Through the weeping household stalked a small black cat—just past kittenhood, and more gamine than gangly. She darted past the skirts of a grieving wife as the woman buried her face in a... [+]
“Corbin?” A weak voice called. Corbin jumped, startled. “Yes, Mom?” He replied. His mother shifted a bit. “Hi, honey. How was school?”
“It was good,” he lied. She smiled. “Good. Now why don’t you go do your homework, ok, hon?”
She smiled again, her tired face lighting up for just a brief moment before she closed her eyes and went back to sleep. Corbin sat at the counter to do his homework, which he quickly finished. When it came time to fix the evening meal, he worked quickly, and dinner, a simple meat and noodle soup, was prepared in but an hour.
“Mom, I made you soup.”
Corbin crept up to her, offering a steaming bowl of the soup. She glanced at it dismissively. “I’m not hungry right now, but I’ll eat later, ok?”
Corbin’s heart sank. She was never hungry anymore. Her prominent ribs made this fact obvious, but if she didn’t feel up to eating, she would just throw it all back up if he tried to force her. Corbin left the bowl there anyway, hoping that the inviting smell would convince her somehow. He finished his own meal in silence, then got up to clean the kitchen.
The sun was already setting, so Corbin went up to his room to lie down for a while. Though he tried to hide it from his mom, he missed his father. A dragon had devoured him years ago, and Corbin and his mom had been left behind to fend for themselves.
Though he was tired, Corbin waited until it was completely dark, then slid out of bed, grabbing a gleaming sword from where it hung on the wall. Then he crept downstairs. All was quiet. Corbin peeked into the living room to make sure his mom was asleep, then snuck over to the door, easing it open and darting out. Glancing around, he turned towards the woods near his home. No one sane went in there after dark, as demons and beasts lurked there once the warmth of the sun disappeared, but Corbin strode right in, his sword held at the ready and his eyes surveying every inch of forest for suspicious activity.
Before long, he entered a clearing in the woods— a wide patch of torn-up land, barren of trees and plant life. There Corbin waited. Suddenly, a tree groaned, tipping over in the woodlands across the clearing. It’s here. Corbin could already see four luminous eyes glittering in the dark, could already hear the squeals of critters racing out of the way as something huge worked its way towards the clearing. Then, in an explosion of leaves and dirt, the monster arrived. Four clawed feet scraped across the ground as the beast approached, and two spiky, clubbed tails whipped around in the air. The monster glared, the spines lining its jaw and back bristling in fury. Its shoulders brushed the treetops it passed, and it opened its mouth in a roar, its pointed tongue and rows of sharp fangs glistening with saliva. It shook its horned, scaly head in anger, then sprang at Corbin. The fight had begun.
Corbin slid away, slashing at the beast’s ribs as it hurtled past him, and it grunted, turning its heavy, stocky body to face Corbin again as it lashed out with its claws. Corbin ducked, then delivered an uppercut to its paw. It shrieked, bringing its arm down to smash Corbin like a bug. Lightning fast, the boy darted out of the way, racing in to slash at the monster’s underbelly.
Fighting the monster had been a regular occurrence for the past six years. Where the monster had come from, Corbin didn’t know, but it had arrived when he was only ten, and had grown with every passing day. Slowly, it was becoming harder and harder to fend the demon off until morning.
The beast snapped at where Corbin’s head had been just a moment ago, and Corbin lunged out of the way, gasping for air. Then a huge, taloned paw drove itself into his ribs, and he went flying across the clearing, crashing into the ground and sending dirt flying. Corbin struggled to breathe as he tried to recover, and he choked back a pained sob. Everything hurt, and his head spun as he regained his bearings.
He was so tired of this. He fought the monster every night, without fail, over and over again. Was this all there was to life? Battling some beast that you just can’t defeat? Was it easier, he wondered, to just give up? Would it be better if Corbin just let the monster devour him, the same way one had eaten his dad? Corbin blinked away tears as he rose to his feet, and he shakily wiped something warm and wet from his mouth. Maybe it was time to accept his fate. Suddenly, a soft light lit up Corbin’s immediate surroundings, and he looked around to see a tiny golden orb of light hovering there beside him. “Don’t give up,” it whispered. “The world still needs you.”
“But I’m so tired...” Corbin protested.
“We will lend you our strength. You’ve done your best, now let us help you.”
Dozens of other lights, which Corbin recognized as fairies, slipped out of the bushes, gathering around him even as the beast stormed forth, only twenty feet away. “You can do it,” the soft voice assured. A warm feeling filled Corbin, and he looked up at the monster. He couldn’t give up. Not yet. There were people who still needed him.
A fiery energy he’d never felt before filled his weary limbs with newfound strength, and, though his body groaned in protest, Corbin sprang forward, letting loose a war cry as he brandished his sword. He was still terrified. His body still ached with pain. He still wanted to give up. But now he had the strength to press forward, to put up just one last fight. He would probably lose, he knew, but at least he would go out fighting. Maybe he could make his dad proud.
With a roar, he drove his sword into the monster’s leg, and the beast uttered a scream Corbin had never heard before. Without pause, he raced under its belly, swiveling to face its chest as the beast squealed in agony. Corbin thrust the sword up at its belly, grimacing in pain. The sword passed through the monster’s protective scales, and it threw its head back, wailing. Then it staggered back, its tails thrashing wildly as it arched its back in pain. “Now, the final blow,” the fairy whispered. “The end is near.”
Whether it was Corbin’s end or the monster’s, he was about to find out. He pushed his trembling legs to go as fast as they could as he sprang, shoving his sword into the beast’s heart. It reared back, its yellowed eyes opening wide in surprise, and its immense maw opened wider than Corbin had thought possible. Then a blood-curdling shriek filled the air, only to abruptly cut off as the demon froze where it stood. The light in its eyes dulled, and both the monster and the sword began to crumble away, little flakes of them blowing away in the wind as if they had been made from nothing more than dust. Once the last of it blew away, all fell silent. Corbin sank to his knees in shock.
He did it! A light, happy feeling filled his chest, and he inhaled deeply, the air suddenly delicious to him. Slowly, he rose to his feet, still stunned. He could hardly believe it! Looking up, he could see the warm, inviting light of dawn on its way, and he stared in amazement. Only last night, this place had held the promise of death, but now it seemed no more than a faded collection of bad memories, to be chased away by the light of day. Corbin paused as he turned to leave. “Thank you,” he croaked. He received no reply.
As Corbin made his way out of the woods, the sunlight hit the trees, and the red and orange leaves seemed to light on fire as a pack of dragonlings took flight, chirruping as the sun lit everything up with a golden color. To Corbin, it wasn’t just a breathtaking view. It was the promise of a new day.