Prompt: There’s a huge lizard-like creature in front of me with scales shining like black diamonds, its glimmering eyes staring fixedly. It seems to say something solemnly, but unfortunately I can’t hear anything.
I’ve always valued pets more than people. We’re living in an age where I don’t even have to explain that anymore. Everybody just knows how awful everybody else is. A violent person is a maniac, a rapist, a murderer, a thief, a gangster, a politician even… A violent animal is just a scared or hungry one.
Living this philosophy was expensive, but there was no emotional toll. I got all the warmth I needed from my five Flemish giant rabbits. Enough cats pawing and mewing that I never overslept. Enough dogs to make sure I got my exercise. All of them, plus my fish, lizards, frogs, tarantulas, hamsters, ferrets, and parakeets, all crammed into a modern little house in the mountains where nobody could bother me. I had to spend all of my disability settlement, but it was worth it.
I paid to hide my address. I was pretty good at keeping a stealthy online presence as well. There wasn’t even a mailbox, because I knew nobody had anything to send me. If I needed something I could take four wheeler or the snowmobile down to town; it was only about six miles.
There was a visitor, two years into my life as a hermit crab. They didn’t announce themselves. There was no knock on the door, just long scratching sounds that I instantly knew didn’t come from any of my animals. My animals were happy to be alive, this thing was… not even alive. The dragging of its claws was like a zombie carrying a rake across a wood floor, not realizing it still held anything.
I froze in place, cradling Lickitung. He was one of my two leopard geckos and he was ill. He was in my hands, as I was trying to warm him with my body heat. His tiny bulbous toes were cold and pale; The membrane over his eye was thicker than it should’ve been. My treatment was going to work. I knew that. There was no room for lousy humanity in my cabin. He would have the best care possible and it wouldn’t cost him a dime, but that didn’t matter to this dark lizard-like thing that invited itself in.
My legs were curled up on my polar bear-faced bean bag chair. There was a heat lamp off to one side, pointed at Lickitung. The light flickered when the thing started descending the stairs, its hanging gut making a whumph sound with each step. It was… a dying man’s attempt to answer a quiz question about lizards. It was a dark misinterpretation of the beautiful little scaly baby in my arms.
It was longer than three ferrets end to end, with a thick neck and tail and a long snout. Its back was covered in alligator-like diamond scales, black and reflective. A tongue, white as sterilized snow, flicked in and out.
“Stay back!” I ordered when it was just five feet away. It turned its head, its dark eye resting upon Lickitung, upon the fluttering patch of skin on his side where you could barely see his slowing heartbeat. The tongue flicked again, with a sound this time. The beast strung these sounds together into something that I simply knew was a language. I couldn’t tell the words, but the intent came through clearly.
This beast was from a place without subtlety, so even in my growing terror I wasn’t confused. Every human knows this story, and knows that they deserve it because deep down they’re rotten. Something has to come along and wipe away that rot eventually, so something else can grow. It was the grim reaper that came for men. A figure in a black cloak.
This new thing, the lizargrim, came dressed in black scales. It smelled Lickitung’s disease and had come to claim him, to take from me one large chunk of the happiness I’d cultivated in my isolation. There were two explanations that sprang to mind regarding my ability to hear and see it. One was that I’d been alone so long, so free of human shouting, that I was seeing the subtleties of nature again. I was seeing the animals our kind only saw in the caves, listening to the labored breathing of a clueless dying cave relative.
The lizargrim did look a little like a cave drawing. It was an artistic statement more than an animal. It was the creator deciding to erase the last scratch of the pencil. It was that… or it was my accident. A police car, hot in pursuit of a minor criminal, struck me as I crossed the street. I cracked my skull on the bumper and then again on the pavement. I was pronounced dead two times in the hospital, one for each crack.
They asked me if I felt like I could ever work again. I said no, but in truth I didn’t try. I wanted my chance to cut myself out of the human body and put my soul on ice atop this mountain. I said I was useless and I took the money. The cracks were still there. Perhaps they were lids for the eyes of the soul, open just enough, letting in just enough frigid air of black eternity, for me to see the harbingers of death.
I could see the lizargrim, but the world wouldn’t allow me to fight it. I threw a book at him, but it just went straight through. He had only enough matter to bite down on Lickitung’s soul. I scrambled out of the beanbag chair and packed up, running into my parakeet’s cages and ruffling their feathers. None of my other animals had any clue what I was doing.
“You turned his light off!” I shouted, cold tears already flowing. He brought the chill and the darkness. He was hurrying Lickitung’s death. The beast didn’t acknowledge me, just taking another sliding scratching step forward.
I had to cheat, just like getting my money. Maybe somebody would come for me eventually for all the cloak and dagger, all the parasitism on the world’s energy, but not today, and not before I saved Lickitung. I lunged forward and grabbed his heat lamp. I unscrewed the bulb, tossing my poor lizard into my sweatshirt’s hood. There was noting to protect him now but a thin curtain of my hair.
I smashed the bulb, turning it into a dagger. My dogs barked. They would have to feel that fear for now. I just kept thinking of my pets, of how I could save them. Poor Lickitung was a lizard; they had parietal eyes, third eyes of their own, but wholly natural. Their cold bodies had to sit passively, watching these hungry dark beasts march toward them. Not today.
I couldn’t threaten the lizargrim with the glass shard, but I could threaten my other animals. It was fine. They knew I would never hurt them, but the world didn’t. It would send out the same whiff of approaching death, and the other dark beasts would have no choice but to pick up the scent. I held that shard to Walter the parakeet, to Noodles the ferret, to Waddlebutt the rabbit.
They came, expecting a quick meal, rising out of the cracks in my floor: a black bunny, a growling dark dog, a tarantula with stiff legs like a marionette. The grim reapers for each species. My loophole worked. Death was infrequent enough that they never came into contact with each other until now. The grim lizard had to flee from the grim cat which had to flee from the grim dog.
The monsters chased each other around my cabin, preying on each other just as their living counterparts would. The lizargrim was shredded, torn limb from lib. It was a horrific massacre, but one of my own making and that only I could see. The black blood of these creature seeped back into the cracks of the floor as their last whispers faded.
I didn’t care what they had to say, just as I didn’t care what apologies that cop had or what deals the lawyers offered. There would be a price to pay for all this, but on that day I would release every last leash in my grasp, and watch them flee, happy, tongues lolling, from my fate.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Klskws during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!