Author : Helstrom
“Do you like them?”
The voice snapped me out of my concentration. Things reverberated in my head. I turned it right and saw nothing.
“Who said that?”
My eyes pivoted down and found a small girl looking up at me.
“Oh. Hello. What?”
“Do you like them?”
They were majestic creatures – hooves beating the compact earth as they galloped in circles, manes and tails flowing, teeth gripping steel bits.
She smiled: “I love them!”
That was a funny thing for a child to say and I bared my teeth as well: “Yes, fantastic aren’t they? All that muscle, all that spirit. Mind you it’s not often that they’re seen in groups like this. Let alone being ridden.”
“Really? We ride them all the time.”
“Then you have a braver heart than me, little girl.”
“Are you scared of them?”
She frowned: “But you said you liked them.”
“I can see the beauty in such a sublime hunter, little girl,” I tried to mimic her frown but botched it pretty badly and ended up looking at her through one squinted eye, “Have you ever seen them in the wild?”
“Neither have I. But I know the stories. They roam the forests for miles and miles, always alone – but one is quite enough. It will slip into the trees like a ghost when it finds you. It will stalk you for days, weeks, months if it must. It will always be there, always just out of sight. You will hear it though, maybe catch a glimpse every now and then. It does that on purpose. It wants you to know you’re being hunted. It wants you to be afraid. That’s what it feeds on. And that’s how it kills you in the end. It kills you with a final stroke when it lets you see it. All your nightmares, all the monsters you have ever thought could be hiding under your bed, all in one horrible form. The natives have a name for it: intoki. The fear in the dark.” I tried the frown again and nailed it this time, “I’m surprised you didn’t know that, actually.”
Silence hung between us. Something had changed. The little girl’s eyes had taken on a reddish hue and small amounts of water were pooling beneath them. She turned and ran off in a flutter of brightly-colored coat, shawl and rubber boots.
“Jeb, what did you do?”
Jim was walking up to me.
“Nothing. I think.”
“There’s something wrong with these intoki.”
“They’re not intoki.”
“In fact I think we’re not even on the right bloody planet.”
“Let’s get back to the ship.”
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