Sting of the Black Mire Beast
by Stanley Nesbitt
He drew back his machete, dove, and plunged it deep within the breast of the black mire beast. Though he kept his grip tight, he relished in the warmth of the crimson-stained flesh as the monster thrashed about. The beast tossed and turned about, its massive club-like tail tore clean through a birch tree that crumpled and collapsed beside the two. It let out a horrendous, billowing cry as it collapsed, pinning his leg square beneath its ribs. Though it had not broken the leg, a sharp pain nestled itself deep into his right thigh. Lifting the beast outright was no option, so he rolled the beast, slow at first since it barely swayed with each shove. Eventually, its momentum carried it, toppling it away from Andrei and retracting the stinger that sat just above its elbow from his thigh. It was a crude piece, neither tiny nor overly sharp, but with the weight of the beast, it was easily impaled with that spur when needed.
Andrei had spent weeks riding through the countryside, countless nights nestled between rock faces that kept the frigid chill of the wind at bay, all in the name of honor and wealth for his lineage. This wound would ruin all of that. Had he not lost his horse to the roc on the dune edges, she would have been of great aid now; thankfully he still had some of her meat he managed to scrape off.
It was simple, drag the beast back, undoubtedly catching unwanted attention, or hobble his way home, empty-handed once more. First, he'd have to tend to his wound though. He quickly fetched his pack, he had thrown it aside when he stumbled upon the beast. Thankfully, the two hadn't gone far. Pulling a bone needle and a spoil of thread, he snatched up an old bottle of Ogre oil. The crude, tar-like substance reeked of old bins and fermented roots and was unlikely to be found in any reputable town. Pouring it into the wound, Andrei cranked his head as he worked the fluid about. He could feel the wound starting to stick shut as it clotted.
He wasted no time stitching the wound shut before laying down beside the beast, its belly like a thick rugged brown blanket draped up. Running his fingers through it, it reminded him of his family dog, albeit larger than his dog. As he lay there, beside the fallen beast, Andrei's mind wandered back to his childhood. His dog, the loyal companion who was always there for him when his mother was busy working long hours as a tailor, sewing dresses and suits for the townsfolk. His family was never rich, but they always had enough to get by, thanks to his mother's skill with a needle and thread. But there were times when things got tough, like when the roof of their pantry collapsed and his mother had to trade several jobs of tailoring work with a local carpenter's family just to get it fixed. It set them back on the church's donation, and no one had liked to be late on a church donation.
But in the end, they were all just nothing more than beasts scrambling about. Andrei reached his hand between the armored bill of the creature, saliva dribbling from its jowls. Prying its mouth open, he could see its enormous teeth, much like a beaver's. With no fangs or plethora of scales, but plenty of talons, fur, and meat, as well as a few segments of armor not including its wide, club-like tail, Andrei was sure he could still make good coin by harvesting the beast on top of completing the contract.
He had been sent out to kill the beast of the black mire, and though he was sure this was not the only one. Looking out into the swampy surroundings, he could see no others, nor had he seen one up until this point on the track in.
Andrei was quick to get to work carving away at the beast with his blade. He took care to remove as much usable material as possible. He took several pounds of meat and the two back haunches. He was careful when slicing away the at best cuts, and pried the stained incisors from the beast's jaws. Then he chopped free the tail, which he knew could fetch a good price at the market, it was a coveted reagent in many elixirs. Even the fur was not to be wasted, which he used to wrap up the cuts of meat.
Returning to his pack, he pulled out a long rope and bound all of his harvest inside of the tail, creating a makeshift sled that he could pull close behind him. Andrei then turned his attention to the birch tree, though it had been living when it was torn down, the bark was still dry, good for kindling. He pulled the machete from its holder, brushing it against his fur cloak to remove the last of the leftovers from cleaning. He scraped and tore at the bark, peeling away several thick clumps that he stuffed inside of his pack. He steadied himself as he looked around the area, his gaze falling back upon the carcass, it stunk. Surely it stunk enough that any predator would be keen to catch the scent downwind. It was time for him to go, and despite the pain in his thigh, Andrei found the strength to move forward as he started his trek back out of the marsh.
Maybe it was the thought of his mother's perpetual stew, or perhaps the bits of jerky hadn't dried properly, but something was churning Andrei's insides. He had managed to place a few miles between the marsh and himself, but the pain in his thigh made each step a struggle. Trekking a few paces from the path, Andrei slumped himself against a tree, unhinged his belt, and rolled back his trousers. They peeled away from the flesh, a thick layer of goo already having seeped into the fabric. Though the ogre oil had kept the wound shut and most likely killed the poison, the flesh had begun to swell and it had darkened into a distasteful color.
The medicine man in the nearest village surely would be able to treat the wound, though he would only reach it by daybreak from here when healthy. Though it'd be at least an extra half days walk, he knew the wound would only progress further as he traveled.
Looking to the sky, he still had four fingers of light left in the day. Pulling himself from the dirt, Andrei scavenged some firewood and pulled out the birch tinder from his pack. It only took a few strikes of his machete against the flint for the sparks to catch, and for the fire to warm his toes through his tightly bound mukluks. Though they had not been soaked through in the marsh, they were certainly damp and a chill had set into them. Andrei pulled his fur cloak tight, shrouding his head as he nestled a few bits of broken branches over the fire, settling in as the sun slipped beyond the mountain range.
Andrei woke amid the night, stoking the fire, he basked in the forest that had come alive around him, bathing in the moonlight. The scampering pitter-patter of the wild shrews cut periodically only by the hoots and flap of an owl's wings, and the rush of a tussle in the undergrowth before silence would fill the forest once again, followed shortly by the shrew's scamper.
“You know, I could help,” a faint voice called out from the forest, “with your leg that is.”
“Who said I needed help?” Andrei scanned the fire's edge, his gaze settling upon two sets of eyes that shimmered in the leaves of a bush.
“Can't make it far with a rotting leg,” she snickered. A brown fox's head popped from the bush first, and then the sprite second. She was a frail thing, and her body had been wrapped in bound-up leaves, and her hair was a knotted-up mess of gray.
“Stories always warned of making deals with the forest folk.”
“Tall-tales.” She said. “That's all they are. Do you want my help?”
“What do you want?”
“Just need to ask... and one of those pretty teeth, from the beast.”
Andrei watched as the two curled up beside his fire, wiggling her fingers against the flames. A small makeshift bag had been bound and strapped to the side of the fox like a saddle with ribbons of silk-like strands that glimmered like gems in the campfire. “What do I need to ask?”
“Just for help.” She grinned.
“Remove the poison from my leg.”
“You don't want me to heal your leg, make it better than it was?” She trailed off, and a slight smirk hung at the corner of her mouth.
“Remove the poison from my leg, that is all,” Andrei said.
“Fine, you know, you're no fun.” She crawled from the fox, resting upon his thigh as she eyed the wound. Her fingers were gentle as they worked their way around his thigh, pressing and prodding at the discolored flesh. “This won't be gentle.” She scurried back over to the fox, rummaging through the bag as she fidgeted and muttered under her breath.
Rushing back over, she cradled three different seeds, an acorn, a sunflower seed, and a corn kernel. “Our ways of healing take trial, sometimes it takes on the first try,” her focus unwavering as she wound various hairs around the wound in her fingers, seemingly testing each before moving to another. She pulled several from the discolored area, peering closely at each before she began prying open each of the seeds and stuffing the hair inside.
She nestled all three beside the fire, and cautiously began to hum, careful with the notes of her song as she strained in the rhythm. The kernel was the first to respond, it quickly churned inwards, flesh pooling and wadding up on itself before festering and spurting out a foul puss. The acorn went next, it thrummed and pulsated in the rhythm, but blackened and withered away in the flickering light of the campfire. The sprite took the sunflower seed in her hands as it seeded, its roots sprouted and thrashed about. She didn't bother to warn him again, she plucked a stone knife from inside her dress and cut the wound wide.
Andrei bite down into his fur cloak as the seed took root in his thigh, the flesh bubbled and sputtered as mucus seeped from the wound. A cold sweat set in, his leg twisting and cramping as he collapsed beside the fire, the light of the moon swayed beyond the tree line as slumber dragged him away.
He awoke to the chill of the morning on his spine and the warmth of the fire against his face. the sprite had curled up beside the fox, sleeping soundly as the fox eyed Andrei. He could no longer feel the pain in his thigh, but then again, he couldn't feel his thigh either. Though he pushed against where the wound had been, and some swelling remained, no sensation came from his thigh. Pulling back the fabric of his trousers, he could make out the resemblance of a wilted sunflower, nestled and bloomed just under the surface of that tinted flesh. “What did you do?”
She stirred from her sleep, rubbing her eyes as she collected herself. “Pardon?”
“I can't feel my thigh, what did you do.” He snapped.
“I saved your leg and your life.” She said as she held out her palm. “Now, the incisor?”
“How will I be able to work with a bum leg?” A scowl crept across his face. “You've crippled me.”
“Oh quit your whining, you get to live.” She dusted the leaves clean of dirt before strolling over to him. “The quality of your life is of no matter. Now, pay me before I pry the seed out.”
Andrei pulled the tail close and carefully unwound the bundling of fur until he found the incisor. Placing the oversized tooth in her hand, he couldn't help but ask, “what do you plan to do with it?”
“These make for wonderful fertilizer, time to sprout me a home.” She beamed as she ran her fingers over the well-worn tooth.
“What would you give for a second one?”
“Is there something else you'd want?” She said as she leaned in.
“My mother was a seamstress, and I used to spend my time sowing up any patches for the townsfolk in my youth.”
“Go on...” She inched herself closer.
“That silk you have on fox companion, I want to make it.”
“I nor you can make it.” She chewed at her lip as she eyed Andrei, and then her satchel. “But I have something that can.”
She ran back to her pack, rummaging once more before pulling out a spool of silk thread. Adorned on top of it sat a tiny marble spider, its thorax wedged into the top of the center of the spool. It had no defining features other than the marble fangs that sat below its featureless head, nor did it have any aura like many of the tales his townsfolk had gawked about, but it was a piece of excellent craftsmanship.
“You'll trade it for another incisor?”
“One might grant me a good one, two surely will give me the home I have dreamed of.” She held out the thread spool with a smile. “No tricks, just a fair trade. My spool, for your incisor.”
Andrei pulled the bundle of fur back once more, fishing out the last incisor as she snatched it from his grasp, leaving the spool in its place.
“You've been a good lil' trader, but I must be off.” She settled the two teeth into the pack and climbed atop the fox. “Oh, and do make sure to prick your finger with its fangs before each use, or else it'll stop making thread.”
Andrei watched as the two scurried off into the undergrowth of the forest, their disturbance in the foliage fading over the ridges that ran alongside the mountain. He fiddled with the spool before placing it inside his pouch and hobbled to his feet. “Guess it's time to head to the village.”
He kicked dirt over the coals of his fire, rebound his bundle, and tied the tail back together into a sled before hobbling his way back to the trail.
By the time Andrei returned home, the moon had waned and waxed, leaving nearly two months since he had slain the beast. Though he had worked his way through much of the meat, and had little to show of it, his pack had been filled with spools and spools of beautiful silk. His pouch sagged with coins of copper and silver as he trudged into town, the tail and fur all that was left besides the few rations of dried meat left.
Much of the village had settled on his death at the hand of the beast, even his own mother had resided herself to that loss as she sat idle on her porch. Her porch was littered with parcels and requests that went unanswered, left to sit and soak in the rain that drifted through. It wasn't until Andrei's return that his mother left her porch, and beat on her son furiously as she wept.
They ate well that night, and though Andrei had yet to find a match that returned his affection, his mother never gave up hope. She kept the few requests for the local woman on her nightstand, but that would wait until morning. The night ended with their supplies stocked, the pantry filled, and two hot soaks in the tin tub for them. They didn't sleep in their beds that night, instead drifted off on the floor beside the fireplace as they told stories of what each other missed while away, the spider spool resting on the fireplace mantle.
Winning pieces are published as received.
First Place Winner:
Stanley is a rising author with a passion for storytelling and creative expression. When not writing, he treasures moments with his family—his fiancé Kimberly, two children, and three beloved pets. Overcoming learning disabilities, he earned his BA with Latin honors and authored two published works.
Follow Stanley on Twitter: @bytez91