We're going monster hunting in today's Concept Art Writing Prompt, to a misty swamp where a hunter has found his unusual prey. Let's see what stories you can come up with based on this dark and murky photograph.
This image is actually a portrait of monster artist Alex Pardee, composed by director / photographer Jason Mitchell and set designer / photo illustrator Stacey Ransom as Ransom & Mitchell, via Laughing Squid (NSFW). This is part of their show Smoke & Mirrors (again, NSFW), currently exhibiting at Varnish in San Francisco.
Come up with your own story based on Random & Mitchell's photograph and post it in the comments. I'll be adding your stories to this post as we go along.
Here's my story, in which I cheat and use the subject's name as the hunter's:
Pardee heard a rustling in the brush and raised his shotgun almost automatically. He inhaled, mentally readying himself for whatever nightmare creature prepared to charge into the swamp. Then a red-tailed bunnabird burst from the bushes, barely able to keep its bulging stomach aloft. Pardee lowered his gun and grabbed the brim of his hat instead, wiping off his forehead with the back of his hand.
"What was that?" asked the monster behind him.
Pardee replaced his rifle and tugged on the monster's chain. "Bird," he said.
"Wow!" the monster breathed. "Can you fly?"
Pardee grunted. "No."
Pardee turned to look at the creature. The monster was all brambles and teeth, and if it wasn't eyeing him like a curious four-year-old, he might have been afraid of it. "You've been sighted in this swamp for 500 years, and you don't know if you can fly?"
The monster clapped its branch-like hands. "I've never been alive this long!" it said. "It's really quite fascinating. Like I never took the time to notice just how wet the ground is here. Usually I'm just a shadow out of the corner of an eye, or a twig snapping in the distance. People stop believing that I'm there, and I'm gone."
That's why the Fauntleroy Planetary Commission had called Pardee in. This monster was a belief creature, a being that only existed so long as you were convinced he did. Pardee had heard reindeer pawing on his rooftop every Christmas Eve until he was 15 years old. At 28, he still occasionally wandered into freestanding wardrobes, convinced they'd transport him to Narnia. The same qualities that made him a target for teasing all through grammar school made him the perfect belief hunter. He'd known the Fauntleroy Swamp Monster existed the moment he'd seen reports of it, and he'd traveled the swamp with full conviction in that belief.
They hiked up a hill where the Commission's shuttle stood waiting, two figures in hazmat suits leaning against the containment door. Idiots, Pardee thought. Nothing like believing a creature is venomous to make it venomous for real.
"Ooh," said the monster. "Am I going off-planet?"
"A zoo," Pardee replied.
The monster looked back at the swamp and sighed. "You know, it's a real shame."
Despite himself, Pardee could help but ask, "Why's that?"
"I developed this little pet theory, during the long times I didn't exist. I figured, if I went somewhere public, like a zoo, everyone would know I existed, and everyone would believe in the Fauntleroy Swamp Monster, right? And maybe they'd believe there were more of us out here, you know, like it's our natural habitat? And soon people would see more of me, lots of mes all over the place, so many that soon we wouldn't need people to believe in us, because people would just take our existence for granted. It's a shame I won't get to see it happen."
Pardee thought about as they walked toward the shuttle in silence. Could he really be delivering the monster only to doom the planet? He shook his head as he handed the creature over to its new handlers. "Sorry, buddy," he told it. "I just don't believe it."
deserver notes that there are scarier things in the swamp than alligators:
Thom picked at his teeth with a knife looking out from his porch across the muddy swamps of the lower Mississippi. It had been a day or two and there was no sign of the hunter yet and if it worried Thom he didn't show it.
"At least I won't have to pay the bastard." He said, spitting out bits of the morning's breakfast.
He stood up and went inside. His cabin was more of a shack with all the furnishings of a cabin but with none of the construction expertise. The walls had warped creating gaps here and there, the windows weren't in straight, the fireplace was more of a firepit, and everything else had a damp, soggy look to it. Paul was seated at the table which wobbled when he leaned on it.
"Nothing." Thom reported.
Paul looked up. "I told you."
"It don't mean nothing."
"Then why ain't he back?"
Thom grabbed a jug from the corner and filled it with their homebrew, a mixture of alcohols and swamp residue that made a thick, syrup-like slosh to drink. He threw some back and hacked half of it up. "Probably found a better job in town."
"I don't reckon. First Rover now him. Soon it's going to be us!" Paul slammed the table and it hobbled back and forth on uneven legs.
"A gator got your damn dog you idiot."
"Gator don't leave the mess we saw."
Thom threw back another swig of homebrew and could feel it getting to him, a heat and buzz rising in his forehead. "There ain't nothing out there."
"You'll only believe when you find my bones with all the juice sucked out."
"Your bone juice probably ain't no good anyway."
A sound carried across the swamp and hit the shack, turning both Thom and Paul's heads faster than the crack of a bullwhip. It was a terrible sound, a glottal scream from something big, something ancient, something that was really mad by Thom's reckoning.
Paul looked to Thom. "Jesus jumpin' do you-"
"Get my gun before you say something stupid." Thom ordered and Paul shot off from the table to the other room.
Thom peered out an odd window but couldn't make out anything through the mist and the reeds and the trees. But he could he hear it, a sloshing in the water and a rustle in the reeds that was coming on to them at a slow but deliberate pace.
Paul reappeared and handed Thom his gun which he loaded and held tight to his chest. Paul stood in behind him, standing on his tip-toes to peak out the window as well.
"You seen that rifle the hunter took wit' him. If that ain't gonna do it yours won't either."
Thom shh'd him and kept his eyes on the swamp. The sloshing was louder, the rustling higher and more frequent. He pumped the gun and set the barrel to the window.
Three quick knocks rapped on his door and Thom spun on his heel, setting his barrel dead center and squeezing off two quick shots that punched through the thin wooden door, knocking out a hole the size of a truck tire.
"Friendly! Friendly!" Came an Aussie accent from beyond.
Thom and Paul walked over and slowly opened the door to reveal the hunter standing on their porch. Everything about him was caked in mud and dirt except for his smile which gleamed white in the yellow mist. He held one end of a chain in his hand, the other end wrapped around a beast that could only have been ripped premature from the womb of the swamp itself. It stood tall, made up or covered in branches and leaves, with eyes of infernal red and long pointed teeth caked in dried blood.
The hunter took off his hat and bowed to them before returning it to his sweat filled mop. "This what you're lookin' for?"
In angusm's story, a hunter uses an unorthodox method to take down a monster, with unexpected consequences:
As I see it, Braddock brought it on himself.
It wasn't the boasting. We all brag a bit on occasion, and while Braddock was certainly in a class of his own when it came to polishing his own legend, that wasn't the real problem. Sure, by the fourth repetition of the legendary exploits of Beaulieu James Braddock, monster-hunter extraordinaire, there probably wasn't a person in town who didn't want to stuff him head first into a privy but I don't think anyone would actually have done it. We're peaceful folk and slow to rouse.
Besides, blowhard though he may have been, he was a genuinely tough customer. There wasn't much fat on that sinewy six-foot frame and he had a wild animal restlessness about him, ready to explode into action at a second's notice. His first act on arrival was to drop his traveling grip - with a loud crash of metal from the assorted machetes, knuckledusters, revolvers, pepperboxes, skinning knives, daggers, scatterguns, chains and whatever the hell else he had in it - squarely in the middle of the barroom floor and bellow at the top of his voice that he could out-drink, out-fight and out-screw any man in the place. His second act was to demonstrate the truth of the first assertion so convincingly that everyone agreed to take his other two claims on faith.
In between sinking shot after shot of "Doc" Benson's white lightning, Braddock found time to let us know why he had honored our community with his presence. He intended, he announced, to be the first man in history to capture a wicker man and present it to the Georgeville Zoo, to be exhibited to the disbelieving public as a living demonstration of the unparalleled manliness, courage and raw strength of Beaulieu J. Braddock, Esq.
There was a lot of shaking of heads at that. We knew, of course, that Braddock had successfully hunted more legendary beasts than you could shake an elephant gun at, from the Megaconda of the Amazon to the Mongolian Death Worm, from the Camel-Eating Spiders of the Kalahari to the Broad-Finned Bear-Whale. We knew all that because Braddock had made a point of mentioning it seven or eight times while working on his first bottle of moonshine. He'd even offered a couple of recaps for the benefit of any latecomers while he tackled his second. Still, bear-whales are one thing. Wickers are another.
There's something eerie about them. Sometimes, working the swamps, you'll see a ragged silhouette against the misty light that filters down through the trees. If you're lucky, you'll only see them at a distance. If you're unlucky, you might not see them at all.
They can be killed, more or less. A rifle won't do it, of course, because they don't seem to have any vital spots worthy of the name. Dynamite will work and I guess a flamethrower might do the job. The traditional tool, though, is something with an edge, like a felling axe. The problem is that you need to be as strong and quick as they are, which is a tall order. It's not just that the damned things are inhumanly fast and horrifyingly strong. It's not even their seven-foot reach, or the way they can gut a cow with those ten-inch claws. It's more the fact that they don't seem to inhabit space in quite the same way that we do, as if the ordinary rules don't apply to them.
Wickers really aren't like anything else. Everyone knows the old joke that the answer to the question of whether they're animal, vegetable or mineral is simply "Yes". What they really are no one knows, but they were in these swamps before we came, and my guess is that they'll still be here when we're gone. This is their land. We just tiptoe around the fringes and hope for the best.
So when Braddock announced that he intended to capture one, most of the old timers just shook their heads and smiled. After he left his pigsticker quivering in the dartboard - a left-handed throw, down the full length of the barroom, the thick blade driven clean through the dead center of the board and a good two inches into the wooden wall behind it - they conceded that he might be the man to kill one. But capture? That wasn't even within the realm of possibility.
There, however, they underestimated him. Braddock was not a fool. He had done his research. At some point, poring over the old tomes in the Georgeville Library, he must have come to the conclusion that he had set himself an impossible and very likely lethal task. He began to consider alternative strategies.
Somewhere in the library he found a book that described the appearance of the wickers in very precise detail. I know this because the wicker suit that he had built was a masterpiece. The coarse vegetable matting that covered it would have passed even the closest inspection, assuming anyone could be found brave enough to come within reach of those authentically-menacing fangs and razor-edged claws. A complex system of articulations allowed the person inside - a slender and beautiful gymnast who had been one of Braddock's reportedly innumerable lovers before he began spending more time with a buxom lady saloon owner from Platteburg - to maneuver the giant head and work the jaws in a way that I can only describe as terrifyingly life-like. It was a work of art. When Braddock stepped onto the landing stage with his captive chained firmly around the waist, it never entered anyone's head that he might not have done exactly what he said he would.
He made, as far as I can see, only two mistakes. The first was to dump the gymnast for the saloon owner. That was a minor error, however. It could have led to him being humiliated when the deception was revealed, but no more than that.
His more serious mistake was that he stopped his researches too soon. It never occurred to him to wonder how it was that we could live as we did on the fringes of a swamp inhabited by such deadly and unpredictable creatures. As a result, he had no way of knowing that the frail old lady who he rudely shouldered aside on his way down to the dock was a person of great importance in the community. Nor did he ever realize quite how close to the mark he had come when he mockingly called her an 'old witch'.
That night, Granny Meadowes must have knelt by the edge of the swamp for a good four hours, calling out into the mists in that eerie burbling, clicking dialect that seemed halfway between human speech and the sighing of the marsh wind among the dead trees. Braddock, sleeping off another monumental boozing session, never heard any part of it. And he never heard when, a scant hour before dawn, something answered her from far out in the swamp.
I was standing among the crowd the next morning as he led his captive down the length of the main street towards the waiting steam-truck. Braddock's eyes were red from the excesses of the previous night but his smile was as broad as ever. He swaggered and strode, his luxuriant sideburns like clumps of Spanish moss, the knives at his belt gleaming in the pale light of the morning.
And then, as he made to tug on the chain once more, he caught sight of the lady gymnast, tall and pale in her gray dress. I was close enough to see her smile coldly at him, a smile duplicated by the diminutive little old woman at her side. And in the final second, I saw the fatal question flicker across his face.
If she's over there, who's in the suit?
MT_Rudeboy takes us on a hunt with a novice monster hunter:
"Jesus Christ!" The frantic shout rang out in the dense mire of the Amazon floodplain, as a thin moustachioed man tore through fog and murky growths in the swamp water, his knees lifting so high, they nigh came to his chin. "Monster Hunting 101," thought Bartleby MacHugh, "Lift the knees high so as to tread as little water as possible."
Another voice pierced the bog, a smaller voice that sounded like it was from the North of somewhere, possibly England. It was the voice of Bartleby's partner, though in his current panic, Bartleby couldn't recall just what his name was.
"Never look back; Monster Hunting 102." MacHugh's thoughts came rapidly as he romped in the shallow, murky water. Unfortunately, young What's-His-Name wouldn't be making it to second semester. For the life of him, Bartleby couldn't understand why the university didn't cover Never Look Back and Other Life Saving Tips until the second semester, especially when the first field exercises were the first week into classes.
Bartleby had never killed, captured, wounded, or even seen a monster at least until today. He really had no means of employing anything that he'd learned in Monster hunting 101, 102, or Dungeon Diving and Swamp Searching 111. He did, however, have the lucky trait of being the perfect coward, which meant he was always faster than at least one other student. Panting and scrambling through the underbrush the cowardly monster hunter envisioned what horrors had become of What's-His-Name-from-the-North-of-Somewhere-Possibly-England, and how he now surely resided in the south of something. Manifold tentacles and teeth lurched from the shadows and devoured the freshman in a flurry of strangling and chomping. The theatre of MacHugh's mind was always very gruesome when it came to playing out the demise of his classmates of which What's-His-Name-from-the-North-of-Somewhere-Possibly-England was now the 6th victim. This was possibly because he had never actually seen the incident of a monster killing any of them, let alone having seen a monster at all. And sure, Bartleby felt bad but so does being mangled, maimed, throttled, flayed, eviscerated, lacerated, chomped, chopped, stung, and swallowed. This was, as least, the manner in which he reasoned it.
The howls of pain from Bartleby's partner drew quieter as he fled the scene. He thought, as he had five times before that he should look back and confirm the fate that had befallen the victim. But the fog was thick and Bartleby was sure that the remains consisted of only a smear of blood on a tree and maybe a galosh left to float in the mire. A loud crunch that caused Bartleby to wince was proof enough of the outcome. Though, it seemed that the cowardly monster hunter had escaped; that was some good news at least. Finding some solid ground, the MacHugh plopped onto the surprisingly dry dirt, being careful to check for any dangerous flora. "Dungeon Diving and Swamp Searching 111, always look out for Carnivines and Brainleaf Fronds before making camp."
Bartleby cursed, "Damn, I was doing so well too." He thought to himself. "I mean, I'd actually had the chain round the beast's gullet! I guess upper-body strength was never really my strong suit."
Who was he talking to? What's-His-Name-from-the-North-of-Somewhere-Possibly-England was dead, devoured, but still Bartleby gestured as though he were not alone. Bartleby removed his Booney hat and hung it on a branch. His face was smudged with sweat and mud. Whilst draining what seemed like several litres of swamp water from his boots it struck him that he finally had an illustration to copy into his expedition journal. He began to sketch feverishly. So excited that he'd come so close, he resolved to go back and finish the job. He loaded his musket, sharpened his machete, and laced up his boots, but as he shook the prodigious Megapede from his Booney hat and put it on his head, Bartleby recalled what his excitement had erased, his fear, more specifically, his fear of being made into a fine red mist in by array of horrors. He felt yet compelled to go on, though his instincts told him not to.
In Mel Chow's story, the hunt is an annual ritual, but one very different from what its pageantry suggests:
The village elder would blow on the hunting horn. And with a whirlwind, a loud noise, and a flash of light, the Hunter would appear in the middle of the village. Each time, he would nod solemnly at the village elder, before trudging forth into the unknown reaches of the surrounding swamp, followed by a number of admirers and sycophants clamouring for his attention.
This season of the Hunter was looked upon with great favour by the villagers, as it would always precede a time of plenty. Three days after the Hunter had left, the Village Elder would fiddle with a smartphone. And with a whirlwind, a loud noise, and a flash of light, the season of the FedEx-Delivery-Guy would begin, bringing forth food, drink, washing machines, flat-screen TVs and other curiosities from beyond the village.
One day, Faizal told himself. One day he would go up to the Hunter and talk to him. And learn from him. And become him. One day he would be the hero to step out from the swamps into the village, the fearsome Brambleman trotting obediently behind as a tame kitten. One day he would step into the middle of the village and disappear in a whirlwind, loud noise and flash of light, heading for the great and terrible marvels of beyond.
Maybe he'd even wave to the FedEx-Delivery-Guy as he passed.
And it was due to this aspiration that Faizal found himself in the middle of the swamp, in his Epic Quest to support the Hunter in capturing the fearsome Brambleman. Looking at the burly, grizzled, ridiculously-well-armed-to-the-point-of-overkill form of the almighty Hunter, Faizal wondered if the Hunter even considered this epic, considering the number of times he had done it before.
The Hunter looked him over. A grunt of approval.
"Fine young man," he observed. "The places you'll go once all this is over. Who knows, maybe a place in the Private Millitia of Paptimus Pang. Be all you can be."
"You mean, be the burly, grizzled, ridiculously-well-armed-to-the-point-of-overkill Man-In-Fedora who fells the Scimitar-Brandishing-Maniac with a single shot, instead of his Scrawny-Compatriot-Who-Runs-About-Like-Headless-Chicken-Screaming-Nonononono, whom my peers say I resemble?"
The Hunter raised an eyebrow.
"I see the TV has done your people well."
And stopped abruptly, for they had arrived at the dwelling of the Bramblemen. The air was very still. Silence.
The lake stretched forth before them, its waters black, its surface as still as the air. Or was it? Looking closely, Faizal could, for a second, vaguely make out the slightest of movements beneath the surface. Or was that but his over-active imagination?
The Hunter must have seen it too. He looked up from the lake's surface, then left and right amongst the overhanging branches, before turning to look behind them. Faizal looked at him worriedly.
The Hunter cleared his throat. From around his waist, he extended a length of the chain he used as a belt, tying it around Faizal's waist too.
"Can't get seperated. When up against the Brambleman, people tend to get seperated...in more ways than one. Unless we're damn careful."
He drew his gun, and cocked it.
Faizal had heard the stories. Of other not-so-fortunate villagers, trying to make a name for themselves. Just months ago, a group of them had purchased an obscene amount of firearms and ordnance from Amazon and headed for the swamps in search of the Brambleman. The Hunter had brought back what was left of them, and there was much lamenting (and throwing up) on that day.
And come to think of it, there should be others like him, who had followed the Hunter into the swamps. What became of them?
"Faizal. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."
The Hunter was looking straight at him now. Faizal could sense something stirring in the inky black pupils of the man's eyes. Something strange and terrible.
"I'm not a hunter. Never was. I'm an arms merchant."
And with that, he kicked Faizal into the murky depths of the lake.
It took quite an amount of struggling and tugging at the chain before Faizal managed to stick his head out the surface of the lake. He opened his mouth to bleat in protest, but the only sound which came forth was a roar.
SJRH puts us in the mind of the hunter:
My methods aren't what you'd expect from a hunter. So listen up. Most use guns, and ropes, and chains as they quarry. Sure. Not to mention stylish hair. A hat, sometimes. A winning grin. Long straight teeth. All of that stuff. And I'd be the first to say the same. But true hunting isn't just coming in with the better tools, keeping your equipment free of mud... No. A true hunter uses his prey as the weapon, not a musket. He turns the stupid creature against itself. Let me show you how it's done.
First it's worth saying that you have to be thick-skinned in this profession — there I go again, talking about it like a job — you have to be able to put up with little barbs and buckshots from all around. You know how many times I have come back successful to be met with scorn, called a coward? Why because I don't like to use my bare hands, because I prefer my trophies to look immaculate when I haul them in rather than bloody? I'm a hunter, dammit, not some beast.
To be honest, my biggest problem in the tribe is looking too good, with my winning grin, my long straight teeth. Some others use these scary masks. But I believe that in the swamp, you have to make your target feel like they have a chance — not that there's much going on behind the eyes, but there's something — you let them get a few hits in even, because then the technique works so much better. And what is it you do when they have hit you? What did we first learn as kids? You play dead.
You go down with a big splash into the peet. And you wait.
These apes are so stupid. Don't they even wonder why you have a chain attached already when they go over to gloat? A chain that practically begs 'go on, lead this big ol' horror back to the camp... you'll look so good, all the females will swoon, with your stylish hair and winning grin... pick it up...' and you wait until that little hand reaches down and clamps on to the metal; you let him 'drag' you back to your feet, a slave. I swear, you don't even have to secure the chain then, cos from here on in those creatures' mindset, or something, kicks in... He won't ever let go, no Sir, not ever. He thinks he is walking you home to skin, but really you'll be walking him.
In kschang's story, monster and hunter are in cahoots:
MH: "Look bud, just wear this for the photo. See? It's not locked. "
M: "Why? So you look like you 'caught' me?"
MH: "It's for 1 million smackaroos, man! I'll split it with you."
MH: "You're kidding, right? You just pose for one photo! 90/10"
M: "Yeah, but if you 'caught' me once other people's gonna come looking. I have to relocate my whole family! 40/60"
MH: "Good point. 80/20?"
M: "Come on, you think it's easy to move looking like this? I can't exactly go hire a Uhaul! You get 30 I get 70."
MH: "All right, all right. But I want a dozen pictures and all rights."
M: "Deal, and you never mention that there's more than one of my kind."
MH: "How many are there?"
M: "None of your **** business. How do you want the pose?"
Drabbler warns us not to reach out to touch monsters, even if they're big fakes:
"Nah, kiddies," Jock said in his broad Aussie accent, "Danny here's a pussycat compared to his brothers out in the swamp. Still, I wouldn't get too close to those teeth if I were you." He tugged on the large plant creature's chain, and it roared threateningly.
One of the boys at the back pushed his way forward. "That's stupid! It's someone in a suit, see?" He reached up toward the creature, which bit his arm off.
* * *
Six months later, Jock and his cousin Bruce, who'd been in the costume, were given suspended sentences; jurors agreed the brat had deserved it.
Chris White poses an unexpected relationship between hunter and monster:
His eyes shone red. Through the swirling shadows, cast long by the guttering torchlight, I saw his chest rise and fall, through the eerie silence I heard his heavy breathing. The mist lay, a heavy, goose-feather blanket slung over the swamp. I stumbled, over the moss-slicked corpses of once-mighty giants, seeking the dry scraps of land between murky pools. The stench of decay rose from the mud as my heavy iron boots sunk ankle deep beneath the surface. The death of the cicadas' songs – I knew my quarry was near.
He had been easy enough to track through the outlying fields at the quagmire's border, the shattered barbed wire fences and unrecognisable chunks of flesh served as signposts. He was heading home. Heading deeper into his Evergladian labyrinth. Tracking such a beast into his lair was never too difficult; he was drunk on his own sense of power, and the stench of fear rising from the village led his bloodlust on. Each night he grew bolder, more powerful, more dangerous.
They had summoned me to the village too late, but as the King's man my duty would heed no revolution. Like Beowulf to Grendel's cave I would press on. It is a measly wage, that of the Monster Hunter, Second Class. A measly wage for such a dangerous task, although the villagers loathed paying, and each night that another lamb was taken, each night a poacher was found decapitated, each maiden defiled would halve my salary. And they have the gall to call me in twelve nights after the beast erupted from the mud. They called me in after the mob had moved, their empty skulls set up in warning around the beast's sanctuary. They had let him grow more powerful with each night, I told the Head-man, had made my work infinitely more difficult.
His eyes shone red in the darkness. Sated he watched me approach, his twisted grimace raising into a smile as my eyes flicked toward his grisly trophies. No longer hungry, he was happy to see me approach through the darkness. My hunting rifle stayed at my side, my machete sheathed. "Are you happy now?" I whispered from twenty paces, and he nodded – his hearing was superb.
"We should move on, find some other village to relieve of their trouble-makers…and their fresh little lambs." He chortled, his mouth gaping to reveal row upon row of tombstone teeth. I pulled him close to me, resting my head against the rough-bark grating of his skin. Breathed deep his musk as I slid his chain beneath his arms.
And so along the King's roads we march, buffeted by the screams of the villagers, by the intolerance of those afraid of what he is. Always moving onward, looking for a moment of peace, escaping their united stares, seeking only serenity. They are afraid of what we have become, together.
Our love was never meant to be, and would never be accepted.
My beautiful monster.
green_gryphon sends the unlikely pair on a road trip:
"I think I left the stove on." Squish
"And maybe the shower too." Squish, squish.
"If we could just go back for a minut.."
"Aaarggh, no, you crazy behemoth, NO. We are not turning around. I've been looking forward to this trip all year and you are NOT going to spoil it for me!"
Silence reigned for a bit...except for the squishing.
"Are you sure it's this way?"
"Yes, I'm sure. If you're so worried why don't you take a look at the map you brought with you. I marked our route and all the roads and rest stops too. That should make you happy."
The squishing ceased.
There was silence again and then it seemed a small sound, like steam escaping a very angry kettle, drifted past the hulking tree creature.
Finch had stopped dead in his tracks. They'd only left home a few hours ago and Geoffrey was a worried mess already.
"Damn," thought Finch, "why can't we just take a nice vacation like everyone else for a change. Go somewhere dry, hang with the sci-fi geeks and do a few book signings for beer money?"
A long, deep sigh left Finch and danced away into the mirky fog of the swamp. He and Geoffrey had been together for ages, and he loved him dearly.
Geoff was the best companion anyone could wish for; he was house, home, hearth and a damn good literary agent to boot.
But, he'd always been hard to travel with even though he was top notch when it came to planning every detail of a trip, right down to their transportation.
Yes, Geoffrey could plan well, but his execution left a little to be desired.
His bark covered friend was playing in the mud now, relishing the feel of greenish brown ooze between his roots.
Finch sighed again. "What map ? The map you were in charge of, remember? You said this time I was to take care of the chain, flashlights, camping gear, machetes, rifles, and all things sharp and pointy. You, good sir, were in charge of the snacks, compass, and map. The map. Tell me you have the map!"
Geoffrey frowned thoughtfully and played with his chain. "I'm hungry," he said, " you know I can't think when I'm hungry." He squished his way over to a mossy bank and sat, then
leaned over until he was resting comfortably on his side. "Have a seat and I'll look for the map after we eat. It has to be here somewhere."
Finch let go the chain and sat down on his ponderous companion, glad to have a seat whenever and wherever he needed one.
"Have a look in my upper branches, I stashed our food in a nest the owl's left there."
Finch reached deep into Geoffrey's tangle of twigs and vines and, finding the owl's nest, pulled out a thermos and a few sandwiches. He handed over a Spanish Moss on mud, then poured a welcomed cup of java from the thermos for himself.
"Hmm, let's see here.. peanut butter and pickles or cream cheese with green olives? Yummy choices as always, Geoff. I think I'll start with the PB."
Finch and Geoff munched quietly for awhile then Geoff took a swig of swamp water and began hunting through his cubby holes.
"Map, map," he sang to himself, "where have you
gotten to I wonder?" He pulled out the compass and then dug deeper making his way past a family of racoons he'd yet to evict.
"Excelsior!" he exclaimed, producing a scroll bound with ivy,
"never doubted myself for a minute."
They spread the map out and studied the markings.
"Well," Finch frowned as he checked the compass, "we need to get a move on if we want to catch our ride before sunset. If we keep on this heading we should find the main highway in a
few miles. Let's get to it, old man, you know traffic will lighten up as the sun starts to dip and I'll be darned if we're going to miss our
first night at the convention."
Finch jumped down and used the chain tied around Geoffrey's waist to right the great hulk again. "Darn thing bites into me but it sure does come in handy, eh Finchy ?"
Finch had to agree with that. He had never known Geoffrey to travel without his chain and, he had to admit to himself, "As cocky as I think I am, I'd never make it through this swamp without holding onto Geoff." Tramping on through the muck, he remembered his first meeting with the creaking monster and how many times since then Geoff had saved him from being swallowed by peat bogs or drowning in the unforgiving swamp they called home.
As they went, the swamp now became drier which made
walking easier for Finch. Geoffrey, all root and tangle, managed to slide along as the mirk of the swamp turned to soft, wild grasses under his rustling and creaking bulk.
They made it to the highway just as the sun began to light up the clouds in purple, peach and pink.
Geoffrey grinned at the sunset, "I forget so easily how beautiful the sky can is. It's a good thing you talk me into going on these trips with you, Finch. I'd miss a lot if I always stayed at home in the swamp." Finch patted his gnarled and knotted friend. " Well, my boy, that's what friends are for. We've made it here just fine and soon we'll be walking red and gold carpets surrounded by
our adoring fans. But, first things first. It's time for you to go to work."
Finch found a spot near the road where he could stand in the shadows of the setting sun. They both set down their gear then checked the chain around Geoffrey's waist to make sure it was comfortable but secure. "Ready, Geoff?"
"All set," answered the mass of bark and branch.
Finch settled himself in the grass and held Geoffrey's chain letting it slowly run out through his hands.
He could hear Geoffry moving towards the highway, swaying his terrible limbs as he crossed the grass and onto the asphalt.
The chain was pulled tight now, Finch
holding sure to the leather grip as the tree creature stood and waited on the other end.
In an instant there was a squeeling of brakes, the chain wrenched free of Finch's grasp to the sound of shattering glass, then all fell silent.
Finch jumped from the shadows and ran up onto the darkening road. Geoffrey stood quietly surveying a pick-up truck that had skidded into his chain and now sat askew on the highway,
it's engine turning over, the driver thrown somewhere back into the swamp.
Finch got behind the wheel and straightened out the pick-up, left it running while he piled their travel gear into the front seat and used the chain to help Geoffrey get up and into the truck bed.
"Like the wheels?" grinned Geoff as he pulled bits of paint and chrome off his thick hide.
"Good catch. Yep, good catch as always,"
Finch laughed as he swung himself into the truck.
He gunned the engine, winking at Geoff in the rear-view mirror and
pulled onto the empty highway, driving away from the dark, silent swamp and into the beckoning city lights.
OsmanIV sees this not as a monster, but an alien:
Strangers in The Dark
The heat was oppressive in the swamp as Gander James squirmed slightly on his hover bike's seat. Stifling his irritation at not bringing his envo-suit with him his mind remembered how his meeting with his employer had gone.
"Mr. Gander?", she had said in a City accent while putting on a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes. He would have known who she was without her signet ring and the four body guards trailing behind her. Elaria Smith, the Magister's own daughter, was even more beautiful than the news feeds he had seen her in. Already two months had passed since he had accepted the job when she had finished telling her story. It was too similar to his own.
His smile faded as his thoughts went to that night night his mother was taken. He had stood there in his mothers bedroom with half the wall thorn off in front of him and the feeling of safety beginning to seem like a memory. He had sworn he would never give up looking for her as the police took him to the adoption agency, with him having had no living relatives except his mother as his father was dead. He had taken the title 'monster hunter' as people called him that, gradually warming up to the idea. Knowing that his mother was taken by aliens didn't make a difference since he felt they deserved the term 'monsters' more than the fantasy kind did.
The screen flashed silently even as he felt the notice in his head, bringing him out of his dark thoughts, when the scanners found what he was looking for. He instructed the computer on the bike, silently by his mind through the tele-patchs behind his ears, to back him up in case of an emergency and to not kill the thing as it did so. He slowed his breathing to calm himself and took hold of his blaster, lowering the power to make it a powerful stunner. He would need it to ask some questions. The computer 'told' him they would find the thing behind the trees they were approaching, as the motors under him sped up silently skimming just above the almost stagnant waters.
It took a lot less effort than what Gander usually went through. He stunned the thing without the computer's assistant and slipped on the shock-collar on what he supposed was its neck, its breathing stopping for a moment as the needles on the inside of the collar sunk into its flesh. Once the thing woke up Gander shocked it through the iron ring in his hand that connected to the collar by the thick links that extended only when he wanted them to. The electric and chemicals surging through the collar into its neck made the thing's hideous face grimace in pain. He had made sure to leave none of its equipment near it.
"What is your name?", Gander asked trying to decide what language to translate the question next if the thing didn't understand him.
"You can call me Ku-yi", the thing said with a perfect western accent after it had been shocked a couple of times.
Gander was not surprised it spoke English since most aliens he had met were fluent in many languages. "I'm going to ask you some questions", he said as he took of his hat to run his fingers through his sweat damp hair and continued saying, "and let me remind you to not lie to me.", as he shocked it one more time.
When he had the thing's attention again he took the i-sheet he wore around his neck by a silver chain like a necklace and stretched it, the screen coming alive with his mothers smiling face as it unraveled. He chose a picture of her from one of the last photo shots she had had. Instructing the computer on the bike to start the brain scanner and focus the rays on the thing until it showed what the computer assured him was its brain he begun the thing he had done every time he caught his quarry. He asked, "Have you seen this women?", and showed it his mothers image on the i-sheet while he kept alert on the computer feeds to his brain.
"No.", the thing said with no change to its voice or face.
Gander shocked it again for its lie . He had felt the spike in the scanner feeds which only appeared when a brain recognized the object shown. Stretching until his elbows popped with a satisfying sound Gander smiled in a cold way thinking to himself, 'Its gonna be a long day.'. The thing on the ground writhed making weird noises that would have been begging punctuated with screams had it been human.