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by Lauren Nevil 2 years ago in monster
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Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash


Mila’s arms started to shiver against the cold as the wind kicked up but she willed them to stop. Any moment now.

A twig snapped, and a white hare leaped from its hiding spot in a bush. Keem’s thin frame, bulked by layers of furs, sprinted after it. His peals of laughter echoed in the mountains as he chased their quarry.

Not yet.

The hare darted toward her.


Mila scrambled from her perch behind a trunk, yelling and waving her arms. The hare veered out of her way and right into a snare. A twang, and a loud yelp and their quarry was theirs. The siblings cheered their success. Mila told Keem to look away.

“But Daddy said I had to do it soon,” he whined.

Still, he turned around. Just like Keem. It’s all fun and games until you have to kill the thing. He covered his ears with his gloves, scrunched his eyes closed; his light tan nose peeked over the scarf wrapped around his face. Mila grasped the hare by the neck and gave it a quick twist. Her stomach turned. She still hadn’t gotten used to it. At least she didn’t have to clean or cook it. She put the hare in the sack and imagined the delicious stew her mother would make. Keem had a smaller bag tied to his waist that held the berries they had pilfered along the way.

“Okay Keem, it’s done,” she said. The temperature dipped and Mila’s body shook when the biting wind cut through her layers of fur. Keem whimpered. “I think it’s time to go home, what do you think?” Keem’s smile brought a sparkle to his eyes and a dimple under his cheekbone. Mila couldn’t help but grin too.

“Yeah! We’re gonna have some stew!”

“Yes, we are, kiddo.”

She ruffled his hat. Locks of curly dark brown hair spilled out from beneath it and framed his face. He giggled and reached for her hand. Mila grasped it as they set off for their farm. The sun approached the mountain’s peak; its harsh yellow rays faded to a soft orange that set the sky alight with rippling waves of purple and green with its descent.

“Do you think the hunters got the goblin?” Keem asked.

Mila stopped. “How do you even know about that?”

“Mommy and Daddy were talking about.”

“I don’t think we need to worry about that. Why would goblins care about farms?”

“But what if—”

“Keem, it’s fine. We’re almost home now so you can ask Mom about it later.”

“Okay,” Keem said, his voice low and glum.

Irritation prickled at Mila’s ears. They walked the rest of the hiking path to their pasture. Keem perked up and scanned the fields.

“Where’s Fang?” Keem asked.

“She’s probably getting fed. Dogs have dinner time too.”

“But she always comes when we get back. And I don’t see Claw either.”

Worry edged Keem’s voice and anxiety twisted Mila’s chest. He was right. By now, their shepherd would be bounding down from the farmhouse to greet them.

“Look, I’m sure it’s fine,” she said. “See the smoke coming from the chimney? It means they’re already cooking.”

An odd, bulbous column of thick black smoke billowed from the chimney. Maybe they were using a different wood? As they neared the angle to house changed and she realized the smoke didn’t come from the chimney. Mila stopped, and Keem took off running toward the house.

Something was wrong.


Her brother stopped and turned. “What?”

“Stay close.”


“I said stay close.”

Keem’s eyes welled and, though she couldn’t see his lips behind the cloth, Mila knew his lip would be pointed into a beak and quivering. He hung his head and trudged back. She snatched up his hand. Flames licked the air just over the edge of the farmhouse. Mila gulped and her heartbeat stumbled. Keem turned to say something but Mila shushed him. She led him through the pasture in silence. Keem scrunched his nose, tipped his head to look over the roof and saw the fire. He slowed his pace.

“Mommy?” he whispered, tears rolling down his cheeks.

At the farmhouse, they rounded the corner to the front where their wagon had been set ablaze. Mila saw the dismembered dogs before Keem did—she clamped a hand over Keem’s mouth to muffle his shriek. She whipped him around and kneeled to lean her forehead against his.

“Keem,” she whispered. “We have to find Mom and Dad, okay? I need you to be brave. Can you be brave?”

She asked herself as much as him. He stared at her with sodden, glassy eyes above his mask soaked through with snot. She picked him up and he buried his face in her coat, hands gripping tight to her sleeves, chest shaking as he stifled sobs. She swallowed the bile rising in her throat as she picked her way past their dead pets to the house. She dry-heaved, then pressed her hand against the back of his head. His grasp tightened. Thank the Gods Keem couldn’t immediately see what lay in front of her. Blood soaked the walls, seeped through the seams in the floor and her stomach threatened to wretch at the stench of death. The kitchen table lay on its side, half of it torn to splintered ruins. The iron stove burned with dying embers, and chairs sprawled in scattered pieces across the entire living space. Mila’s breath caught in her throat. Her father’s body lay in the center of the floor. His axe protruded from his chest and his arms bent in unnatural ways. His eyes bulged over his bearded jaw twisted off its hinges.

“What is it?” Keem tried to lift his head.

Mila pressed it back down and backed away as her breath shuddered and her legs wobbled. She steadied her wavering breath. Keem needed her now. Wide eyes darted in search of her mother, but found no sign of her. Mila backed out of the house. They needed to get to the castle. It was a short ride, but first they needed a horse. She kept her hand on Keem’s head his she snuck around the house. Her arms and back burned from carrying him for so long; she set him down. She put a finger to her lips

“But Daddy—” he whispered.

“Daddy is with the Gods, Keem. We have to get Mountain Breeze and go to the castle, okay?”

“Is Mommy—”

“I don’t know, maybe she found a good hiding spot. Remember when we play, we have to sneak to find Mommy?”

Keem nodded. He gripped her hand with both of his and they crept to the side of stables. Wet, pulpy crunching echoed off its inner walls, punctuated by a snap. A low rumble rolled down its hall, followed by a slash.

Something was eating their horse.

Mila inched toward the hay bale at the door when a hand clamped over her mouth. She panicked and thrashed her limbs—and her mother shushed her. Keem and Mila fell into their mother’s embrace. She bent down and motioned for them to stay quiet, then pointed to the woods beyond, toward the castle. She pressed her hands around Mila’s face, her dark eyes wide and frantic under locks of tightly wound curls. She kissed each child’s forehead. Relief flooded Mila’s cheeks as she took her mother’s hand and they slinked past the stables. Her mother snatched up a four-pronged pitchfork leaning against the wall. As they darted passed the smoldering husk of their wagon, an axle snapped, and the cart collapsed. Keem screeched. A roar came from the stable.

“RUN!” Mila’s mother pushed her ahead, picked up Keem, and took off sprinting.

Mila crawled over the fence and her mother hurdled it with Keem hooked in one arm. Mist choked the space between the trees of the forest and strangled the moonlight, pushing branches aside and hopping over roots. A crash of splintering wood and a guttural cry of rage emboldened Mila to look back as she ran. Backlit by the flaming house, a silhouette of a hulking creature stalked toward them, horns protruding from its head and limbs, and then vanished. Mila sighed with relief and slowed to catch her breath, only to be pulled onward by her mother.

“Don’t stop,” she said. “Not even for—”

The beast smashed through a tree and showered them with splintered wood. Mila scurried after her mother deeper into the trees. Branches scratched her face and whipped her arms. Her breath became ragged gasps, the cold burning the back of her throat. Finally, her mother stopped, panting, and set Keem down.


“Mommy, Daddy is—”

“I know, Keem. I know. Both you come, quickly.” She stooped to catch her breath and pressed her hand to her side. “Mila, you take Keem and go to the castle. Follow the moon, no matter what happens—” A growl rolled toward them from the mist. “You mustn’t stop. Hear me? Mila, Keem, protect each other.”

“Mommy, I don’t want to go.” Mila said.

“I know, baby, I don’t want you to go either.” Tears streaked her face.

“Mommy.” Keem grasped her skirt, his voice barely audible between the sobs. Leaves rustled as footsteps drew nearer. Their mother kissed them both on the head and gently plucked Keem’s fingers from her dress. She sobbed and gave his hand to Mila.

“Go,” she whispered, gripping the pitchfork with both hands. Keem reached for her, but Mila gripped him around the waist and pulled him away.

“I love you, Mommy,” Mila said as she turned away.

“I love you too, baby.”

“I don’t love you! Mommy, I don’t want to go! I want to stay with you! Mommy!” Keem screamed. “I don’t wanna go! Mommy no! I don’t love you, I don’t wanna go! I want to stay with you! MOMMY”

Mila cried. She sobbed as she turned her back on her mother and lifted Keem onto her shoulder kicking, screeching, pleading to go back to their ruined home. Their mother whirled on the shuddering trees and spat a curse at the beast. It responded in its own coarse language.

Mila ran.

“We fight. We bleed. We die. For glory!” her mother yelled. A clang of metal on metal rang in Mila’s ear. “For fami—” The whish and slash of a blade cut short her second cry. The goblin’s laugh ignited revulsions through Mila’s stomach and pinpricks along her spine. Keem screamed again and Mila kept running. He kept calling for their mother until he couldn’t breathe anymore, and instead coiled his tiny arms around Mila and sobbed. Mila’s legs faltered and she stumbled. She tripped on a branch and rolled to keep from crushing Keem. When they got up, she stood at the mouth of a cave. The trees shrouded the moon from there, but Mila thought they might be able to take shelter in the cave.

Keem followed Mila with a hollowed expression into the cave. It was dark, but at least they would know if anything was coming.

“Keem, we’re going to hide here until the sun comes up,” Mila whispered.

Keem didn’t reply. He looked like the soldiers her father had mentioned, after a battle. Guilt tightened her throat. She had to keep him safe.

She placed a hand against the side of the cave and used it to guide them deeper inside. The night’s bitter chill left her fingers numb, but the cave provided a respite, and her fingers tingled as the numbness faded. Her hand brushed against cold metal. She followed it up and found an unlit torch. A bit of luck. She reached into her pocket and found her flint. Dad never let them leave without it, and she liked making sparks anyway. She whispered a prayer of thanks to the Gods and pulled the torch down. A few sparks later and the flame washed the interior with a golden glow. Mila gingerly brought Keem’s hands up to the flame to warm them, and Mila peeled her hat off to let her own thick wavy locks fall to her shoulders. She leaned against the wall and slid down to sit. Wait. Why was there a torch in a cave she’d never seen or heard of? A piece of metal glinted on the floor. A plate of armor? A pauldron? She stood and scrutinized their surroundings. Necklaces of bones and teeth hung on the walls; mismatched pieces of armor littered the floor. A short dagger lay beneath a split metal shield. She picked it up and tested the blade against her nail. Still sharp. She handed it to Keem.

As she turned away and took stock once more, dread welled in her stomach. This wasn’t a home. It was a trophy room. She found a bolo with spikes on the three balls connected to a leather thong. She backed away from the grisly treasures and bumped into Keem. She thought about her father and—no. Get to the castle.

“Okay Keem, we’re warmed up now we have to—”

A whuffing breath and footsteps echoed in the cave. She turned to face the goblin. Its gargantuan frame filled doorway blocking the moonlight and just out of reach of the torch’s light, but its stench—like carrion rot and refuse—sent her stomach into revulsions. It dragged a wickedly curved sword on the floor, its blade half the monster’s height. It stepped into the torchlight revealing its leathery green skin, four-fingered hands with black talons, fangs hanging below its bottom lip, and spikes protruding from its rippling shoulder muscles. Two curved horns like a bull’s pointed forward from its forehead. Spittle oozed down its fangs and splattered on the floor. It regarded them with a deep furrowed brow. Its low growl vibrated in Mila’s chest. Keem screamed and rushed the goblin. It squinted and raised its sword.

“Keem, no!”

Mila hurled the bolo. The three balls whipped through the air and wrapped around the blade, yanking it just to the side, and dug into the goblin’s hand. Keem kept running and slashed at the goblin’s legs. The goblin screeched as the boy’s blade hacked through a tendon. Mila picked up the split shield and raced to get Keem as the goblin reached down. She slammed the jagged edge on its hand. It roared in furious pain. She grabbed Keem, darted between its legs and sprinted into the forest. The goblin whirled, bellowed, and charged. She twisted around and hurled the flaming torch. Lacking room to maneuver, it swung its giant sword, embedding its blade into the wall. The torch slammed into its nose. The goblin cried out and swiped at its face. Mila and Keem disappeared into the dark forest.

Through the thick canopy and Keem’s crying, Mila found the moon and ran along its path. Her lungs burned and she stumbled as her exhausted legs faltered. Keem couldn’t keep up anymore. She kept looking behind them, waiting for the goblin to leap out from behind a trunk or a rock or bush. Hobbled and hurt, they shambled to the main road. Mila plucked the sack of berries from Keem’s waist, gave him a handful and ate the rest as they walked

Mila’s eyelids drooped; her fear faded as did her energy. Everything ached. Keem hadn’t uttered a word. Orange light flickered behind the mist.

“We made it,” Mila said. Relief lifted her heart. The two loped to the guard posted by the bridge entry, calling for help.

“There’s a goblin!” Mila cried. The guard drew his sword and rushed to the children. Glittering dew dripped from the nose guard of his helm.


“In the forest, it—” Mila’s voice broke and her lips wavered.

“Hush child, you’re safe now.” The guard pulled a horn from his waist and blew a staccato signal. Across the moat, orders carried over the water and silhouettes of archers lined up on the battlements.

A primal roar rang out in the mist. The guard whirled in time to witness the goblin come crashing out from the trees, throwing its massive sword down in a two-handed strike, splitting the guard’s body in twain. Mila screamed. A soldier across the moat yelled an order. She picked up Keem as the goblin raised its sword above them. A hail of arrows pierced the mist as Mila ran, and Keem screamed in pain. An arrow stuck out of his back.

Mila screeched but kept running. The goblin shrieked its anguish amidst the thumps of arrows finding their marks. It slumped to its knees, muttering something in its halting, guttural language. Another volley silenced the beast and it feel to earth with a final breath.

Tears and snot streaked Mila’s face. Keem’s grip on her furs loosened.

“No! Keem, don’t you dare. Keem!” His arms fell limp. She made it to the gate, limping where an arrow had grazed her leg. The gates opened. “Keem, please, stay!” Mila pleaded, squeezing her brother close. Warm blood soaked her hands. Mila’s cries persisted as strong hands pried the boy from her grasp. She fell, scratching, biting, hitting, crying for her brother to return. A soldier’s cuff stunned her.

“Child! Stop fighting! He still draws breath and is being taken to a healer. Pray to the Goddess the sage can keep him with you.” The soldier’s breath misted, and he gripped her shoulders. She met his worried gaze. “Do you understand? Let us care for him.”

“Is it dead?” Mila asked. The soldier nodded. “I want to see it.”

“I don’t—”

“Take me to it,” she insisted. The soldier sighed and straightened.

“What is your name, girl?”

“Mila.” The soldier paused and considered her.

“Very well. I’ll take you to it.”

She accompanied the soldier across the bridge to the hulking corpse. Even then, dead and prone, Mila was scarcely taller than it was wide. Its body—riddled with arrows and mired in its own pool of blood—stank more than it did when it was alive. She circled around to its head and gripped one of its horns. Its eyes, still gold rimmed but cloudy, glared back at her. She knelt next to its long, pointed ear adorned with gold hoops and studded with jewels. She plucked one of them—a hoop with two spikes—and slipped it into the sack with the hare. Her eyes welled as she thought of Keem’s hand sliding off her shoulders. Of her father’s mangled corpse. Her mother’s battle cry that ended too soon. She had no tears left to cut through the grime and blood on her face. Her stomach rested empty of dread, her nerves frayed and numb. Hot rage bubbled in her ears and wound its way through her body to fill the void this creature had left within her.

“I will kill all of you.”


About the author

Lauren Nevil

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