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The tree that had been the place of so much joy shuddered fiercely and was still, followed by a great rending sound as one side of the vast trunk split open and a dark form leapt from the interior. The shadowy figure eyed the gray landscape briefly before lowering its enormous head to the ground and searched for the scent of its prey. Satisfied with what it found, it lumbered away from the site of its appearance and towards the tree line in the distance. It walked upright but would not have been mistaken for anything that had evolved naturally, if it had been seen. The body was bent and ragged, although it did not lack for size. Huge muscular arms hung from the seven foot obscenity. Large powerful hands ended in black, blood encrusted claws, obviously capable of tearing a manís head from his shoulders. Its strong legs carried it swiftly across the field and it entered the woods without a sound, once again becoming shadow.
The clouds had formed overnight, overshadowing the dawn and delaying the light of day by a few hours. Ben had overslept, only to be awakened by the distant sound of wood splitting as if hit by lightning. No rain was yet falling, but he guessed that it would in the next few hours. Throwing on sweatpants and a t-shirt, he decided to run a quick mile or two before the rain started. He told his mother of his plan and left by the front door, angling away from the woods and heading down the long driveway towards the main road.
Motionless in the dense foliage, the creature peered out at the strange building that appeared to be its destination. The structure was all white, like the color of snow. It sensed no danger and proceeded across the front of the dwelling and then down one side, still following the scent it had tracked to this place. The trail ended at a door in the rear of the house and the hunter moved swiftly and silently inside.
The two cloaked runners slowed their pace only for an instant as they met at the crossing of two roads. The taller one was wearing the green and brown weave of a woodsman, the other a drab gray covering traditionally worn by mountain dwellers. They turned from their respective paths and ran together, their pace quickening under the twin moons.
Benís motherís thoughts were on her husband the instant before her corpse slumped to the kitchen floor in a sitting position, blood still bubbling from the stump that had once supported her head. The hunter had killed, but the primeval yearning for blood had yet to be satisfied. The main objective remained, and quickly the stalker explored the rest of the house. Finding no other living things it left through the bloody kitchen, glancing only briefly at the head of Benís mother as she stared grimly through sightless eyes. The beast picked up the scent again outside the door and followed it to a small outbuilding, which was empty except for strange shaped objects hung from the walls. Leaving the small shack, the beast searched the grounds surrounding the two structures. It discovered a much larger building for housing animals, but it was empty as well. I will wait, it thought, and it retreated to the woods, once again becoming one with the shadows.
Ben reached the half way point in his run and turned back. He figured two miles total would be enough and started jogging in the direction he had come.
The two cloaked figures arrived at their destination in the forest. A great, huge oak tree, larger than anything the companion in gray had ever seen, rose up from the ground to dominate this part of the woods. The tall one uttered a single phrase and the trunk of the tree opened up, enveloping the two in a bright light before closing back in on itself. The woods were empty now, save for the woodland creatures who observed the disappearance of the two visitors but did not understand.
A distant noise was picked up the creatureís sharp ears. Waiting eagerly, the sound of a two legged being running towards it became clearer as a human rounded a turn in the rocky path leading to the white structure and came into view. The manhuman was breathing heavily, but more importantly, loudly. In an instant the creature was up and moving swiftly through the trees and underbrush, not bothering with silence now, confident that the manhuman would not hear anything over the sound his own breath.
Benís nose wrinkled as he caught a whiff of something rank, like an animal decomposing in the woods nearby. He instinctively drew in his breath and held it, wanting to breath as little of the putrid odor as was possible. In the sudden quiet he heard the sound, an animal moving almost silently in the woods to his right. He guessed he must have stirred some gentle creature from sleep, perhaps a deer. He glanced to his right, expecting to see the white blur of an upraised tail. Instead he saw an abomination, an abhorrence, a huge pig like creature that ran upright, a thing with wild red eyes and short tusks growing out of its frothing mouth. The sight filled him with such shock and repugnance that he tripped and fell face down, skidding on the pea gravel driveway. The thing was all over him in a second, shredding his t-shirt with huge clawed hands, the razor edges biting into the skin of his back. The same foul stench he had noticed earlier filled his nostrils completely as the creature picked him up off the driveway and held him overhead briefly before slamming him brutally to the ground. A clear pop sounded in Benís ears as his left elbow struck the earth under the weight of his body and a searing pain raced through his arm. Without hesitating the pig-thing wrapped one huge hand around Benís neck and picked him completely off the ground again, bringing them face to face with barely inches between. Benís feet dangled uselessly above the gravel road as he stared into the soulless depths of his aggressor, trying not to breath the noxious vapors that flowed from the drooling mouth opposite his. A thought rose to the surface of Benís befuddled mind, and he impulsively struck out with his right leg, catching the monster fully in the groin. The pig-thing twitched suddenly, the leathery body constricting against the blow, then relaxed as a twisted smile arose on its horrid face. Ben looked down and noticed too late that the creature lacked the proper equipment for his strike to have been effective. With a noticeable lack of effort the long, hairy arm hurled Ben fifteen feet away to land with an audible thud in the grass between the woods and the road. His head clearing slightly, Ben jumped to his feet and ran, heading in the general direction of the woods where, he hoped, he could find a hiding place and collect his thoughts. The creature waited a moment, prolonging the anticipation it felt, then raced after its quarry.
With a flash the two hooded figures appeared on the hilltop, standing next to a tree identical to the one they had entered. They scanned the area quickly, noticing that in this place it was day, not night, and that they were no longer deep in the woods but in the middle of a grassy plain with this tree at the center. They saw the huge tracks immediately, the clawed footprints unmistakable as they formed a clear trail heading away from where they stood and towards a tract of forest. Concern crossed the bearded face of the one cloaked in grey as he examined the tracks, and he spoke with a troubled voice.
ďA Wereboar. We must be swift.Ē No more was said as they raced off the hill and into the trees.
Ben ran through the woods, his feet following the familiar paths he had known in his youth. His head was clear now, but he did not understand any of what was happening. His left arm hung uselessly at his side, the elbow obviously broken, but by what? he thought. A hairy, pig faced giant had attacked him out of nowhere, and attacked with intelligence and cunning. This was no animal, Ben thought as he dashed through the trees, this thing has reasoning and conscious thought. Realizing he needed a weapon of some sort, Ben turned sharply to his left and headed for where he had so carelessly left his axe the day before. He heard a crashing sound behind him and knew he was losing ground quickly. He soon broke into the small clearing and spied the axe leaning against a tall stump. He yanked the blade up with his right hand, raising it over his head, then spun around to strike the monster he knew was right on his heels. The creature, just a few steps behind, halted briefly, then simply moved forward with one huge arm raised over its head to block the obvious attack, confident now that the puny human had no experience in battle. But Ben had his own ideas about fighting, and the beast paid the price as Ben swung the axe down and unexpectedly away from his opponent, spinning his body completely around clockwise and sinking the axe bit deep into the leathery skin covering the right knee of his astonished attacker. The metal blade struck the delicate joint and smashed bone and cartilage, toppling the great beast as Ben had toppled so many trees in the very spot they now occupied. With more confidence now Ben rose up and stepped back, not wanting to overextend his advantage and make a mistake as his enemy had. The foul beast thrashed on the ground for a moment, howling in pain, before crouching low in a defensive stance, its crippled right leg bent inward at an impossible angle. Ben could see the burning hatred in the squinty pig-eyes and knew that before long, one of them would lay dead. Strangely he felt no fear, only cold logic as he contemplated his next move. Then the beast was moving, using its long arms and one good leg to propel itself towards Benís position. With astonishing speed it cleared the distance between them and lunged, to be met with the flat area of the axehead as the handle twisted in Benís one handed grip. Ben recouped quickly, and struck again as the monster turned itself around to face him. The axe head buried itself deep in the left shoulder of the creature and it screamed in pain, but Ben had compromised his distance advantage and the beast slashed out with one brutal arm, its long claws ripping across his chest, covering the two opponents in blood and torn flesh. Ben leaped away quickly but lost his footing as he landed and fell to the ground, the precious axe slipping from his bloody grasp. He scrambled to his feet and ran, the beast moving after him with amazing speed. He had run perhaps a hundred yards into the woods with his relentless pursuer still close behind when he realized how much blood he was losing. It flowed freely from the deep cuts on his chest, and he was becoming lightheaded. At first hopeless, then seemingly winnable, the tide of this battle had once again turned and the future did not bode well. Ben could feel his strength waning, his steps becoming slower, and his limbs were growing heavy. His pursuer was gaining rapidly and Ben frantically searched his mind for a solution. Then it occurred to him, and the irony of it almost caused him to smile: The one place he had always feared the most in the woods would be his salvation. He cursed himself for not checking on the Katana he had laid at the base of the dogwood many years before, but knew he would find out soon enough if it was still there. He moved on with conviction now, heading for a tall hill in the distance which, at the bottom of the opposite side, he hoped to find victory.
The race was won at the summit of the hill. The beast had gained ground steadily all the while and had finally caught Ben just as it seemed he might escape. With one final lunge the pigthing had hurled its body across the span of distance separating them and caught Ben by his pants leg. Ben felt the tug and lashed out, kicking furiously at the foaming mouth, but the monster ignored the blows, knowing that it would soon feast on the warm flesh of its victim. It pulled Benís flailing body towards it and grasped his right leg with both hands. With an audible crack it snapped the leg cleanly in two, and Benís scream was silenced as he was brutally lifted up by two hairy paws encircling his head and covering his mouth. The pain was agonizing, but Ben saw his last opportunity for life while both of the creatureís hands were occupied. Shutting out the pain he struck swiftly with his right hand, his index finger extended, and met no resistance as he plunged it deep into the soft eyeball of his foe. Blood spewed forth from the socket as he was dropped to the ground, and an instant later he was crawling away, dragging his crippled leg behind him. He would live, he thought, he would rise as master and spit on the rotting corpse of this reject of nature. He would chop the hairy fiend into tiny pieces and mount the head on a fencepost for all to see. He would... The thought was stopped short when he saw the hairy, clawed foot just inches from his face. Somehow the beast had passed Benís crawling body and Ben looked up into the face of his conqueror. The thing looked at him with one good eye, the other dangling from its socket by thin bloody ligaments. With agonizing slowness the creature picked him up easily and hurled him with tremendous force towards a large tree growing at the top of the steep hill. It gleefully awaited the sickening crunch the frail human would make when it struck.
The two figures ran like the wind, knowing that much depended on their speed. They perceived a struggle slightly to the south among the trees, about 200 yards away. They heard a human cry which ended abruptly, and they sped on with a new urgency.
The scream had barely left Benís throat before it was cut off as he struck the tree full on. The loud cracking sound of his left shoulder and most of his ribs when he collided reaffirmed his belief that he had lost this battle. He hit the ground and unintentionally rolled downhill, the slope of the ground and gravity moving him like the dead weight of a log. At the bottom, Ben encountered a flat area which halted his motion and left him in a bloody heap, the life flowing out from his broken body. He looked to his left and could see a dogwood tree, larger than he remembered but the same, and among its roots he caught sight of a bit of plastic. He had been right to come here, he thought, but even as he attempted to move in that direction he knew it was too late. All desire to fight back had left him and he awaited the killing blow, the blow that would release his crippled body from its torment and he could slip peacefully from this world of pain....
The fiend followed Benís descent down the steep incline and found him lying in a pool of blood by the bank of a wide creek. What a pitiful opponent, it thought. I will slay ten thousand humans before I am finished but I will always remember this one, the one that could have stopped us....
It occurred to Benís fading mind that it had started raining. What a strange thought to have at this point in time, he thought....
The monster was above him now, smelling victory in the air. It could sense death racing to the scene as it raised one hairy, clawed hand and held it aloft, suspending it for a lingering moment above the prone form, savoring the conquest of the frail human it had been sent to destroy.
The rain fell. Ben could feel the random drops falling here and there on his face and body, his thoughts floating away to be with his mother and father when they were younger....
The creature screamed jubilance before sending razor sharp talons slashing down to rip the throat from its victim. A flash appeared momentarily out of the corner of its eye as it anticipated the taste of human blood that would surely spray into its open mouth as its claws swung down to shred....
....Nothing. Astonishment emerged on the half-boar face when no feeling of slicing flesh met its swinging arm. Astonishment turned to shock as the momentary flash appeared again, this time clearly connected to a grey cloaked form holding the sweeping sword that had severed its right arm. The blow connected in the thick muscles of the beastsí neck, cutting cleanly all the way through chest, ribs and various organs to exit just above the opposite hip. The creature seemed to stare for an instant in disbelief at a grinning, bearded face to its right before the upper half of its body parted and then fell away.