Monday, February 27, 2012

Flash Fiction - Night of the Fenthakrabi



Very quietly, Jamesen pulled himself out the window. His little brother Wysim was still in their bedroom and looked terrified, as if he were the one about to walk the dark forest path.

“Don’t latch the shutters,” Jamesen whispered.

“But the monsters will get me,” Wysim protested.

“Don’t latch it. I need a way back in,” Jamesen said. He had already gone over this with Wysim after swearing him to secrecy with imaginative threats.

“All right, but I gotta make it look shut,” Wysim said and pulled the shutters back in place.

“Go to bed,” Jamesen whispered through the shutters after making sure his brother had not latched them.

Turning away from his family’s modest thatched-roof cottage, Jamesen scanned the village. A full moon hung over the roofs. The voices of men drinking in the village square drifted down the lane, but otherwise Wa Gira was snug in bed. He dashed toward the rickety stockade and climbed it easily. He was a wiry and strong lad and about to prove himself to the older boys.

Young men this side of the river distinguished themselves by approaching the Wilderness. Although everyone believed the legends about the Wilderness with unwavering zeal, Jamesen had accepted the dare to enter the forbidden. Yancy, Dugger, and Jesh had all said they had done it, and Jamesen meant to do it too.

His thumping heart fired his courage when he dropped to the ground outside the village. No one guarded the fence. The barrier sufficed to keep wild animals out, and he ran across the fields without any worries of being seen and stopped.

The mottled face of the glowing moon seduced the black heart of the night. The magical light ushered Jamesen into the wild lands. The lushness of summer swelled from the fields and pastures. Singing insects and the high fluting calls of night birds added layers of life to the fruitful land.

The Wilderness was always close. Its omnipresent lifeforce menaced frontier enclaves like Wa Gira that only pecked at the vast unknown wilds like squirrels rummaging for nuts in piles of leaves.

Jamesen ran westward across the fields. The forest loomed and he scanned its dark edge that scoffed at the moonlight brightening the open places.

He slowed when he ran beneath the trees. His friends had to be close.

“Come out. Don’t try to spook me,” Jamesen called.

Crickets kept screeching and the whine of an approaching horde of mosquitoes were his only reply. Bracing himself to endure the bugs, Jamesen called out again.

Three howling screams came from three directions, and Jamesen jumped with alarm even though he knew who was there. Yancy, Dugger, and Jesh lunged out from behind trees and grabbed him. Jamesen laughed. They shoved him around a little but not with malice.

“We thought you’d be too scared to come,” Jesh said.

The darkness hid Jamesen’s frown. They were silly to underestimate him. He would prove his daring, even if he was two years younger.

“I want to see it,” Jamesen said.

“See it? If you see it, you’re dead. Hearing it is being close enough,” Yancy said.

This statement pricked Jamesen’s adolescent bravado with a thorn of proper fear. Yancy picked up a lantern he had hidden in some ferns. With the tiny light, he led his friends deeper into the forest. The path disappeared. They picked their way slowly and often tripped on bulging roots. Jesh insisted it was best to stay quiet so they would not attract a hunting predator. Moonlight penetrated the tree canopy in random places, and the erratic shafts of silvery blue highlighted old gnarled trunks.

After groping across land that inclined upward for a long time, they reached rocky outcroppings at the base of cliffs.

Dugger pointed to a massive old pine. Its wind-bent top reached as high as the cliff.

“So that’s the tree I must climb?” Jamesen whispered.

“Yes,” Dugger said.

Jamesen studied the gap between the tree branches and the cliff top. “There’s no way any of you jumped across,” he accused.

“No,” Yancy admitted. “We just say that to impress you younger boys. Anyone with balls enough to come here learns the truth. You just need to climb the tree.”

Jamesen’s courage gave way to caution as he pondered climbing up that high. He wanted reassurance that the risk would be worth it.

“If I go up there, then I’ll hear the fenthakrabi?” Jamesen said.

The other three boys gasped. “Don’t say its name,” Jesh hissed.

Jamesen regretted the lapse. He knew better. Finding out that he did not actually have to set foot on the forbidden land was a little comforting. No man who ventured there ever came back, and it made sense that the boasts of the older boys were not entirely true. They had just looked in and listened for the beast. “I’ll do it,” he said.

The boys boosted Jamesen into the tree. He climbed carefully. Pine needles scratched him and the bark was rough and sticky on his palms. When he reached a gap in the branches and had no way to safely go higher, he judged that he had gone far enough. He could see into the untouched forest on the higher land. Large trees crowded the edge. Roots gripped the exposed stone for dear life. Jamesen stared into the leviathan of mystery that loomed over his tiny life. He felt as small as a sparrow and wondered what the shadows within the untouched forest were hiding. Legend said that this was the gateway to a land where Gods had fought a war and only ghosts remained. He strained his ears but heard only the normal sounds like in the woods around Wa Gira.

It seemed like he waited a long time, but the moon had only moved a little. Uncomfortable and starting to miss the firmness of Ektren beneath his feet, Jamesen began to wonder if this whole outing was a big joke. Maybe the other boys had left him. Maybe the fenthakrabi was just a story meant to scare children. Maybe no one ever went beyond the cliffs because there was no reason to go there.

Convinced that he had just made a fool of himself and would have to hike home alone, Jamesen started down. He disliked the sticky pitch building up on his hands. He knew it was hard to wash off, but at least the scent was pleasing.

When he dropped to the ground, he was happily surprised to find his companions still present. Yancy raised the lantern. The yellow light from the tallow candle revealed his young face with a sprouting mustache. “Why did you come down so soon?” he said.

“This is just a joke. I don’t believe you ever heard it,” Jamesen declared.

“Give it more time,” Yancy said.

“I swear I heard it screaming up there when I climbed,” Jesh said. “We’ve all heard it.”

Dugger nodded with such solemnity that Jamesen began to believe them again.

“Go back up. You can’t come this far and not stay to hear it,” Dugger encouraged.

Wishing that he had not given into his impatience, Jamesen reconsidered. He wanted to hear it. More importantly he wanted to be able to brag about hearing it.

His companions boosted him into the tree again. As he grabbed the first branch, a shrieking roar bludgeoned the boys with terror. Much too close, the shriek sounded again and a chorus of adolescent screams answered it. The hands holding Jamesen’s feet were torn away and he barely kept his hold on the tree. Frantic as a squirrel, he pulled himself up onto a thick branch and watched the violence unfold below.

The lantern had fallen when Yancy flung up his hands in a futile attempt to ward off the beast. The candle managed to stay lit and its meager light revealed the shaggy bulk that crushed Yancy to the ground. Two arms swung with brutal strength and claws ripped Yancy’s torso open. While Yancy was still screaming on the threshold of death, the fenthakrabi whirled. Nasty long fangs gleamed from its long snout. It pounced toward Dugger who was staggering backward in terror. Its long golden mane streamed back from its vicious head. It tackled Dugger and ripped him open too. Jesh dashed into the forest. The fenthakrabi snuffled after his trail before circling back to its eviscerated victims.

Jamesen moaned as the fenthakrabi gobbled the organs of his friends. With a shriek, it looked up at him. Jamesen was shaking so hard he almost lost his grip, but then he tightened his hold until the rough bark cut his hands. The fenthakrabi went to the tree. Its claws dug in and lifted its muscular bulk. Jamesen screamed and shut his eyes, but he knew his paralysis was certain death. Dragging his courage out of hiding, he climbed to the next branch. Growling, the fenthakrabi reached the first branch and snarled and snapped at Jamesen’s feet. He went a branch higher. The fenthakrabi tore into the tree trunk again, but the branch beneath it broke and it fell twisting and roaring. It hit the ground hard but jumped up quick and slashed at the tree in a fury. Jamesen climbed higher. Five times the fenthakrabi climbed into the tree but could never gain purchase into the higher branches. Finally it returned to its victims.

Even from his height Jamesen could hear chomping on juicy flesh and crunching of bones. Smacking lips intruded vividly onto his mind even as he shut his eyes tightly.

After a while a second beast came and a fight erupted. When the dispute was settled, one fenthakrabi dragged away a body and the first one stayed to finish consuming Yancy.

All night Jamesen wept in the tree until his dehydrated body could yield no more tears. When dawn came he peered with crusty eyes through the pine boughs. The fenthakrabi lounged on its stomach next to the grotesquely ravaged remains. Its bloody fur was bright with unrepentant savagery in the morning light. It lazily licked an exposed femur until it fell asleep.

Jamesen clung to his perch, exhausted but knowing he could not fall asleep. He might fall. He passed the day in a horrified stupor while the fenthakrabi napped. Crows began landing in nearby trees and cawed impatiently. Late in the day, the fenthakrabi began digging and throwing dirt and leaves over Yancy’s remains. Then the unholy beast moved off with a half upright gait.

This could be his only chance to get away, but how close was the beast? Eventually he accepted that his thirst and hunger would weaken him rapidly, and he would need strength to run back to Wa Gira. He meant to run very fast.

Slowly he came down the tree. When he dropped to the ground, he expected to be immediately assaulted but nothing happened. Despite telling himself not to, he looked at the mound that covered what was left of Yancy. Jamesen shivered with guilt. He never should have said the name of the beast on the threshold of its wild domain.

Then he was running. The soulless beast might be tracking him right now, but hopefully the two he had seen were too gorged to hunt.

He wondered if Jesh had gotten away, but mostly Jamesen longed for the blissful safety of home. What madness had driven him to seek the fenthakrabi? The need to prove his bravery now presented itself as inexplicably stupid.

Staggering with exhaustion, he tripped and put out a hand as he fell. A painful snap in his wrist jolted him out of his daze. Moaning and gritting his teeth, he got back to his feet and hurried onward, cradling his broken wrist.

When he heard shouting, his shocked mind could not process it. Jamesen screamed when a group of men rushed toward him. They were men from the village. Jamesen’s hysterics eased as he was comforted by the presence of his community. His father rushed forward and embraced him gratefully. Jamesen blubbered that Yancy and Dugger were dead. He learned that Jesh had survived.

Jamesen had seen the fenthakrabi and lived. He had a story to tell, but he would not brag about it. He wished that he had been content to simply believe the legends. Believing was better than seeing.

###

Thank you for reading this fantasy flash. The world depicted in it was taken from my epic full length fiction. Please consider my novels available at http://www.braveluck.com/.

Free samples:

Union of Renegades http://www.falbepublishing.com/braveluck/free_ebook.html

Rys Rising http://www.falbepublishing.com/braveluck/free-fantasy-ebook-rys-rising.html

Copyright Tracy Falbe, all rights reserved

This flash story is a work of fiction. The characters and events described herein are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not done on purpose by the author.

Cover image is licensed from Fotolia.com.

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