“The Hatchling”

This is the short story that won Hawk the Write To Win Contest. Enjoy!

It looked like a fruit bat had mated with an iguana. The flat, bumpy skin and long barbed tail were only the background for the huge wings, fangs, and large obsidian eyes.

“I think it’s cute!” Mallory gushed. She moved toward it, but stopped short when it unfurled its leathery wings and growled ferociously at her, baring all its sharp, pointy baby teeth. The old bird cage where we’d hidden the egg teetered atop a barrel in the back corner of the barn. Instinctively, I backed away from the wobbling tower. The creature licked at the slimy shell pieces in its cage.

“It’s a hungry baby gargoyle, Mallory. There’s nothing cute about it. And what do you think it wants to eat? You!” She backed away from the hatchling.

“Good thing its caged, right Marcus? What should we call him?” Mallory’s eyes sparkled with maternal instinct.

“Gone. Let’s get rid of it.”

“No! I’m going to call him Fenris.”

“Don’t name it. You’ll just cry harder when I kill it.”

“Marcus!”

“It’s dangerous!”

“He’s just a baby!”

“You want it to grow up? It has to eat to grow. I think he likes you. He’d love to have you for dinner.”

“Stop it!”

“Oh I will. Right now.” I turned to grab the axe hanging from a peg on the wall.

“Marcus, no!”

“You don’t have to watch.”

“You can’t!”

“Can’t I?”

Mallory stepped between the cage and my determined advance. “Move!” I directed her, gesturing with the axe which way to go.

“No!” Her eyes began to tear up, the corners of her mouth twitched. “We can keep him. We can feed him rabbits of something. Don’t kill him. Please, Marcus? We don’t even know if he eats people. We can teach him to be good. Please?”

She was rambling, buying time, but she had a point. We didn’t know what it ate. Besides, I couldn’t kill it with her around. “Fine. I’ll go check the snares, but you milk Daisy. Stay away from that thing.” Mallory smiled and sidestepped, curtsying and bowing her head like I was a noble and she was a servant.

The sun was just beginning to rise on the horizon. I found two snares empty. The third held a hedgehog. That’ll have to do. I released it and carried its spiny stiff body back to the makeshift hatchery.

“A hedgehog!?” Mallory’s nose wrinkled in disapproval.

“That’s all there was. I don’t think he’ll mind.”

“I mind! And I think he does so mind!” She pointed at the cage. I turned to look at exactly the right moment.

The spring sun’s rays lit right across the cage where the little guy sat up on his haunches. His expression was one of interest and his tongue lolled out hungrily like a dog, his clawed hands gripping the bars of the cage firmly. Then he froze. His color turned from a purple to gray and his eyes glazed over.

“Whoa!” I gasped and moved closer to his still form. “I don’t think he minds at all!” I chuckled in amusement.

“Did he just..? Marcus? Is he stone?!” We stared for a moment, then Mallory’s face lit up.

“See? He’ll be real easy to keep! We can gather food for him all day and at night he can eat it! He’ll be easy to hide, just cover him up with something!”

“Mallory, wait. Let’s think this through.”

“I know it sounds odd, but Marcus, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity!”

She had a point. I’d wager no one else in the history of the kingdom had ever raised a gargoyle. My pride rose above the urge to kill him.

Over the next month, we spent from dusk until about midnight in the barn with Fenris. His growth was rapid, yet he grew just as quickly in intelligence. He was talking in short sentences in a few weeks/ he only had to be told something once to remember it, words or warnings. By the end of his second month we went hunting together for small game.

As Fenris grew, so did his appetite. He began tracking foxes, then a couple months later, wild boar. Our hunting area grew many furlongs out from the farm. At times I worried I was hindering him. He traveled far faster than I, having wonderful night vision.

One late summer night when he was about five months old and as large as I was, we were tracking a herd of deer. Fenris suddenly tensed; his nose sniffing the air off to our left, his pointy ears turned to catch the faintest sound. Then suddenly he leaped over my head and left me standing alone in the forest.

”Fenris!” I hissed so as not startle the herd, knowing his hearing was acute enough to hear me. “Stop playing games!”

He enjoyed darting off into the woods and sneaking up on me, gloating in the ability to do so. I sat tiredly down, knowing that if I just waited, he’d get bored and come back to me. He preferred it when I tried to find him, or at least attempted to hide. The old hunting games we’d played as training only a couple months before, he’d mastered.

I listened for his return for a long time. The herd had probably moved on by now. Still I waited, my eyelids drooping. Finally, I heard a twig snap and turned toward the sound. Two yellow eyes and a long furry muzzle with bared teeth growled at me. It was in the brush not a stone’s throw from where I sat. My heart raced, fear gripped me. I reached for my knife, and the wolf leaped. I rolled out of the way, yelling, my knife still sheathed. He clipped my leg with his claws, scratching deeply. I braced for another swipe of his huge paws. He gathered himself for another strike, raising his body up almost on his hind legs.

Just then something tackled the mass of grey fur in mid-air. I heard a yelp and a snarl, then before I knew what happened, Fenris rose and grinned proudly back at me. He’d saved my life! In that moment, I saw him truly as he was, not as my dependent, but as my equal.

“Where’s Fenris?” Mallory asked early one autumn evening. I looked into the sky in the distance, where I had last seen our maturing friend as a shrinking shadow in the darkness.

“Hunting,” I replied, masking my disappointment and worry from her.

“Alone?” she asked, concerned for his safety.

“There’s not much in the woods that poses a threat to him now.” We stood in silence, staring into the glowing, inky blackness. The moon was new this night, but I knew it would not trouble the gargoyle and his magical sight.

“He doesn’t really need us anymore does he?” she finally said. I could sense the tears in her eyes the darkness hid.

“I don’t know,” I whispered.

“He’s changed,” she said softly. I had noticed it too. “He’s quieter. I see him sometimes, staring into the distance. I asked him about it.”

“What did he say?”

“That sometimes he feels lonely.”

“Come on little sister,” I said, putting a comforting arm around her shoulders and guiding her back to the farm house. “It’s getting cold out here. At least tonight we can get some extra sleep.”

Mallory and I tried not to let it show how much it hurt us. Even though all parents spend time teaching their children skills they need to survive, all parents also do their best to delay that day when their children finally put them to the test. For Fenris, that day had come and gone.

“I want to learn if there are any more of my kind out there,” he explained one chilly evening.

“Fenris, we are certain you are the only one.” He turned his back on my words. “You’re talking of traveling to places with unknown dangers! Are you sure about this?” He nodded and gazed longingly and sadly into my eyes. It was hard to believe he was already an adult in size and intelligence when only eight months ago he was small enough to carry around.

We couldn’t keep him here, feeling miserable and alone. The time had come for him to leave us. I steeled myself, hoisted my chin up, and spoke to him as a parent sending off a child. “We are so proud of you Fenris! You have grown up so quickly, and yet you have a wisdom far beyond your age. If you are ready, then we must let you go.”

“I believe I am ready, Marcus.” His voice was a deep bass already. His eyes sparkled with relief and happiness. Mallory let out a choked sob and ran to hug him. Then he stretched his wings. In one powerful leap, he was airborne.

And so, we let him go, waving goodbye from our lowly positions on Earth. He flew off toward the moon, his dark silhouette against the pale circle forever etched into our memories.

 

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