Cradled within the earth, he drifted towards sleep. The soil's moist grittiness cushioned his skin. Rich odours of decomposition scented the air. Tiny bodies writhed and burrowed around him, tickling: worms, insects, spiders...
A distant snort jerked him into wakefulness. Somewhere far away, branches cracked.
The monsters hunted again!
Do you think they've scented us? One of his kin, nestled in the ground nearby, blasted out the thought.
Hope not, he replied, fighting for calm. Perhaps they're after another colony.
Around his earth-bed, a cluster of ferns sprouted, hiding him. Sheltering oak and yew trees towered overhead. No moon yet lit the sky; only a few stars glimmered between thin grey ribbons of cloud.
But the snorts, the cracks of wood, grew louder. Cloven hoofs pounded the forest floor, the noise muffled by a carpet of leaves. Still, he could feel the vibrations of the monsters' progress slamming against his inert body, convulsing the very soil like a series of earth-tremors. The monsters erupted into squeals and snuffles of excitement as they bounded nearer. He pictured the faces of those that had barely missed finding him the previous night: their twitching snouts, their small, greedy eyes. Their yellowed tusks, snapping. Streaming drool. If they found him, they'd tear and chop him to pieces. Boil up his flesh till nothing was left...
Beneath the thumps of the cloven-hoofed monsters, he could hear different footsteps now. These footsteps loped in long strides, slapping the leaves rather than pummelling them. These creatures spoke to the other monsters in grunts, in guttural commands, goading them on.
They're headed straight for us! said another of his kin.
Don't panic! he snapped. Panic, and you'll give us all away! He spoke the order as much to himself as to his kin, because just then a snort of foul air demolished his fern and leaf shield, separating the delicate fronds, tossing the leaf litter aside. One of the monsters stood right above him, sniffing!
Frantic, he struggled to burrow deeper into the soil. As usual, his soft-skinned body lay motionless, paralysed. Conscious of his unique, pungent smell wafting off him in waves - conscious, too, of his fear intensifying the smell - he could do nothing but listen. And wait.
Wet splats reached him: hoofs flinging aside clods of earth. The monstrous grunts and squeals reached a crescendo.
One of his kin screamed: I'm found I'm found I'm?
Panic seized him then. With a tremendous exertion of will, he smothered it, but still his fear-smell built and built and -
- when hooves shook the ground above him, he knew he was finished. Paralysed, he lay there, and waited for the end.
A snout penetrated the soil. Rancid breath, hot with excitement, gusted over his skin. Two hungry black eyes stared down at him.
A hand like a pale five-legged spider reached for him.
He screamed without sound.
Gerard tugged the leashed pigs away from their find. "Good work, boys." He patted them. "Good work."
"Twelve in an hour!" said his partner, Francois. "I tell you, these fungi are practically throwing themselves at us tonight!"
Laughing, he tore the truffle out of the soil and dropped it into his sack.
This is a commended story from the 2006 Magic Casements flash fiction competition. Karen is a member of the Infinitas Writers' Group. First published in our Infinitas Newsletter, July 2006 . Copyright © 2006 Karen Maric.
This page last updated 16th September 2008.