Monday, June 25, 2007

The Strange Creature, Part III

(Read This Part Third!! See First & Second Parts Below)

Helmsley's aim was true, but his faithful sword failed to pierce the monster's flesh. The blade merely glanced off the creature's chest, denting the tough, leathery skin of its tunic -as if its heart were made of stone. Helmsley was stunned; he had never seen the like of this before, and it shocked him greater than the monster's gruesome appearance and ever-changing features. He took two steps back, gasping, "What sorcery is this?"

The monster laughed and lunged toward Helmsley, its arms outstretched as if to tear Helmsley's head from his shoulders. Helmsley quickly duck and spun out of the thing's path, slicing his left leg in a circle to knock the creatures legs out from underneath him. The maneuver succeeded and Helmsley found himself staring down at the creature on the ground. He raised his sword to make the killing blow, but two thoughts fought for prominence in his mind. The first was that his sword had failed before; what will make it prevail this time? The second was that the creature had not move since it fell. It lay, quite silently, on its belly, face-down in the dirt. Acting on impulse, Helmsley kicked the creature over onto its back, holding his sword and shield at the ready. The monster was not dead -its eyes were open, staring into Helmsley's eyes. But it did not move. Helmsley grew angry -was the monster toying with him? Would it pretend to be injured and then fly up and destroy him? What game was it playing? The last question Helmsley said aloud.

"No game, I'm afraid, Sir Helmsley. This is, in fact, a matter of life or death. Many already have died from this 'game' as you just called it. Many of your men...hunters, soldiers..." Incredibly, the monster's features began to settle, forming a face grotesque but yet disturbing in its likeness to humanity. Even more incredibly, Helmsley spied tears glistening in the creatures opaque eyes and on its hollowed out cheeks.

"I don't understand. Explain yourself!" Helmsley cried out.

"Explain...explain...yes. I can do that. Though I do not have much time left now," the creature wheezed. "I did not kill your men. And they are not all dead. Most -well, not most, but at least half -of your people have indeed lived."

"Liar!" Helmsley roared, "You lie -they have never returned from battle with you and your brethren! Where are they, then, if in fact more than half of them still live?"

"I do not know. It is unfair to ask me. Ask yourself where a human like yourself might go once they have battled against -and prevailed against -themselves. Ask yourself where a human might run to, where a human might hide, once he has discovered what lies within him. What darkness lies within him." The creature gazed into Helmsley's eyes, openly shedding tears now, but making no effort to wipe them from its deformed face. "Ask yourself, and maybe there you will find your men -the ones that survived. The others, I'm afraid, very very afraid, have been consumed by their darker selves. Like you might have been, had not your bravery in facing facing yourself...saved you in the end. This is the end, you know." The monster's tears finally stopped falling, and it took a deep breath. It gazed at Helmsley expectantly, waiting for a flurry of questions.

Alas, it was disappointed. Helmsley was so confused, so surprised, so flummoxed, that he had no questions at all. Questions are indicative of knowledge -for without knowledge, one can ask no questions. That was the state of Helmsley's mind at this point -empty of all save confusion, ignorance, and perhaps to be fair, self awareness of his ignorance. Finally, after long moments of quiet in the dusky wood, Helmsley opened his mouth: "You are my darker side?"

The creature laughed, its spit and breath smelling none the sweeter for all the revelations. "Yes, yes...I thought that part was clear. Listen Helmsley...all your life, you have been a good, decent man...but you have always been afraid. That fear, whether it was a fear of failure, fear of being disliked, fear of success -it restricted you. It kept you from doing good things along with the bad things it saved you from. Your fear was always never addressed it, never worked on it. So finally, you had to fight it. The fact that you did, that you came here to fight, that you didn't sink to your knees and beg for mercy when even your faithful sword failed you -that means you won. You beat me...and so I will not harm you. I will not consume you. At least for now."

"What do you mean, 'for now'?" Helmsley warily asked.

"Oh," the creature smiled. "I'll be back -my features are ever shifting, and you might not recognize the form I next take...but I'll always be a part of you, and there will always be battles to fight."

Helmsley now knew yet more fear, but not for himself. He asked, "But what about my people? How can I protect them, protect them from the others like you? I guess what I am asking is: How can I protect them from themselves?"

The creature slowly rose to its feet and wearily shook its head. "You can't, Sir Helmsley. You cannot prevent the battles from happening. But you can teach them how to win, how not to be afraid, and how to face themselves. You can teach them how it can be done. But now I must have defeated me, and I will let you celebrate...or run away, depending on your inclination."

Sir Helmsley tried to absorb all of this while watching the creature begin to fade away from sight. A moment before it had totally disappeared, though, Helmsley heard one last remark from his darker self.

"You do not need to run away. No matter how terrifying you find your darker self, you can never truly run from it. It -I -am always with you. But, perhaps, you can take some sort of twisted comfort in that."

The creature was gone. Helmsley knew that it was not gone forever, though, but he did not choose to run away. Instead, he chose to go home. To return to his people, and take the advice of his darker, twisted self and teach his people. He turned away from the clearing in the wood and began to walk back to town, his boots crunching the dried twigs and leaves that blanketed the forest floor. Soon he emerged from the wood, his face shining in the full light of the glorious noonday sun. He had won his first battle, and he had many more to win. The sun shone for Helmsley forever.

This is the end, you know.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Strange Creature, Part II

(Read This Part Second!! See First Part Below)

Sir Helmsley stepped into the forest, his leather boots crunching the dried leaves and twigs beneath his shodden feet. He held his unsheathed sword in his right hand, which pounded with the blood coursing through his veins, pumped by a racing heart. The overhanging branches shaded the wood from the glare of the early sun, forming a green canopy over his head. The darkness comforted like a blanket of protection while chilling the air with gloom.

Helmsley followed the tracks of his soldiers --though he was no hunter, the footprints were stamped clearly enough for even him to read. The tracks led north, deep into the heart of the forest, and he followed it faithfully, his steps neither hasty or unsure. He walked steadily on to whatever lay ahead.

More than an hour after Helmsley first entered the wood, the tracks he had been so diligently following disappeared. They vanished from sight in the center of a large clearing almost eerily perfect in its circular symmetry. A perfect ring of trees encircled the clearing, their slim white trunks climbing into the unseen sky. Rays of sunlight shone through the trees, illuminating the bare earth and grim solitude. Helmsley knew that this was where he would meet the monster, and here it was that one of them would be defeated. He sincerely hoped it would not be he.

After a few very slow moving minutes of quiet, Helmsley hear a rustling of leaves and the breaking of twigs --sounds indicating the presence of another.

Behind the westernmost tree of the ring, a dark and shapeless shadow emerged. At first, Helmsley believed it to be just a trick of the dappled light in the grove, but he soon saw the shadow lengthen and strengthen until it was clearly formed of flesh, bone, and who knew what else. The monster had some semblance of humanity, but twisted and deformed. Its face -if it can be called such -seemed to transform and shift at every moment. A great odor emanated from the creature. Helmsley shrank back, frightened and disgusted by its ever-changing features and rank stench. The gentleman breathed deeply to still his roiling stomach and stood his ground. He then raised his sword and prepared for battle, whispering a prayer that he will not fail his people.

Then, out of the gloom of the surrounding trees, more shadows emerged and became form and flesh. Then still more appeared, followed by dozens more. In a matter of minutes, Helmsley was surrounded on all sides by hundreds of freakish monsters. At the terrifying sight before him, Helmsley wanted nothing more than to drop his sword, sink to his knees and weep. But Helmsley found a long-lost inner wellspring of strength and gripped his sword and stared at the unsightly and extremely smelly beasts around him. He slowly turned in a circle, wondering which monster would lead the charge.

To his great and everlasting surprise, none did. The creatures gave a collective sniff in his direction and melted back into the shadows of the forest. All except one. One lone beast stood in the clearing, gazing at Sir Helmsley with ever-shifting eyes. Its changing features were all that moved in the silent clearing. Helmsley dared not to even blink an eye, much less move a muscle. Tension stretched like a string on a violin, twanging discordantly in the stillness. Finally, the string snapped --the monster spoke.

"Helmsley," it began in guttural, wet tones, "I was not sure you would come. That your fear would not imprison you in your lovely home." The creature smiled, revealing black rotting teeth and such malevolent breath, Helmsley thought he could practically see it poison the air. Helmsley took umbrage and the mockery he saw in the monster's twisted smile, pointed his sword at the creature and said, "You and your minions have disturbed my people for far too long. You have secreted away or murdered too many of my men. It is your turn to be terrorized and your turn to be destroyed."

"Pretty speech," the monster sneered. "But not enough to instill bravery where there never has been nor strength where there never will be. Prove to me you have such bravery and such strength, and maybe your pretty speeches will serves as a prophecy."

With that, Helmsley lunged for the monster, aiming for its wicked heart. However, Helmsley wasn't quite so sure the creature had a heart, and even if it did, where exactly it would be located on its grotesque person.

To be continued and concluded in Part III.