Bogleech.com's 2017 Horror Write-off:
Beasts of Chaos
Submitted by Joseph Hartman (email)
Give naught to the Beasts of Chaos
Those Loathing Things that infest the dark corners.
Give them no Thought in moments of despair
For Thought feeds Them.
Show no Fear when They draw near
For Fear leads Them closer.
Transgress not against the Law
For the Law binds Them.
Most of all, Name not the Beasts of Chaos
For Names make Them real.
There were many ways to walk, and that's why they were still alive. One by five by three by seven by three they walked. Careful not to look in the same direction as another, fighting the natural urge to walk in step with the group. Spread out, in a carefully disorganized formation.
The plain was a plane, and above the stars were laid out in a grid, around the featureless face of the moon. There was a time when this place was alive, verdant and green, grass flowing with the wind. But now the air was still, and though it was still green, the surface of the ground was hard and unyielding, like stone. In this age of death, even the simple joy of crunching grass beneath your foot had been stripped away from the world.
Though it had never been written down, only shared in whispers and ghost stories, it was known. The Beasts of Chaos were the source of all the world's ills. It was taboo to even discuss the subject, knowledge of them like teeth.
The nature of the Beasts was uncertain. So much as imagining what They might look like was forbidden. Throughout the centuries, only one nugget of knowledge concerning them had ever been shared.
Seven! There were seven Beasts of Chaos, the madman shouted. That was all he could say, before his mouth was clamped shut, not by the guard, but by his listeners, who would go on to whisper that knowledge to others nonetheless.
Such a rarity. Such a thrill! Could they truly be so fearsome? That even knowing how many they were could be such a danger?
A Hunter headed the group, eyes staring straight forward. He would bark out orders, chide the group for acting too similarly to one another. In his time roaming these lands, rescuing who he could, he had gleaned an insight into the nonsensical rules that now governed them.
In the distance stood Highmount, the city closest to the Gods, where the seven Kings of Truth reigned. The Hunter led them there like he had so many others. There, they would be protected by the Gods.
"We are doomed," A man said, breaking off from the group and rushing forward, voice a low moan. "Look! Look, ahead! The forest...!"
There had once been a path through those woods, that separated the plains from Highmount. That path had since closed, and as far as the eye could see, the forest was a wall of smooth brown pillars, crowned by identical branches and leaves.
There was only the barest space between them.
A child named Leo began to cry, attracting the Hunter's attention. Children. He had forgotten that they had children with them, perhaps the last children in the world.
Alessa, who held Leo in her arms, comforted him, but the Hunter glared down at her. "No. Let him cry," He said flatly, sternly. "We have been too quiet. There is no better time to cry."
She glared back at him, her own eyes watering, but she stopped. She'd seen what happened to people who disobeyed the Hunter.
Indeed, back before the world was mad, he had been summoned to Highmount with the others. Hunters, farmers, soldiers, from all across the land, called to the City of Law. Anyone who could carry a weapon.
Here, only the most stern of thought and diligent of will and stringent of faith were allowed to stay, adhering to the many rules that snared them in protective bondage, away from the ills of the world.
In this place, there was no greater rejection of the Beasts of Chaos, no word or thought given to them, no written Law referencing the Loathsome Things.
Which is why it came as such a shock when the Kings ordered them slain.
"We will rest here until morning," The Hunter said, as the group accumulated by the edge of the impassable wood. "Do not sleep. Do not lay on the ground. Do not touch the trees, or each other."
"Then how shall we rest?" An elderly man asked incredulously. "We have been walking for so long... surely we will die of exhaustion!"
"You will not," He replied simply. "Reject the fatigue. Deny it purchase in your mind."
Those were the same words that had been repeated to them, on the day the great Hunt began. Sent out to kill the Beasts with no further guidance or orders from the Kings, they were thrown into an aimless journey.
Their only guide was the old tenets, that said nothing of the dire Beasts, only warning against thinking of them, speaking of them, seeking them, fearing them. And there they were, doing those exact things. Allowed, anointed to do those things by the greatest authority in the land, the representatives of the Gods.
A year later, and no sign of the Beasts, and still no hint as to how they should be killed. The Hunters were mocked, then reviled for their seeming incompetence. The Hunting groups scattered. Some deserted the troop. It seemed as though their quest would not end in death, but a slow, petering failure.
Until, as if in a trance, one of them spoke the words that would seal their fate.
"Hraytol," They had said. "That is the name of the first Beast of Chaos."
Through a thin gap in the trees, the Hunter watched a paper-thin wolf slide across the floor. Without moving, it howled. The sound died off without an echo.
He blinked. The sky turned instantly from night to day. It was time to move.
The Hunter took count of his number. There were 16 now, and there had been 19 when they had stopped.
The crowd stretched and talked amongst themselves, seemingly none the wiser. But the Hunter saw. A pile of leaves, slumped at the base of a tree. The silhouette of a sleeping old man.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. An error.
"Where do we go now?" Someone asked. The path was blocked, with seemingly no way towards safety.
"There is another path," He replied, walking not-quite parallel to the forest, keeping his gait uneven, tilted compared to that perfect line of wood. "I didn't want to use it, but it seems we must."
A river cut through the woods. Once winding, it has been straightened into a moat that seemed to go forever in both directions. Stepping stones across were perfectly circular.
Someone's foot grazed the water. One second, they were there, and the next, they were facedown in the water, a bloated corpse with nary a splash.
It was easy enough to figure out how to survive. It was so clear to the Hunter. There was a place for everything in the world, and a thing for every place. The world had simply become more aggressive in placing you where you belong, or making you belong where you are.
The trick was to keep it guessing.
When the name Hraytol had been spoken, the other Hunters descended on the transgressor, leaving him dead and ravaged. But the damage had been done. The air had changed, and far in the distance they could see something, clinging to a ruined tower.
It was a serpent, coiled about the tower. It was the tower. It bristled with fingers. Hraytol.
The company had been 1000 strong at dawn. By the time the Beast lay dead before them, there were 147 left, and none without injuries.
They were shaken. They wanted to run away. But a fervor awoke in them. They had slain a Beast of Chaos. And they knew how they had found it.
That night, they ate of the tower's flesh and fingernails and spoke the second name: Fuvinh.
There was a diagonal hole going down into the earth. The Hunter walked in, stepping down the perfectly angular steps, as the crowd followed him in.
"Stay absolutely quiet," He whispered. "Absolute silence. Sew your mouth shut if you must. And ignore them."
There was an awful din as they descended deeper, and deeper. Some far-off humming, gurgling noise. Almost a chorus, if a chorus sustained one agonizing note.
There was a crowd of people. Staring in their direction as they arrived in the bunker, shoulder to shoulder. Eyes wide, mouths wide, voices raised in hoarse screams.
The rest of them stopped and stared, shocked into stillness. But the Hunter proceeded forward, pushing past the masses. The closest ones turned in his direction as he passed, but their eyes never once deviated from their forward stare.
With no other path forward, the crowd followed. Alessa gripped Leo's hand tightly with one hand, the other clapped over his mouth.
The screamer's mouths were cracked from dehydration. They were dry but still alive, in some way. In the same way the pillar trees and paper wolf were alive.
Fuvinh was a toad the size of a house, that devoured men and laid skeletal eggs. They disemboweled it and pulled the eatens' gibbering husks of skin from its rectum.
Ddddd was named on accident. It was a horn that tore through the ground and left pits of starlight.
Geas was a horse's heart that floated in the sky, in place of the sun. They suffocated it with the moon.
Telos was a color that didn't exist. They killed it with a mirror and flames.
Petrichor was voice that begged for hearts. The warriors gave theirs freely, except for the Hunter, who drove his dagger through each and every fleshy lump that comprised its new body.
The anointed company had dwindled to one. As they summoned each successive Beast, the world was wounded. Strange things began to happen.
People would walk in silent groups, far into the distance, vanishing when out of sight.
The stars arranged themselves into a grid. Staring too long would pull you up into the sky.
Doors began to disappear from homes, followed by windows. Attempts to break the inhabitants out revealed that the buildings were now simply masses of wood and plaster, nothing buried inside.
People tried to flee. But it was happening everywhere, spreading like a plague that infected everything it touched. The people cursed the Kings' crusade, cursed the names of the now-named Beasts of Chaos. Cursed Their vengeance.
The Hunter had been exhausted, mentally broken. He was the only one left.
He collapsed into a stable, beside a calmly grazing lamb. A stupid animal, unaware of the world gone mad. Its collar read 'Suzie'.
In delirium, the Hunter fell upon a dismal realization. Fell into a dark hole, from which he never climbed.
"Suzie," He had said. "You are the seventh Beast of Chaos."
And so it was. And he slew the lamb, and drank its blood.
The Hunter emerged from the bunker with three. Alessa cried as she walked alongside him, and he gave a sigh of relief. Thank goodness, one of the children survived.
Behind them, the dozen or so left behind stood among the others, faces and clothes draining of all color. Screaming mindlessly. Some had cried out in shock, seeing a loved one among the screamers. Some gasped, or merely dared to open their mouths, and began screaming, uncontrollably, as their last sentient thoughts dribbled from their ears.
Leo had simply sobbed. The screaming was louder now, and of a very slightly higher pitch.
"Why is this happening?" Alessa sobbed, now safe to cry. They clambered up the ramp-like hill. To Highmount, the silhouette of the city still visible in the mountains, white as stone. "Why do people... why are they becoming..."
"What lies beside a tree, child?" The Hunter asked. "What is a human in water?"
"Walk as one and we become as one," He explained wearily. "Were we to walk in step, in one direction, we would become a Crowd. A Crowd defined as a group walking forward. We would walk forever. In a place where people scream, they scream. If you scream too, then you are one of them. If you make a noise, you could be interpreted as screaming. If you are interpreted, then you are no longer you."
Alessa groaned, trying to grab onto his cloak. He put a hand on her head, and turned her away. Just slightly. Another direction.
They approached Highmount. So had he, in the past. After he had killed the seventh Beast of Chaos. He expected a hero's welcome. But the city looked, back then, much like how it does now.
It was the same silhouette up close as it was from a distance. The great white spires of the buildings were simply spires. Lumps of stone in the shape of buildings and streets and people. Quiet. Dusty.
The other two besides Alessa and the Hunter laughed in mad relief or panic as they tried to find some safe place. One of them sat and leaned against one of the stone buildings, resting. Before their eyes, the waxy surface of the stone ran over her. She melted with it, and was stone.
The other ran off, whooping and screaming and crying. He ran towards the castle and rounded the corner into an alley. The moment he was out of sight, his laments went silent. The remaining pair passed the alley, and there was no trace of him within.
The castle had melted into the walls of the mountain. When the Hunter had entered this place, for the second time, to claim his reward, he met with the Kings.
He told them that he had killed the seven Beasts of Chaos.
They informed him that his work was not yet complete. For how could he be so naive as to believe that there were only seven?
Once again, the Hunter entered the throne room, this time with Alessa in tow. The Kings stood as statues, smiles on their faces, lacking eyes but retaining their crowns.
Like chess pieces. But if one was to remove their crowns, they would perfectly resemble pawns.
There was a hole at the center of the gathering of dead Kings. Stained red and brown, was a small crack. The throat of the world, through which the last entrails of Chaos would be pushed.
The Kings had sold the world to the Gods. Infinite beings of divine Law. The Hunter could see images of them, far above the ceiling, amid the gridlike sky, drawn between the stars. A line, infinite in both directions. A golden spiral. A perfect circle.
But the Gods didn't want the world. It was filthy to them, abhorrent. So, whether for power or simply in rapt divine admiration, the Kings gave the order to purge the world of the Beasts of Chaos.
Every single creature that did not belong would be destroyed. Or it would be made to belong. Everything in its place, perfectly wrapped. Perfectly cooked.
Every disgusting writhing animal that made decisions independent of patterns or consistent instinct would be pressed through a sieve. The billion Beasts of Chaos would be starved of the madness that sustained them.
And the Hunter was their hand. Where he walked, perfection followed. He would be rewarded. If he did his job, he would be the last one, the last Beast of Chaos to be remanded to oblivion. True oblivion, as the merciful Gods decreed. As opposed to the tortures the other Beasts would endure for their insolence of existence.
It was here, and now. He stood at the top of the world, with his final sacrifice.
Wordlessly, he shoved Alessa to the ground, right to the crack. Stomped down to her, face flat, eyes wide but unfeeling. He reached for his knife, and prepared the words of prayer and law-
But his knife was missing.
Alessa screamed as she ran at him. In the minutes to come, she carved open his belly and left him dead upon the ground.
The hole swallowed him up, then it swallowed the stains. Then the dropped knife. Then the throne room, then the world around it.
Everything was melting. Color was fading from everything, like cheap watercolor paint.
The walls no longer had enough substance to be visible. Alessa, kneeling in her sorrow, could see through them to the very ends of the earth. It was flat now, and the ends were curling up and shriveling in perfect spirals.
She thought of her brother, and her parents, who she swore she'd seen in that screaming bunker. Of their life before, and how it was miserable, crushed by strange and alien laws. Even before the collapse of everything, before the crusade began.
Alessa thought of the Beasts of Chaos. Alessa feared the Beasts of Chaos.
And there, at the end of everything, where the flat sea met featureless earth in the sky above and the stars came clattering to the ground and the moon opened into a great eye, pupil perfectly round and hateful, Alessa named the Beasts of Chaos.
In that moment, everything changed. Nonetheless, it remained the same.