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Coyote finds himself in a horrible place. Not super gory, but there are some squicky descriptions and blood. You’ve been warned. Entry for the Scary Story category for the GH2020 at DracoStryx.
The world swayed back and forth gently, like the shifting sands of the desert dunes when the strong winds reconfigured their patterns. Except, instead of the grit and sting of flying grains there was nothing. Only cold air.
Weird. The desert wasn’t usually this cold, not even the winter nights had this much bite to them.
Coyote twisted his head. His eyes fluttered open. He squinted. What was that below him? It wasn’t the burnt orange and golden sand of his normal habitat. It wasn’t organic at all. The longer he stared, the more it looked like a metal grate with a drain system underneath it.
He blinked. His head pounded.
Slowly, he craned his head towards his chest. With each passing second, his brain woke up more and more, and with that awareness came panic. Chains bound his ankles together and held him aloft by a hefty metal hook on a pulley system above.
The lights were dim and barely lit the area where he hung. There might have been a network of steel support beams a story or two above where one of the flickering bulbs was housed, but he couldn’t tell. He wasn’t a nocturnal bird. His eyes didn’t do as well in this dark of lighting, and they ached from the strain of trying to search out shapes that would give him a clue as to what kind of structure he was in.
He shivered. Wherever it was, it was cold. Much colder than what he was used to living in. Pale clouds of condensation wisped away from his breaths, the only other sign of movement in the whole place.
Then the smell finally hit him.
Blood. Every state of it filled the air. Fresh blood, dried blood, curdled blood. So much blood.
He had to get out of here.
He beat his wings and jerked his ankles. He arched up to reach anything. Anything. If he could sink his beak into something he could leverage himself up on top of the pulley system and free his feet. But it was too far away. Desperately, he twitched his talons. They brushed the links in the chains. That was it.
Consumed by panic now, he thrashed his wings wildly. One wing hit something solid to his right.
He paused. Hope renewed itself. If he could grab something with his wing claw, he might be able to inch his way up high enough to grab the pulley system. Even if he couldn’t get himself free of the chains, if he could unhook himself he could fly out of this dark and bloody place.
Blindly, he grabbed at the object hanging to his right. His wing claw grasped something soft.
Coyote froze. He stared at the object until his eyes adjusted to the poor lighting enough to see what it was.
He screeched. “Oh dear sweet Galyx, get me out of here!”
It was another Stryx. Or, rather, what was left of one. The wings and tail had been cut from the body as had the head. Its chest and belly was flayed open, leaving only a dark void where the organs had once been. All that was left were soil and silver feathers with white frost spots. He couldn’t even tell what kind of Stryx it was.
He whipped his head around. His heart rapped repeatedly on his ribcage, begging to be set free. He didn’t blame it. He would like to escape this prison, too.
A shadow moved just at the edge of a halo of light that illuminated the concrete floor.
He swallowed. “H-hello?”
A human stepped into the light. At least, Coyote figured it was a human. Covered by a heavy apron with dark smears on it, face mostly obscured by a mask and goggles, black gloves up to the elbows, sturdy boots, he couldn’t really tell.
“Good evening, little Tyto,” the human said.
Coyote tucked his wings in tightly. The man’s jolly tone contrasted starkly with his attire and current surroundings.
“Where am I?” Coyote demanded.
The human glanced around. He walked over to a support pillar and ran his gloved hand up it, muttering.
“Aha,” he said.
The rest of the building lit up.
Coyote wished it hadn’t.
It was a huge place. Machines and contraptions lined the walls and chains dangled from the ceiling in various spots. Empty catwalks crisscrossed above it all. Big steel tables formed parallel lines down the center of the building. The one closest to him had all kinds of tools on it, everything from scalpels and forceps to bone saws and chainsaws.
All of that? That wasn’t what made Coyote’s feathers curl.
It was the Stryx. All of them.
The empty bird beside him wasn’t the only one. There were others in various stages of dismemberment.
“Nokt save me,” he whispered. “This is a slaughterhouse.”
The human looked up at him. “Yes. Wasn’t that obvious from the start?”
Coyote snarled at the human. If only he would come close enough to bite.
“Now, now, settle down,” the human said.
“How many have you murdered?” Coyote shouted at him.
The human shrugged. He walked over the table strewn with tools. “I’m sure my ledgers are around here somewhere. They probably have a close to accurate number.”
Coyote grasped the chains with his talons. It offered some small tactile comfort. He flicked his eyes towards the strung up Stryx to his right.
“Who were all these birds? Where did they come from?” he asked quietly.
“Oh, well, if you’re interested,” the human said. He walked closer, but not close enough to reach. The human gestured grandly toward the headless Stryx next to him. “This was a feral Tyto that had been harassing the farmlands near Vigil Rock Rookery. It was really a service for her to be taken care of, honestly. She was a rash and ruthless bird.”
“She probably had a name, you know,” Coyote snapped.
“Hmm, yes, let me see.”
The human scooted a rolling ladder over and climbed up it. He was still out of Coyote’s reach. Oblivious to his plotting, the human checked the tag wrapped around the ankle of the dead Stryx.
“Ah, yes. Zhanshi, Tyto, female, butchered yesterday.”
Coyote looked at the body and silently apologized to her. This was not how a proud Stryx should meet their end.
The human scurried back down the ladder. “Here, give me just a moment. I found this one rather amusing.”
Coyote frantically scanned the area now that it was lit up more. The ceiling was made of metal with no windows, only large ventilation fans. No windows were set in the walls either. The only way out he could see was a massive sliding door at the far end of the building. He only needed to get off the hook.
The human returned holding a jar. He held it up for Coyote to see.
“These eyes were from a blind Tyto. I kept them for myself since they are such a lovely shade of cyan, but the rest of him went for a hefty price. People are always in the market for blue feathers, especially iridescent ones. Do you know what his name was? Imblu. As in, ‘I’m blue.’”
Coyote recoiled as far back as he could when the human turned his intense goggled gaze onto him.
“I might have to keep your head for myself, as well. Your two-toned face and eyes would make a beautiful addition to my collection.”
Coyote followed where he was pointing to the glass window of a small office. His blood ran cold.
The grinning face of a brown Chiro smiled back at him. Pale freckles and a dark mask framed the face, and yellow glass eyes replaced the real ones in the sockets. He wondered if that poor creature’s eyes were in a jar somewhere, too.
Next to it was a cardinal red head of a Harpia mid-screech. Next to it was a black and gold head of a Lycan. And next to it was a soft silken head of a Corva with a brilliant orange bib.
Behind them on the back wall of the office he could see a single Piebald wing that must have at one time been attached to a once magnificent Gryph.
He couldn’t bring himself to try and figure out what all the other taxidermy things were or what was preserved in the numerous jars on the shelves within the office.
“You do this because you like Stryx?” he asked, turning his attention back to the human.
The human set the jar down on the table and selected a tool at random. “It’s true, I do adore Stryx. Fantastic creatures. Wonderfully built. The ones that have breath abilities are particularly fascinating to take apart, and their meat goes for a much higher price on the market.”
“Why yes, my dear Tyto, why else do you think you’re in a slaughterhouse? I started this business to sell Stryx meat to those who desired it, and then I began collecting bits and pieces for myself.”
Coyote shielded himself with his wings as the human turned around to face him with a nasty looking hand scythe. “Wait, please–”
“Oh, this is always far easier when you don’t speak English,” the human sighed. He set the scythe down and grabbed something far more sinister looking.
“No, no! Listen, a Tyto isn’t worth very much, okay? Look at me, I’m scrawny. Not a lot of meat. Plain feathers. No breath ability. I’m not worth the effort, okay?”
“Do not feel bad, my boy, there are no useless Stryx,” the human said, walking closer with each breath, his big boots thumping on the stained concrete floor.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
The human flipped a switch on the bolt gun. “I’m sure we can find a use for you.”
Coyote hid his face in his wings. “No, no, no, no, no, no, please.”
Thump. Thump. Thump.
“Please, I’m begging you,” Coyote whimpered.
“Now, hold still. This goes easier if you don’t make me try twice.”
Coyote howled in fear. “Wait! I’m more useful alive!”
He panted, face still hidden in the warm and comforting darkness of his wings. “Please. Listen to me. I’m more useful alive.”
Thump. Thump. Thump.
“Alright. Explain your usefulness to me, Tyto.”
Coyote choked out a strangled sob.
* * * *
A month later….
“That’s one heck of a yarn there, Coyote,” Attie said.
Coyote shrugged. “What can I say. I’ve got a vivid imagination.”
“Seriously, who would want to eat Stryx meat?” Leohn asked.
“Besides other Stryx?” Attie yelled from the back.
“I’m not counting cannibals,” Leohn said.
Coyote cruised under the shadow of the big green Gryph. Attie drafted behind them. The light was failing and soon the only one able to see would be the small nocturnal Hawk.
Normally, the crepuscular birds would start leaving their roosts to hunt in the twilight hours of the evening, but not here. Here was desolate and abandoned, full of gray clouds and washed out forests, forgotten roads scarring the land beneath them.
“We’re going to have to put down for the night,” Coyote said. “We’ll cross the border in the morning.”
Attie groaned, but Leohn agreed. He was diurnal like Coyote, and the encroaching darkness was becoming increasingly hard to navigate.
They flew for a little while longer, then at last Coyote pointed out a clearing big enough for a Gryph to alight in. Leohn flattened the grass as he landed and fluffed himself up against the soft gentle breeze. Attie perched on a decaying log nearby.
“I can go catch us something,” she offered, wings already sprung out ready to take off again.
“No, I can do it,” Coyote said. She looked at him funny. He offered her a small grin. “I know the area. Don’t want you getting lost now, do we, my dear Hawk.”
Attie mumbled and grumbled while he took to the dimming sky that was starting to brim with the twinkle of stars. He canted one wing slightly, wheeling slowly on the dissipating updrafts.
Trees blurred below him. The apparently disused road he followed weaved in and out of the evergreens, rutty and damp in some places and completely hidden from view by the canopy in others.
He leveled his head once the road crossed a stream.
There it was. Looming. Its presence was almost benign in this foreboding part of the woods. Its dark and weathered panels blended against the foggy gray backdrop, making it hard to see on a good day and near impossible to see on a bad one. It was only by experience he knew where to land on the roof.
“Welcome back, my dear Tyto. What do you have for me today?”
Coyote eyed the human coolly. He tilted his head back the way he had come. “A Hawk and an emerald Gryph.”
The human laughed and patted him. “Excellent.”
That was the thing about the slaughterhouse. No one ever truly left.
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