Forest Frightful (Part 6)

What’s that? You don’t remember this series? I don’t blame you, it’s been awhile since I updated it. You should go back to part 1 so you can understand what’s going on here!


 

As the-wolf-that-is-Eugene retreats, memories rush unbidden through his head, some of his experiences as a member of the pack and some from his carefree days as a layabout in his hometown. In the forefront of these memories are images of his younger siblings as they all made something of themselves, pretending that he couldn’t see the disapproving gaze of his father, and then the final moment when he was sent away, the entire reason I’m now being chased by an ax maniac, he thinks. Let us go together with him back to that fortuitous day and see what set poor Eugene upon this path.

The sound of the stamping machine can be heard from the paper mill, pressing the fibers repeatedly into flat sheaves for binding. Eugene sits outside, freshly printed book flat on his lap and head leaning back against a tree trunk, eyes closed and mouth parted. A careful observer could connect the sounds coming from within the mill with the rotating of the wheel on the side of the weathered wood building, and then they would become curious about the other noise coming from the mill, an unpredictable tapping that starts, stops, starts. And then a harsher noise, a cracking, and there comes shrieks of pain from the mill punctuated by quick silences as the screamer takes breaths. Eugene starts awake but does not get up immediately, first looking to either side with sleep-swollen eyes and then scrambling to his feet, the book falling from his lap to the grass below.
Within the mill, two of his brothers are pulling a young boy away from the still stamping machine, a thin trail of blood traced across the floor as they retreat. The boy is panting and crying. A fifth person enters behind the group as they struggle with the writhing boy.
“What in the world happened? Eugene? What’s going on here?”

Eugene turns back to face the man, his eyes wide and mouth hanging open. His eyes flicker to the red line that now extends out through the doorway.

“You’d better come with me.”

Eugene and his father are seated in a room, windows covered, the afternoon light squeezing itself through the gaps around the blinds as if curious about what’s happening within. The only furniture is a table and two chairs, and few odds and ends lay scattered about the floor. Eugene’s father stares across the table at him, arms folded and mouth set in a grimace. He is the first to speak.
“So? How did this happen?”
“I… I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know? You were supposed to be watching him! My God, can you not do the simplest of tasks?”
“He was playing and I was reading and… I must have fallen asleep.”
“Your nephew is going to lose two fingers because you didn’t have the patience or care to watch over him. You need to get out of here – your sister truly may kill you.” He glares at Eugene and Eugene glares at the ground. His father looks away. “Perhaps leaving is a good idea. Take this delivery to Fencepost. That’ll give us some time for Layla’s anger to disperse.” Eugene finally looks up.
“What? That’s… that’s miles and miles away! Not to mention they have no use–”
“That’s the entire damn point. And I’ll have you know I have reliable word that there is a burgeoning interest in printing there. And it was not a request. You are going to take responsibility for something. Just because you don’t usually see the consequences of your inaction doesn’t mean they don’t exist, Eugene. This is not the first time you’ve created trouble by doing nothing. I’ve turned a blind eye to your laziness for long enough. I’ll put the delivery together for you… and if you can’t even do this simple thing, don’t expect a prodigal’s welcome upon your return.”

Eugene skids to a halt, his eyes closed and lips curled up in a snarl. He turns back to the scuffle, still visible in the distance as a blur of grey-blue shapes that swarm at the feet of the hooded man. I only seem to be able to run away, but perhaps my flight can at least be of use to someone, he thinks as he sprints toward the scuffle.
The wolves are not losing the battle, but neither are they winning. They jump and snap but the whirling axe keeps them at bay, its edge flashing through the night air, seemingly in all directions at once. Just as soon as one of them lunges for the man he strikes and they twist out of the way in midair. Nevertheless, the blood that drips upon the grass below is all lupine, and the hooded man shows no signs of tiring; instead, he stomps the ground with quick steps in a manic show of glee. And then a howling breaks the fighters’ concentration and they turn as one to look at Eugene, his head thrown back. Wolf eyes meet human and Eugene growls. The hooded man immediately moves toward Eugene, kicking one of the real wolves out of the way. They are all panting and wobble upon their feet, and the look they give to Eugene is clearly one of gratitude to be able to take a break from combat. He turns tail and starts running again, the hooded man in pursuit. This situation is becoming far too familiar, he thinks to himself. And it was a gamble that he would even respond to my taunt but… why is this maniac so fixated upon me?
As far as the chase is concerned, though, the tables have definitely turned. The hooded man can hardly keep up with the now four-legged Eugene, whose easy stride propels him between the trees as though he were a gust of wind rather than a physical being. In fact, it is so easy that Eugene can stop and look back at his pursuer, ears pricked and not even panting. Contrasting this, the hooded man’s bare chest is heaving and mouth wheezing, the fabric fluttering over the concealed maw. Each time the wolf looks back at him he waves the axe through the air, the strokes visibly slower than when he was fighting the pack. Just a bit further and I’ll leave this devil far behind. As Eugene thinks this, he notices that the light is changing in the forest, becoming brighter by small degrees, shining refraction through the early morning mist. Up ahead, through the obscurant water vapor loom grey shapes, and Eugene’s heart drops. What in the world are those? But as he comes nearer the shapes sharpen and become the low slopes of what appears to be a mountain range. Sun breaks over the peaks, the bright, focused rays shining into his eyes, and the leafless trees become more sparse the closer they get to the stony spires, the grassy ground slowing morphing to rubble. And then he is tumbling head over heels, papers flying from his pack. He sits up, dirt on his elbows and streaked across his legs. When he looks back this time, the hooded man has stopped, but only for a moment before dashing at him, the sight of the pack-laden human figure apparently invigorating. Eugene scrambles to his feet and runs, his lungs burning almost immediately. There is a dark spot at the base of the mountains, a tiny sliver that could just be shadow, but there is no other choice at this point, no turning back and no climbing the steep slopes, so he dashes for it, rewarded when he sees it is a narrow crevasse curving under the looming mass of stone. The sliver of darkness appears almost impassible but Eugene shrugs off his pack and dives for it, the brim of his hat bending as he passes through the gap, sucking in his stomach and turning his head sideways. Even so, the jagged rock drags at the fabric of his clothes. There is a rush of air that he feels on his ankles, and then the ringing sound of metal chipping rock, but the tall, skinny Eugene has safely wormed his way into the hole and under the mountain, crawling on his stomach and then on hands and knees as the space begins to gradually grow larger and more comfortable, but darker. He does not see the arm that reaches in after him, grasping hand grabbing at void and then smacking the ground before retracting back into the open air. Part 7 →

( ©2018 Sean Dorsey )

CΩT (Part 3)

The dim lights of the truck pass over the walls of the apartment building, passing over alternating reflections in windows with blinds drawn and brick wall. The clock in the car’s radio reads 10:40 p.m. as Carly pulls into one of the few empty parking spaces left.

“You stay here while I get your stuff upstairs, okay?” she says as she gets out, the cat still seated, tail wrapped tight around it. She goes up the concrete steps to the second floor, wincing and pausing her ascent each time one of the steps results in an booming echo. She walks past three of the maroon metal doors before crouching and placing her purchases to the left of the fourth door at the far corner of the building. She inserts the key and jiggles it back and forth before the deadbolt yields and the door can be opened.
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Howahkan (Part 3)

The two men sit at the base of the ogre’s perch, chests heaving. From up above, the sound of roaring resounds, and rock cracking on the other side of the peak as the ogre breathes down, searching for the two that disturbed it. Atlat looks over at Kaga.

“Thank you for that. It was like stabbing the air, and all it did was wake it up. I don’t think we’ll be able to attempt another attack tonight with the way it’s carrying on up there.”

“It’s nothing. I’m just glad my jokes don’t make people vomit like that. More importantly, did you see what it did?”

“Aside from an incredibly angry ogre, I did not notice anything out of the ordinary.”

“Well, from my vantage point, before it attacked us, it looked as though it was asking for help.” Atlat looks at him, eyebrows raised.
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Sukanwi (Part 3)

Ten rotations later they reach the opposite shore, the banks of which are a gentle slope rising up from thick mud to thick green weeds, bugs buzzing over both. Birch trees rise up a just six feet away, their straight trunks rising to branches that arch over Meda and Masou’s heads. Heavy bags are under their eyes, and they crawl out of the canoe onto the shore and then roll over on their backs on the grass.

“I feel sick.” Meda swallows and closes her eyes.

“I’m just glad nothing happened the second night. I feel as though I’ve been rowing for a week.” He groans and puts his right arm over his eyes. Meda sits up and brings her legs up to her chest, hands sinking into the thick grass on either side of her.

“What do we do now?”
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Sukanwi (Part 2)

Masou dashes through the rain and, after almost falling twice, slows down. He reaches the path that leads to the stream and in minutes has reached it. Kimi’s parents kneel in front of a grey mass on the grass. Masou stops, closes his eyes in a grimace, and steps forward. Kimi’s parents do not acknowledge his presence.

“No.” The denial is choked out as he sees the soaked clothes and mottled skin of Kimi’s body. Her hair lies around her in strings, eyes white and glossed over, and her skin tone is a pale, almost blueish hue. Where it is exposed, the skin is wrinkled and translucent, and torn at places. Masou’s shoulders shake as his eyes move from one place to the next, and then they stop as he looks at her fingers. The nails have fallen off and the joints that connect them to her palms look as though they have either rotted or been eaten away, the smooth, bright white bone exposed to the air. He can see rainwater sliding down the bones and in between the spaces. Masou spins around and places his arms against a tree, hanging his head, his breath coming out in quick gasps.
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Sukanwi (Part 1)

A young man and woman walk at a brisk pace through a sunlit forest. The light filters through the leaves and passes over them as they move side by side. They are both young, and the man has shoulder length black hair, strands sticking out here and there. She is a half an inch shorter than his five feet eight inches, and her hair is in similar condition. It branches out in almost lightning-bolt shapes and curling up into sharp points at the bottom. Her face is similarly pointed with almond shaped green eyes and light pink lips. His jaw line is less defined and more angular, with prominent cheekbones and heavy brows. Neither looks as though they’ve washed in a few days, though her hair is a bit less greasy. Their tan leather clothes, a shirt and trousers for him and a long dress with a fringed bottom for her, are dirt-stained and stiff. They are holding hands but they are not smiling. He keeps an eye out to his left, and she looks ahead. He squeezes her hand after looking behind them and her lips open a fraction, and she looks to the right.

“Meda, you really need to be more alert. They’re still following us thanks to your games.” She lowers her face.

“It’s fun to pretend to have medicine, even though I don’t.”

“I just hope they’re more forgiving of your parents than they are of you.” Meda looks down again, frowning. He looks at her and puts his arm around her shoulder, drawing her closer to him. “I’m sure they’ll be fine, they didn’t even know about it until it happened.” She keeps walking as he pauses and then follows her.

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