Sunday, October 10, 2010

Write Club, October Boot Camp, 9 October

The Write Club at UVA has this thing called October Boot Camp where the officers send out daily writing challenges to get people prepared for NaNoWriMo. I probably won't do NaNoWriMo this year, but I'm going to try some of the writing prompts anyway. Here's yesterday's, which I did today as I didn't notice today's e-mail until just now.

Prompt: “Write a fable, containing either a traditional moral or a new one you think people should know.”

The clouds that night ensured perfect darkness as I limped along the path. I didn't need light to know my way. I'd walked the route enough times before.

I sniffed the ground as I went. That smell, that rancid stench, was there, and I knew that he had come this way. When, I wasn't sure. Maybe a half-hour before. Maybe two days. Maybe a week. More recently than that and I would've caught a rustle or a crunch of his passage through the wood; any longer back and the stench would be gone. Even foul smells fade with enough time. Even his, somehow.

I froze. I wasn't alone. There was a noise in the black ahead, a faint beating of a frail heart.

“Peter?” a small voice from the darkness ahead asked. “Please be Peter.”

I growled. “Not right now, Tomas. I'm busy.”

“Peter! Excellent.”

I heard the hare's heartbeat slow, and then heard the crunch as he crept forward. I thought about lunging forward, feasting, eating Tomas, but I resisted that urge. I wasn't hungry. Not hungry enough to eat a friend, anyway.

“I'm in a bit of a hurry.” I kept walking.

The hare leapt aside so I wouldn't step on him, but as soon as I was besides him he hopped up onto my back. I stopped.


“Come on, Peter. Is it really that hard to carry me?”

“You've got a lot of nerve, hare.” I started limping forward again, my paws following the path without conscious direction. “You'd better hope I don't want a bite to eat.”

“You wouldn't eat a friend, would you?”

“Depends on how hungry I get.”

“I just need a ride for a little ways, and lord knows you're faster than I am by leaps and bounds.”

“Not when I've got a parasite clinging to my fur like a three-pound bur.” I quickened my pace, running along the trail. I shouldn't have stopped to chat. I didn't have the time, but Tomas was a friend. Well, a rodent that could get this close and not instantly get eaten. Perhaps not a friend but as close as he could ever get.

He hung on better than I expected, and he was still a thorn in my side as the clouds and morning broke together. I stopped in a clearing to lap up a few blades worth of dew. The grass cut my tongue but I didn't care. Wounds heal, and I've had far worse and I'm still here.

“If I hop down will you let me back up?” Tomas asked as I drank.

“No,” I told him. “Why do you want a ride, anyway? You don't need to get anywhere in a hurry.”

I'd had enough and I started back down the trail.

“I need to win a race.”

“And you don't consider this cheating?”

“I never heard any rules against it.”

I didn't respond. I was distracted. I lowered my nose to the ground again, inhaling the dirt's captured odors. The stench was here, and stronger. I was closing the gap.

I sped up, running faster along the daw-dampened path. There was maybe a mile left, at most two, separating me from my prey, but the route had turned uphill. My paw hurt at each step, the bones creaking and shifting around the two that had cracked. I couldn't stop. I was close. I could smell the hair, smell the hooves, smell the pride. If I weren't running I could've heard it up the trail, galloping along. I was almost there. My face twisted in pain and anger.

“What's wrong?” Tomas asked.

“Quiet, hare,” I hissed. “You'll be heard.”

“Heard by what?”


Tomas stayed silent as I ran on, bounding through the loose trees up the steepening slope. A glimpse of white flashed in the distance, and I snarled. Close.

Clouds once again rolled overhead, cutting the light, but it was still daytime and bright enough to see. A faint rain started falling, a drop here and there. The mud my paws kicked up slicked my fur.

Tomas's grip on my back loosened, and I felt him start to bounce around. I would've warned him not to make me break my stride, but a stray word here could've been enough to do that. I was focused, on my paw, on the trail, on the beast ahead, and I didn't have room to worry about Tomas.

The hill flattened and the forest broke before us, opening a clearing looking down to the field and the river below. I stopped just before the trees did.

He stood not a hundred yards away, his mane glowing in even just the light through the clouds. His hooves shone silver, untouched by the mud. His horn was no color, no single one, but all of them, an iridescent needle tickling the grass as he ate. I barely breathed, for fear of him hearing.

“Why did we stop?”

I snapped my head around and latched my teeth onto the hare hanging from my back. Not now. He wasn't going to ruin it all. A weak gasp escaped from Tomas's throat before I flung him to the ground, a crumpled mass of fur in the mud.

I looked back to the clearing. The unicorn was still standing there, but its gaze had shifted towards me. I stayed still, nothing but the blood in my veins moving as I watched the beast's eyes try to meet my own. He had heard Tomas, or perhaps my bite, or maybe just caught a glimpse of the body falling to the ground. Whatever had captured his attention was over now, and he turned back to the grass.

I crept forward, moving slow through the tall stalks. I had hunted ceaselessly for years, through every hell this forest had to offer, but now, I was here. This prey would be mine.

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