The First Strike of the Panther

Excerpt from the best-selling book “Dramatic Heroes: Stylized Accounts of Your Favorite Adventurers”

It was winter, and little nine-year-old Samantha Greer felt chill knives and silence, wrapped in a generous hood and cloak. Sam believed in the insulation and, more importantly, the vague empathy. No fabric gift, however, could totally counter the usual weather. A quick dirge came out as a whimper, swallowed by the atmosphere:
= I can’t dance. Hungry…
Ice had formed around the border of Sam’s hairline. The time of day was irrelevant against the grey foreground. Sam trudged on, mindlessly following a mysterious, winding path perhaps newly imagined by some trickster god. A malevolent muse. Whatever the most efficient path to cover the city was, Sam’s intuition came close.

Sam’s drifting brought encounters with some churches and wealthier establishments. Either out of detail or desperation, Sam would occasionally rap upon embellished doors.
The receiver of one aristocratic home gave Sam special pause:
- Look, kid, if I help you in particular, then I should do the same for all kids like you, right? I can’t afford that, so no. Shove off.
Emphatically reverberating the slam of the heavy, laden door, Sam looked down and considered. The heating activity from talking, regardless of the existence of listeners, was welcomed:
= There’s not that many of us… Quierris, Seaice, Shaice, Otiian, Marthyra, Fhairies, Hortumal, Magstina, Grakas, Coraga, Corthana, Adokul, Ricdak, Zinnacaryn, Gursaadi, Panster, Elendithas…
The list stopped with a choke at the name of an almost-friend whom Sam found frozen a few days ago: his meaningful, blue eyes were staring at one wall of the stone corner he thought of as home for those last few hours. At the time, Sam pried away the dead child’s unfinished fistful of precious bread, shut his eyes, disturbing the light frost built upon his inert face, and walked away from a corpse. Sam was then the living champion of rock-skipping, but there was no fanfare, just the quiet indifference of the ambient bleakness.
After sobbing over the acquaintance’s death, for the first time, at the ornate door, Sam turned away, uttering a juvenile curse. The intent and power was clear.

Whatever it meant to Sam, lumbering continued, the morning star eventually proclaiming the official onset of callous darkness. Every step crumbled some novel paragon of Sam’s resilience. At some horrible, dark hour, a tantalizing scent caught attention. For the destitute, the smell of food is a strange sensation: it is both familiarly attractive and also bizarrely new. Sam’s limbs found new power to propel the small starving system toward the source of the alluring sensation.

This miserable scene would be burned into Sam’s memory for all of time. A human child, younger than Sam, male, was picking at a full cooked chicken, probably discarded by a rich local family for petty reasons. To Sam and the new opponent, this trash was worth life itself. The epitomic environment solidified storms and liquified architecture with deplorance and apology; poignance became a tangible and infesting thing for that incredible, idiotic instant. Death hung in the air, stealing away any understanding of peace.

Sam was hungry; Sam was powerful; Sam was desperate. In a defining, swift motion, Sam marched toward the meager human boy, obeying an angry, apt passage. The boy stood and cowered, emaciated and sick. Sam did not care in the slightest. Sam was stronger. Sam snatched at the poor boy’s collar and wrenched his piddly weight in cruel directions. Sam’s expression was blank and fierce, seemingly possessed by the very concept of war. When the feeble competitor was pointed away, Sam lashed out with a tightened, talented fist.

The rival child landed in snow, terrified beyond all comprehension. He was afraid of the sudden murky presence, the new horror story. A ray of crimson connected the boy and Sam, gruesome blood from his mouth. He staggered to his tiny feet and scampered away, now truly fearful of old tall tales. Sam stalled, but instinct kicked in and the ragged victor descended upon the stolen feast. Within minutes it was nearly gone, and finally, once rationale could enter again, two teeth were found embedded in Sam’s weaponized hand.

There is a special kind of frantic emotion in animals that is rarely seen or noted in sapients. It is truly a spectacle, though, when it happens. Sam fully understood the particular feeling after that successful gorging: the bony lumps had worked their way along tendons all the way to the middle of the hand during the furious youngster’s meal. But they were real now, noticed, partially understood as alien. Sam panicked.

The word “desperation” does not totally serve here. Young Sam worked at the ugly opisthenar arena for hours, stabbing with rocks, gnawing with ironic jaws, sobbing the entire time. After agonising, bloody hours, the bits of bone gave way and fell to crimson pedestals in the snow. Sam’s cloak was soaked in blood and sweat and tears when the clumsy operation was done. Exhausted, Sam collapsed upon the plate holding the remains of the latest conquest.

Sam awoke to the typical din of the hours and also to a new kind of pain: spears and lightning strikes, originating from the knuckles that once housed a random kid’s skull bits. Without concept, Sam just slept in that sad corner with a trashed plate of grease, hoping to wait out the damage. After several more hours, the pain was completely debilitating: an inferno wound its way all throughout the vagabond’s structure. The inflicted child occasionally gathered the strength to lick the plate for treasured sustenance, but Sam could not muster the will to move. This dumb, conquered corner of urbanism was really Sam’s, forever.

Sleep filled the days. Sam ate snow for hydration and licked at whatever surface even suggested the possibility of nourishment. By day four, Sam was in complete delirium, still hunched in the captured corner. The infection in Sam’s hand had taken over with a disgusting green crust, and Sam’s eyes and face had a necrotic coloration. Any movement was torture; any speech was torment. Passersby sneered and looked away from Sam’s incoherent moaning; some threw trash or scraps toward the diseased thing on its multi-colored smear in the snow.

As dusk approached, Sam met a strange new feeling: the wet searing passed into the background, allowing an odd, meek relief to appear. Sam went quiet and sat up straight against the wall, eyes wide and forward. Colors in Sam’s vision became vibrant, shapes crackled at their edges, and sweet light was everywhere. Sam’s thoughts were dominated by looping madness, led by pleasant, grotesque guides. Something essential was ready to burst through Sam’s forehead and float away, finished with what it came here to do. No more heard Sam in cosmic language. The world began to disintegrate at the periphery but was suddenly blocked where Sam saw the familiar dark mountain of a figure. As close as it felt, the end did not come that day for Samantha Greer.


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