This story is by Luke Geldmacher and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Nothing is ever easy. This is especially true in my life.
It started out as a simple case of missing animals in the area. No one thought much of it, until some teens playing hooky spotted a large man with a goat horns and an axe skulking around the forest. That’s when they called me. Joby Walker-your friendly neighborhood Monster Hunter. No one takes my ad seriously until something with claws and fangs shows up in their backyard.
The sun was dipping towards the horizon when I finally caught wind of him. Seriously, you ever been to a petting zoo? That’s the smell. Except the petting zoo caught fire and was replaced by a sewage treatment plant, which also caught fire. The infamous Goatman, kitties and puppies beware. But still, a bounty was a bounty, and I had bills to pay.
Checking the safety on my rifle, I crept up the slope towards the horrid stench and stayed downwind. I crouched low to reduce my profile and increase stability. I am ninja. I am death. I am the night.
I am an idiot.
Three hundred pounds of muscle and stench burst from the trees to my right. I had enough time to turn and pull off one shot before he hit me with curved horns. It was like being tackled by a Volkswagen. I dropped my rifle when I flew into a tree trunk. Air whuffed from my lungs painfully, and I felt ribs crack; but I staggered to my feet and drew my pistol.
The stories didn’t exaggerate; he was huge. Brown-white hair covered his body, tangled and filthy. A tattered shirt still hung around his shoulders, and he held a rusty axe in his massive hands. His rectangular pupils dilated, and he bleated in fury at me. So I kicked him in his dangly bits. His bleat turned into a squeak, and he fell to his knees. Heh, Goatman’s got gnards.
Before he could recover, I fired six rounds into his chest. Thunder and fire roared from the barrel, and Goatman toppled backwards onto the ground. Pistol still aimed at him, I circled around his fallen body. He twitched, and I fired the last two rounds into his head. I’ve seen enough horror movies to not make that mistake. Well, that was easier than I expected.
Which, of course, is when the ground beneath me gave way. Goatman and I tumbled into the void.
I opened my eyes to darkness. My clothes were soaking wet, and I was lying on my belly in a cold, greasy puddle. The bottom was squishy and gave when I pushed against it. My legs were trapped under something heavy and dense. Wriggling around, I managed to pull a flashlight out of my vest pocket. I turned it on, and surveyed my surroundings. The hole I fell through was made with purpose. I must have triggered it when I was walking around.
Crude tool marks marred the walls, and beams were placed around the edges of the hole. Other debris littered the area around me. The puddle under me was red, lumpy, and deeper than I thought. I thought it might have been clay, but the bones I saw dissuaded me of that thought. I was lying in the soup of former victims, namely a large buck that had broken my fall. Its broken, rotting carcass cushioned me and coated me in ichor, which was more than a little nauseating; the smell was atrocious. Of course, the dearly departed Goatman was laying across my legs and lower back, which didn’t help with the smell. Searching, I found my backpack laying near one edge of the pool of death, but my rifle was nowhere to be found. It was either deep in the pool or still above ground; either option made it currently useless to me.
There was no way to tell how long I had been lying there, but there were only a few rays of sunlight peering from the hole above. After a lot of grunting and cursing, I pulled myself from underneath Goatman’s corpse. Standing up, I took stock of my clothing and injuries.
At least two of my ribs felt cracked, but my breath came smoothly, if not painlessly. There was also a knot on the back of my head. I couldn’t tell if I was bleeding, because I was covered in ludicrous amounts of blood from the other victims of the pit trap. My bag was mostly dry, and the gear appeared undamaged. Things were looking up.
The sun set and the cavern plunged into complete darkness. As the last rays disappeared, a shriek rang out from the tunnel leading to the cavern. Then, a cacophony of sound answered it, reverberating through the cave. It sounded like a choir straight from the bowels of Hell.
I heard claws scraping stone and coming my way, the screams getting louder the closer they got. Grabbing my gun and some flares I scrambled back into the pool to hide. God help me, I was going to have to perform an exorcism and burn these clothes if I ever got out of here alive.
Dark shapes crept from the mouth of the tunnel and began filling the room. I couldn’t make out much in the way of details, but they were short and humanoid, with pale skin that gleamed with slime. Their eyes were pinpricks of yellow in the dim light. Harsh, guttural sounds emanated from their throats as they approached the Goatman’s corpse. Poking at it with long spears they tittered in excitement. I watched at the other end of the pool, trying to keep my nose above the liquid. In a frenzy of activity, they tore at the Goatman’s flesh, ripping off and swallowing chunks of meat.
Goblins, most likely hobs. Goblins came in as many varieties as humans did, and hobs were the worst. Hobs were filthy, despised creatures, even among their own kind. They lived in deep, dark places and kidnapped children. This just gets better and better.
Another hob came from the tunnel, larger and more heavily muscled than the others. He barked at the smaller hobs and they scurried away from the Goatman, lining the walls of the cavern. By my count, there were at least a dozen of the little bastards. The larger Hob approached the pool, but stopped and raised his head, as he sniffed and twisted in my direction.
I quickly stood and lit the flare. Red light filled the room like an angry sun and the hobs screamed in pain at the sudden light and backed away. The hobs had gathered behind their larger companion and watched me warily. The lead Hob was taller than me and adorned with collars of what I assumed were the missing animals. A little tacky, but he made it work.
“If y’all start singing, ‘Down, Down to Goblintown,’ I’m leaving,” I joked. The pool was between me and the hob tribe, the tunnel only a few yards away. I was a fast runner; but it was dark and I had no idea what I would be running into.
“I Knasher, Goblin King. Who you?”
I blinked. I didn’t really expect them to talk. Most of my conversations with monsters tend to be more them roaring and me shooting. “Call me Joby, and you look nothing like Bowie,” I replied. Knasher regarded me with hungry eyes, “Jo-bee, you dishonor me. You die now, and I eat your bones.” Well, that didn’t take long.
This was it. One of those times that define heroes and legends. A last triumphant stand against insurmountable odds. To become the definition of bravery and heroism.
I chucked my flare at them, grabbed my bag, and ran like a squirrel.
The hobs howled at me, and shied away from my flare. I wasn’t exactly making fast friends with them. I lit another flare as I sprinted down the tunnel, barely avoiding boulders, old mining equipment, and numerous stalagmites. They were fast. I could hear them right behind me. I don’t know if it was my imagination, but I thought I felt the swish of claws grabbing at my clothing. My chest heaved with exertion, and my cracked ribs screamed at me.
I spied a mine cart on the rails ahead of me. Maybe I would get lucky. I jumped over the edge and slammed painfully into the opposite side of the cart. The hobs, not expecting my leap, slammed into the cart and it shot down the rails like a cannonball. I was elated, at least until I realized that careening through an abandoned mine shaft wasn’t much better; I had no brakes.
The hobs were still chasing me, but I was at least fifty yards ahead of them. Of course, that’s when I hit a brick wall, or something that felt like one. The cart crashed to a stop and I flew out and into a pile of rocks. Add a side of lacerations to my cracked ribs, please. Starlight came from the mouth of the cave, and I was surrounded by ludicrous amounts of coal. There were piles of the stuff everywhere. It looked like the hobs had been mining the stuff. I cackled with glee and ran to the entrance of the cave with a madman’s grin. I was waiting there when Knasher and his crew showed up, their entry preceded by a cloud of coal dust. He paused, looked at me, the flare, the coal around him, and roared in fury. I threw the flare, and the world exploded.
Well, not the whole world, just that cave. The coal dust the hobs had kicked up chasing me violently combusted from the flare and vaporized the hobs, which was a good thing. The bad thing was I didn’t think about the shock wave. It channeled through the cave and blasted me like a shotput into the cool night air. I landed in a heap outside the cave, my clothes now smoking as well as covered in gore.
Everything hurt. More than likely I had a concussion along with my cracked ribs, I had numerous gashes all over my body, and my ears were ringing. But, I was alive. I made it! I am invincible! I am a god among mere mortals!
“Freeze punk! Put your hands on the back of your head and stay right where you are!”
I sighed and followed the officer’s orders. Nothing is ever easy.