Rabbit Heart

With no enemy scouts detected in months, the Raintail base should have been sleepy hinterland outpost. They held the line only against the surrounding forest. Implacable black trunks and snow-heavy branches stared back at those set to watch from the thick gunmetal walls.

Bell volunteered for the graveyard watch. She still wasn’t sleeping and had grown tired of the pinched worried expression around the mess tables and the evening fires. The assignment would explain the dark circles and restless exhaustion better than she could. Curt saw right through it and still gave her the shadowed looks, but her brother’s concern was unavoidable. At least now she could spend her sleepless hours doing something, even if it was staring at the dark trees knowing too much of what was out there.

She shook her head for at least the fifth time as this night’s partner, Jaxson, offered her yet another cigarette. Bell liked the smell, it reminded her of field camps, cheap whiskey around fires, and leave. But tobacco slowed the lungs and twitched the fingers. Scouts like Bell traded in unrufflable speed.

Their watch stretched into early hours. The new moon offered no shadows, nothing to jump at when the wind rumple the treeline. They were surrounded by black. Jaxson snored, his back to the parapet, head draped over his chest.

Bell stretched, fiddled with the broken loop of her holster, tested if she could catch peanuts with her mouth (she could) and walked en pointe, filling time while keeping the inky wild in sight. While balancing one of Jaxson’s cigarettes on an index finger, movement in the black caught her eye.

At first, the trees were just trees, and the late winter ground the usual patchwork of snow and rock. But Bell recognized the impossible antlers separate from the trees and rise in silhouette. Muscle moved beneath the roan coat as it picked a way fluidly down the ridge towards her and the wall. The stag-thing approached the gate with an easy canter. Predatory grace rippled across its back and down a plumed tail. A rabbit’s heart drummed in Bell’s chest as she grabbed her rifle and moved to the parapet.

Now barely beneath Bell, as the chimera was massive beyond known species, the thing lifted its lupine nose into the air and sniffed. It pawed the ground like a warhorse, claws digging deep furrows into the mud. There was something less than comforting knowing the only thing between her and a thirteen thousand pound animal was a mechanical door. Bell stared at it, the night air hurting her too-open eyes.

How many people would die if it decided to test its weight against the walls? How many other people would get court-martialed for bringing it here? The moment stretched, just her, the chimera, and impending prison cells. Bell decided what to do when Jaxson shifted and stirred in his sleep.

She landed toes, then heels in the snowy mud next to the wall with a soft exhale. No one but the chimera noticed. It whirled and huffed deep in its throat, pointed ears forward and reflective eyes vibrating on Bell’s crouched form.

Bell didn’t run, she’d feel claws in her back, its fangs around her neck. She didn’t bring up her gun, even at this range, ammunition wouldn’t pierce the things coat. She met its eyes while her heart’s beat made it impossible to swallow, and she took a step. The thing lowered its head, eyes glittering and locked on her. Bell took another even silent step towards the ridge. Slowly it followed, shoulders pitching back and forth as it stalked her, intent.

Bell did not let her gaze slip. She did not let her footsteps stutter or scrape on the harsh rock and ice. She did not think about what she would do when she got to the dark treeline. Bell led it away from the wall, away from Raintail, back up the slope until they disappeared into the black trunks.

A thief, but a tired one. This week’s willing supplier of lines is CC. Check out her original HERE and what the rest of my band did with the line at the Legal Theft Project.


Legal Theft: The Scars of Winter Woods

She woke up deliciously warm. Sabel’s skin radiated like flame, burning the cloth over her limbs as she smoldered beneath. Last stage of freezing, she thought thickly, a malfunction of the brain. The rush of blood vessels when the body was too confused to save itself. Delicious, disorienting warmth.

The fear cleared her head, adrenaline tearing its way through the haze of dying brain cells. Though her skin burned, she did not rip away the cloth covering her. That would be death alone in these woods.

She opened her eyes. The dark interior of the barracks was still, her unit breathed evenly in sleep on the cots across from her. No snow, no naked pale wood, no endless sky framed by bare branches. She was not dying.

Sabel sat up, breathing in gasps. She kicked the musty regulation blankets down to her knees. Her skin still felt warm enough to cook her insides.

Frost had crystallized at the edges of the barrack windows. The memory of it at her lips, in her nose, waited. If Sabel closed her eyes she was back in the woods, black fingers pulling herself through the snow.

She pushed the rest of the bed coverings off and stood. Sabel looked down and wiggled her toes. The digits were healthy and whole, she could feel the cold from the floor seeping into them. Modern medicine was a marvelous thing. They’d fixed so much of her.

Not enough though. At night she returned to those dead woods. Like her burning skin, Sabel thought, a malfunction of the brain. She found her boots and left the barracks.

I am a thief. More than 1/2 Mad wrote the original, and I stole the first line for myself as part of the Legal Theft Project. 

Legal Theft: Slither

She hunted them by the taste they left in the air. The warm scent drifted in the icy wind and she followed it down over the solid rivers and up pristine slopes. They ran on claws and razored hooves, chests surging with fleeting energy.  Their taste beat in her skull.

Deep in the night, moonlight resurrected the day. Glittering motes drifted down to melt against her scales as she glided up bright snow banks. Only the trees were dark, shadowed beneath the white that weighed their branches.

This vivid night would give way to a brighter dawn. They would fall, bodies heaving from the hours of borrowed time, breath reaching towards the fading moon. Exhausted and numb from the craze, those young misguided creatures would sleep.

Her advance made no more sound than a knife’s edge through silk. Like spilled ink , she passed through the blanketed forest, tasting the air and following their warmth.

These consequences, the hunter thought leaving a sinuous trail of melted snow through the black trees, were a long time coming. But the hunter was patient, and the liquid muscles beneath her glossy skin were tireless.

A slither in the brilliant dark, she pressed forward after her prey.

Another successful heist for me. This week I’ve stolen a scene that, and I quote “involves someone running away”. And who did I steal it from? None other than the Librarian who watches over The Gate in the Wood.