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Don't Starve themed mini-story I wrote for a story-swap.


Delannion
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A DOG DAY NIGHT

 

I always thought I would die first and then go to hell, not the other way around.

 

The fire crackles and spits as I add another log.  It’s cedar, like all the trees in this section of the island, so the fire burns fast and hot.  The campfire provides the only light in the darkness, other than the distant glint of a patch of fireflies off somewhere in the woods. At least I hope it’s fireflies.  There are no stars in this place.  Even the moon is a pale pathetic thing that sheds only enough light to be seen.  Unless it‘s full.  Then it‘s a whole different story.  The moon is only half-full tonight, so that’s one less Problem to worry about. 

 

Sitting near me on a tree stump is a cat, black as the night and almost impossible to see.  “Come here Wilson, have your fish.”   The cat ignores me.   He just sits, staring out into the darkness at creatures that I can’t see.  His tail swipes gently from side to side, a sure sign that he doesn’t see any immediate threat.  He’s my only companion in this wretched place.  I named him Wilson because it’s a good name for a survivor, and the cat’s definitely a survivor. So am I.  I have no idea how long he’s been here. Awhile, I suspect.  Maybe he’s part of this place  The cat found me on my first day here.  Found us, I should say. There were more of us then.   Just like me, they had no idea how they’d gotten here. We just all woke up that day, trapped in this strange place. Wilson took an immediate liking to me, and I to him.  

 

I let my mind drift back to that first day.  It’s the only happy memory I have of this place.  I skipped around through the forest, gathered berries, made myself a little flower garland, and chased rabbits around the prairie.  The moment the sun went down, the screaming started.  I was sitting by a campfire.  Most of the others weren’t so lucky.  There was screaming, and the sound of tearing flesh.  We could hear some of them calling for help, and running for the fire, but none of them made it.  I’d say that night still gives me nightmares, but I’d be lying. I’ve had nights a lot worse than that one.

 

I cast a glance back behind me into the darkness. It’s too dark to see, but there’s a row of crude headstones, hewn from the granite boulders that dot the landscape.  There were survivors from the first night, of course.  Not so many left now.  Maybe a few who I’ve lost track of are out there somewhere, fending for themselves like I am.  The rest keep me company through the long nights.

 

Wilson still hasn‘t moved from his vigil.  “You’re lucky I like you, cat!”  I sigh and toss the fish in his direction, confident that he’ll get around to it eventually.  It’s the last of the fish.  All I have for myself is a couple handfuls of berries and a wild carrot I stumbled across while chopping wood.  I’ll have to go foraging tomorrow.  

 

I stoke the fire as high as I dare and settle in for the night.  You have to sleep some time, and night’s no worse than any other time, as long as the fire stays lit.  It‘s not like it‘s safe to wandering around in the Darkness.  The nights are getting colder, but it’s not quite cold enough to pull out the winter gear.  I could use my makeshift tent, but it’s harder to hear danger approach from inside.  I’ve learned to sleep light.  If there’s a Problem on the way, it makes a sound.  That’s one of the Rules of this place.  There are many rules, some stranger than others. I keep a mental note, because forgetting them can get you killed.  Never enter the Darkness;  Problems always make a sound;  Don’t feed a pig-man too much meat;  Always carry extra pinecones; Never kill three rabbits on the same day;  Never punch a giant frog. Trust me on that last one. The list goes on. 

 

Oh yeah.  And there’s no way out.  I’ve searched.  We all did.  I’ve found  lots of rocks, trees, grass, bushes, rocks, flowers, fireflies, bees, bison, and lots and lots of Problems…but no way out.  Still, I’d like to think that one day I will find a way out. A way back home. A way to a place that’s sunny all the time…

 

“Hiss!!!”

 

I awake with a start.  I must have nodded off.  The fire has only died down a little,  it‘s the dead of night.   Wilson is standing on a tree stump, his hair standing on end, and hissing at the night.  “What is it cat? I don’t hear any…oh.”  There it is, a long, low howl….the baying of the Hounds.  It’s loud.  Too loud.  They’re close, and they’ll be here soon.  “Damn!”  I quickly toss some more logs on the fire, more than is strictly safe but I’ll need all the light I can get.  I hurriedly strap on my makeshift armor - a collection of carefully shaped branches roped together and fashioned into a sort of external wooden ribcage.  It‘s heavy and awkward but surprisingly effective.  It’s also beginning to fall apart, but it’s a little late to worry about that now.  My spear at least is in good repair.  The baying grows louder with every breath.  There are a lot of them.  Too Many.  Wilson hides under the stack of firewood.  I grab my Emergency Bag with my free hand.  My heart is racing.  Soon the baying is right on top of us. I can hear the Hounds’ feet kicking up leaves as they rush in from every direction.  I brace myself with the fire pit on one side, the tent on the other, and a tree stump at my back.  

 

The first one bursts into the light and rushes directly at me. I wait for it to get close then jump to the side, driving my spear into its fleshy flanks.  I’m rewarded with a cry of pain as the Hound darts away, bleeding badly.  Another one jumps onto the stump behind me and begins chomping at my head.  With a quick side-sweep I knock its legs out from under it, knock it to the ground.  The moment I turn, two of them are at my back.  One gets a mouthful of wood, but the other bites into my calf.  I turn and jab, catching one in the thigh, and they jump back, waiting  for another opening.  Dodge. Thrust. Jab.  Repeat.  In another minute I’ve killed four of them, and injured a dozen more.  I‘m bleeding from 2 more bites.  Stab! Another goes down, but they just keep coming. Dodge. Thrust. Jab. Repeat.  Another pair down, but one took a chunk out of my arm.  

 

And then suddenly they stop.  The ones around me slink back to the edge of the camp, except for one that whimpers as it slowly dies by the wood pile.  For a moment, I just stand in shock, bracing for the next impact.  My heart is still beating like I’m running a marathon. Did I win?  Is that all of them? No.  I frown.  This isn’t right.  I can still see their eyes glinting in the darkness, can hear their growls, the sound of their paws as they circle the camp, just outside the radius of my fire.  I yell at them.  “What are you waiting for, you dumb dogs?!”  

 

They don’t respond, but after a moment, slowly, ponderously, something comes forward into the light.  It’s a Hound, but bigger than any I’ve seen before. Bigger than any three put together.  He stands as tall as my shoulder, and branches snap like bones beneath his feet.  A thousand pounds of muscle ripples with his every step.  His fur is grizzled white, his fangs are jagged, and his eyes shine with bloody murder.  I can smell the rot on his breath from across the camp.  I’m beginning to get a little nervous.   My spear is good enough for fish or Hounds, but this…?  I move to put the fire between myself and the beast.  He begins to grown.  It’s a low,  rumbling sound that seems to shake the very earth.  The others begin to growl as well, a chorus of deadly finality.   I watch him through the flames of the fire pit. Waiting.  It doesn’t take long.  He crouches.  His muscles tense.  It’s time.  I close my eyes.  He leaps.  

 

And that’s when I throw the gunpowder on the fire.  The sudden fireball is hot enough to burn my face from here, and nearly bright enough to blind me through my closed eyelids.  I try to dodge out of the way but he barrels into me.  My spear goes flying and I fall to the ground with the wind knocked out of me.  Fortunately, I’ve just become the least of his problems.  The big Hound has transformed from a canine of death into a fireball of death, and he’s none too pleased.  He dashes mindlessly left and right, his entire coat ablaze.  He crashes through my drying rack, setting it alight.  Next he stumbles into a patch of berries I’ve been cultivating, likewise setting it on fire.  All the while he howls, a sound of pain that is both terrifying and pitiful.   He brushes up against a cedar tree, and the entire area erupts in red light, a blood moon to witness his torment.  A few moments more and he collapses, just at the edge of my camp, his howl subsiding to a whimpering growl.  

 

I approach carefully, spear in hand.  The beast reeks of cooked filth.  His fur is completely gone, and in places the flesh has charred down to the bone.  He growls at me as I approach, his bloody eyes more hateful than ever as he struggles to rise.  “Not today” is all I say as I drive my spear into his neck.  He gargles and falls back to the ground. I stab him again. And again. And again until he falls still, and the murder finally leaves his eyes.  

 

It’s then that I realize the night has gone quiet.  The only sound is the flicker of the flame and the crack of burning branches.  The other Hounds have gone.  The cedar tree is burning strong but it doesn’t seem to be spreading, and the other fires have gone out.  I’m suddenly overwhelmed by the smell.  I stumble away from the smoldering corpse and vomit into a bush.  My heart begins to slow and I’m suddenly aware of my body again.  My legs are bleeding.  My arm is bleeding.  My face is cracked and burned from the heat.  Clumsily  I doff my armor and drop  my spear.  My hands are shaking.  I peel off my clothing.  There’s a lot of blood.  I rummage around for some clean water.  I wash the wounds, binding them with some scraps of spare clothing.  It hurts, but they don’t seem as bad as I feared.   

 

When morning comes it finds me sitting next to my campfire, roasting a chunk of thick, gamey meat.  It smells foul, and it tastes worse, but I’m in no shape to be picky.  I’m lost in thought when Wilson jumps up into my lap.  “Well there you are, cat.  Did you have fun hiding under the wood pile while I nearly died?”  The cat says nothing, just looks at me with his big yellow eyes.  I stroke the cat with one hand while I put another chunk of meat over the fire.  “So, Wilson.  I don’t think we’ve been taking those Hounds seriously enough.  We’ve got to be ready if they come back again.  I’m thinking traps.  Lots and lots of traps.”

 

The cat begins to purr.

 

THE END

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