19th of Triabra, 1212AP
The events happened so quickly that May barely had enough time to process the information, let alone assess what her next move would be. She had run out of the level clearing and jumped back down the mountainside, into the trees, jerking her weight in midair to twist fully around and let loose the arrow in her grip. She watched it fly, wobbling from the various forces pushing and pulling against its minuscule, aerodynamic form. The bow string whipped the palm of her hand, breaking skin, but she payed it no mind. She watched the arrow arc in its flight, curving from the strange manner in which she released it. Finally it steadied towards its target’s thick brown coat.
May Aresha didn’t know if she hit her mark or not. Upon her aimless descent back into the forest’s thick brush, her back met bark. Hard. It pushed the wind out of her, twisting her fall around the trunk and throwing her into the leaves below, face first. Her momentum kept her plowing down the mountainside, the leaves beneath her making her slide ever more frictionless. She grabbed hold of her senses, and dug her boots and hands into the soil.
Finally she halted, kicking a tree and a boulder, and she let her momentum bring herself back to a standing position. A great rattling roar leapt from where she had been just moments before, like bones scraping and clattering against one another, fighting for freedom from the confines of such a terrible beast. The Rattlehulk had been hit.
May had no time to celebrate the incredible shot. She couldn’t breathe. The impact of the trunk had knocked her breathless. She struggled for air, groaning as pain shot through her torso. She leaned forward to grab her bow, but abandoned the idea as a new set of pangs began to surface. The strange pang of bones poking about where they weren’t supposed to. My ribs! The shock allowed her a brief relapse of air, and she choked in all she could manage.
The Rattlehulk only allowed her enough time for a few precious, painful gulps of air, before it blundered after her. As it hit the tree line, the great mass of fur and bone stopped its insane rattling roar, and began a purr-like hiss. It pushed itself furiously between the trees with its two mighty limbs, it’s long, girthy tail, wrapping and wriggling around the forest floor, kicking up leaves and dirt in its wake.
Oh hyll no.
May reached to grab another arrow, but the tumble had cost her nearly all of her quiver’s contents. Only one remained. The others must have been scattered about the mountainside. No time. Fire! FIRE! She dropped to her knees to pick up the bow, and pulling the string back fast (despite the searing pain in her back and chest) let the arrow free. The monster stumbled right into it.
The arrow glanced off the Rattlehulk’s face, which was without fur or skin. Black secretions oozed from the hulk’s fleshless eye-sockets and maw. It barreled forward, squeezing its way through the ranks of most of the trees, shattering the rest with its taloned fingers. The dual horns on its head removed branches and pockets of canopy that dared stand in its way. It needed May.
Just as May had needed to find her father, Burelik, just moments earlier. Her father, a trained hidehunter, had been gone for far too long from their hometown in Furmount. May had followed Burelik’s trail, only to find that they led straight to the Rattlehulk. The same Rattlehulk which was now dangerously close to trampling her, like the trees it chose not to maneuver around.
May slammed back to the present. She leapt and ran to her right, then up, and about, climbed up a tree, and swung off a branch. Instead of evading it, like the Rattlehulk had assumed she would try, May jumped onto the creatures back, cracking the wooden bow onto the flat of the monster’s neck (which thankfully wasn’t just bone). The wood splintered on contact, leaving behind two halves connected by rawhide string. May quickly stabbed one of the sharp splinters into the Rattlehulk’s shoulder, but before she could drive in the next stake she was thrown up by the tail, and swatted into a tree. The Rattlehulk wriggled and writhed in pain, pushing its back against tree branches to dislodge the object. All the while it gargled with bones and hatred.
May’s body throbbed all over. The tail had swatted her hip, and her leg hit the tree. Not to mention the bones she already suspected were broken. She rolled away from an incoming swipe from the Rattlehulk’s talons, which ripped a sleeve from her shirt.
She got to her feet and started moving down the mountainside, favoring her left. Am I sweating or am I crying? She thought about this only briefly, realizing there were more pressing questions to face, such as: how the hyll am I getting out of this alive? She hopped down a rock ridge, and found a small hole covered by rock she could easily hide in, before the monster could see her do so. And she waited.
May could hear the Rattlehulk’s labored breathing, even though it was still a ways off. She could feel the ground shake with every tree it snapped and step it stomped. And that horrible rattling. It drove her to tears, if nothing else, and she covered her mouth. She closed her eyes too, hoping to never see such a thing again. She also hoped the small, hidden shelter would be enough. Can it smell me? Unlikely, as the black goop also fell from its slitted nostrils. The creature slowed, clicked about a bit, and searched around other trees. And then it went silent.
“May?” A voice broke out from the woods. A strangely familiar voice. “May, is that you?” Now she was truly crying – a hushed sob, which hurt more than all her broken body did combined.
“May. Don’t be afraid.” It was the voice of her father… but it was muffled. Distorted. The voice crept closer. “May, come back out. The Rattlehulk. It won’t hurt you. I promise.” The last two words came out dark and satirical. A rattling chuckle permeated the forest then, seeming to echo about from all areas at once.
May stepped out of hiding, staring the thing in its face. It happened to be standing just outside her shelter, waiting. It’s thick brown pelt smelled like death and fecal matter. On the underside of its immensity, was a large patch of beige skin. May was terrified of the thing. But she forgot her fears entirely when it spoke with her father’s voice. Now she was just angry.
“How dare you use my father’s voice, foul beast!”
“I could use another, if it please you,” this time speaking with a little girl’s childlike innocence, which in some ways was more disconcerting. It just wagged its tail, left and right, rustling the leaves on grass.
“And what? You want my voice to add to the collection?” May pulled the knife slowly out of a hidden sheath on her thigh, without the Rattlehulk knowing.
“No dear. I only want your bones.” She recognized this voice as one of the other missing hidehunters from town, but her chance to put a name to the voice was cut to an abrupt halt as it opened its jaws wide and dove into her.
Before the Rattlehulk could sink any of its terrible teeth into May, she stabbed the hidden knife directly into its left eye-socket, producing a fresh spray of the black substance. Some got onto May’s wrist and immediately began to burn. The Rattlehulk forgot it’s human voices and whimpered like a wounded carabrin dog, recoiling and staggering back. It wailed anew a terrible cry.
May tried to wipe off the black ooze from her wrist as she ran, but she couldn’t remove it entirely. She limped up until she reached the red-tinged grass. Walking the last few steps, she turned around, stopping just before the large pit below. The trees here were different – tall and young, and old and small. The bark had warped into an unnatural curve. The air itself was thick and felt unsafe to breathe, but May didn’t see how she had any other choice. She waited, wiping the remainder of the black substance on her leggings.
The Rattlehulk charged forward, not parting for any tree in its path. It shoved through them, tackling them head on. It was going to rip May apart. The ooze in its eye bounced up and out, splattering across the entire left side of the bone-faced monster. It wasn’t slowing its speed; it would plow right into her, perhaps goring her with the horns on its head.
She dropped down the hole, catching herself on the ledge. The Rattlehulk fell for the trap, jumping forward, directly into the pit. Directly into the paradox.
It screamed with a sound she didn’t think it previously capable of. A sound of purest agony. Pulling herself back up, she turned to take in what was transpiring. The gyrating, shapeless, orb of pulsing red, spewing streams of light and darkness in equal measure, was pulling the Rattlehulk into its grasp. The beast used its limbs and talons to attempt to crawl to safety, while simultaneously swatting its large tail to disentangle, or to swim, or to fight the anomaly.
“May!” It screamed with her father’s voice. “May, come with me! Please! I’m so hungry. May. May. MAY!”
The paradox was folding in on itself, a shape enveloping another shape, while simultaneously also being both shapes. And the Rattlehulk continued to writhe and wail and… rattle. Until both the paradox and the hulk were gone in a puff of static and electricity, which too was soon gone. Forgotten.
May sat there for a bit, slack-jawed.
She had won.
But it certainly didn’t feel that way.
– – – – –
Writing prompt taken from Writing Excuses, episode 10.6.
Writing Prompt: Think about the last time you lost at a game. What was the process of thought that led to your loss? Now, replicate that moment in the dramatic structure of the story, except the story isn’t about games.