This scene contains graphic violence, death, attempted violence and endangerment of a child, psychological trauma, violence toward an animal, and fleeting emotional abuse and misgendering. It is not necessary to read it; but it contains backstory. Click here to skip.
Xxnd of the Hazel’s Frost, 20xx D.C.E
Kucha Mountain Range — Dhoruba Peak
In their ignorance they called them Rock Bears. There was precious little bear to them.
What the people of the Kucha hunted was a monster. Veins full of cold blood that cared not for the cold, hidden under hard, jagged skin like a coat of organic stone. When infuriated the veins pumped red with some ethereal force, some leftover magic from the ancient times that still sparked in their dense bodies. Long, slitted eyes appraised prey from the side of a wide, tapered head. Long, tough forearms supported a broad trunk and thick, powerful hind legs perpetually curled as if to spring. And spring it did; launching itself from its hind legs, kicking behind it a storm of snow, the Rock Bear took off into the air.
Catching a tree with its long arms, it spun over the hunters, avoiding several gunshots.
Coming out of the spin, the beast pounced upon a man hind legs first and crushed him.
Cruel claws unfurled from its thick, boulder-like fists and sliced the corpse viciously.
Rifle bullets and shotgun shells rang out within the mountain forest of Dhoruba.
Flat-headed slugs bounced off the armor of the beast, but the sharp 7.62 mm rounds of the bundu rifle penetrated at close range. Blood spurted from wounds on the monster’s shoulder, blooming wherever a bullet caught. Across its body the patchwork of glowing veins flashed, severed in places where wounds and blood obscured the luminescent shell.
Setting its fists back on the ground, the Rock Bear leaped into the middle of the hunters.
Enduring a second volley from a half-dozen guns, the monster seized a man each in its fists, lifted them into the air with ease and bashed them together like the toys of a callous child, beating and beating them to twisted mush. Its perpetually crooked mouth slipped a few centimeters to bare teeth, giving the monster the appearance of a malevolent grin.
There was too much blood flying in the buffeting, snowy wind, too many cries echoing through the wood, and too much of a beast in sight, for the child to have remained calm.
From the child’s mouth came a primal screech. Legs pounded and feet rushed with sudden abandon. Into the wood the child fled. There was no sense of direction, no purpose to the flight, save to escape, save not to see. Callously the men had brought the child to become one of their own, to see the horrors that lay in the dark corners of the world. At the sight of the beast that had become the eternal enemy of their tribe, the Child now refused.
Tears streamed down the Child’s face, nearly freezing in the cold. Behind their back the bear-headed hood of their cloak flapped. Wind that had seemed such an impediment to the climb to Dhobura now offered no resistance to the Child’s flight. There were screams, left behind, but they could sound no louder than the screams in the child’s own head.
“Come back, Gulab!” shouted a familiar voice. Another set of running footsteps.
Gulab could not stop. Her body would not allow it. As if in response she screamed again.
At once the Rock Bear’s head turned deep into the woods where the child had fled.
Its killer instinct piqued by the unmistakable sound of prey, it charged after the child.
Forelegs sprang, and the long forearms struck the ground knuckles first, carving up the snow and pulling the body forward. Its running gait was streamlined despite its ungainly assortment of limbs. Faster than any being its size had a right to be, the Rock Bear leaped over ditches, kicked off trees, swung from branches and navigated jagged rock and ice.
Within seconds it was clearing enough forest to make up for the minutes Gulab had run.
Gulab felt the monster bearing down on her, felt the stomping steps, the shattering of trees, the disruption of the incoming winds, blocked as they were by the fleshy hulk.
She turned her head over her shoulder, grit her teeth, and saw the shadow near.
Crying and screaming for help she dropped to the ground and the beast swept over.
The Rock Bear struck clean through a nearby tree.
Blood from the monster’s seeping wounds rained over Gulab as the beast passed her.
From her coat, she withdrew a small revolver pistol and raised it in shaking hands.
She sat up, pushing herself back on the snow and kicking her legs frantically to try to escape, while keeping her wildly shaking weapon arm trained on the monster ahead.
In her mind her father’s words struck blows that shook her to her core.
“Man up already! Stop crying so much! Stop complaining! Do as you’re told!”
She felt him chastising her even as the monster hit the forest floor, as it turned around to face her, as it neared, as its jaw unhinged and its long, forked tongue snaked in and out.
“Aren’t you strong? You’re a son of the Chief! You rule over this mountain!”
His voice continued to yell at her. She saw his face contorted in disgust at the state of her.
In the small, hatefully glowing eyes of the monster, Gulab saw her fate.
Her death would be her own fault.
It would not even be her death, it would be his, but it would still be her fault.
Even at her age Gulab painfully understood this.
She could win at chess all she wanted. She could boast all she wanted. She could make up any amount of tall tales for the village girls. She could grow and braid her hair all she wanted. She could play dress up and cry and practice her high voice all she wanted. But this was what she would be judged for, what was real. Everything else was fake.
Her finger could not pull the trigger. Slowly the monster advanced.
The Rock Bear did not understand how much Gulab wished nobody had to kill it.
How much the men of the village fighting it was pointless, wasteful, a shameful act of violence as much upon themselves as against the beast. She wished she had the words to say that, she wished he had the words to say that, maybe they would listen if he said it. They wanted her to be him but even when she tried to speak as him none of it mattered.
At first she was the little child without a hair on her face who talked big about hunting and fighting and chess to make up for a difference in size, in conviction, in capacity for the casual violence of men and lacking the signifiers of their strength and dominance.
Now she was a nuisance, a shame. Now the gods frowned on her transgressions.
And maybe when this creature ate her they would all cheer instead of mourn.
Her eyes fixed upon the monster’s eyes.
One big, grey and brown, heavily bloodied fist curled to strike.
Gulab did not wince. Perhaps her tears had frozen her eyes open.
Down came the hand, launching both a punch and a swipe at once.
From behind her, a shotgun slug severed one of the digits as it closed.
The Rock Bear cried out and swung its arm into the air in pain.
Gulab felt an arm scoop her up.
“You’ll be alright Gulab! I’ve got you!”
Grandfather, shotgun in one hand, child in the other. Gulab was speechless.
The Rock Bear set its hateful slitted eyes on him and swept its arm.
Gulab screamed. Grandfather leaped.
His feet went clean over the monster’s arm.
Grandfather flicked his arm, popping open the breech of his shotgun.
“Gulab, load it!”
They hit the ground again.
Gulab seized a shell from her grandfather’s pocket and pressed it into position.
Grandfather flicked his wrist again, closing the gun. Gulab cocked it.
The Rock Bear roared. Grandfather aimed and fired with one hand.
From the end of the barrel came a spray of buckshot.
On the exposed red flesh of the inside of its mouth erupted a dozen gushing wounds.
Grandfather flicked again.
Nodding, she grabbed another shell–
Out of nowhere came that bloody, flying fist, faster than ever.
Grandfather went flying. Gulab fell from his protective embrace and hit the snow again.
“Grandpa!” she cried.
The Rock Bear turned into its swing, putting the bulk of its scaly back to her.
Somewhere in front, obscured by the pouncing beast, Grandfather cried and squirmed.
She saw the monster’s arms go up, and down, and she saw blood splashing but not the whole of what was happening. She felt a sense of alarm that made her arms move quickly.
From the floor she seized her revolver.
Without thinking she pulled the trigger once, twice.
“Stop it! Leave him alone!”
Sparks flew off the monster’s back as the bullets struck it. It was like shooting metal.
“Stop it! Just die! Just die!”
Gulab cried out viciously, shooting and shooting. She went through her whole revolver, effortlessly reloaded it from a prepared cylinder, snapped it closed and raised it again.
This fight was no longer wasteful, and the creature was no longer harmless and invaded. It was the aggressor, it was the monster, and she had to kill it. She had to kill it because it was killing grandfather and she could not allow that, she would not allow that. Nobody in her village had to die, nobody had to hurt, and she felt then she would kill anyone, destroy anything, maim and torture and burn and rip apart alive any creature to save–
At that instant, she felt something snap in the environment, snap in her weapon.
Her last bullet exploded out of the gun as if pushed out of it.
There was a surreal cry that exploded from her mouth along with the bullet.
Through the monster’s neck, into its brain and out into the heavens went the lead.
The Rock Bear’s violence left it completely. Its arms went limp. Its legs buckled.
Finally given peace, the beast ceased to glow and to scream and to thrash.
All of its mass fell forward like a tree snapped at the trunk.
It fell, bloody and maimed and lifeless, over Grandfather.
Gulab fell too. She fell back, eyes full of tears, uncomprehending of everything.
What had happened?
Where had all of that come from?
Where was Grandfather? She did not understand. Her little heart beat fiercely.
She searched herself for answers, curled up in a little ball in the snow.
In her mind those final few moments would play out over and over, perhaps forever.
Grandfather, the only person who believed her, who believed in her. In her.
Where was he? Who had made him leave?
Was it her?
She did not know then that the Chief’s answer, her father’s answer would be–
“Grandfather died because he was a weak man. But you were strong, Gulab.”
She would never believe that. That her tall tales were simultaneously true and false.
It simply could not be. Whatever had happened on that peak, nobody understood it.