May 28, 2024

‘Ogle & Creake’, a short story by Kieran McGuire

The woods groaned in nervous curiosity, swaying and shifting in the still air. Two creatures shuffled along in their midst, down a path of dirt and stones. They appear at first glance to be men, but a closer inspection finds something amiss. As if they were doodles of men, drawn in the dark, their bodies and features grotesque caricatures of the human form. The trees recognised them, and huddled closer together. Shabbily clothed, barrel-chested, and stubby of fingers and legs; their faces are more leathery than their boots, and almost as full of holes. The leaner of the two spoke first, his mouth appearing from the depths of a tangled beard,
‘Ogle, pass us that stone’.
His voice had the sound of old wood, shifting between whines and booms and cracks. Ogle grunted like a boar and hefted the rock with swollen fingers,
‘It’s a good’un, is this one, Creake’
‘Of course it is, I picked it’.
Creake bit into the stone like an apple, and, for a moment his eyes turned black. The colour returned in sparks and waves, a limpid blue surrounded by tired red lines,
‘Well, it tastes okay, but there’s barely any story left. About 400 years of some lonely bastards trekking to this run-down parish. Not enough. Here.’
Creake passed the rock to his companion, who inhaled it greedily. His knuckles swelled, solidified.

The trees had long-since caught on to these creatures, and had defences of their own. Growing denser, gathering shadows amongst their arms, and seeping a foul-tasting sap that assaulted the gums. The trees prevented the two ugly beings from stealing their history, their life. So it had been for centuries, the pair skulking and stalking, looking for things to feed upon. Starving for hundreds of years. The deer – who had for generations fallen prey to the ghastly beings that smelled like earth – had grown fast and alert enough to remain out of the clutches of their hungry hands. Ogle’s once proud and vicious antlers were now mere stubs, hidden amidst the lumps and dents of his battered skull. There were three of them once, but the youngling, Moss, got greedy. Kept secret stashes. They ate him for thirteen years. They learned his stories. His features meshed with their own, forming grizzly and lost collages that blinked with tiny, hungry eyes. Ogle pounded his fists together, a cloud of fine debris falling to the ground with every impact. His knuckles took on a marbled shine.
‘I’m getting tired of being hungry, Creake’
‘I know’
‘We haven’t had anything with any life in it for, for, for so long I can’t count it’
‘Two hundred and thirty-six years. Two hundred and thirty-six years of eating rocks, moss, and dead limbs’
‘Are we going to die, Creake?’
‘No, Ogle. We are not going to die. We are not’.
Creake was growing concerned. Not over his own hunger, but rather that of the simple giant he walked with. Desperation could do terrible things to the even the most loyal of monsters. Creake was taller than Ogle, faster, but in terms of mass he was little more than a branch to Ogle’s trunk. Creake directed Ogle, taught him how to catch things, how to kill them. Creake had watched Ogle hold an enraged wild boar to his chest and charge full-pelt into an oak tree in order to kill it. The companionable boulder seemed to feel no pain of his own, and Creake knew that as soon as Ogle realised his formidable strength, that would be it. Snap. Crunch. Eight-hundred and twenty-four years of cunning knowledge swallowed down into that brutish body. For now, Ogle was loyal. Dim. The danger of their desperation was beginning to weigh heavily on Creake’s mind.

They walked for eight weeks, and slept only twice. Already naturally tenacious creatures, it so happened that their malleable physical forms were, at this time, largely consisting of rock. As they were, they walked slowly, and heavily,  dogged with hunger. When they did sleep, it was fitfully and only for mere days at a time. Creake’s worriment over their situation was in some way eased by his understanding that rocks had never slept as easily as humans mistakenly imagined – Creake knew that they were sleeping just as poorly as rocks always did. Ogle, however, was not used to such hard times, had never before endured such a haggard hunger, and was growing ever more frantic. Tired and mad, he pounded the earth with his fists wherever they rested, and bellowed his hunger to the trees. Creake feared no longer the pangs of hunger in his own stomach.

Desperation drove Ogle and Creake to the fences of the cottage in the woods. It had been avoided for as long as they could stand. Humans, as Creake had experienced, were not fond of him. The humans saw the earthen men, with their terrible antlers and fangs of wolves, who stood waiting in the woods and stole their animals in the dark. And so the humans chased them, and trapped them, and shot them through with lead. To Creake, the humans were greedy, and mistaken in the way of things. To the humans, Creake was a hunter born out of terrifying myth, and they had defended themselves from him with such a wrath that he had avoided their sight for many decades. Still, they had died, whilst he had lived. Ogle had not seen the humans himself, but knew of them by the stories of Creake, and feared them greatly. But to the humans’ land they went, for hunger almost had them. Creake was not ready to end.

So the two creatures ventured into the garden that man protected: quietly, but driven by a persecuting hunger. What they found there was something that neither had seen before. The bees they both recognised, for many times had they flitted above their grasping fingers. What not even Creake recognised, however, where the squat white houses that the bees were continually flying to and from. The bee-huts buzzed with energy. Ogle licked his lips. Creake was worried: he knew that the odd bee here and there was okay, a pick-me-up, but a whole swarm of bees – and Ogle would eat the whole lot – would be too much for their bodies to contain. Not enough life in exchange for too many undesirable changes. More than that, though, Creake worried about disappointing Ogle when they were so near their limits, and so he tentatively lifted the lid of one of the huts. What he found was, again, despite his eons of experience, a baffling surprise. Creake reached a gnarled hand into the complicated mass and scraped a little, taking a finger-width of matter from the structure and its oozing content in his hand. He licked it. His eyes, just for a second, held a wisp of darkness, and returned. Creake had seen that the bees create this elixir, he had seen where they flew, dozens of them, ceaseless in their living. And that was only a taste. Knowing that the elixir would make him strong – and also knowing it would make Ogle far stronger than he already was – he scooped another handful into his maw, reveling in invigoration, before turning back on himself and, with a vicious swing, launching his rocky fist into the face of his waiting companion. Before Ogle had hit the ground, Creake turned back hungrily to the golden life-giving food.
‘I’m sorry, Ogle’ Creake explained, between delighted spasms,
‘you would become too dangerous. You would hurt your old friend’.
Ogle stared between his fingers in hurt confusion, his hands clasping his face as it crumbled in some places, bled in others
‘B-but I always got food for us, we shared it. You taught and I killed’
‘You would have eaten me, just as I would eat you, Ogle. Remember Moss? Yes, you do, you staved in his greedy little green head for me, didn’t you?’
Creake made tutting sounds at the crumpled figure crawling towards him, before taking another mouthful of the vibrant elixir. He grunted, and his body groaned and grew a little more
‘It is our way. The only difference between us, is that I saw it coming’.

By now, Creake was far larger than Ogle had ever been. This food seemed to give life, and power, and yet because it was not a conscious life it only added to what Creake was already made of; it was not changing his form, like the ingestion of living memories normally did. Creake grasped Ogle’s head in his hands, easily, and lifted him till he was fully off the floor, staring into him with black eyes. Creake began to squeeze. His mouth muffled by Creake’s thumbs, Ogle’s eyes widened in terror as he began to paw frantically at his captor. Ogle’s cries were in vain, and for minutes he scratched and pounded and pulled without success. Then, when his legs were no longer kicking, Ogle – in sheer lucky desperation – grabbed hold of Creake’s ear, and pulled. Ogle pulled more, and more, staring as much in disbelief as in relief as Creake’s flesh stretched and sagged seemingly without limit.

‘What are you doing, runt?’ Creake bellowed in anger, though not without fear. Ogle sank his fingertips into Creake’s chest, which gave-way to his fingers with surprising ease, and began to pull his flesh in every direction. Ogle did not release his grip when Creake dropped him as he yelped with pain, nor when Creake sank to his knees, nor even when Ogle began to cry as Creake’s body began to melt and sink. Ogle stepped back hurriedly and watched Creake change. Creake had realised that he was changing because he had taken too much of the elixir, and he cried in fear. Ogle cried because his friend had hurt him, and then, frightened, Ogle had killed him without meaning to. Creake ceased to make noise, ceased to move, and existed only a little. It was not a conscious life that lay there.

Ogle lay there for a few weeks, his breath growing ragged with weakness, and howled, when he could, for his friend. His rest stifled by hunger, Ogle left the place that the humans inhabited, and walked again to the path between the trees. This time, though, they did not shy away from him. In fact, Ogle’s eye was drawn to an opening amongst the trunks, an inviting pathway to a clearing in dappled sunlight, and it was so beautiful that for the first time he forgot to cry. Ogle ventured in, amongst the trees, who did not groan, as he was used to, but rather sighed their leaves at him. It had been a long time since Ogle had been welcomed into the forest this way, and he sat in the clearing and gazed about him. Then, the leaves turned a deep red, faster than Ogle had ever seen, and began to fall. Ogle tentatively picked one up, and ate it. His eyes flashed with light, and when he looked about again, he knew what the trees wanted. There, in the clearing, Ogle ate leaves as fast as he could, for hours and days, and the trees rained them down upon him. First, his feet began to sink into the ground. Then his chest stiffened, and grew tall, even as his legs sank about him and took root and his arms grew and multiplied.

After three years, Ogle rested. He was content, and alive, and surrounded by brothers that would never cause him to hurt. Though he did still hurt. It was a joy to see the humans walk about him, even seem to enjoy him. Ogle became very popular, though he did not know why. The humans called him the Grey Oak, called him Mighty, and spoke in wonder of the tree that bore the shape of a face up high on its trunk, and wept tears of golden sap.

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