FICTION: Monsters by Hamish Campbell

It was out of the darkness the monsters came. Screaming beasts, with hands of flame, lunged out of the inky black with a stomach churning cry that tore into your brain like the teeth of a lion. Wrenched from your dreams so suddenly, there was no time to think. Panicked, you ran. You all did. Within seconds, your family had disappeared into the gloom, as terrified as you were. You tried to follow, but the stars provided little light on the open plain.

Still, you ran. As fast as you could, you ran, over grassland and rocks, through bushes and thorns, ignoring the pain as the world itself conspired to tear the flesh from your bones. And still you could hear them. Still you could smell the fire, the elements themselves at the command of the wretched beasts. They had not stopped. They were coming for you.

Your legs carried you, even as your body demanded they stop. Traversing woodland and marshes, water and mud, driven by terror and the sound of death. You ran as fast as you could, but their guttural shouts filled the air. Still they had not stopped.

Your ears and your nose guided you where your eyes could not. One wrong step and it would be over. An errant stone, an upturned root, error would spell doom, walking would bring disaster. You had to persist, you had to keep moving. By luck or by skill you had not fallen yet, but neither had they. Their stench, of rotten flesh and sour sweat, touched your nostrils. Still, they had not stopped.

Through the twilight they chased you, and every moment you stopped for breath, you knew they were there. Sometimes close by, sometimes much further away. But they never stopped. They followed you in an endless march, unhindered even by the night sky.

It is morning now. You hang your head and pant, heart pounding as you survey the horizon. You don’t see them. Perhaps they are creatures of the night, repelled by the sanctity of daylight. But it is foolish to take chances. Your eyes dart from left to right, scanning the surrounding plant life for signs of movement. Nothing. You can’t smell anything unusual either, and hear only a gentle trickle. You see before you a river, calm in the daylight breeze, and you stop to take a drink. It is very long, splitting the earth in two before you, and the water sparkles in the early sunlight. Flowers bloom from the grass below, small trees dot the ground. The morning has brought peace, and your heart slows. Water has never felt so refreshing. Soon, you shall have to find your family, your doting mother, your brothers and sisters. They are lost in the wilderness, probably as alone as you are, some not old enough to look after themselves. It is going to be a long time before you find them all.

But for now, it is time to rest, if only for a few moments. The light is welcome, but the heat of the sun spells death for a reckless traveller in the wild. You eat a little as you ponder your next move. You think you fled westward, but there is no way to be sure. Perhaps following this river provides the safest option. Certainly, your family would have to drink too, and as far as you are aware this is the only place to do so for some miles. Your plan decided, you turn right, moving East, following the morning star. Bushes line the bank, providing separation from the water’s edge, safety. Beasts lurk in the water too, and carelessness is rewarded with death.

The wind picks up a little, and you catch a familiar scent. Before you, the land rises into a slight hill, and you know on the other side, your sister waits. Younger than you, alone and trapped, she must be terrified. You call out to her, and she calls back. Her voice trembles, but relief swells through your body. Fear is to be expected. The troubles of the night before will not be easily recovered from, but soon you can start to heal. You run towards the hill, but before you reach her, she calls out again.

She is screaming.

The odour hits your nostrils like the charge of a buffalo. Before you can react, your sister bounds over the hilltop, racing towards you in frantic abandon. Behind her, you see it. A billowing cloud of smoke rises, and you know what follows.

You turn as she reaches your side, and flee. Your every instinct tells you to sprint, to tear away and save yourself, but you can’t leave her, not now. Not after everything you’ve been though. Her cries of aguish ring in your ears as your muscles strain. You’ve been running too far, for too long. The night before catches up with you as you feel the stress on your heart. The distance between you and your sister widens as your pace slows. She is very young, and weaker than you are, but it was not her the monsters chased in the night. It was not her they pursued in the darkness, relentlessly, endlessly, through harsh terrain with hands of flame.

The realisation dawns on you as she disappears into the distance, and old horrors seethe into your mind like disease into an open wound. You try to sprint, to return to your flight, but your body will not allow it. It is as if your innards are tearing themselves apart, the pain intensifying even as you move slower, and slower, and slower.

The monsters shriek. From out of the trees they come, painted beasts with hideous faces. Their limbs are of impossible proportions, some bathed in fire, others longer than their entire bodies. The fire behind you, the monsters encroaching around you, there is only one way to go. One last chance for salvation. You spy a potential crossing point, narrower than most of the river, and leap. There are dangers here, but those which lie behind you are like nothing you have ever seen before. You swim.

The current is slow, but you are exhausted, and even the smallest resistance is a mountain. You desperately try to keep your head above the water, drawing frenzied breaths at every opportunity. The monster’s calls are quieter, further away. Persistent they are, but they have not followed. You reach the riverbank, and bow your head. You have escaped. Finally. Your legs buckle underneath you and you collapse. Your body is fragile, your mind almost broken, but you are not dead yet. You glance back the way you came, and the monsters stand at the other side of the water. You have won.

THUNK

Your flesh rips apart as something tears into your side. You rear your head and scream as the pain sears through your body. Monsters appear from the surrounding bushes. One of them thrusts its freakish limb towards you, and it bores into your chest. You feel the blood burst from your mouth, and reflect on the futility of your plight. When the monsters come for you, there is no escaping. As darkness overwhelms you, you think of your sister. Monsters do not prey on the weak. They feast on the strong.

*******

“You see my brother” said the hunter to another as he wrenched his spear from the antelope’s corpse “with patience and skill, there is nothing on this earth that can escape you. We shall eat well tonight.”

Hamish Campbell

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Hamish Campbell is a Manchester based professional wrestler. And apparently a writer now, too. He is a man who has to wear a shirt and tie every day in his ‘real’ job, but has never felt completely comfortable doing so. His natural scruffy appearance always manages to pierce through the smart and sophisticated veneer. He knows it’s true. His friends tell him so.

If you enjoyed Monsters, leave a comment and let Hamish know.

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