“But your Father refused?” Galen used the stick in his hand to hit at the long grass. His friend Jason made a noise. He looked over to see him shaking his head.
“He said it wasn’t honourable.” As Jason spat out the last word he tugged on his tunic as if hot. But Galen knew it wasn’t the clothing or the weather making him uncomfortable. He wanted to reach out and comfort his friend but held back. Lately Jason had been short tempered and impatient. His Father had been talking of sending him away for months but it seemed now that it was going to happen. He didn’t want to lose his friend but your Father’s word was law. Jason would return when he was grown. They would always be friends. Satisfied, Galen nodded to himself and continued hitting the grass as they walked.
He didn’t know this part of the wooded hills but a glance behind assured him the town was still in sight. The more angry Jason became the longer Jason liked to walk. They would eat berries they found up here. Sometimes on a long hike Galen would set snares and catch rabbits he then roasted over a fire. The dry weather had made the wood like tinder so they would have to be careful if they cooked today. Usually nobody hunted here so the animals were easy prey. Better quality and quantities of meat were bought by the townspeople from the sea merchants in exchange for their services as scholars. For such an educated place, it made Galen wonder why Jason’s Father wanted to send him away for his education. He sighed. Walks would be no fun without Jason.
Continuing in silence Galen noticed the ground becoming rockier. His town sandals had less grip on the smooth stone. He had to hold on to trees for balance but even they became sparse. He looked over at Jason who was continuing with determination. Gritting his own teeth Galen matched his pace. He was getting out of breath when a cave mouth appeared from behind an outcrop. Jason strode up to the entrance and stopped, looking inside. Galen lowered himself to the ground and leant back against the rocks. He closed his eyes and took deep breaths. The sun was warm on his face and did little to cool his sweat soaked skin. Once he had his breath back he grinned.
“Let me know if I should make a snare for lunch. I may have to go back down to catch anything.” There was no reply so Galen looked around. He was alone. Standing up he turned, looking for his friend, calling his name. He heard a faint whisper coming from the cave. It was dark but, licking his dry lips, Galen took a few steps inside. It grew cold in the shade and his skin prickled. He heard the faint voice again. It sounded like Jason. He couldn’t see, so with hands held out at face height, Galen moved forward cautiously. His fingertips met cold rock, what must have been the back of the cave. Another whisper came, to his right. Running his hands along and moving slowly Galen kept going until suddenly the cave mouth disappeared from view. Keeping one hand where it was the other explored what was blocking the light. More rock, it was a tunnel leading from the cave which was so dark he hadn’t been able to see it. He could hear the voice better, it definitely sounded like Jason but it was too low for him to make out any words. He called Jason again. Then once more. The whisper stopped. A low rumble sounded.
“Jason, is that you?” A bright yellow flash showed another turn in the tunnel further in. He took a step forward but then another flash silhouetted Jason running back towards him. Jason was screaming for him to run. He turned and ran for the cave mouth. He heard a roar like a wall crashing down. Jason caught up to him outside, overtaking him, grabbing his arm and dragging him down the hillside. Galen tried to keep his footing but he slipped on the stone. He tumbled down, arms and legs out to try and stop his fall. Smooth rocks and tree branches pummeled and sliced at him. He slammed into something. It stopped his fall but his head whipped back and forth and he couldn’t breath. Then air flowed in with a pained gasp. His eyes were watering and he ached. He scrabbled for purchase on the ground. Rough bark against his side told him he’d landed on a tree. The rock was covered in slippery moss and tufts of sharp razor grass bit into his hands. He heard another roar that echoed around him. He tried to look but his eyes were blurry and it felt like the world was still spinning. Two hands clamped down on his arms.
“This way, Galen!” Jason pulled him up and half carried him. They moved back up the hill. Galen could hear loud heavy breathing but it mingled with his own so he couldn’t tell where it was coming from. He heard a noise like pawing at the ground. Like a great hound ready to race. Galen saw the cave again but Jason dragged him past it. They moved round and over it, continuing up further. The land became nothing but stone, with nothing to pull themselves up. Galen pushed Jason off him and despite the pain in his side he climbed up and up until there was nowhere else to go.
Blood was pounding in his ears as he stopped and it felt like his heart was going to burst in his chest. He pushed on the stitch in his side but the skin was so tender it made him wince. Jason was looking back the way they had come. Galen followed his gaze. They were above the treeline and he could make out the town in the distance. Next to it was the sea, the large trade ships that came into port looking like toys. Jason made a strangled noise and gestured below them. Galen saw it, a creature pacing inside the shadow of the treeline. It was on all fours. It appeared to have a large shaggy head, a thin tail that whipped about it’s hind quarters and there was some sort of strange hump on it’s back. The hump erupted in a burst of flame lighting up the forest, igniting several trees. As they burned others caught light. The air crackled around them and the heat beat at their skin, the creature moving through the flame. Lit up Galen could see the hump on it’s back was the head of a goat. The tail had two glittering reptilian eyes.
“A Chimera. I thought it was only a myth,” Jason said in a high whine. He covered his mouth and coughed.
“Me too,” Galen agreed. He blinked furiously to clear the smoke from his eyes. He saw Jason’s mouth move but couldn’t hear him. “What?” he cried.
“I didn’t mean it!” His friend shouted back at him.
“You did believe?” Jason shook his head and they both coughed. Galen didn’t have time to think about what Jason was saying. They needed to escape or they would die from the smoke before the Chimera got them. Suddenly a gust of wind blew the smoke clear. Standing up from the huddle they had formed Jason cried out at the Chimera.
“I didn’t mean it!” The Chimera stopped pacing and all of its faces turned to look at them through the burning trees. The wind was at their backs, the smoke dissipating. With a growl the creature bolted away, straight down the hill towards town. Jason sat down, tears leaving tracks on his blackened face. Galen put his arm around the other boys shoulders.
“It’s gone. If we can avoid the smoke the fire will burn out and we can warn the town.” He gave an encouraging smile.
“No,” Jason replied. “It’s too late already.” Galen was about to answer when something caught his eye. The sun was glinting off a large white band out to sea. It seemed to hover above the water and was getting closer to land. The nearer it got Galen began to recognise it as a wave. An enormous wave that was churning the water it moved through. It was reaching higher than any building he had ever seen. Galen turned and called Jason’s name but his friend was frozen on the ground. He tried to think of how he might be able to warn the town but he knew if anyone had a high vantage point they would be looking up at the burning forest. No one would be looking out to sea. The wave reached the boats first, tossing them into the air carelessly, wood and sails strewn in it’s wake. Moments later it reached the town.
This story began with inspiration from Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge. http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2016/06/24/flash-fiction-challenge-five-random-story-seeds/
The seed I chose was number 5, an impossible animal arrives. I immediately thought about the Chimera and decided to research it’s classical origins. Thanks to Wikipedia (Chimera (mythology)) and reading that at one time the Chimera was an omen of natural disasters it inspired the climax of The Chase.
Featured image from pixabay.com and used under Creative Commons.