Image courtesy of freestocks on Unsplash

Mother and the boy chased the monster all day, the dogs wild and frothing. The boy landed a single arrow in its right wing. One out of a dozen. He trailed behind, collecting his arrows. The cold, dry air hurt his lungs and his knees ached.

The long plain ended abruptly and bare, barkless trees rose up, their branches sharp against the heavy grey sky. The monster proved harder to track here, the trees catching at their cloaks and legs and hair. The ground was hard and bumpy through the boy’s thin shoes. The monster was still aloft, darting back and forth among the trunks. But it was tiring quickly, wings weakening. A few times, the boy caught sight of it, circlet of impossible colors hovering around its bent head as it paused to rest on a high branch. Green leaves and brown bark sprouted beneath its hands. The poisoned arrow in its right wing was harsh and dark and hard against the opalescent feathers.

As night descended, the monster was easier to see. It still glowed white, with hints of a hundred other colors the boy couldn’t name skipping around the edges of his eyes. The poison did its work. The glow faded slowly as the monster glided lower and lower, grasping at the trees as it fell. There was no sound as it finally touched the ground.

The bare soil darkened. Moss and grass sprouted thick, and red and blue wildflowers arched out of the earth and budded.

The ecstatic baying and barking of the hounds beat at the boy’s ears. The dog with the mange and the ragged left ear leapt forward and grabbed the edge of the monster’s wing. There was a quick flash of light, the glow enveloping the hound.

The boy blinked rapidly. When his eyes cleared, the hound stood between him and the monster. The dog’s ear was whole and its fur was slick and shining. It whined, head swinging back and forth between the boy and Mother and the monster.

Mother lifted her sword.

The dog crouched, growling, teeth bared. It jumped, but not quickly enough. Mother decapitated it with a single stroke of her sword.

The wind picked up one of the feathers. It brushed against the boy’s cheek.

— green such brilliant green and scents he did not have names for but they made his mouth water and tears burned his eyes and a voice such a wondrous voice singing in his mind singing of warmth and sunlight and towering trees and grass and flowers thick beneath his toes and cool clean rain and flocks whole flocks of the monsters by the hundreds soaring through a blue blue sky singing the world green lost lost lost to spear to sword —

A fist slammed into his cheek.

The boy fell, knocked to the hard ground.

Mother stood over him, sword tight in one hand. The dogs growled.

The feather fell beside him and disintegrated into fine, shimmering ash.

The boy pushed slowly to his feet, running the back of his hand across his bloody lip and throbbing cheek. Colors and scents faded from his mind, the song lost to cold and wind.

“You still you, boy?”

He blinked against his tears. “Yes, Mother.” His lips stung.

Mother tossed the leashes at the boy, her narrow chest rising and falling rapidly. The hounds pulled hard at the boy’s arm. The boy watched, stomach rumbling, already anticipating the sweetness on his tongue, an end to his hunger and pain — at least for a while. Until the next hunt.

Mother swung her sword around and drove it through the monster’s heart.

There was a sigh.

The wildflowers crumpled. The grass and moss browned and blew away. The circlet of impossible colors over the monster’s head flared and rippled away into nothing.

Mother grinned, her teeth cracked and yellow. “Get the fire going, boy. Tonight, we feast!”

[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published works — faerie tales, fantasy, horror, mystery, romance, and science fiction — can be found there.]