Every now and then, my friend Sharmishtha posts the beginning of a story for others to complete, if they wish. I do them sometimes and this is one of them. I have taken the main idea, but changed it slightly. Here is her original prompt:
Late at night they could hear his roar, at a distance. They still remember when that little bundle of fur landed in their life, mother killed by a poacher, two cubs left to perish. It was their sheer luck that a woodcutter found them. How they struggled to keep him warm and alive, the second one perished hours after being rescued.
How hard it was for them to decide that they will have to let him go. The sleepless nights they passed after his release. Now… they miss him but are happy for him.
Now, here’s my story:
Our Darling Swamp Monster
They didn’t call it the Forbidden Swamp for nothing, although the worst that Gerardi had ever found there were will-o-the-wisps and exploding swamp gas. But then one day, on his way home from collecting willow bark and reeds, he made a discovery in a steaming pocket of sludge. It looked at first like a shapeless bag of withered grey leather, but there was a creature inside that loose hide, one with spines and claws and large, wondering eyes. It was a monster but it was also a baby, and he was in a fix whether to leave it or kill it outright. In the end, he brought it home.
His wife Melanee was taken with it right away and they name it Khip, which meant “special” in their language. They kept it in a box by the fire, until the heat burned it. Then they kept it in the barn for the next year until it started killing the goats. It had lived on pulped poisonroot, but now it would only eat raw meat and soon, they could not afford to keep it. So, Gerardi sorrowfully took Khip out into the swamp and let it go.
* * *
“I wonder if he’s hungry,” Melanee said. It had been a month since Khip had gone.
“Stop asking that,” Gerardi said. “He can take care of himself out there. You shouldn’t worry about him.”
“I know, but I miss him,” she said.
“I miss him too. Let me go out and take care of the animals. I’ll be back soon.” He went out and fed the goats and other animals. Then, he retrieved the half a goat he had saved from when he had killed it a week ago. He carried it out to the edge of the swamp and placed it where he had put food every week since he had let Khip go. The meat always disappeared and he recognized Khip’s distinctive tracks in the soft dirt.
He knew it could not continue like this forever. Just to get him settled, he thought, but that is what he had said for the first week and he was still bringing food out to the edge of the swamp. Just a little more.
Soon he realized he had to stop. He did not have enough goats to sacrifice one every two weeks and if he continued, he would soon not have enough to expand the herd. So, one dark night he snuck up to his neighbor’s house and stole a goat. His neighbor had ten times more goats than Gerardi did. After this, he went and stole a goat every two weeks from his neighbor and then listened sympathetically as the man complained bitterly about goat thieves and wild animals.
Once a year, Gerardi made a trip to the capital to trade his medicinal herbs and other swamp products for things they needed. It was a long trip, almost two weeks each way and so just before he left, Gerardi stole two goats from his neighbor. One he killed and left in the usual spot, while the other, he killed and left a trail of blood leading back towards his neighbors house. He left the other dead goat nearby. This way, he thought, Khip could go get his own goats if for some reason Gerardi was late and missed bringing him his food.
The trip was a success and Gerardi returned with many beautiful and necessary things. However, he found the area in an uproar when he returned. “There is a monster lurking in the swamp,” people said. “All sorts of animals have gone missing.”
Gerardi hurried home and was relieved to find everything in order and his wife healthy. Still, not everything was fine.
“It has been terrible, the last few weeks,” Melanee said, holding his hand. “It has to be Khip doing all this, but still I’m afraid for him. Also, people have noticed that we are untouched, even though we live on the edge of the swamp. They are becoming suspicious.”
The next day, Gerardi went into the village, where he heard more news of the attacks. “It was mostly animals at first,” they said, “but now, a couple of people have gone missing too and old Ramses’ barn was ripped to bits. It’s the work of a monster.”
Most people were glad to see Gerardi back, but not everyone. He got some strange looks and questions about his wife and if they had lost any property. He lied and said they had, but still, it was clear that some people suspected Melanee of somehow being behind everything. He was leaving the market when he heard the word witch rise out of a conversation behind him. It was a terrifying word.
(to be concluded soon)