(1 of 1. Originally posted October 20, 2023 for the prompt “Squash Soup.”)
Don took an involuntary step back as the hairy giant stepped out of its cave. Thick, matted hair covered its entire body except for its hands and feet. It stood nearly seven feet tall. Its arms hung disproportionately long, leathery knuckles nearly dragging on the ground. The smell alone would have knocked anyone back. A thick, musky odor reminiscent of deer crossed with skunk.
“He-hello,” he fidgeted with his glasses. “My name is Donald Potter. I’m here on behalf of the people of Bailey. We hope to reach a mutually beneficial solution…”
The creature’s rumbling growl sent a bolt of fear through Don that seized every muscle in his body, rooting him in place and bringing his introduction to a spluttering halt.
“F-friend,” he sucked in several sharp breaths, on the verge of hyperventilating. “H-here for h-help. Understand…?”
“Donald, friend?” The beast’s smile inspired nearly as much terror as its growl. “Come. Come. Share food.”
Don couldn’t claim bravery made him follow the creature into its lair. It felt more like shock. His body moved on its own. Fire lit the inside of the cave with a warm glow. Crude paintings decorated the soot-stained walls. A pile of twigs and leaves in the back formed a rudimentary bed. Near the center of the roughly twenty-foot-square space, flames crackled around the perimeter of a large stone. The rock had been hollowed out from the top. Viscous fluid bubbled inside.
The creature picked up a wooden bowl and scooped a generous portion, offering it to Don. “Eat soup. We talk.”
Don accepted the bowl, eyeing the murky liquid with suspicion. He couldn’t smell anything over the powerful odor of the cave. He lifted the bowl and tried a tentative sip. Salty. Gritty. And something else he couldn’t quite place. He gave his hairy host a shaky smile. “Thank you. Er… what is it?”
“Squash soup,” the beast dipped its face into the hollowed rock and sucked up the remaining sludge. “Sasquash like squash.”
“Mmm…” Don choked down another swallow. “So… the reason I’m here… you’ve been sighted frequently in the last few weeks, along the highway just outside town. While we do appreciate the extra tourists, there have been a few… ah… accidents, and general traffic congestion. The town council wants to ask that you be more… inconspicuous. Please?”
The beast’s bushy eyebrows furrowed. Chunks of soup clung to the fur around its mouth, dripping as it spoke. It pointed to itself. “Hide more? Less road? Less squash…”
The thing looked so sad, Don almost felt pity. “If there’s anything we can do to make it easier for you…”
“Bring squash,” the creature pointed to Don. Then it pointed to itself. “Hide more.”
“Yes, we can bring you squash. It’s a deal.” Don took a large mouthful of soup to honor the bargain, feeling accomplished. He gnawed on a lump of something chewy. “Just out of curiosity… where have you been getting squash? It doesn’t grow wild around here.”
The creature scratched its head, looking confused. Then it brightened. “Busy road. Four-foot cross. Car pass. Squash four-foot. Gather squash. Make soup.”
Don stared at his soup. One of the floating bits had hair. His stomach churned. He set the bowl down on the cave floor. “…I, uh… thank you for… a pleasure… we will bring you squash… have to go now…”
He stumbled out of the cave. He made it about twenty feet before vomiting behind a fallen log.