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May 13, 2024

Fevered Dreaming 07

By Sand Pilarski

Tristan passed by the cave where the beast slept, quietly lifting his feet clear of the soft footing so as not to make any scuffing noises. The door to the cave was open, and Tristan could smell the hateful scorched-dust scent of it emanating from the darkness. He tried to avert his eyes from the horrible sight, but at the last moment he could possibly catch a glimpse from the corner of his eye, he turned his head, unable to keep himself from torturing his own mind with the sight. He gasped -- the monster was not in the cave!

The hair on the back of his neck prickled, and he paused, glancing around to see if the thing had left its spoor to show in which direction it had traveled. There were faint tracks everywhere from its hard feet, and Tristan could not make out which were the most recent. He listened carefully, tilting his head from side to side, trying to pinpoint the sound of the monster. The only sound he could hear was the sound of his own heart, his own breathing, which threatened to become panting in his rising anxiety.

Be calm, he told himself. The ugly thing can't run very fast, so I can get away if it attacks me. And it has no sense of smell, so it can't track me if I hide. Ah, but there was the catch: what if he sought a hiding place, and came upon the creature lying in wait for him? It was safer to stay in the open until he had sighted it, and then run swiftly for cover until it went to ground in its lair. With any luck, he could avoid its baleful glare, and rest until he heard it scrape into its cave.

Tristan passed by the philodendrons and ferns. He thought that a drink from the Well would be a good idea, and perhaps he would find some food there to eat, provisioning his body for the long wait until the beast was no longer at large.

His family thought him obsessed with the beast. "It hasn't eaten you yet, what are you so worried about?" they asked him. "It's perfectly tame. Look, I can touch it and it doesn't mind, it doesn't bite me. In fact, it helps me out a lot."

Sure it did. But only because of the feeding. The accursed thing would eat almost anything. Bread crumbs. Old dried cereal flakes. Food that even ants would not touch, although Tristan had seen the beast snarf up an invasion of ants without a second thought, swallowing them down without even killing them first.

Could it be that the antipathy Tristan perceived from the monster was purely personal, and not just in the nature of the beast? Had it arrived here, met him, and thought to itself, "That Tristan is my sworn enemy from this day, for I resolve to destroy him and take his place among Men"? Was he really the only one whose life the beast coveted? Tristan worried the thought in his mind, casting back through the years to find their first meeting, their subsequent conversations, his shocked observation of its feeding frenzy. He shuddered, remembering the first time he had heard its shrill snarling as it fed. He'd been rooted to the spot in fear, until the beast spotted him and cried, "You!" He had turned and fled until he could flee no farther.

Tristan shivered. The thing could not scent him, but it knew him by taste. Its disgusting appetite even led it to eagerly eat hair. With his own eyes, Tristan had seen it eat bits of paper, shoelaces, mud from shoes, a sock left under the dust ruffle of a bed, and the hair Tristan had carefully nibbled off the base of his tail.

Seeing it feed made him feel physically ill. It lunged forward and back, screaming its maniacal epithets so loudly Tristan's ears rang for hours afterwards. Grasped in the heroic hand of one of his family, the thing would struggle to be set free, only to be pulled backwards again and again. Tristan supposed that his family was trying to train the beast to walk at heel, but it wasn't working. The thing constantly leapt forward and had to be jerked back. Why they allowed it to live was beyond his powers to understand; the family had to be afraid of it, too, on some level, to put up with its ill manners.

He rounded the corner in the hall, beginning to salivate a little at the thought of food and water. He had not seen the creature anywhere; perhaps his family had finally become fed up with the thing's screaming voice and called Animal Control to come pick it up. The thought cheered him, and he began to trot.

"YOU!" cried the beast as it crouched beside the doorway to the kitchen. "I SEE YOU."

Tristan cowered back a little, tensing his muscles to keep from widdling. "Leave me alone, I have no quarrel with you."

"Come closer, dog, and let me see what you are made of," said the thing.

Tristan showed his white teeth and growled a little.

The thing grinned evilly with its many silver teeth and laughed to itself. "I know the future, dog. I know what will happen in this house." Its single eye stared at him, dominating him.

Tristan backed up a few steps, all the hairs of his spine rising in fear. "How do you know? No one knows what the next hour will bring."

"I need not predict the future. I know what must come to pass because of what I have seen, and because of what I have eaten. And I have eaten heavily this day." Its sides were bulging grotesquely, indeed, and Tristan could smell the heated odor of his own hair and -- his own food!

"You fiend," the dog barked, "you ate some of my food!"

"Yes, you hairy little obstacle to cleanliness, you left bits of your food all over the kitchen. I ate all of them. Let me convey to you, worthless dog, that based on the amount of dog hair and dog food that I have eaten today, I know exactly what will be asked of me in the very near future. Let me tell you in detail ... "

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-08-03
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