by A.K. Rashlei
Flash Fiction: The Hunt had always been, and the before forgotten, until a single cry...
|The winds roared, frightening the handle from my grip and barreling past the thick oaken entrance. Barren walls, now exposed to the blistering gusts, groaned in fear as the wind angrily clawed at the surface. My beasts awaken amongst the chaos. Sharp teeth gnash together and thick black claws penetrate the wood floors digging in to make a final stand against the cold forces now punishing them. The beasts bark and snap while thick gobs of saliva drip and freeze upon their hanging maws. |
I sigh, pulling my worn, picked leather gloves on, and make ready to trudge a new path to the dwindling wood pile. A few steps out and I begin dreaming of the summer sun blistering my tanned face in place of the gusts of wind threatening frostbite on my exposed flesh. I pause for a moment with selfish angry thoughts drifting from the dead summer sun to the miserly pile of rotten sticks barely a knee high...not nearly enough for winter.....
In those brief lonely thoughts, that solemn moment of pitiful sorrow, I lean forward and listen to the winds whistle through the frozen forest, each tree reflecting distorted parts of me back through an unforgivable glaze of ice. I glance back and hear my beasts move restlessly at the open door, shivering and howling from almost begging me back into the silent trappings of our dark abode.
For a brief moment, a mere viscous slice of an almost forgotten second, silence takes over muting even the cacophony of the winds and beasts...As if it were to be expected, in that brief silence another sound pierced through initiating the other sounds of the forest to resume in a thunderous wailing. I turn my head side to side attempting to locate the sound. High pitched but unable to make out as to what it could be... I finally narrow down its location, the blackened snowless tree to the northeast of me. It's twisted limbs and narrow trunk barren of any crystals or winter glass the sky could heave down, was the only part of this forest that I knew never changed with the seasons.
Whether the tree was alive or dead, I did not know, for no animal in it's right mind had ever dared step near it's gnarled roots...not even us... the corrupted ones. It took all of my willpower to not look away, as an unnatural fear feathered against my spine the further my eyes traveled down. Finally, I reached the trunk where it disappears into the earth, unbeknownst to most of those above ground, spreading its tentacles amongst the beetles and worms. While mulling over the disgust I have of the unnatural tree, my eyes catch a movement at the tree base....something small, something that doesn't fit, cowers beneath the lowest hanging limb.
I squint my eyes against the bright snow, but before I could get a good look at whatever it may be... my beasts growl and I'm near certain the devilish tree shivered in delight. They immediately gather close, appearing to turn into one massive creature, one that would put the fear of the gods in any woman who hadn't seen it's desolate form before. I stepped back knowing when in this state, there's nothing that can be done... nothing but to wait and pray whatever is on the other side is evil and not some innocent traveler lost in Demeter's sorrow looking for friendly refuge. For friendly refuge would not be found here.
Another high pitched cry... a banshee... I pray for some soulless creature..a wendigo….again another cry, but this time closer, and much more familiar than I thought before. My heart crumbles into itself and drops like heavy stones into the pit of my belly as I hear my beasts growl and chatter louder than before, directing all of their attention toward the withering blackened tree and the innocence cowering beneath it. With eyes wide I pull my coat of furs tight around my waist and pray I can hold back the beasts I've sown into this world in order to save, perhaps the last, truly innocent life.
Holding themselves back the beasts step slowly outside onto powder covered ground. Small slivers of steam waft through their paws as the blistering heat of their feet melt the fallen snow below them. In the distance, cowering but still visible, the wisp of the innocent thing gently cocks it's head to the side, shaking itself in joy once it sees me. Though my eyes are mostly on the light, my peripheral pins my beasts' movements and the tautness of their muscles beneath their short wiry fur.
"Easy, easy," I stutter, the cold catching up with me and freezing the words slightly on my cracked lips. Shivering and tired I make a decision that could risk my own life, but is the only way to save not just my soul, but the souls of the hell spawns I've bonded to. Innocence still grows here, if only faintly, within their blackened hearts…. I had to believe that.
My dry eyes begin creating a deluge of tears, the salty sting welcoming as well as frustrating after being missed for so many years. The beasts roar at me, still submissive to me but begging me to release them as the rage burns within them, scorching the scraps of their spirits.....but if I allow this hunt, this unforgivable massacre, the innocent light would fade and three husks would be left behind to live tainted lives in the voids of the unwelcoming darkness.
My soul wept from a place I thought dead as I grabbed my coat near the point where any heart I may still have left would beat. Tears from now and before sculpted my cheeks with layers of ice as my soul whispered…..four.
That nearly dead, festering place pulsated in pain and determination, spreading through my chest and into every vein in my body. That nearly forgotten…. that almost whisper of pain, took over my consciousness and pushed my soul screaming forward, closer to three dripping maws. I fell to my knees in front of the beasts, each head looking me over as if I was an unfamiliar being.
"Shhhh," I cried gently, reaching for the one I knew was the alpha, my most skittish beast, "we're ok. It's alright." The two beside the alpha snapped at my hands. Despite the multiple warnings from this pack that I had single handedly molded, I reached even closer. The alpha growled deep from the bowels of it's being, the fire ranging from within nearly singed my soul. My hands shook from the biting cold, the crushing pain, and the abysmal fear of losing my own dying innocence. I gently placed my gloved hand down upon the stiff black fur of the alpha's head.
With my hand on her head I looked into her eyes. Red….crimson red….the bloodiest of red, barely containing a rage so thick it boiled the blood within the one who dared hold her stare. A mournful sigh escaped my ice covered lips, but my eyes remained static. I let my eyes open, let her see the before and the innocence of those times. It was heartbreaking, and it felt as if death were consuming me as I cast forward my vulnerability..... When I thought I could no longer withstand their gazes, specifically her gaze, that I was allowing into my soul, a soft whine emanated from her.
I blinked and suddenly, I saw the angry red fade back into an earthy brown and I was blessed with a glimpse of a time before the beast, a happier time, the time during her utmost innocence. Another single soft whine barely penetrated my ears. Her features softened as a wheeze of frozen air spilled between us. Low howls erupted gently from the other two, rolling over us as we each grieved the lost innocence of the before times. The tears freely flowed now, so much that the sculptures of ice from before lay broken and fallen onto the snowy ground below. We were saved….we were….
A small cry interrupted our newly found grief...I turned toward the small wisp behind us, gently smiling as it edged closer...Everything would be ok! We would not lose sight of the light! We would not forever live in the darkness! We were FREE….FR…
...a low growl cut harshly through the snow. My spirit shattered as my hand fell limply to my side..and the last smile I'd ever take turned into a flat empty line. The numbness began to override any and all emotions from before, and my soul screamed in agony as the darkness began smothering it's very existence.... I turned towards my beasts....looked towards the alpha, my skittish one….and all I saw was….
Copyright: A.K. Rashlei