Blood Offering: Autumnal Epitaph

Summary: Lycanthrope Rick Landon rediscovers a place of immense personal significance, a mystic vista of supermundane majesty. An intruder follows him there, resulting in an unexpected source of horror.

Rick Landon never returned to his private sanctuary after his transformation into a lycanthrope for a number of reasons, not the least of which was being forced to ignobly flee the country after his brother's near-death. He returned to the United States only after a period of renewal and reflection in Latin America, after establishing himself in a paradisical Central American country and its Caribbean climate. A distant gnawing, as of an insatiable hunger, compelled him to once more seek his sanctuary.

Rick Landon found the place once more with a far greater ease than he found it. His enhanced senses brought him up a hill untrodden by his feet in the better part of a decade. With an uncharacteristic solemnity, he meandered along the overgrown path as he moved towards the forked tree by the summit. Along the sojourn uphill, he noted the reddening leaves of autumn hanging from the tops of trees like blood from mortal wounds. He recognized the peculiar carvings and uncharacteristically purple stone by its base as the sole markers of its existence. With curiousity unsated, he stepped through like the accidental sufferings of his youth.

The sight bore far more beauty to Rick after he was deprived of its absence for years. He once more savored that mystic vista of supermundane majesty as he surveyed the horizon. He stood upon a shelf-like ledge upon the side a cliff at least the width of a continent, and at least as tall as the highest peaks of Earth. No terrene sun illuminated that fateful cliff, yet a gentle blue glow emanated from all hours from that sunless sky.

In that soft blue light, Rick beheld a distaff serenity unknown to any child of Earth on that distant world. Beyond the lip of purple stone was a distant waterfall, a roaring behemoth with the titanic proportions of the ledge's cliffface. While he possessed neither instrument nor scale in which to compare himself to that distant landmark or calculate any meaningful units of measurement, he heard the roar of that distant waterfall. Where water tumbled from an impossible high into the loamy gyre beneath, he heard a roaring as if of some great leviathan stirring in the depths below. The water vanished shortly thereafter, presumably draining to some unknown reservoir or ocean forever unplumbed by human science.

Between the cliff and waterfall were was a forest that Rick found true solace in, although he never walked or sought shelter beneath its boughs. The forest resembled a long tuft of orange, yellow, and red grass from atop his perch, until he examined it closer. While he was nescient of the photosynthetic properties of this world, the autumnal colors always brought to mind fond memories of his birthday and youthful Halloween adventures. As he beheld that expanse that stretched beyond his sight, he nearly lost himself in past pleasantries.

Rick was yanked back to the present by the distinctive racking of a shotgun. Instinctively diving to the side, he heard the report of the weapon a split second later as buckshot peppered where he stood a moment prior. He forced his body through the now-familiar contorted agony, remembering each step as it happened: his bones cracked and reformed with strong compositions than nature; his muscles and tendons congealed into shapes unfamiliar to human physiology, yet many times as strong; his lungs filled deeper than human anatomy would allow; his mind organized a keen intellect and sensory information orders of magnitude with an alacrity unmatched by human reflex; a hirsute coat of protective fur covered his face and torso; his eyes turned the gold of a falling leaf, allowing in spectra of light invisible to his human self; his nose broadened and extended itself, detecting odors he could not put into words; his teeth and nails became claws the size of carpenter's nails; and finally, his ears grew longer, opening accoustic vistas denied to naked humanity.

Rick darted to the side, bounding between jagged rocks in the instant between shots. He saw his foe before him, the adversary his instincts drove him to destroy. The young man stood in a black sweater, combat boots, and camoflauge-patterned pants, with a machete sheathed by his side and pump-action shotgun in his hands. The would-be hunter struggled to track Rex, aiming with the untrained reflexes of a novice. Weaving closer towards his target, the lycanthrope pounced as the young man brought the shotgun online.

Rick's talon swatted the muzzle of the weapon away in the second between the trigger pull and discharge, dismissing it like an insectile irritant. Ripping the weapon away, he tossed the weapon over the edge of the cliff. The youth used the distraction to slip from his grasp like a wet eel before drawing his machete. Despite standing near the exit from that surreal realm, he swung the weapon at Rick with wide, sweeping arcs.

Rick caught a glint of silver reflecting in the ambient light of that dimension, and he wondered which of his foes sent the novice hunter after him. Making note to repay the message in kind, he decided to end the fight and sate a peculiarly morbid bit of curiosity he always had. Feinting backwards to lure the aggressor forwards, he deftly dodged out of the unskilled attacker's slash. The man grunted in exhaustion as the irate lycanthrope rushed him.

Rick grabbed the man's hand and raked it with his talon, causing him to drop the silvered weapon with a cry of agony. As the adversary was still focused on his riven tendons, Rick hefted him with a single motion of lycanthropic celerity. With both feet removed from the ground, he dropped the hunter over his shoulder like a sack of garbage. Twisting his hips, he hurled his enemy over the side of the cliff.

Rick walked him fall as he became a mere speck before his vision. So great was the height of the superterrene cliff, that the young man accelerated to a terminal velocity beyond that of any terrestrial summit. With morbid fascination, he beheld the doomed man appraoch the forest near the floor of that Cyclopean valley. What he beheld caused even the transformed lycanthrope to leap backwards startled.

Rick saw the foliage he presumed was kilometers down extend floral appendages that uncoiled like fronds. Colored in the regal splender of late-autumn leaves, they reached towards the falling man and coiled around each of his limbs. His descent was arrested, but his body's volume shrank. Dissolved entrails sprayed like ichor around each of the arboreal tendrils, in a rancid baptismal feast of blood. The man screamed during the entire time, futilely thrashing as he was reduced to a boneless husk. His bodily fluids became an autumnal epitaph sprayed across the treetops of that infernal forest.

Rick did not behold the man's empty skin fall beneath the canopy below. Instead, he ran back through the portal he emerged from, sprinting as fast as his transformed legs would carry him. He returned ignobly to the world that birthed and raised him, his survival instincts driving him far from the purple boulders and forked tree at the top of the hill. Above him, he thought the reddened tips of the trees above him were a more sanguine tint than he remembered them. Dispelling such thoughts from his head as though scraping a palimpsest clean, he did not stop running until he reached the road below.