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       Horrendus, p.2

           Lori R. Lopez
 
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flesh seeming to crawl, he spewed a blast of dust like dragon breath.

  Luwynda blinked. Wiping a hand over her visage, she calmly flicked the dirt aside. “You don’t have to be rude!” she chided.

  “You’ve got it reversed. I don’t have to be polite!” the uncouth villain hawed, gloatishly smirking.

  He frowned. “Why do you not fear me?”

  “I don’t believe in you,” shrugged Luwynda.

  Incredulous he grilled, “You doubt your own eyes?”

  “I doubt myself constantly. Eyes, ears, nostrils, tongue. Even my knees. And my brain above all,” the girl retorted.

  “What you believe is of no matter. I am fact,” Horrendus rumbled.

  Aware she was no match for him physically, Luwynda spread her bare hands. “I guess we should get on with it,” she invited. “Here I am.”

  With a greedful triumphant grin, the beast took a step forward. Suspicion clouded his aspect. Hesitant, he glowered at his diminutive opponent. “What’s the trick?” he queried, actually sounding concerned.

  “Why does there have to be a trick?” Luwynda parried.

  “No one offers something for nothing,” the beast derived. “For every treat there must be a trick!”

  “Some gifts are freely given,” disputed his plucky adversary, whose odds of winning this battle were as slim as her frame.

  The creature reacted startled for an instant. The tenet was devoutly ingrained. He lacked any sense of trust other than in the world’s corruption, and the slightest thread of optimism. His character was as bleak and barren, as bitter as a pool of tar.

  Then he laughed, his body quaking with hilarity, the chortles booming and breaking. Luwynda had to cover her ears.

  Abruptly sober, Horrendus venomously oathed, “On this occasion my rule applies!”

  The decree knocked Luwynda to the ground.

  Scrambling to her feet, the girl shook dead leaves and grass from her cloak. “No deception was meant,” she stated, “but if you must have a trick, I shall do my utmost to oblige!”

  Horrendus gave a satisfied snort.

  The girl folded her arms.

  Impatience swiftly overcame the beast. “WELL???” he bayed.

  “There’s a degree of surprise necessary in trickery,” construed Luwynda. “It won’t be easy to dupe you if you expect me to, now will it?”

  “I suppose not,” the monster granted.

  He wavered in befuddlement, of which the girl seized full advantage. Agile and tough from toiling in the field, the female proceeded to venture halfway around her combatant, forcing him to follow. She then pushed him back several paces by twisting his arm, yanking his chin hairs, poking his belly, and boxing his snoot.

  Each stunt provoked him until his ire roiled like broth in a kettle. Although sharper than she had estimated, this made him less astute and he literally fell for her prank, tripping in a shallow rut and crashing to the earth.

  He lay stunned. The feeble ploy irked him further and he rose more immense, more imposing. He was so ravenous with rage he drooled.

  “I’ll enjoy crunching your bones in my teeth!” pledged the brute.

  Gulping audibly, Luwynda bombarded the ogre with Jack-O-Lanterns — conceding they were a bit useful after all.

  Horrendus flung off pumpkin shards and wax. A candle flame ignited his beard. He spun smacking his jaw, stumbling in retreat. The blaze abated and he observed his ankles tethered by sturdy grass, fettered with vines.

  Luwynda threw her mantle upon him as a net then kicked his bulky thrashing form. The ruse delayed him sufficiently for the girl, overcome by dubious dread, to disappear.

  When Horrendus peeled the cape away and wrenched his feet loose, she was gone. A roar emerged from deep in his soul.

  “You cannot escape!” he growled. “I was forged by the ills and evils your kind harbor within and conceal behind their doors! You will not be rid of me unless you purge yourselves of your vices and flaws! I shall hunt you down as you deserve for this betrayal!”

  The monster stalked the village, pondering where to begin.

  Squatting in an alley between cottages, Luwynda strained to revive her courage. She had to halt him or the village would pay for her mistakes. Yet this was no average thug. He was big and loathsome, a dozen ruffians rolled into one.

  Bullies tended not to see the harm they did, or failed to consider how they would feel in their victim’s shoes. Some were victims themselves and those were the dumbest, she contemned, because they should know better.

  A vision plagued her mind of a small girl being tormented by another girl a couple years older. The larger child gripped her sister’s arm and sneered, “You mealy-mouthed leech-lipped tagalong! I hate you! Everyone thinks you’re so pretty and perfect. Let’s see if they like you coated in mud!” She shoved the girl into a puddle.

  An earlier vision haunted her. A second pair of sisters, similar ages and features, beheld their images perched on the bank of a pond.

  “Why do the fishies have to stay in the lake?” the cuter child asked.

  The older sibling rolled her eyes. “Luwynda, you dolt, how many times do I have to explain? They can’t breathe the air no more than we can breathe water!”

  “Why don’t they learn?”

  “Because they’re too stupid like you! I swear, you must’ve been birthed without a thought in your skull!” Luwynda’s big sis elbowed her in the ribs.

  “Ow!” Hugging herself, Luwynda’s foot slid on wet ground and she splashed. Arms and legs flailed. She hadn’t been taught to swim. She glimpsed her sister cackling. Instead of rescuing her, the eldest sibling fled. Clasping tree roots that projected below the surface, extending out of the shore, Luwynda hauled herself from the pond gasping and choking.

  Blinking in the present, she warmed with shame over how cruel she had been to her own little sister. She blushed, too, at the spectacle she had made of herself by boasting that she could save her town. Why did she have to blurt trumpery like the village idiot? She was as stupid as her other sister used to say she was!

  Belatedly, hunched like a coward, she realized it took an entire village to stand against oppression. They needed to quit arguing and finding fault amidst themselves to recognize what was truly intolerable — that which threatened their young.

  Fists clenched, uncrimping her legs, she drifted to the center of the common. Horrendus was sniffing doors, seeking the smell of fright and sweat, listening for the hollow thud of hearts. He was almost at the hall.

  She raised her voice: “I cannot do it alone! I can’t thwart this tyranny without your help! A monster is at your door and I am responsible, yes, but so are you! We’ve allowed him to exist with our weakness and excess! He embodies the sins of our society — the hatred and envy and avarice. There are such monsters, created from the darkness we embrace. His malice is a reflection of us. Let us oppose him together! It is the only way to finish this!”

  Horrendus glared briefly and continued snuffling. Outside the doorway of the hall his search culminated. Like a sentry the beast posed in anticipation. He hoped her impassioned plea would lure them.

  Witnessing the scheme, Luwynda moaned, “I’m leading them into a trap!”

  She was on the verge of yelling for the townsfolk to remain in the building when columns of people filed from either flank of the structure. They had climbed through a window.

  Equipped with clubs pried or split from tables and seats, whatever else they could convert or had brought as a weapon, the villagers assembled a human wall and promptly ringed the intruder.

  Horrendus revolved to meet their eyes. He saw disapproval. A spirit of unity and purpose. They were determined to protect the children, their homes. What he didn’t see were panic and awe.

  The creature mentally debated. His gut yearned to be fed. His body had no cravence for a beating. Fear won. He charged at the throng, burst past them and speedily stomped to the
refuge of trees and tomb.

  The crowd rejoiced. They celebrated freedom, a new era, with music and food and revelry until dawn.

  Luwynda danced and frolicked. Her parents were deceased. Her sisters and she rarely conversed, despite sharing the same quarters. She had felt isolated. Now she was part of something. She had earned respect. A place in the community.

  At sunrise, as friends prepared to sleep, the girl blissfully roamed. She had never been so happy and couldn’t settle down, couldn’t contain her exhilaration. She didn’t want her siblings to ruin the mood. Perhaps even they would accept and appreciate her! But she didn’t care to risk. Giggling, she skipped across a meadow. And discovered herself in the forest.

  Immediately the atmosphere flipped. Light was dimmed. A comfortable glow became a dank shiver that penetrated to her marrow. Luwynda heard a branch rustle. The snap of a bird’s wings bolting into flight. A furtive step on dried leaves and sticks. The girl’s head jerked right and left. Her chest echoed.

  And then she was racing, clawed and slapped by needled boughs, skirt and retrieved cape snagging as she hurtled a maze of shaded corridors.

  He moved in a blur of fluid menace like a gang of wolves. For true evil there were no boundaries. He was still coming.

  An anxious sob and she sat up, safe in her bed. It was a dream, she panted. Just a dream.

  Her cheek stung. Lifting fingertips, she traced a scratch. The wound was bleeding.

  He separated from a corner, sullen and horrid, his neck arched to fit under the ceiling.

  Bending at the
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