Thursday, October 22, 2009

Chapter Fifty-Five

Rifle pointed in front of him, the stranger enters the forlorn castle.

The Lion catches the scent of the man’s oiled hair. And, more worryingly, he can smell gunpowder. Best to remain in the shadows, while the bravest of the furniture - led by Pinocchio and the Candelabra - creep forward to spy on the visitor.

The man has the build of a hunter, tall and burly. Even in the gloom, the Lion can see the large knife gleaming on his belt.

Pinocchio, ever foolish, speaks first. “Father?” he asks, his voice full of doubt and hope.

Thunder explodes through the castle, and the boy clatters to the floor. Smoke wisps from the barrel of the rifle.

The man frowns. Clearly, he was not expecting to hear the voice of a child. He cocks his rifle and steps forward, eyes aware of any movement. The furniture, shocked, stays still and inconspicuous.

Pinocchio clutches his chest. It doesn’t hurt, but he feels as if it should. His fingers probe the newly formed hole where his heart would be if he were made of flesh.

He starts to cry.

“What the devil?”

“You’re not my father,” sobs Pinocchio.

Ears still ringing from the gunshot, none save the Lion can hear the door opening upstairs. The air grows rank with the tiniest threat of fur and sweat and filth.

The Lion glances upward at the Master of the castle - a beast unlike any in his native Wildlands. It stares down from its chamber and takes no notice of the furniture, or the wooden boy, or the Lion.

But this man... HIM... He is not welcome here.

Its eyes blaze in fury, and before the Lion can consider what is to come, the Beast leaps from the balcony.

A nightmare of fur and fangs flies through the air. Its roar - bitter anguish and pain - shakes the castle walls and sucks the air from the man’s lungs.

He’d come following the Lion and the boy, and he’d found something worse - a demon with blue, hate-filled eyes.

Mouth agape, face gray, the man vaguely points the rifle in the direction of the Beast. He staggers backward and numbly pulls the trigger, but the shot is a whisper lost amidst the roar.

“You!” screams the Beast. It lands on the floor - tiles shatter, furniture scatters - and sends the man flying with a savage swing of its black claw. “It was you!”

The man crashes into the wall, and the Lion hears the faintest snapping of bone. The man, overwhelmed, doesn’t seem to be aware that he’s drawn his hunting knife.

“You killed her!” screams the Beast, and it flies toward the intruder. And although the man is a mountain among men - the champion of his town, once upon a time - he is nothing more than a toy compared to the monster before him.

“You murdered her!” the Beast rages. Its shadow envelops the man, and from his alcove, the Lion’s whiskers twitch at the scent of hot, fresh blood.

“Stop! Stop! Please, stop!” screams Pinocchio. He tries to move forward, to help the man, but he is held back by the Candelabra. The servants have seen their Master in such a state before, and they know what happens to those who get in the way.

For many moments, Pinocchio’s cries accompany the Beast’s, punctuated by the wet, smacking thud as the man is destroyed. Even when there is almost nothing left, it continues to slam its giant fists against the bloody tiles.

Only when the Beast’s vengeance is finally complete, its rage sated, does it sit back and notice, wonderingly, the knife in its side, the bullet hole in its body. With a mournful howl, it collapses, its blood mingling with the remains on the floor.

And still the Lion does not move.