The prompt this week from Quill Shiv’s blog is a simple picture.
I think a photograph like this is both useful and tougher, as I hate to do the most obvious choice, and did try out a couple of other ideas. However, this is the one that grabbed me.
So, I hope you enjoy reading The Shriek Hunters! Comments and observations are all gratefully received.
Quill’s entry can be found here and the idea is to read everyone else’s and comment while leaving a link to your own effort, too.
The Red Breasted Shriek comes to the glade once every five years to lay its eggs. The rest of the time it lives in the mountains, very far from here. The creature is a beautiful sight, made more precious by its sheer rarity. Once its infants are grown and gone, a clever hunter can steal its nest. Few have the patience to wait that long.
My father and I started our long trek into the secret part of the forest where it is usually seen. The glade is silent and green as we reach it two force-marched days later and set up our small, unobtrusive camp. The more we blend in, the better. Hunting the nest is very dangerous. The Shriek won’t leave it until the last possible moment. When it’s done with it, there might not be much left, so we have to be fast. We gather supplies from the forest and make a sturdy, dry shelter from bushes and woven bark, and then we wait.
After a week of sitting in the bushes, letting the forest’s smell become one with our own stink, we spot it. A deep growl alerts us and then it lands with a smooth splash in the centre of the watery glade. It’s long and elegant, moving like a demented cat, but about the size of three of the baron’s bulls if you stacked the poor things on top of each other. Now we really wait.
Our muscles ache and right now I need to urinate, but there’s no more time to think of that. If it sees us, it will shred us to pieces. It’s fat with eggs, and its leathery wings flutter happily as it slides forwards into the puddle of water, nosing through the filth. Pale nostrils at the tip of its snout flare and close, and it nips with its narrow beak and yanks out one of the huge, slow moving forest crabs that live in the murk. We listen to it chomping, spiny crab legs splinter as it sucks out the meat.
My father presses a hand on my shoulder and gives the slightest nudge with his head. I follow the signal and see another Shriek circling above the glade, and now its shadow is passing over our Shriek. I have never seen two together. The creatures lives up to their name, our one rises up fast from its meal and hurls herself into the air, wings flapping, the most awful noise bursting from its blazing red throat and belly. I cover my ears and stare up as the two creatures fight. Father pulls me back as fire heats the air in the glade, the bigger invader swooping low over our heads. The two Shrieks tussle in the sky; we’re forced to back off from our hiding place as the tops of the bushes catch the fire.
Father drags me deeper into the shelter of the thick trees. We burrow down, watching the fight play out. If we have to run away now, we’ll never get close to the nest again.
The fight lasts a while. It goes distant and quiet. I am almost asleep when father nudges me again. One of the Shrieks has returned. I think it’s ours, but it’s hard to be sure. It seems to have dispatched its rival and resumes rapidly gorging on the fat crabs. One of the crabs scuttled past me, deep into the forest, but there are surprisingly few escapees. The Shriek eats for a bit longer, then settles down in the mud for a nap. Father and I very carefully make our way back to our smouldering hiding place. The damp bushes didn’t burn for long.
I nestle down again, wrapping the old blanket around me, and father checks the supplies, and as it grows dark we gnaw on the tough Smoked Squirrel Jerky that mother prepared for emergencies. The Shriek still hasn’t noticed us, as night cloaks the glade its diamond-bright eyes are all that’s visible. Soon all I hear is the lap of water against the Shriek’s flank, and my father’s heavy breathing as he dozes, too. I sleep soundly.
The next morning I’m woken by a harsh vomiting sound. The Shriek is backed up like a cat, throwing up into the shallow pond water. The smell is indescribable; an unholy mix of rotten eggs, latrines and sour milk. I gag, covering my nose with the pine scented rags we’d brought just for this. It barely helps. Dad’s eyes are streaming, mine too, but we both want to see what the Shriek will produce.
The Shriek vomits up glutinous blobs that settle below its head in the water. It yaks up more and more, turning the remains of the crab and who knows what else it’s eaten into glistening, honey coloured gel. It seems to take a very long time. When its done, it blasts the shimmering mass with red hot flame and for the second year running I lose my eyebrows.
Dad is shaking as he pats my shoulder, and I know exactly why. He’s happy. This is the biggest nest we’ve ever seen. The Shriek has vomited up a prize taller than three men, an artifact of indescribable worth. I imagine my mother’s face when she sees it, sees the wealth we will gather once this beauty is sold at the Secret Market. I grin to myself. This is going to be a great year.
But we’re going to need a bigger sack…