Portal Dread

He stared at the open door with sickening dread. Had he been robbed? Had the landlord shown up?  He nervously approached the yawning frame. No, he had been careless, left it open. Peering inside there was only darkness. He had let it out.  A wren lay, pristine and bloodless, one wing spread open across the threshold. A sign, he knew what it meant.  The bird was just the first. Now it was loose in the world.  It was his fault. He went next door and knocked gingerly.

“Hey Tom.”

“Hi Sarah, have you seen my cat? She’s gotten loose again.”

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The Stuff of Legend

He inhaled, taking in deep the lovely smells of the night. The earthy impending rain, the sweet blooming honeysuckle, the acrid smoke of the campfire, the sharp musk of her sweat. They all lolled around in his nose and mingled with the taste of rotted meat from his last meal , and the fresh bloody gore of this man’s flesh in his teeth. He breathed it all in as he slowly chewed his the meat of his kill. He blinked as he stared up at the moon with large, half blind eyes. He ran his talon across what remained of the throat of the man, brought it up to his wide mouth and licked at it thoughtfully. The flesh will taste better in a day or two. Best to let it cure.

She hadn’t gotten far. He could hear her feet plodding the soft damp ground, she was trying to skirt the edge of the water. She’d make better time if she swam. There were alligators to be sure, but eaten was eaten. The reptiles would at least give her a fairer chance. He rose up from his haunches, scraping a stubborn piece of meat from under a claw.

She was young, but they all were to him.  She was afraid, he could only guess how terrifying he appeared to her. His heart began to pound, they always ran from him. The anticipation of the chase excited him. He heard her trip, likely on a cypress knee, letting out a short scream as her hair was pulled by a low hanging branch. She splashed in the shallow brackish swamp, trying to get her feet.

He preferred the women, they were smarter, they ran. The men were dumb, they tried to put a fight too early. He had nearly been killed only three times in his life, each time by a woman. Always after the chase. After their blood had flowed, after the fear and exhaustion had done their work. Long after reason and sanity had left. That is when the fight mattered, when it was all they had left. That is why the women always tasted so much better when they were fresh.

He pushed off from a nearby tree and began his silent loping run. He always loved the chase. She would take the high path back to the car.

He cut into the thickets of reeds, ran across the fallen tree spanning the narrow end of the swamp. He leapt up onto the high embankment, and reached the bend in the trail. He crouched and waited.

She came, breathing hard, scrabbling for a hold on the step-like roots of the eroded path. Closer, she couldn’t even tell that she was crying. Tears of panic leaving streaks down her muddy face.

Closer, his heart beat louder, blood pounding in his ears. His excitement mounted.

Too soon he reached out for her arm as she climbed the path. She screamed, and slid back down. Landed on her back. He jumped down to where she lay, landing astride her. He bent forward, jagged claws reaching for her throat.

There was a hot pressure, cold pain, warm blood.

A stone perhaps a log. Something heavy had been in her hand when she swung. He was off-balance. She manged to kick him off her. On her feet quickly, running leaps up the trail. He slowly pushed himself back up. He stretch his jaw feeling it fall back in place with a click that echoed in his skull. He spit a broken tooth, tasting his own blood.

She was running again, harder now. She was hurt, bleeding now. Her hand, where she struck him.

Shaking himself back to sense he set off again. Ducking under branches, pushing aside tall grasses, and thorned vines he cut a way towards the lot. She would still try to reach the car, that was escape in her mind. She was deep in the fear now, past the panic. She had shown that now, razor focus only on escape, safety. One thing mattered, life.

This was life for him. This is all that was, just the chase.

He reached the clearing where visitors to this preserve leave their vehicles while the walked the trails. She was just coming off the trail, running full speed towards the large truck parked there. He ambled in to the moonlight. She didn’t look, but she saw him. Her chest heaved with every step. He could almost hear the excitement of hope in her breathing. He began to run. The closer she got to the vehicle, the faster he chased. He could hear both their hearts beating, reaching the same tempo of excitement.

She reached out for the door.

He reached out for her.

She stepped sideways and threw the door open. It struck his arm as he tried to grab her. He spun around fully and reached again. She dove into the cab of the truck. His claws sank into her leg. Her heartbeat was deafening as he pulled her out and turned her to face him. This was life. This was how the chase ended.

A click, and a thunderous bang.

Another shot rang from the revolver. His breath left him. He lost his grip. Again she fired the gun.

The door slammed, tires skidded in the packed dirt of the lot.

Rain began to fall on his body. He coughed blood onto the ground.

This was how the chase ended.

It had been ages since one had escaped. Others would come, to search the swamp, for the dead man, for him. It didn’t matter.

He would hide in the swamp. The man would provide meat for a time. Then he would sleep, he didn’t know for how long. In the time they would stop believing. Soon enough no one would remember the exact name of the woman who got away from him, or when it happened. Her story and her description of him would blend with the other tales through time. People would forget again.

He would slip back to being just the stuff of legend.

 

In the Dark

“Are you sure it’s down here?”

“Yes damn it, now be quiet.”

He walked silently behind them through the cold murk, as they argued in whispers.  Walking in circles for hours. Blinding each other with flashlights. Pointing guns at the shadows as they rounded corners. Following every odd noise, spray of blood’ or smear of slime glistening along the wall. Given their haphazard, second-hand knowledge of these forgotten tunnels, they should feel lucky they made it this far. You had to admire professionals.

“You”re sure it’s down here?”

Yes, he thought as he unfurled his claws. Yes, I am here.

This drabble (which by the may now be one of my new favorite words) was written in response to a flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig at Terrible Minds. So you should check that out too.

The Thing In the Tunnels

It had been some weeks since my arrival in Berian, and thus far the majority of my time for this quarter was spent in my classes, quietly contemplating the various possibilities of sneaking out and exploring the wondrous city beyond the walls of the university.

Despite my family’s relative affluence, we apparently had not been wealthy for a sufficient number of generations for the general aristocracy to converse with me. I was shunned by the majority of the students for my decidedly rural upbringing. As a result my closest companions were also from the, by comparison, lower stations of society, conveniently we somehow managed to end up sharing the same dormitory.

Harmon was a tall, strong backed fellow from the northern reach. His father’s rather successful mining venture afforded his tuition and acceptance by the deans of the esteemed foundation which we attended. He was not the sharpest of wits but he was kind enough and had a generous sense of humor. His imposing stature rescued me from more than one assault on my person during our friendship.

Our other roommate, Lethan was the son of a foreign sea trader; who I had been assured, on several occasions, was a completely legitimate businessman. Handsome, slim, and possessing an accent that had the charming and remarkable ability to grow more pronounced around members of the opposite sex. He was always sent the most wonderful packages from home, smelling of exotic spices and containing delightfully strong intoxicants in deceptively labeled bottles.

It was after sampling one such package when a rumor that a long forgotten tunnel had been unearthed by work men clearing debris of a building that collapsed in a recent fire in the southern quarter of the city.  My compatriots and I, armed with lanterns, rope and a misplaced sense of adventure, made the decision to venture out to explore this portal.

***

One by one we lowered ourselves into the hole. Harmon went first and myself taking the rear. As I slid the last few inches down the rope my feet came to rest on finished stone, We found ourselves in a curving hall built of large stone blocks.. We followed that passage, listening to eerie silence, broken only by the sound of our feet shuffling across the dusty floor. We walked, single file, down that abandoned in mild fear until it opened into a rough square chamber. Harmon stumbled across the threshold, his fall extinguishing one of our lanterns. The clatter of the light hitting the ground broke the silence and the tension of  the moment. We let out a short burst of laughter and help the tall man back to his feet. He set about relighting the lantern, while Lethan walked the perimeter of the room. As he walked he waved his own lantern  making a ghostly sounds. Harmon’s match finally struck despite his hands trembling in an attempt to control his giggling. With both lanterns lit we took stock of our surroundings.

The room was of plain finished stone, with and arched passage leading out from the center of each of the walls. I looked down and tracked our footsteps  across the dust ridden floor. The long skid left by Harmon as he tripped. The trail of oil drops left as the lantern tumbled away from him. The long loping stride of Lethan as he acted out his taunting pantomime of a lost spirit. My own steps mingled in with theirs.

Then, there in the interwoven impressions in the dust, I was certain I could see a fourth set.  They were mostly covered over by our tracks, but I was certain they were there.

Short, shambling, barefoot steps.

I cleared my throat to bring my discovery to my companions attention. That was when I heard a long and piercing scream erupt from Lethan’s throat. I quickly raised my head and saw my friend staring gape mouthed, lantern raised high, his eyes wide and distant as if he was staring at something mile away.

I followed his gaze across the room and there in on of the arched portals, it stood.

Hunched, head forward. Grey mottled skin, hanging loose. Large eyes,circular bulbous. Twisted hands, nails overgrown. Distended jaw, teeth like razors.

My horrified friend stood paralyzed by the monstrous visage. It opened its maw as if to scream but only a low hiss emanated from it as it lurched forward towards Lethan. I began to shout, but Harmon was already moving. He threw himself towards the beast.

The thing grabbed the large man as if he was just a child , snapping his arm like a twig and tossed him aside. It turned its head and followed his arc as he landed in the corner near me, screaming in pain. Returning its reptilian eyes back towards Lethan and stalked onward.

I stared in terror, watching helpless as it drew closer towards its prey. Toward my fiend. I barely heard Harmon as he said my name in a hoarse croak.

Something inside of me stirred and I looked down to see Harmon’s lantern, still lit, laying at my feet. As in a dream, I found myself reaching for it. The thing shuffled forward, Lethan stood still frozen under its dread stare. I hoisted the lamp up and back. The thing began to stretch its arm towards my friend. My arm swung forward, and the light sailed forward through the air.

The lantern struck the alien thing and its pallid flesh caught fire in an instant. The thing crumpled to the floor. The jagged mouth opened and shut in silent screams as the monstrous thing’s body rendered in a pillar of fetid smoke, and quickly turned to ash.

The minutes that followed seem so insignificant. After seeing that thing destroyed Lethan recovered from the petrifying fear he suffered when he first met its stare. Through the shock of the encounter we managed to help our injured friend back to his feet and somehow managed to find our way back to where we began our explorations. We used our ropes to pull our companion back up to the street. We returned to the university and placed our friend in the care of the infirmary.

In the weeks that he spent healing we related our story to the authorities. We were told, by the faculty of our school and several representatives of the civil powers, that this was not a tale to be loosely told in taverns and public houses of the city. We were assured that it would be look d into. It was inferred that keeping the existence of such a beast a secret was for the public good. We were reminded that we were also members of the public.

The burned out ruin of the house was cleared and the tunnel was filled in. We were left with the memory of what we saw.