A Gift To My Faithful 5 of 6

Happy Holidays everyone! I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million more. I never became a professional writer for the money. It’s damn near impossible to make a living in the internet age as a novelist or journalist. I do it because I love it. Plain and simple. That being said, I’m going to give you all six stories between now and Christmas absolutely free. All of these appear in my short story collection “Six From Five Seven”. You can purchase a copy if you feel froggy, but I refuse to beg. I’m not starting up a clothing line either. No rules, just write. Enjoy!

NEMESIS

(Originally appeared in the MBLA anthologies Beasts: A Dark Ethology Vol. II, Beast: A New Beginning, and the 2020 Splatterpunk Anthology of the Year nominated anthology Dig Two Graves Vol. I by Death’s Head Press.)

The beasts invaded without warning. Evil-minded creatures the likes of which I’d never encountered before destroyed everything in a matter of minutes. The screams of my mother and siblings have ceased and I know for certain it won’t be long before they begin searching for me. It’s evident that their agenda doesn’t include loose ends. I’m the one that got away. The only one. My time approaches….

As I lay quietly in the forest underbrush, I can see only shadows caused by the blinding lights of their vehicle. They are taking the bodies of my sisters and gutting them with some type of sharpened weapon. My mind races and my eyes fill with tears as they skin them, tossing their bodies aside as though they were objects without souls. I know my sibling’s troubles are over now and they can’t feel anything, but that doesn’t make it sting any less. It was my responsibility to protect them but what could I have done? We were outnumbered and taken by surprise.

Moving to the deepest depths of the forest had been my mother’s idea following my father’s death. The victim of a hunting accident, the general belief was that he was swept away by an angry river and carried to his demise, never to be seen again. I was still young when forced to take the family crown. My sisters looked to me for protection and guidance as though I was some type of god ruling from an invisible throne. I have failed them. I can only hope their spirits will be gentle to me in the great beyond.

This night began like any other. The snows of winter were finally being washed away by springtime rain and we spoke joyfully of our plans and dreams for the coming year. From the corner of my eye, I could see the approving look of my proud mother as I listened attentively to my sisters’ hopes and childish fantasies. I could do nothing but share in their joy as they played on the floor like hyper, buzzing bees. These were the little moments in life I lived for. I existed vicariously through their youth while unsuccessfully hiding from the shadow of my own. It was ripped away from me at such a young age that I had trouble relating to their behavior from time to time. Still…their angelic, innocent smiles were enough to keep me tolerant and brave. I was lost in one of those moments when fate came knocking.

We were blinded by an unusual light that revealed only the silhouettes of the invaders. The remnants of our evening meal flew as I jumped to defend my family. Backing them all into a corner behind me, I fought both fear and confusion as I faced the intruders. Their girth only allowed them through the doorway one at a time and I saw a chance to take the upper hand. I lunged at the first one who came near us, but my strike seemed to have no impact at all. They boasted an unusual type of protective skin which was impervious to even my fiercest attack. I was batted away and thrown hard against the opposite wall. Dazed, I noticed that more of them had entered our home and were spreading out to surround us. I ran toward the light as though I was no longer in control of my own body. My only thought was to escape while I could and regroup under the protection of the forest. I realized too late that none of the others followed my lead and fell victim to the desires of those in charge.

There is nothing much I can do at this point. I’m vulnerable against their weapons and strange armor as well as outnumbered. My only choices are to lay here and witness their cruel carnage or retreat further into the woods. I cringe at the snap of a breaking twig underneath my weight and see my enemies turn their attention to my direction. The second round of this night’s unwelcomed festivities is now underway. Fuck…

I can hear the creatures communicating with one another in unintelligible voices. Their language is completely foreign to my ears but it’s easy to tell that the conversation is far from pleasant. The larger crowd seems to be singling out one of them and he is pointing his weapon in the vicinity of my temporary sanctuary. He’s obviously the omega in their pecking order and is being instructed to do the bidding of their pack. I can tell that he isn’t happy, and an argument is ensuing. They’re surrounding him and the tone of the conversation has escalated to an unmistakable clash. He’s defeated, hanging his head and turning to face my direction.

I can see him reaching deep within his armored hide as he pulls another unknown object from a hidden compartment. Illuminating an unusual sphere of light that he holds in his hand, he’s searching for the source of the noise in the bushes. My nerves are electric, but I must fight the instinct to act upon their instructions. I slow my breathing as the light moves closer and closer to my position. I must draw him further into my domain and catch him off guard. I know these trails and trees like no other and he’ll be at a disadvantage against my years of exploration and instinct.

Carefully examining his every move as he approaches, I can sense the fear flowing through his body. He doesn’t want to engage in this pursuit any more than I want to battle for my survival. Still, the taste for revenge remains on my tongue and I intend on delivering regardless of the outcome. If I delay the confrontation long enough, perhaps I can discover a weakness in his protection and assist him quietly on his journey into a bloody oblivion. If I can dispatch their fool without evoking the attention of the remaining group, it could afford me the chance to escape.  A cowardly sacrifice would do my mother and sisters no justice, nor would it protect other innocents who would soon confront these beasts. If anything, I’m going to prevent this loner from ever placing his claws on another victim without thinking of me.

My would-be captor is closing in.  Only a few feet remain between us. I can smell hints of his foreign scent and it offends me knowing my young siblings experienced it in their final moments. His orb illuminates my surroundings like a tiny sun and my moment arrives. I lunge at him with the velocity of lightning taking him totally by surprise. I knock him flat onto his back causing his belongings to scatter and his light source to extinguish.  Then, I turn and run. Splashing through puddles, I sprint for freedom deeper and deeper into the forest. Behind me, I can hear a unified explosion of what can only be translated as laughter. I recognize this. The others are taunting his misfortune. I stop at the edge of a flowing stream to gather my bearings. With one eye still in the direction of the coming devil, I lean down to drink the cool water. As expected, the tiny light glows once more behind the shadowy trees and we continue. I have successfully separated him from the rest of his group, and he now plays by the rules I create.

Ignoring the babbling brook running underneath my chin and the symphony of raindrops on the leaves, I can hear him approaching carefully. His growing fear is obvious by the hesitation in his footsteps. This also tells me that he’s unsure of my exact whereabouts. Loudly, I splash down the stream in the opposite direction of his approach until I know for sure that he’s taken notice. I suddenly see his light change directions and my plan goes into effect. Further down the stream I dance until I reach a burrow created by an overhanging tree’s exposed roots. I place myself into the natural indentation in the streambed and I’m confident that I’m safely hidden. Going over my plan one last time…I await the creature’s arrival.

I take advantage of what little time is afforded to me and search the immediate area for any object that can assist me. My fears are quickly realized.  I find nothing. Over the years, I’ve often played hide and seek with my young sisters along this stream, but I never once thought I’d be utilizing my skills with such a deadly consequence. My mind keeps returning to the horror of their demise, shown to me in flashes by the blinding signal of the creature’s arrival. Without warning, my trepidation gives way to intense rage, and I welcome the arrival of my target. My searing breath is rising in billows through the chilled night, and I know it’ll soon reveal my location. I calm myself for my meeting with fate. He splashes his large feet into the water causing ripples to pass by my hiding place. He approaches.

I crouch down lower behind the exposed tree roots as one of his armored feet comes into view. Suddenly, there’s a static crackle upon one of the devices hanging on his skin and the voice of the alpha fills the emptiness of the surrounding woods. I hear the omega place the unknown device into his hand and reply. He is distracted and this is the opportunity I’ve been hoping for. I burst from the confines of the tiny cave and catch him completely off guard.

I hear a scream of terror from the beast as he drops his communication device into the stream. The static ceases with a splash and I hope that the water kills its functionality. I run around him in a frenzy, repeatedly striking his body with all my strength but, again, it causes no damage. I spin my body in the streambed and the velocity causes me to slide backward through the mud.  I turn all my strength and speed toward him for a tackle. The beast begins to flail his limbs frantically as he loses balance and falls face-first into the freezing stream. I quickly jump atop him and force his face deeper and deeper into the water that rises higher with each falling raindrop. The gurgling squeals of his foreign language escapes through the bubbles created by his horrid breath. I press harder against his head and his limbs soon cease their spastic fight for freedom. His screams are replaced by the subtle sounds of the forest as the singing stream seems to celebrate my victory. I roll to my back in exhaustion. I stare past the canopy of trees at the few stars brave enough to peek through the clouds on this horrendous night. With a renewed sense of being, I give a triumphant shout signaling to those who remain that their weakest link has failed. If my hunch is correct, I only have minutes before the next highest in the beasts’ pecking order arrives to take the place of the fallen.

Something inside me snapped to life in that moment the life left the body of my pursuer. Even though my original plan was to escape from those who murdered the ones I love, I know now that my purpose on this evening is to take their lives one by one. I no longer feel the fear of the unknown and my destiny becomes clear. I drag his defeated body into the cave under the tree to conceal his presence and cause of death from the others should they choose to come share in his fate. They will. I know they will. They’ll come fueled by vengeance because of the unknown whereabouts of their fallen comrade but, with any luck, they’ll come individually. If that is the case, they’ll meet a similar demise. Again, I shout my signal deep into the night but, this time, it’s returned by screams of confusion which I can neither translate nor comprehend. The others know…and they’re coming. This is exactly what I want.

I peek above the edges of the stream bank and notice their lights searching the woods. As expected, they’ve split up individually and only one of them comes my way. The rain intensifies and the terrible scent of my newest victim wafts to me on the breeze. This one seems a bit surer of his abilities because his advance is definitely quicker than that of the one who came before. A sharpened weapon is already drawn in the hand opposite his light source and an expression of what I can only translate as anger is smeared across his alien face. That’s just fine with me. Anger clouds the minds of the weak and it’ll only make for an easier kill. A flash of lightning fills the clouded night sky illuminating the outlines of the skeletal trees. Taking advantage of the temporary spotlight, I reveal myself in challenge. His eyes fill with fire as he turns his full attention on me. With one last shout, I welcome him to the edge of his death.

I waste no time with the stare down. I run full speed at my foe as he wildly swings his weapon. Clumsily, he stumbles onto his back, and I jump atop his chest for the death blow. This is too easy, though, and I’m not quite ready for it to be over. I meet him eye to eye and return his scared gaze with aggression. I bolt into the forest every bit as suddenly as I’d attacked. There, I’ll await his advance. Peering over my shoulder as I flee, I see the two others run to his location.  Again, their laughter fills the night as they help their partner to his feet. He brushes the wet leaves from his body and strikes one of the others who immediately ceases his taunting.   This gesture reveals to me the identity of the group’s alpha and gives me another hint of hope regarding their extinction by my hand. Internal conflict within their ranks is an obvious sign of weakness. The one toward whom he’s shown aggression will be less likely to assist in a dire situation. Little do they know, a dire situation is well on its way.

I slow my advance to give my newest target a chance to catch up. I wouldn’t want him to cease the chase so soon and return to his comrades empty-handed. That circumstance could cause them to leave these woods without their just desserts and I’ll be damned if I let that happen. Circling back, I run around him once more in a show of confidence causing him to scream at me. I can feel his frustration intensify as his words grow louder. I suddenly stop in a taunt of bravery and await his pursuit. Without fail, he begins his advance in my direction. His quickened steps graduate to a running gait as he chases me over fallen branches and through thorny brush. Fortunately, the weight of his belongings slows him down, giving me the advantage of speed. I hear his strained breathing as he struggles to keep up.  

I no longer care how crazy this evening’s pathway would seem to anyone else involved in a similar situation. Granted, the number of my oppressors almost guarantees certain death, maybe even a type of assisted suicide, but I no longer care. The images of my butchered family replay endlessly in my vengeful brain without showing signs of stopping. The mere thought of what they must’ve felt in my absence fuels my pace toward the next obstacle in my agenda. It’s another location I know well, hidden deep within the maze of trees that I call my home, and it will provide the advantage I need to dispatch my newest friend.  

Momentarily slowing my flight, I can hear the raindrops pelting the roof of the abandoned structure to my north and I know I’m near my destination. I never knew its origin. All I knew was that it simply existed. It housed a darkness unlike anything else in the forest and I remember being scolded by my father on numerous occasions for being anywhere near it. He always thought it was way too dangerous for me to be around and was scared my little sisters would someday follow me there to certain doom. Its corridors stretched on forever and possessed a scent which lingered in the emptiness that somehow seemed familiar. What did my father know that I didn’t? Had he faced these creatures before? Was he trying to protect me from them? Why didn’t he warn us of the existence of such things? I wish he were here now. I can’t help but feel that my family would still be alive if he’d been the one calling the shots instead of me. No time for doubts, though. He isn’t here. I’m officially the last of my blood and I’ll be damned if any of it is spilled on this night without a proper fight.

As I pass beneath the threshold of my old structural nemesis, I pause once more to make sure the monster is still interested in the game I’m offering. The wind of the storm screams through the crumbling, wooden nightmare stirring up uneasy feelings of my childhood and my many days of exploring its lonely grandeur. The haunted hallways beckon me nearer and I know what I have to do. I can see the bright light coming closer from the edge of the tree line and I give a slight smile knowing he didn’t give up the chase. The creature shows no signs of slowing as he bursts through a wall of bushes, causing an explosion of wet leaves. I shout at him to gain his attention and his unintelligible reply is a sign of success. He changes his course and begins to step surely in my direction.

I disappear into the structure but realize I can no longer discern the creature’s scent from the hundreds of unknowns now invading my senses from inside.  He pauses at the doorway and searches frantically in the blackness using the ball of light in his left hand. This is a good sign that the creature lacks the ability to see in the darkness, giving me another advantage. My memory of this place is forever embedded into my mind, but his light source will assist him in avoiding the dangers originally planned. Removing it from his grasp is the next item on my agenda. It screams at me in its own language and, even though I can’t understand the words leaving his mouth, I can tell they’re not words of encouragement or friendship. They are words of death. I run deeper into the darkness.

Slowing my breathing once more, I curl into the furthest corner of a small room. The heavy rain on the roof is working wonders to mask the sound of my breathing but it’s also affording an equal advantage to my foe as I can’t hear his approach.  I listen with all my might as he searches the halls for my presence. I rack my brain, digging deep for any possible scenario which could free me from my current situation, but nothing readily comes to mind. The internal voices scream at me to run but I must ignore them. For the sake of the lives lost before my eyes, I must fight back. If I don’t defeat them on this night, the possibility remains that they could return in greater numbers and better prepared for anything my feeble being could offer. I drift away into my past.

Through sudden dreams, my childhood is revisited in short, choppy scenes of exploration in the old structure. Instinct and fate had directed me to this very spot for a reason and I planned on using it to my advantage. The solution comes with a twinge of repressed fear that attacks my spine with electrical bursts. I search through years of wasted thoughts to acquire the exact location of my savior while the beating rhythm above me paces the journey like a soundtrack to life’s cinematic presentation. I know where it is. I know exactly what to do.

I spring back to the present as my enemy clears the doorway, illuminating my location with his light source. I hear him grunt in surprise upon his discovery and he approaches with self-assurance. Just a few more steps and he is mine. Without warning, he halts his approach and crosses his arms as though the conflict is already won. He speaks to me at length as if he believes I can understand his strange language and lets out what I have come to understand is a laugh. Is he revealing his plan to me? Is he rehashing the story of the evening in order to compound my already seething anger at his very existence?  I stare toward him blankly as he finishes his story and draws his bladed weapon for the approach. Now!

I dodge the weapon with a quick zigzagging motion and strike the light from his hand. It immediately falls to the hard, stony ground of the structure and shatters into a dozen pieces.  The darkness, my only advantage on this playing field, has returned. Using memory and instinct, I traverse the void in search of my destination, leaving him far behind to continue his clumsy, blind search. I await his approach once more, this time at the furthest end of the main hallway. He stumbles about with no way to locate me or the building’s exit. With luck, he will ignore the latter and continue his quest to destroy the one who’s unexpectedly made his night’s activities quite difficult. I begin to scream at him through his opaque surroundings to ensure the desired result.  He obliges.

As he approaches, my mind wanders into his own. What thoughts were going through his head when he first approached our home? Was he fearful of the outcome or always confident of winning? Did he show any remorse toward the slaughter of my young siblings and mother or was it just part of his evil nature to deal death wherever he roamed?  These were the questions destined to haunt me until the end of my days. I can only imagine they’ll come to visit me in nightmares as is often the case when one experiences something so traumatic. As he continues to fumble through the darkness in my direction, I feel a momentary sense of pity for the helpless creature and the death soon to envelope him. It doesn’t take long, however, for that feeling to give way to the images of this particular creature striking his weapon repeatedly upon the faces of my sisters. Yeah…fuck him. This bastard dies tonight.

I continue to shout, directing him my way and bringing my plan to a conclusion. As he nears, I see him searching his body for another unknown object. He brings another orb of light to life, smaller than the first, and he’s shining it directly into my face…but it’s too late. Losing his footing, he stumbles forward into the chasm that separates the two of us and falls to his end.  I grin with satisfaction as the screams of his descent are suddenly silenced by the impact with the ground dozens of feet below the floor of the building. His now malfunctioning light still provides enough illumination, allowing me to see that he lies motionless in a growing pool of his own blood. His armor may have prevented me from offering death earlier in the conflict but performed poorly in saving him from the impact of such a fall. There are no feelings of remorse as I celebrate the creature’s demise at my hands. Only two more remain.

The crackling communications device at the bottom of the crevice echoes against the stone walls carrying voices that express what I can only assume is concern.  Then, silence once again fills the dark hole and I know that they’ll soon be searching the vicinity for what remains of him and the one responsible for his current state. I hope like hell they find him eventually. I want them to know it was me and that death will be coming for them as well. I am coming for all of them.

I exit the cover of the building at blinding speed and search the woods for any signs of my enemies. The rain has now slowed to a bothersome drizzle no longer offering me any type of stealth. A dense fog now takes its place and I pray that it’s indeed a gift to my advantage. As it envelopes my body along with the surrounding trees, it becomes the perfect cover for my ever-developing plot. It will intensify my would-be captors’ light sources and give me a more desirable early warning of their approach. I listen attentively to the forest.  It doesn’t take long at all.

To the west of my location, down the hillside, and toward the edge of my wooded surroundings, I can hear the two of them speaking face to face without the use of their communication devices.  I can see they have moved their search into a more open, safe area of the forest in order to keep far from what could possibly lurk among the shadows. Knowing two of them in the same place at the same time might be too much for me to handle, I’m certain a plan to separate them is inevitable.  Every moment I hesitate is another the two of them have to plot my location. I must act now.

I run screaming directly at them, catching them off guard. They bolt in different directions leading me to believe my plan is working…so far. They appear startled and confused as I buzz their location and I hear their alpha bark at the last of the lackeys. I am certain his orders were to follow me. Turning, I notice that he’s followed the order without hesitation. I slow to allow him, the largest of the group I’ve encountered, a chance to catch up when I notice I’m in a section of the forest I’ve never visited…or at least I don’t think I have. My heart sinks.

It is almost as if the trees have been stripped from the earth and all which remains of their former glory are the stumps. As the low-lying fog begins to envelope the mountainside, what remains of this section of forest peeks a mere three inches above its cloudy invasion. Where in the hell did it all go? Are these creatures responsible? What could do such massive damage so quickly? Granted, I’ve never ventured far from my home during the snows of winter but I’m certain that a lush, wooded sanctuary once existed here. Saddened with my search for an explanation, I carry on into the misty darkness with nowhere to hide from my pursuer. I guess the time has finally arrived to stop running.

As I turn again, I notice he is staring at me curiously as though he’s trying to figure me out.  His head is cocked slightly to the right and the moonlight through the low hanging mist illuminates his strange eyes in an almost horrific fashion. Terror sends a streak of electricity down my back, but I swallow it hard, showing the creature no sign of my fear. Our contest of nerves ends with his sudden movement.

From underneath his armored protective layer, he pulls forth what I can only imagine is another weapon. This one looks nothing like the other strange objects displayed on this evening. He holds it as though he doesn’t have plans to strike me with it but points it like some kind of extension of his own hands. Luckily, I am outside his range and can easily dodge him in the opaque clouds cloaking the ground around us. Still, he stares curiously and now, what I can only interpret as an expression of joy, begins to develop across his ugly face.

I am knocked to the ground by an unknown force. The feeling of a million stinging bees burns the flesh of my right shoulder as I scream in pain. The creature’s weapon reached out and touched me from a great distance, causing my vision to blur with each throb of pain coinciding with every beat of my heart. Stumbling, I attempt to regain my balance but it’s becoming more and more difficult with each feeble attempt. This may very well be the game-changing blow that heralds my inevitable failure. Shaking it off to the best of my ability, I run deeper into the forest graveyard and duck low into the fog for cover. His footsteps follow slowly behind me.

Is this really the end for me? Is this the result of a childhood’s worth of training at the hands of my father, failing time again until perfection? His final words replay in my mind along with the thought of how disappointed he would be if he were standing here at this very moment.  No, I won’t let this be a biography of my failure. I won’t let his spirit down. I won’t let the spirits of my tiny sisters and mother down. I won’t let myself down. I reach deep within my soul and find the strength to stand. I feel the return of the fire in my soul, so I direct it at my target.  

I begin springing frantically all around the large being and he fires his projectile weapon at me. As I duck in and out of the foggy cover, I can feel the ground erupt in hundreds of fragments at my feet. He fires again only to realize I’m no longer within his aim. My vision begins to blur again as the searing hot blood flows from the gaping wound on my shoulder…but I must ignore it. I must. This is my story, and I am the hero. I must be victorious. For the sake of my murdered kin…I must be victorious. I will be victorious. My conviction takes hold and I spring back to life only to find the two of us face to face with his weapon holding steady inches from my face. I close my eyes tightly welcoming the arrival of oblivion.

Click.

There’s no other sound of thunder. There’s no slap in my face announcing the reaper’s arrival. Opening my eye slightly, I see him gaze at his weapon in awe and frustration. Taking this opportunity as a blessing, and possibly my last, I throw the weight of my body into his, causing him to fall backward into the soft muck. Clawing at him frantically with the only weapons I have available, we fight the fight of legends and roll down the hill toward the trees on the edge of the clearing. The moonlight is now shining brightly, and it flashes brilliantly each time my body rolls from back to front. Dizzying from the tumble, I fly free from his grip and stand my ground firmly while he attempts to recover. Changing the grip of his malfunctioning weapon, he holds it in a fashion similar to his comrades before him. I inhale deeply and prepare for the fight to continue.

The beast begins to swing his weapon at me wildly and screams into the night with rage. I have obviously put a damper on his plans for this evening and his frustration is palpable. Luckily, I know that a frustrated enemy is a weakened enemy. I search through his frantic actions for a anything to exploit. His massive size lumbers through the darkness and he strikes the ground around me with supernatural force. I dodge the attacks as best I can, causing clouds of dirt and foliage to fly all around me. Then…I see it.

Realizing I’m no match for his size, I run deeper into the forest to regroup. I hear his approach as I hope for a chance at redemption.  His clumsiness is clear evidence of his faltering focus. Despite their planning and abilities, the four invaders have failed to kill me so far and I pray his judgment is clouded enough to send him directly to join the two who’ve died before him. Just as I’d hoped, he passes my hiding spot behind an enormous tree and stands with his back to me.  He’s exposed. He’s finally at my mercy.

I knock him hard onto his face as his fall creates a cloud of debris around us. I strike at him with every limb available, but he flips onto his back to embrace me with a death grip. He grabs my neck with huge hands and my air supply is immediately cut off.  I feel my throat being crushed.  The blood flow from my wound increases and miraculously, some of it sprays him in the eyes. Blinded and cursing the situation, his grip loosens. My opportunity presents itself like a gift from the gods.

I slam my mouth onto the exposed flesh of the creature’s neck, sinking my teeth in hard.  I pray that my last resort is successful. Reaching deep through muscle and bone, I clamp down with all my strength as my victim screams in a new fashion. This time, it isn’t out of anger or frustration. It’s out of unimaginable pain. Death is coming for him. I recognize it and hope he does as well. It’s the same suffering call for help my siblings gave. Those horrible cries went ignored. They were shown no mercy at the hands of this being and his partners. Perhaps a better individual would be so magnanimous as to shower pity on the mortally wounded monster, but I find myself with none to show. With my teeth engaged in a death lock inside his skin, I spring backward with amazing force, ripping his neck open and spraying the area with fresh blood. His breath gargles through torn flesh and I witness his muscles twitch with pain impulses. I spit the horrible taste from my mouth, watching him gasp for his final breaths. With his last exhale, my wish is granted.

Silence…but only for a moment. I stand alone as the call of crickets and hooting owls begin to fill the air. Wounded, fading, and curious of my fate, I send another scream of victory signaling the alpha to my intentions. Live or die on this night, I know the hardest battle still lies ahead and I prepare myself.  I shove my bleeding shoulder deep into the fresh mud to slow the bleeding. A cake of muck now covers my wound and I hope my attempt at repair will hold long enough for me to engage my nemesis.

From the direction of what remains of my former home, I hear the creature’s vehicle spring to life and its lights invade my arboreal surroundings once more like an unwelcomed visitor in the dead of night. The alpha is attempting to escape with what remains of its dignity. I ignore the pain springing up from my shoulder and sprint madly into the woods, through the strange clearing, and over the stream to my family’s grave just in time to see the craft being piloted away from me. I quicken my pace to follow but it’s to no avail.  The vehicle’s speed is incredible as it navigates through the trees along the mountainside, but my failure is not an option I’m willing to accept. On a hunch, I leave the pathway made by the vehicle through the brush and enter the forest to try and intercept my fleeing victim.

After what seems like an eternity of silent darkness, my hopes come alive as the vehicle screeches to a halt in another clearing just ahead of me.  My thirst for vengeance beats back the pain from my wound and the fear of the unknown as I bolt at my target with one clear objective: a showdown. I stand firmly in the artificial glow of the craft’s strange illumination and await the next move. I have almost died so many times tonight that I’m no longer worried about the coming battle. I belt out a scream of challenge for the creature to depart its vehicle, but I’m suddenly surrounded by the black as my enemy’s transport becomes quiet. The fourth and final phase of my struggle draws near, and I fight back all emotions.  Suddenly…everything feels wrong.

More artificial lights come to life from above and all around me as the alpha springs from its vehicle, shutting a strange, honeycombed barrier preventing my escape. I run frantically from corner to corner only to realize I’m now trapped and lay victim to the beast’s desires. I feel myself fading from blood loss, but I battle through it as I soon realize I’ve been lured inside their den. A half dozen similar vehicles are positioned all around me and their makeshift homes block my exit into the woods. My survival instinct starts me screaming for help, but I know my calls are in vain as there’s no one to hear me.  My quickened breathing brings on feelings of euphoria as I collapse to the ground in exhaustion. Looking up at it through fading vision, I realize I’m being examined with equal curiosity. It’s hesitating, delaying my demise. As it takes a few steps in the opposite direction, the layer of protection that armored the others against my attacks is removed. I can see my enemy clearly for the first time. It’s a female.

A crimson-colored cloak that surrounds her head is removed revealing similar colored hair and a pale, almost translucent face. Attached to her back is another unusual, yet elegant looking weapon I’m certain will spell my end in the near future. I watch her pace back and forth angrily. She sloshes through the muddy mess caused by the evening’s torrential downpour. Suddenly, she stops in her tracks and locks onto my dying eyes with her own. She begins speaking as though I can understand her. I have no choice but to let her finish the monologue as I lay fading on the ground before her.

“You know…you must be the smartest, most cunning wolf in the entire fucking state of Montana,” she screams at me in her unintelligible language, “but this ends now! Do you have any idea what you’ve done tonight? Do you have any fucking idea how much money you’ve cost me and how much you’ve set back this operation? You’re fucking dead, you furry bastard, and I’m going to make sure I kill every last one of your goddamned buddies up on that mountain as well!”

Even though I can’t understand a single word leaving her mouth, I continue to listen attentively.  Every second she spends telling me her life’s story and recapping the current one is a second that I continue to live to concoct a plan of escape. As of this moment, it appears no plan of that nature exists. She continues.

“It was supposed to be a simple little job up in your den like any other. We trap you, we kill you, we skin you, and we make money! Simple, right? Fuck no! You had to go and screw the whole thing up! We got your little friends up there tonight, though. Those little bitty ones…what were they? Your daughters? Your sisters? Yeah, we skinned the hell out of them, and they’ll make for a little bit of spending cash this weekend. That older female, though…was that your wife? Your mother? I plan on making a shit ton of cash off of her pretty ass! Hell, I might even keep that one and hang it on my wall. Better yet, I might put her just inside my front door and wipe my dirty ass feet on her when I come in from work every day. Does that piss you off, fucker? You can’t understand me, but I know you CAN understand where this is all going. I killed your damn family tonight and you are next. Your ass isn’t going anywhere!”

I give another howl for help, but it disappears into the darkness beyond without a response. I’m on my own. The pain in my shoulder has intensified and the blood has begun to escape once more through the temporary bandage of dried mud. I can tell the alpha is getting angrier with each word of her story. I know the time for her silence will soon arrive as well as my end.

“Let me take a few moments to explain exactly what you did tonight. You killed three of my men! Three! I’ve been doing this job for two years and it’s dangerous as hell…but I’ve never lost a life on my watch. We have logged and cleared a big chunk of this mountainside and I have NEVER lost a single man. You killed three in one night!!! You, a simple wolf managed to kill three of my best and most loyal woodsmen and I am completely baffled by your abilities! Do you even care about who they were? Do you know that they had names, lives, and families? No…I bet you don’t…because you’re just a fucking soulless wolf that runs around and pisses in the woods all day and tries to kill my workers every time we get near your den. Well, you son of a bitch, you screwed with the wrong woman because it’s my job to protect these men and terminate you and all of your little brothers and sisters out there having sex like rabbits while trying to outnumber us. Not anymore, you asshole. This shit ends with your death.”

Her mounting frustration is evident as she begins to pace faster and faster in the mud, each of her angry steps sinking deeper than the last. She halts her advance with a jerk and crosses her arms as though she’s come to some kind of realization. She begins to spread the digits of her upper limbs as though she’s counting something.

“Let’s see…the first guy you killed tonight earned the nickname “Straws.” I never have any idea what these guys’ real names are because they all go by nicknames, they prefer it. He was one of my newest. He was a skinny little bastard that barely had the strength to lift an axe, but he was a ‘yes man.’ I like ‘yes men.’ They don’t question your shitty orders and do whatever it is that you want them to do. I wish I’d had more like him only stronger. He was an Army washout from Fort Gordon, Georgia and a lumberjack job seemed to be the only thing he could find. He had a little girl back home he was trying to support. He hadn’t seen her in years and now, because of you, he never will. She will have to grow up knowing that her fucking father was killed by a wild animal. Do you know how badly that is going to screw with that kid’s head? Can you imagine the years of therapy she’ll have to go through? Can’t you just hear all the school kids making fun of her because she involuntarily pisses her little panties every time a dog comes near? You drowned him in the creek. You drowned him! His tiny little arms weren’t strong enough to even raise his own head out of the water under your weight and you fucking drowned him!”

Without warning, the female alpha runs toward me and plants one of her armored feet into my stomach, causing a large amount of breath to leave my body. I scream at the sudden pain only to have the sound cut off by my lack of breath. I inhale deeply with a raspy gasp trying to regain conscious but it’s proving to be difficult.

“Next, there was that rapist asshole they called “Sticks.” Of course, they only called him that because he would stick his dick into anything and everything that moved and you probably did him a favor, in all honesty. He would’ve probably died from some type of crazy venereal disease before it was all said and done. Something crazy and never before heard of that would make his dick all bumpy to the point blind women would be able to read it like it was some kind of secret braille message! Shit, he even tried to get with me a time or two, but I have a tendency to like my bed partners a little on the softer side, if you catch my drift. A little more female, if you must know. He was paroled from a Texas penitentiary shortly before I got this bodyguard job. He wasn’t the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree but dammit, he was handy with a chainsaw!  I will probably never get another one like him and it’s your damn fault. I should go get that chainsaw and ram it up your furry ass! You lured that dumb bastard into the abandoned mine, and he fell down a hole and died. Death by hole. It’s funny in a way…almost ironic…but just plain wrong!”

Again, she runs at me, but this time kicks me directly in the face! The sudden, stinging pain in my jaw tells me a tooth has been knocked from my mouth. I know at this point that death is near, and no help is coming. The alpha female flails her limbs wildly as she continues her oration.

“Lastly, there was my goon. My strong man. My muscle. We called him “Bricks” because he was built like a house! He could haul around trees on his shoulders like he was some kind of truck, but he was a baby! He was still a teenaged kid!  I mean…I just talked to his parents on the telephone yesterday when they called and asked how he was doing! I told them he was fine! I told them he was fucking fine! Now, I’ve got to go and make a phone call to them a day later and tell them that their baby boy had his throat ripped out by a fucking wolf! A wolf!!! He still slept with a teddy bear for heaven’s sake! You beat the shit out of him and ripped out his throat like he was a nameless piece of meat! I mean…men are swine…but they didn’t deserve the fate you offered them. They were MY swine. My three little pigs…”

As the alpha lunges toward me one more time for another powerful blow, I hear the forest come alive around me with the howls of a dozen of my brethren. She stops her advance as she sees the piercing gaze of their eyes glowing from the artificial lights high upon their perches. Their rescue calls float toward the tops of the trees at the outside of the creature’s barrier where I’m held captive. The door to one of the beast’s homes springs open and a dozen more males of her species surround the two of us. There is excitement and more confusion in their voices.

“What the fuck are you doing, Red? How the hell did a wolf get inside the perimeter fence and where did all the rest of them come from?  What the hell are you doing?”

I feel the tension in her response as I lock eyes with my kind along the barrier that blocks their entrance. In pairs, the other wolves walk the perimeter searching for a way inside. With a nod of his head, the alpha wolf acknowledges my desperation and barks instructions to his underlings.

“Fuck off, Cowboy, this doesn’t concern you. Take yourself and all the other woodsmen back inside your little huts and go back to bed. This is between me and this little murdering bastard right here. No one gets to cut his head off but me. He killed off three of your co-workers tonight and he’s going to suffer for it at my hands and my hands alone! I don’t need your help and I don’t want your help. If you try to interfere, I’ll do to you what I plan on doing to him!”

I see the lead male creature looking crossly at the alpha as though this is not their first confrontation. I know defeat in someone’s eyes when I see it. He barks an order to his brothers, and they begin to file back into their dens one by one. He turns and offers her one last piece of advice.

“Listen, you dumb bitch…if you have some kind of death wish…that is fine with me, but I’m not going to endanger the lives of the rest of these men over your personal obsession with killing these animals. You strut around this camp wearing your little red hood, giving everyone dirty looks and I’m personally getting tired of looking at you. When it comes down to it, we are invading their world and you can’t reasonably expect them not to try and defend themselves. It is a job. Nothing more. Nothing less. I’m not dying tonight because of your bullshit. Goodnight…and good luck with those damn wolves digging under the fence…”

He punctuates his final words by slamming the door to the entrance of his den, but I see him peering through a clear, protected opening with an obvious smile on his face. It would appear that the alpha is not an alpha at all, but another omega attempting to take control of their pack. She exhibits unmistakable concern as my wolf brethren cross under the perimeter barrier to surround her. In unison, they stop their advance and look to me for instruction. I am rejuvenated by their presence and choose to finish the job I started. This bitch dies tonight. I allow her to speak one last time.

“So this is it? This is how it’s all going to end? You are my harbinger of death? Let me get one last look at all of you before I destroy you one by one. Look at those big ears you have. I bet it’s so you can hear really, really well…but will they be able to hear the approach of your death? Look at those big, beautiful eyes you have. I bet it’s so you can see better in the dark…but I’ll make sure that the last thing any of you see is me laughing above you as you take your last breaths. Those teeth? I’m not the least bit worried about those. I’ll have a necklace made out of all of them by morning. Mark my words. You and your friends huff and puff all you want but no one eats Red. Let’s do this.”

The last words of my father haunt my mind as the two of us face off for the final battle.

“Son, the life of a wolf is a hard one,” he said. “It’s kill or be killed. When the time comes, you’ll have to be a bigger wolf than everyone else. You’ll have to be badder than all the rest. There will come a time in your life when you’ll have to decide which path to follow. Do you flee from death or do you fight it?”

Father, my choice is to fight…and win. I will be the big, bad wolf you always hoped I’d be. I may have failed you earlier tonight, but I plan to redeem myself now. With these wolves as my witnesses, the tale of my victory will go down in our kind’s history as the night the heroic wolf vanquished the crimson-hooded female in an epic battle for our kind’s survival. Generation after generation, these creatures will repeat the tale to their young. Deceitful as they are, I’m sure the roles of good and evil will shift, and the facts of the tale will be lost. As the two of us take what very well could be our final breaths and rush at each other for supremacy, a legend is being born…

Just a quick note from the author: Mankind has the potential to be the evilest of all beasts on the face of this planet. Please support wolf conservation efforts in your area. Thank you. – C. Derick Miller

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