Otto Kunger had a round head, with close-cut hair, and round, thick glasses; however his spirit was quite squarish. His eyes were quick and clever, so that when he went “hunting” with Kitty in the fields and woods, while she found things more often, he found things that were usually more interesting; consequentially, they each thought the other was better at it.
Today they would not be hunting. Kitty’s heart beat almost as fast to show Otto the fairy hole as when she and her mother had first followed the light-bearer to it. They clambered nimbly over the gate; Kitty as usual was in her bare feet, while Otto had on a pair of sturdy battered shoes that may have once belonged to his father. Kitty was over the gate first, even quicker than usual. Otto’s glasses glinted in the afternoon sun as he got his leg across.
But they did not see the fairy hole that day. Once they were inside the field they could tell something was wrong, as if they had walked into a room where people had been quarrelling violently, and were now in stony silence. The first thing they noticed was that the goats were scattered: three at the sides of the field, as far from each other as they could be, and one nearer the centre.
“Don’t you have five goats?” Otto asked.
There was something on the ground towards the far side of the field; when Kitty saw it she drew in a shaky breath, and ran across, with Otto close behind. She fell to her knees. Ari, their youngest and gentlest goat, the only Alpine, lay with her forehead broken and gashed horribly. The flies buzzed about her and in the grass, which was stained to the roots. She was dead. Kitty was pressing her hands to her mouth, trying to swallow back her horror, sadness, and nausea at once. She had watched and helped to butcher animals, and had an unusually strong stomach. But as one would expect she was close friends with the milking goats. And death like this she had never seen: brutal, unexpected, unexplained, gruesome. It felt like someone had kicked the breath out of her.
“All the goats have hurt their heads…” Otto was staring around intently. “Could they have done it to each other?”
“But why would nanny-goats butt their heads… and kill each other…” She put out her hand to stroke the dead goat’s side.
“Maybe you shouldn’t touch it, there could be a curse.” Otto said.
“I thought… Isn’t it a good fairy?” Then Kitty saw the hideous wound again, hid her face in her arm, and cried.
Otto reached for her and half drew back his hand, at a loss what to do. If she were Else, he would put his arms around her. But Kitty had always been his partner, and didn’t belong to him that way; it didn’t feel right to intrude on her heart, which was now suddenly laid bare. He searched for some other way to help her.
“Kitty, there’s one goat not hurt. That one, in the middle…”
Though she didn’t need it, he helped her to her feet, as a friendly gesture. She wiped her eyes. When they went closer, the goat came to meet them, like a child that had been left in a dark room. Kitty had just reached out to stroke her when there was a sharp rustle in the weeds at the end of the field. A chaffinch burst from the leaves and careened this way and that through the air; there was a dreadful sound as the flies around the dead body momentarily droned in a heat of anger. The frenzied bird swept down like an arrow on the unharmed goat, and tore her back with beak and claws before flapping away desperately and at random. The goat bleated in pitiful terror, and fled back past where she had been before.
Suddenly she shied and froze, staring down. Otto shouted and ran towards her, but Kitty didn’t follow, still stunned by the bird’s wild attack. Otto shoved the goat away, and swung his hand at what seemed like a giant spider in the grass. But he jerked and stopped dead, with his back bent and feet apart, almost as the goat had done. Then he recoiled and fell to a sitting posture, giving a hoarse wail that almost made Kitty fall down also. She dashed forwards with a pounding heart. Otto didn’t move his eyes from the thing in the grass, but shouted when he heard Kitty coming.
“Stop Kitty! Don’t go near it!”
She did stop, rearing back and snatching at her breath; the white stood out in her eyes, and her hair lifted from her shoulders.
Before them in the grass, black as a pirate’s flag, its pincers open and drawn back, its jointed tail curved like a cat’s, there crouched a monstrous scorpion.
Kitty seized Otto under the arms, and dragged him backwards and to his feet. But almost as terrifying as the creature’s presence was when Otto lifted his right arm, shaking, and said,
“It stung me.”
The field seemed to be sliding around her; the blows dealt to her mind one after the other were heavy, and now she feared she was fainting. She viciously bit off her weakness, and possibly part of her tongue, and stared hard to refocus her eyes.
“Otto, we have to go!”
He was already finding it difficult to move, and she supported him as they hurried down to the gate. Once they reached it she struggled with her fingers to unlatch and open it. She could hear Otto’s breath wheezing. He still held his arm out stiffly; it was disturbing how much and how fast it had swollen. His other hand he pressed to his groin. When she took him again, he tried to say something, but she couldn’t understand him.
“Your breath smells bitter,” she said, “it means you’ve been cursed.”
She was trembling almost as much as he was now. Out of habit she shut the gate behind them – she didn’t have time to decide whether not to do it, and it gave her a pang, like she was shutting their goats into an oven.
“I hope none of the goats get stung,” she said to herself as they hurried falteringly along the lane. Otto seemed to nod as he blinked hard and laboured to breathe. All at once it came over Kitty that she was taking Otto to her own house.
“No! Dad still has the car.”
She felt dizzy and blank. Despair welled up through her before she thought to simply go to the Blythes nearby. Taking a shortcut from where they stood through some trees and up a hill, she began to feel like she was being very cruel to Otto, dragging him along, tripping on his feet, and almost dropping him while he couldn’t really catch himself. It was like a nightmare when the harder you try to move, the less you are able to.
Mrs. Jamie Blythe was lying in the grass with her head under a newspaper when the two arrived, stumbling over a flowerbed in their haste. Kitty had gotten sweat in her eyes, and almost didn’t see her.
“Jamie! Jamie! Otto’s been stung by a fay scorpion!”
Jamie sat up, trying to pull the newspaper off her face.
“Heavens above! Joyce! Joyce, get the car! Someone’s been hurt bad!”
Her long-legged son Joyce did his best to hurry, but to Kitty he seemed half-asleep. When at last she was sitting beside Otto in the back of the Blythes’ old Volkswagen hatchback, and the shadows of passing trees were flickering over them, she prayed, not caring that it was out loud:
“Dear God, please help us.”
Then she slumped against the car door and cried till she could hardly breathe.
Go here to read: The Pasture Watch – Part One: The Light Bearer
Go here to read: The Pasture Watch – Part Three: The Signal
Go here to read all posted so far of: The Kitty and Otto Stories
I’m cross-posting this here and on Hope, Hearts, and Heroes: a blog of six authors in Romance and Speculative fiction.