Once again we have Chuck Wendig to thank for today’s post. His Flash Fiction Challenges are often awesome inspirations; this week’s theme was assisted by last week’s theme, in which over 500 people came up with an opening line. This week, Chuck picked 10, and now I’m supposed to pick 1, and use 1000-2000 words to write a story using it. Of note — I used all 2000, and not one more.
I picked #8. “It was Hadeon’s lie that saved the world.” (Berti Walker)
Here goes nothin.
* * *
It was Hadeon’s lie that saved the world.
“Tell me, little creature, how that should prevent me from eating him,” whispered the demon-thing. It lay curled upon the shore, tail frothing in the waves, the seawater smoking off its back, dead fish slowly piling up along the tide line, their rot-eyed corpses already stinking. It licked its lips and stared at Mims, slavering.
The demon thing had come out of the waters, called by witches long since killed. Kings and Queens had banded together, raised their armies, fought down the hordes of undead, beaten back the goblins, the dire wolves, the horrors that crawled out of the caves, the horrors that had once been our fathers and brothers, but were now slag-faced wretches breathing brimstone, leaving charred footprints and soot-staining everything they touched. The armies had laid waste to the enemies, to every last one, including the witches, but then their last beast, the one only they might’ve had some kind of control over, crawled forth from some underdeep, its white belly dragging over the rock, barnacles scraping the algae grown thick in the tide pools, black talons digging down into the sand, creating eddies of saltwater and silt.
Haddy and I had been playing at the shoreline, with Mims and Aoife. It was Aoife’s birthday, and we’d each brought bits of cake tucked away in our pockets, as well as other trinkets, to give her. Mims had made her a basket of scented rushes, to keep her haircombs in, and I’d found a piper’s nest, unspoilt and lined in down to show her, but Hadeon, being sweet on Aoife as he was, worked hard to make her a necklace of seaglass and shells. He’d drilled holes and braided the twines and polished every stone he’d selected by hand. It had taken him weeks and weeks, with several snuck-out trips that his mum would’ve tanned his backside for, had she known.
To him, it made the whole thing all the more special; it is a necklace forged of pure will, he said. And I aim to put it ’round her neck and confess to her my love.
He hadn’t wanted to give it right away, instead, we’d done our usual play of adventuring — something we hadn’t done in the months beforehand, while our whole world was driven to madness by plague after plague of witches’ curses. When finally our mothers had promised us the air was safe and the sun was warm, we’d spilled out into the moors and seacliffs like cows wintered too long in small barns. We’d danced on the shore and we’d built a fire ring and collected drift wood and we’d gone exploring through the caves when the tide went down, and when it came back, we lit our fire and danced and sang even more, peeling off our outer layers until we were wild things in our shifts and pants, knotted hair and bare feet, sand clung to our faces and fingers.
Finally, we settled down, crosslegged where the tide would never reach, and told stories as we pulled out what we’d brought to share. Mims’ basket was received with love, and Aoife positively squealed with delight when I showed her the piper’s nest. She kissed my check and I never thought I saw Hadeon’s eyes so green. Weren’t much to me, though, as I wasn’t sweet on Aoife, and I made her know it by wiping her kiss off with the back of my hand, rolling my eyes. She pinched my nose then, and said, “Don’t you sulk at me, my Jacky. I know you let your mum kiss your cheek.”
“You ain’t my mum,” I said. “Now stop kissin on me or you get none of your birthday cake, neither!”
“Cake!” Aoife laughed, clapping her hands. “This is the best birthday, yet!”
“Only–” Mims began, looking hesitant. “Hadeon, what of your present?”
“There’s more?” Aoife said, and her red hair shone in the firelight as she clapped her hands, looking to Hadeon delightedly. “Did you bring me a present, too?”
Hadeon opened his mouth and was about to show his present to Aoife when Mims shouted, “What’s THAT?”
Angry at being interrupted, Hadeon was about to yell up one side of Mims and down the other, but we all turned to look — something about Mims’ voice made us know we couldn’t wait a minute to see. The great beast had risen on the waves, was rolling in slow on the tide, and the sun glinted off its seafoam scales. It sludged its way onto the shore, and the stink of it was something terrible to behold. We all backed away, but it rose up and towered over us, blotting out the sky.
“I can smell you, witches,” it burbled, and the reek that came from its breath was enough to make us dizzy.
“We’re not witches,” Aoife cried. “Get away, wretched thing!”
Mims took her hand and tried to back away, but the creature stretched out its serpent’s neck and snapped at the air in front of them. Mims half-fainted in shock, and Aoife fell sprawling in the sand.
“None of us are witches!” I shouted at it, trembling where I stood. I was surprised I could yell at all. “The witches are dead!”
“No witches at all?” it laughed. “Then you cannot command me, tiny creature. I have been called, but now I am free upon your lands.”
“Be free, then,” Aofie cried bitterly. “Do as you will, but leave us be!”
“I won’t,” growled the thing. “I’m too hungry to leave you be.”
“Hungry?” said Aoife.
“Aye, hungry,” it snarled. “I am awake, and the only thing that shall let me sleep again is if I eat every last one of you on this world. The witches would’ve denied me a feast, but now there are none to stop me. I shall eat and eat and eat, until I have a bellyful, and then I shall eat again! And I do believe I shall start with this one,” It leaned over and opened its jaws wide, ready to swallow Mims.
“No!” cried Hadeon, who had been silent, until then, watching in horror. “No, you can’t!” he said.
“I can’t? You say I can’t,” the creature rasped, slowly stirring the sea with its tail. It laid along the shoreline, staring down Hadeon, Mims nearly in its jaws. “Tell me, little creature, how that should prevent me from eating him.”
“It’s… there’s… a curse!” Hadeon said, his eyes brightening. He grew bold in his lie, trying to make it as casual, as obvious as possible. “Well you know, of course. You can’t eat a child on their birthday. They’re given gifts and blessings. You can’t eat someone who’s blessed. Everyone knows that!” He looked at Mims and Aoife and I, his eyes pleading. “Everyone knows that, right?”
“Right, yeah, right! Of course,” we all chorused, hoping we sounded convincing. “Even kids know that.”
“Of course,” the serpent growled irritably. “Of course that is true,” it said, raking its talons in the sand. “I know this,” it huffed, lifting its chin, refusing to be thought of as less intelligent than a pack of children. “Then where is your present?” it said, eyes bright as it cleverly tried to out think Hadeon.
“The, uh — Jacky gave Mims a basket of woven rushes!” Hadeon said quickly.
Mims picked it up, holding it tightly, and held it up. “Th-thanks, Jacky,” he said.
“Happy Birthday, Mims,” I called, hoping my voice didn’t tremble too much.
“Very well then,” the thing grumbled. “Then I shall eat… you,” it growled, lunging for me.
“No!” Hadeon shouted. “It’s.. it’s Jacky’s birthday as well! Aoife — Aoife, you got him a piper’s nest, dincha?”
Stunned, I picked up the nest from where Aoife had set it down, and held it up, swallowing roughly. “She did,” I said, holding it up, to be seen. “Thank you, Aoife.”
“Happy Birthday, Jacky,” Aoife said, biting her lip.
The monster looked furious as it turned away. “Then I shall eat you!” the thing cried, darting towards Aoife.
“No, no!” Hadeon cried, stepping right in front of the creature, between it and Aoife. “It’s her birthday as well!”
“Then where is HER present?” it snarled.
“Here,” Hadeon said, pulling the necklace from his pocket. He held it up, and the sunlight glinted on the polished gems and perfectly braided grasses. “This was for you, Aoife,” he said. “Happy Birthday.”
Aoife put her hands to her mouth, tears in her eyes. That was the last one. There were no other presents.
“And where is YOUR present?” the thing said, hungry, angry, talons digging in the sand, tail frothing the sea to furious heights. Waves crashed ever higher as it made itself tall, looming over the boy.
“I–” Hadeon blinked, lost, looking around at us.
Triumphant, the beast lunged down, and snapped its jaws shut over Hadeon, swallowing him down, gulp gulp.
Aoife ran for the creature, shouting, “Hadeon! HADEON!” but before she could reach it, it gave a mighty thrash. Its tail waved, knocking us all flat, and it undulated on the beach, hunching up again and again. It had a queer look to its face, and its throat bulged, working. It could not roar, and it could not breathe — it was choking.
When it ate Hadeon, he’d been offering out the present to Aoife; the thing ate him, trinket and all. The necklace was caught around one of its teeth — it could not swallow Hadeon; he held tight to the woven seagrass, and was caught in its throat.
The demon-thing the witches had summoned could not breathe; it thrashed and crashed and spasmed, sending gouts of seawater and dead fish raining over the shore.
It gave one long, last shudder, and fell to the sand, limp and sagging, its milky green eyes rolling shut.
“Hadeon!” Aoife wept. She grabbed for me, and I had thought to comfort her, but she took my belt knife and ran for the creature.
While it stank on the shore, Aoife worked my knife between its jaws and prised open its mouth. Gathering my wits, I roused Mims and we went to help her. We held the jaws open, and Aoife reached down in, and grabbed the shining necklace. She pulled it free of the beast’s tooth, but the other end disappeared into the thing’s gullet. Nevertheless, Aoife kept pulling, and kept pulling, and kept pulling, until at long last, she saw Hadeon’s hand.
Taking it, she pulled him free as well.
Once he was out on the sand, Aoife checked to see that he was breathing. When she could not feel his breath, she wept and put her cheek to his. Her tears fell on his skin, warm against the cold of him.
It was then that Hadeon drew a ragged breath and coughed himself awake.
“You stupid boy!” she cried, laughing. She kissed him right on the mouth, hugging him about the neck and said “You lied to save Mims. You lied to save Jacky! Why didn’t you lie to save me so you could save yourself, too?”
“I couldn’t think to,” Hadeon said, looking dazed for all the affection. “I made you the necklace, and I wanted to tell you I was sweet on you; I thought maybe I could tell you, before I got et, but then the beast went too fast, and there I went.”
“Sweet on me?” Aoife said, pushing bright hair back from her wide eyes.
“Aye,” Hadeon confessed, blushing red to match. “Love you, I do.”
With all the dangers past, certain we all would live, Aoife kissed Hadeon again, and let him put the necklace round her throat. “Love you, I do,” she said right back to him.
Hadeon smiled the smile of a boy who barely cared he’d saved the world. All he knew was that he’d saved his, and she had saved him right back. “Happy Birthday, Aoife.”