Two predators will cross the Mad Poet’s path before he reaches the T of the Ouroboros River, one significantly more threatening than the other. Neither shall threaten him bodily; one will raise gooseflesh and stand the hairs on the back of his neck.
The first, by far the greater threat, is a lone skunk, and a runt of a skunk at that. Albey comes upon it in a particularly sparse patch of burnwood trees, a plot of land where many of the trees seem to have died and fell at roughly the same time, mayhap even by the hand of the same storm, creating a massive deadfall the likes of which would swallow whole any ‘man who wasn’t daring enough to briskly run up and over it. The skunk is no ‘man, though, ‘tis merely a skunk, and it stands nonchalantly upon the deadfall with its head buried into a trench it dug into the soft, rotting wood with its long, sharp claws, like flanks of blasted metal they are. Without trying Albey snuck up on the striped fiend and now he fears the worst, that he will end this expedition smelling worse than he already does; the burnt reek of ashes is an awful smell indeed, but compared to the spray of a skunk (the urine of a skunk, that is, for skunks spray urine when they are frightened and no longer wish to be in the presence of that which frightens them) it is freshly bloomed irises growing from soil soaked in rose oil.
The skunk, however, knows the Mad Poet is there, and it pays the ashy-smelling ‘man so little mind as to actually lower its tail further to the fallen tree as its claws tear free hunk upon hunk of soppy wood in search of meaty grubs and other decompository delicacies. The ‘man does not know this, nor can he sense it, and so he tries to make his presence known, taking his ka into his own hands.
Albey strikes the forest floor with the butt of his spear, but the skunk does not turn ‘round to face him. One throwing stone held in each hand, Albey brings his palms together in a sharp crack which should, by all rights, send the skunk off riding a mean streak of green, but still the skunk digs away, a fiend for the grubs.
“Hey!” Albey shouts insecurely, and when the skunk still does not break away from the dead log, he decides to just move on. A few paces away in a tone bordering on studious, Albey notes, “The denizens in this forest are so strange. They do not seem to fear ‘mankind, only be ‘ware of me. The cabin’s previous tenant must have something to do with this, the behavior defies any other explanation.”
That’s almost correct, too, and not terribly far off for a Poet as Mad as Albey, but there is an alternative explanation his mind is avoiding, seemingly with intent, an explanation that he does not allow to occur to him until he stumbles across the second predator, the mere sight of which stops Albey dead in his tracks, which triggers in his brain a specific neurological response and gives him the urge to take rapid flight.
Directly across the river from the spot he built his rockstack and took his first drink of water the afternoon he woke – of course Albey does not realize this synchronistic serendipity, not consciously at least, merely in a subconscious way like how an animal will feel its emotions – Albey comes across a gray wolf, quite possibly the same one he saw the day before when it broke a branch and roused him from his morning meditation. The fear this wolf instills in Albey the Mad Poet does not come from the beast itself, not from its hulking and muscular figure nor its rough and bristled fur nor the dark air of menace it inspires with its razor claws and serrated teeth, but the condition the wolf is in.
Albey’s wolf is dead on the floor of the burnwood forest, its head bashed into a grisly pulp of blood, bone, and fur. A large rock sits next to the corpse. The rock is covered in tacky blood, shattered bone, and bristled gray fur.
“By the divine…” Albey gasps, dropping his weapons, dropping himself to his knees. “What… what could have–”
But he doesn’t finish this thought, does not allow himself to do so. His expedition is almost over. The sun has begun to set. If he admits now that what he read in that awful, strange book might actually be real, then… then what? Then he’ll be somewhat prepared to face it? Then he might have a chance of escaping before he meets the same fate as the wolf?
“There’s no escaping that,” as he fights the wave of nausea which sweeps him to his feet. Woozily Albey ambles over to the slain hound, weapons still laying in the needles, and examines the wolf’s back right leg pinned beneath it. “It’s the same wolf… by the divine, am I not in about the same place where I first saw it cross the river?”
You are, Albey, though I am not a divine one in any shape or form, nor can you hear my words. If you could perhaps things would be different, but alas you can’t, and so they are not.
“I watched it cross the river…” he says, reaching for the rock. The blood is not dry, but it’s not exactly wet, either. It’s tacky, sticky. This may not have happened recently, but it did happen today. “It forded the water and hobbled this far…” Albey touches the soft burnneedle flooring. “It came to lay down, to rest its weary soul… but it did not die in its sleep.”
No, it surely did not. A wolf does not sleep on its side, not the side with a leg so damaged it could not set its paw on the ground. A leg so hopelessly broken that the wolf willingly crossed water, soaking its fur and slowing itself at the sight of a mere ‘man, and one without a weapon.
“It was disturbed, stirred from its sleep…”
A vision of the battle plays out in his mind’s eye; what Albey sees deeply disturbs him, shakes him to his very core.
“It stood and snarled, mayhap it even yelped…”
What killed this gray wolf was wily, intelligent, strong and swift indeed. A lone wolf who separates from its own pack is hard to find, even harder to track down… but a lone wolf that its pack separated themselves from… Albey gulps.
“Something awful did this, something grisly, cruel, and wicked…”
Yes, the culprit is surely all of those things, but it (or they; more likely than not ‘twas a they who felled this most savage of beasts) did not commit this atrocity on a whim, nor were they guided by random chance. It must be understood that there was intelligence behind the design of this kill. ‘How else would they know to break the wolf’s leg to get it away from its pack?’
“I need to get back to the cabin,” Albey says, backpedaling to his dropped weaponry. It’s all still there, thank the divine ones, and Albey grabs it with haste. He goes to run but stops to look at the wolf again, at the white-flecked crimson splatter that was once its head. They didn’t even take the body, they killed the red-eyed beast for sport.
They killed it for fucking sport.
“I must return and never leave again.”
This has been the sixth subchapter of the third 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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If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~