THE HUNT Part Seventeen
Out of the three others, the only one whose name Saint could even come close to pronouncing was “Katchotke” (Saint guessed at the spelling). The others had all introduced themselves, but the recitation of their names had sounded like so much snarling and growling.
Songbird, so different from the others in so many ways that Saint had trouble thinking of him as one of them, didn’t count. Those differences had become evident from the first, when Songbird had spoken to Saint in English.
“Let me assure you,” he’d said, “we possess neither desire nor intention of doing you harm in the slightest.”
Saint had assumed it must be true, as the four creatures could have remained hidden and allowed the other brutes to kill him, along with Arly, Corelli and Roth.
“They can talk!” Pete Corelli had blurted like an imbecile when Songbird, Katchotke and the other two had stepped from cover into the clearing.
“Ya’ think?” Saint had snorted.
“Please, do tell, how is it that you have come to find yourselves here?” Songbird had asked.
His voice, while a little rough at times, his tongue seeming to thicken when pronouncing certain syllables, had been remarkable for its clearness. Hearing it over a telephone, Saint would never have suspected it came from any but a human throat. In fact it even had a pleasant, relaxing quality.
“Why’d you help us?” Saint had answered the question with a question.
“Oh, dear, I do hope you do not take umbrage at our interference,” the creature had replied. “It did appear to us that you were in some need. Our desire was only to be of assistance.”
“Descendants of Esau!” Roth had shouted. “They’re one of the Lost Tribes!”
“Shut that fool up!” Saint had said to Corelli. “My damn head’s hurtin’ bad enough, as it is!” Then to the creature: “Seems ta’ me these here on the ground look a whole lot more like you than they do me. Mos’ times folks side with their own kind.”
“Yes, I would have to concur with your logic, sir, under regular circumstances. The instinct towards Tribalism indeed most often proves the rule. However, under our present circumstances, there exists some unique exception. In point of fact, these unfortunate beings, here, are not of a common kind with myself and my brethren. They are…” And here the creature had spoken one of those words that didn’t sound like a word, a sound Saint couldn’t have repeated if he’d tried. “They are enemies to my people,” Songbird had concluded.
“You could’a let ’em kill us,” Saint had said, “then killed them.”
“Is that what you would have done, had our situations been reversed?” When Saint didn’t answer, Songbird had said: “One cannot argue with the militant logic of your suggestion, sir. We are not quite so militant a people, I suppose.”
“Why in the hell are you talkin’ like that?” Saint had demanded.
“In English, do you mean? As it so happens I have studied your language in some detail.”
“So damn prim an’ proper!”
“An’ what ’bout them?” He’d indicated the other creatures. “Can they talk?”
“Oh, yes, to be certain, although not in English.” Then Songbird had grunted and growled at his companions and each had, in turn, pounded its chest with a fist and introduced itself.
“As for myself,” Songbird had said, “my given name is…” He’d barked it out. “Although I am referred to most often by my title, the…”
The word he’d used there had been the most unintelligible yet.”It means ‘The Singer.’ It is an honorary position among my people. You see, I have the gift of…”
“None a’ my concern, Songbird. I’m still waitin’ for you ta’ explain why you helped us.”
“Is it so difficult for you to accept that our desire to aid you was as simple as this, a desire to offer succor to those in need? You belong to such a distrustful, jaded and pessimistic race, my friend.”
Saint had by now gathered that this tribe of “good Bigfoot,” as he thought of them (since the name of their tribe constituted another word he couldn’t pronounce), did not have a high opinion of human beings.
*Can’t blame ’em for that.*
But these beings, unlike the others, had invited, as opposed to ordered, Saint, Arly, Roth, and Corelli to accompany them. Nor had they tried to disarm Saint, or even prevent him from reloading his weapons. As they’d walked—a short distance, as it turned out—Arly had done most of the talking. Saint had kept to the rear, wary, listening.
“We sure were lucky that you came along when you did,” she’d said.
“Yes. Without doubt, K’ti was watching out for the four of you.”
“Which one of you is that?”
Songbird had smiled at her. An actual smile. “No, you misunderstand. K’ti’ is our name for the Goddess.”
“There is no God but Jehovah!” Roth had said.
“Not the time for a religious debate, Governor,” Corelli had said under his breath, though Saint had heard it.
“We were on our way to purify the site,” Songbird had explained. “We knew that the…” That damned word again. “…had defiled it, making it a place for sacrifices to the unholy deity they worship. By the favor of K’ti, our arrival served to prevent you and your friends becoming their latest victims.”
They’d arrived at a shallow cave at the base of a stubby hill and, as the temperature had dropped even more, Saint felt grateful when they’d built up a fire at the entrance. (They’d used flints to start the fire, he’d noticed, produced from leathery satchels they each wore slung over their shoulders.) The stone surrounding them reflected back the heat and it soon grew toasty warm inside the cave.
“This is for our benefit, isn’t it?” Arly asked Songbird. “With all that hair, y’all don’t need a fire, do you?”
True enough, the creatures were all shaggy. Long straight hair covered them, thicker at the shoulders and hips, forearms and calves, dark brown in color, streaked with red, black, and some white. Except for Songbird who, as the smallest of the four (the one called Katchotke being the tallest at a good ten feet), had a tawny, blondish pelt. Songbird stood only a few inches taller than Saint himself, and Songbird’s eyes, yellow in color, provided another stark difference to his fellows.
“I am pleased to offer you, on behalf of myself and my brothers, here, and by extension all our people, a nice repast,” Songbird said.
“Thanks, but, uh, I’m not hungry,” Corelli said.
“Don’ ever turn down food when you’re out in the bush, homme,” Saint said, though he wondered what kind of food the creatures would offer.
There were numerous baskets packed in the rear of the cave, stacked atop each other. From these the four “Bigfoots” produced food and skins of water. Saint watched as Songbird took what looked like a hollowed-out coconut shell and filled it with water, then poured into it from a little leather packet some powder and stirred the concoction with a smooth twig. He offered the mixture to Saint.
“Here, my friend. This will ease your head. No doubt it troubles you still.”
Saint shrugged—*Hell, don’ reckon he’d go ta’ the trouble a’ savin’ my ass jus’ so he could turn ’round an’ poison me.*—and accepted. He sipped the drink and grimaced.
“It is bitter, yes,” Songbird said. “To your palate I would imagine it is especially so. Its bitterness, however, is matched by its potency. Now I will clean the wound to your scalp, if you will sit down.”
Katchotke had offered Pete Corelli some dried meat, along with some kind of berries.
“Sure don’t want to seem rude,” Corelli said, “but what is this?”
“It is venison,” Songbird answered.
“It’s pretty good,” Arly said, taking a bite of her own.
“The most palatable of our stores, for you, I think,” Songbird said.
They were each given some of the meat and berries, along with water in skins (even Roth ate a little after a while), and Songbird washed the gash in Saint’s head and rubbed some kind of greasy poultice into it.
“Got ta’ admit,” Saint said, “my head does feel better already.”
“You should offer thanksgivings to K’ti,” Songbird said, “that the man who struck you only desired to stun you at that point. A blow with his full strength behind it would have doubtless crushed your skull.”
“Man?” Roth said. A morsel of venison went down the wrong way and he coughed, as though the word had gagged him.
“Ah, I suspect that you see us as beasts,” Songbird said. “Because we have more hair than you do, because we go naked. Or you see us as primitive, because we carry bows instead of guns.”
(It was true. Each of the four carried bows, with quivers of arrows.)
“He didn’t mean to insult you,” Corelli said, but no offense seemed to have been taken, as Songbird smiled when he spoke.
“We are men, the same as you,” he said.
While Songbird sat on the ground with Saint, Arly, Corelli and Roth, the others, Katchotke and the other two, stood within the lip of the cave, looking out.
“The Not-Clean Ones have been making forays into our territories of late,” Songbird said, “deeper than they have dared in many seasons.”
“Not clean ones?” Arly said.
“I am taking the liberty of translating for you,” Songbird answered. “My tribe has been at war with the Not-Cleans for many generations. They have always been few in number compared to us, but their numbers seem to have grown in recent years.”
“Why do you call them that, the Not-Clean Ones?” Arly asked.
“Giants in the world in those days!” Roth muttered.
“The Not-Cleans worship T’uul,” Songbird said, “and practice the eating of manflesh.”
“They eat people?!” Corelli asked.
“Yes. That is the fate that awaited you, after you were rendered on their altar,” Songbird said, “had my brothers and I not come along. For that matter, you are not equipped for traveling here. In addition to the not-inconsiderable threat posed by the Not-Cleans, the winter is coming. Were you to be caught out in a storm without any
protection you would perish.”
“We weren’t sure what we were in store for,” Arly said.
“When you came through the portal?” Songbird finished for her. “And yet you came anyway? That was both daring and foolish of you. I am not sure whether it was more daring or more foolhardy.”
“You know about the portals?” Corelli asked.
“It surprises me that you know of them, my friend,” Songbird said. “Do you even possess the ability to see them? I will take your silence as an answer. Most among your kind do not possess the ability. Most of you cannot even see spirits, much less portals.”
“But y’all can see ’em, non?” Saint said. “Reckon you can help me out, Songbird. See, I’ve got a job ta’ do.”
“I already know why you are here,” Songbird said.
“Yes. You have come to our lands hunting the Most-Vile.”
“That is what we call him, yes. Maka’kahu is his name. And I am sorry to say that you will require far more in the way of help than I am capable to offer you.
“You must understand, friends,” Songbird said. “If you are hunting Maka’kahu, that means that he is also hunting you.”
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!