For 2022, I’ve been wanting to write more ‘creature features’ and generally improve my short story writing. My partner got me a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my birthday so I came up with the idea of writing a story every week based on a different creature from that – All There in the (Monster) Manual. Hope you enjoy!
This Week’s Inspiration: Cockatrice
The gods never made a creature more foul than the cockatrice. Its gaze paralyses, its breath sickens, and its bite turns living flesh into stone. But if Gould is going to get back into the good graces of his crime lord boss, he needs to capture one and bring it home alive. Is he hunting the cockatrice though, or is the cockatrice hunting him?
Trigger Warning: Cruelty to Animals, Cruelty to Humans
A shrieking cry cut through the dark forest and Gould took cover behind some brush. He’d been tracking the cockatrice for two days and this was as close as he’d gotten. Following a trail of scratches on tree bark where it sharpened its beak and claws, scat, and, of course, the petrified remains of a few larger victims. A couple of small deer and a badger, their bodies had been entirely rock by the time Gould found them but not too old judging by the amount of undergrowth surrounding them. Their midsections had been pecked open and strewn about like gravel.
That cry again, closer, and Gould couldn’t help feeling his blood run cold. It sounded like a dying man choking on something and then crying out in fresh pain. Of course something as ugly as the cockatrice would have such an ugly cry. The gods have never made a creature more foul. Its gaze paralysed, its breath sickened and could even kill small creatures outright, and of course there was what happened to any victim of its bite. You couldn’t even eat the damned things, their flesh was so toxic. But Barrock had loved his bloody pet, and now that it was dead here was Gould sourcing him a replacement. Gould rested his polished shield and reached for his weighted net. Flat, heavy stones were tied at each of the net’s corners to weigh it down. A wooden club hung off Gould’s belt. Gould wore clothes made of tough material and even leather armour over his shins, forearms, and chest. Boots and protective gloves covered his feet and hands as well. He watched the world through a pair of goggles with smokey lenses.
Sun filtered through the trees. Gould tracked the cries and found some fresh scratchings in the dirt, and some fresh scat with steam still rising off it, but not the cockatrice. Bushes rustled behind him. At times, Gould worried he was the one being hunted rather than the hunter.
“Kahli’s bloody sword,” Gould cursed.
Cockatrices paralysed prey, even humans, with their hypnotic stare. The smokey goggles diluted the effect, although it didn’t totally eliminate it. If the creatures had one weakness though, it was that they were vulnerable to their own gaze. The classic way to catch one was to use a mirrored object, like Gould’s polished shield, to turn the stare back on them. Then trap them, as with his net, and club them into submission. The protective gear was an absolute necessity in case anything went wrong.
Cockatrices were carnivores and would eat just about anything. Smaller creatures like insects, frogs, smaller birds or rodents they would swallow whole, maybe after knocking them out with their poison breath. For larger prey though, cockatrices would bite them repeatedly, as many times as they could, and then back off. A cockatrice’s bite turned the surrounding flesh to stone. The stone would spread, the more bites or the closer they were to main arteries the quicker, freezing limbs and paralysing bodies permanently. Stone would spread all over the body first and then start working its way deeper into the flesh. A cockatrice would follow an animal stricken by its bite at a safe distance until the spreading stone made them immobile. It would peck through the stone skin before it spread deeper, into the bones and organs, and it would eat whatever it could find that was still soft.
Sweat oiled Gould’s skin and the goggles felt like they were suctioning themselves to his eyeballs. He kept the polished shield raised, leading with it as he crept through bushes and around trees. His net and club were close to hand. After hunting for another hour though, he had yet to lay eyes on the cockatrice. Time to return to the original plan, he thought, which was to set a trap. Instead of following and hoping to stumble upon it, he’d bring the cockatrice to him.
Gould’s camp sat by a stream cutting through the forest, on the edge of his hunting ground. His chestnut stallion, Whiskers, remained tied up to one side of the clearing. The ashy remains of a dead campfire marred the middle of the clearing, beside Gould’s bedroll and other supplies. Listening as he returned along his own path, he heard animals rustling in the undergrowth and water babbling along the streambed but he didn’t hear the cockatrice or get the sense he was being followed.
“Good lad, good lad, did you miss me?” Gould scratched his horse along the side of the throat, the animal nervous in the woodsy surroundings.
Besides Whiskers, two relatively small goats grazed the edge of the clearing, also tied up so they couldn’t wander away. Both were dark brown with twisty horns. Neither of them reacted to Gould’s return as he stumbled out of the trees, sweating under his thick clothing and armour. He stroked Whiskers’ mane and then dumped his pack along with his other supplies.
“Damn all this. Damn the cockatrice, damn Barrock, damn it all.”
A cockatrice couldn’t resist the sound of an animal in pain. Gould hoped the one he was hunting would still be in earshot, or would pass close by. First, he took a long pull from a wineskin that rested beside his bedroll. The dark wine helped clear his head, and then he got to work.
At the other end of the clearing, away from Whiskers and the two goats, Gould built a kind of hunting blind. He lined up a bunch of dead wood and branches into a makeshift shelter, tops resting against one another in a triangular pattern. He covered them over with more branches, bark and leaves. He closed up the front as well, so there was only a gap at the top to see through. Inside, he loaded his shield, his net, and his club.
Dreading the next part, Gould returned across the clearing and retrieved one of the goats. He tied it up a short distance in front of his blind. Fetching a heavy rock from the edge of the stream, Gould gently forced the goat to the ground with one hand. It bleated lazily, too tame to really protest. Raising the rock in his other hand, Gould brought it down on one of the goat’s back legs and shattered its knee, snapping the bone. The goat screamed almost like a human child. Kicking, it tried to get away. When it put its weight on the broken leg, however, it fell, bleating. Eventually it thrashed its way to the end of its rope but couldn’t escape and gave up.
Gould went and hid inside the hunting blind to wait, and he waited, and waited. Whiskers and the second goat became distressed by the first goat’s cries. The horse whickered and pulled hard against his rope. The cockatrice failed to appear. Gradually, the injured goat settled down. Partly because he needed it making noise to attract the cockatrice, partly out of annoyance, Gould wriggled backward out of the blind then went and kicked the goat in its broken leg. It shrieked and thrashed around in the grass, unable to get away.
“Better you than me, if I don’t come back with a cockatrice then Barrock will do much worse to yours truly,” Gould said.
Gould’s boss, Barrock, controlled all the vice and crime in the city of Medfort. Even the local Kingsguard were in his coin purse. Rising to the position of crime lord, he had to be ruthless and brutal. Somewhere along the way, he’d acquired a captured cockatrice and he’d homed it in a private yard in his compound to use on his enemies. His thugs, like Gould, would force Barrock’s chosen victim into the yard and let the cockatrice bite them. Then Gould or whoever was on duty would drag the bitten person out and bribe the cockatrice with a bucket of frogs or rats. Whoever the victim was, Barrock would watch them turn to stone over the course of hours, sometimes even a whole day. Sometimes he would force them into amusing poses or simply poses he felt suited them best. Stone spread across their skin until it covered their eyes, ears, noses and mouths. blinding, deafening, and suffocating them.
At first, Barrock kept the cockatrice as a punishment for only those he felt had truly wronged him. He used to keep the petrified corpse of one of his chief rivals in the corner of his office. But Barrock enjoyed watching them turn so much, he kept coming up with more and more excuses to use the cockatrice on people. On borrowers that had been slow to pay, working girls that held back on paying him his cut or Kingsguard that wouldn’t take his bribes. Barrock had a whole garden of statues in various poses, their faces all contorted in fear and hatred.
It wasn’t even really Gould’s fault the cockatrice was dead. Barrock wanted to give a local tavern owner the cockatrice treatment when he’d been found trying to organise resistance against Barrock’s ‘protection’ taxes for Medfort businesses. Gould failed to properly check the man for weapons before they shoved him into the yard and the tavern keeper pulled a small knife. Closing his eyes to avoid the cockatrice’s hypnotic stare, the man waited for it to attack and then stabbed it a dozen times. He’d been bitten repeatedly in the process and wound up as stone, but he’d struck a considerably defiant blow. Since Barrock held Gould responsible for the loss, Gould had to replace the cockatrice or Barrock would come up with some other creative way to torture him to death.
To pass the time, Gould returned to the hunting blind with his two remaining wineskins. The wine helped drown out the childlike cries of the goat. Gould had done worse to people for less though, and felt little more than annoyance. He squeezed a stream of dark red wine into his mouth, grimacing at the sour tang. Although the sun was passing into the late afternoon, Gould started to get uncomfortably warm. He loosened his armour and let some of his outer clothing hang open. The smoke-lensed goggles rested high on his forehead.
A couple of hours later, the sun was low in the west and Gould lulled to a half-asleep state with boredom and drink. The only thing that kept him there was the knowledge that Barrock would never let him return without a replacement cockatrice. Gould collected a small pile of stones. Whenever the goat fell silent, Gould would throw rocks at it until he upset it or hit close enough to its broken leg to make it cry out again.
Then, the strangled, agonised cry of the cockatrice came from the forest again. Gould shot upright, almost upsetting the structure of the hunting blind. He groped for his goggles, pulling them over his eyes. Resting beside him was his shield with its outer surface polished to a mirror finish. He felt for his net and club. The interior of the blind was shadowy but had been set up in such a way that the afternoon sun glared through the gap in the front.
Bushes rustled and, sensing a predator, the goat tried to rise. Putting its weight on the wrong leg again, it cried out and fell. Whiskers, Gould’s horse, and the second goat were also disturbed and they yanked at their restraints.
The cockatrice exploded from the brush with another cry. The gods had never made a creature more foul, or uglier. The size of a large turkey, the cockatrice was birdlike in shape with a barrel of a body, two clawed feet, and stubby wings far too small for flying. In the intensity of the setting sun, its skin was the purple of a bruise just beginning to heal. Except for some naked quills along the back of its neck and spine, the cockatrice had no feathers. Its skin instead looked scaly and seemed too big for its body. Loose folds, wattles, and weird growths dangled everywhere and wobbled as it moved. Evil eyes watched, hawklike, above a hooked beak like a vulture.
The goat bleated and tried to pull away. It even forgot its broken leg in its panic. Across the clearing, Whiskers and the second goat went wild as well. The cockatrice attacked with its sharp, slashing beak. One bite was enough to doom the poor goat but the cockatrice hit it in half a dozen places in only seconds, all across its body. Squawking and flapping, the cockatrice then backed off again as if to watch what happened.
Traces of grey stone immediately spread from the slashes made by the cockatrice’s beak. Skin and fur turned to rock in festering patches. The goat panicked, thrashing against its rope. The cockatrice calmed itself and then fixed the goat with its stare. Its gaze hypnotised the animal. Ignoring its broken leg, ignoring the spreading patches of stone, the goat went still. Going off normal behaviour, the cockatrice would hold the goat with its stare until the stone spread enough to immobilise the animal. Once the goat looked like a statue of its former self, the cockatrice would peck through the rock coating and eat the soft parts until they, too, turned to stone.
Gould, in his hunting blind, realised this was the time to strike. The cockatrice’s focus was on the goat. Taking his shield and his net, Gould barrelled upward. He knocked half of his blind aside. Wobbling to his feet, Gould realised he’d gotten drunker than he intended during his hours of boredom and inattention. He should have kept a clearer head. The cockatrice’s attention turned on Gould but Gould was wearing his goggles and avoided meeting its stare directly. Instead, he raised his shield and hid behind it.
The cockatrice looked at itself in the shield but it didn’t react as Gould had thought it would. It squawked and flapped its veiny wings as if getting ready to attack. In his panic, Gould realised the afternoon sun was glaring off his polished shield. The glare was too much, the cockatrice couldn’t see its own reflection.
“Shit!” Gould said.
Grasping his net, Gould hauled around with it. The rocks tied to its ends fanned out, spreading it open like a blanket, but the cocktrice was in motion now. The birdlike monstrosity darted around the net, bits of loose flesh bobbling. Only a wing was clipped and the cockatrice wrestled free. Gould grabbed for his wooden club, wishing he’d strapped his sword to his belt as a backup.
The cockatrice launched itself off the ground, aiming at Gould’s face. Its wings were much too small to allow its fat body to fly but they allowed it to leap higher than its leg muscles alone. Gould used his shield to ward it off. Beside them, the goat with the spreading stone patches bleated. Across the clearing, panic spread to the other animals as well. Whiskers rose up on his rear hooves, whinnying. The cockatrice bounced off the shield with a noise like a gong. Gould thrashed, trying to hammer the cockatrice while it was on the ground. But he was still trying to avoid looking at it and his senses were dull with wine so the cockatrice threw itself out of his path.
With a powerful, all body movement, Whiskers suddenly ripped free from one of the knots Gould had used to secure him. The stallion turned and fled down the bank of the stream. Its hindquarters and tail disappeared into the trees.
“No! No, godsdamn it!” Gould yelled.
While Gould was distracted, the cockatrice barrelled into him. Gould’s legs went out and he spilled backward. His shield jammed awkwardly against his arm as he fell. Gobbling, the cockatrice fell on top of him. Its evil yellow eyes nearly caught Gould but he quickly tore his gaze away. The cockatrice’s beak snapped shut on Gould’s fingers. Fortunately the thick leather of his gloves protected them. Gould clubbed at the creature to drive it off. The cockatrice belched a poisonous green cloud. Gould couldn’t help but inhale and moments later he retched, choking and hacking, on the verge of throwing up. He swung his shield and club wildly to keep the creature back.
As a parting shot, the cockatrice attacked Gould’s leg. It found the top of his boot and savaged his shin through the leg of his pants. Gould felt a sharp stab of pain and cried out. He’d removed his shin armour while in the hunting blind. Gould raised his other foot and lashed at it. The cockatrice felt surprisingly solid and heavy but the kick flung it backward. Finally, squawking and glaring, the cockatrice backed off into the trees from where it came.
“No! No, no, no, no!” Gould said.
Gould scrambled away from the trees, holding his shield and club. As soon as he could, he pulled up his pants and checked his leg. Just above his boot, the cockatrice’s beak had gotten through and created a small, bloody scratch. It was hardly anything, not worth noticing in any other circumstances. But from a cockatrice any scratch was lethal.
In the dying light, Gould half-crawled to the stream. Dunking his leg into the water, he scrubbed and clawed at the scratch. He tried to wash it out as best he could until the surrounding skin was red and irritated. When he finally raised his foot again though he could see a fringe of grey around the cut. The cut sealed itself with smooth stone.
The goats were still panicking. The sacrificial one was quickly being overcome with stone. Half its face was rock. Its legs and muscles constricted. But it had been hit half a dozen times and was much smaller than Gould, of course. Gould limped after the gap where Whiskers had disappeared but couldn’t see the horse at all.
“Bastard of a horse! Godsdamned animal!” Gould raged.
Behind the rage, however, was fear. A sheer, chilling terror. The cockatrice screamed somewhere in the forest, letting him know it hadn’t gone far. It wouldn’t, after all, this was how it hunted. Infect, paralyse, or wait for the stone growth to overcome its prey.
It would be dark soon. Gould hurried to build a fire using some of the remains of his collapsed hunting blind. The cockatrice would see better than him at night and he didn’t want it coming after him while he was essentially blind. Dry enough to catch quickly, the fire soon started to rage. Gould sat beside it with his short sword across his lap. He had two options when it came to a bite, besides waiting for death. A maester in any decently sized town would have a potion to reduce the effect of the bite. Gould wished he’d thought to buy one of the potions and bring it with him. But the nearest civilisation was half a day’s ride, too far for him to walk before the bite overtook him. Amputating the infected limb was the other option. Gould worried he might have already left it too long but the spreading stone was low on his right leg, just above the ankle. If he severed his right foot now, without delay, just below the knee, perhaps the rest of his body would escape the curse.
Terror made Gould’s every movement clumsy. Taking his dagger, he split one side of his pant leg and pulled it back. He removed his belt and wrapped it tight, tighter, around his leg just below the knee, cinching it into the flesh until it hurt. Itching madly, the stone spread. It was a strange sensation. Gould could feel the stone colonising his body cell by cell, every millimetre crying out, burning with a kind of cold fire and itching until it succumbed and only a terrible numbness remained.
Amputation was the second reason he’d lit the fire so quickly. He thought about how best to perform the operation, building up momentum to swing his sword at such an angle was going to be far too difficult. He’d have to hew and chop and saw through flesh and bone to get through the limb, somehow without passing out. Gould thought about the goat and how he’d broken its leg. He could snap his shinbone with a sizable rock first, and then use his knife or sword to slice through the more yielding flesh, and cauterise the wound with the fire.
Filled with dread, Gould collected a large, flat rock from the stream and returned with it to the fire. Into his mouth, he wedged the edge of one of his leather shin guards so he could bite down on it through the pain. Night settled totally over the forest. By the light of the leaping fire, Gould stretched his bare and hairy leg out in front of him. He could see just where to aim, below his knotted belt where the shinbone pressed against the skin. One hard blow right there, with all his strength and the weighted edge of the stone could be enough. When he went to pick up the stone, however, his muscles turned to water. His arms couldn’t shift it even after he’d just carried it from the stream.
“Come on, you coward! You godsdamned coward!” Gould shouted to himself.
On his second attempt, Gould managed to pick up the rock before dropping it. He breathed hard to pump up his courage and shoved the shin guard back into his mouth. Biting down with teeth set, tears in his eyes, he heaved the rock over his head and prepared to bring it down.
From the trees, the cockatrice screamed its cry like a dying man. The sound made Gould hesitate. He held the rock for a few more moments, arms shaking, and then tossed it aside. He spat out the piece of leather.
“What in the nine hells am I going to do when that thing comes back? How am I going to drag myself out of here with one leg?”
Gould had been so focused on the horror of the amputation, he’d failed to consider what his next moves would be after he went through with it. The pain and blood loss would be severe, he could very well pass out. Then the cockatrice would come and reinfect him at will. Even if it didn’t, chances were good he’d die of exposure before dragging himself back to civilisation with only one leg. He had to think.
Gould struggled to his feet. He left the belt cinched around his lower leg just in case it helped in any way by cutting off the flow of blood. Whiskers had galloped away in the direction Gould would have to go. Maybe, if he was lucky, he’d find the horse. But if not he’d have to walk through the night to the nearest settlement.
“Maybe I’ll find that godsdamned horse,” Gould said. “Maybe there was a farm? Yes, a farm I missed! Or I’ll find a merchant on the road. If I can’t find a maester, they could at least do the cutting for me, if it’s not too late.”
Gould left most of his supplies and took only what he felt he needed. His sword and knife, and shield, but not the net. His protective gear and goggles, and waterskin. With his club, he did his best to make a torch. He kept some more strips of material from his bedroll for fuel, for when the torch started to go out.
Of the two goats, the infected one lay down, occasionally bleating, as it turned to stone. One unseeing eye had transformed into a grey orb, along with one horn and half its jaw. Patches of stone covered its body and left its limbs twisted in awkward shapes. Gould left it and hoped the cockatrice would eat its fill and not follow him. The second goat he would take with him and maybe leave along the way, a sacrifice, to again draw the cockatrice away. He leashed it to his sword belt.
“Let’s go, now,” Gould said.
Gould headed into the woods, following his horse’s trail. The moon rose but without his torch Gould would soon be lost. His leg was mostly numb but still itched terribly around the spreading stone.
After an hour, Gould limped along tugging the goat behind him. He’d seen no sign of his horse since leaving the camp. The itch spread to the sole of his right foot and halfway up his calf. Hearing rustling in the bushes, Gould turned toward it and raised his torch hoping to see the shine of Whiskers’ eyes in the dark.
“Hello? What’s there?” Gould said.
An angry, birdlike squawking came from the bushes and Gould staggered back. The cockatrice had followed him.
“No! Get back, get out of here!”
Gould dropped his torch and reached for his sword. He held his shield in his left hand although he wasn’t sure if it would work in the dark any better than when the sunset glare had beamed off it. The cockatrice didn’t emerge, however, it just screamed and backed away. Gould waited until the torch started to gutter at his feet. Sheathing his sword, he bent awkwardly to pick it up.
When the itching reached his knee, Gould pretended he couldn’t feel it. The stone growth had slipped under his belt and he couldn’t feel any of his lower leg, making it difficult to balance. Soon his knee wouldn’t bend. He had to find a large and solid branch he could use as a walking stave. The cockatrice kept following, its bloodchilling scream cutting through the night now and again, and the goat lagged behind him. Gould decided to use the goat to try and satiate the cockatrice’s appetite.
“Here, come here, you useless godsdamned thing.”
Gould dragged and tied the second goat to a low tree branch. Nervous thanks to the cockatrice’s cries, the goat seemed happy to stop. At least until Gould ruthlessly swung his stone foot into the animal’s ribs to get it making noise. Something snapped, and the goat bleated and mewled pathetically.
Quick as he could, Gould took off through the woods in the direction he’d been moving. His foot dragged and he leaned into the stave but he started to adjust to it. He hadn’t gone far when he heard the cockatrice squawking and gobbling, and goat blathering. It worked, the cockatrice settled for the goat. But Gould felt disturbed knowing just how close the creature had been, given how quickly it had attacked once he left. It must have been following closer than he anticipated, waiting, watching. It was most definitely hunting him now and not the other way around.
Gould kept moving but feared he might be lost. He’d left the stream behind, and lost all sight of his horse’s trail. Although he had the torch, the woods and every direction looked the same. Winding more material around his club he kept the torch burning but was terrified of what would happen if it went out. Gould was also exhausted. He’d been moving and tracking all day, and drinking in the hunting blind. Dragging his right foot was tiring. But as long as the cockatrice followed, he couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t rest. He didn’t have time to do so anyway, he had to find other people before he was too paralysed to move.
Itching moved up to Gould’s hip, and spread into his groin. The sensation was maddening. The knowledge of what was happening as he scratched and scratched was almost enough to drive him insane. Amputation was most definitely no longer an option. Rather than continue over his midsection, the rock spread faster into his left leg. Stone stiffened his thigh. Exhausted, Gould dragged his completely solid right leg and hopped on his increasingly inflexible left, constantly falling heavily against his stave. Every time he slowed down though, the choking shriek of the cockatrice came from the forest again. It mocked him. Taunted him. He considered facing it but he was weak and terrified, and the thought of stopping sapped all strength from his muscles in the same way the fear had when he’d tried to lift the rock and break his shinbone. Knowing it was so close, knowing it would follow without fear or shame or mercy until he could no longer defend himself. Knowing he would end up as nothing but a meal if he let it get to him.
By the time dawn began to break, both of Gould’s legs had turned to stone. He could only move by violently twisting his entire body, throwing his legs around step by thumping step as he leaned heavily into his walking stave. His pants and boots remained normal but his legs were grey and grainy. Nestled in his crotch, his cock and balls were shrunken with fear and looked like a strange sculpture. Even the hair covering his legs and pubis had turned to stone, but was delicate enough that it broke apart easily. Gould wasn’t sure if a maester could even reverse a case so severe. All that drove Gould forward was his determination not to wind up as the cockatrice’s prey, regardless of how else he ended his journey.
“Help! Help me! Somebody, help me!” Gould bellowed into the forest until his voice was raw, to no answer.
Dropping his extinguished torch, Gould staggered on holding his shield and stave. His sword and dagger hung off his hips. Itch surrounded his midsection now, constantly taking more and more of him. As morning came, nothing around Gould looked familiar. He feared he’d wandered away from the path he’d been trying to follow. Twisting, his legs slipped and he fell onto his chest, unable to do almost anything to defend himself. Breath exploded out of Gould’s lungs. Sucking at the air, Gould continued to crawl hand over hand.
“Help, help me,” Gould gasped.
Recovering his branch, Gould levered himself upright, crying with exhaustion, on his stiff legs. He collected his polished shield like a totem but let his sword and belt, his waterskin, and his goggles all fall away. He had to throw his whole shoulders into moving himself forward but there was nowhere to go. Screaming, the cockatrice closed in.
“No, no, please.”
Batlike wings flapping, the bruised, birdlike creature burst from the brush. Blood from the two goats covered its hooked beak. Yellow eyes glared, capturing Gould’s face.
Gould felt hypnotised. He couldn’t say how long he stood, staring into the cockatrice’s eyes. Vaguely he was aware of the itch spreading up his chest, onto his shoulders. Itching and stiffening his arms and neck. When the connection broke, Gould found himself falling. He let out a strangled yell. His body, mostly stone, had tipped backward and torn his gaze away from the cockatrice’s paralysing stare.
“Gods, oh, please, save me! Save me,” Gould said, coming back around to consciousness.
Gould couldn’t say how long he’d been hypnotised. The sun had moved but the forest hadn’t changed. Gould’s shield bounced out of his hand, rolled, and wound up resting against the base of a nearby tree. Stone consumed most of Gould’s body. Lungs laboured in a chest of rock. His shoulders, biceps and elbows couldn’t move, although his lower arms and hands were still flesh and blood. His neck twisted and turned, his face as yet untouched.
“No, no, please.”
Gobbling, the cockatrice waddled over and climbed onto Gould’s waist. Heavy as it was, Gould couldn’t feel it. He couldn’t feel anything below the throat except for his hands. The cockatrice’s evil eyes scanned over his helpless form. It didn’t care that Gould hadn’t completely succumbed. That he was alive and conscious. It intended to feed.
Gould cried, and screamed, and begged, but nothing drove the cockatrice away. Its beak scored against the stone covering Gould’s stomach. At first he felt nothing, but the rock shell began to crack. The cockatrice dug in with its hooked beak and peeled off fragments of stone that were red and bloody beneath. Hot agony spewed through Gould’s stomach. Sickening levels of pain wracked him as he was gashed open. The outer layer of his upper body had turned to stone but the cockatrice began to chew and tear into the soft, sweet meat below.
Gould looked away but found himself staring at the polished surface of his shield, resting nearby. It showed a reflection of the cockatrice and what was happening to Gould in stark relief. He tried to turn but the stone growth reached his neck muscles, meaning he couldn’t move. Too slowly, the itch moved to his jawline. Gould could do nothing but stare, and scream, as he watched the cockatrice’s head disappear into the abcess in his stomach, with blood running over the stone.
Sean: I really enjoy stories where humans realise they’re not necessarily top of the food chain. Think it’s one of those things that people take for granted when they jump out of their cars to take selfies with bears, or swim with crocodiles or keep things like giant pythons as pets, you are made of meat like anything else.
Other than the cockatrice this story was inspired by komodo dragons, and the way in which they will bite and envenom their prey and then track it for long distances before it succumbs. I remember watching a nature documentary where a komodo had envenomated a water buffalo and the doco continued to watch this buffalo go about its day, eating, drinking, surrounded by other members of its herd, with a pack of these giant lizards always close at hand waiting for it to show that fatal weakness, when they would eventually swarm over it and eat it alive. That was what got me, to not only be eaten but to be forced into that close proximity with your predator knowing sooner or later you were dead. Komodo dragons were always a favourite of mine as a kid.
If you happen to find yourself in a work of fiction, don’t go torturing animals, obviously. It nevers works out well for you as a character. You probably shouldn’t do it in real life either.
Next Week’s Inspiration: Grey Ooze