Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dog Star God: A Flash Fiction Challenge

 While Stumbling the other night, I came across this blog and it was just the thing I was looking for to keep my mind occupied and my fingers moving. The first time someone threw down a challenge like this was years ago. I lost interest in what I was writing and abandoned it completely. These days, inspiration is coming a little more naturally; I don't have to go out and chase it as much.

Flash Fiction Challenge: "Roll for Title" provided me with the title, Dog Star God. At first, there were plenty of ideas swirling but nothing standing out. I had ideas from ghost stories to legends of old sailors go around until I landed on a Richard Adams type of drama. The idea kind of took on a mind of it's own until I came up with a rough draft of a first chapter to a pretty interesting adventure. I might just keep moving forward with this and see where it takes me. I'm a little rusty and I appreciate any feedback I might get. Thank you for reading.

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Something flickered in front of his eye lids. It was a dancing light. It was that hot creature that devoured vast sections of the forest. The creature that is sent from the heavens whenever the Gods weren't appeased according to legends that his father would tell him. Fire, was the name he gave it, he recalled. But it couldn't have been that, there was no smell of burning fur, no singing of flesh, no wailing of kin as the monster devoured them whole. This fire was trapped. Tamed, he thought, because it felt like it wasn't moving.

He forced one eye open, then the other. The fire was indeed trapped behind some crude, derelict man-made thing. His head, he realized, was too heavy to lift as he tried with great effort to navigate his surroundings. In the distance more fires glowed in other man-made things. The voices and sounds of various beasts busying themselves all around echoing through his heavy skull; Beaver parents playing with their young near a river, the slow, measured hoof step of an adult moose finding her next meal, the relentless poetry of Foxes selling their wares, no doubt stolen from various farms and villages. The light from the flames slowly revealed that he was surrounded by walls not made of stone. He was in no cave. These walls were created by man. He could tell because the walls were painted in the crude, blasphemous, false imagery of his beloved heavens.

Where was he? He could make out no discernible voice. Nothing sounded familiar. Fear gripped him as he realized that he was no longer near his clan. The scent of his brothers and his father were as faint in the night air. The stink of human had not completely vanished from this place, though it was not overwhelming. Fear slowly turned to panic as he felt his tail involuntarily creep between his haunches.

"Oh," said a tiny, relieved voice behind him. "Thank the Gods, you're awake."

"Who...?" he struggled to find his voice. It felt like its been ages since a sound left his muzzle. "Who....are you? Where am I?" Tiny feet quickly shuffled themselves from behind him and took a long route to park themselves within his eyesight, but out of reach of claw and tooth. It was a Mouse and from the color of feather in its hat, he recognized through his grogginess, that this one belonged to the Honeysuckle Kingdom. His clan very rarely had dealings with them. They were not enemies, nor were they necessarily allies. The laws in the Forest were held together with a shaky truce at best, but peace was always enforced by the Wolf.

"Y...Your Grace," stammered the tiny rodent as he bowed a gracious bow, doffing his tiny cap majestically. "Please allow me the courtesy of introducing myself. I am Alfalfa Longwhisker of House Milk-Thistle. My kinsfolk and I rescued you a fortnight ago and brought you to safety. I have been tending to your wounds ever since." He gestured to the area on the Wolf's side that appeared to be covered in dried mud.

"Rescued?" asked the baffled Wolf wincing at the sudden, sharp pain in his gut. "and what made you think I needed rescuing, Master Longwhisker?" The first hints of indignation creeping up in his throat like the blood that he still coughs up.

"I...I beg your pardon, Your Grace. Rouge Elk stampeded from the north. Apologies, I neither recognized their scent nor their allegiance, they may have been from the last of the lawless tribes that still roam the borders."

His memories rush to meet him like the first breeze of autumn. That is why he's here. The last thing he remembered was meeting those horned beasts on the field, standing cheek and jaw next to a pack of his brethren, ready to take on the marauding stampede. He remembers hearing the battle cry, the awesome rhythm of hundreds of hooves getting louder. He remembers seeing the first wave tear through their ranks with ferocious horn. He remembers feeling the warmth leave his body as a sharpened barb ripped through his hide. He remembers it all going black. "Those Godless barbarians of the north shall have their day soon enough. Where are my brothers?" bellowed the Wolf finding the strength to stand. "Are there more of us here?"

"I'm sorry, Your Grace," said Alfalfa as the color vanishes from his face, "there....there were just...so many clinging to life as it was."

"...and my father?" the Wolf asked, expecting the worst.

War was something the Honeysuckle Kingdom was not accustomed to. Especially on a scale of the one a fortnight previous. Alfalfa's words stuck in his tiny throat with his fear as he recounted the carnage, "I....I...."

Rage spewed from the Wolf's lips as he lunged at the mouse. "YOU WILL TELL ME WHERE MY FATHER IS, OR I...." he would have finished, had it not been finished for him by an ancient voice that bellowed like thunder across the fields.

"...WILL DO NOTHING TO HARM THE YOUNG MASTER!" The Wolves eyes darted across this man-made cave to see who would dare to be so insubordinate. "I will not allow violence in my domain. Especially against those who mean no harm." said this ancient voice. The Wolf heard what sounded like shuffling feet; like an old Wolf who has survived past his years. His eyes finally fell upon an old dog. He would be identified by humans as an Australian Sheep Dog. Old and not as nimble as he was in his youth but his blue eyes shone directly into your soul. A slave of man, cousins far removed by time and necessity. Wars have been fought between Wolf and dog for many years. Ever since dog started protecting man from Wolf. "Oh?" the Wolf snarled, "and what would a domesticated bitch do about it?" His teeth ready to inflect damage.

"You would do well to mind your tongue here, Prince Phelan," said the sheep dog limping closer to the young braggart unafraid. "This bitch took you in and gave you shelter while we made sure that 'The First Offspring of Sandulf' recuperated from his wounds."

 'The First Offspring of Sandulf' was a title that Prince Phelan grudgingly accepted but it was only known amongst royalty. "You..." Phelan started as he tried to recall if he'd seen this domestic's face anywhere in his Kingdom. He could not recall. "You know of my father?" The sheepdog smirked as he limped away, "Oh, you can say we are acquainted, Your Highness."

Knowing that his wounds were still too deep and this old dog would not kill him, Prince Phelan relaxed his muscles and remembered his teachings. He is, after all, The Prince of The Cedar Valley and not a King yet. "Kind dog," said the Prince wincing at his own change of tone. "I commend you for your remarkable healing craft and will put you in good standing in my Kingdom. Pray, tell me where I might be?"

A chuckle escaped the old dog's throat, "Heh...oh, you royals. Always so formal. You are in what the human's called a 'Musement Park. At one time, this place was crawling with fat, screaming humans practicing in strange customs that...well, I have no idea why. These things you see before you are what they called 'Musement Rides. This one is my home." A derelict ride that had a half dome shaped roof festooned in stars. "The reason why the human smell is so faint is because this park was no longer needed. Man just forgot about this place and left everything here, giving a sanctuary for all manner of beast. At one time, man made pilgrimages to this place day after day, now it is abandoned," a heaviness filled the cave, "just like me." The dog changed the subject before his sadness took over. "Your father and your brother are still alive. Many of your kin have suffered and perished during this last skirmish, but your family took their scars, and found their way out."

"Where are they?" asked the Prince.
"Well, I presume they made it back to their...your Kingdom. You were the only survivor that Master Longwhisker could find. And the Gods be praised that we did, 'ere the lineage would be in jeopardy. I am the master of this domain and you are safe from any danger. You may call me Duke." An old name that his humans gave him long ago. He continued, "Your wounds still haven't properly healed and will still need to stay here until the moon is lower in the sky. Until that time, you will need our help."

"Preposterous!" Prince Phelan bellowed, "I have the strength of kings! I need to return to my father to make preparations for the coming hordes. You must...I...you.." the room spins and pulls him back down off his feet forcing his eyes closed again.

"You," Duke whispered, "need your strength, Your Highness. Rest here for now. I will return when the sun rises. Master Longwhisker will keep watch over you until then." Somewhere, a Mouse in a colorful cap stands at attention. "I will take my leave, rest well." With that, Duke shuffles towards the opening where Alfalfa stands atop an old and battered sign. "Keep a sharp eye, young master. Alert me if there is any change in his condition."

"Aye, Duke. 'Til the morrow." said the Mouse with another glorious flourish. Stout of heart, a young Mouse keeps vigil. The sign that he dutifully marches across is written in an ancient man dialect and reads:

"YOU MUST BE THIS TALL TO RIDE THE DOG STAR ROCKET."

Somewhere in the darkness, the forest stirs.


Photo Credit:
White Wolf by Mukul Soman