We all have confessions to make, secret deceits, hidden sins. They weigh heavily, like red welts raised on our disfigured souls.
I have my own confession to make, one that I intended to carry beyond my funeral and down into the brimstone, but there are times when a story needs telling.
There are times when a story needs telling, and the truth staggers free, like a drunkard emerging unscathed from a bar-fight, or like a bright red balloon flying through the inked-black clouds and brown-grey-green haze, high above the smokestacks.
I’m a monster-hunter, me. It’s what I do, or what I pretend to, at least. There’s not as much difference between those two things as most’d have you believe.
Shut up and listen, boy. You might just learn something from this.
I was sixteen and terrified. The waterlogged clay sucked at my feet, and swirling clouds of swamp-gas muffled the whistling birdsong, the ominous caw-caw ing of unseen ravens, the shield-maidens of Death. It’s not for nothing that they call a flock of ravens a ‘murder’; they haunt the carrion-fields left in the footsteps of the Empire and point to the latest incarnation of some hillbilly’s eternal feudin’. The smell of wet mud and slow-decaying trees was cut through by the iron-taste of blood freshly spilt and of entrails left to rot in the sun. I knew he must be around here somewhere. Willow-trees kissed the mirror-face of the water, and a vast palisade of razor-sharp reeds clicked and murmured as the wind ran its invisible fingers through the murk.
It’s important to take note of the details, to colour your story later on – you’ve gotta try to find ways to captivate your audience. It’s the story they pay for – not the deed. Any fool handy with a blade has got the same chance as any other, as long as you use your head. They’ll give you a few coins when you come back in with its head – but they’ll ply you with drink and with women if you tell the story right.
Get yourself a thesaurus, or a lexicon, or a dictionary.
It’s your words they pay for.
I walked, softly into the gloaming. The sun broke through here and there, golden sinkholes in the fog-blanket. I walked to prove my manhood to the village. My heart hammered in my chest, a primitive drumbeat, goading me onward. I was terrified. A jeweller’s bag of mayflies erupted before me, and I dove forward, face-first into the muck.
Flickering tongues of fire twinkled ahead of me – the village loomed, jeering. Already mocking me.
I’d had enough. I stood, and set about trudging through the reed-forest, homeward. Giving up.
The flickering orange-yellow-red stars began to wink out, one by one.
The sound of screaming rang out through the still air, and the ravens were circling.
I rushed, as much as one can, through the squelching water, wading, floundering in my battered, borrowed armour. I heard the beast roar, in triumph or in pain. He bellowed, and the sound seemed to empty the world as I emptied my bladder. The warmth of my piss trickling through my leg hairs woke me, and the fog lifted, the rotting wood of the long-abandoned causeway revealed. The boards complained and shifted as I ran, not heeding their creaking warnings. More than once the planks collapsed and sunk down into the mud at my passage, opening up canyons beneath my feet, waiting to suck me down, into the cold embrace of Death.
I crested the hill and saw the smashed-through matchsticks, all that remained of the village’s ringwall, saw the bodies, torn and flung like grisly bunting around the streets. I saw the last defender, quaking with terror behind their last redoubt, a makeshift blockade flung up around him.
I saw the beast, could smell its musk through the settling night. It drew itself up behind him, rearing, ready to attack. I screamed at that dwarfed figure in the distance as I staggered toward him, stumbling on the slick grass.
He turned, lance raised as the beast fell upon him.
The lance pierced its throat, and a majestic red rose blossomed against the bone-white fur. The beast belched and collapsed. The knight was grievously injured, and I did what I could with my limited medical knowledge – I dragged my blade across his neck, three times, to match the ravaging claws of the monster.
I stripped him of his armour, and deposited him on the other side of the village.
Then I lit the distress fire and squeezed beneath the body of the beast.
The King’s men would arrive soon.
So you see, lad. The art of monster hunting is in the telling of it. I was feted around the kingdom, then around the Empire. The whole continent knows my name. You’re welcome to my story, to my confession – you did me a kindness, letting me lift that weight from my mind. You keep it to yourself, though, lad. If I hear anything, any rumour of truth around my legend I’ll come for you, boy.
Written for one of Terry Whidborne’s Sunday Sketches, after he challenged me to write a longer story for one of his prompts than I usually do. As well as for this week’s StoryDam prompt: confessions. Aaaand I smuggled in the ten words that Chuck Wendig challenged us to use, which can be found here. Thanks for reading, any comments and criticism always welcome!
Oh, and I accidentally used some of this week’s BeKindRewrite prompts, Shhh! and Water-logged, apparently. Sweet!