In a heavily-wooded area, not far from a swift-moving river the locals called the Gyors Veszedelem, there once existed a small village. In this village there lived a boy and a girl named Istvan and Agi, who had grown up beside one another as neighbors. As far as children went, they were decent enough, imperfectly kind-hearted and unintelligent in the way that children often are, but they were also very wicked for how their actions would visit misfortune upon their hamlet.
It was one morning that the children set out together into the woods to play and explore. There was something different about Agi that day, Istvan could tell, but, being a bit slow, he could not identify at first where the deviation lie.
“You’ve got a new ribbon!” he exclaimed.
Agi touched the ornament in her hair and grinned hugely that her friend had finally taken notice. “Isn’t it beautiful? I took it off Martuska while she wasn’t looking. She still hasn’t noticed that I have it. What do you think?” She danced along the path and spun around before him. The ribbon fluttered with crisp edges and expert stitching and a two-tone pattern that would’ve cost Martuska’s parents a relative fortune.
It was lovely on its own, but even Istvan could see that it didn’t go well at all with Agi’s frock, but he knew better than to say so.
“It’s very pretty on you,” he said. “Will you return it to Martuska, once you’ve grown tired of wearing it?”
“I think not! Martuska shouldn’t be the only one to have nice things. It isn’t fair!”
“Then I’ll not tell her you have it,” he promised.
The walked along farther, until they were walking along beside the Gyors Veszedelem.
“The river is agitated today,” Istvan observed. “It would be best if we steered clear of it.”
“Are you frightened?”
“No!” To prove so, he stepped nearer to its bank and found a twig to stab into its white-capped rapids. “See?”
“That doesn’t impress me. Look at this.” She stepped down beside him, removed one shoe, and submerged her foot.
The river was strong enough that it took hold of her immediately and tugged her sideways. She toppled into the mud and dirtied her dress, but the river released her just as quickly as it had grabbed hold, and she giggled for the thrill of it.
“Careful!” he warned her. “We should get back onto the path.”
They continued on farther and soon left the roar of the river behind, entering a rockier portion of the forest where there were fewer trees and a great many hiding places. Though they’d been warned away from this place many times they came to visit it again and again to play their games.
“We should have a game of Hide’n’Seek,” she spoke. “I’ll seek and you——”
“Shh,” he hushed her. “Do you hear that?”
Indeed, she did. It was a low grumble punctuated by higher-pitched sighs, and a noise like a blacksmith working the bellows. They sneaked towards it and were careful with their footing as they went over ground laid with entrapments such as snapping branches or a crinkly leaf. There was an indent into the forest floor and they came to peer over a rocky crest above it. When they looked, they saw that within the indent there was a sizable chimera mother with several of her pups surrounding her. Istvan gasped and Agi threw her hands over his mouth to silence him, though the chimera kept on bathing her children with her lion’s head’s tongue and seemed not to hear them.
Agi glared at Istvan and held a finger to her lips. He nodded.
Below them, the chimera pups bumbled around on shaky legs and practiced breathing fire by shooting small jets of flame at one another. Their mother ignored their play and continued washing them until they came toward her mewling and beseeching her with their many pairs of eyes from their many heads. The mother shook herself and stood, then bounded off into the forest in search of a boar to bring home for dinner.
“They’re very handsome,” Agi said of the chimera pups.
“They really are.”
“I should like to have one as a pet.”
“What? You can’t do that!”
“I can, and I will. Watch me!”
Istvan did watch, as Agi slid on her bottom down into the indent and approached the pups. They bristled at as she neared and hissed and spit at her. She was careful to avoid bites from their venomous snake heads and razor-sharp pecks from their hawk’s heads.
“I think I will choose this one,” she announced, and picked up the runt of the litter, who was too small and too weak to fight back against her. Then she climbed out of the indent again. “Let’s go, before the momma returns!”
They quickly retraced their steps back along the path. The chimera pup wriggled and writhed in Agi’s arms, but no matter how it tried it could not gain its freedom. The sound of the river approached.
“Let me hold it,” Istvan said. Agi placed the pup in his arms. “Where will we keep it?”
“There’s basket beneath the stairs in my house,” she answered. “It can sleep there.”
“But that isn’t fair! I’ll always have to come over to see it!”
“And what’s wrong with that?”
“I want it to live with me as well!”
They were right beside the Gyors Veszedelem.
“It’s my chimera,” Agi told him. “You should’ve gotten one for yourself if you were just going to cry about it.”
“I’m not crying!” He shoved her with his shoulder.
She shoved him back and set him off balance. The chimera pup used the opportunity to claw at the underside of Istvan’s chin and leave a cut there.
“Ow!” the boy cried, and released the pup as he fell.
The chimera tumbled down the river’s bank but could find no purchase before it met with the water. At once, the rapids pulled the pup away from the shore and it began to flounder, while desperately crying out to be saved. The children chased after it, trying to keep it in sight, all the while ducking beneath the scraggly, low-hanging branches of trees and brushing past prickly bushes which tore at their clothes. The pup was tossed to and fro within the rapids and its fur became matted and dark in the dirty water and its cries grew less and less with every passing second.
The children had no plan of how they would rescue it and soon saw that such a plan would be futile anyway, as the drowning pup was carried farther and farther away from them. Finally, it was carried out of sight completely.
“You dolt!” Agi punched him. “That was your fault!”
“Mine? You pushed me!”
“Neither one of us will have a pet now! Hey,” she said, “where’d my ribbon go?”
“You must’ve lost it while we were chasing the chimera.”
“Damn! I loved that ribbon!”
“Come on, let’s go back to the village. It probably fell in and got washed away as well.”
“You’re probably right. Damn! I really wanted that chimera as a pet!”
They returned home and thought no more about the drowned pup or its mother, who was just then returning to the den she shared with her children. She immediately noticed that one of them had gone missing and searched high and low all around for the missing pup. The next morning the chimera broadened her range and came up along the river to find two pairs of children’s footprints in the muddy bank, and the faint scent of her missing child. She followed the footprints as they ran parallel to the swift-moving river and then retreated up toward the path that led into the forest. She followed the path until she had arrived at the hamlet. She could no longer sense her child’s scent in the air, but she was sure this must be where her pup was being kept and she began stalking the small village’s perimeter.
Istvan and Agi woke that morning without a thought about the previous day’s adventure and each went down to their houses’ kitchens for breakfast. Each of their mothers warned them against venturing out that day.
“There’s a chimera roaming around outside the village. It appears deranged and has already tried to attack some of the men.”
Both Istvan and Agi felt a lead weight in the pit of their stomachs, but neither spoke a word of what they knew. Instead, they returned to their rooms after breakfast and sat beside their windows. Not only were their houses sat next to another, but their bedroom windows sat across from each other as well, and one child called across the gap to the other.
“Agi, what’re we going to do?” Istvan asked.
“Keep your mouth shut! You hear? Don’t speak a word!”
It was just then that the chimera mother came into the hamlet and began to shout, “Child! Child! Child!” Some of the men tried to drive her back with pitchforks and torches, but she had gone too deep into her grief to care and continued pressing forward anyway, shouting all the while. “Child! Child! Child! Give! Me!”
The chimera mother came closer and closer to the children’s houses, until she was directly in front of their pair of homes. It was then that she caught scent of her pup once again and she turned to face the two abodes. She could see the two children leaning out of the windows on the upstairs floors and she growled at them before screeching, “Child!” from her hawk’s head.
Istvan looked mournfully at Agi. She glared back at him. Then the boy disappeared from his window and the girl didn’t see him again until he had exited from his house and was approaching the chimera.
“You dolt!” Agi said through gritted teeth.
The chimera mother sat back on her haunches as Istvan approached. She gave the boy a very hard, menacing look indeed.
He scuffed the dirt with one foot.
“I’m sorry,” Istvan began by saying, “but it was me who took your child.”
“You dolt!” the girl repeated, but was glad that he’d left her out of it.
“And I must confess,” he said, straightening up and meeting the chimera’s glare, “that I tripped and fell while coming along the river and your child fell into the rapids, where it perished while I could do nothing. I am entirely at fault.”
There was a pause while the chimera digested this information. Her features softened as she mourned the loss of her child.
But, after a moment, they became firm again, as she struck out a scaly, taloned foot and slashed Istvan across the chest. From her vantage, Agi could tell the wound was irrevocably fatal and all the blood and warmth drained away from her body in just the same way as it was now draining away from her friend’s. The boy fell to the side and the chimera gripped him around the back of the neck with her lion’s mouth and began to shake furiously. Meanwhile, her snake’s head envenomed the body and her hawk’s head pecked away at the lifeless corpse.
Unease settled in the pit of the girl’s stomach.
The chimera roared and screeched and breathed flumes of flame which ignited the surrounding homes. “Another!” she cried. “There! Is! Another!”
Fear twisted through Agi’s belly as she pulled herself back inside her room. Her mind raced to understand how the creature could know that Istvan had not been alone in taking the pup. She looked down at herself and could almost see the chimera pup’s distinctive scent rising off her skin and clothes. At once, Agi drew herself a bath and scrubbed furiously at herself until red blooms had covered her body and everywhere her skin was tender to the touch. But she knew that even then that wasn’t enough.
Her mind also identified the shoes that she wore, with their particular pattern of tread, which no other girl in the village wore, as likely culprits which would give her away at the first opportunity. She saw no other option but to take a knife from the kitchen and begin slicing her toes off one by one, all so she could fit her feet into last year’s smaller pair of shoes.
As she was finishing her surgery her mother came to the bathroom door and told her, “The chimera demands that all the children present themselves and make marks with their feet in the dirt.”
Agi felt overjoyed with her foresight and told her mother that she would be right out. She squeezed her feet into the old pair of shoes. Even with her toes amputated it was tight fit, and she hadn’t had time to staunch the flow of blood. The shoes squelched as she stood up and marched out into the road where the chimera waited. All the rest of the village’s children were there already and some of them had already made their marks. She was the last one to join their ranks.
The chimera demanded that the children step forward one-by-one and press a foot into the dust at her feet. The fear in Agi’s belly twisted and turned and knotted up as she waited for the chimera to call her forth. Sour bile rose up the back of her throat and she grew light-headed as she worried she might vomit and pass out. But she retained consciousness until the creature called her forth and she stepped gingerly for the pain, and for the blood that now crept damningly from the shoe’s seams, to make her own mark in the dirt.
The chimera was not pleased. Agi was the last to go, but it was clear that whatever the creature hoped to see was not to be found in her footprint. Agi was overjoyed to see that her plan worked. The children were sent back to their homes once more.
But before she had gotten back inside her front door the chimera began crying out again, “Ribbon! Whose! Is! Ribbon!”, and a chill sweat broke out all across her body. The strength went from her legs. As soon as she had gotten back inside she went to the front window and collapsed against the pane. Through the glass she could see that the creature now held in its hawk’s beak the ribbon that had been in her hair the day before. The ribbon was muddy and slightly tattered, but still fully recognizable. The fear in Agi’s belly tightened into a ball of pain that nearly doubled her over.
She believed that there was nothing to stop the ribbon from tying to her back to the scene of the crime. Then she realized that her saving grace was that the ribbon was never hers in the first place and that no one but Istvan had known she was the last one to possess it. Relief rushed through her like a soothing draught and the knot in her belly loosened ever so slightly.
But it cinched back tight again when she saw, from a house not far down the road from her own, another girl being ushered forward toward the chimera by her parents. It was Martuska and she wept inconsolably as she was made to approach the creature and meet its hateful gaze.
Something whispered in Agi and she soon identified it as Istvan’s voice. He told her that she couldn’t allow the other girl to be punished for her sins. He pleaded with her to expose herself as the culprit and not to allow for anymore unnecessary bloodshed.
But she froze and watched helplessly as Martuska came nearer and nearer to the chimera to unwillingly claim ownership of the ribbon. The other girl tried to explain that she had lost the ribbon some days before and that she had nothing to do with the loss of the mother’s child, but it was clear that the chimera did not believe her. Martuska was struck down just as Istvan had been and her body was torn limb from limb and her blood washed like a red river through the street.
Agi saw all of this and she found the pain in her belly growing ever worse for the sight of it. She fainted not long after that and so was not to witness as the creature turned its rage and despair on the hamlet itself. It reduced nearly every building to sticks and stones and set fire to the debris. It killed whomever was inside. The village’s men did their best to defend against the chimera but even after being pierced hundreds of times with pitchforks and having its eyes nearly gouged from its head it still left as the day’s winner and retreated back to the indent in the forest to be with what remained of its litter.
Agi survived the destruction of her village, but she was never the same. The sour ball of pain in her belly was never to fade, not even after many years had passed, and it eventually turned to disease, which would take her life shortly before her thirty-fifth birthday. The chimera mother took her children deeper into the forest, far away from the Gyors Veszedelem. She died as well, long after her pups had grown, with the loss of her child never leaving her mind. The forest grew over where the hamlet had been and there’s no longer any sign of what had gone there before. If one were to try to find that place they would not be able to do so, which is for the best.
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