Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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PULMONOSCORPIUS AT NIGHT


by Roy Dorman





   The old woman’s cave was across the savannah from Orthon’s village.  Crossing the savannah would be dangerous at anytime, day or night, but Orthon felt that he must make the trek before any more harm came to his people.  The old woman, Ageetha, had magic that could make life easier for Orthon’s village.  She had to be made to see that by withholding her gifts, his people were dying unnecessarily. Orthon’s own son had died yesterday and had only been three full moons old.  He hated the old woman.  He would force her to help them if it came to that.

Orthon left early in the morning, hoping to be at her cave by mid-afternoon and home again, with her, before nightfall.  During the day, the long-toothed tigers roamed the savannah and easily killed and ate anything they hunted.  At night the jackals and other scavengers mainly cleaned up after the big cats.  But these scavengers travelled in bands and would attack a lone man if they were hungry enough.

Armed with a spear, Orthon made it across the savannah without difficulty.  A few times, he had to circle around a pride of tigers that were feeding.  He stayed downwind of the cats whenever possible.

At the entrance to her cave, he stopped and yelled for the old woman.  “Ageetha, I have come to take you back to my village so that you may help my people.”

There was no reply from inside, but a rustling in the tall grass on both sides of the path caused Orthon to step back a bit to see what protection the old woman might have outside the cave.  Skittering out of the grass and onto the path came four giant scorpions.  They were easily two feet long and their stingers held the promise of painful death.

“Hold,” commanded the old woman stepping out of the cave.  The scorpions stopped where they were and even stepped back a bit to leave the path once more open to the cave.
“Come inside, loud villager,” said the old woman.  “We can talk about your concerns and my needs.”

Orthon cautiously walked past the scorpions.  They reared back on their back legs and clicked ominously at him.  Once inside, he saw that the room had at least a dozen of these same dealers in death. 

“Sit,” said Ageetha.  “I can tell you that my price for what you need, or think you need, remains the same.  Be grateful that your arrogance does not cause me to ask for more.  Yet.”

“My son died yesterday and your healing ways could have saved him if you had been in our caves with us,” said Orthon.  There was hatred in his voice.  The scorpions in the room reared back and in unison made a loud clicking noise.  Ageetha shushed them and they once again were quiet.  Quiet, but watchful.  Orthon thought for the first time that he should not have come alone.  Ageetha was all that was keeping the creatures at bay.  It was all he could do to keep from crying out when he felt one of them came to rest near his bare legs.

The four from the outside now stood as sentries at the cave’s entrance.  Out of the corner of his eye, he would sometimes see one or two creep ahead a little as if to be closer to him.  If he couldn’t convince the old woman to come back with him, he may have to leave without her and come up with a new plan.  Or he could kill her and run for his life.

Ageetha watched these thoughts play out across Orthon’s face and then completely surprised him by saying, “I will come with you and stay for the setting of four suns.  I will do what I can to ease the pain of your people.”

The walk back across the savannah was uneventful.  Ageetha insisted on walking in a straight line, even though it was near dark.  Any scavenging animals removed themselves from their path when they sensed who was coming.

Arriving at the three caves in the rocky formation that made up Orthon’s village, Ageetha strode into Orthon’s cave and set her staff in the corner by his sleeping space.  “I will sleep with you tonight,” she said.  “Your woman can sleep with another.”

The central fire outside of the three caves burned low as the night turned to pre-dawn.   Orthon awoke to complete silence.  Usually by now there was some activity in one or another of the caves as the younger ones awoke hungry.  Ageetha was lying next to him chanting something in a language he could not understand.  He remembered little from the night after Ageetha had taken off her furs and had forced him to have sex with her.  He again wondered if he would have to kill her. 
 
As his eyes were still becoming accustomed to the darkness, he heard a sound that caused his blood to run cold.  A rustling, clicking sound came from the corners of his cave.  He was lying on his back and on his chest one of the huge scorpions was staring into his eyes.  Looking to his left, he saw that scorpions were on the sleeping places of the others in his group.  Orthon realized the quietness of the village was because all of his people were dead.  The witch had killed them all.  Sensing his hatred, the scorpion on his chest reared back and clicked at him.

“You may come back and live with me as my slave, or you may die here.  You have but seconds to make your choice.”

Other scorpions now left Orthon’s dead villagers and came onto his sleeping space.  They almost completely covered his naked body.  With a scream of rage, Orthon chopped the old woman’s throat with his right hand as hard as he could.  As stingers went into his flesh, he prayed his hand had been able to exact his vengeance.



THE END


2014 Roy Dorman

Bio: Mr. Dorman has been a voracious reader for 60 years.  Since his retirement, he has also become a voracious writer and has poetry and flash fiction published recently in a number of online literary journals. His last Aphelion appearance was A Tangled Web in our September issue.

E-mail: Roy Dorman

 

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