Pimne finds himself standing in the center of the camp, a few snowflakes drifting past his face. Color has returned to the world, and the rays of the sun radiate from behind the peaks. He is still looking over his should and as he turns to face forward again he sees a group of people approaching him. They wear very wide smiles upon their faces, and their skin is painted red. They are wearing little clothing, simple loincloths, and their feet are bare. Pimne takes a step back as they walk nearer. The Comanche? he thinks, but the four figures hold no weapons. And as they enter the camp’s clearing, he sees that not only are they unclothed, they are also skinned, the blood-wet muscles sliding and flexing as they move. Their smiles are forced in the most literal sense, the exposed gums glistening and the teeth revealed in their full length. The figure closest to him speaks, and with each word uttered follows a hollow, sucking noise, like a foot being pulled out of muck.
“Ohwoh, it is Pimne!” Pthuck, pthuck. “How are you, you scoundrel?” Pthuck, pthuck. “Grown fat on our cooking I hope.” The others laugh, a wet noise, and from their mouths blood spatters and steams upon the snow. “Do you, haha, do you recognize me – ch’iidii! – little thief?” Its lidless eyes are bulging out of its head, and it leers at Pimne, who takes a few steps away from him. “I am Qaletaqa, though now I am naked of my skin, hahaha!” Its laughter is more like shrieking and its teeth click together with each bout.
Pimne’s eyes are wide, his mouth hanging open. As he backs up, two more of the figures leap out from behind the tents and grip him by his arms. He yells at their touch.
“Did you steal my skin as well as out food, thief Pimne?” Qaletaqa walks up to the squirming, restrained Pimne, who has sweat rolling down his face, panting.
“Will you not answer my questions, da’alzhin?”
The breeches blaze to life, and the ghouls holding him recoil, their shiny-slick hands covering their faces. Where their hands held him the skin is bright red and swollen. Qaletaqa pulls a fist back and punches the still panting Pimne in the chest, sending him flying backwards, over the dead bonfire and into a tent, which collapses around him and catches fire. The two ghouls that were holding him are burning now, the tissue dripping off them, and in a matter of seconds all that is left are two puddles of red, bones floating in a grisly soup. The four remaining creatures run towards the tent, Qaletaqa in the lead, snapping his teeth and grasping at the air in front of him. Their legs flail wildly underneath them, this way and that, sometimes hopping on one leg, all at a pace that leaves four feet between each wet footprint. They run as though they’ve forgotten how to walk. They reach and surround the tent but Pimne is nowhere to be found. As their heads rotate about, necks flopping, other tents in the village begin to catch fire. The four release a chorus of shrieks and run away in all directions from the spreading flames. As a ghoul runs past one of the tents, a leg sticks out from behind it, tripping the fleeing creature. The same leg stomps upon the exposed spine and fire flares out from beneath the foot. There is not even a puddle this time, just bones and a fine red mist. The others hear its burping cry and run toward the noise, only to see Pimne’s back as he runs into the inferno. Ten feet in, he turns to face them.
“Come in, my lovely windigos! The fire is wonderfully warm.”
Qaletaqa shoves his way to the front and takes a deep breath, the sacs of his lungs bulging from the spaces between his ribs. They expand more and more until he lets out the air stored in them, exhaling a freezing a wind. Pimne shields his face against this, and the flames surrounding him burn at a slant and are extinguished, leaving a few bright tongues on the edge of the village but none around him. The snow that melted from the sun-flames turns to ice, and tents become spikes covered in ice. The two ghouls rush forward, the wind from Qaletaqa propelling them towards Pimne at an even more frantic, flailing pace than before.
“HOLOS! HOLOS!” Pimne screams as he tumbles heels over head backwards and the flames sputter once and then come to life again. The fire is not quite as strong as before, and the ghouls snap their teeth at the sight of it. He manages to land on his feet and, stumbling backwards, he jumps away, landing on his back, swinging his legs up and pushing off with this arms, propels himself forward, legs extended. His feet strike each windigo in the chest, a cone of flame bursting out through their backs, and their dissolving forms spray out over the ice. Pimne lands, knees bent, and then straightens out, flames trailing past his face and around him.
“Worthless worthless WORTHLESS!” Qaletaqa screams, the words devolving into a screeching gurgle, and charges at Pimne, who bends at the waist, arms extended in a grappler’s position. While running Qaletaqa bends over as well and tackles Pimne, arms wrapped around his waist and legs flailing behind him. Pimne tries to stop his forward movement but is pushed back, his feet slipping in the ice and snow, pieces of the latter flying up around them. The breeches continue to burn but Qaletaqa simply gets louder, a liquid red trail marking their course through the camp. Pimne is screaming as well, and the skin around where Qaletaqa is holding onto him is bright red, small white cracks radiating throughout it. As they rocket towards the edge slope of the hill that leads up to the village, instead of rolling down the hill they continue into the air and upwards, passing over the treetops. Pimne’s short black hair flows forward in the wind, and he grits his teeth, looking down at the ground passing by fifty feet below. Higher and higher they go over the forest until Qaletaqa throws his arms outwards and Pimne plummets towards the sharp wooden tops, limbs waving. The skin where Qaletaqa grabbed him is dark grey in the center going to white and then red around the edges, swollen and cracked and bleeding. Above him Qaletaqa continues to run through the air, cackling in a mad spiral. Pimne grimaces, his teeth showing and glaring up at Qaletaqa.
“Holos.” A globe of fire erupts around him, ten feet in diameter, and flames pour out below his feet, two pillars that propel Pimne back up in the air. The fabric of the breeches is now white, with none of the different colors that were there before. He rockets towards Qaletaqa, who is hopping further up into the clouds. The heat from the fire dissipates the moisture of the cloud, blowing a circular hole through the white fluff. Looking down, Qaletaqa shrieks at the approaching fireball. Pimne is not even visible within the inferno. As it comes closer it seems to grow, and lashes of flame reach out from it at the fleeing windigo. Qaletaqa is enveloped in fire, inch by inch, liquid muscle flying off of his kicking legs as the burning tide reaches legs, then waist, then chest, then face. His head takes almost a minute to be consumed and then vaporized, the screams getting quieter and quieter as the gaping mouth loses any trace of sinew with which to make noise.
The fireball starts to shrink, flames falling away like petals from a dying flower. A few hit clouds and steam hisses out from their contact. As the layers drop off, a panting Pimne is revealed, sweating despite the altitude and bleeding from the spots where he was touched by the freezing touch of the windigos. He starts to drift down, the propulsion from the fire weakening as the minutes go by. But as he sinks, he smiles, tears running down his face.
“Haha – ow! Hahaha…” He winces and moves to touch the frostbit area around his waist. “I can’t believe I’m –” A piercing cry cuts through the air and Pimne’s body jerks at the noise, his arms raised out in front of him, crossed at the wrists. Another cry comes, sounding out from the opposite direction. Six foot wings pound the air and the hawk-man approaches, circling Pimne in arcs that travel above, below, all around him. He tries to keep up with its path of flight but his eyes, even though they are very wide right now, are not nearly quick enough to track its movement.
“Veeho? Veeho?” Its voice is like broken bones scraping on slate, and its lips opening and closing are out of rhythm with the words coming from its maw. Its eyes stare out at him from beneath the feathered brow, following his face. “No… Pimne! Weasel! Cacacacaca!!” It laughs, choked screeches coming out in quick bursts.
“So you know Veeho, eh? And what are you, bird brother? Are you a hawk or a vulture? Either way you look sort of hungry.” The bird-man stops its circling for a moment and drifts through the air, following Pimne’s descent with unfaltering precision, its talons flexing as if grasping for an answer.
“What am I? I, hmm, I am Ántimán. I am the condor of the sun. And you are hero. You are mine.” And with that, the wings flap forward, propelling Ántimán towards Pimne, who leans back, and with yet another cry of holos, sweeps his burning right leg upward, crashing into Ántimán’s chin.
“I’m hungry, too. Perhaps I shall have some drumsticks?” Pimne completes the kick with a back-flip through the air, the slacks aflame once again, though he is still panting from the previous battle and the fire is nowhere near as large as it was. Ántimán is flapping his wings, his head thrown back and his chin smoking. From below it is shown to come to a sharp point, the edges that would be smooth on a human flat and abrupt. It brings its face back down again, red eyes on Pimne and mouth parted, giving his smooth face the appearance of a grin. It raises its wings higher and dives towards Pimne, talons reaching for him. He hops to the side, fire trailing behind his feet. But he is not fast enough to evade the giant wing, which bats him further towards the ground, tumbling in midair.
Ántimán falls after him, and the talons strike home, gripping Pimne’s left arm and stomach. The talons sink into his flesh, straight to bone, and he screams as they both hurtle towards the earth. Ántimán does nothing to slow their descent, and they crash through the treetops and onto the ground, sinking into the snow and right to the ground. As Pimne hits the ground, there is cracking and Ántimán sinks a little further. Blood gushes from his mouth and he chokes. As Ántimán bends over towards his face, mouth creaking open and red eyes shining, Pimne reaches for the hair tied to his pinkie and tugs on it, and gurgles out a final, bloody word.
“Holos.” The flames that come from the slacks this time are dark, verging on black, and Ántimán screeches as they touch its feet and he takes flight, rising up through the trees and away from the blaze. Pimne is not spared from the fire this time, but his eyes are closed and though there is blood running down his chin, his mouth forms a small smile. As the deafening screeches continue from above, animals flee out from the forest, running together regardless of species, and the pervasive noise fades into the distance.
An almost invisible pillar of smoke is rising from the forest. The animals have returned to their homes and a hare is inspecting the spot where Pimne was laying. Its nose twitches at the fumes rising from the smooth, blackened body. The slacks are the only thing that remain, a riot of color that offends the reserved greens, browns, and grays of the woodland palette. A mockingbird flutters onto a branch overtop of the melted grave and rotates its head to look at the spectacle.
Veeho drops from the branch he was perched on and continues to stare as the smoke fades away. He looks away for a moment, and when he looks back, his face is blank of expression. Turning to walk away, he is wearing the Sun’s slacks once again. They begin to spark and throw off flame, and Veeho hums the tune from before, perhaps a key lower. The hare looks from the body, to Veeho, and back again, and hops away through the snow.
( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )