25. High Noon

Underneath his black veil Stanley grins. The ash rises about him, obscuring all the landscape, the treetops, the valleys; all is here, this moment and nothing more. Beyond his sight the abomination wails, its screams growing louder, closer. All is now, no future nor past, all time is this time.

An updraft washes the hunter in a cold breeze, the air singing as it passes over his drawn blade. The soft whistle dies, and a broad shadow rises before the last swordsman. He can feel the thud of its footfall, the weight of its very step, as its head ascends into the cloudy sky.

With a leap he drives his point forward, flying with his sword before him into that foggy, red mist. Growling, the wolf swats the sword away, its boney claws striking the steel with a loud clink. Carried onward, Stanley braces his shoulder, falling into the hairy mass. They join in a clash of leather and fur. Wobbling for a moment near that precipice, and then losing its footing, the wolf, with Stanley, falls, sliding down the ash covered hillside.

Breaking apart, the two powers roll away from each other, the moon dust gathering upon their persons. Standing, Stanley grasps his sword, pointing it at the various shadows veiled by the chaotic swirling storm of pollen. Everything is a gradation of red without form; nowhere can he see that abomination.

Behind him he hears an echoing howl, and turning carves a wild arc at the sound, swinging at nothing but air. Again the howl, again he cleaves, again it is but a phantom he’s struck. Closing his eyes, he shuts himself into darkness, and finds the rhythm of his heart, a pulse building in his chest, sending its waves even to his furthest extremities.

With the fall of its paw softened in the banks of pollen, the wolf upon all fours crawls step by step closer towards the last swordsman. Crouching even lower, the beast stops, preparing to pounce upon the pesky hunter.  Its great mutated muscles spring, and it flies with its open maw ready to snap and drive its curved fangs into the soft human flesh.

And as it were lightening, the hunter brings his sword between them, the steel puncturing the chest, driving through the monster’s sinews and organs, wetting itself on the viscous black blood. The momentum pulls the sword from Stanley’s hand as the giant body falls into the dust beside him.

The moon trees, their terrible pollen, send into the air, the ashy, red flakes descending like snow. Fallen into a bank of this precipitation, the wolf bleeds, a helpless whine emanating from its chest. Beside the creature, Stanley kneels, his fingers curling around the handle of his sword. Drawing the blade from the body, globs of its blood come pulsing out, a dark vomit congealing, mixing, into the dust of the earth.

As the steel comes free of its victim, the hunter rises, victoriously holding his weapon aloft. Upon him, the wetted sword drools, baptizing him in the werewolf’s blood. Overhead, the hard disk of the moon settles into its noon, and the storm abates, apologetic trickles of pollen here and there racing to the earth. All is awash in that fiery red heat, that radiating moon’s glow.

Stanley finds himself at the base of the hill, the slain abomination beside him half buried in the endless, red particles. Leaving the wheezing body to die, he marches up the slope, returning for his whetstone. Upon the peak he kicks the ankle deep dust around, searching for his lost grey brick.

From below, a few farmers gaze up to their rescuer, and waving their arms overhead make a loud call. Stanley sees them below, sneering at their small, little celebration of his victory. His gaze falls to the dust again, searching for his lost stone.

Behind the last swordsman, a large form, shadowless in the noon, limps toward him, the wounded werewolf preparing for its revenge.

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