“You… you are Tumseneho!” Awan backs away from Kaga.
Kaga falls backwards onto the ground and lets out a laugh like the scratching of squirrel claws on oak.
“No, friend Awan, I am not Tumseneho. I have plenty of blood. To look at you right now you would not think that you had any, ha ha ha!” Awan’s heart is still beating very hard, and his hands are wet with sweat.
“You certainly have no respect and deserve none either, taking advantage of such a situation to play a childish trick!”
“Childish tricks are one of the things that keep me going, along with children’s laughter. But truly we must leave this unhallowed ground… however, may I interest you in a, mm, viewing?”
“You mean to wait until this thing returns. I am not surprised.”
“It is my duty to detail such things. The tribes needs to know about such dangers as Tumseneho, among others.” As Kaga talks, they walk through the carnage. Awan keeps his head up and breathes through his mouth, but his peripheral vision cannot be controlled. Bodies that lay close together were the women and children. Warriors were among the those that had the most bites taken out of their sides or legs.
“Others? Why have I not heard of these creatures before?”
“As you can see, there usually aren’t survivors.”
They reach the forest on the other side of the village and settle down for the night. Awan holds his hatchet at ready and lays his bow in front of him. His legs are taut as he scans the area behind them. There are several gaps in the trees that extend a fair amount into the distance.
“Keeping your options open, eh? You’re learning already. But put this on and you will not have to worry about escape routes.”
Kaga reaches into his waist pouch and pulls out a lump of leaves covered in brown and orange specks. They smell relatively more appetizing than the village.
“So it wasn’t just good acting that helped you survive the onslaught of Tumseneho.”
“That is for me to know and you to observe.”
Dusk has settled over the land and the area is quiet. In the fading light the village could simply be a patch of land cleared for farming if not for the smell. That shape over there could be a pile of kindling, and that tent could be under construction rather than torn to shreds. Awan’s throat feels as though it were about as wide as one of his arrow shafts. Next to him, Kaga’s eyes are very wide, and Awan could swear they were, just a little, pointing in opposite directions. Time crawls by until it is almost completely dark. Kaga does not seem to be breathing but periodically glances over at Awan and grins. After this happens fifteen times, Awan opens his mouth to say something and receives a hard poke in the side. Kaga points ahead of them into the woods on the other side of the village. Two tiny lights can be seen in the distance, bobbing up and down and getting closer by the minute.
Kaga claps his hand over Awan’s mouth and shakes his head. For the first time, he is not grinning and his eyes are completely focused. The smell of the strange leaves they had rubbed on themselves is somehow much more tolerable.
There is a shadow accompanying the two lights. As it grows closer, the outline of the shadow becomes more jagged. It resembles a human figure, if a human figure could ever be twenty feet tall. Its shoulders are large and rounded and its arms sway wildly as it walks. Its head is just as big as its torso, and long tubes can be seen whipping around its chest. There are empty spaces where organs would have been within its ribs. Its burning eyes illuminate a skeletal white face… with what look to be about a hundred teeth. As this bobbing visage approaches through the trees it was as if the face in the moon had gone insane and come down from the skies.
Tumseneho strides into the remains of the village and swivels its head completely around on its neck, making a grating and grinding noise that causes Awan to clench his teeth. Upon seeing no people left, it lets out a howl that sounds like both a man and woman screaming at the same time, intermingling in discordant harmony.
“Awan, you are shaking. Stop it.” Kaga whispers into Awan’s ear, his voice so low that he can barely hear it. Nevertheless, Tumseneho’s howl cuts short with a choking like rocks scraping down a cliff. It turns its burning eyes upon the area where they lay hiding and the dry tubes trailing from its chest and back slowly stop moving.
Awan and Kaga freeze and stare back at the creature. Awan can see that Tumseneho is standing on a few corpses left from the massacre. He imagines the people in his village, his relatives and loved ones. He remembers his father killing a wild dog one dat that had gone mad. He thinks of Makya trampled under the giant, leathery foot of Tumseneho.
“No, she would survive. They will all live. Tumseneho will never lay eyes upon them.”
He strides out into the clearing, right in front of the creature. Up close, Awan can see that Tumseneho’s bony frame is held together by the muscly sinew that drags behind it. There are body parts continually trickling down from its enormous neck, bouncing through its chest cavity and onto the ground around it. Aside from this, it appears to be remarkably clean.
“You are the first and only prey I shall hunt, Tumseneho!”
Tumseneho stops moving and stares at Awan, it’s flames flickering in the fetid breath flowing from its mouth and nose hole. Its gaze is warm, like being slowly suffocated under a heavy blanket. Its jaw begins to open and close, faster and faster.
“Hu hu hu HU HYEEEH” Its laugh travels a range from very deep to a high-pitched screech. Tumseneho leans down its enormous face in front of Awan and speaks to him, its arms hanging limp at its sides. As it speaks, Awan can see decapitated heads moving within its mouth, like pieces of corn in a fire. Its breath is a stifling wind that burns his face and dries his eyes. Its teeth rather than being pointed are square, but their edges are no less sharp for their shape.
“IIIII AM THE HUNTERR.”
And with that Tumseneho whips its arms at Awan by swiveling upon its exposed spinal column. First the left and then the right arm batter him from side to side, like a cat playing with its prey, but he flips over the left arm as he is propelled towards it the second time. He lands, rolls, and jumps to his feet, hatchet in hand. His heart is pounding and his sides are scorched. It seemed that it isn’t just Tumseneho’s eyes that are burning. His entire body is hot as a cooking pot, burning the bodies it ingests into cinders. Awan dashes out of range of the swinging arms. He eyes the latter two appendages.
So, he can’t move his arms except by exploiting his own movements, he thinks.
Tumseneho does not give Awan any time to rest. It is swift for being so big, quickly pivoting on its feet toward him and throwing its arms in his direction with another shuddering twist of its spine. Awan continues to circle Tumseneho and taunts him.
“So the great hunter cannot catch his prey! What kind of hunter has two crippled arms?”
Tumseneho continues to chase Awan, who now has no breath to spare on taunts. Tumseneho swings his arms continually, snaps its teeth, and grasps with its hands, which do not seem to care that they are unlinked by sinew or tendons to the body. There are no opportunities to use the hatchet. Awan throws it at Tumseneho and is immediately slapped again. This time, the hand almost closes on his body and the great jaw snaps right in front of his face. He falls to the side onto the ground to avoid these two traps and then rolls out of the way.
“It looks as though Awan has an idea.” Kaga watches from the safety of the bushes.
Awan pretends to stumble and Tumseneho attempts the same grab and bite trick. This time Awan anticipates the arm and ducks under it, popping back up, and pushes the arm towards the descending teeth, his palms burning from the contact. Tumseneho’s teeth close upon his own arm, biting it off at the place where a bicep would be. There is no cracking noise, simply a clean whoosh as the arm falls off. The exposed bone is cloven clean in two. Tumseneho freezes again. It is still for almost five minutes. Awan is able to catch at least part of his breath.
“Is that it, Tumseneho? Has no one challenged you until now?”
Tumseneho turns its head towards the arm. It then turns its gaze upon Awan, and its eyes flare brighter than before.
“THANNNK YOU, LITTLE… HYUUMAN. I FEEL MUCH LIGHTER NOW.” And it let out another screeching, multilayered howl, the heads in its mouth bouncing up and down. The whole clearing is lit up now, and Tumseneho is a blinding blur heading towards Awan, who barely gets out of the way.
I’m hardly able to keep up as it is, I’m going to have to change my strategy quickly or else I’ll quickly become much rounder around the edges. I need to catch my breath. He can feel Tumseneho’s burning breath upon his back as he continually leaps from side to side to avoid the breakneck charges of the creature. He whirls about to face it, panting and covered with sweat. Tumseneho charges at him, mouth wide.
“He’s given up!” Kaga gasps.
Just as the fiery maw reaches Awan, he jumps inside.
It is surprisingly roomy in Tumseneho’s mouth but the heat is stifling and standing on a floor of melting heads is no mean feat. It is also very bright; the burning eyes of Tumseneho roast inwards and outwards. Awan can barely look at them, but shields his eyes with a hand and pulls an arrow from his quiver. Though the floor is level, it is like walking up stairs made of hot clay to try and get closer to the eyeballs, and his legs are burning up. He tries to steady himself against the sides of the smooth cranium, but these are hot to the touch as well. Just as he is about to reach the eyeballs, Tumseneho speaks. It feels as though his head might burst as the hideous voice surrounds him.
“HA HA HA! THIS IS THE FIRST TIME A MEAL HAS FED ITSELF TO ME!” Kaga catches a glimpse of a wide-eyed Awan within the mouth of Tumseneho before it closes again.
Awan wobbles and there is a sensation of teeth grazing his right foot but he holds his arms out as far as he can to either side and does not fall. His arms can now reach the fiery eyes. He swings the arrow in an arc over his head and slams it into the back of the eye. The arrow sticks into it and both fly out of the socket. Tumseneho screams even louder than before, and the decapitated heads slap into Awan’s back. He puts his arm through the hole where Tumseneho’s right eye was and lets out a scream of his own, though it is lost in the larger shriek of the skeleton man. His legs are propped against the backs of the upper teeth. His vision blacks out but he bites his tongue, draws another arrow from his quiver and stabs it into the other eye as his right arm smokes and burns. The arrow is stuck in the eye and he pulls on it. It falls inward onto the sea of faces below, which immediately catch fire. Awan could swear that they look as though they are still alive and in pain.
“You are free my friends!” He cries out as tears stream down his face. Tumseneho falls on its side, the remaining arm underneath it, and Awan tumbles from its now silently screaming mouth. There is a spreading patch of fire around the post where the other eye had fallen. Awan’s right arm and his chest are black and smoking and his legs are bright red from the knees down, with white toothmarks on his right foot. He hisses through his teeth as he tries to stand, pushing himself up with his uncooked arm. He shakes on his feet in the flickering eye fire.
“There is one less monster in the world!” His voice is hoarse and cracked.
Kaga watched from the bushes, his eyes wide and mouth agape. He looks at the fallen form of Tumseneho, staring long and hard at it before he stands up and takes a step from the bushes.
“Kaga–“ Awan’s voice is cut off as six sharp spikes erupt from his chest and he falls forward. Kaga is a blur that falls back behind the bushes, which neither shake nor rustle as he passes into them.
An enormous brown bird perches on Awan’s back. Awan’s arms twitch several times and then stop. The bird thing unfolds its wings, revealing a vaguely human body underneath them, covered in tan, brown feathers. It is as though a person was wearing a feathered cloak, and a horned hood covers his head to his mouth and lower face, which are smooth as a bird’s beak but human in appearance. Its lips are stained a glistening, dark crimson. The undersides of its wings are black and a pair of human arms with red, taloned hands extend independent of the wings which now stretch out twelve feet from tip to tip. It bends down and grabs Awan’s hair in its hand and yanks it back so hard that his neck snaps and his mouth opens, a stream of blood gurgling out of it. The skin on his face is taut from the creature’s grasp.
“Hero… Awan…” it croaks, its lips parted only a sliver and unmoving. It begins to peck and ravage his face with its mouth, which clicks as it moves and reveals no teeth.
Upon seeing this, Kaga withdraws some herbs from his bag, chews and swallows them, and dies.
Five hours later, he awakens with a wheezing gasp, scaring off several squirrels that were perched around him, and immediately whacks his chest with his fist three times. Panting, he stands up and looks around. The sun is once again in the sky and birds are singing in the trees. He walks over and crouches by Awan’s corpse. The head is like an emptied egg shell. No trace of face remains. He stands up and walks over to Tumseneho and pulls out a large book and begins writing in it. He points his finger at its mouth, moving from tooth to tooth.
( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )