by Jack Goldman
Formerly "Terminax"...A horror short? A commentary? A satire?
The Last Guardian
The mist attacks anew this morning. I hear my brethren scream and beg. The sound of their bursting weakens our resolve again. Even within the protection of the cave, the power of the mist hones our fear with the mastery of bygone “plague-bringers”.
We have no knowledge of others. We know not if they live or suffer as we. I fear we are the last of our kind.
Still, Denk remains hopeful.
"Remember," she said just yesterday, "Once, millions of our kind existed, so said the Seer. We shall see those numbers again. Just as my role is well defined, was not the Seer bred to foretell our fate?"
Millions, a number I could not imagine. I replied to the naive and young Denk, "I do not accept this. I recall far, far less and I have existed long before you. I suspect madness crept upon the Seer because he knew his bursting was at hand."
Denk refused to listen, "But we survived other attacks, did we not? The diabolical plague-bringers, giants that they were, could not crush us. Forced to resort only to baiting us with poisoned, disease infested food near our lairs, they killed only the lazy. The industrious prospered once the plague-bringers relented."
"You believe too much in the Seer," I responded. "Can you not see? We die at the hands of an enemy not unlike those who fed us the poison. These so called 'Mistmakers' seem a similar species. These two enemies may be kin in much the same way it works within our own race."
"Besides," I continued with a dismissive tone, "I think the tales of the Seer were designed by a generation long past, one that espoused hope as a means to continue, maybe even as a necessary dogma."
Denk argued no more and searched outside for life giving flora. No mist approached then. It had been the third day of such peace. But it did not last, as this morning's attack attests.
In its aftermath, I return to bitterness. Perhaps there were the multitudes as told by the Seer, but now we are few, less than twenty. It is our lot to scuttle to the cave upon the mist’s approach. Should we be swift enough and close enough to manage it, we survive. And today we flee again, we cower once more, seeking shelter.
We reach the safety of the cave, where the mist cannot penetrate, and we count. Five more are missing. One of the losses crushes our spirit.
“Where is Denk?” My mate questions desperately.
I dare not cast a light nor initiate a search, for the mist remains at times longer than others, a trick to lure us to an excruciating fate.
My eyes adjust, but I see no Denk. Dear, dear Denk. Our daughter, our last, no doubt has burst in agony.
“We are lost,” says my mate. “The rite can no longer be honored, for in Denk existed our only hope.”
I look at Margash, the eldest of us all. He nods in agreement. “'Tis true, Guardian. Denk held the last eggs. Not a single one of us can stow. The Mistmakers have won.”
In ritual from eons past, we turn and gaze outside. We intone as one, but our message - forlorn are we, the last of our kind - reaches no one. Our enemy, with assiduous zeal and the ever haunting, ever deadly mist has long since brought us low.
Now comes a roar. Tremors, vibrations, and fear activate our adrenals.
“A Mistmaker is near!” cry several. They scurry in terror from the shaking, shattering thunder of a monstrous footfall.
“How could they detect us after all this time?” I ask, but no one hears. My cousins encase themselves, an ability I do not possess. It is futile, for the Mistmaker breaks the shelter above our lair, a feat until now, unachieved.
“They have found the cave! To your duty!” Comes a hidden cry.
“To the very last!” say I.
I step out and look up, up, up at the Mistmaker. From its towering height descends an appendage. I detect the hiss just before the mist pours down upon us. I feel the pain, the piercing, and the swelling as I watch it seep deep into the cave, the last refuge of my tribe. I hear them burst inside. It serves as motivation.
“May your mist one day turn upon its maker!” I cry.
I fly toward the giant and click my wings in defiance. The mist surrounds me. In seconds I will die, but I am determined to attack for I am a guardian of the tribal nest, the last of a valiant species.
I draw close, then closer; and for the first time in our history, I gaze upon the source of the mist. As I recede into darkness, I discover something completely foreign to my understanding; a giant tube which bears the markings:
R. A. I. D.
For Pest & Insect Control