Universe W-2020: The Sideshows 4
Gronk wakes. The air inside the cave is cool and damp, illuminated only by the flame of a small campfire a’burn near the entrance. Two shadows dance among the fire’s glow; the others. The air smells of salt and grizzle. They’re cooking something, perhaps a lizard? A tree rat maybe? Gronk approaches.
Jaggi notices him coming. She slaps Crod in the leg and he drops the roasting stick – there goes dinner.
“Jag! What fuck?!” as he turns to slap her back, except in the face. He lowers his arm when Gronk walks into the fire’s light and sits between them.
“Gronk!” Crod yells out. “Jag slap dinner! Starve!”
Gronk closes his eyes and nods. He looks through the warped cloud of heat towards the mouth of the cave – a storm has recently passed, the sky is a slate gray, yet stable. He must hunt.
A headache accompanies him as he walks into the forest bearing little more than his hands.
Down among the trees in the shady valley he hears a cry of pain. A shrill, ear-splitting cry… dinner? Maybe. Hopping over fallen trees and ripping down vines, Gronk moves listlessly through the jungle towards the source of the noise, his mouth watering as he goes. The tribe hasn’t eaten in days, they never have enough to eat anymore.
Gronk’s stomach gurgles as he approaches a clearing, his view of the spot blocked by the drooping branches of a weeping willow. He walks through and the crying stops, his headache worsening. The source of the wail reveals itself, or rather, herself. Kriga, the first deserter, with her leg trapped under a log. She looks to Gronk with sparkling eyes. Her savior? Maybe.
They talk. Kriga doesn’t have a home, she’s still building one. Last night, or maybe early this morning, she was hunting for lumber in the middle of the storm when a bolt of lightning fell a tree for her. Unfortunately, the tree also landed on her and pinned her down. She points to a rock behind her, sharpened and jagged on one edge, just hardly out of her reach. Gronk’s headache turns splitting as she explains how to chop the tree.
A droplet of drool drips from Gronk’s maw as he grips the stone. Slowly, calculated in his movement like a saber tooth stalking a deer, he approaches the trapped Kriga. He raises the stone above her head and ignores her shrieks, gripping the stone with both hands. So loud. Head hurts so much. Stomach growls. He brings the rock down and she becomes quiet; the headache vanishes. Then he brings the rock up and down again. And again. And again.
The tribe will eat well tonight.
Standing over the corpse, Gronk begins to feel funny. He loses his grip on the rock and it hits the ground next to a fragment of Kriga’s skull. He looks at his bloody hands and his fingers begin to twitch, as if they have an intelligence all their own. Then his whole arm begins to shake, and then the other arm. Suddenly Gronk finds himself on the grassy floor of the clearing, uncontrollably writhing around in the mud. It hurts; his head, his body, everything hurts.
The convulsions continue, intensifying as the light of the sun peeks through the clouds just to slowly slip out of Gronk’s grasp.
A sigh. He hears a scraping noise and opens his eyes to find himself lying in a purple cavern, lit up by the bioluminescent glow of a titian-tinted substance growing on the walls.
“Hello?” he calls out in a scratchy, dry plea. “Is anyone here?”
“Yes Gvoraz, I’m still here,” an exhausted voice answers. “You won’t be for long though; you did it again.”
A tall, slender, blue-skinned being draped in the fur of a larger-than-life three-headed animal crouches down in front of Gvoraz. It hands him a branch that’s been carved into a smoking pipe, the bowl containing a lump of the glowing orange wall substance. The being grabs a burning piece of charcoal from the fire, his hands entirely unaffected by the heat, and holds it above the bowl.
Gvoraz does just that, inhaling deeply into his lungs and holding the foul-tasting plume as long as he can. As he lies back and releases the ghastly haze into the cavern, a beautiful dance of effervescent lights overtakes his very being…
Gronk wakes. The air inside the cave is cool and damp, illuminated only by the flame of a small campfire a’burn near the entrance.