Flash Fiction: A New Mountain

(This is a submission to the Rue|Lou Prompt Flash Fiction submissions from Twitter (#ruelouprompts)

Every Thursday, Rue (@sparkswrites) or Lou (@lw_writes) submits a prompt for any writer to submit Flash Fiction for. Each piece must be 500 words or under, and either include the prompt or be inspired by it.

This prompt did NOT fit into the 500 words, but I felt it was a better story intact so I left it as-is.)

A New Mountain

I struggle through the drifts, feet burying into snow up to my knees with every step. My hands are numb from the cold, ice and snow no longer melting under them when I grasp the trees to keep myself upright. The occasional pinpricks that shoot through my fingers mean I may yet keep them, but not if I don’t get out of the blizzard, soon.

Bitterness rises in my throat like bile.

I’d volunteered to make the trek with the doctor and midwife to a nearby village to ask for aid. Our town had been wracked by sudden disease.

But it had all gone so wrong. The sudden downfall of snow caught us off guard. The midwife had fallen down a sheer drop, the doctor claiming the remaining pack of supplies for his own when we failed to find the trail back. He’d warned me off with his pistol, mad with the will to survive. I’d fled, stumbling at first through brush and trees, then mounds of snow and ice.

I found the cliff face. Peering over I could spot the lights from the town in the distance- too far. My hope drains through my skull. There’s only one person who lives anywhere near this area.

The Beast.

Or so they called him.

He kept to himself, shuttered in his dilapidated mansion on the cliff overlooking the shore, barely visible from town on clear days.

When newcomers asked of the mansion, the townsfolk spun wild tall tales, leaving those who had asked wide-eyed and fearful.

I’d never met him, the Beast. I didn’t know if it was a name or a description.

All I know is that I have to find shelter.

I approach the mansion carefully. Crumbling stone pillars nearly block the entryway, but a single lamp lights the stairs leading to the door.

I climb them, stumbling on ice, legs nearly ready to give out but so close to salvation. It warms my frozen tongue enough for me to call out as I knock with icy fingers.

At first, nothing. But then the front door creaks slightly open. I feel the warm air escape the stone building.

“Hello?,” I call out. “Can I come in? Please? Only, I’m lost, I need-“

The door is thrown open, warm arms covered in scraggly hair envelop me as I’m pulled inside. I’m hit with the heat from the fire in an instant, choking the breath from me as it battles the chill in my lungs before my body is able to adjust.

“Sit by the fire,” he says, voice a deep rumble that I feel in my chest like a strike of fear.

He pushes me into a chair, moves towards the fire with his back to me. He’s tall, shoulders sloping into a mane of black hair that’s half tied at the crown of his head. He leans down, grabbing several pieces of wood in a hand covered in black fur with veins of white, ending in sharp claws.

I rub my hands together, trying to warm them and hide the tremors of fear my fingers would betray. When he turns to me, my brow furrows, but no other emotion is betrayed.

His face is… inhuman, as expected. Strong jaw, fangs peeking between furred lips.

But what I didn’t expect was the concerned, gentle, very human emotion on his face. A strange juxtaposition to the animal ferocity I’d last seen on the face of the quite human doctor.

“Who are you?” I know the better question would have been what but I’d been struck by his expression.

He seems as surprised as I am at my non-reaction to him, but if it seems to amuse him because he smiles. He moves to a large, sturdy armchair next to the fire that creaks as he sits.

“Who I am does not matter.” he starts. “How have you come to this place? You don’t seem prepared to travel in a storm.”

The story falls from my lips in a rush, my words a waterfall that I couldn’t hold back had I tried.

He’s quiet after my story is told, claws idly scratching at the wood that makes up the arm of his chair.

“I am what I have been made,” he says. “I don’t know how or why. I only remember this place, like a waking dream.” He pauses in his scratching, staring into the fire.

“You are welcome to stay until the storm passes, I have food and wood to spare. But what of the doctor? What would you like to become of him?”

“I hadn’t given thought to it,” I say. “Were he to die I would not mourn. But were I to see him again, I don’t know what I would do. It’s his word against mine. I would gain nothing by sharing my story.”

He’s quiet, long enough that I too turn my face towards the fire, close my eyes. I can see the flames flit through my eyelids, and I breathe in the wonder that is warmth and safety.

“And if he were to not make it through the night? Were he to find himself prey to some… beast. What would you say then?”

My inhale is sharp, but the cold fear I expect never comes.

Bitterness and bile.

“I would be grateful to such a beast,” I whisper. “If such a thing were to happen.”

He nods, and I can see a ripple in his muscles as they tense. He stands from the chair, then walks back towards the door we’d come from.

I find myself filled with no regret, no urge to call back the words I uttered. Fear flutters in my chest, but not for me. Not for the doctor, either.

“Be careful,” I say to the Beast. “He has a pistol.”

“Me?” He smiles, all fangs. “I’m only going out for firewood.”

He grabs a mammoth velvet cloak from a stand next to the door, throws it over his shoulders. He is there, and then like a shadow, he is gone. The door closes on the wintery landscape with a slam behind him.

I stare at the fire in his absence.

Sometimes you fall to rise onto a new mountain. I smile, hands warmed, the fire dancing in front of me.

And sometimes, the beauty befriends the beast.

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