Pest

Samantha Finley

On his way back to bed after his midnight relief, talons clicking softly against the bare stone floor and tail lifted to keep his movements as quiet as possible, Kazunax turned at the sound of a distinctive clank and caught sight of a human in the middle of the floor. In the dim moonlight streaming through the cracked entrance, it might almost have been a stray stone.

His eyes fixed on the sinister figure, Kazunax scooted backwards toward the bedroom. “Darling,” he whispered. How to wake her without disturbing the kid? If he took his eyes off the thing for even a second, there was the risk of it vanishing into a crack in the wall, where it would wait for a chance to strike. “Temaug, darling...”

But the creature, apparently, had a better idea than waiting for Kazunax to look away. With a rattle, it lunged directly at him, brandishing its stinger, and Kazunax let out an undignified shriek, barely managing to pull his foot away in time. So much for not waking his family. Light rose in the bedroom behind him, and his wife’s voice with it. “Kazzy? What’s the matter?”

“There’s a — honey — look!” Now that the entrance to the bedroom was pouring out light, the human was skittering as fast as its little legs could carry it toward a bolthole. Even as Kazunax cringed back, pointing, Temaug sprang into action, reaching out to pin it onto its belly with a single talon. It thrashed, clattering angrily, but couldn’t reach her to sting.

“Go get something to cover it with!” Temaug said. When Kazunax hesitated, she gestured toward the kitchen. “Salad bowl!” He obeyed, pulling the bowl down from its high shelf, and galloped back to the scene of the crime on three legs. After a quick transition, Temaug’s claw was free and the human was trapped under glass.

It was at this point that Saphon appeared, wings dragging on the floor as she shuffled down the hall from her room. “What’s all the noise about?” she mumbled, blinking at the scene.

“Your mother just caught a human.” Despite his racing heart — those things scared the living daylights out of him — Kazunax did his best to keep his voice calm. “Sorry we woke you, sweetie. Danger’s handled. You can go back to bed.” The tink of it striking the glass that imprisoned it drew Saphon’s attention, and she crouched down to peer at it.

“It’s so creepy,” she said, half complaining, half delighted. “Look at how it totters around on its hind legs. Is it really dangerous?”

“You see the stinger in its forelimb?” Temaug answered, squatting beside her daughter. “It’s not strong enough to pierce scales, but it can do serious damage if it hits a soft target. You wouldn’t want that in your eye, would you?” Kazunax shuddered just imagining it, earning a laugh from his daughter.

Saphon shifted closer to get a better look, then tapped on the glass dome and giggled as the human flailed its stinger in response. “Don’t tease,” Temaug scolded. “You’re stressing it out. We’re going to release it back into the wild safe and sound.”

“We are? Why?”

“Humans are an important part of the ecosystem.” Kazunax, who had heard this speech from her on several occasions, sighed and went to fetch something to slide under the bowl. It was all true, but none of it helped him feel less creeped out by the sight of a creature with a stinger as long as its legs.

Saphon, conversely, was raptly engaged in the impromptu ecology lesson. Temaug continued. “They have a symbiotic relationship with the sheep and cattle we eat. It’s because of humans that they live in fenced pastures, instead of loose, like deer.”

The advantages of pasturing were obvious to Saphon, who had yet to catch a deer on her own. “What do humans do with them?”

“We’re pretty sure they eat them. Sometimes you can smell mutton and beef cooking in a human colony.”

“Wow.” Saphon rested her head on the ground beside the upturned bowl, putting her eyes level with the trapped human. It seemed to have gotten tired and was slumped down in the middle of the dome, which gave her a better look at its intricate silver carapace. “I can’t believe this eats the same stuff we do. How do they even cook it?”

Even Temaug, who fancied herself a bit of a scholar when it came to humans, could only shrug. “That’s one of the mysteries of science.”

Kazunax returned with his least favorite tapestry and slid it under the bowl with Temaug’s help. The human, seemingly beyond fighting at this point, slid a little, then finally rolled its way on top of the fabric. That done, they carefully flipped the bowl over and let it clunk into the bottom. Saphon watched intently, enjoying the way its limbs flailed and failed to find purchase on the slippery sides.

“I’ve got it, Kazzy. Put Saphon back to bed.” As the human tumbled out of the bowl and down the grassy hill the family lived beside, Temaug noticed its stinger had come loose at some point. She picked it up between two talons, blew a bit of dirt off, and brought it inside. This time, she made sure the entrance was tightly sealed.
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Second place winner in the Adult age group of the 2020 Flash Fiction Contest.

Samantha Finley

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