By R. B. Wood
It was raining the night the dark-faced, false-skinned murderers came for my children. I’d been through and survived their senseless killings before, escaping with my life and little else.
If it were just me, I wouldn’t be concerned. But I had children now, and the three youngsters were asleep, huddled together for warmth and comfort. The wind howled at our home while torrents of rain lashed down, threatening to drown us. Indistinct voices sounded outside. They didn’t kill us to eat. They slaughtered us for fun, and they were far more dangerous than any jungle storm.
Lightning exploded around me as I woke the children. The two youngest, Chand and Saarya, fussed and complained sleepily, but Ishaan, my eldest, woke instantly and was immediately alert, staring at me with his beautiful and expectant emerald eyes. There was so much more to teach them, but there was no more time. I had to trust that they could find their own path, as young as they were. I did once, long ago. Now it was their turn. I needed to face the false-skinned murderers and keep them from my family.
I knew that by dawn, I would be dead.
I nodded once to Ishaan, then to the jungle. He nodded once in response. He swatted at his sister and brother and the two fell into line behind him. My three babies stole away through the lashing rain. It took only seconds for them to disappear from sight—an impressive feat for ones so young. I felt a moment of pride, just then, I admit it.
Ishaan was doing his job as the eldest. It was time for me to do mine as their mother. The false-skinned murderers wanted something to kill? I would not make it easy for them. I leaped out of the door of my home for the last time and began to stalk my prey. I found the first one urinating against a tree. I took him before he even knew there was danger.
I ripped the throat out of a second murderer moments later. This one lets out a gurgling cry, but the wind and then rain masked the sound of his death. I was approaching a third when I heard a loud crack—the report of one of their damnable fire-sticks. Caution be damned, I ran toward the sound, already knowing what I’d find. Little Chand was lying among the fronds, his blood pooling, mixing with the rain and the dirt. A ragged wound had taken the place of the soft, black fur of his chest. I watched him take his last breath. Whether he realized I was with him when he died, I’ll never know.
A second crack sounded nearby and I roared with rage, bounding away from one dead child only to find another—my little Saarya—missing half of her head. I could see bloody, broken teeth showing through the hole. A grotesque mockery of what had been her beautiful smile. All around my daughter I could smell her death, taste her blood. I was about to scream again when I heard a higher pitched yell of fear and pain. Not Ishann too, I thought and set off as fast as my legs would carry me.
I splashed through puddles and slid in the muck, scrambling to get to my boy. I found him. But it hadn’t been he who screamed. Lying on the ground was a murderer. His throat had been ripped out, much like I’d done to his companion moments before. A broken fire-stick lay beside him.
Ishaan was there, ripping at the murder’s false-skin, tearing into the dark flesh underneath. My son was in the middle of a blood rage. He had lost the sense of himself, lost awareness of the danger that still surrounded us. I pulled him off his kill. He bit and clawed at me, and I let him until his rage faded.
Shouts could be heard coming closer, and beams from false-suns sprang up. More murderers would come, as they always did, sensing an impending kill. They would be riding in metal beasts and carrying larger fire-sticks.
We needed to run.
No, I thought. Ishann needs to run. I failed to keep the false-skinned killers from Chand and Saarya. I will not fail a third time.
I held my son close, inhaling his scent, trying to explain to him how he needed to run, how proud I was of him. How much I loved him. Rain washed away the blood and dirt from the fur of my child as I set him down upon the sodden ground. He looked up at me, emerald eyes unblinking, understanding. And at the next flash of lightning, my son was gone. Thunder rumbled, and I growled a challenge in response, matching tone and timber.
Voices were all around me now. Many false-suns lit the jungle chaotically, bouncing off trees and ground and rain.
One of them shouted, and other false-suns turned to me in an instant. There was no more time. I snarled in defiance.
This is for Chand and Saarya. This is to keep my Ishann free.
I pounced amongst screams. Their fire-sticks roared. Blood flowed, and the rains fell harder.
R. B. Wood is a technology consultant and a writer of Speculative and Dark Fiction. His first novel, The Prodigal’s Foole, was released to critical acclaim in 2012. Mr. Wood is currently working on multiple stories and his MFA (Emerson College Class of ’19). Along with his writing passion, R. B. is the host of The Word Count Podcast – a show that features talent from all around the globe reading original flash-fiction stories.
R. B. currently lives in Boston with his partner, Tina, a multitude of cats and various other critters that visit from time to time.