He could not get his mouth to form words until he found himself being lifted towards a gaping maw, and then his scream was cut off along with his head.

Cormac ran, trying not to look back for his brother. Bann was gone, he knew that without needing his eyes to tell him. He gripped his sword in his hand even though he knew it was slowing his retreat. A bitter laugh escaped his lips; there would be no escape, not for him and not for Bronwen or Aine either.

The wendigo was caught up in a feeding frenzy and starvation was its master. Such was its hunger that it would not leave until all the men, women and children of the village had been consumed. But the horses would survive, for the only thing that would pass its lips was the flesh and blood of humanity.

(1052 words)

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