Dismay wreaked havoc on the Mad Poet’s mind, felling the content smile from his face.
He reached the clearing totally oblivious to the troves of denizens, some frothing at the mouth as if rabid, following behind him to find that his fire had gone out. It wasn’t the fire’s absence – it would be simple to reignite, just pile on needles and twigs until they smoldered alight – but the total lapse of smoke and even heat rising from the ashen pit that struck him so callously. It was as though he had never lit the fire, the wood burned up so completely and totally as to leave behind not so much as a single length of charcoal. He couldn’t even write if he wanted to, and so the Mad Poet fell to his knees, the butt of his spear locked into the ground the only thing keeping him from dusting his face.
“It is not the end of days,” he had to remind himself as he stood back up on legs which decided to wobble. “I built it from scratch and I shall build it again. And this time, I’ll remove the metal.”
Yes, that sounded all well and good to the mind of the ‘man so deranged he wished to burn a cabin down so he may step inside, but what of the fish? He could not spark a fire with only one hand, nor could he lay the fish in the ashy dirt, it would ruin them. He looked up at the cabin then and slowly calmed himself down. The cabin was strong enough for him to sleep against, surely it could support the weight of four fish and the slender pole which skewered them.
“I’m going to drive myself crazy if I keep jumping to conclusions and allowing such minor inconveniences to affect me so drastically,” he said aloud, proceeding towards the cabin. “The talking to myself probably isn’t helping either, but…”
But it’s better than the silence, or at least he presumed. In truth Albey hadn’t given the silence a chance since he’d been out here, not consciously. Before the moon of the prior night rose he walked great distances without muttering so much as a single word, but that was not by choice. He simply didn’t have the energy to pay attention to that which lurked outside the realm of his mind, not unless his feet caught against it and threatened to spill him out on the forest floor. In truth, any talking out in the wilderness is too much talking, even when such is required for survival; ‘man is the only species to disturb the sounds of nature with the noises of his speech, but then again, does ‘man not have a mother in nature? Would the world not surely fall were it not for ‘man’s interference? It would likely fall regardless, he was tempted to say aloud, but chose not to in favor of listening to whatever the forest may have been trying to tell him in that moment, and listen he did.
And what he heard greatly disturbed him.
As soon as Albey set the tip of the spear to rest against the flat slab guarding the cabin and the treasures within, a rustling broke out behind him. He turned quickly and shaded his eyes, squinting so he wouldn’t miss a detail, and he saw the bottommost branches of a brambly tree shaking at the edge of the clearing. This was not like the waving of the branches in the wind when Albey was so naïve as to believe those branches were covered in soft fuzz and not sharp, pointy needles, but an angry shaking, a disturbance in the Peace, and from within it came a nasty snarling. There was something there, something starving, something with a nose which caught a scent of the smelly fish Albey picked from the river like fruit off a vine, and there stood Albey between it and its goal. He could hear it growling, hissing, sniffing the air and shaking about in the bramble, preparing itself for a fight to the Death, for what is a Life if that which lives it cannot fill its belly with an easy meal every now and again?
Slowly Albey bent at the knees and picked up one of the dusty riverstones which he dropped from his lap this morning. He would only have one shot, he reckoned as he straightened up and parted his legs, arm reeled back into form. ‘If I miss it will charge, and all will be lost. A static target is one thing, a moving target another.’ Yet still he stood frozen, listening intently, his breathing steady and measured, his heart beating silently in his chest.
The rustling broke. The denizen was surely crouched, readying a strike. He would not get another chance. Albey whipped the stone as hard as he could towards the branches that rustled no more, taking a step forward and then two more as the momentum of his toss carried him, threatening to steal his Balance. The crouching denizen in the brush did not make a sound, though the impact of the rock did, the sickening crack of a splitting skull as blood pooled and soaked into the fur on the beast’s head. The wilderness was silent for a moment, as if observing the passing of one of its many children… then the birds began to chirp, the crickets began to sing, and the wind continued to blow.
Albey doubled over at once, his breathing haggard and throaty. He was suddenly overcome with exhaustion, he could have collapsed right then and there never to rise again… but it passed, as all things do. He straightened up once more, took up two more of the riverstones – one in each hand, just in case a bludgeoning was called for – and proceeded toe-heel towards the still patch of needled branches which once rustled with fever. He spread the branches, ignoring the poking of the needles into his hands, and took in a sight most disheartening.
“Oh Albey,” he whispered to himself, dropping the stones at his feet. “What have you done, you Mad fool?”
‘Twas not a wolf, nor a coyote, nor a threat of any kind, simply a fat raccoon who caught a whiff of fish and wanted a bite for itself. Its legs were splayed out beneath it, its tail flat and motionless, its eyes open wide, as it died too quickly to close them. He stroked the grayish brown fur of its back–
‘still warm it’s so warm by the divine ones what have I done?’
–and closed his eyes, lowering his head to say a short prayer for this lost soul who finally found the clearing at the end of its path. Mayhap Iuqon and Ram’rl were waiting for it there, mayhap they greeted the raccoon with plump fish and juicy berries and everything else it would ever want in its Life which it no longer lived, which was stolen from it by a ‘man so swept up by fear that he thought slaughter an appropriate path of action.
Its fur was very soft, though rough and matted in places. When Albey took his hand away, he was mortified to find large clumps of it clinging to the sweat which seeped out of his palm.
“By the divine… what rancidity is this?”
He looked closely at his victim then, and in a sick sort of way, was relieved at what he found. The ‘coon was not healthy – its hide was mangy, entirely bare in some places, and likely ravaged by parasites. Its claws were dull, its tail notched as if it was broken long ago and healed improperly, and great swathes of frothy foam bubbled from its mouth, still baring its teeth, most of which were black with rot. The animal was sick, not with the Plague of Decay but sick nonetheless, and Albey had put it out of its misery. Yes, he would surely go Mad if he kept jumping to conclusions like this; everything is as it should be, just as it always is.
Lifting the fallen ‘coon by its crooked tail – how a denizen so fat could weigh so little sent a cold shiver down Albey’s spine, for it must have been sick for many strates and suffered most of its Life – Albey carried it a solid trek into the forest where he found a fallen log which had not yet rotted to the point of disintegration. He laid the raccoon down on a rock, paying no mind to the crimson streaks which fell from its head, no, paid them no mind at all, and pushed the tree with all his might. It did not budge far, but it did not have to; the ground beneath it was crawling with worms and centipedes and ants and beetles, all manner of Life which would make quick work of the job they would soon receive. Using a flat piece of rock, one which peeled off a larger rock like a layer off an onion, Albey dug a deep trench into the fertile soil. This grave was not as deep as those he dug for Iuqon and Ram’rl, but it was plenty deep enough, and as Albey dirtied the raccoon’s fur with the first handful of dirt, a single tear fell from his left eye. Not for the raccoon, nor for his fallen friends, but for himself, for Albey the Poet may have been Mad, but he was no fool. He would likely perish in this cabin in the clearing if he did not perish in the clearing itself, or mayhap in the forest around it; this rivered island would serve as the place of Albey’s Death just as it served to start his new Life, but he would not be buried. His carcass would be picked clean and the bones left to bake under the sun until they crumbled to dust, but the Mad Poet would not be buried, for there was nobody left to bury him.
Without a word Albey ventured out to the river, cleaned his hands in the water, and returned to the clearing so he could prepare his first meal. The first of many meals he would be blessed to have. The first of the last meals he would ever eat. Many denizens watched him go, but none followed behind. The sun peaked in the cloudless sky; high noon was upon him.
This has been the third subchapter of the second chapter of The Face of Fear, a novel about bigfoot written by the writer in Untitled Bigfoot Project. Here is everything you need to know about it:
I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.
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