My good friend and writer, Rebecca Williams, has written a lovely short story for a guest post this week! If you enjoy her story, you can find out more here.
Vivvy tripped backwards when a large brown eye filled the window. She caught herself before knocking over the stack of bandages and crashing into IV poles.
“Hello?” she asked to the eye that fixed on her.
Vivvy observed the rumbling voice and the wart above the eyelid. An ogre.
Drawing closer to the window, she called out: “LARGE mythical folk can seek attention at the GIANT’S ward on the other side. We regretfully cannot accommodate you here.” As she spoke, she motioned to the room—tiny by ogre standards, filled with beds for small patients.
“Closed,” the ogre said, and his eye blinked. Her trained ears heard pain in that voice. She pulled back the curtain further and peered out to assess her unusually large patient, and the nurse smelled the injury before she could see it: ogre blood stank worse than ogre sweat. There, on his left leg, a bandage oozed with patches of sticky brown ogre blood.
The night visitor stepped back so Vivvy could see both his eyes, which now stared at the ground.
“Gimbly Mountain,” he mumbled.
“Gimbly Mountain—but that’s covered in bittersnag.” Vivvy looked now at the wound in horror. The ogre’s expression told Vivvy he already knew the lethality of the mountain’s spiny plant.
“Help,” he said again.
Vivvy’s hands went to her hips. “Yes, but—I’m sorry, what’s your name?”
“Paul the Ogre.” Ogres in those parts had simple names.
“Right, Paul, the only cure for bittersnag is oil from the scales of a behemoth.”
Paul nodded, hope shining in his large eyes. Vivvy looked from one to the other because at such close range she couldn’t look at both at the same time.
“I found behemoth. I take you.” Without further explanation, Paul the Ogre reached inside the window and grasped Vivvy with two fingers, lifting her out of the ward and into his hand.
Vivvy stifled a scream. “No, no, don’t take me,” she protested. The tiny nurse had been punched and kicked by patients, but none had attempted to do her so much harm as take her to a behemoth. Behemoths filled the folklore of the Balsam Woodmarsh, a forested wetland with firs and vines. Marshes interlaced the valleys between the mountainsides. Though undeniably real, the monstrous creatures slipped in and out of deeper streams with such stealth that they lurked out of view. People shared stories and fables of the beasts in fervent whispers. Preferring the valley though, behemoths never climbed to the mountaintops where most woodland creatures lived, and Vivvy hadn’t heard of a behemoth sighting in years.
“W-where?” she asked as she struggled to get out of Paul’s grip. With limping strides, his long legs distanced them from the hospital at an alarming rate. She could have called for help, but the hospital sat on the rim of an outpost facing the jungle forest. No one would hear her.
“In valley. I show you.” The ogre swung his arms back and forth as he lunged ahead, and Vivvy grew dizzy.
“Why me?” She turned her head to watch the hospital lights grow dim behind them.
Paul the Ogre grunted. “You get scale and heal wound.”
The little nurse squeaked. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I don’t collect medicine. Sprites do. We chispas work in the hospital.”
“Chi-spa help me.”
“Chee-spa,” she corrected, sounding it out.
“Sprites not here,” he added, and Vivvy frowned. Her luminescent wings flickered on her back. That morning, the medical sprites had left to gather eel’s tooth, a plant that bloomed one night a year on the eastern side of Hale Mountain. Meanwhile, the other chispas slept in their dorm inside the outpost—now perhaps half a mile already behind them, and she alone covered the night shift of their empty ward that evening.
“Couldn’t you get it?” she asked, trying to squirm out of Paul’s grip as they took a sharp descent. An ogre seemed a better match for a behemoth.
With his free hand, Paul motioned to his size and then to hers without breaking a step. “Behemoth notice Paul. Behemoth not notice you. You fly and get scale without behemoth notice.”
Vivvy’s palms broke into a sweat, and she fingered her wings behind her back. Fly? With her left wing damaged, she could no longer soar over the mountains like she once had. Now, she could only hover. She hadn’t met Paul before though, so he didn’t know.
“Please?” asked Paul. They had already covered far too much ground for the kidnapped nurse’s comfort. How far away was this behemoth? Vivvy knew from nursing school that only fresh oil of behemoth scale would heal bittersnag wounds that could overtake victims within hours. Paul would not survive the wait for the sprites’ return.
For several minutes, Vivvy searched her mind for any excuse, but before she could answer, Paul dove to his belly on the soft marshy ground in the valley that seemed 1000 spans from her safe hospital ward. They had descended her mountain and breached the border of a marsh. He caught her eyes and nodded ahead. Her gaze followed until she saw the outline of a shadowy colossus in the marsh, rising up like a small mountain from the ground. She stifled another scream.
“Behemoth smell blood. Paul stay here.” He then opened his hand as if expecting her to fly off towards the behemoth without hesitation. But Vivvy did hesitate.
“Paul, I can’t fly,” she said, red-hot heat flushing her face.
“You fly. I believe.”
Vivvy wavered on his palm. If only it were that easy. In her mind, she could hear the soft chime of the hospital ward’s clock as if she stood next to it, reminding her that Paul had an hour—maybe two before the poison would overtake him. Too choked to speak, she unfolded her butterfly-shaped wings and began to beat them, the soft whir imperceptible to larger creatures like Paul or the behemoth. Hesitating one more time, she looked at Paul and saw hope still lighting up his face. She sighed.
Vivvy lifted herself above his palm, hovering, but only hovering. She didn’t know how she was going to fly UP to a behemoth, but dredging an ounce of courage from somewhere in her faltering heart, she turned and moved out over the shallow water, refusing to look back at the safe, dry spot on Paul’s hand.
No other noise filled the marsh; behemoths scared away even the crickets, and the beast’s large shadow took form as she approached. Closer, closer—she could see the glint of scales in the moonlight. The beast’s body loomed twenty times larger than Paul’s. She could hear the hum of deeper water on the other side of the beast, which appeared to be asleep next to the marsh’s outlet where it could easily slip into the dark waters that plumbed the unknown depths of their valley.
Trembling, Vivvy hovered towards its face. Thick crusty scales along the backs of behemoths yielded less oil—enough for a dozen little folks and perhaps enough for a dwarf, but certainly not an ogre. The best scales for oil lay above a behemoth’s eyes. Vivvy knew from textbook sketches were to look, and sure enough, there in the starlight, she could see brown scales with a bluish tint of softness on its brow.
I’m a nurse, I help people. I’m a nurse, I help people, she repeated in her head as she came to the edge where water met the snout of the behemoth at rest. With all her might, she beat her wings and gained perhaps an inch of height over the water. She tried again, another inch. Again, another inch. The tiny chispa inched until she reached the level of the bluish scales. Edging closer, straining to keep her height, she stretched out her arms between the behemoth’s closed eyes and touched the closest scale.
Fearfully, she glanced at the eyes. Neither one flickered. Taking all the care she could, Vivvy wrapped her fingers on either side of the scale as tall as she was and pulled. Such scales did not give easily. Yet something from her learning told her to shift the scale to the left and then upward. As she did, beating her wings and willing them not to lose her altitude, the hard scale loosened. Vivvy pulled it back with one swift break and clasped it close to her chest in disbelief that she held a genuine behemoth scale, fresh from the very beast’s forehead. Its absence left a miniscule opening on the large brow, and for a moment, the trained nurse looked for any broken skin that could risk infection, and thankfully, she found none. Her concerns for the predator were interrupted however when both enormous eyelids popped open, and the behemoth’s eyes clapped on her.
Vivvy stopped breathing, certain she was about to die. Behemoths notoriously left no attacker alive.
Its eyes shifted between her and the stolen scale.
As Vivvy’s anxiety turned to panic, she saw the creature focus on her wings. They were unique in size and shape, larger than wings of sprites who normally hunted such animals for their scales. Their butterfly shape and iridescent color glimmered in her hovering movements and reflected dim moonlight in the darkness.
The behemoth snuffed and exhaled a hot breath she could feel around her feet, and she wondered why it didn’t strike. Could she get away? No. With the heavy scale, she couldn’t fly fast, if at all.
Interrupting her thoughts, the behemoth rose back on its haunches, scooping her up on its rough nose and towering above the tree line. Its eyes never moved from the chispa, and Vivvy stood fearful and still. Then the creature’s tail curled to one side. Glancing at the movement, she noticed a scar stretching down its thigh. Only two things leave scars on behemoths—the claws of another behemoth, the damage of which can be life threatening, and the treatment of snarffle root that can heal the behemoth’s tough skin.
Snarffle root grows on mountaintops though. How had the valley-bound behemoth gotten there?
Glancing between the eyes and scar, Vivvy wondered if she truly grasped the gesture. The behemoth must have had help. Had it been from another chispa? The beast seemed to recognize her wings, and she wondered if he was trying to tell her something.
Vivvy nodded, to let it know she understood (perhaps). With the delicacy of one trying to slip away from death, she beat her wings until she hovered again. Meeting the behemoth’s gaze, she backed away, high above the marshy ground, and the mythical beastly creature made no move to stop her.
Further and further she retreated until she was halfway back to Paul, still at the height of the behemoth’s eyes. At that point, the creature blinked, lowered itself to the ground, and rolled into the deep waters beside its resting spot. She saw the water ripple outward from its exit. Signs of the behemoth disappeared as shallow marsh water filled the impressions of where the beast had slept.
Quivering, she watched the empty space for a moment until she remembered the scale gripped in her arms, its scentless oil clinging to her hands and tunic. Spinning around, she hurried back to Paul the Ogre and his poisoned wound. With such an abundant amount of the cure, they should have just enough time to stop the poison and save his life.