12 April, 2014

The Monster Hunting Club - Short Story

The Monster Hunting Club had been around for years, any kid knew that. And every kid knew that the MHC was the perfect way to rise to the top of the social ladder – if you were in the club, or better yet the leader, you were at the top of the pyramid in the schoolyard.

Pete Kohl was the current leader of the club, he was tall and muscular, and the awe of all the kids in his class. He ran the club for 3 years; was the youngest and longest MHC leader in history. Pete’s predecessor was Nick Smart, one of the toughest and smartest Monster Hunters the town ever had. A few years ago he went to dispose of a particularly nasty Sprite and he just never came back. That’s when Pete stepped in as leader. If a kid had a problem with a Monster, Pete was the first person you’d call, and he was normally the last you’d need.

His team of four trapped and hunted everything from Sprites, Grolls, Hunes, Faeries, Leechmen, Pergs, and Bandholes. The crew would go down to the kid’s house, lure the Monster out, kill it, and Pete would take it into the woods and nobody saw that Monster again. The knife Pete used was one passed down to him from Nick’s signature set of five. When Nick disappeared, the MHC only had three left, so everyone got one of their own.

Pete did such a great job; people from other towns would come into the schoolyard to find him, to ask for his help since their own chapter wasn’t getting the job done. People started to get cocky. Started to tease the Monsters, to taunt them, knowing Pete would take care of it.

That’s why it was such a surprise when Pete announced he was leaving; his dad got a new job in a different province. Pete had three remaining members of MHC, and they all had to agree on a new leader; someone tough and smart. Someone who could be trusted to get the job done. Sarah thought it was her; she was the oldest and smartest. Kevin thought it was him; he was the most cunning and the strongest. Both were wrong.

Megan was sharp and spry. She was the fastest runner in her class, which Peter thought made her the perfect choice for the head of the Monster Hunting Club, to the shock of the others. When she was inducted as the leader the day before Pete left, everyone started to get frantic. It was no secret Pete was the only one who had seen the Wull.

Everyone in town knew about the Wull that lived in the back of the forest. It was the most dreaded thing that the town had. Megan would rather have a whole pack of Leechmen or a few Grolls instead of dealing with the Wull, but she’d never admit that to you.

The Wull never normally showed itself, and nobody ever saw it, which makes the situation worse. It was the only Monster who scared Megan. The only Monster Pete warned her about. The Wull apparently looked like a wolf, the size of a small bear. It had black eyes and spines growing out of its skin, and its fur looked and felt like shards of broken black glass. It glinted black in the moonlight, which is the only way Pete ever knew it was there.

“Just stay away from it,” he told her, “it won’t engage with you if you just leave it alone.” She never forgot those words. As his parents van backed out of the driveway, he popped his head out of the window, “if you see it, run.” The look of concern in his eyes was something she wouldn’t understand until later.

The next few months went by really smoothly. The MHC got rid of a few small things, mostly small trolls and Ravine serpents. Nothing she couldn’t handle. She’d been hunting Monsters since she was tying her shoes. Slit the throats; throw the bodies into the lake for the Knife Fish. Easy clean up, and everyone was home for dinner.

After about a year and a half the whole town eased back into a sigh of relief, with Pete gone, they were convinced Megan, wielding Nick’s signature carved blades, would be the next best thing – and she never let anyone forget it. Megan was cocky now. Kids idolized her. She hunted the famous Trapfox. She slay the Leechmen Alpha and wore its horn on her belt as a trophy. She grew less cautious, more lax. Sarah and Kevin more or less held her gear while she paraded around showing off. “The greatest Monster Hunter in the world,” she called herself. And she felt invincible. She had never felt fear. 

Until the night the Wull showed up.

Something woke her from her dreams. She never heard a noise but her eyes shot open and she stared up at her ceiling. She focused her ears on the window of her bedroom, straining to hear something – anything – that may have woke her up. Megan knew something was outside; a raccoon knocking over a trashcan, a dog howling, or a small Pixie maybe? Her instincts sharpened and her senses were going crazy. Something wasn’t right. Something felt like it was trying to get inside her head.

She blinked furiously and threw the covers off as she leaped out of bed and to the window. Her eyes narrowed as she store false bravado into the yard below. Her house backed onto the start of the forest, and she squinted to see beyond the trees. For half a second she froze. Her body cooled and her mind went completely dark. She saw something glint and faintly glimmer a greenish hue through the trees and into her yard.

The Wull. It was here.

Her mind raced as she tried to remember something, anything Pete had said about the Wull. She had become so careless the past year or so she hadn’t been training at all, hadn’t cracked open the Manifesto, or helped the MHC record notes in months. She hadn’t remembered anything Pete had said about it other than it never came out of the woods.

But it had. And it was looking for her.

She tore the blind down and locked her window. She creeped slowly back to her bed and sat under the threadbare blankets, chest pounding like the Tell Tale Heart. “It won’t engage with you if you just leave it alone.” Pete’s words echoed in her head and rolled around her brain. “But it’s here.” Her words chilled her spine and made her eyes water with fear.

The next few days were out of a nightmare. The Wull came to Megan’s house each night. And each night it would jump up onto the roof, or crawl out onto the ledge by her window, a faint glimmer of glass shone through the small crack of her blinds onto the baseboard of her window ledge. She sat with her knife in her hand, back against the door, silent tears streaming down her stone face. Ultimate fear gripped her, like nothing she ever experienced before. She didn’t sleep, didn’t move, hardly breathed for fear it the Wull would sense her. 

Out of the corner of her eye she saw the Leechmen horn on her dresser. Memories flooded, fleeting feelings of confidence started to come back. She slay the Alpha. She hunted Monsters pretty much alone for almost two years. She was Megan, leader of the Monster Hunting Club. She would do what Nick and Pete never could. She would slay the Wull.

The light from the moon slipped through the crack in her blind and illuminated her face. A sly smile crept over her lips, the same time a small greenish glint made the moonlight on her face waver. The smile stood.

Kevin and Sarah gathered around Megan the next morning, giving her words of encouragement, and packing her backpack full of supplies. She had a brilliant plan. She’d creep into the forest and find its lair. While it was daylight, the Wull would be sleeping, and she’d slit its throat before it even knew what hit it. The plan was simple but brilliant. She had no idea why no one else had ever thought of it. Why no other Monster Hunter ever went after it.

This would be the last day it tormented her. It ended today. In and out, back in time for dinner.

After a few “see you soon’s” she slipped into the woods, to her relief it was brightly lit by the sun through the canopy of the Boreal forest. Sunlight streamed though the leaves and hit her face as she marched. She stopped to rest and drink from her canteen a few times, washed out her headband that was soaked with the sweat of the humid day. She walked for what seemed like hours, investigating dens, underbrush, and trees. Nothing looked suspicious, or out of place.

She was starting to feel a wave of relief over not finding anything - but it was premature.

She walked into a clearing where she noticed the trees covered the sun. She looked up and noticed that it wasn’t the trees, it was the sun. It was going down.

Panic gripped her heart and she tried to slow down her breathing. How long had she walked? She was only supposed to be gone a few hours at most, but it had suddenly become nightfall. She unsheathed her knife; the one Nick had had - his initials still carved into the handle - and held it like a dagger. This ended soon.

The sun didn’t take very long to set, and pretty soon, the moon was up and its glow was full and strong. She walked quietly, careful not to step on twigs or crunch any leaves under her feet. She saw an escarpment that rolled down into a small river that wound its way through the forest. She instantaneously knew she needed to get on the other side, and that the Wull’s lair would be there. Maybe she’d even surprise it. She was staying positive.

As she walked closer to the ledge, she could tell nobody had been in this area of the woods for a very, very long time. Old deer cameras were broken and left on trees, trail signs had faded away, leaving just the small wooden arrows, cracked and hanging from the nails that held them to their post. Megan gingerly leaned over the edge and peered down, surveying the bank of the cliff and the riverbed that hugged it. Calm filled her.

There, built into the side of the escarpment, was what looked to be a huge pile of sticks. It reminded Megan of a small Wig Wam without a door, like a truck full of broken lumber was just piled in a heap and left to rot. She realized this was the den she had been looking for. She needed to get over there and find the den’s entrance.

She stepped down the shallow portion of the cliff, grabbing onto small trees and shrubbery to hold her steady. Her hands catching her every time she slid and the cakey ground gave out under her shoes. She wiped her brow with her sleeve and readjusted her backpack and hunting belt to re-familiarize herself with the positions of her weapon.

She finally slid down the few feet to the river bank, only a couple meters away from the pile of wood. All the confidence, all the training, and all the bravado exploded away, like air in a popped balloon as soon as she saw a familiar belt on the ground by the den. She knew exactly what it was before she even got closer.

The blades were finely crafted, two were left sitting in the five leather loops that ringed the belt. The handled notched and initials, NS, carved into them. She raised the blade in her hand, so it was side-by-side with the ones in the belt. They were identical. There was no mistaking who this belonged to. She had one, Pete’s, and the MHC held the other two. Her blood froze and her skin felt like it was on fire.

She whipped around and held the dagger like a sword. It had come back, like a breeze, while she studied the belt. It had lurked behind her and stood, its glassy hide gleamed black off the moonlight that tore into Megan’s eyes. It lurched, leaped and went right for her, but she jumped, sprang out of the way just in time. It landed behind her and she whirled around, wielding the knife again at it. It let out an inaudible sound like wind ripping through leaves, before it charged at her, mouth open and glass-shard teeth as sharp as penknives. It caught her off guard and it caught its teeth on her arm, ripping the skin like knife being run through a sheet of fabric.

Megan howled and the Wull matched it with its own. Blood poured from her arm as her body stood in shock, and her reflexes worked without her, slashing the air wildly with the knife as the Wull danced around it. Her training kicked in and she threw her whole weight forward into Nick’s knife. The lunge was perfect, she stabbed the Wull right in the neck, her body landing on it, and barely registering the piercing pain as her flesh tore under the Wull’s body. An unfamiliar “clink” sound let Megan know her puny knife couldn’t penetrate the glass of the Wull. What was she thinking? Why didn’t she remember that?

The pair grappled in the soft ground of the bank, the river’s water splashed coldly up Megan’s legs as she ran in small bursts. Slash, kick, run. Slash, kick, run. Her knife was ineffective and she was out of ideas. She remembered Pete’s words as the Wull stood, teeth bared. “If you see it, run.”

Her feet took off like a bolt of lightning; clods of dirt kicked up and onto the Wull as it closed its eyes in defence. It tore after her, eyes gleaming like coal marbles and muzzle stained red with Megan’s blood. She never looked back. She ripped down the bank like her shoes were flying, her feet felt like they never touched the ground. She was winning the race, barely, the Wull letting out shrill and crazed shrieks, feet almost invisible as it raced after her. Her one thought – run – was all she was worried about.

Everything left her as she ran; the MHC, her training, and the knife which flew out of her hand and scattered across the escarpment floor. She was getting close to the edge; she would have to turn around – she couldn’t risk climbing and falling or getting stuck in the spongy earth leading back up to the top of the forest.

She was the fastest runner at her school - maybe the whole town. She remembered before she took over Pete’s spot in the MHC, she used to run relay. Her school was small and didn’t have a proper circular track, so they had to run laps on the straight and narrow 100 meter. Back and forth between the fences, she remembered how much time it wasted to slow down just to turn around and gain back the speed she lost to go the other way. Megan was spry. An idea stumbled into her head and she had no time to think of anything else.

She ran full speed to the escarpment’s edge, Wull right behind her; its spines clinking as it sprinted after her. At the very last split second before she ran out of ground, she kicked her feet up and ran a few steps up the escarpment, completely somersaulting in mid-air over the Wull. She landed on her feet and heard the shatter of the Wull as it steamrolled into the escarpment.

She didn’t even slow down as she took off the other way back towards the den. She needed Nick’s knives, as she dropped her own somewhere along the river’s bank. She ran wildly, leaping over roots and large branches that would have tripped anyone else. Anyone less spry. Anyone less agile.

She saw the den coming up on the horizon of her vision and tore towards it, Nick’s belt in sight. She slowed for an instant to grab it, her arm reached and her fingers outstretched when she felt the jaws of the Wull lock down on her leg, ripping into it. A manic, blood-curdling scream escaped Megan’s lips as the Wull jerked his head to knock Megan over. She fell to the ground, eyes unblinking in utter terror as the Wull pierced his teeth into her leg, holding her as she flailed wildly, screaming and roaring as her feet struggled to kick whatever she could connect with.

It yanked her with its jaws towards the opening of the den of wood, and she kicked and screamed. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Nick’s belt lying on the ground by her. The gleam of the metal sparked off the moonlight and shone a faint green colour into the cold night air.

Memories flashed through her brain in fragmented flashbacks. In her room the night the Wull arrived, its glassy body had glinted green through the crack of the blind and onto her face. The green tint she saw flicker through the trees from out of her window. But when she first saw the Wull, it glinted and shone black. She looked back at the two knives in the belt; glints of green flickered off the metal from moonlight.

Her mind erupted into overdrive and she kicked out and struggled against the Monster now locked on her leg, pulling her.

The Wull shone black.

The Wull shone black.

The glint had been green.

Five knives - two were in Nick’s belt, and Megan had one.

Kevin had one. Sarah had the other.

“It won’t engage with you if you just leave it alone.”

The glint had been green.

The Wull shone black.

It had never come at all.

Megan’s eyes widened as she stopped struggling, stunned. And the Wull pulled her effortlessly into its den.

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