Summoned from its eldritch sea, the Hydra reared its heads, unfurling, silhouetted against the moon. The first head approached with a vicious twinkle in its yellow eye, its needle teeth bared in a deadly grin. Moist acid breath stung my eyes like ethanol.
“Tell me a ssstory,” it hissed.
I swallowed. “Once upon a time-”
“A sstory about a barbarian. And forgiveness. And a carrot.”
“Once upon a time there was an orcish barbarian called Raknar. A legend in his own time, the tales of his exploits are many, but this one is perhaps the greatest of all. Raknar journeyed the length and breadth of fiction, and no foe could offer him a sufficient challenge. Ennui set in, but as he travelled, he heard tales of one place all monsters feared to tread. One day he found himself at its gates, and it was anticipation, not fear that filled his heart. This was where the greatest monster of all dwelt. This was his ultimate quarry. Dauntless in the face of certain death, Raknar entered the realm of Mr McGregor.”
“Make it funnier,” demanded the second head, “and it has to include the word 'skank'.”
I was flabbergasted. I couldn't think of a way to make that last bit fit. Thinking fast, I invented an objection.
“Funny I can do,” I said. “But the word 'skank' is offensive to women. I refuse.”
The head raised imperiously, lit in chiaroscuro by the stark white moonlight. Yellow eyes squinted in judgement. “Fine,” it said eventually. “We're nothing if not progressssive.”
I sighed with relief, and continued.
“Raknar passed through a forest of towering green leaves. He'd never seen anything like it before. Looking closely he saw that they belonged to giant vegetables, grown bigger than they had any right to grow. Using his prodigious strength, he wrenched a massive carrot from the earth, twice as tall as he was.
“That's when Mr McGregor's boot crashed down. Raknar's skin was striped with the pale marks of the jabberwock. He proudly wore the helm of the Paddington bear. He'd fashioned a cloak from the pelt of the lasagne cat, and a codpiece from the leather of the purple dinosaur. He had fought and defeated many beasts, but none so big as this.
“Raknar danced around the pitchfork tines, hacking Mr McGregor's ankles with his rainbow axe, but he was gaining no ground. He couldn't cut through the gardener's thick leather boots, and he couldn't dodge the pitchfork forever.”
“I ssaid it hasss to be funny.”
“This isn't open-mic night at the fucking Excelsior,” I snapped, facetiously. “There's a limit to how funny I can be when my audience is a set of massive carnivorous snake heads. Haven't you given me enough challenges? I swear, it wasn't like this when Celery was in charge.”
Elemental magics flickered at the corners of the hydra's mouth, illuminating its cicatrised scales. A low growl rumbled deep in several of its throats. I was playing with fire. I wouldn't be the first writer to be crushed by one of the hydra's challenges.
“You have to include each of thessse three words,” hissed the third head, gleefully. “Amorphous. Pulchritudinous. Defenestrate.”
All of the heads were slowly surrounding me, and growing closer. We were at a terminus. Either I cobbled together an ending, or the hydra took care of that for me in a rather more permanent way. Fear was the catalyst of invention in this case, luckily, and I was struck by a sudden moment of anagnorisis.
“That's when Mr McGregor's boot kicked Raknar back into the vegetable patch. He heard a pop as his rib snapped, and he struck his skull on a boulder-sized pebble. The world swam, amorphous and blurry, as the bearded giant loomed above.”
“Just give me a second to google some fucking synonyms! Jesus Christ.” I closed my eyes and caught my breath. “In the trickling time of impending death,” I continued, “a glowing angel floated down to Raknar. Pulchritudinous by orcish standards, she took his hand and kissed the blood away from his mouth. 'Victory lies within your grasp', she whispered. As she faded, Raknar realised his hand lay on the carrot.
"With renewed fighting spirit, Raknar jumped up and hurled the carrot as hard and high as he was able. It sunk deep into the gardener's eye. Mr McGregor screamed, stumbling backwards, and reverse defenestrated himself through the shed window.”
The Hydra's fourth head raised an eyebrow at the dubious use of 'reverse defenestrated'.
“Raknar tried to think of a pun along the line of 'always eat your greens', or 'carrots help you see in the dark when you've been half blinded by another projectile carrot', but he passed out instead.
“Perhaps it's time to head home he thought as consciousness left him. The end.”
The hydra heads conferred and nodded. “Passsssable,” they agreed. “Wait. Where was the bit about forgivenesssss?”