The Truth Behind the Eyes

He marched into the cave, full of muscle and sweat. The last tendrils of light glinted off his biceps and chest. He tightened his grip on his broadswords and walked farther in.

The cave was hot and damp, heated by the fetid breath of the beast. The lichen-slickened ground made for a hard journey. The sides of the cave were jagged and warped from the beast’s thick hide and claws.

The first thing he heard was silence. He strengthened his resolve. The silence was always the worst, but he had come this far. He would have his trophies. For the villagers. For himself. To prove that he was a man. His member surged beneath the loincloth as he thought of it.

Deeper, ever deeper. Sensing nothing until finally he heard it: the beast’s strained-raspy and hissing breath. He strengthened his back and stood erect. He waved his sword into the void.

“I am Bukanin son of Orinshield. I command you to come out beast,” he said.

Nothing. Breath.

“I command you to come out.”

The breathing stopped. A growl replaced. Bukanin gripped his sword.

The beast roared. Stomp-stomp-stomp-stump. Rrrrrrrrrrumble. The Beast charged. Bukanin charged.

He met the beast, with all its talons and fury. Roaring. Ranging.

Its hideous eyes. Thousands of them. Its hunched back. Its tiled and armor-like hide. It teeth and talons. Its rage and fury and hate. Bukanin challenged them all.

They fought there in the dark. The creature was used it, feeding off the energy supplied by bioluminescent mushrooms growing on its skin and in the cave around. But the warrior held his own. This would be his first beast, but it would not be his last. The village was full of dead animal trophies. He would not let them down.

They stabbed and slashed at one another. The blood! The blood! Green, animal blood blending with red human blood. Spraying against the walls. Drenching each other’s forms. They were both mad, crazed. Their draining fluids only made them halluncinate victory.

They sparred for ours until finally Bukanin gained the upper hand, hamstringing the foul creature, bringing it down to its side. He stood over it. Weak due to lack of blood. Weak from the dying adrenaline rush. All he had to do was finish it and it could all be over.

He towered over the creature.

“Finally beast you are slain!” he said, waving his broadswoard high.

He climbed atop it and flipped his weapon about, pointing fearsome blade at his opponent to end it.

He stared into its many eyes. A long time. It was so near death, it had scarcely the energy to keep them open. He could relate, having scarcely the energy to stand, let alone kill the thing.

He stood there, in the death position, breathing; then, he flung the sword aside.

He collapsed atop the beast and slept.

***

He did not return to his village for a long time. Rumor spread that he had been eaten. Rumor spread that he had been overcome. Never did they fancy the truth: that he and the beast spent many of their days hobbling the hills together. Many years later, a young man, out to prove himself found them, offering to end the beast’s life.

When Bukanin decline, the young man branded him a traitor. Bukanin accepted this word.

He was who he was, and if that was who he was, then so be it.

Later down the road, the villagers came and hunted them down. They slew them, for a hunter to befriend his prey was too much for them. They laughed and cheered and drank over the bodies of the dead. They had righted the Universe.

But the last thing Bukanin ever saw was the beast looking back at him with all those many eyes. That was enough for him. That had always been enough. So he peacefully surrendered himself to his fate.

Saving the Seasons

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Author’s Note: This short was awarded an Honorable Mention in Area of Effect Magazine’s 2015 Christmas Short Story Contest.

It was a cold wind that blew in that day, unseasonably cold.

The Children of the Fall shivered as the icy wind arrived. It was then that they saw him: the man in white. Christmas was coming, indeed.

“Ready your resolve,” said their captain, Jacques, the old Pumpkin-Head himself. “Steady as it goes!”

Above their heads, the corpulent man called Claus rode a rusty dirigible, from which he commanded his elfish legions. He had a globular, all-seeing eye and wore a coat stained red with the blood of all that had stood in his way. So far, he and his men had taken Thanksgiving and begun forming a second front in July. Soon, they would have the whole year- that is, unless the children could stop them.

But, these children were no warriors. Clutching their tiny flashlights and pails, they seemed little match for Claus and his hordes.

“I’m s-scared, Jacques,” said one child.

“Everything will be all right,” he replied, “you’ll see. Just stay the course till then.”

Even still, Jacques found his own knees knocking as Claus closed in.

“Wait for my signal,” said he.

An overwhelming sea of cinnamon swept up into the children’s nostrils as the elves, dressed in moldy green uniforms, closed in. Jacques studied their approach, then threw his hand defiantly forward at the proper time.

“NOW!”

From behind the front lines, a volley of incendiary apples launched into the sky. They burst into the enemy ranks and splashed up against the side of Claus’ dirigible. It took only a moment for the Northern forces to reconstitute themselves. Claus’ lead elf looked up to his commander-in-chief, who straightened out his crinkled robe and gestured for him to advance. The elf then turned back to his fellows and, with a shrill cry, ordered them forward. At that signal, they charged.

Jacques spurred his obsidian horse as the enemy made their move,.

“For the seasons!” he cried.

Then he charged forward, with the Children of the Fall, bedecked in monochromatic, threadbare costumes, at his side.

As the two forces clashed, Claus shouted at his legions, “I know when you are sleeping! Don’t fail me now.”

And so, the bloodshed began. Elves and children kicked and bit and screamed at each other. Jabs and blows, like fatal gifts, were exchanged. The battle carried on long into the night and then into morning. At last, the snow settled. Jacques and his children warriors emerged victorious.

Wounded and wearied, they glared up Claus. He, in turn, glared right back down at them.

“Not so jolly are we now, huh, old man?” said Jacques.

Claus spit out a mass of licorice chew as he jerked his ship about. With a burst of coal dust, it shot off towards the Northern Lands… and home.

“‘And to all a good night,’” said Jacques with a wave.

Those who had survived looked about, surveying all they had won and who they had lost.

“He’ll be back, won’t he?” said one child.

Jacques absently nodded and set a hand upon the child’s head while brushing his boney fingers through the tousled locks.

“Yes, but we’ll be ready.”

They looked to the horizon then, and watched the Sun rise into the sky, casting not a silvery shadow, but a warm, orange glow upon the land.