Flash Fiction Faction: The Shriek Hunters

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. 

Bridge Pilings from Quill Shiv

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…

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Flash Fiction Faction: The Shriek Hunters

Flash Fiction Faction: Aunt Edie’s Bunker

OK,  was not feeling it this Thursday. Didn’t really get around to listening to the prompt  on Quill Shiv’s blog, properly, which was silly of me, although I managed to listen to most of it. Thursday comes round quickly. Lesson learned. But another potential story is forming below.

The ‘Clouded’ entry from last week is available here.

Below is the youtube clip of Elgar music we used. I definitely visualised some of the images below right away, when I heard it:

Aunt Edie’s Bunker

We were having tea when the bombs started dropping. My Earl Grey rippled like the Atlantic on a wet Wednesday, and Aunt Edie said, “Off to the Bunker, Charles.” I picked up my book and my blanket, and she ushered me into the back garden. Rushed as we were, I caught a glimpse of long streams of smoke falling from the sky in the distance, and the fog had turned a deep, flickering orange above the surrounding low hedges.

The siren still hadn’t howled a warning, and there were bright lights on display in the houses nearby as I followed Auntie E into the back garden. She unhooked the lock and hatch of our shelter while I watched the family who lived beside Edie struggle into their own shelter. I forget their names. Their three children were shivering, big eyed, in loose white nightclothes. Their mum, only wearing underwear and thin wool robe, tightly clutched her crying baby against her breasts. Their dad, a big man in a thick jumper and undershorts, put down a big bag that rattled and tinged musically as he set it on the wet grass. He struggled with their bunker’s lock, I could hear muffled curses and the mother scolding him in a low voice.

The ground vibrated beneath my slippered feet . Edi got the hatch open just as I heard a shrill whistling noise, loud enough to be coming from inside my head, closing in from above. Without warning she shoved me forwards into the dark below. I fell badly, sliced my left leg on sharp edges of stairs, and lay at the bottom, winded and hurt.  The hatch banged shut above me and the darkness filled with pounding thunder. The bombs were landing. I clung to my knees and lay like that in the dark on a rough concrete floor, the earth above me roaring and thundering.

For a while I heard only the awful insect drone of planes. I was freezing when I finally realised the bombardment had passed. My skin was numb all over. It was still pitch black. I crawled up onto sore knees, cried out as my foot’s nerves screeched in agony. Leaning on my good leg, I felt around in the confined space for the matches I knew were stored down there. I found the staircase first and I climbed it painfully, my entire left side stiff and bruised from my landing. I pushed against the hatch, but it was securely locked, or maybe weighed down. It felt strange under my numb fingers. Warm. I pulled my hands away and scrambled downward again, and tried to decide what to do. After catching my breath, I located the matches and lit a candle.

The bunker was little improved now that I could see in there. It was so nasty that I think Edie always lived in denial of the situation. She had installed very few home comforts here, barring the old kettle from a dead relative that she’d put here ‘for being ugly’, and a little packet of her Earl Grey, of course, which she kept for ‘waiting it out’ down here. I started boiling it simply to warm up. I sniffled once I had more tea inside me, thawing out my mind and body. I wondered miserably how to escape from this cramped hole in the ground.

Part of me still believed that Edie was up there waiting. Then I remembered the whistling noise. I’d heard it before, but never so close. I sniffled some more, and after I’d finished the tea, I clambered back up the stairs to the hatch and pushed at it again. It was still warm. I couldn’t get it to shift, anyway. I stayed up there for several hours, occasionally pushing and hitting the door to my prison. It was too heavy, too securely fastened. I think I cried a lot, and shouted a lot. I nodded off again while I waited, and when I woke I groaned in pain.

There was water here, at least, and therefore I had nothing to do but make tea and feel sorry for myself. I sat on the little bed in the waning light and wondered what I should do next. I missed my book. It had bee a good one, about pirates and boats and hidden treasure, and I had dropped it when Edie had given me the shove. I kicked at the breezeblock wall for a bit with my good leg, becoming more bored than worried, listening to my own depressing thoughts and dozing off, dreaming of pirates. When I woke again I’d stiffened up so much  could barely move. I hopped up and leaned on a set of dark smudged bricks behind the candle. The heat scorched my arm. I jerked back and landed on the pile of unloved blankets. They were ‘ugly’ as well.

Once I’d recovered, I realised I’d shifted the blankets and to expose a heavy looking, gnarled old book with a broken spine. It contributed greatly to the general musty smell of the room, and when I picked it up it truly reeked of age. Its pages cracked as I opened it. I lifted its weight and dragged it over to the pool of candle light. Pulling one of the ugly blankets around my shoulders, I began to read.

Flash Fiction Faction: Aunt Edie’s Bunker

Flash Fiction Friday: Cellar Wall

Cellar Wall (from Madison Woods)

Cellar Wall

They’re coming for me.  Tripping over a calico tom, I fell hard down the stairs. Luckily the cellar door swung shut. Now I cannot move, or cry out; can’t do anything except watch dirt fall away from stone. I hear their paws scrabble eagerly at loosening soil, and a steady purring. The soft sound of cats. I didn’t know about Ulthar’s rule when I moved here, and didn’t mean to kill that kitten under my heel as it demanded milk. Now I see a whisker. An ear. Bared teeth. The Ulthar cats are through the wall, and they are hungry.

***

Another one for H P Lovecraft fans. Check out the story that inspired it here. Maybe one week my 100 words will be less gruesome, but not this time! I feel that there’s a bit more dread this time round. However, it’s ultimately hard to feel much sympathy for a kitten killer, even if it was ‘by accident’.

Original photo prompt is here on Madison Wood’s site.

Here’s Madison’s own entry for this week – Cellar Walls.

My other 100 word stories for this challenge:

Bloody Jewels

Reading the Bones

Broken Mushroom

And a new challenge, the lengthier ‘Flash Fiction Faction’ run every Thursday by Quill Shiv. Story ‘Clouded‘.

Flash Fiction Friday: Cellar Wall