Strange Short #2: Boarding the Beard
Thedune stood upon the broken ground of the Havocked Valley and looked over the heaps of stones that lay strewn upon the slopes to either side of him.
They're boulders yet they look like pebbles tossed by a child in some game.
He couldn't imagine how many of those same rocks had been pounded into dust beneath him by the feet of the Walker, the great giant who paced the world. He looked down the valley, the trampled path made by the giant's footsteps, and into the hazy distance. The heat. The clouds that settled in the valley's heart - they both made it difficult to see, but he knew he'd be feeling the giant's approach long before he saw him. He just hoped it was soon.
The last report he heard from the Grey Apostles who came to pray near the forest was that the Walker had just passed Gourdina, a city only a couple hundred miles North of the White Forest, the place Thedune called his home... for now. At least until he hopped aboard the giant's beard and began his journey across the world and onto places more interesting than the doldrums of the trees and the forest creatures.
He looked South, in the direction the Walker would be heading.
Out there was the Dam of Ruin, the silver city of Camall, the Metal Mountains... places he had only heard about in stories, but places he would see if he could just somehow climb aboard the Walker's facial hair, the moving river of it that grew so long that it dragged upon the ground and picked up anything loose that happened to be in its way in the Havocked Valley. Hell, the beard itself would be a place of wonder. Rumor had it that entire cities had been built within the dark tangles of his hair as bastions for weary travelers just like himself.
The thought made him sweat with excitement.
And as he stood there admiring either side of the giant's path he felt the first footfall. Nothing but a tremble in the ground.
Until it sounded again.
Until over and over it fell, growing louder with each strike.
Brrrooom. Brrrooom. Brrrooom.
The great shape materialized in the haze, an impossible shadow springing up from the ground like the work of a dark geyser.
Thedune's heart hammered in his chest. This was it. Finally he'd see the Walker as he was meant to be seen - beneath his feet like a zealot would pray to a god, not from the far away view he had from the forest.
Suddenly a foot that seemed the size of the sun parted the clouds and set down on the Havocked Valley. The ground cracked and stones rattled. And yard by yard the curtain of mist slipped away and revealed the whole of the Walker in all its size.
The giant's face was hidden high in the sky, masked by another layer of clouds. He was naked save for the long scarf of beard that grew down his sun-beaten torso, over the between of his legs, and onto the ground. His leg muscles rippled and slapped like whip cracks- it seemed every fiber of his body was defined in its gargantuan stature, as if someone had handed Thedune a magnifying glass to examine the hidden avenues that ran over a body.
Thedune stood breathless, his heart throbbing, exerting such adrenaline that the rest of him was frozen by it. For so long he had watched the Walker pace its path from a distance, admiring the way it covered miles in two strides, reveling in the mastery of the gods to construct such a specimen, but here he was now, beneath his footfall, an ant caught beneath the path of a greater being too big to even understand its existence.
The hooks, you fool!
The voice in his head snapped him from his trance. He removed the two hooks from his pack, the ones made from the antlers of the waydeer that roamed the forest, and lined up a matted strand of hair dusting the ground.
"Don't get distracted." He remembered the wisdom of the old hunter who he had met at a camp site years ago. A man who had spent 5 years amongst the Walker himself. The one who had put the crazy idea into Thedune's head in the first place. ”The key is to find one of its locks and just concentrate on getting on it. There are hundreds of hairs and millions of moving things kicking up from its footfall, and one moment of indecisiveness and you'll be flatter than the world itself. But if you don't waiver and don't lose your resolve, you'll get on him, and then you're set."
"Set how?" Thedune remembered asking.
The old hunter had laughed. "Set to walk away from the ordinary forever."
Away from the ordinary forever... No more logging. No more daily hunts for hares and splash birds. No more checking the ropes of the bridges that took his people over the waterways again and again. Thedune liked the sound of that. Ever since then he had been plotting his escape.
And now it was here. Approaching him at alarming, terrifying speed. Threatening to end his life or change it forever. He clenched the hooks tighter and bared his teeth.
He had waited too long for this opportunity. He had sacrificed too much. His life wouldn't stop here. It would be begin.
He narrowed his focus on the one strand coming closer, swishing like a tree caught in a wind, and attempted to block out the rocks snapping beside him and the thousands of others strands of hair seeming to promise him better odds, safer outcomes.
The Walker's right foot slammed down only feet away from him, sending entire boulders into the air. He ducked as one cleared his heads by mere feet, but he would not remove his eyes from the one hair in his beard he had singled out. Pebbles raked Thedune's face. The strong smell of the giant's odor enveloped him, a reek of sweat and unwashed body, a stench he was told would eventually be as nonintrusive as the scent of the pine trees in the morning once had gotten used to it. It was so strong that it made him dizzy. But he tried to push the sense aside. The beard was only yards away now.
He could see the fabric of it now. A substance that almost looked like cotton. Puffy. Stringy and soft in appearance. Yet he knew if he should miss with his hooks or fumble his steps it would smash him into the ground where he would become nothing more than another piece of the Havocked Valley floor.
It was feet away now.
There was no more time to think or observe. He fell directly beneath the shadow of the great beard. Other clumps of hair passed by him, but he dared not try for them. The lone lock he had eyed slithered to him in its immensity. He brought down his hooks and lifted his feet. The weight of the matted hair met his chest, pushing the wind out of him and forcing one hand free from his hold on the hook.
He dangled inches above the Havocked Valley, his legs wrapped around the hair, stones and dust spitting up at him like the venom of a serpent attempting to shoot him down from his perch. With all his might he reached and found the hook's hold again. For seconds he hung there, catching his breath, trying to work up the courage to move. When he finally did, he tore away the fabric of the Walker's beard with each pull of his hook, most likely an insubstantial feeling amongst the tremendous nerves that lined the Walker's body. And little by little he put the distance between himself and the floor of the Havocked Valley, between himself and his previous life.
Sometime later, perhaps minutes, perhaps hours, he scurried to the top of a hill of matted hair, his arms shaking with exhaustion, sweat drizzling off him in hot streams of stress, his mind swimming with the Walker's stench and from the ordeal of the climb. There he sat and gazed back at the world he had left behind.
The forest was nothing but a green scrap amidst the maw of the horizon where clouds hung like teeth inside an ethereal, red jaw of sky and the sun lashed its rays like a pronged tongue ready to swallow everything and anything before it.
He didn't move again until the curves in the valley blocked the view of the forest he once called his home completely, and the darkness of night closed the mouth of the purview, consuming the ordinary from his life for good.