• Brent Streeter

Standing Down

Photo by Athena: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-cave-during-daytime-3010021/

This will likely be my last entry, and I pray that whoever finds this entry does, so before they find me. I was called to a small hamlet out in the harsh wild-lands, how they managed to track me down I know not, but they were insistent in their need for my aid.

Upon my arrival in the small hamlet, I was overcome with pity, the hamlet was destitute and hanging onto life by a thread, no doubt to the recent drought and the subsequent ill harvest. The souls that resided in that place had a disheveled look about them. They watched me pass in silence as I made my way to the elder’s hovel. There I was greeted with warm gratitude underlined by a palpable scent of despair. The elder explained their need for me, I was to seek out a beast that had taken the children in the dead of night.

The elder urged me to track the beast and put an end to it, they gave no request on the return of their children. I inquired to where it was last seen, and I was directed to an adobe that stood upon the edges of a vast expanse of forest. The mother had said her child had been taken from its bed without a sound. The statement unsettled my very being, what beast could do this without force of entry. I discovered the prints that I was to track, it struck me as unusual, and I had never seen such like them.

I followed the trail to the edge of the woods, where they seemed to move deeper in. Before following further, I removed my knife from its sheath and etched a mark into the trunk of a tree. I wound my way through the forest, marking trunks as I went, if something were to go wrong at least I would be found. The trail took me deep into the tight pressed forest and after several hours of arduous tracking I came upon the mouth of a cave. I placed my pack down upon the gravelly earth and removed a torch and some flint. Within seconds the torch was lit, the oil-soaked linen catching with ease. I held up the sputtering torch and began my exploration of the cave.

The cave system was expansive and delve deep beneath the earth, with many twisting tunnels branching off into the abyssal darkness that pressed close to the meager light given off from the torch I carried. To ensure I would not get lost down in these subterranean depths, I once more left markings at every junction that I was faced with. After all, losing one’s way in the bowels of the earth was to invite death itself.

At some point, I stopped to renew my strength with what little rations I had left. Feeling renewed, I hoisted my pack and continued on my path. Not long after, a fetid stench of decay assaulted my senses and the warmth of the underground was suddenly gone, replaced with a chilling bite to the stagnant air. I turned down a tunnel and found myself in a cavern of sorts, and there I saw them. The remains of small bodies with their lifeless eyes peering back at me from behind sheets of ice, while half-eaten detached limbs littered the floor. I looked around the cavern in horror and felt my stomach turn, I had stumbled into the beast’s larder. My torch sputtered and died plunging me into complete darkness, cursing I frantically reached for the next torch in my pack.

That was when I heard it. A soft scuttling and scratching coming from somewhere down the way which I had come. I paused in my quest for light while willing my eyes to adjust, my hand instinctively clasped over the knife at my side. Frozen in place, I waited as the sounds grew closer, stopping and starting as if the beast too was cautious as to what it faced.

My vision had adjusted enough that I was able to see the faint outline of the beast approaching. It had a precarious gait that alternated between bipedal and quadrupedal strides, my breath caught in my chest as I bore witness to a beast that appeared more humanoid than animal. The beast came closer, and I, not trusting my poor vision, went for my torch, the flame flared to life. The beast hissed and retreated into the darkness. What I saw in that brief moment struck me with a sense of horror and dread, and I felt the torch slip from my hand and clatter to the floor, flames licking stone. The beast was tall, its body sallow and emaciated, tight skin clinging to its skeletal form, long white hair fell from its head and its limbs were elongated and clawed.

Fear took me and I ran, but the beast was faster than I and from the shadows it struck out. We crashed in a tangle of limbs. I pulled my knife in earnest and plunged it into the beast, feeling the blade sink deep into its chest. The beast shuddered and lay still. I escaped from beneath it and stumbled over to the fallen torch, while clutching a weeping wound. I returned to the beast and found that the beast had once been a woman before it had turned foul. I felt weak and, not knowing how much time I had left, thought to relay what I had discovered.

The torch is almost out as I draw near to this end. I can feel my mind slipping, a sickness taking me. The hunger is inescapable, and the small frozen bodies of the lost children are starting to look inviting. I fear that I am fast becoming that which I slew and I urge you, do not stand down and above all else do not let me out.