Saturday, 20 February 2016

The Stench of Eternal Life

Stoors - stinking bison-like animals that decay like the dead when exposed to sunlight - would not be thought of as likely to hold the secret of eternal life.

But it's believed that they do. And Oornu and Uurna know that.

In the short novel, 'Bone Pit', Oornu and Uurna capture two and attempt to return them to their village. If successful they will be the first to do so, and will receive the praise of the elders and have their story told to the generations that follow. The danger, though, is immense, and both of them have underestimated it. As they travel home on the stoors' backs their suffering becomes tremendous and nauseating:
The sun was bright and high and the air thick with heat and humidity.
The tension and dread Oornu felt was growing.  He knew that the thick fronds of tall grass would provide protection for only another hour, barely enough time to reach the safety of the tree line that still seemed to be no closer than the horizon.  But reaching such safety in time seemed more unlikely with each passing minute.  Even without the direct stimulation of sunlight the stench of the putrefying hides of the stoors was close to becoming overwhelming.  His mate, Uurna, had already passed out twice, requiring a precious dose of jell each time to bring her round.  And she looked like she was on the verge of passing out again.
Uurna spoke, her voice weak and wheezy.  “Please.  We must stop.”
Oornu looked back at her.  He shook his head.  “We’d never make it to the trees.  We must continue.”
With a moan Uurna vomited.  The head of her stoor was sprayed liberally once again with semi-digested food, and this time blood as well.  It hissed and snorted as it tried to shake Uurna’s stomach contents from its face, its big black eyes blinking furiously as red-stained bile dribbled into them.  Weakened, Uurna struggled to stay on the creatures’ decomposing back.
She would not survive much longer.
“Please…”  She said, feebly, spitting more blood and bile.
Grassland that Oornu and Uurna must get the stoors across before midday

Despite Uurna's desire to give up, and despite their deepening weakness and pain, Oornu insists on continuing, especially when what he'd once known only as a legend seemed now to be absolutely true:
As his vision cleared he could a see wash of movement beneath him as the ground rushed passed – a blur of green and brown and grey.  For a few seconds he could not remember where he was, or why he was moving so fast.  Or indeed what the clattering and grating sound all around was.

And then something touched his face.

Oornu turned over.  Kneeling over him was Uurna.  She looked sick, and her expression seemed consumed with pain.  Somehow she managed a brief smile.

Oornu looked around.  The stoor, which had previously been a mass of rotting muscle and entrails, was now almost a clean skeleton, with only few strands of flesh and cartilage still attached to its thick spine above.  The stench of decay had almost gone.

Uurna pointed ahead.  Straining, Oornu sat up and turned, resting his hands on the creature’s heaving ribcage to steady himself.  There, a few strides in front, was the other stoor.  It too was nothing more than a stripped skeleton, and it was running with remarkable speed through the tall fronds of grass.  It was a remarkable sight.

As their own flesh starts to decay, and as they realise where the stoors are heading, they fear their lives are soon to end, without achievement or glory. They will be forgotten, their story never to be told to those that follow:
Oornu touched his lower leg.  His finger sank in through the skin, releasing a putrid dull green flow of puss.  He pushed harder.  The muscle on the front of his leg fell away revealing the white surface of his tibia.  He tensed up, his stomach tightening.  “This can’t be happening!”

Uurna sniffled.  “We are infected.  We cannot return to the village.”

Oornu looked at her.  “We must.  The medicine charmer will...”

“We will be killed.  You know that!”  Uurna said.  Her head sank.  “And the medicine charmer only brings comfort to the dying, nothing more, and only then to those of great age.”  She looked up.  “You know that, too.”

Oornu nodded once.  He closed his eyes for a few seconds, trying to focus his mind to find a solution.  But his mind was already consumed with anguish, and deep despair.  He felt breathless, nauseous.  “What can we do?”

Uurna obviously had no answer.  She looked ahead.  The tall fronds of grass were thinning, and the landscape was becoming open and rocky.

But, the hideous effect that capturing stoors has had on their bodies has an incredible, if possibly unwelcome, side effect. Their story may not be forgotten after all. In fact, it may well become the most amazing story every told...

Read 'Bone Pit' now and find out why.

Could the 'Bone Pit' be down there?

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