Welcome back, faithful reader! The next couple of sections of the micro-chapters to Left of Midnight are now available! If you’ve been reading, I appreciate your taking the time to indulge in the is little tale. I hope you’ll want to buy the whole book when it’s available in 2021! As such, I won’t waste anymore time. Let’s get into it!
For your reading pleasure, Left of Midnight:
HIS HEAD SHOOK violently as he tossed his kebob of lizard meat across the cave and onto the floor. Shōtō stood up and flopped his hands up in a gesture that suggested he was more than bothered by the query being put to him once more.
“Fuck! Fuck you and the pig the rode in on!”
Aberry looked taken aback as he leaned against the wall of the cave on a mat made of reed. Shōtō paced around the firepit in the center of the cave looking like a native about to start before some bizarre dancing ritual.
“Well, that’s sumfuckinmothyagot on ya!” Aberry tried not to laugh but it came out nonetheless. “How do you really feel?”
Shōtō glared at Aberry. The man was sitting crossed legged, not in the Seiza style he was accustomed to, but in the manner of one lacking civility. It was one of the many things that bugged him about the pilot. And here he was again asking about going to the volcano. He didn’t know what was up there but he knew that they couldn’t take the chance. The dark dreams were there every time he tried to meditate (so much so, he’d just given up on trying to meditate at all). And every time he was in the meadow with the Sakura tree where he’d last spoken to his mother. The flowers were all a grey and dead field of wilted sorrow and shadows with those glowing blue eyes were fast surrounding him. And every time, the great shadow at their center, the one whose name he kept forgetting, rose up high into the sky to give some ancient soliloquy of mastery over the heavens and the firmament and he was not keen on hearing the rest of the tirade.
And Aberry wanted to go to his abode (he didn’t know if it was the being’s abode or not, but it felt true enough).
“No! You understand? No. We can’t go,” Aberry didn’t look as if he understood causing Shōtō to stop and wave his hands in emphasis as he spoke more slowly. “We… no… go! Dangerous! You understand that, you idiot!?”
Aberry squinted really hard and then smiled. “Okay. I knowinyeranorfradtfind what…” there was another sequence of words he wasn’t quite getting. When flustered (or thinking himself funny) the man tended to speak really fast making it harder to understand the words coming out of his mouth. “However, I don’t think it’s as dangerous as you think. Let’s just see what we see. Whaddyagitta lose?”
Shōtō rubbed his eyes. There were fewer headaches now when talking to Aberry. But, there was a limit to what he could tolerate and he just didn’t want to think about it anymore.
What do we have to lose? We just investigate the base of the volcano and head back. It’ll be just a volcano and Aberry will be satisfied, Shōtō sighed and tried not to laugh. Right. He’ll be satisfied. Just as like the monkey’s ass will want to climb the volcano to its summit just to make sure it’s dormant.
Shōtō lifted his head up and let his arms cross across his chest. “Fine. Fine. We go. You shut up.”
Aberry stood up with a laugh and approached him to clap him hard on his left shoulder. He really hated it when the man did that. He had a firm grip and an even harder slap and he felt it every time deep in his bones. But, Aberry seemed satisfied. For the time being.
“I say we redyersebsfer tomorrown head out to that volcano. See what we see,” Shōtō grimaced. Of course, he wanted to leave tomorrow. Likely in the morning. Of course.
“Fine. We sleep good first then.”
Aberry didn’t seem to hear his attempt at English or even care. Just headed off to his small room to start packing gear up in his tattered bag. Shōtō didn’t know why he was still using that thing. He himself had already weaved a new sack out of the lake reeds and it was sturdier than the Ministry official knapsack assigned him what seemed like a million years ago.
Shōtō ignored him and went to his own room to prep his own materials. He wouldn’t worry about oversleeping. The great big goofball would wake him up when he was ready to go. Or Shōtō would be awake already, torn from precious sleep by another barrage of shadows glowering maliciously in the dark.
THE FOREST INTERIOR was thick with insects. They buzzed and droned and flittered all across their chests and their faces. Despite Avery’s best efforts, he got stung and bitten numerous times and his mood soured deeper the further they walked. It hadn’t even been a day as of yet since they’d left their home in the cliffside to head for the mountain. Shoot Toe had been uncharacteristically silent (which was saying something for the man) since they set out. Every so often, though, he’d utter something towards Avery and he’d turn to the pilot and give a thumbs up. He was pretty sure he was still grumbling about the idea of going northward at all, but he’d be damned if he didn’t see what was at or around the volcano. It was a mission now. Something to focus on. And if Shoot Toe didn’t want to come along willingly, well, he had methods to deal with that.
Avery turned at another utterance of the unsmiling man and gave another thumbs up with a huge smile in return. The man looked unamused as his face soured a degree deeper.
They walked the rest of the day. Only stopping to snack on prepared foods they’d brought with them. Avery was fairly confident they had enough rations for three days. If they weren’t there and back by then, he figured he’d just hunt for something. It was slow going, though. Here and there were clear rocky pathways that natural let out over groves of small trees and grassy meadows isolated in the middle of the woods. But those were few and far between. For the most part, he was hacking his way through the dense vegetation of the tropical forest and contending with wayward beasts that didn’t like being disturbed.
He even got to name a few new critters. Though Shoot Toe didn’t understand (or didn’t care for) what he was doing.
The first he came across turned out to be a small lunch. It was one of the predatory feline/canine half-breeds that wandered the island. This one looked like a cross between a coyote and a small panther. It’s coat had an almost bluish sheen to it and it was fast. So fast he almost didn’t notice the hairs poking up off its ear tips or its short bob tail. Shoot Toe and he had to dart out of its way and into dense brush off the newly cut trail as the cat thing (to which he took to calling ‘Panyote’ a few hours later, something Shoot Toe really didn’t get) twisted around and off of a thick tree trunk to lunge straight back at Avery. It howled a growling mewl that was somewhat high pitched. It wasn’t very large, maybe half the size of Avery, but its speed was something he hadn’t wanted to tangle with very long.
Shoot Toe rushed it as the thing toppled Avery over onto his back and was trying to swipe his face with its fairly sizable paw. Avery pulled his blade an instant before it had knocked him down but not fast enough to drive it into its body. He was, however, able to hold it at bay until Shoot Toe swung his heavy pole axe (it was really just a fairly thick branch that the man had carved down into a pretty smooth club with a pair of rocks attached to its head; it reminded Avery of a medieval pole axe) and the bladed rocks on the tip had carved a good chunk of flesh from the thing’s back. It howled in raged leapt into the forest giving Avery and Shoot Toe enough time to brace themselves back to back, their weapons to the fore, ready for whatever attack came next. And it didn’t take long as the Panyote was flying out of the forest interior within moments to charge Shoot Toe this time. Avery didn’t give either the man nor the beast much time to react as he twisted towards it and drove his knife into its eyeball and into its skull. It collapsed to the ground pawing at the now stuck instrument but it died less than thirty seconds later.
Both he and Shoot Toe gripped their knees tight with their hands as they caught their breaths staring at the beast.
“Hey,” Avery looked to his island friend, “you ever had wildcat before?”
Shoot Toe hesitantly shook his head and Avery smiled as he straightened up and grabbed the panyote’s corpse to sling over his shoulder. He then motioned back the way they came.
“Come on, then,” Avery said. “We’ll make a brief campsite back in that meadow we came through not so long ago. But this will make for a great lunch. Better than dried rations anyhow.”
Shoot Toe quirked a brow but didn’t argue as they made they way back a fraction of a mile to where they’d marched through a meadow with tall weeds and grasses that were full of leaping insects that reminded Avery of something of a cross between a grasshopper and a praying mantis. Those he swiftly began calling manhoppers after he saw them again coming into the meadow. This was his second find of the day and he was feeling good about not being mauled by a wildcat and surviving long enough to eat it instead.
They spent around two hours in the meadow that time. Only long enough for Avery to get a fire started and to cleave off some portions of the panyote. He didn’t bother with a full skinning and butchering. He felt it would just take too long and he figured whatever they left behind would be eaten in short order by the locals anyhow. He didn’t think it was too bad. The shank he’d carved off had a semi chewy quality to it while still having that almost tender bite. There was also a strange tangy aftertaste that he couldn’t quite describe.
“Here, have a bite,” he offered Shoot Toe part of his portion after noticing the man was just staring off into the sky and not partaking in their victory meal. “Don’t worry, it won’t bite. Not anymore anyway.”
At first, the man refused, but Avery persisted, “We’re going to be marching all day. Probably best to get some protein in you.”
Shoot Toe sighed and took the offering. He chewed on it for a moment and gave Avery a look that said, ‘What is this shit?’ and then proceeded to finish it off.
Avery smiled and said, “It’s panyote, my friend. Good for you, I’m sure.”
“Why must you name everything?”
Avery looked to Shoot Toe. He was almost surprised to heart that his dialect in English was improved to a remarkable degree. Only earlier that day he sounded like a foreigner struggling to communicate. Which, he supposed, was the case. But now, it was almost like a real conversation. Like the man was hearing his words fully for the first time.
“Because I’ve like giving names to my pain. Makes me feel better about eating the island before it eats me.”
Shoot Toe looked to him and offered up his first actual smile. “I suppose that be wise as an axiom.”
“Yes. I reckon so.”
Avery grinned. They finished off what they wanted to cook off of the beast and left the corpse for the wildlife to engorge upon, and started back off down the trail they’d backtracked from. Once to the site where their battle for survival had transpired, Avery noted his third said creature to give a name to. This one, however, didn’t give them any fight. It had only been licking at the ground where the panyote’s blood had spilled and, upon seeing them, fled into the undergrowth. It hadn’t been large. About the size of a large chicken. It walked on two legs like a chicken, but had two forward arms that was almost human like. He’d never seen anything like it and it defied any description he thought he could give it. Shoot Toe didn’t see it as he was still four or five feet behind Avery at the time. But the thing’s snout was lizard like with large amphibian eyes bobbing on top of its head. The eyes had slits like a goat as it stared at him momentarily before its flight. Its forearms ended in two hooked claws with very sharp looking talons. While its meaty body, again thick like a chicken, was covered in a furry clutch of feathers. Its tail was whiplike, reminding him of a lizard, with furry feathers ending in a vertical fan.
Then, it was gone. He was amazed he managed to get any details of the thing, let alone nearly all of it. It was just the most bizarre creature he’d ever seen. And, having spent several months already on the island, that was saying something.
“What the flying fuck was that thing?”
“What thing?” Shoot Toe inquired coming up and to the side of Avery. He glanced at the ground where the blood was but didn’t seem to give it much thought.
“There was this… lizard chicken thing licking up the panyote’s blood. It… I… shit. I’ll try and describe it later but let’s just call it a… a… a licken.”
“A ‘licken’?” Shoot Toe shook his head. “Sure you not want to try again? Lame name.”
“Uhm… a chizard? Lichen? I’ll think on it. But, it was weird. Ran off into the woods.”
“Attack us likely?”
Shoot Toe nodded. “Go on, then.”
Avery grumbled and started forward across the path and towards the brush to begin hacking again where he left. “You’re no fun.”
And so brings to an end another week of Left of Midnight. Hope to see you next week for another reading! Until then, I hope your week goes well!
~Timothy S Purvis
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