3rd Place

The Forest Monster
By Valorie Broderick

Way up in the darkest corner of the Brookens Library, in the farthest recesses of the fourth floor, the following was found stuck between the pages of a very old book:

A monster sat on a stump chewing a spleen, pondering the meaning of being a monster. Was it to be terrifying? Was it to fill one’s stomach with tender meat? Or was it merely all for nothing. Just then, he heard sounds in the distant woods–angry voices. He could see torchlights through the trees. A mob of angry people were searching for him. He gathered the remains of the carcass and slipped through the dusk, behind the tall trees. Crouching in the underbrush, energy surged through him. His veins bulged out of his eyes and drool spilled over his bottom lip from behind razor teeth. A human said something loudly above the other voices. Although he didn’t understand their language, the monster saw the whole crew turn and redirect their path in his direction. His hair stood jaggedly on end; his claws dug deeper into the dirt.

He heard one of the bipeds call out something completely unintelligible. “This way, I saw something move!” they said.

They approached the crabapple tree near where the monster hid. They slowed. Trembling torchlight swung from one niche here to the next over there in search of the beast. “I know I saw something move this way,” the same booming voice refrained. “Keep looking!” With backs turned, a handful of men stepped toward where he lay wait. A thunderous growl reverberated from the trees as the monster sprung from the shadows and thrashed his strong arms. Clawing through the mob, carnage spread on the forest floor. The air was thick with screams as torches flailed to the ground and pitchforks swung wildly and in vain. One of the humans raised his spear and roared loudly, thrusting into the monster’s side. The monster gave out a cry and stumbled backwards, tripping over his own feet. Before he could regain his balance, a net of strong chords was thrown over him and tied down with weights. There was silence. Only staggered gusts of breath were heard, pumping from heaving lungs, as the men regained their composure. And then—cheering. “We did it! We did it!” one man shouted, and others leapt for joy. Choruses of “Hooray!” and ”Hoorah!” chimed exuberantly from the crowd.

The man with the booming voice spoke. “Our great village leader has been avenged of this vicious animal, who brutally took his life! His spirit may now rest in honor!” He raised the hand of the young man who had speared the monster. “And now, Rashati, his legend, his honor becomes forever woven with your honor, with your legend. Which legend has begun tonight. You are now truly a man. Our next great hero!” Cheering spread through the crowd.

A heavy axe was brought forth and placed in Rashati’s hands. “Finish what you started. Give this beast his final blow. Then, truly, you will have restored honor to our great leader. The gods have smiled upon us again. They have given us a beast that its flesh may feed our families and its thick hide may keep us warm.”

No sooner had Rashati taken the axe in his hand then the snapping of strong chords was heard. The axe thudded at Rashati’s feet as he fell forward. The monster sprung onto Rashati from behind,
clenching his teeth over Rashati’s head and shaking it like a rag doll. Panic seized the congregation of men as they fled into a flurry. The monster pounced and swung at the man who had spoken to the
crowd. But he did not land perfectly on his feet and was not able to place his blow. He began to feel the pain in his side again as the adrenaline began to wear off.

“We will defeat you! We will be back, villainous beast!” The man shouted as he ran away. But the monster did not understand what was spoken. Looking around, the monster saw the meat spread
over the forest floor like a banquet. “The gods are generous,” he concluded.

A few weeks later, the monster sat again on a stump. His side no longer stung with every step he
took. He did not know why the gods placed him there, in that forest, which was constantly being
ravaged by enraged men. What was the meaning of it? He did not know.

The reader of this tale found it of little import and stuck it back in the pages of the dusty book.

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