5 July 2017 2:14 AM (fiction)
The hero rode to Agnesi,
The dark land,
The home of the witch.
The hero was no ring-breaker's heir.
There was no title to win,
No land would be gained in victory.
He rode forth, his sword as sharp as conscience.
He rode forth, his shield bright as truth.
He rode into the dark.
With every mile, he blew his horn.
The clangor of his challenge whelmed the silent land like a wave.
He rode ever inward into deeper shadow. The black, velvet forest closed in, shutting out dusty-grey farms. There, it was easy to forget there had ever been such a thing as a house or a plow.
He rode into the center. The first moment of the world had never passed, but had melted and flowed in an ever-thinning trickle, unbroken.
The hero dismounted.
The world's first moment finally ended.
It broke, a new one lurched into being with a sickening pause, and with it began the Witch.
No human form was she, a shadow of rough earth cast by moonlight, though the leaves were too thick to show glimmer of sky or moon.
The hero's horse broke and frothed, galloping away too terrified to whinny.
The witch stood silent, unmoving, as high as trees, feet deep in the soil.
The hero stepped toward her, his mouth open in challenge.
He demanded surrender, ready to leave her alive if she gave up everything she was.
The second moment stretched out, filled with the motion of his hand toward the hilt of his sword.
The witch moved, like a moon-shadow would if the moon were fire, buffeted by æthereal waves, flaring and guttering.
She reached out toward him with a wand? A staff? An impossibly long finger of condemnation?
She spelled her spell in a voice of desolate winds and the creaking of rotten wood. She spoke with the silence of things that crawl through the earth, the quietness of green shoots sleeping all winter long in the seeds.
He stared transfixed at the witch, but there was nothing there.
He saw the shadows of the wood, suggesting a crone.
The words of the spell lost meaning, fading to wild noises that echoed through his mind.
He caught his breath, looked at the wild as a man who wakes from a dream.
The wild stared back greedily. A bolt of dread pierced his heart.
The wild swallowed him up.
He shrank away in his armor, the tight-fitting breastplate now a loose prison. His foreshortening body banged against and rattled within it.
His sword dropped from his hand.
He itched all over as a million strands of fur found their new home.
He tried to scratch. He tried so hard, but felt nothing but the unyielding steel of his breastplate against the sickle-claws poking from stubby digits.
The world grew brighter, bleaker, blurrier. Sharp, clear contrasts in the dark dazzled him until he learned to see again. He looked down.
His hands were covered in fur, thumb retracting to a useless dewclaw.
Both paws soon disappeared up his sleeves.
He cried out with fear and loss, but his once-rich baritone dwindled to a pathetic, wordless mewling as, forgot how to stand upright, he toppled over.
His ears rang from the crash of metal on the ground, and he gasped in sharp pain as his ribs and forehead hit the inside of the breastplate.
Panic filled him. Claws out he fought and thrashed like a wild th—
The wild thing fought in the breastplate of the fallen hero, shredding his clothes with its claws, until by luck as much as anything it pulled free.
Threads of a ruined shirt trailed from one paw as it fell to the ground, the sudden relief of freedom from the cage of cloth and steel only a minor reduction in terror.
It was still for a moment.
Blood trickled into its eye and matted its fur from a gash on its brow, its little ribs heaved as it panted for air, each breath a despairing mewl trilled by a panicked purr.
He was given a moment— just a moment— to recall the man he had been. His dreams, his ideals, his curiosity all were on the verge of being snatched away. He could still imagine them, the wild thing was as intelligent as the man had ever been, but…
The Fear blew through his mind.
He tried to grasp onto something simple, definite…
Two! Four! Six! eight…!
(Hunt and run or you'll be ate.)
The wild thing struggled back toward the thoughts of a man, something more arcane and less natural might serve.
Two! Three! Five! Seven! Eleven…!
His mind scrabbled, its claws flexed as if to grab purchase in air. The next number was ripped away by howling terror, its heartbeat drowning out sense.
Screaming over every thought was the fear of being chased and killed by giants with strong jaws and yellow teeth.
Another fear filled its belly, full for now, but in just a few hours, a day at most, the wild thing would drop through a trap door into hunger and from there into darkness.
The darkness flashed behind its eyes, a most vivid memory of something never seen. It filled every moment of life.
“The world is an evil place, little one.”
The memory of darkness sneered at the wild thing, taunting, smug, and secure in the knowledge that the dark would swallow it up before only a few more heartbeats.
It had been too still. Too long. it felt the ground beneath its paws.
Some cool, detached part of its mind wondered at the unfamiliarity of it for only a second before it was swallowed up by the screaming refusal to die.
Instinct took over.
The wild thing ran through the forest, from rock to rock and tree to tree. It climbed to temporary safety, the panic ebbed.
Just a bit.
Enough that he could hear his memories and thoughts, of his home, his dreams, the strange principles he used to care about, so alien and pale now against the ceaseless flight from the dark.
The wild thing sobbed and sniffled to itself in despairing mewls like the faded ghost of speech.
It was the only wild animal that once remembered a time it hadn't been terrified.
Hunger came and with it a new fear intensified. The wild thing feared its own predators no less, but the cold, icy qualm of caloric insufficiency drowned out that voice for a moment.
The world is full of monsters.
There claws less sharp.
Their senses less keen,
But huge and tireless,
running on big paws and long legs.
Sometimes with their friends and family.
Sometimes just one or two.
Maybe they want to eat you.
Maybe they want what you're chasing.
Murdered or devoured, it makes no difference.
Little cat, lying there, in the belly of death.
The whole world is nothing but the belly of death.
All the other creatures its teeth. It bites and nips,
Grinding you down all through life, until you lie there
Spent, unmoving, only able to feel as the little worms
Strip your flesh, taking you into the earth as death
Finally swallows you up.
Most of you. The good parts.
The skeleton remains.
He spent far, far too much time imagining what it must be like to be a skeleton. At least when the worms ate you it was quick, that part of your death was over in weeks.
No eyes, no paws, no ears, what could a skeleton do? Feel itself eroded away by wind and water, the odd gnaw and blown soil until finally it was dust in the air and stream and rock.
He hoped, oh how he hoped, that it felt like nothing to be dust.
The terror of fleeing death was nothing compared to the flashes his imagination showed him of what might lie after.
Now was not the time for that. Hunger cut the wild things insides like a beast within his stomach. It clawed and bit his insides as if trying to escape.
The wild thing scented the air, scanned the shadows and saw a scurrying form with broad tail. The wild thing crept toward it, staying down-wind and out of sight.
The wild thing drew closer and closer, the shadow-tailed shape…he remembered the taste of a word he used to call such things long, long ago.
(Words are bland and thin fare compared to blood and meat.)
Just as the creature noticed its approach, the wild thing leaped, sweeping paws together, and bared ts claws like tiny scimitars. It impaling the creatures belly four times over and scored red, four times, down its back.
The rodent squeaked and screamed. it tried to escape, though its guts had been ripped open. There was no way it could survive.
The wild thing played with it, batting it from paw to paw, enjoying its struggle, but the hero remembered himself.
Hardly anything made it through the endless howl of Fear and Survival.
Enough to feel pity for the poor animal it had caught.
The wild thing, moved by drives it barely understood, darted forward, kindly jaws parted wide, to snap down upon the creature's neck, breaking it and tearing out its throat.
The snap of bone, the smack of ripping skin, and the salty tang of blood all pacified the wild thing, making the Dark feel a tiny bit further way.
As it ate, it hoped its dinner was well and truly senseless.
Driven by imagination, the hero's last and worst torment, the wild thing ate quickly, thoroughly, stripping every scrap of meat and carefully breaking and grinding each bone as finely as animal impatience would allow.
A small mercy, perhaps, but it hoped desperately for the same.