Flash Fiction – Celat, The Ranger

Time had claimed the slick features of youth, dragging the long lines of grief, anger, sadness, smiles, and laughter into a silvered hairline which melted into a calm, but wooly beard. Age had also claimed Celat’s urge for violence and revenge. Perhaps claim is too final. Soothe would be more accurate.

He still thought of the pigs. Of Elgon. The bodies. The screams. The tastes…odors…

But those thoughts weren’t as sharp now. They were easier to evade, and the act of dredging them up to mind didn’t spark an unquenchable urge for violence. Instead, Celat found new ways to help the wildlife of Enpelison, his homeland, the land he had protected for his entire life.

Stepping from his small hut, Celat inhaled the cold air of the forest’s wet pines. He was the local herbalist, vet, and hunter. Unable to keep up with prey, or train a bow on target any longer, he offered advice on the local fauna and stuck to gathering herbs, roots, buds, and other vegetation to keep his reagents stocked. His hut was several miles off the beaten path- hidden but not impossible to find and an essential stop for most anyone looking to venture deeper into Melias.

He smiled as he watched a herd of deer gently make their way through the pines to a hidden meadow a few dozen yards from where he lived. In the spring, if the timing and weather had been just right that year, the meadow would partially flood into a vernal pool. Being this close to nature…he loved it. Celat helped animals here. People. Himself. Without bloodshed. It was his first, and only, true home.

Locals would stop by looking for remedies, herbs for their own concoctions. Children would often bring Celat creatures they would find injured beside the road or in the forest, wounded by misadventure or cruelty. He would mend these little souls, and then send them back into the wilderness, much to any nearby child’s joy. These people didn’t know him here. Didn’t know what he did, what he was, or what his name meant. He was just a wise old man in a hut.

A drop of water hit the top of Celat’s head from the awning above. It was cold- it had hit a balding spot right at the crown of his skull. He rubbed it with his hand, smiling at this silly little situation. He jumped, startled by an animal’s scream from the road. He exploded into a sprint, his aged body protesting at every hinge. As difficult as it had become, (in his younger days, sprinting might as well have been walking) he had barely lost any of his speed. He rubbed an old medallion at his belt, comforted by its warmth.

Before he approached the noise, he slowed his pace to calm his heartbeat and breathing rate. Electric vein patterns burned bright shadows into his vision as his pounding heart pushed blood into every hidden inch of his body. His movements as breath, he disappeared into the underbrush and inched toward the disturbance, almost right in the middle of it all.

Celat spied three boys torturing a stray cat. The cat was lucky- they had just started their fun. A boy held the creature by the end of its tail (an act which is agony in itself for the feline) which another slapped at its face, laughing as the cat tried to claw his hands. The final boy had a small studded club. Celat had seen enough cruelty in his lifetime to know what was to happen next.

“Hold it still!” The boy with the club yelled, “I wanna good whack at ‘er!” The cat was pregnant. The game was to bust open her womb in the least amount of strikes and make her kittens spill out of her belly. “I wanna see those babies!” The boys screamed and laughed with rabid glee. The boy with the club raised his weapon.

A bolt of pain exploded from his wrist down into his shoulder as three fingers made of living stone bruised and crushed his delicate skin and flesh. The boy shrieked and looked at his friends’ faces, both of which paralyzed in horror, the cat released without thinking. The club wielding boy turned slowly, tears streaming from his cheeks.

Celat towered over the boy, his fingernails dug deep into the child’s skin, drawing a few drops of blood. His face was twisted with anger far beyond any the child had seen in a grown-up. Celat’s eyes wide, his brow furrowed, his mouth relaxed, even, but slightly turning into a scowl. His hood cast his features into shadows, the shine of his eyes almost like a animal’s against the moon.

He uttered, “flee.”

The two boys fled; the club wielder screamed in horror as Celat held him without difficulty. “LET ME GO! LET ME GO, PLEASE! LET ME-“ Celat released the boy as he jerked himself away, causing the boy to fly backwards. The club fell from his hand and slid to Celat’s feet. Sheer instinct shot his foot out, kicking the weapon deep into the woods. The child scrambled to his feet and began to run, looking back once at Celat, who was still standing there, staring to walk toward him.

He doubled his pace, his horror ignited anew. He dared not to turn back again, feeling the heat of Celat’s body bearing down on him, hearing the crash of his boots just inches behind him, his labored breathing. I’m gonna die, the little boy thought, I’m gonna die! I want my momma! Dadda! He turned around and closed his eyes, shrieking, waiting for Celat to finish him off. When he opened his eyes, there was no. Trace. Of his attacker. He had completely disappeared.

Sobbing, the child didn’t question his sudden good fortune and took off for home.

THE END

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