GOING HOME by Kathryn Bishoff

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There it was. The hill, tall and steep, the only thing standing in the clearing of the valley. In the endless twilight, there were no shadows and it looked unreal towering over the waving gray grasses.

Elation filled him as he stood staring at it. It was real. All the denials, all the tricks to make him not believe, all the attempts to kill him, vanished from his thoughts as he stared at hope.

He walked towards it with a new found energy. Despite his exhaustion from an endless journey, endless because he couldn't count the days or nights as they didn't exist in the twilight, he walked on. Blistered and bloody feet inside boots nearly falling off no longer slowed him. He could see the hill.

"I'm going home," he whispered through cracked and bloody lips, his voice hoarse, parched since his water ran out some time ago.

His newfound energy waned when he finally reached the hill. It was steep and no trails to follow. He would have to climb.

Disappointment dropped him to the ground where he lay in exhausted defeat. Tears leaked through the corners of his eyes, leaving tracks on his dusted skin. But, staring at the hill, he knew it was his only hope and he so wanted to get home, to the place of day and night.

He got up and glared at the steep hill. Renewed determination made him stretch his stiff and aching body. Deep breaths refreshed his lungs. He touched the hill, first one hand, then another, then a foot until finally he was all upon its side.

"I'm going home!" He rasped in the loudest whisper his voice could make, defying the hillside. It was the strongest sound he could make and was all the fanfare needed to begin the climb.

The top was only his height away. His eyes stayed glued to it as he gasped from one hold to the next. A howl rang through the silence so clear and loud, his hair jumped on the back of his. More howls joined it.

Fear shot through him. A sob escaped him as he froze. Not now, he was so close. Deeps breaths brought calm but did nothing to lessen his fear.

He looked back up, he could almost touch the top. Another howl, closer. More joined it, they were closer, too. A shaky, bloody hand reached up for the next hold. He pulled.

"I'm going home." He reached for another hold. Then, another.

His arm reached the top, then another. A heave and then a leg. A final lunge and he flopped onto the perfectly flat top.

He had done it. Happiness made him giddy and he almost shouted to the twilight sky, but the howls were even closer. Urged to his feet by hope once again filling him, he stepped to the center.

Below, claws knocked loose rocks as the howls ceased. The bargha were climbing up. Fear again froze him, but only for a moment.

He began to pace the ritual. Step, step, shift, turn, step. Over and over, until he paced a circle. Then, he did it again but in the other direction. Panting carried to the top of the hill but he refused to stop. A second circle paced. He shifted to the first direction. A blue furred head peered at him, then snarled and snapped. A beam of golden light, the first color to reach his eyes since he'd been cursed to this place, hovered above the center of his circles.

The final circle was done and the beam widened to fill his circles. A scramble of claws heaved the bargha to the top. Jaws held wide, it charged.

"I'm going home!" he rasped and every bit of hope fueled his legs for a final burst. Teeth sank into a foot, tripping him. With his other foot, he kicked off the bargha and dove. Another bargha snapped, but it was too late. He fell into the beam.

Green grass was under him. A wind blew the sounds of a stream to his ears. Sunlight warmed him, making him weep. He was home.