By David R. Stookey
Copyright 2016 David R. Stookey
Shakespir Edition, License Notes
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The noise alone deafened me. From the time the sun had reached its peak overhead, I could hear nothing but the incessant roar of the creature that meant to destroy our village. At times the whining howl became more distant, but it would soon return – each time angrier and louder than before. The earth beneath me shook as it passed by again. I couldn’t think! All around me the inhabitants of my village scampered in panic. How did they know which way to run? Each time the noise returned, it seemed to approach from a different direction. At least some of them must be running directly into the path of the horrible monster’s next attack. Every instinct screamed for me to flee, but I could not move.
I had never experienced anything like this. Small groups of us had survived countless life threatening situations before, but I sensed that this time was somehow different. No evidence of damage had yet appeared, but the menacing crescendo of the unbearable noise made it clear that our entire community was in mortal peril. For the first time in my life I felt small, helpless and alone. The roar began to fade again, and I found myself amidst a group of frightened villagers. Would it simply go away for good this time? We cautiously allowed our sense of terror to wane for a moment. I closed my eyes and hoped, listening more intently than I thought possible. Fading away, fading away… No. The tone of the roar changed slightly, but grew unmistakably louder once again. Whatever this horrible monstrosity was, it had not left us yet.
I searched my memories for any recollection of such a devastating event. Despite the fact that our village enjoyed the protection of fairly dense vegetation, fierce weather and flooding had threatened us many times. In darker times we’d fought brutally with neighboring villages over food and territory. Our village had worked together very effectively in every one of these situations, and we had always survived. Simply remembering these other events underscored the differences between those crises and our current predicament. We had abandoned the collective attitude and single-mindedness that had served us so well in the past. Thinking independently, no one knew what to do. The intolerable noise itself drove us apart from one another. Individuals with no thought other than their own safety streamed past me. Again I agonized. Which way should I run? Would it make any difference? Could we still somehow unite to defeat this massive foe?
As the angry growl approached, a dark shadow fell across our village. The ground beneath me trembled. I could feel a strong wind that pushed away from the creature. Was this a trick? Should I resist the urge to be blown bodily forward? I had no time to react. Soon it didn’t matter. The force of the terrible wind that preceded the beast lifted several of us off of our feet and sent us tumbling. I came to rest near the place where I had grown up, long ago. How long since I had last been here? The noise and wind subsided, but I knew that they would soon return. Apart from some minor damage caused by the strong wind, the village still looked reasonably sound. Others around me were shaken and upset, but not seriously hurt. Was it over? Was that the last of it?
I waited as the grim roar and the trembling faded away. Once again, both returned. This time, however, I had started to work out a pattern. The creature consistently approached from the same general direction that it had last left. Could I use this information to my advantage? While others around me continued to run without purpose or direction, I sprang directly across the path I predicted for the beast. The building grumble of the monster approached to my side. I told myself that I may not be running away from certain death, but I’m not running towards it, either. If I was right, this path would take me past the beast and out of harm’s way.
Simply having a plan of my own to follow, however feeble, began to fill me with hope. For the first time that I could remember, I followed my own initiative. Though still terrified, how alive I felt! I could not ever recall making a conscious decision on my own, much less acting on it. Stranger yet, I could not fathom why this thought would occur to me and apparently no one else. Was this divine intervention? Is this what it felt like to lead? Would anyone follow? I doubted it. I could think of no way to communicate my plan to others, apart from demonstrating by example. And what if I was wrong? A brittle snapping sound and slight change in the tone of the monstrous roar brought me back to my senses.
No shadow yet. The wind whipped around me but seemed tolerable for the moment. Ahead of me the thick vegetation opened up to some kind of clearing. I racked my brain to locate myself mentally. I couldn’t be lost this close to my home, but I had no recollection of this unusually wide opening in the otherwise dense jungle. As I drew nearer to the clearing, I began to grasp the enormity of the break in the coverage. How could I not have known about this incredibly huge meadow so close to the village? The gusts picked up briskly. The enormous shadow that traveled before the creature would soon overtake me, but the clearing lay only a few steps ahead. Would I make it in time? Would I be better off in the open, or more exposed and alone than ever? As the beast howled louder and closer, the feverish panic returned. My instinct now told me to turn to my right and sprint directly away from the worst part of the noise. No! I refused to give up on my original bid for safety. I forced myself to stick to my plan and ran desperately onward.
Everything happened at once. The shadow overtook me. Just as quickly, the blast of the wind knocked me off my feet. This time I was pushed further along my intended path, towards the break in the dense foliage. I blasted through the last few vines and tumbled into what I had thought was a vast clearing. As the calamity passed behind me, I took a moment to regain my senses. I refused to accept what my eyes could see. My village was utterly destroyed. What I had mistaken for a clearing was actually all that remained of my entire world. Nothing whatsoever remained above head-level; all had been neatly sheared off. The bright blue sky gaped above, making me feel even more vulnerable. Even the path I had just traveled had been completely obliterated above my shoulders. I back-tracked my way to the heart of the village, but found only the same pattern of decimation. Much worse, the only signs of former inhabitants were a few strewn limbs and broken bodies. All else had been swept away. I continued to walk in a daze, not noticing or caring if the beast returned. Whatever thrill I had briefly experienced by thinking for myself and saving my own life had turned to despair. Had I not acted alone, I would certainly have perished with the rest of my community. I had doomed myself to wandering aimlessly as the sole survivor of the only world I had ever known.
Because everything that I plodded across looked the same, I realized that I had no idea how far I had wandered or how to get back to my village. A moment later I realized that it probably didn’t matter. I could think of no reason to ever return. Some time later I blundered onto an endless black wall. This feature stood as the only thing I could see above head level, probably the only thing besides me that the monster had not destroyed. The wall was porous enough for me to climb, and I eventually reached the top. The surface stretched out before me as far as I could see, and was made of the same smooth black rock. I finally collapsed, weak with exhaustion and shock.
Carl wiped the sweat from his forehead with one hand while he pushed the front wheels of the lawnmower onto the driveway with the other. Mowing had taken longer than he had planned, and he’d worked up enough of a sweat to warrant a shower before supper. As he pushed the mower towards the garage, he noticed an odd looking beetle at the edge of the driveway. He barely had to divert his course to bring himself alongside the bug.
Carl rolled the mower through the open garage door as he casually squashed the insect with his work boot.
Other titles by David R. Stookey
Bad at Math
The Helpful Neighbor
Punch and Parry
Dead Man’s Shoes
A Curse Eternal – The Tragic Account of the Flying Dutchman
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