The Firebird XXXVIII

Monsters 001


Unable to think or move, I floundered in the water, awaiting the inevitable blow.  It never came – at least not from the quarter expected.  For as the monster shifted its weight and raised its arm, its gaggle of horrid eyes flashing red, something else seized me from behind.

I cried out in pain, for the Something was hard and sharp against the skin of my left arm.  Jerking my head to one side, I saw that it was a huge glossy-black pincer, like that of a crab or lobster.  The creature to which it was attached was shaped like a gigantic beetle or spider.  It was leaning down over me from the rocky ledge above, its ungainly body, encased in overlapping black plates or scales, creaking unsteadily on eight spindly multi-jointed legs.  From beneath its armor peered two green and glowing eyes.

My brain reeled.  Stars danced before my eyes.  The great pincer tightened, drawing the bright red blood.  Slowly the creature drew me, screaming, shouting, and pounding the iron-hard armor with my free hand, up to the mouth of its hole.  Here it would certainly have devoured me had not the first monster shot out an elastic limb and caught me by the waist.

Then began a tug o’ war that continued until the crab-like creature suddenly and deftly snipped off the other’s arm with its empty claw.  With a howl, the hundred-eyed beast flung three more snaky limbs across the channel, fastening them not upon me but around the body of the black crab.  Then both creatures splashed down into the churning green water with me tightly in their grasp.

By reason of its weight, the black crab sank immediately.  I held my breath until it seemed my lungs must burst.  At last, with a violent tug of its tentacles, the hundred-eyed monster, which was floating on the surface like a great bulbous jellyfish, drew both the crab and myself out of the water and straight towards its gaping red maw.

To my surprise, it was at this very moment that the words of the book came back to me once more:

Look up, for help is near.

Even in the midst of my terror and confusion I did look up.  Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the small gray bird sitting on a projecting ledge of rock above my head.  He winked at me before fluttering off into the air.

Strange to say, that wink changed everything.  My entire outlook was instantly altered.  Though bleeding, bruised, and nearly suffocated in the crush, I could not help laughing out loud as I gazed upon the two unsightly creatures, so ridiculous did they appear to me in the midst of their deadly struggle.  I laughed again as the black crab lunged with its claw, the other catching the pincer in its powerful teeth.  An instant later I was free, the crab having released me in an attempt to save its own life.  I sank, then surfaced, blowing and spluttering and trying desperately to swim.

“The book!  The book!” came a voice at my ear.  “Remember the words of the book!”

I raised my face to the zenith as the foam surged over my head, filling my nose and mouth.  Even as I went under I could see through the lens of shifting water bright bands of cloud floating in stripes of white and gold across a patch of clear blue sky between the black summits of the rocks.  I knew without seeing it that the sun was above the horizon and very near indeed.

And then I was rising slowly out of the water.  First my face, then my whole head broke the surface.  Gratefully I gulped the salty air as my shoulders, chest, arms, stomach, and legs all rose dripping from the sea.  At last I stood upon my feet above the waves once more.

Turning my head, I looked up to the mouth of the hundred-eyed monster’s cave.  There lay the two creatures, dead, each locked firmly in the other’s death-grip.

“You see how simple it is,” whispered a voice at my ear.  It was, of course, the small gray bird.

“They have destroyed each other,” he said.  “They have cancelled one another out.”

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