Fantasy Horror Sad

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

TW: gun violence

Numan followed closely — but not too closely. He was the last of a dying race, and it behooved him not to take too keen an interest in any of his assignments. He was a kobold, a type of demon, which in this context means an ancient being that straddles the line between the mortal realm and the realm of eternal darkness.

The light turned from red to green, his target crossed the busy street, and he followed. The world was a noisy place. Sirens echoed between the skyscrapers, coming from everywhere and nowhere. People talked on their phones, crosswalks beeped, and street vendors shouted vying for the pocket change of the passing mob.

Her name was Ichato, and the way she walked disgusted Numan. Like all of the other humans, she limped from one fleshy nob to the other. Every moment was a crisis averted. A breath held as she managed to not fall over on her spindly legs and tiny ugly meat pads. Disaster perpetually loomed as she managed to throw her balance, stumbling from one step to the next. Ichato’s journey was especially harrowing. She was small for a human, and her meat stubs were especially tiny. 

Numan tugged on his coarse crocodilian cheeks. “This might just be my first failure,” he muttered to himself. It had been a long time since he spoke. The words seemed to lul in his mouth: sticky like peanut butter. He surveyed the street, both worried and hopeful that someone had heard. No one seemed to notice, or if they did, no one cared. He sighed in relief and disappointment.

The street was noisy and packed full of humans, shoulder to shoulder, each focused on their self-important lives. Numan was anxious to leave and annoyed he had to be in such close proximity to so many meat bags at once.

Suddenly, she disappeared into the sea of people. The top of her head was no longer visible in the crowd. Agitated, Numan pushed his way through the multitude to where he saw her last. People shouted in surprise as an unseen force shoved them. Hats and briefcases went flying. If he had a heart in his chest, it would have been racing. When he reached her, she was leaning over, speaking to an especially greasy, unkempt person who smelled amazingly wretched, even for a human.

“Here you are, Mr. Cole.” She handed him a small brown package wrapped in butcher’s paper. He held the package close to his nose, nearly touching his patchy gray beard, inhaling deeply, and profusely thanked the young woman. Ichato bade him good day and continued down the sidewalk.

For a moment, Numan’s curiosity got the better of him. He stayed and watched as the old homeless man opened the package. Inside were a couple of sandwiches, carefully made, crusts removed and cut on the diagonals. Beside them, a rainbow of vegetables was peeled and cut to be the same length as the sandwiches. The ancient kobold scowled at the food, trying to imagine what could have possessed Ichato to give such a thoughtfully created meal to someone she has no obligation to.

The young woman was halfway down the next block before Numan came to his senses. He ran to catch up, pushing people out of the way as he needed, shrieks and groceries tossed as he hurried.

Soon after, Ichato cut down an alley. Numan’s hairs stood on end. He could feel the danger approaching. He raced next to her and crept quietly as she continued on her journey. Numan never had a clear indication of where the danger came from, just that something bad was about to happen, and in his experience, a stroll down a dark alley, even in broad daylight, was never a good idea.

Ahead, a few youths clustered around a man in a button-up white shirt. He was clutching a satchel and nervously adjusting the glasses on his portly face.

“P-p-please. I don’t want any trouble,” the businessman stammered.

“Good plan, pig-man. We don’t want any trouble either. Just pay the tax, and you can be on your way.”

“Tax? Tax for what?”

“Why for using our lovely passageway… Call it a convenience fee.” One of the punks answered.

“Leave him alone!” Ichato screamed.

Surprised, the motley crew turned their attention from the current victim to a new and more attractive target. The businessman ran as fast as he could in the other direction. Numan wanted to run after the coward, to tear him to shreds for his disgusting behavior, but he didn’t have time. His assignment was in immediate danger.

Even people who believe in guardians don’t realize how difficult the job is. The subject must never be able to definitively know whether or not they were protected, or that the protector exists. The consequences of failure are clear and immediate.

Numan snarled, exposing row after row of silvery teeth. None of the humans could see the ferocious display, but a wave of fear overtook them all the same. A kid with a green mohawk pulled a knife from his pocket with one trembling hand.

Ichato took a step back when she saw the glinting steel. There was no place to run. “I’m not afraid of you.” She bravely placed her footing and stood her ground.

The mohawk took a step toward her and was knocked to the ground by wet bedding. Lines of laundry from the apartments above fell on the gang below with a heavy slap. Ichato was not about to waste the opportunity. She ran past the disoriented youth and didn’t stop until she reached the safety of the main road.

Numan surveyed the situation from above, still clutching the wall where he cut the laundry lines with his razor-sharp claws. A shadow caught his eye. His heart, or the blackened lump of flesh where his heart should be, sank. As the laundry fluttered to the ground, several rather heavy-looking stone gargoyles were revealed lining the roof of the building. “What a shame. That would have been so much more entertaining.”

Kobolds aren’t given some piece of magical paper when they’re called upon to perform their protection duties, it’s more of a feeling in their gut, some intrinsic, near irresistible need. That was exactly the feeling that pulled Numan, once again, toward Ichato.

“What is she thinking? She have a death wish or something?” He grunted in dissatisfaction as he bounded from roof-top to roof-top, but he was secretly happy.

When he caught up to her, Ichato was walking into a large brick building. Tiny chaotic half-sized humans were swarming, screaming, and slamming into each other like flame mosquitos from the third level of Lake Drazno. It was all Numan could do to avoid being run into by the denizens of this part-time larval prison. They were fierce-looking, but in no way seemed to pose any kind of threat. He imagined that he could easily decapitate any number of them before they reached Ichato.

Intrigued, he slinked around the building, peering into classroom after classroom until he found the source of his calling once more. An irritating bell screamed and the children streamed into their seats. Ichato stood at the front of the class with the bubbly warmth and infinite patience required of any kindergarten teacher.

“Who wants to do the calendar today?”

The entire class screamed in excitement.

“Hands please and thank you.”

The entire class raised their hands. A few children grunted, unable to contain so much jubilation in such tiny bodies.

“Thank you for following directions, Tommy. Please come up and put the day on the calendar.”

Numan watched from outside the window, captivated by Ichato. He had never seen one person show so much compassion for such an unruly bunch. It occurred to him that it had been a long time since he felt anything more than thinly veiled contempt for anyone, or anything.

He began to question his feelings. “Maybe I’m wrong, she should be safe here. Nothing to fear.” The ancient demon hoped he was wrong. Numan kept a vigilant watch through snack and lunch. He nervously surveyed the playground through recess and inspected each cot during nap time.

Just as he was about to relax it happened. The sound was almost muffled by the children’s laughter. Something at the edge of Ichato’s hearing gave her pause. A firecracker in the school? Did someone throw a cherry bomb down the toilet again? There it was again, and again, and again.

“Children! In the corner, Active Shooter Drill,” Ichato ordered. There was a cracking fear in her voice that confused the children. Little Henry and Marie were still chatting over paste, in a world of their own. With a strength she didn’t know she possessed, Ichato grabbed both of them and dropped them in the safest corner of the classroom.

She knew she had to get to the door, she had to lock it to prevent their attacker from getting in, from killing all of her children. She turned to run for the door — it was too late.

The man came in, assault rifle in hand, clip after clip of ammunition strapped to a bandoleer slung tight over a red, white, and blue bullet-proof vest. 

Without thought for her own well-being, Ichato placed herself between him and the children, she dropped to her knees and wrapped her arms around as many of the children as she could, making a shield out of her own body.

The sickening sound of hot lead pounding into flesh rang out like a percussionist keeping beat to a chorus of screams. Flashes of light and puffs of smoke filled the room. Round after round of spent shells chinked and bounced on the tile floor.

The shooter knew the sound well. He wanted to stay and bask in his handiwork, but there were other classrooms to visit. He ejected the magazine onto the floor, turned, and inserted another full clip as he walked out the door.

Numan dropped to the floor. He had taken a bullet or two in his time. He could shake off the occasional stabbing or dog bite. The demon did not regret his actions, only his inability to do more. He didn’t know where he would go after he died, or if he would exist at all, but he hoped — whatever happened — that he would no longer be alone.

“Shush children, shhh,” she whispered, “We need to be quiet.” Ichato ran to the door and silently closed and locked it. Her mind raced as she examined each one of the children. “How is this possible —” Her eyes fell on the scattered shells, still hot on the floor. Directly between the door and the children was a pile of bullets where Numan had taken his final breath. 

Ichato gasped in amazement. She closed her eyes and prayed aloud, “Please let the other children be safe.” But even guardians have their limits.

July 01, 2022 16:41

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