Supernatural Fiction posted December 15, 2015

This work has reached the exceptional level
a desperate flight to save the child

The Baby

by mfowler

Get Me Out Of Here Contest Winner 
From the edge of the crag, I can see the miasma sitting like a heavy brown fog over the township. I know in my gut that no-one but us has survived the purge.

Hawk descends and lands awkwardly on a dead tree behind me. 'What did you see? Are there any survivors?'

Hawk shakes out his feathers like a bird in a dust bath and transforms into the strapping young man who shares my life. 'The cleansing is just about over. The evil souls have been drawn into the clouds and their bodies lie everywhere. I flew as close as possible without being drawn into the mix.'

'But, survivors?'

'No-one. You know the township was cursed long before you and I were born. The legend told us this would happen if goodness ever appeared in our midst.'

I shudder. My father told me about the curse in childhood; how the Evil One guaranteed the survival of the town as long as every citizen was tainted by sin. The prosperity of the citizens depended on the level of debauchery and immorality that they could muster. Conversely, any entry of purity or goodness into the population meant certain extermination.

'They'll come after us, Hawk - you, me and the baby. Us, because we belong there, but the baby because it is stainless and not of our kind. The Evil One might punish the town, but he must also root out any threat to his domain.'

'Then, we have to leave now before the miasma senses our presence.' The cloud is still swirling wildly above the township, but a portion of it syphons off and surges across the plain in the direction of our mountain viewpoint.

'San Jose is our only hope, Joachim,' says Hawk. 'We must return the baby to the village.'

'But, Hawk, we'll lose the child we so desperately wanted. Return him now and we may never know what it means to raise our own.'

'We'll all die if we stay here.' Hawk has come to the same conclusion as me.

I lift the child from his bed of moss. He smiles and gurgles as he waves his tiny feet and arms like a marooned Alpha beetle. My heart feels love, not the passionate fire it does for a lover, but a softer, protective love that I have never experienced before. 'Here, take him. Carry him in your talons. You can get him there more quickly without me.'

Hawk stares at me from those dark hooded eyes. 'I can't. He's too heavy and I fear I'd drop him over that distance. You must carry him.'

The ooze is nearing the foot of the mountain so I waste no time and transform into my centaur form. With the baby snug in my arms, I gallop along the ridge to find the track to San Jose. Hawk sits on the wind above and keeps a wary eye on the enemy.

The ridge is pocked with jagged rocks and my hooves are tender with newness. I haven't assumed my centaur form for months, but the urgency of this delivery is such that I need to focus on saving the little one.

As I galloped on my mind drifts to a place of memory. 'You are inviting trouble mixing with the hawk clan. The only good I see is that this interspecies depravity will win you prosperity with the Evil One.'  My father's warning echoes in my mind and distracts from my trajectory. I stumble on a jutting rim of rock and the baby flies from my arms beyond the cliff edge.

My anguished whinny is useless, but as I recover, I see Hawk swoop below my eye-line and plunge into the valley. My heart beats wildly in my chest as I stare beyond the edge. I see the billowing smoke of the miasma ballooning up from the valley and just above it I can make out hawk with baby's swaddling firmly in his grip.

My love is swifter than the evil following. He gently lowers the baby onto the ground before me. 'Oh, Joachim, hold onto him more tightly. The evil has seen us and we must move quickly.' The baby smiles; he has no understanding of the danger nearby.

The track to San Jose is kinder on my hooves and our progress smoother. Hawk swings alongside of me from time to time to urge me on. The evil is relentless and following at pace.

The day is hot and my stamina limited. My throat is burning and I must rest and drink. I stop by a small stream that flows across the road and sup on the cool water.

Hawk lands nearby and transforms. 'We must keep going. San Jose is only five miles on but the cloud is just beyond those trees.' I look behind me and what appears as a mammoth dust cloud is churning towards us.

Hawk gathers grass from beside the stream and removes the outer layer of the child's swaddling. 'Now, take him to San Jose. I'll buy us some time.' He disappears into the forest nearby and I quickly realise what he's doing.

I take the child in my arms and gallop headlong up the track. I dare a glance backwards and see a column of murk peel off the main cloud and follow Hawk into the forest. His sacrifice spurs me to greater effort.

If my man is gone, all that is left worthy of his life, is to return the baby to his home. Stealing a child had always seemed the answer to our future; the way to cement our bond and ensure our desire for parenthood were fulfilled. But, the whole venture had gone awry, costing us our families' lives and those of all who lived in the township.

Tears fog my eyes as I think of poor Hawk swallowed by the miasma, all because I couldn't resist a sip of water. I know the cloud is behind me, but the division of its form seems to have slowed its progress.

The little chapel of San Jose appears in the near distance on the outskirts of the village. I can't think of a more fitting place to leave our baby as I know someone will claim him from a holy place.

In my human form, I carry the baby into the chapel. He gurgles and splutters in fun as I hold him close. Losing this human child will make the loss of Hawk so much harder. I hear a voice from near the front and a row of candles burn on a brass tray near a statue of a woman in blue. Maybe she knows who owns the child and will help me.

She is praying so I wait quietly. 'Please Mary, you carried and bore little Jesus. You know the love a mother feels for her baby. Please bring mine back to me.'

The baby giggles and the woman is suddenly aware of our presence. 'Hello, I ...'

But, it is the baby she notices and she lifts him from my arms. She hugs him tenderly and tears stream from her eyes. 'My baby, my sweet Nicholas, you're home. Thank you Jesus, Mary, Joseph and...who are you, my hero?'

For a moment I want to cry, but suddenly, a cold breeze envelops the space. The candles flicker and extinguish. I can feel the evil present and I huddle together with the mother and child. Tears stream from my eyes and I scream,' I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.'

A voice from behind the sanctuary says, 'It's alright, Joachim. The miasma has gone. It sat above us for a few moments and when you screamed out it evaporated.' Hawk emerged from the vestry. 'I've been hiding in there since I arrived ten minutes ago. I could see outside through a small crack in the stonework.'

The baby and his mother appeal to us to stay and share bread with her family, but Hawk and I feel we have done enough harm in San Jose. She believes our story about finding the baby and is so overjoyed that she doesn't pursue the details further.

We choose to leave and set out on the road towards the coast.

'I thought you were dead,' I say, pushing Hawk gently in fun.

'I'm a hawk,' he replies, 'outflying the cloud was faster than running in human guise.'

'Why do you think the miasma gave up so easily?'

'It felt the strength of the love in that chapel. No evil can exist in the presence of such power.'

As we walk arm in arm down the track, we choose to say nothing about the child. The pain of separation is already being felt so we discuss only the future.

'So where do you think a transmogrifying centaur and hawk can build a life together?'

Hawk ponders. 'I've heard of a little island off the coast of Africa where....'


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