Fight with the spush
I stopped, wet hairs clinging to my face. Had I been thirsty? Yes, I had. Still, that was no reason to act this way. Drinking like it was the first drop of water I was seeing in months.
Perhaps it was the fact that I had finally secured a source of water. The uncertainty of if I would be able to find some had been weighing on me, and dying to dehydration felt like a bad joke. Well, more of a joke than dying to spushes at least.
I looked around. I had let my guard down, but nothing seemed to have happened. There was no army of the things surrounding me again. The closest one I could spot was a good fifty meters away from me doing whatever it is they did. Presumably munching on the moss, scrabbling to a different spot and then repeating the process.
Calmer now, I studied the water. It even looked refreshing. The stream was perhaps a step wide and did not flow especially fast, but the water jumped and glittered and played with the light. Sparkling water indeed, not like the poorly named carbonated water you bought at the supermarket.
I filled my canteen and my two water bottles. Even inside of the transparent plastic bottles the water looked different. It was crystal clear, yet still had a slight glow emanating from it. How strange. Like everything in this place, I supposed.
I considered what to do now. I could keep going down the corridor, or enter the forest in search of something edible. I did however have four liters of water to carry now, so the best option seemed to go back to my ‘base’ and plan from there. Besides, I wanted to get back to the stone tablet. It had a peculiar draw to it. I wanted to read it, to understand it. And the settlement core was another mystery. What was its purpose?
Mind made up, I headed back. I could see my cliff from here, a little sideways from where the treeless corridor ended and met the cavern wall.
The way back took me longer. The spushes seemed to be more active now, and I had to go to greater lengths to avoid them. I also walked slower, trying to avoid the water at my belt sloshing around and making too much noise. Or, I tried walking slower, but could not at times refrain myself of skipping a step or two. My mood had improved drastically. The spushes had turned out to be a surmountable obstacle, and I had found water! It had left me refreshed, even energized, as if I had just pumped myself with coffee. I almost wanted to set out on a sprint and laugh at the slow creatures and their small stubby crabby legs.
Which if I really thought about it, was a very stupid idea. They weren’t really that slow, and there were a lot of them.
It was then that I noticed that I was being followed. By a spush. A big one, reaching perhaps waist height. It didn’t move when I stood still and looked back at it, but as soon as I started walking again it followed with its little disgusting waddling motion.
How could it even see where I was? I didn’t spot any eyes, or any other sensory organ. The only thing I knew they had apart from their spikes and legs was the enormous maw underneath.
Disturbed, I kept going, with my prickly tag-along. Would it follow me up the slope to the plateau? Into my cave?
I did my best keeping the distance to other spushes, but there was more of them now. And my spush stalker seemed to get increasingly closer. It didn’t stop anymore when I stopped, but kept slowly approaching me. I increased my pace, until I was almost running, and finally reached the base of the slope. Somehow, miraculously, no other spush had taken notice of me.
But I still had one stubborn fat spush closely behind. Tentatively, I jogged up the slope, but it continued its chase, further and further away from the green plains that were its home.
This would not do.
Midway up the ascent, I stopped. The spush was tenacious and did not seem intent on giving up. Even if I was faster than it, eventually it would catch up with me. And it wasn’t like there was anywhere to run up here. At most, if I continued I would find myself trapped with it in my cave.
I set the bottles, canteen, compass and bear spray on the ground. I did not want anything jingling from my belt. The nimbler I was for this, the better.
I could do this. Even after the tense walk and my jog here, I was feeling good. I did not know what was in that water, but it had left me energized. Additionally, my palm was as good as new, and even though my left forearm was still hurt and bound with now wet bandages, it should not hinder me much.
So there I was, standing with my makeshift spear in hand, in an unknown cavern that was bigger than any cave I had ever seen, ready to battle a creature that belonged in a horror movie.
With me not moving, it didn’t take long for the spush to close the distance. It stopped a few paces away from me, wary. I knew they were terrifying from my previous experience with them, but I had thought them to be more like herbivores. The spikes were for defence, and their maws had the purpose of eating the moss that seemed to compose the majority of their diet. Their previous attack on me more self-defense than anything else.
This one however did not give off that feeling at all. Somehow, it was observing me, studying me. I could not see any eyes, and yet it knew I was here, waiting for it, with nowhere to run.
It thought it was the predator, and I was the prey. But it was wrong. It might have an abundance of spikes that could leave me looking like swiss cheese, but I also had a sort of spike. And it was longer than those of the spush.
In history, spears, stakes, and all manner of long sharp objects were particularly useful at stopping cavalry charges. The own momentum of the animals would impale them, leading to their death. I would do the same with the spush: wait for it to charge forward, and then let it skewer itself on my spear.
At least, that was the grandiose plan in my head. Of course, plans rarely went as well in reality as they did in our minds.
The spush, choosing its moment, finally launched forward. It did not jump into the air at me, like the smaller ones had done, instead it just charged towards me with a sudden, almost surprising for a thing of that size, burst of speed. The spush was perhaps only as tall as my waist, but it’s small stature was deceiving. It was round, after all, and therefore had quite a lot more mass than me.
And with heaviness and speed came momentum. I held out the spear in front of me, as planned, but I had not really thought the entire thing through. The knife that I had so tightly attached to the durable stick held true during the moment of impact, and the spear entered the spush, getting stuck inside. And whilst this may have seemed like the ideal outcome, the spush was of course not dead yet, and even if it had been, what happened next would have been unavoidable. The momentum of the thing carried it inevitable forward, and along with it the spear that was now stuck inside.
Towards me. The butt of my own spear hit me in the stomach with a terrible strength, doubling me over. And so the spush kept running forward, with a spear inside of it and me hanging off at the other end.
Through the pain (I thought perhaps the spear was pressing against my kidneys) I held onto the spear for dear life. It was an awkward position, but it was definitely better to be almost skewered by a blunt wooden stick than to be certainly skewered by the dozens of sharp spikes half a meter from my face.
Eventually, of course, I fell off. The spush had slowed down, by virtue of the wound I had inflicted on it, or perhaps because it was simply tired of charging uphill against the proverbial carrot on a stick that it could never catch.
I scrambled to a standing position. It seemed exhausted, wobbling slightly. Additionally, I could see a thick yellow liquid oozing out from where the spear was lodged in between its spikes.
This was my chance. I dashed forward, or tried to, but my involuntary ride had left me quite wobbly as well. Still, it was enough. The spush didn’t seem to react in time and I grabbed the end of the spear.
This seemed to cause it pain, because it started thrashing about. But I gripped the spear tightly, holding my ground. I even tried jerking the stick left and right, to cause as much damage as possible.
It was a bit like holding a goat by its horns. If you didn’t, the goat could run-up from a distance and charge you with speed. But if you had a grip on its horns, it was mostly harmless.
And so I controlled the spush, avoiding getting too close to its spikes. It’s thrashing grew ever weaker and weaker, until after a while it just collapsed on the ground.
Cautiously, I observed it. It had stopped moving, and was eerily still now.
I gave the spear one last good jerk for good measure. Nothing happened.
Was it truly dead?
Then, something peculiar happened. A small mote of light, perhaps a quarter of the size of a fingernail, emerged from between its spikes. First lazily, and then with increasing speed, it flit towards me. Panicked, I tried evading it, but still it reached me. Then, it disappeared.
But suddenly I was sure of one thing. The spush was certainly, truly, dead.
It was dead, and I had killed it. I had killed it.
Me, with my spear, with my own hands.
I felt elated. Happy, strong, victorious. I had killed the spush, I had won, I was the survivor of this conflict.
Drunk with adrenaline and emotions that I did not know where they were coming from, I janked the spear out of the dead creature and walked towards the edge of the path that went up, and overlooked the terrain. Extending below me I could see the cavern, with its forest, with the mossy corridor dividing it and with the spushes walking about.
Sweaty, tired, but somehow full of energy I stood there. The world, the voice, could throw whatever it wanted at me. It could trap me here in this cavern, alone, separated from any other human. It could throw beasts and obstacles at me, it didn’t matter. I would persist.
I slowly raised my spear, the blade slick with yellow ichor, above my head. And then I yelled.
It was a stupid, primitive gesture, but it felt right. I yelled and yelled, until my throat felt coarse. I kept yelling, at the air, at the world, until I fell into a coughing fit.
Perhaps not the most manly ending, but I felt satisfied. The gesture had meaning for me.
What I did not expect however, was for the world to yell back. Or, well, ROAR back.
Because that is certainly what it was. A roar, deeper and much, much more powerful than whatever I had mustered.
Below me, in between the forests a big black feline was standing. Staring at me.
And then it started running towards the slope.