By: Miles Estrada | Writer (Fiction)
February 15th, 2018
DISCLAIMER: This story is a fragment of what some day may be a longer work. The second part is a work in progress. Should this piece see good enough reception, or if any one happens to be curious, I may publish the second part, and keep you updated on the status of the work as a whole. Enjoy!
She sat there amid the brambles in complete comfort. The few sparse beams of sunshine that crept through the leafy canopy above gave her a generous source of light as she wrote in her notebook with a lively, precipitous hand, and the hundred or so sheep in front of her, who in recent had grown smart enough not to go near the brambles, serenaded her with the awkward symphony of their tremulous bleating. It was eleven o’clock, and by this time she had been at it for five consecutive hours. Feeling bored with staring down at her infinitesimal penmanship, she rose her lovely head and looked out past the indolent grazing sheep at the perfect physiognomy of the green hills complimented by the unimpressive line of minuscule pines at their base, and the chilblain mountains that lay beyond.
This had been her mornings for the past nine years. When she was little, she and her cat Apollodorus had went out quite often to this particular section of Canterbury to chase the sheep in the pastures and hunt the rodents in the reeds of a nearby pool. But on her ninth birthday, the latter contender was caught up in the unrelenting grasp of the brambles while on the trail of a stoat, and starved to death respectively. Since then, she made it a point to rise early at four every morning and, after she breakfasted and read a few chapters of any given book, make her way from her home out to that exact place of death and write down her myriad experiences and pitfalls of the preceding day until noontime – or whenever the birds showed up.
Her name was Gardenia, and she was in a nebulous state of contemplative thought. She herself was an uncommonly beautiful specimen, perhaps the most beauteous girl ever to come out of Invercargill. Her flesh was a rather flat hue of buff, but her shade of countenance radiated with the basest of Classical features, she having a broad forehead, dull chocolate eyes, a regal sloping nose, tiny pouting lips, high cheek bones, and a jawline that contoured into the sharp point that was her chin, which, combined with her turgid head of caramel corkscrews of hair, made her resemble an uprooted turnip. Her body was clad in layers of golden silks, obscuring a great quantity of the angularity of her figure, save those of her hands and feet; she would remain in this attire all day, as that was how she looked when she would exit her vase. Over the years her bum, which was at first incredibly soft and bled easily when in contact with the brambles, had become as tough and durable as the leathern seat of a bicycle and allowed her to carry out her morning ritual without having to sustain any serious injury.
Presently, staring out at the sheep-laden countryside in subtle vexation, she thought of what tomorrow may bring.
Today was a Sunday, a day of relaxation for Gardenia, but on the day that followed, she would be sent away to Christchurch. There was in that city a prestigious school that Kathleen Murray, her caretaker, was especially keen on placing her for university. This, admittedly, had startled gardenia, for all her life she had been educated at her home in the country by Kathleen, due to the fact that she was procured at a shop. Because of this, the only real “human” interactions that she had were from Kathleen, the occasional sheepherder she saw out in the fields while writing, and of course the myriad of fictitious personages with whom she was well accustomed from the books she sent away for from Greymouth. Kathleen also had taught her only the very basic skills needed for life on the southern island, and was fully intent on her little potted plant earning a way in the world: “you can’t expect to make any friends, or survive for that matter, by simply reading books,” she would say to Gardenia. This was very true indeed, and in addition, she could not rely on Kathleen for much longer, and would have to make a living for herself sooner or later, in spite of the commodity of her vase.
All of these thoughts had terrified gardenia, and all of them consistently filled the pages of her journals for the past nine years with a strong degree of poison. A lamb neared the brambles, and she thought of the chief principle of Delos W. Lovelace’s novelization of King Kong; you cannot remove a creature from its inured environment and expect it to behave dutifully in an inchoate habitation, else it would go mad and die as a result. She lowered head back down to her lucubrations and wrote out that thought in the hope that it would one day be taken seriously, ignoring the lamb who was now seized by the leg and bleated feebly. She didn’t care whether the lamb died or not, for she knew that the tragedy itself would be based solely on the creature’s own idiocy, and she thought all instances of desultory starvation relatively frivolous save that of her own cat’s. But when the remainder of the herd started up a frenzied fanfare and stumbled to the edge of the brambles as to watch their next of kin suffer – they were no stupid enough to actually get caught up in with it – she grew annoyed of the helpless bleating, set down her notebook and pen, and freed the lamb, who left a trail of blood behind him as he led the massive sea of wool and flesh to a full manger.
The herd of sheep filed slowly past the brambles, disregarding the lamb’s savior as she made her way back up to her spot; they would disappear over a hill in half an hour. Gardenia kept to herself and her journaling as the woolen sea swallowed up the hill to the left of her, applying a transitory layer of cauliflower to the lime green protuberance. She checked her rose gold Waltham that Winston Mullaney, a Rangorian sheepherder who came down to her house frequently to teach her Maori, had given her in early girlhood. It was ten to twelve, just about time for her to be headed on her way back home for luncheon. She gathered her things, rose, and began to pick herself through the brambles, making her way down to the torpid woolen sea.
At about the halfway mark, a bird alighted in front of her. And it was a black and yellow tomtit. She stopped cold in her tracks.
Gardenia did not hate all birds; she thought peacocks, ostriches and birds of paradise beautiful with all their opulent plumage. It was the small, swift winged birds of New Zealand that she wholly spurned – and she especially detested the tomtits. In the old days, they used to elude Apollodorus during the chase, over exerting and often dizzying him into a stupor; one time a flock off three led him to the rodent-infested pool, wherein he nearly drowned and from which Gardenia had to extricate him. Now, with him long dead and having only his skull to preserve for posterity, the tomtits seemed to instill within her a horror of ornithological minutiae. The tomtit tweeted curiously and jumped from a sharp bit of bramble to a slightly softer area, looking straight at Gardenia, rotating its tiny head excitedly in its socket.
Having the upper hand, Gardenia kicked the bird out of her way, taking up some brambles with it, and the thing was propelled into the saturnine herd, causing a momentary stir among the members in the centre. The tomtit, however, regained its vitality and fluttered straight up into the sky and away from the herd. Gardenia could now make her way home without distraction, and, after plucking herself out of the entanglement of brambles, shuffled through the slowly advancing armada of sheep to the right. She was taken up by the current though, and was bound westward. She tried to throw herself against it, but the surge of the collective body was so great that it only propelled her backwards and laid her prostrate on the rich green grass. The sheep took heed of her and stumbled round her on their course. She got back up, brushed herself off, and casually looked up at the sky. High above the migration in progress was the makings of a flock of tomtits, with about two thousand individuals in all – not at all near the usual number.
Rather than receiving a horror, Gardenia experienced a slight exasperation, and was finally able to find her way out of the herd and headed eastward. Overhead, the flock exhibited queer behavior. The chirps, which were generally ingenuous, seemed now oddly aggressive, like those of a bat. The main body, instead of keeping on a straight course, convulsed and gyrated, and from that, for some reason or other, their constitution instantly became more liquid. Like egg mixed with flower, the birds ran into each other and started to congeal, undergoing a sinister transformation. The final product of this anomalous amalgamation was the terrifying form of the quetzalcoatlus.
The horrible reptile beat its enormous wings and let out a rasping screech. The sheep, having never seen a pterosaur in their lives, were horrified at the sight of the creature, and bleated wretchedly whilst blown about by the momentous wind engendered by the beating of its tremendous wings. They accelerated immediately in the effort of escaping that monstrous abomination, and, with a promptitude that seemed incapable of a prehistoric creature, it dove gracefully down into the now dissipating sea of sheep, stationing itself in the centre of the chaos. It then proceeded to thrust its long beak into the sea and gobble up single members of the herd. After it swallowed ten sheep, the supply was all but depleted, and observing the last few gamboling up the hill to its left, the quetzalcoatlus awkwardly staggered its way to the full manger for more.
By now, it was five minutes to twelve, and Gardenia could see the well-maintained drive that led to her comely little cottage thirty yards away. To her left she saw the prodigious Mount Cook and below that the expansive city of Christchurch. From behind, there came a frantic collaborative bleating of sheep and a contemptible screech from the quetzalcoatlus. She stood, transfixed by the utter peculiarity of the sound, as it sounded bird-like, yet vaguely reptilian; but it was undoubtedly horrific, and sent a chill down her back.
It is not very often that Gardenia succumbed to curiosity – she knew the countryside far too well to be surprised of anything – but this was an exception. Looking over the drive with a salutary expression, she bolted back to the fields, minding the brambles, and attributed the source to be over the hill to the left of her usual spot. Cresting it, she looked out in shock and terror at a scene of devastation, several scattered groups of sheep ran in sync with each other, bleating manically and trying indefatigably to avoid the cruel beak off the quetzalcoatlus; but, for some, their endeavors proved in vain and they were cropped up by the creature’s mouth effortlessly. Evidently, a sheepherder had sighted the commotion and came out on reconnoiter, and the pterosaur, content with the amount of unprepared mutton it had just taken in, turned its abhorrent gaze towards him. The sheepherder, who was afflicted with senility, darted as fast as he could away from the approaching beast.
At that point, Gardenia precipitously made her way down, cutting across the manger as to create a diversion. When the sheepherder stumbled back and the quetzalcoatlus saw that it had a clear advantage, she seized a stone and lobbed it in the direction of the pterosaur. This tactic bade the sheepherder make a frantic departure, but now the thing centred the whole of its attention on Gardenia. Another foul screech was let out as it began to make its way towards the girl. Gardenia made a beeline for a line of low trees that lay twenty yards westward, and it pursued her with that peculiar promptitude. It was a straight shot of open field to the tree line, but it was by no means easy going. Gardenia had a couple missteps due to the constraining nature of her silks and the quetzalcoatlus nearly took her up in its beak on each subsequent occasion. But otherwise, she reached it successfully, only suffering a few scrapes and bloody palms.
She led it into the deepest part of that little hollow, hoping to elude the beast. But within an instant, the thing flattened her against her against a tree with a broad trunk and clasped its beak about it. Horror’s grasp had her as the tree gradually caved in on its sides as the pterosaur inflicted a subsequent snap of its beak so that it might fell it and cut her in half.
Trapped between the tree and inevitable death, Gardenia had little time to think her way round the situation. Just then, she remembered she had her pen on her. It was one of those queer antediluvian models from the twentieth century with an especially sharp nib from which ink was dispensed. Perfect!
In desperation, she produced it. By this time, the quetzalcoatlus had rendered the support of the tree to near naught and craned its neck back to initiate both the felling of the tree and the killing blow. Now was her chance.
As the pterosaur thrust its head towards the tree, Gardenia leapt up into the air just before the creature fell the tree and landed upon the nape of its tremendous neck. The pterosaur did not even have a chance to writhe beneath her, for the girl, with pen in hand, pinpointed the position of the thing’s brain and came down upon it. The pterosaur yelled horribly and reared back on its heels in the effort of trying to shake her off. Alas, the pen overpowered it, and the thing fell dead in a heap on the forest floor.
Gardenia was overwhelmed and at the same time very much relieved. She felt the corpse move suddenly under her and when she looked down she saw a tomtit between her legs. One, however, turned into hundreds as more fluttered up from underneath her, and glancing at the head of the slain beast, she noticed that it was composed entirely of tomtits. In the span of a minute, the fallen pterosaur had metamorphosed into nothing but tomtits that all flew up into the sky and were all out of view in an instant.
Gardenia left quite perplexed. Evidently the pterosaur was not real but rather a phantasm germinated from her scorn of the tomtits. She tangled with a mere flock of birds. She could not fully comprehend the sheer absurdity of it though and tried her hardest to leave the matter aside until after luncheon, which she was already a quarter of an hour late for. Yet the idea itself seemed within rational thought.
Perhaps all the Edgar Rice Burroughs she read over the last summer was now finally getting to her.