Something a little harsher. Mild violence warning. A short story about escapism.
This will likely be my last short story published here for a while. I have three incredible writing projects I’m so so excited about working on this year and between those and my day job- I don’t see myself having time for much more. But I hope you’ve enjoyed them. If you want more, please check out my short stories from previous months, and in the meantime, save a space on your bookshelf for my upcoming novel: Contest of Queens!
She closed her eyes.
A Griffin stood before her. The sleek feathered head, wings, and talons of an eagle merging seamlessly to the silky haunches and tail of a lion. It towered over her, head high. A Queen surveying her subject. The sunlight shone like gold on its fur, and shimmered across iridescent feathers. Its eyes held an ancient knowing of one who has understood their power for as long as a mountain has known its height.
Without thinking, she sunk into a deep, reverential bow. Pain bloomed down her left side as she bent forward. Her breath caught, she squeezed her eyes tight shut, and focused on the creature before her. She watched the breeze playfully ruffle feather and fur, watched the creature’s long tail flick ever so slightly. Minute adjustments and shifted posture gave life to this creature of legend. With every breath, the goddess became mortal.
The Griffin inclined its head slightly and clicked its beak. Hesitantly, she approached. Each step soundless, weightless. She slowly bridged the distance between them; its great eye watching her all the while. She was now close enough to count the barbs along individual feather vanes. Each snowy white feather crowned in soot black. A loaded quill awaiting parchment.
She raised a hand, the Griffin bowed its head, and she placed her palm against its cheek. Her nails were decidedly intact, her wrists purposefully unblemished. Tan on black on white. Eyes level, she saw the turn of the Earth within its iris, saw the depth of the night sky within its pupil. Gently, she stroked its cheek. The Griffin closed its eyes and made a contented sound deep in its throat. A dove’s coo harmonized with a kitten’s purr. She smiled, wincing only slightly as her lips pulled taut and cracked.
Her eyes slid down its neck to rest on the space between its wing joints. Again, the Griffin beckoned, shifting its head. She tentatively traced her palm down the line her eyes had drawn. Then, her body unnaturally light, lifted herself upward and settled in between the wing joints. She could almost feel the warmth against her thigh and the feathers slipping between her fingers as she sought a handhold among the rachides.
She inhaled. Warm notes of hay, chestnuts, and pine resin danced in her mind, fighting back the scent of mildew and gasoline.
A sudden metallic crash rang in her ears and resonated within her skull, rattling her bones.The screech of something monstrous. She buried her face in the Griffin’s neck. Her eyes squeezed shut. Through the reverberation, she could hear the gentle cooing echo in the creature’s throat. The soft sound drowned out the dying crash. Heavy footsteps followed, but had no place where they were headed.
Emboldened, she sat upright and applied the slightest pressure through her knees. As though awaiting this command, the Griffin tossed its majestic head, flicked its tail, and set off at a gallop. The approaching footsteps became the pounding of paw and talon.
Three great strides and the creature launched itself into the unknown.
The field slipped away from them as they rose higher towards the heavens. She was the fulcrum, and the world spun beneath her. All life now orbiting her place on the Griffin’s back. Air currents swirled around her, cooling her feverish brow. She stretched her arms to either side, embracing the light, and was almost able to ignore the dull ache spanning the length of her ribs.
She felt a bubble of laughter building in her chest. Light and playful it burst forth and danced around the clouded realm. The anticipated windswept laughter hit her ears with hollow dissonance. Losing its substance as it fell from her lips, the marrow sucked from a bone. A dry, rasping husk of joy.
Still she looked higher. Clouds enveloped and released them. They soared above meadows of mist. Fluffy white mountains and milky valleys stretched away below; all edged in a golden glow.
“Alright girly, get up,” a harsh voice scraped from coarse throat. Its notes flew at her. The words chased her as she spurred the Griffin forward. She glanced behind them, her breath caught in her throat as she glimpsed the sinuous shape emerging from the gathering clouds. Ruby eyes gleaming, scales glistening, it stalked her on the wind.
She bent low over the Griffin’s neck and urged the creature onwards. Great wings beating on either side of her, matching and masking the sharp, swift flashes of pain blossoming within her like fireworks.
The clouds darkened, billowing up to meet her. Shadows corrupted the valleys of light. A patch of sun remained high above her. She pleaded the Griffin higher. Arms outstretched, pain devoured her as she reached her fingers towards the sun.
Then her wrists were wrenched behind her. Manacles materialized and she felt the hard back of a chair along her spine. Her last patch of light snuffed out. Shadows rose up to consume them as down, down they fell. Wings became paper thin and useless. Hands and talons grasped at nothing. The Griffin screamed. Eagle cry blended with lion roar. The crashing of thunder merged with howling winds. The scream exploded in the void, echoing through the darkness, struggling for purchase in the abyss, growing softer and weaker, until finally, dying in a girl’s whimper.
Slowly, her eyes opened.
A man stood before her. She glared up at him through swollen eyelids. Breathing heavily through gritted teeth and cracked ribs, her vision swam. Blood smeared his knuckles. He dragged a forearm under his nose and spat near her foot. For a moment, she caught sight of the gleaming red eyes of a serpent. The inked beast twisted around his wrist.