Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Short Fiction: Relentless Pursuit

This is 1000 words including the title.

The four of us are running down a long hallway, in what appears to be a deserted elementary school. There are bulletin boards on the walls with finger-painted turkeys in the shapes of small hands.

I am a middle-aged man pushing a woman and a young boy ahead of me. The other man, younger and more athletic, was given the weapon this cycle. We are the remainder of twelve unrelated people who were inexplicably chosen as quarry and dinner for the relentless beast. Is it a game? Is it a test or punishment? We don’t know.

Each encounter begins with a new location and a different group member in possession of the weapon; it is similar in shape to a hand sickle, made of one piece of black metal and wickedly sharp on both sides – the ultimate slashing tool, but no good for stabbing.

I can hear the grunts of the relentless beast as each stride brings its weight to the floor, and it bounds forward. I have seen it before when our numbers were larger. It resembles the unholy spawn of a bear and boar, five feet at the shoulder on all fours. Its smooth, black skin reflects no light and its head has forward pointing tusks that hide a wide mouth full of dirty, jagged teeth. The limbs end in paws like a bear, but each finger has a large, blunt, black nail, as if each was an individual hoof. At a full run, it sounds like a professional typist hammering on fifty-pound keys.

No one knows why we return; we have never been given the time to examine. Each cycle begins with us appearing together in a standing position with the sound and knowledge that the relentless, black beast is near and pursuing us. The end of every horrific encounter comes when the beast catches one of us, and stops for a meal. Only after, are we made to sleep until the next cycle.

It is understood that each weapon bearer will at some point turn to fight, drawing the wrath of the beast away from the rest of the group. Although the situation makes no rational, the gift of the weapon is responsibility that no one has shirked.

The hammering noise changes to the thudding of a flat tire at full speed. The beast is rolling. When close, it balls up like an armadillo and has feather-thin shivs that switch-blade out of its back and shred every soft thing they draw across like skin, muscles, and organs.

It has seen the end of the hall we approach. I shove the woman and child through two metal doors that lead to the outside. I turn around and intend to make my stand with Campbell. If we can stop it now, then we can save the others. That tactic has been tried before, but my thoughts are driven by fear, and my plan seems plausible. 

Campbell is tarring posters and plaques off the wall in an attempt to obscure the beast’s vision and slow it down. He sees my hesitation and yells for me to go. I know it doesn’t matter if I die this round or the next. He shoves me through the door and locks it.

I stay by the door and hear Campbell shouting, taunting the beast. There is a massive crash that shakes the wall and dents the doors. His shouts turn to screams. Soon, all I can hear is crunching.

The woman and child are crouched by the corner of the building. I silently shake my head. Another end has come; we become groggy and can’t fight the sleep.

Wakefulness comes in a forest near sunset; this time I hold the black blade. It is finally my turn. I knew it would come, but still I am scared. Internally, I question my bravery; will I follow the example set by the others? Their sacrifice gave another turn to the ones behind them, but ultimately they saved no lives - pointless.

I hear what I know is the beast crashing through the trees at some distance away. I judge the heft of the curved black blade in my hand; I swipe at the air in front of me imaging an attack. A few feet away to my left I see the woman clutching the boy; both are looking at me for guidance.

I listen again for the relentless foe and point in the opposite direction and say, “Run!”

They take off, and I follow with my weapon hand pointed back behind me. We find our way onto a path and follow it. As we go, I feel the beast is closing in on us. I know that I won’t be able to see it coming in the approaching darkness; I’ll have to focus on my hearing.

The path leads to a small wooden paneled house with a covered porch. Dry leaves crunch behind us at a quick and steady pace. We leap onto the porch. The woman tries the door; it’s locked. I motion for the woman to go around the back. The boy stays with me. We turn around to face the sounds from the trees.

The boy tugs on my arm wanting me to follow the woman with him. I do not want to go; I hear the beast is near. I allow him to pull me to the left of the porch as I see a great shadow cover the wall.

I don’t want to be on the ground for some unknown reason; I tell the boy that I don’t want to be on the ground. I grab the boy across his shoulders and hold him to my chest. Do I want to protect him or use him as a shield? He screams for us to run, but I feel that it is too late for that.

My time is now. I push the boy in the direction that the woman ran. I turn and face the relentless beast.


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