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Old 11-17-2009, 07:50 AM   #1
poshm
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All that Remains - Horror

This short story started out as a prologue for the novella which I'm working on but took on a life of its own. Enclosed is the first half with the rest to follow in due course.

All that Remains
by Marie Williams


Oily skin clothed only in a sheen of red dust, she strode through the waist-high stalks, pushing them aside with the hardened soles of her feet. Kura walked without fear; no predator would hunt with the sun so high and the air thick with heat and the buzz of flies.

Ten spear-lengths away a handful of bare-head scavengers made circular swoops in the sky before descending to disappear, squabbling, into the coarse cover of grass.

Breaking into a run, she stretched back her arm and pelted a fistful of stones towards the fray, visible now only by a telltale swishing of stiff blades in the absence of wind. They stood their ground, the lure of fresh pickings too strong. When nearly upon them, Kura bared her lips back over her teeth and let out a high-pitched screech. Startled now, the scavengers flapped their broad wings to begin once again their long search.

Replacing the unused ammunition to her waist-pouch, Kura allowed her legs to slow. A ghost of a smile flickered upon her face and her gaze was lost to a distant memory. Her father had taught her well. Gathering plant foods was a thankless task and one that should be left to the old, the weak and the young. She hoped she'd managed a medium to large find - big enough to feed the entire camp and to impress men of the hunt.

She parted the grass to stop dead in front of the kill, a thin layer of sweat glistening on her slender body.

---

Kura dug at the dirt with her toes and glared down at her mother.

"Your imagination wanders," the older woman said, "though not usually so far from the trail." Drays nodded in the direction of the sun. "Perhaps she cooks your head too much?"

Laughter filtered through the rest of the small tribe. Only the Elder remained silent as he chewed on a tough grass blade. Kura looked towards him hoping to find a little support, but was disappointed when he cast his eyes to the ground.

"I brought back the best portions but the rest -" she broke off to chew at her lip. "It's still out there. I know what I saw."

"Prowlers die with the passing of many cycles. Sometimes they clash over territory or, more likely, a female." Drays patted her daughter's feet. "They've also been known to savage and kill their own."

"No." Kura felt her face flush with heat. "The mark of the kill was different to anything I've seen. Even the bare-headed ones refused to peck near the wound, a wide gaping gash -"

She felt her mother's hands grasp round her ankles, her tight grip burning into skin. Kura lost her balance and came down harshly onto the woven grass matting.

"Your mouth," Drays hissed, "will be quiet with food."

Kura's eyes narrowed and her lips tightened as a slow-burning anger smoldered inside. Ablaze with light from the camp fire, the Elder's neck beads provided a soothing distraction. His fingers stroked the stones slowly and rhythmically, dissipating the storm in her which was waiting to erupt. In his eyes was a warning, subtle yet strong.

She hung her head in shame; it had been wrong of her to announce her fears to the whole tribe like that, bypassing the Elder.

Shivering, despite the warmth of the afternoon sun, Kura huddled her knees to her chest. She lifted her head to stare out to the thorn enclosure circling the camp, and wondered if it would be enough to deter whatever had killed the prowler.

Small chunks of meat were threaded onto sticks and held over the fire's low flames. Though she was hungry and the smell was good, Kura shook her head when a piece came her way. She wished she'd never found it, much less brought back to the camp.

Sanch, her older brother by just one summer, pointed at her chest and grinned. "You got the food. If you don't eat, your milk-sacs will stay flat."

Kura stood up and stalked off, seeking the comfort of her blanket.

Running after her, Sanch grabbed her playfully round the waist. "Don't be so sour. Maybe you were frightened by what you saw, but you're safe here. We all are."

Shrugging her shoulders in response, Kura looked way out over the enclosure, the forest over in the distance on one side and nothing but sky, grass, and some flat-topped trees on the other. The land looked the same, but something had changed. Something was out there. She could feel it in her bones.

---

Tall grass moved in the night breeze, stalk chafing stalk. Kura woke, disturbed by the touch of cool air. She pulled the blanket up to her chin then removed one hand from the warmth to reach for her brother.

Memories of her father came flooding back as she twisted her brother's hair, feeling the thick, brittle curls creep back lifelessly through her fingers. Sanch had to be convinced of the danger they may be in, at least while no-one else was around to laugh at what she had to say.

Her hand snapped back as she touched his back. The skin was cold and unresponsive. Under the blanket of the night she could see a dark stain slither down her fingers. Sitting upright now, Kura tentatively extended her hand.

"Sanch?" Her voice was no more than a whisper, barely audible above the gentle wind.

Nothing stirred.

Kura wanted to cry out, anything to break the uneasy silence, but her voice was held back by fear. Her breath quickened as she clamped her hand firmly around his shoulder. Choking back a whimper, she rocked gently back and forth before pulling her brother toward her.

His head snapped round with a dull, hollow sound. She stroked the smooth skin of his face, the features etched in the bone-white glow of the moon. The light had gone from Sanch's summer-sky eyes. Kura clasped his cold hands, trying to warm them with her own, before flinging her head back to concentrate the pain and guilt she felt into a piercing wail that ripped through the stillness of the night.

TO BE CONTINUED ...

Last edited by poshm; 11-17-2009 at 02:53 PM.
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