Here is my short story for this month’s short story challenge! I had a lot of fun writing this little story! I hope you enjoy reading it.
“Getting across the lava fields was the easy part. What I had not accounted for was….”
Additional challenge – use all of the following words in your story in some way:
glint, breathe, request, fortunate, effulgence, bubbling, book, harbinger
Ring of Fire
Jenelle Leanne Schmidt
I stared down at the roiling river of lava bubbling just beneath my feet as I balanced on the slippery rock, poised to leap to the next. Almost there. One more jump. I paused, forcing myself to breathe evenly, carefully, as I measured the distance and the strength needed to make the leap to safety. As I closed my eyes, my mind drifted back a few days…
“The ring is located here,” my brother said, slamming his finger down onto the open page of the book he held spread across his lap.
I peered down at the page with furrowed skepticism. The map was faded, and part of the page was missing, no doubt ripped out by some ravenous creature during my brother’s daring escape to extricate the book from its hiding place. It had been lost for centuries, but my brother was the premier archeologist and treasure-hunter of our time. It wasn’t his judgment I distrusted, but the accuracy of the map he’d found.
“But, Jack,” I protested, “this map doesn’t even come close to matching any landmarks we know of.”
His expression took on a triumphal smugness. “Any landmarks still standing today,” he crowed. “But look at this!”
He whipped out another map, this one crackling with age, and though his movements were expansive, his fingers were deft and careful as he unrolled it. Laying it on the table, he placed the book next to the ancient map and started pointing at various key features. It was like watching a master piecing together a puzzle. As he pointed to different features, understanding began to dawn and I grinned at him.
“You know something?” I said. “I think you might be on to something!”
And that was how I ended up in this predicament. Once we had ascertained the location of the treasure, it had been a small matter of outfitting our small expedition and setting off for the slopes of Mount Merapi. Upon arriving, I offered to scout ahead on our route and see what I could discover.
I opened my eyes and jumped, landing safely on the other side of the small river of boiling rock. I swiped a hand across my forehead and stared into the massive cave I had been making my way towards. Two orbs of light glittered out at me from within and my heart stopped.
Getting across the lava fields had been easy. But what I had not accounted for was the monster waiting for me on the other side.
He stared at me expectantly, his eyes twin high-beams in the misty night air. I blinked against their sudden effulgence, nearly stumbling backwards into the molten river I had just avoided. I was fortunate enough to catch myself, but I dropped into a low crouch, my heart resuming its activity with an increased rat-a-tat-tat as it hammered against my ribcage.
“Good evening, little one,” the creature bared his teeth in a terrible smile. “And what brings you to my lovely home here within the depths of Mount Merapi?”
It occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn’t tell him I was searching for treasure. Everything I’d ever heard or read about encountering enormous creatures of this sort warned me against such folly.
“G-good evening. I wanted to climb a volcano, that’s all,” I stammered as politely as I could.
“Strange,” the monster mused. “Most of the tourists who come to climb the volcano make their way up toward the top. I have been undisturbed here for many years. Tell me, do they still even believe in beasts such as I out there in the world?”
I did not want to hurt his feelings, but I also did not wish to lie to this monstrous creature. “I fear that most people do not,” I replied. “Though many wish your kind were real.”
“Truly?” the beast’s low growl sounded wistful. Then his eyes glinted with cunning. “Perhaps it is time for me to show them what they have been missing.” He rose to his feet and his massive size filled the mouth of the cavern. It was then that I saw him truly. His front legs were massive and muscular and ended in enormous talons like a bird’s, but so very much bigger. His leonine body was covered in something that looked like feathers, but glinted in the moonlight like jewels. His face was narrow and sharp. To say that its head and face resembled an eagle’s would be to liken a moth to a great jet, simply because both can fly, but I had nothing better to compare it to.
“I do not think the world is ready for you to return!” Terror made my voice rise to a high-pitched squeak.
The creature rumbled, the underside of his chest beginning to glow, like heated metal in a blacksmith’s forge. He took a step out of his cavern, unfurling his great, feathery wings. They stretched out on either side of him like massive sails on an ancient schooner. His breath wafted across my face, hot and dry. It was reminiscent of standing before an enormous bonfire. Beneath his mighty talons, the stones of the mountain crumbled and cracked, and steam hissed up suddenly like geysers being released from their stony prisons. His form loomed black above me, blotting out the stars that had begun to wink into existence, like the harbinger of the end of time. Cold terror gripped me in its skeletal hands as I stared up at the massive figure. His serpentine tail with a bundle of spikes at the end lashed above his head like a cowboy’s lasso. I stepped back, aghast, I had not expected the creature to be so immense.
“You came to steal my treasure!” The creature roared, his voice pounding into my head like the beating hooves of horses rumbling around a racetrack. “Admit it! You are a thief, come to steal what is MINE!” Flames burst from the creature’s mouth and scorched the earth in front of me.
I froze. It breathes fire? Shock coursed through me. None of the legends had said anything about an ability to breathe fire… though now that I considered it, the fact that the creature lived in the heart of a volcano probably should have been a clue.
Rocks bounced down the mountain, splashing into the little rivulets of fire. I cowered.
But then, amidst the thunder and fury, I heard a small chime.
I straightened and threw the creature a saucy grin. “You are wrong,” I said calmly, raising my voice.
He blinked at me, taken aback. “I did not come to steal your treasure. I came to distract you. He,” I pointed into the cavern, “came to steal your treasure.”
Quicker than breathing, my brother soared out of the cave, riding his patented personal flier. He swooped towards me with a grin.
“Come on, Mary!” he shouted.
I leaped onto the back of the flier and we zoomed high into the night sky. The monster jumped into the air after us, his massive, sharp beak opening hungrily, but then he fell back to the ground. With terrible anger the gryphon screamed, belching flame into the air. The volcano below trembled and quivered, ash and sparks spewing from its mouth.
“You were right, Jack!” I cried gleefully. “He hasn’t flown in so long, the muscles in his wings must have atrophied! Did you get it?”
Jack grinned over his shoulder and gave a nod. “I got it.” He handed me a small satchel and I peeked inside. The fiery orange jewel gleamed up at me with an inner fire. I grinned, but resisted the urge to throw a gloating comment over my shoulder.
We soared through the night, making it home just before dawn. Giggling, we threw ourselves onto the couch to survey our newest acquisition. I slipped the ring onto my finger and held it up to the window. The first rays of sunshine slanted through the window and lit up the gemstone like a living flame.
“Do you think it’s magical, like the stories say?” I asked.
Jack opened his mouth to answer, but before he could say anything, another voice intruded.
“Jack! Mary!” Our mother stood in the door, hands on hips.
We looked up at her, brimming with the excitement of our latest heist, wanting to regale her with our daring deeds, but she held up a hand.
“Before you tell me what’s going on, I have one request,” she said. “Please pick up the couch cushions and put them back where they belong. Then come on into the kitchen, lunch is ready.”