The Ballad of the Gralaugh

(Age 8-12, 921 words)

Follow the adventures of a man and his dog as they face monsters in the sandy desert of the Wild West.

Out in the desert in the smouldering west

where the cacti are thick and the lizards lie best

in the jacket of a shadow in the afternoon sun

my life was saved by a gal with a gun.

It was late in the day and I was wandering home

my sore tired feet had been worn to the bone,

looking hither and thither for my raggedy pup

who had wandered away while I took a sup.

I was callin' his name to the east and the west

when I suddenly heard a "shh" and a "Hest!"

It sounded so strange that I whipped right around

and came face to face with gun-barreled frown.

A right pretty frown, in a brown leather face,

she'd been tanned through and through

but the eyes had a trace

of glint and glimmer that I didn't quite trust

so I kept my mouth shut and she spoke in a gust:

"Have you seen it, I say, have you seen the Gralaugh?

It's a long silver snake with a fearsome claw,

just one on the tip of a tail like a sow

all curly and twisted, I swear it, I vow.

"It ate half my flock and my pet cockatoo,

then slithered away with barely a clue

but a single claw print in the bloody slime

to identify the culprit of this horrid crime.

"I've been hunting this creature since dawn three days past

there've been tricks and diversions but I'm on it at last

if you've seen it, I beg you reveal it to me,

if not then you'll kindly leave quietly."

The pistol still resting alongside my ear

it was hard to respond, I was shaking with fear.

She seemed rather desperate, obsessive, and loony

and I wondered if she was planning to shoot me.

I shook my head with a desolate "no"

and she waved me away, her head hanging low.

Alarmed by her ease in wielding that weapon

I didn't ask questions, acquiesed to discretion.

"Silence, then" she demanded, "for the creature is canny

and will follow the sound of its prey for many

hours or days, its endurance is legend, its memory old..."

Such secrets she told me that would run your blood cold!

"Listen well for the swish of its scales on the sand,

it is silent and deadly and will strike out of hand,

I must hunt it until its death or mine

now get out of my way, I must follow this sign."

And she pointed behind to a sparkling glow

which was probably starlight, not a menacing foe.

She was nutty and armed, the worst combination,

so I listened, politely, to this bizarre oration.

Without a word, she turned on her heel,

and moved through the dark like the terror was real,

striding towards the horizon where the sun had set,

her gun on her hip and her shoulders erect.

As she walked out of sight I allowed the slip

of a giggle to escape my tense upper lip.

Silly fool, I thought, and gave a deep sigh

when suddenly I saw from the corner of my eye

a flash of silver and a whistling hum

like the sound of scales on a tightly tuned drum,

or the scatter of sand on a windless night

and my feet automatically turned to flight.

Oh, how I ran across the desert that evening,

each footstep a prayer to avoid a meeting

with the creature she'd warned me would swallow my soul,

eat me alive and devour me whole.

As my heart beat like mad in my fluttering chest,

my palms cold and clammy, my lungs in protest,

I heard a small bark,

a tiny yip that I knew

came from the mouth of my canine, Baloo.

Behind me the Gralaugh approached with great speed,

before me my dog of the noblest breed.

I called to him with a trembling voice,

"Baloo, Baloo" and made a terrible choice.

Ignoring the quiver in my tremulous call,

the pup was beside me in no time at all,

his wagging tail and lolling tongue were

so staunchly loyal that my heart was wrung.

Yet I ordered him down with a heartless "Stay!"

and head on his paws, in the sand Baloo lay

as I hurried on with a heavy weight,

my friend betrayed to an unthinkable fate.

On the silent air I heard the first scuffle,

the dog's valiant howl and the sounds of a tussle

and I prayed that he'd fight with more than his might

when the crack of a bullet exploded the night.

In the darkness I saw only the hint of a shape

and it bent to retrieve the remains as I gaped,

still in shock at the chase and my cowardly feat

I called out to the girl, "Is it dead, is it beat?"

"No thanks to you," came the disdainful reply,

"and I'll keep your good pup, he's unhurt, by the by,"

said the woman who hunted the monstrous snake

as she shouldered her prey with my dog in her wake.

I never did see her again, I confess

nor my good dog Baloo: he's content I should guess

with a master who isn't afraid to face

the terrors that lurk in this dry, lonesome place.

Out in the desert, in the smouldering west

where the cacti are thick and the lizards lie best

in the jacket of a shadow in the afternoon sun

I was shown up by a gal with a gun.

More stories can be found at Figment

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