THE BEAST

The first thing I noticed was the smell. Even from this distances several metres away, it was almost overwhelming, its rank odour staining the air, the fetid stench of sweat and unwashed bodies – and something else, something rotten.

Taking a deep breath, I ploughed on: I had no choice, I had to prevail. Everyone was counting on me. The vote had been cast and the duty entrusted to me and me alone. No matter how much I didn't like it, I had to accept the responsibility like the adult I was.

I knew, without a doubt, that if I survived this unscathed I would be hailed a hero, perhaps the greatest to have ever lived. I used this notion, and the thought of my prize as determination to move forward.

Signs warned me back. I almost listened to their important message. If I continued, I could not possibly imagine the unspeakable horrors to which I would bear witness. It would very probably scar me for life.

I reached forward, my clammy hands perceiving deceptively plain wood. It was deceivingly innocent to my nervous touch, not betraying the horrors it shielded from the world. But I knew better then to be lulled into a false sense of security.

The foul smell that perforated the air around me grew stronger as I moved forward, so overpowering it was almost tangible, making my skin prickle uncomfortably. I breathed through my mouth in a vain attempt to lessen the pong.

Sweat engulfed my skin as an involuntary shiver skittered up my spine. But it would all be worth it. If I could achieve my mission, then everything would be alright. I was so close to turning away, but I imagined my sweet victory, and harnessed the triumphant aura that feeling created to send me forward. Into the beast's lair.

The prize, think of the prize, I chanted as I approached the monster's den, adrenaline spiking through my system. But even my mantra couldn't push me past the threshold. I paused there a moment, teetering between fight or flight, straddling the fence between determination and defeat. But the prize, think of the prize.

Even from my precarious position at the entrance, gloom swallowed me, and I had to wait until my eyes adjusted. I needed full control of all my senses if I wanted to succeed. When I could finally see, I quaked with terror. It was worse then I thought. Dark shapes loomed, and waves of malodorous smell doused my system.

I stiffened as I sensed movement. My body remained immobilised with fear as I realised that not only was the beast present, but I had angered it by awakening it from its precious slumber. What was I to do? I was still routed to the spot, my mind submerged with panic, showing me no escape. It was too late to abort – the monster had sensed me.

It let out a bestial grunt – a territorial warning not to come any closer. But I had to. Think of the mission, the accolade! I scanned the area, and even in the threatening darkness, I could make out my prize! It was carelessly strewn in the mouldering food which blanketed the ground like a festering carpet, shining like a beacon.

The beast's boorish eyes leered at me as I thought. My whole body tensed as the creature moved. I anticipated an attack, however the beast simply stretched. From the gleam in its terrifying eyes, I could tell it enjoyed toying with me, messing with my head.

I decided that it was too late to pull out. My only option was to seize the upper hand, move forward, attain my prize and leave, protected by the magical sensation my victory would produce.

Summoning every last scrap of courage in my entire being, I stepped fully into my brother's room. "Dan, can I have the car keys? There's a sale on at the plaza and dad said he'd drive me and Cynthia there."