Tohopka (Part 1)

The forest is bubbling in the heat of summer, even the trees seem to sweat. Animals lope from one patch of shade to the next, some hungry, some harried, all panting. The birds’ mouths are open but no song comes out. A girl is sitting in the thick canopy of an oak tree.

She is some forty feet above the ground, her arms and legs and long dark hair draped over the limb upon which she rests, though some hair curls and defies gravity thanks to the heat. Her expression is all straight lines; eyes closed and mouth unbent by emotion, though the long canine teeth protruding from her lips suggest a certain feral nature. Her body is wrapped in the malleable green reeds found growing in patches on the forest floor, occasional patches of flesh showing through the tight weave. Her nails are long and bound tight at the quicks on both hand and foot and her arm and leg muscles are hard and compact, springs ready to release at a moment’s notice. She appears to be in her teenage years, perhaps near the end. Her eyes flash open body tenses up as there is rustling in the brush below. A young boar is rooting around in the grass, searching for roots or nuts or the possible wild strawberry. Its spiky back hair expands and contracts as it snorts and finds nothing. It stops and sniffs the air, beady eyes and minuscule tusks highlighted by the sun. The girl slides from the branch and falls towards the boar. It lets out a squeal as she lands on its back, and the squeal becomes a gurgle as she slits its throat with her nails. She lets it run about for the last few minutes of its life and then, biting the skin on the back of its neck, climbs back up into the tree with its now lifeless body held in her mouth.

“Once, not long ago, in a village not unlike the one we are in now, a girl was born. She was like most baby girls for a while, but when she got older, her spear-teeth did not stop growing, and peeked out from behind her lips like the sharp sun rays from behind a cloud.”
A wrinkled old man holds a village in rapt attention around a low, flickering fire. Well, he at least is in the eyes of every child present, many of which are now feeling at their teeth, eyes wide.
“The people of the village said that she was the daughter of an ogre, or perhaps that she was cursed by a witch, jealous of the mother’s marriage to the chief. Whatever the case, they forced her mother to abandon her in the woods lest further ill-fortune befall their village. modi, for though she was reviled she did indeed have a name, given to her by a mother who saw no evil in the child, was only six years old when she was left out on her own. Some say even now she leaps through the trees, taking revenge on children who wander too long in the woods, whisking them away to suffer the same fate she did. I personally am inclined to agree with them, for I have seen her stalking through the woods just recently – but I did not watch for long, for though I am no longer young, she is a ferocious and indiscriminate hunter.”
“Please, Kaga, tell us more about your encounter with Mosi!” A young girl cries out from the shadows around the fire.

“Well, if you insist,” Kaga says, the corners of his mouth turning up slightly.

“I actually found her while tracking a different kind of wild beast…”

Mosi is done snacking on the boar, her mouth stained red from the process. Bits of skin, fur, and bones litter the area below the limb she is currently perched upon. She lets out a burp and smiles. Once again she drops from the tree, but this time lands upon nothing but her own limbs, bounding off on all fours through the undergrowth. Only the occasional flick of skin upon leaf is heard as she wends her way through the gaps between the thickets and trees at a speed that would put a deer to shame. She bounds past a wide-eyed and gape-jawed Kaga, who falls backwards onto his butt as the blur of black, green, and brown rushes by. Upon passing him she springs into the air and twists herself around a full one hundred and eighty degrees. She hisses and approaches him, and he raises his arms over his head, palms out and fingers spread. She creeps towards Kaga, but then they both jump as a roar bursts through the forest. The very trees seem to be shaking from the noise, which sounds like an enraged boar but with a buzzing, multilayered quality. Mosi looks back at Kaga, who is inching his way up an old oak after this new threat. She turns her nose towards the noise, a smell of crushed pine needle and tree sap; she grimaces at it but dashes off towards it.

“What a curious girl.” Kaga says, and falls with a thump onto the forest floor. “I wonder what she’ll think of Tohopka.”

“Tohopka? What’s that?” the same girl asks, her hands under her chin.

“Tohopka was a big beast that roamed the forest, devouring everything in its path. Deer, buffalo, bears, trees – it was very hungry. It had two big boar tusks (and he sticks his forefingers in the corners of his mouth and stretches his cheeks out), twelve hoofed feet (he stomps twelve times), and a pelt of prickly fur sharp as the quills of a porcupine.” He rakes his hands through his already messy hair, which then sticks out in all directions.
“Why do you speak of such a monster as though it were dead? Surely it ravages the wilderness to this day,” a young hunter asks, eyebrow raised. Kaga smiles at the youth.

“I should continue my story.”

As Mosi barreled through the bush, the smell grew stronger and the cracking, crashing noise grew louder, punctuated by frequent, buzzing roars. After several yards of blurred green foliage and leaps over fallen trees, she tumbles out into a clear area. Stopping to look around, the area is seen to extend past her line of sight in each direction, though the sound only comes from her right. She heads in this direction, head held high and eyes scanning from side to side. There is a lot of jumping involved, as fallen trees litter the ground. And tree limbs are not the only thing scattered on the ground. Deer legs, heads, and even what appears to be a bear leg are mixed in with the vegetation strewn across the freshly felled path, a grisly potpourri of organic material. Mosi glances at these and licks her lips but does not stop moving. The trail continues on like this for a little over two miles, until Mosi’s race is interrupted by a herd of deer fleeing towards her. Jumping over an oncoming doe, she comes across the end of the trail where several bucks are attacking what appears to be a hill covered in sharp, bristling hair. The hill spins around, in the process decapitating two of the bucks with its long white tusks. Thirteen eyes roll beneath a curtain of hair and its many-toothed maw lets out a roar. Mosi and the remaining buck jump back at the noise, the buck following the rest of the herd and Mosi climbing a tree. The eyes of Tohopka cease rolling and point at the tree the wild girl just climbed, and it charges.

“At this point I’m just doing my best to stay close enough to the action to see what was happening and far enough away that I might still be here now, telling you all this story.”

“Wait, you were there?” The young hunter proclaims, his eyebrows rising even higher than before, hands on his hips.

“Well, how else would I be telling this story?”

“I thought you were making it up.”

“All of my stories are true. What’s the point of making up tales when reality is so crazy?” Kaga chuckled.

“Then how did you catch up to Mosi and Tohopka? You said so yourself that they are both inhumanly fast and traveled at least a mile away from the spot at which you ran into Mosi.” A few of his friends sitting around him nodded their heads at this. Kaga smiled and winked at the group of skeptics.

“Feel free to challenge me to a race once my tale is done.”

Tohopka’s charge cleared straight through the tree Mosi was in and then several others as well. As it fell she clawed her way to the other side of the tree. A few seconds later it hit the ground and she jumped, flying fifteen feet into the air. Tohopka had whirled around and was looking left and right at its recent wreckage. Mosi flipped in mid-air and fell feet first towards Tohopka’s bristly back. Just as it was about to roar once more, her falling kick hit home, and she grinned as a crunch could be hard as its mouth was forced shut from the impact. She raised a clawed hand back, but as it was about to tear into Tohopka, she felt movement under her feet. She stopped her strike and leapt off the beast’s back just as its fur stood on end, gleaming spikes of hair and oil. Tohopka’s hair settles back down again, and now its many eyes were looking at her, and it barrels towards her once again. She tries to jump to the side but its long tucks block her way. Instead the clings to the tusk, her nails screeching as Tohopka continues its mad rush through bark and branch. Mosi’s muscles stand out in stark relief as she gains the top of the tusk while being shook by the pounding gallop of six legs. Straddling the smooth ivory, she makes a claw with her left hand and jabs multiple times at the eyes that peek out from beneath the hair flapping from the wind of Tohopka’s movement, slashing the thirteen bright red irises. It immediately tosses its head, or at least the front section of its body, into the air, yet another bone-rattling roar erupting from its mouth along with a gallon of saliva.

Once again Mosi sails through the air, landing on all fours to the side of the injured creature. It is huffing and shaking, the punctured eyes closed but leaking a clear liquid which steams upon hitting the ground, wilting the grass on which it lands. Mosi stares unblinking at the shuddering form. All at once Tohopka’s wiry hair stands on end but does not fall back into place this time. In the spaces between the follicles are many more eyes, rolling and blinking in a blurred frenzy. The movement makes Mosi think of snakes writhing in a pit. Two more legs erupt from its underside, and its tusks curve inward and gnash together. Then, the creature vanishes.

“It vanished. Something as big as a hill doesn’t just vanish, old man. And you still haven’t explained how you were able to keep up with these two characters.” Kaga holds up a single finger.

“There is an explanation for everything under the sun aside from the Great Mystery itself. For example, I could make myself vanish right in front of your eyes, right now!”

“I doubt that,” the young hunter says, laughing and glancing at his friends. Kaga walks around the fire, steps over the now sleeping girl, and stands in front of the boy, inches away from him. The boy folds his arms and looks down at the wrinkled, brown figure. Kaga looks straight ahead, takes a few deep breaths, and flexes his legs, arms stretched out to either side.

“Are you ready?”

“I’m bored. And I’ve been bored for about forty-five minutes now!”

“Here I go!” And with that, Kaga jumps with a grunt. And jumps again, his cheeks puffed out. With the third jump, he pokes the young hunter in the eyes.

“Ahhh! You crazy old man! What’s wrong with you!” His friends are covering their mouths with their hands, shoulders shaking. Kaga bows to the rest of the gathering. The young girl is awake and rubbing her eyes for a less painful reason.

“Well? Have I not vanished from your sight?” His eyes watering a little, the boy glares at Kaga.

“Are you suggesting Mosi poked Tohopka’s eyes? I really don’t see how that demonstration proved a point other than the points of your fingernails, and it’s not like she has thirteen fingers, anyways.”

“Ha ha ha! Well, I must admit that I mostly just wanted to poke your eyes, but I also needed a way to vanish from your sight. After all, I can’t jump forty feet in the air.”

“What did I miss? Is Mosi okay?”

“Yes, little one, but she’s in quite a bit of trouble.”

Mosi is looking all around her, eyes wide and mouth open. Where did it go? Where did it go? Where did it go? There is the faintest scratching of keratin against wood. Mosi whirls around and looks up, the skin of her neck pulled so tight that it parts her lips a little and making her over-large fangs even more prominent. The massive form of Tohopka is clinging to the trunk of the tree in front of her, its many eyes fixed upon her and saliva dripping from its fanged maw. And Tohopka is dropping as well, falling towards Mosi even as she is spinning around after hearing the scratch of its hooves, whose metamorphosis into claws went unnoticed when compared to the more dramatic changes brought about by the beast’s rage and pain. Mosi crouches and tries to spring away from the falling mass of fur and fury but her left ankle is caught under its face, in between the pincer-tusks and pointed teeth. A different kind of snap can be heard among the breaking branches crushed by Tohopka’s fall, and Mosi lets out a shriek, her eyes closed and brow wrinkled. Tohopka retreats back up the tree, the eyes of its front still fixed upon Mosi, who has pulled her leg up against her. It roars, a sound which is cut off by the tan blur which flies out of the tree cover to its left and slams into the rough skin and moist eyes between the oil-sharp hair.

( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )


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