Qualified Entry: Fiction Category
By: M. L. Kinney
Outside, the bluster of a gray November sky poured over Milwaukee with a rain of such ferocity that most traffic on the freeway began to crawl to a near-stop; she was going to be late for class again. Professor “Hanging” Henry Langtry wasn’t going to like this, was not going to like this, at all: He’d given her stern warning for her tardiness on Monday, and here it was only Wednesday of the same week: Seems some people will never understand the time and effort required of oneself to primp, polish and perfume before ever even dare and take that very first step out the door. (Heaven forbid, too, anybody see through the “veneer” and catch a glimpse of her true beauty–a straight nose, lips furnished with but only a hint of a pout, and a smooth unblemished forehead from which full spirals of blond hair were pulled back, gathered into a loose pony tail at the back of her head.
Her eyes were large, quite blue, and it wasn’t until her car’s tires began to hydroplane–its steering wheel feeling in her panicked hands as if some ghost were sitting there beside her, grabbing hold of it, giving it a violent jolt to the left–that she at last managed to pry them from their reflection in the rear view mirror and take a look ahead…
A distinct feeling of falling from great height overwhelmed Leeza now, with all the stomach-churning panic one might experience after being tossed from the roof of a building. She saw above her the yellow-orange edges of thin clouds, scattered across the twilight of a slowly dying day–and felt, as her body went suddenly vertical, and she began to fall feet first; becoming more like that of a plunging spear now than of the wobbling shield she was like but only a moment or so ago. And as Leeza Azeel pierced the surface of what her dazed mind and a fleeting glimpse told her was a large body of tea-colored water, a frightful bubbling roar filled her ears. Her frenzied hands beat at the water with quick downward strokes, forcing her back to the surface where she at last felt her head emerge and the ripples of the water breaking over the flaring nostrils, stricken eyes and sputtering lips that now were the primary makeup of her face. And she sputtered and she gulped and cried in the water, struggling to keep her head above it, keep from drowning–at last managing to catch a breath, which instantly she expelled with a shriek… All color bled to black, and she became suddenly very comfortable.
From this state she was awakened, ages later, it seemed to her, by the annoying hum and flutter of insects’ wings entering, exiting and hovering all about her ears and her nose, and she blinked open her eyes: Above her hanged a bloated and glowing moon; at her feet she noticed lapped the waves of a giant lake, and that she lie upon its banks like some uprooted and withering weed–plucked from its depths and left to die on its shore. Her entire body was wracked with pain, but it was her arms–and especially the fronts of her biceps–which ached most as she managed to get to her feet and began to stumble around. She was in full possession of her senses now and quickly came to realize the muddied smears left over of hands on the upper sleeves of her jacket. She saw the deep impressions remaining in the stone-strewn mud, too, of a single pair of bare feet, big bare feet, and that they appeared as if to have hurried from out of the thick of the surrounding forest and come to rescue her from the water; she noted also their quick egress back along the same path and into the forest–and that the “forest” was no forest but was, instead, a dense and thriving jungle: Its air was sultry and thick, and her eyes burned with the salt of the sweat dripping into them from off her brow.
“God,” she panted, “God –what is this? God…where is this?”
“Where you ‘are’ is where you ‘is’,” a gruff voice suddenly, and in quite matter-of-fact, answered from somewhere amid the tangle of jungle surrounding her. “And where you ‘is’, is where you are.”
The jungle’s heat and humidity, its humidity and heat and seemingly impenetrable swarms of stinging, biting and buzzing insects were at her her ears, her eyes, her elbows and her pores. She heard a rustle in the near distance and then the sound of something hard and solid, as it whizzed through the air within inches of her head and struck the trunk of a nearby tree with a sharp report. Then the air filled with the thumping of a horse’s hooves running toward her, and she saw it, as it broke from the underbrush and onto the shore at full stride. On its back rode the near-naked figure of a young male of well-defined muscle, very pale skin and bouncing locks of thick red hair: She saw the dull blue of his eye gazing back into her own from through the crotch of a slingshot held steady in his hands, at the ready, and ran for the protection of the jungle–plunging into it, the horse and its determined rider closing in on her quickly from somewhere behind. She heard the distinct “twang” made of the slingshot’s cord upon its released of something being shot at her, and screamed, as it struck her in the ankle and sent her crashing to the ground, shrieking: “Get off me!… Get the Hell off of me,” as the ‘man-child’ leaped from the back of his halting horse and landed hard on her chest–knocking the wind out of her and leaving her to lie squirming beneath his weight, gasping for air, desperate to free a hand from his powerful grip and use it to scratch the glee-filled eyes from his pasty, grinning face.
She could only lie there, though, in the mud, on her back, marveling at the speed and absolute efficiency with which he moved to lash her wrists together with a frayed length of rope and then bend to kiss her full on the forehead with his thin, slobbering lips. She tried to turn away, turn her face from his, but his strength proved too much for her, and she very soon succumbed, her wrists aching with the burning pain of his rope cutting into them as her drew it tighter and tighter around them and then gave her a smile, a parting of the lips and baring of teeth that seemed almost predatory, and told her: “And where you be…is in the wrong place.”
He moved to stifle her screams with his hand, but then his eyes went white, rolling back into their sockets as if something unseen by her had slammed into his head from behind, knocking him suddenly senseless; and he collapsed to the ground beside her in a moaning, quivering heap.
“The males…Always the males,” a female voice muttered, and Leeza looked to see the near frying pan-size hooves of an obediently halting horse that now stood there, just beyond the soles of her water soaked and muddied ‘Oh, a-hundred-fifty and some-odd-dollar’ shoes. “Always the sons.”
Her skin was as pale as the horse’s coat was dark, the red-headed, wild-eyed woman who sat glaring at Leeza from on top its back. The veins and muscles bulged at her neck, her biceps and her forearms. The thigh length outfit of weathered animal hide she wore did little to conceal the heaving swell of her breasts or the well-defined tops of her legs beneath it: She did, in fact, look very much to be like that as of some sort of effeminate commando who wished nothing other but than to leap from her mount, onto Leeza, and strangle her dead with the cord of the slingshot held tight in her sinewy hand.
“Highwater’s ‘Highest’ finds beauty in the dried veins of a dead leaf,” she demanded. “He will not see you…. Stone her: Leave her to lie there and rot.”
A whiz through the air, and then the stunning crash of something hard into her head from behind, filled Leeza’s mind with a brilliant blue-white flash of something like that of lightning…