(another story I am working on based on someone I love dearly. I hope you enjoy – JM)
It was cold when she woke with her hair all a mess. It was still dark and she closed her eyes tight willing away the chill in the unwelcoming morning air. She dreaded the thought of getting dressed much less the thought of actually leaving the peace and warmth of her bedroll. The unforgiving world which was begrudgingly forced upon her in some new hellish way with each new day had grown dull; most days were even boring to her despite her vocation. She needed so much more.
The need for her services in this realm was fading. She had destroyed many of their kind these last ten years and it was time to move on to something new and exciting she mused. “What excitement do you believe you’ll find you daft girl?” Chere’s imitation of her long dead mistress from a school she couldn’t quite remember the name of anymore echoed through the thin fabric of her tent and through the barren valley below where she had set camp.
She heard a squeal somewhere on the far side of the valley and their big feet marring the dead ground as they began to flee from the sound of her voice. “No wonder I am running out of things to do. At least in the old days they tried to be sneaky. Now they run like, hmmm what were those things called?” There were none to hear save the fleeing damned which she stalked, predator to prey. She was a hunter skilled beyond measure. “Are they called beer?” At that she burst into laughter, “not beer, deer. They are like deer running from an old car from one of those old picture discs.” She laughed sarcastically and loudly knowing the fleeing creatures she hunted would leave a much easier trail if they were terrified.
She was dressed and ready for the hunt which took only minutes. She was well practiced and very efficient in her purpose. Wake, kill, sleep, it was a mantra she sometimes recited when she drew near her prey. Many had seen her haphazard style of hunting and trapping and believed they could go out all on their own in search of riches and fame. She had burned more than a few former helpers’ corpses after liberating the bulbous growth which had once been a head from their warped and twisted shoulders.
She was a true beauty in every way. The old timers said she reminded them of what they called, “movie stars.” When asked her height she would always say “five foot five and a half inches, the half counts too!” Yes she was an extraordinary woman by all accounts. She wouldn’t hear of it and to praise her, one would believe she was actually in pain. Her heart held the world and her shoulders bore the weight and she asked for nothing in return. People did pay her for her services but she never asked nor did she expect it. Most couldn’t afford to pay a hunter and most hunters were desperate men in need of a meal and rarely finished the first day on the job. No, the weight she bore would crush men ten times her size yet she persevered.
Chere didn’t even know why she had survived at this for so long. She thought her luck would have run out by now. No hunter that she had ever heard of had made it more than a few years at best. A good hunter she was told “could bag twelve a year, and that was only if ya never stop hunting. “ Chere in the beginning, when she was hunting fueled by rage and not for the greater good was killing twelve a week or more. She had discovered they liked to congregate, like people. She spat at the thought of those mindless things acting like people. “People they once were, but not anymore. Quit thinking like a rookie girl.” She admonished herself. “Thoughts like that give you doubts and doubts get you killed.”
Not since the great culling had “The Ogres” been killed in such numbers. In the beginning she left the severed heads on spikes as a warning to keep them away from people. It had not worked; they seemed to be attracted to the places the heads were displayed. So for a time Chere used mounted heads as bait. It would bring them forth in droves and in droves she would slaughter them. Axe and dagger in hand she would charge head long into a crowd of twenty enraged ogres. Their hulking bodies too slow to quite catch her and as they tried she chopped limb and skull until they were no more. This made her famous and feared even by the people she saved.
These creatures had all once been human. It wasn’t voodoo or black magic which had corrupted them so; it had been good old science. Chere had heard fragmented stories claiming an accident and others claiming some psycho religious nut broke into a lab to destroy some research weighing 180 pounds at 5’11” and walked out at seven foot tall and 450 pounds smashing everything that got in his way and eating anyone who didn’t. The story she had been told that seemed most likely was it was an experiment in genetics that had gone terribly wrong. In an attempt to grow lost limbs they completely altered the human DNA strand in such a way that it caused instant mutation throughout the body. These mutations severely damaged the brain and rendered higher brain function impossible. This caused the afflicted to begin behaving on a primal level. She had heard it referred to as devolution. “The best part is it is contagious like a virus and transmitted like vampirism,” she yelled to the barren valley.
“I wish they were vampires,” she mused aloud to the desolate valley. She hadn’t done much the last few days so she was letting her quarry get a nice head start before she began. These early morning walks and solo conversations were her way of preparing for a long day of killing. Yes she was ready now. All thought cleared from her mind. She drew her axe in her right hand and her dagger in her left and gave chase.
Chere ran for two straight hours on the trail of the lumbering beasts. It had taken a full hour to traverse the valley to where the ogres had made what passed for a camp. There were bits of bone in a pile and divots in the charred earth where they had lain. She could see there were at least seven in this pack. As she were ready to head out she saw to her surprise a much smaller indention in the ground. Something smaller than the typical behemoths she hunted but much larger than any normal human should be. Chere saw something protruding from the ground half obscured by the falling earth from the monsters earlier flight. She pulled it free and shook the dirt and ash off. It was a little pinkish-purple stuffed animal. It looked like a cat-bear.
As she pondered why such a thing would be found in the camp of mindless beasts such as these and was ready to dismiss it as nothing the smell hit her nose and she nearly vomited. “What in God’s name?” She blurted. Then it hit her. The smell was ogre, and from the looks of the cat-bear this ogre had been carrying this stuffed animal for a very long time. It had been many decades since something like this had been manufactured. Yes they were sold by the millions but most toys and unnecessary items had been reclaimed and used as stuffing and patches for blankets. Fabric was a highly sought after commodity and even as little as this cat-bear contained it still had value. She had dreamed as a child of finding a house like the ones she had seen in the picture discs untouched by scavengers. She would have been rich beyond all measure with just the blankets from the beds and the towels from the linen closets.
“You were a stupid kid back then girl, being rich in this world is like being the top turd in a toilet bowl.” She chuckled but the uncertainty in her own voice as she had spoken had unnerved her. Then she remembered the little ones she and her sister had tried to protect when the herd had descended on her village. She was born into this life and knew nothing else. She had been taught since birth to never go anywhere alone and that there was strength in numbers. Her village like any other was fortified. A bull ogre fully enraged and hungry could nearly walk through the side of a brick building as if walking through an open door. Each village had built fortifications far beyond what seemed necessary. There were walls built behind walls built behind walls. They used anything they could find to stop the charging monsters and so far it had worked.
She remembered when as many as ten had attacked and everyone including the children would be on the walls throwing stones and spears and anything which may slow the onslaught and even a group of ten with five bulls at the lead couldn’t penetrate the barriers. Her parents were gone and she was thankful that they hadn’t gone the way of most of what was left of humanity had gone. No they had been taken by the fever and as in every village there was a house full of orphans the village as a whole cared for. When the ogres came, it was every man for himself. It wasn’t selfishness that caused this save yourself mentality it was pure terror that even the bravest amongst them could barely contain. Chere and her sister had hidden the children and themselves inside the walls of their make shift orphanage. There were no doctors anymore and these things called hospitals she had heard about in stories as a child. “One day things will be back to the way they once were and you kids will have your own homes and beds and there will be nothing else to fear.” This was the lie all children were told to give them hope.
A single tear fell from her eye as she spoke “yes hope didn’t stop the ogres from coming by the hundreds, no hope had been the sauce they were marinated in before it was time to be eaten.” She tucked the rank cat-bear into her pack and an evil malicious grin crept onto her face. As she set out again she had doubled her pace. It felt like the old days. She wasn’t even able to finish the thought of the night which had forever changed her life before she was in a full on rage. She looked forward to their screams as she slaughtered them and the little one she’d save for last.
As she ran the pictures flooded her mind and she knew this was due to the flashback of the night she had lost her sister and all the other young children of her village. The beasts came at full speed and the barrier did very little to slow them. Those on the wall had been the first victims to succumb to the voracious horde. She lost many friends in the first minutes of the battle. “No, battle isn’t the right word.” She stopped and pulled a small flask containing water from her belt and spat, “buffet, they were a buffet.”
She corked her flask wiped her face on her sleeve and continued her harried pace. She hadn’t felt the rage of the hunt in many years. She had nearly come to pity the creatures she had mercilessly slaughtered for so long. They couldn’t speak or beg for mercy but the shrieks in their final moments sometimes haunted her dreams. She would wipe the sleep from her eyes and quickly dismiss the shrieks as nothing more than an animal’s reaction to the slaughter. She’d say aloud, “They are no more sentient than a frog or a fish,” and the thought would drift out of her mind.
She could see one of the beasts just ahead leaning against a tree with his back to her. She halted and began sneaking around to confront the massive bull and to her surprise she saw it was already dead. Its head had been smashed in by a rock she was sure weighed at least 200 pounds. She felt panicked and began to scan the dead forest all around her. There was nothing. She had witnessed bulls fighting before but something didn’t seem right to her. In every instance when they had fought the loser had been the meal of the group. If she hadn’t known any better she would have thought it some sort of ritual. There was little food left in this part of the world save for fish and fowl. There were no large mammals left. No dogs or cats, which had been eaten by ogre and human alike.
Everyone save successful ogre hunters starved. This left the ogres only two options for food, humans and each other. They weren’t cleaver enough to catch fish or birds and a 500 pound bull could eat a full grown man a day. Some she had encountered had almost looked scrawny to her. If a thing man shaped and 400 pounds could be considered scrawny. These were the most vicious of them all. A starving ogre wouldn’t try and kill his prey first he’d try and eat you to death. Chere had witnessed these gruesome acts more times than she cared to remember. Those screams she couldn’t wipe away or dismiss so she continued to hunt.
As Chere ran more and more visions from her past ran through her mind. Her body was strong and she could keep up this pace all day and still be able to fight at the end, but these memories were beginning to take their toll on her agitated mind. She hadn’t allowed herself to fall into such a state as this while she hunted in years but today was not a day like she had experienced before. There had been times when things had seemed odd or even organized about the creatures she hunted but the cat-bear and the tiny indention, by comparison, had her mind racing.
These things had once been human and no one even the biggest and nastiest among them had deserved such a fate. She was fighting a thought which kept trying to break through. “It can’t be,” she blurted and stumbled to a stop. “A child turned ogre? Are they breeding?” She asked the empty forest.
She had been running for nearly four hours it was midmorning and the ogre’s tracks were as fresh as ever. “A blind man could track a frightened ogre.” She had heard boasted by a few brave men here and there freshly returning from a hunt, usually with a bloated rotting head in tow for proof to gain the favor of small villages to get free food and drink and to win the favors of the young women so very grateful to their saviors. In one case she even recognized the putrid head a hunter had put on a spike outside a local tavern. It had been one hell of a fight and that old bull had nearly gotten her. It had seemed to know how to fight. It hadn’t blindly charged but took a defensive position waiting for her to strike.
When she ran in expecting it to lunge forward it side stepped and with a huge swipe back handed her so hard she crashed into a tree breaking two ribs and splitting her head open. She had lain very still until the ogre was close and as he bent to claim his prize he was met with her dagger which she sank deep into its right eye socket. She had left the slain beast where it had fallen knowing she’d be unable to fend off another attack if a group were to find her while she was burning the remains. This too was another reason she preferred burning her kills.
She had returned to the small village where the famed hunter had spiked the ogre’s head outside the tavern only a week later to find the bones of its people littering the streets. A large group had smashed through the barriers and had razed the entire town. Every building and every home had been smashed or burnt. There wasn’t a soul alive but outside the tavern on a spike sat the head of the great hunter. She figured someone had realized he was the cause and reason they had been over run and so she imagined human hands had been at work but now she wasn’t so sure. It was now a widely known fact that using ogre heads as a deterrent was folly and she herself had let it be known to every village she passed.
She decided to take a rest. She wasn’t tired but she needed to settle her mind or she ran the chance of being caught off guard. She had to know. As far as she knew there were no other hunters who had been at this as long as she had. She had spent more time watching them and witnessing their odd behavior than anyone else she knew of. She had always thought it to be pack like. No different than coyotes or wild dogs. There was the biggest and meanest and it would seem that it was the leader. He’d sit howling indecipherable commands which the others followed. “There couldn’t be any true intelligent thought behind those shrieks and howls could there?” Chere asked the silent trees quizzically.
In the distance a quiet yelp caught her attention. She jumped to her feet as if expecting an onslaught but again the forest grew silent. She slowly made her way towards where the sound had come. “How far off had it been?” She whispered aloud, “and what would have made such a sound?”
Ahead she saw a clearing she slowly encircled it checking for any would be attackers. Even in this world it was wise to be just as wary of man as it is to be wary of ogres. The ogres all wanted one thing and that was to eat. The men all wanted one thing as well, at least the ogres intent wasn’t malicious they were just trying to survive.
Once she was sure there wasn’t an ambush waiting she crept closer. In the middle of the clearing hanging from a pole rammed into the ground was a fat ogre leg. Beneath the leg was a pit. As she slowly crept closer she heard the yelp issue from below the bait.
She had never seen a wolf before other than pictures. She had been certain all such creatures were extinct. But in the pit below impaled through the neck was a wolf. She felt instant sorrow for this majestic creature. She had seen many pictures on the discs of these beautiful creatures and she was certain that what lay dead just below her may be the last timber wolf. Then she again heard the yelp.
She carefully lowered herself into the pit and nestled against the dead wolf was a single pup. It was a fat ball of fur and even tried to snarl as she pulled it free from its mother’s long dry teat. She couldn’t stop herself from the involuntary “awww, you’re so cute,” which issued from her lips. With the pup nestled in her arms she climbed out of the pit and inspected the work.
“Well little guy this was not built for you of that I am sure, it was just poor luck that your mother landed the way she did.” She pondered a moment. “This is an ogre trap. A pretty good one too but it must have taken four men two full days to dig this. Any ogres in the area would have heard and been on them in minutes and yet they managed to do a pit this large.” The spikes were big and the pit was deep and wide. “Ten ogres would fit in there and if they were charging for food they’d of all fell to their deaths.” The little wolf pup just looked up at her trembling and she smiled down at him and kissed his nose. “Let’s get you out of here.”
“I’ll call you Mojo.” She smiled and left the clearing.