After fighting Krung and Kusira had an appetite, so they each tore a leg off the cargo-ship-sized salamander they’d just beaten and had their fill of its flesh, sitting at their ease on the verdant slope of the volcano. “This taste funny to you?’ Krung asked, looking critically at the polka-dotted limb.
“Piquant,” said Kusira.
“Piquant. Like, spicy.”
“I guess. But also a little, I don’t know, sour?”
“Sure. Like a jalapeño margarita.”
After a few more mouthfuls Krung threw the rest into a ravine. “I give it a C-minus. What are your plans the rest of the night?”
“Plans?” The enormous snake sneered. “We don’t need no stinking plans.”
“So nothing? Just sit around?”
“My plan’s the same as it always is, girl: Rampage!”
“Didn’t we just get done rampaging?” Krung waved at the smashed trees, the flattened village.
“This? This was barely a romp, much less a rampage. And this thing came at us, you know? If anything, this was its rampage. So I figure, let’s rampage over to the east side, pick up Chod and Starstrom, then take this shit to the city, you feel?”
“I guess.” Krung lay back, mashing several small trees into splinters, looking up at the sky.
“Oh no you don’t,” said Kusira, rearing up and hissing.
“Don’t go lying down like you’re going to take a nap. We’re not done.”
Krung sighed. “Come on, I just…”
“You’re just about to sleep for three hours in the middle of the day, then wake up, eat two hundred pounds of cold salamander, and spend the rest of the night moping about Gurei. Nope. Not gonna happen. I won’t let you.”
Krung sighed again. “Well, it’s hard, you know? I think about all the times we fought monsters together, and –”
“Nope! Nope! What did I say? Up! The rampage awaits!”
Krung tried being cross. “I’m allowed a little time to mourn a relationship.”
“It’s been six months, Krung! For a three-month relationship! You are way past allowable mourning and deep into maudlin self-pity. No más!” With a warning hiss, Kusira struck, nipping the giant ape in the thigh with her fangs.
“Ow!” Again Kusira bit. “Ow! Fine, stop! I’ll go out. Jeez.”
Starstrom was easy to find, up by the lava on the east side. “Starry, where are ye?” Kusira called through the smoke. “I swear I don’t know how she deals with all this ash and shit. So unhealthy. Starrry!”
With a shriek, a shape like a crashing jetliner dove from the billowing smoke, seized Kusira in its talons, and flapped its enormous wings in an attempt to get airborne again. “Goddamnit, you harpy, let me go!” Kusira bellowed, writhing violently. “I am going to mess you up SO bad –” Kusira was well known to have a fear of flying, as one might expect from someone who spent her life in full-body contact with the ground.
Starstrom, who looked like the world’s largest pteranodon only with more lightning, screamed one more time and dropped Kusira. Then she landed herself, laughing riotously. “‘Goddamnit, you harpy!’” she said in a high-pitched voice. “Oh, I got you. I got you so good.”
Chod, though, wasn’t at her usual cove. “Probably down in the trench,” mused Starstrom.
“What’s she do down there, anyway?” asked Krung.
“Kicks it with the trench dwellers. There’s like, a whole arthropod scene, which kind of spills over into the invertebrate scene.”
“So do we go without her?”
“No, we can’t do that,” Starstrom said. “You know she’s got serious FOMO. Hold on, I’ll call her.”
Krung looked at her skeptically. “You, the Terror of the Skies, are going to retrieve our friend from the ocean depths?”
“Natch. Watch and be amazed.” Starstrom waded into the waters with wings held high, looking ungainly, until she stood waist-deep. Then she took a deep breath, plunged her arrow-shaped head under, and screamed. Krung winced and placed her hands over her ears. That scream was loud: so loud that blue electricity arced through and over the water. “There,” Starstrom said, waddling back to dry land. “She’ll hear that. And by the way, I’m actually an accomplished swimmer, thanks very much.”
Soon two eyestalks big as palm trees rose through the waves like periscopes, followed by a body like a knobby red island. “Hi friends,” said Chod. “What’s shaking?”
“Rampaaage!” said Kusira.
“Cool, cool. Where we headed?”
When the shore was in sight, the city’s lights beckoning invitingly, Starstrom circled overhead and said, “Okay, you all duck down, then burst back up when we’re real close. When you do, I’ll scream real loud and dive-bomb the little fellas. Agreed?” They murmured their assent.
It went well enough, with a wave of screams and car crashes greeting the rampagers’ arrival, except that when she stood up, Krung’s vision burst into multicolored fractals. “Whoa, head rush,” she said, wavering on her feet. She blinked, but the fractals persisted, turning the skyscrapers into glittering trees, the traffic into glowing rivers. “Hey Kusi, did you put something in my amphibian?”
Kusira was likewise looking around with newborn eyes of golden-green. Krung had never noticed what pretty eyes her friend had. Couldn’t snakes hypnotize you? “I didn’t put nothin’ in nothin’,” she said, “but something’s definitely happening. I think that critter was psychoactive!”
“Oh, you’re right! It was the jalapeno mar-gar-gar-ita.” Starstrom let rip another sky-splitting shriek, and Krung jumped. “So loud! Jeez. Star, you gotta warn us before you do that.” But the pteranodon looked to be occupied with a stadium she’d found.
Meanwhile Chod had scuttled fully ashore, and her appearance made the humans even more panicked, if that was possible. They were literally falling over each other trying to run away as the oversized arthropod started dropping hatchlings from her belly. It was amazing how many little bitty Chods she carried with her. Like thousands. Krung squatted down to get a better look, brushing aside a few cars that were in the way. Man, they were creepy. So many mandibles! Or were they arms? It was hard to tell.
Nearby Kusira was rolling around spastically. “You seeing these little Chods?” asked Krung. “Kusi! You seeing this?”
“I forgot how to slither,” said Kusira.
Oh shit, she’s in trouble. “Don’t worry, girl. I’ll show you.” Helpfully she got down on her belly in the street and started wiggling around, smashing more cars and popping a fire hydrant in the process. “Like this! See!”
“That’s not a slither, that’s the worm,” Kusi said. “You never slithered in your life. It’s like this.” She glided smoothly forward and up around an office building. Glass rained down.
“What, you think I can’t do that?” Krung replied. “Check it.” With sudden energy she ran a few steps and leapt onto the tallest building of the bunch, fucking blocks away, house-sized hands gripping the steel beams, glass tinkling musically. “WOOHOO, yeah! You see that?”
BOOM! Something struck her shoulder, something that burned. “Ow!” she cried, hopping back down to see if she was okay. Before she even could, a missile tore past her head. Christ, that could have messed her up!
She looked up the street. Standing there was a human – the biggest, scariest human ever, wearing a suit of white armor with a sword in one hand. “Whoa, I am way more fucked up than I thought,” she said aloud.
With a mechanical whine this intruder lifted its arm and swung that telephone-pole-sized sword at her. Alarmed, she jumped back. “What the hell?!” It swung again, advancing, and she barely avoided being fucking gutted. “I don’t even KNOW you, dude! Stop!”
She ducked behind a building, walking fast with knuckles deployed. “Kusi! Kusi, help!” That’s when she saw Kusi had problems of her own. There was another big robot, this one metallic red, firing rounds from an arm cannon. Kusi darted this way and that, but even as Krung watched, one came too close, and her friend was flung to the side. “KUSIII!” Krung screamed, and launched herself at the newcomer.
The next couple minutes were a blur of rage. Her roar blew the roofs off houses blocks away. She was a primal force. She had muscles like mountains, blood like lava, a heart like the earth’s core. She took that bot to pieces and stood howling and beating her chest over its disassembled remnants.
“Duck!” Kusira yelled, and reflexively Krung did. Another missile shot overhead, and she realized that the white bot was coming for her again. She snarled, but Kusira stopped her. “I think there are a bunch of them. We got to go!”
Understanding her immediately – were they telepathic or something? – Krung knelt down and Kusi wrapped herself around her friend’s torso. Krung grabbed a nearby van and threw it at the bot, seeing then the others on the skyline. There must have been a half-dozen. Not waiting for more attacks, Krung ran down the street and jumped back into the ocean. The splash was a mini-tsunami.
Later, when they were safely back on the island, they lay back on the beach, exhausted. “Thanks for helping me out, K,” Kusi said. “You were crazy back there. Like, roar.”
“Guess I still got it after all.”
“Yeah you do.”
“You want some more salamander?”
“You’re reading my mind.”
Joel Tagert is a fiction writer, artist and longtime Zen practitioner living in Denver, Colorado. He is also currently the office manager for the Zen Center of Denver and the editorial proofreader for Westword. His debut novel, INFERENCE, was released July 2017.
Arna Miller began doing art late in life — or so it felt at the time. She was in her mid-twenties and after hearing the 10,000-hours-to-master-a-skill theory, she felt compelled to catch up. Before all that, when everything crashed in 2008, she lost her job at an architecture firm. It was for the best. She felt guilty that she didn’t want to work in an office or use her degree, so she was grateful when the decision to leave was made for her. She’d fantasized about being a creator and working for herself for a long time. After leaving the world of offices, she signed up for a screen printing class and took ongoing drawing, painting and figure drawing classes. Her main goal was freedom, so she got out of credit card debt and designed her lifestyle to be simple and frugal. After years of having affordable-but-windowless studios in less than ideal locations — next to the men’s bathroom, by a train crossing, sharing a thin wall with a lawnmower repair shop — she now has her own studio, in her own home! She draws in pencil and uses visual references from books and the internet. Her aim is to create narrative illustrations that depict magical moments. She finds inspiration in book illustrations, vintage packaging, matchboxes, magic show posters and early-20th century illustrations. She often uses text to tell part of the story, but likes to leave most of the narrative up to the viewer. Her guiding rule — which she sometimes break — is Possible, but Not Likely. For example, it’s possible for a vole to sit on a cigarette box and float down a river, but it is not likely. On the other hand, dinosaurs didn’t have laptops and headphones, so she would not draw that. See more of Arna’s work on Instagram.