Qualified Entry: Fiction Category
By: Donna Kuust
Krik scrambled cautiously down the hazardous cliffside, knowing those who followed depended on him for a safe route. His small family and two friends were all that mattered in life and this journey was but the most recent of his attempts to help them survive in a place grown inhospitable.
He’d seen an abundance of food in the valley below, seen it from the mountain top they all called home. In his hungry dreams, he’d even smelled it. Only having to leave those who now followed him had kept him from seeking it before this. Now, with the home land spoiled by the waste of over habitation and the lack of food, no choice remained but to go, all together.
It was frightening to think of what hazards lay ahead. Everyone knew the valley was the home of ferocious giants. Krik knew that if they were spotted by one of those he’d have to save the others by sacrificing himself, and he was yet young enough that dieing was the most frightening thing in life.
Krik had seen the giants down below. His blood ran cold enough to make him shiver at thought of confronting one. They had two large eyes that could see in the dark, perhaps even better than his own, and mouths full of sharp teeth, longer than his toes. They were huge creatures, agile and fleet-footed, able to leap enormous distances.
One of the children bumped into Krik when he stopped to judge the best route around a large boulder on the path, and he turned to affectionately box the small nose. Bright, eager brown eyes gazed back at him with complete trust. Krik turned his attention back to the task at hand.
If they went to the dark side, they risked unseen pitfalls. Going to the light side, however, meant traveling along the cliff edge. His friend, Pek, being of rather large girth, might not find room that way.
After pushing against the obstruction, Krik knew they couldn’t go over it, for it moved and might go over the edge. “Why don’t we just go ahead and push it over,” Pek asked.
“And alert the giants below? No, Pek, we go dark side.”
Just as Krik started around, a squeal came from above. Re, Krik’s mate, screamed. Their youngest had climbed up on the boulder, which then teetered toward the cliff edge.
Fear for his son’s life gave Krik the strength to leap up, grab Tete’s leg, and jerk backward enough that the boulder rolled to a stop, flush against the cliff wall. When Tete was safely grounded again, they had no choice but to go around on the light side, risking a fall from the cliff edge.
A stern scolding settled the little ones down; convincing them this was not a game, nor an exciting adventure. Everyone skirted past the boulder, with Kip, a hunter like Krik, bringing up the rear. Pek sucked in his stomach, but even then his feet were half on and half over the edge. Still, he made it at last and soon all were safe, for the moment.
Several feet farther on, they came to a dead end. The only way to continue was to hang over the cliff edge and drop to a ledge below. Krik of course went first, swinging his body inward to assure his feet wouldn’t land on the edge. From there, he could grab onto each of the others to help them down. Pek, presenting the greatest challenge, came last because Krik knew if Pek fell the others wouldn’t try.
Even with Kip grasping Pek’s other leg, it was a close call. Pek landed with his upper half hanging over, upside-down. It was a miracle his back wasn’t broken.
This ledge turned out to be the front of a large cave in the cliffside and everyone agreed this would be a good place to take a rest. The little ones could run about for awhile and Re could calm her shattered nerves.
Krik sat down against the cave wall and let Re curl up next to him. The night was warm, so he knew her shivers were of fright. With soft nudges and caresses, he tried to soothe her, but could find no sincere words of reassurance to add. The plain simple truth was that danger still lay ahead.
Dawn must find them finished with the cliffside and into the valley, so the respite was necessarily short. They had to perform the ledge drop twice more before reaching the valley floor, but it became easier each time. Pek finally learned how to swing his body inward as he dropped and spent the next hour being proud of himself, much to everyone’s annoyance.
The soft, barren ground made running easy, but also left them exposed to any hunting giants. Krik urged everyone quickly from each meager hiding place to the next and cautioned all to keep utterly silent.
They came at last to a good place for a temporary home, if not permanent. Leaving Pek to watch the little ones and Re to set up housekeeping, Krik and Kip set off to hunt up some food.
Krik lucked onto a rich find and was standing there wondering how he could carry some of this abundance back to the others, when he felt eyes watching him. He whirled about and stared straight into the face of death. A giant lay crouched, ready to spring at him the instant he tried to leave the meager cover between them.
A scream of fear and pain from Kip’s direction made Krik drop the food in his arms. Glancing quickly about, he spied a small space through which he could run, safe from the giant, and hurried to Kip’s aid. There wasn’t much he could do against a giant, but he might at least be able to distract it so Kip could escape.
At the end of his tunnel, Krik skidded to a stop. He was too late. A giant lay out there, with Kip in his mouth. As Krik watched in horror, he witnessed Kip’s last death throes. Screams of fear from the family sent him hurrying back to them, with no time to mourn poor Kip.
The giant that had been watching him before had discovered the family, who had panicked and scattered. There was utter chaos, as everyone ran in all directions. Krik couldn’t seek Pek, but he did spot Re. Cornered with two of the little ones, she bravely dashed off, trying to distract the giant away from her children. It worked, but the other children were no so lucky.
Krik dashed from cover to cover and finally spotted them. Unable in their fear and panic to find a good place to hide, they’d followed instinct and just froze into immobility against a tree trunk. That might have worked, ordinarily, but Krik knew the giants didn’t rely only on whether their prey moved or not. They were smart and had keen senses of smell.
As another giant joined the first, there was nothing Krik could do. Life ended swiftly for those two of his children. He hurried back to find the others and try to get them into the tunnel that had kept him safe before. When he found Re, she had only one child with her, and tearfully told that Tete had run and been caught. He barely had them safe in the tunnel when Pek came running in, out of breath and wide-eyed with fear. Krik said, “We are all that’s left alive,” and Re burst into sobbing.
When Krik checked again, there were two giants at each end of the tunnel, screaming their frustration. Krik wanted to scream in frustration as well. His entire family, what was left of it, was firmly trapped.
Suddenly, a voice like that of a god shook the air. “What’s going on out here?!” The ground shook and one of the giants was lifted into the air and disappeared. Moments later, a bright light appeared at that end of the tunnel. “Oh, no! Honey, come quick! The gerbils have escaped again and the cats are going crazy. They’re behind the wall unit.”
“Damn! All right. Let’s get the cats into the laundry room and we’ll move the wall unit out enough to shoo the gerbils to one end or the other. Those darn kids probably neglected to clean the cage and feed them again.”
When the four survivors were safely back in their cage, the first voice said, “Here’s some food guys. I’ll clean your cage myself in the morning.”
Krik, Re, Pek, and the only surviving child, Kere, settled into their fouled nest. Being alive was more important than being clean, and being a little hungry was better than being someone’s dinner. Clearly, it was safer to rely on a promise of improved conditions in the nest than to chance the promised land below.