The Beast and the Forgotten Tribesman by Joshua Calkins-Treworgy. From ROADS THROUGH AMELIA.
David Engle burst through the eastern doors of the abandoned high school like a maelstrom. I can't run from it forever, he thought. And if I escape, it'll kill the others. A homeless vagabond for several years now, David belonged to a pleasant family-like cadre known as 'The Forgotten Ones' in Amelia City's local newspapers. His attire was that of the Great American Bum, which included a tattered old pair of jeans, a worn chambray shirt, cast-off boots, and of course, an Army surplus field jacket. His odor matched that of a cat lady's apartment.
And what was he doing, this curious fellow? He was running for life and limb from the Beast. No living thing David had ever encountered could completely and effortlessly rip a human being's head off. But twenty minutes before in a seldom-used subway terminal, he had seen the creature do just that to an unsuspecting civilian.
David stumbled over a pile of old textbooks, discarded relics never properly disposed of. He caught himself, his tattered boots scrambling for purchase on the wet floor. The school's roof hadn't kept the rain out for months now, and the stench of wood rot and mildew and other forms of decay wafted into his nostrils. Gagging on the pungent mixture of aromas, he vaulted forth.
Twenty yards in he heard its growl, a thundering cacophony that shook the very foundations of the building and sent tremors rippling throughout the city. These were its hunting grounds, these places of darkness and abandonment. Through no fault of their own, in most cases, the members of the Forgotten Ones had taken camp in the various lairs of a creature beyond comprehension or mercy.
David stumbled on, trying not to imagine the horror or pain he would likely be in for should the Beast catch him up. Into one of his upper jacket pockets he darted his right hand, withdrawing an old and battered miniature flashlight of the type policemen were issued. He still moved forward, his sweaty, wet hand fumbling to turn the top of the trinket so that he could find his way more readily.
The light burst forth, triumphant and rebellious in the face of the darkness surrounding its beam. David could see that he was not twenty yards away from a branching corridor that led to the left. "Good,” he muttered to himself, his voice carrying too well for his liking. “Just like I remember it.” David had himself, only seven short years ago, attended this very high school for the last time. After high school, he drifted from job to job, eventually becoming something of an alcoholic and as a result, a broken and homeless man.
Although, he thought, sometimes it isn't so bad. He had his share of drinking buddies, especially a band of roughs who sometimes gathered under one of the city's largest bridges. Despite his panic and fear, he took a moment as he rounded the corner of the intersecting hall to wonder whatever had happened to some of those folks. David Engle was three steps into the new hallway when he heard a resounding crash back the way he'd come. He turned to look, and saw one of the twin doors he'd burst through fly through the hall at high velocity past the intersection.
The Beast roared again. That, of course, got him moving in a hurry.
David's fear-addled brain filtered through as many high school memories in a blink as it could, and he realized, somewhat too late, that he was perhaps heading for a dead end. The hallway he ran down, narrowed and clogged with more aging and decrepit desks and some sporting equipment, led directly to the gym. Back when he'd been in attendance, the doors leading out of the gym had somehow jammed shut. He was trapped. If he did not find some other way out, perhaps through the locker or equipment room, he would be dead. He held to no illusions that if he attempted a hiding place that he would be safe.
He felt it thudding along after him now, its footsteps heavy, something edged scraping along the old wet floor in the main hall. Up ahead, revealed by the thin beam of his flashlight, he spotted the open doorway of the gymnasium, and he put on a fresh burst of speed to get into its open expanse. In the hallways he had no room to dodge or maneuver. In there, at least, he'd be able to work some sort of range of movement.
His worn down boots thudded with a reverberant echo as he stammered into the gym. Pale lunar light shone down through the skylights set high in the arched ceiling, revealing the dusty yellow floorboards, still clinging to a small bit of lacquer shine. Strange, he thought, that although the rest of the school was practically flooded, this one chamber seemed to have been spared the worst of the wet.
“No time for that now,” he rasped aloud. To his left, some one hundred yards away, stood two doorways. Over the left door was the faded word 'Boys,' over the right, 'Girls'. David grinned to himself. He knew that the old equipment room, built back in a time when only boys really joined sports teams in high school, was accessible through the boys' locker room. He had come upon an idea, though he had to admit, it would be a deadly gamble.
If there were any equipment remaining in the athletic department, it would likely be the aluminum baseball bats that were still used in Amelia City's high school baseball league. Sure, they might be a little rusted, a tad worn, but they would still be the most solid defense he could hope to get his hands on. He rushed over the floorboards toward the locker room, his breath hitching and catching in his throat, barely stopping in his lungs before being beelined to his brain.
The beam of light from David's flashlight dimmed a little. He hoped it would not die out just yet. Around a bend immediately present when passing through the doorway, he saw the dozens of rows of dented metal lockers. He might have taken a moment to be nostalgic, if the Beast hunted other prey that evening. But perhaps I have the better of it, he thought. At least I saw the thing a good fifty yards away before it spotted me running. Might not have spotted me, if I hadn't shrieked like a ten-year-old girl.
He guided the beam of light along the walls, but none too hastily. If he gave over entirely to panic now, he would be lost utterly. As he scanned the wall, he spotted what he was looking for, a cage of steel mesh behind which lay boxes and bags, mostly rotted or ripped apart, lying on the floor. David headed to the door of the cage, which had been removed entirely from the works and set against the wall.
No baseball bats were present. Against the far end of the cage, he saw a jumbled pile of broken hockey sticks, a couple of deflated soccer balls, and what might have once been a decent wrestling mat, rolled into a tight curl. “No,” he whispered, tears welling hot against the backs of his eyes. “No, there's got to be something!” David took three steps forward, and his foot landed on something round and hard enough to send him sprawling onto his back.
With a thump he landed, groaning. How far behind was the Beast now? He couldn't say, because as soon as he'd run toward the locker room, he had ceased to feel the vibrations of its approach. Had he somehow lucked out? Had the creature perhaps gone off further into the building in search of him? Possible, perhaps even likely. After all, he might not have been in eyesight when the door had been hurled down the primary corridor.
Still, he required expediency in his preparations, because having lost his trail would only be a temporary setback for such as the Beast. He knew that much out of pure human instinct. He rolled over, and reached out for the object that had tripped him up. David shone his flashlight on the object in his hand, revealing a red stitched baseball, dirty from disuse but still solid. It wasn't much, but he stuffed it into one of his lower coat pockets.
David got to his knees, facing away from the back of the cage. As he did so, he thanked God in heaven above for giving him a bit of good fortune. His thin beam of light had fallen on one of the tools used by the school's track team, of which he had always wished to be a full-time member, but never was. The light had fallen on a javelin, the points still looking quite keen. Up to his feet, and over to the weapon he crept, trying to remain as quiet as possible.
He gripped the weapon in his right hand, feeling its balanced heft. A dodgy weapon, a hollow metal tube with pointed caps screwed onto the ends. It felt heavy enough to do some damage if swung as a blunt weapon, though doing so would throw his balance off. Perhaps he could get lucky and hurl the javelin like a proper projectile, wounding the Beast. But he shook his head, offering a grim smile to the darkness. No, he thought, that won't happen. That would be too lucky by half, and that sort of luck belongs to the devil, as his mother was wont to say.
David Engle turned off his flashlight then, and strode back through the locker room with his head high, his shoulders straight, and his fears gnawing at him like a swarm of fleas. The moonlight coming through the ceiling of the gym guided him back out into the open floor space. He stepped out of the locker room, and moved about twenty yards away from the wall, stalking to the thick blue tape line dividing the gym in half.
Know this, and know it well. He could have fled then. With his current body weight, added to terror-based adrenaline, he could have slammed into those jammed exit doors and been fleeing out into the back alleys and shadowed streets of the city in a blink. Such behavior might be considered wise caution, and the better part of valor. But every man owes a death, and David Engle knew this. If his time had come, he would not have it be without a struggle. If the Beast were to slay him, he would have his share of its blood on the floor before it tried to bring harm to any more of his homeless brethren.
Ten long minutes stretched out, an eternity in which a man might consider flight. But David Engle stood his ground, and waited. Soon enough, his patience met its reward with the heavy, thudding approach of the Beast as it made its way to the gymnasium. At last it entered through the empty doors, swaying strangely.
The Beast wore the long black duster of a man, along with a top hat. The coat concealed much of its bodily appearance, but its head, an oblong thing, twisted and tilted unnaturally on its neck. A barbed, tipped tail of some kind dragged out just beneath the coat's tails. It could only pass for vaguely human in any goodly amount of light. It walked to the central blue line, sixty yards away from David Engle, and turned to face him. And then, David Engle was given a glimpse of Hell.
A scaled, wet appendage reached up from its right side, a set of seven long-clawed fingers at its end, and snatched away the top hat. The Beast tossed this behind it casually. Next, the left appendage came up with the right, and it too was strange. Three long tentacles joined a club of an arm on that side, and the coat was then thrown off, revealing a body not designed by any merciful God.
To say it appeared reptilian would be fairly accurate, but not complete. Its head, shaped like a bullet, was host to two large, sanguine eyes. There did not appear to be any nose, but just below the eyes gaped a mouth filled with needle-like teeth, exposed as its scaled lips drew back. Its chest, covered in brilliant emerald patches, hosted several small black holes, each with a set of miniature teeth inside it. A third eyeball stood out on its stomach, smaller than the two on its head. On its shoulders appeared to be what might pass as ears.
David Engle didn't know whether to laugh or scream. A crimson pall fell over his vision, a bloody mix of fear and outrage that this unholy, ungodly thing had been loosed upon the city. In his left hand he stood the javelin on one tip, and reached into his coat pocket with his free right hand, clenching the baseball until his knuckles felt like they might burst apart from the pressure he applied.
So this is it, he thought. This is what will kill me. Funny, I always assumed it'd be the winter or maybe cirrhosis of the liver. Slowly he withdrew his right hand from his pocket, and stood there at the ready. The Beast took in long, scraping breaths, crouching down low as its tail swished along the floorboards in a slow, rhythmic pulse. In that crouch it took a few tentative steps toward its human prey, the eyes on its mutated face pinching and widening by turns.
When the Beast had come within forty yards of David, he changed his stance, turning slightly to his right. He brought the baseball up to his chest, begging God to give him the courage and strength he needed to deal with the dreadful creature approaching him. Thirty yards now, then twenty-five. The Beast began striding more upright, confidently increasing its speed as it brought its clawed arm up into the air. Its bladed fingers twitched in the air, its greed and hungry blazing out of its alien face.
Fifteen yards now, good enough. David Engle wound up like a professional, and hurled the small, solid spheroid from his right hand at the Beast. The baseball made no sound as it streaked along at perhaps seventy miles an hour, blasting the Beast squarely between its plate-like eyes. There was a sickening smack as it connected, followed by an enraged howl as the Beast reared back, stumbling as it clutched its wounded forehead.
“Now or never,” David rasped aloud. Holding the javelin like a warrior in two hands, he screamed a war cry as he charged the Beast, one deadly metal point aimed squarely at its chest. Through a murky aroma of dead fish and rotted, spoiled vegetation that came off of the Beast he charged, stabbing the point of the javelin at the monstrosity before him. Almost too late the creature brought its tentacle-bearing arm up to ward off the blow, but it pierced right through the thick pad of its palm, blood sluicing down the shaft of the weapon and onto David's hand.
The clawed hand swiped at David, landing a hard blow to his side that sent him flying almost into the wall to his left. The javelin came with him, but that was little comfort as fire raced down his side. He landed hard, barely able to struggle to his feet. The smell of the Beast was thick upon him now, its blood staining him. But that didn't worry David. What worried him were the three long gashes it had rent along his side, deep wounds that he could already feel stealing away with his life.
The Beast reared back its head, spreading its arms wide. It loosed a wail of torment and fury, hunching back down and barreling toward David Engle with alarming alacrity. Wounded and holding a weapon with which he had no training, David somehow managed to roll out of the way of its charge as it slammed its tentacles into the wall where he had been leaning. Brick, mortar and wood broke free with a crash as it swung, missing David by only a foot or two. David scrambled away, holding the javelin with his right hand, his wounds with his left.
Along its side, David saw a curious thing. Like a brand or tattoo, a mark of some sort, a symbol, stood out in blue scales amid its mostly green and brownish flesh. It was a set of four hooked claws, joined along their tops by a single line of thin black scales. He caught only a glance of the sigil before the Beast turned and stomped toward him again. It did not come as fast this time round, instead moving in a half-crouch again, ready to think through its next attack.
David stood his ground, holding his weapon in both hands, his feet splayed and ready. It was easily now within striking distance, but he had no idea, he realized, where to strike for a fatal blow. David tensed his legs, ready to evade a blow from either deadly arm. The Beast gave a quiet, low chuckle, a sound too human to ignore. David stood stunned, unable to see the tipped tail coming up over the Beast's back.
When at last the Beast struck, its barbed tail stabbed down hard into David Engle's stomach, unleashing pain so awful that at first, the forgotten tribesman didn't even feel it. Smaller shoots of bone came off of the tip protruding out of his back, digging into his flesh, puncturing lungs and kidneys to secure him on the tail, and David screamed a death knell. He felt his body going limp, and smelled not only the fetid stench of the Beast, but his own bowels and bladder letting go as the creature lifted him inexorably toward its mouth.
But he was not yet finished, no. He would not let it end like this, nothing more than one more victim for this Beast. As the abomination raised his face toward its gaping mouth of needle teeth, David smiled, an angelic beam in his eyes. The javelin, still in his right hand, dangled momentarily before he used the last of his strength to force a sturdy grip. “No free meals for you, devil,” he choked out.
The Beast stopped for only a moment, and David used the opening. He brought the javelin up so he could grasp it with both hands, and he rammed the pointed tip up hard through the soft flesh of the Beast's lower jaw. Blood sprayed his face, and the Beast screeched in agony. With one final effort, David Engle pushed again, making the tip of the javelin explode out of the top of the Beast's head, dribbling a rainfall of blood and brain matter down the sides of its bullet shaped head.
David felt the Beast begin to teeter, but he feared not that it would land on him. He had already accepted that he was dying, and quickly too. It didn't matter, not anymore. Still smiling, he felt light as a feather as the Beast toppled over, pinning him beneath it on the gymnasium floor. Perhaps, he thought with what little time was left to him, somebody will find us like this. If they do, I hope they'll know what happened here.
Before David Engle's bleary, closing eyes, appeared a soft luminescence. He felt his arm trying to reach out to touch it, but he knew he was too far gone to do so. Instead, he let his mind reach out to it, and then was bathed in that light. David Engle died, defending his fellow Forgotten Ones.
To this day, now, there stands a small, strange shrine of sorts in one of the subway station tunnels in Amelia City. Nobody knows who made it, at least, nobody with a home and a job and a normal life. It appeared to be some sort of pagan thing, and not a single person who used that subway station ever questioned that it was only right that the shrine be there. Not even the city's policemen ever gave it more than a passing glance and a small, grim smile.
The little shrine was nothing more than a wooden crate, painted white, upon which sat a javelin, coated in some sort of red tar from the look of it. One of David's friends, a fellow homeless vagabond, had snuck into the city's junkyard to steal a vehicle door panel, prying it away in the dead of night. Using a hammer and a chisel, he had engraved the following on the panel and stood it against the station wall behind the box and the javelin, so that all could read what was written: 'IN MEMORY OF DAVID ENGLE, THE ONLY DEFENDER OF THE FORGOTTEN TRIBE.'
"The Monster and the Forgotten Tribesman is just one story from Joshua Calkins-Treworgy's ROADS THROUGH AMELIA collection. Click this link buy the entire collection from Amazon.com, or buy the eBook from LuLu.com.
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