Short Story – ‘Beowulf’ Modernization Rewrite
In on of my English classes, we were told to write a short story modernizing the ‘Beowulf’ story. The teacher only expected one to three pages, but I cranked out nine pages in two days. Here’s what I came up with. Enjoy!
A long time ago, before the Earth had become blackened, charred, and torn to shreds like it is now, plants grew in abundance, the water was pure, and billions could live on the planet. That all changed when three monsters swept through the world, bringing destruction and death behind them. This tale starts with a young man named Barrett, living in a small town several kilometers North of a large city.
Barrett and his friend Lucas are shooting at pop cans with their target practice compound bows in Barrett’s back yard. Barrett hits all of his cans perfectly while Lucas keeps missing his, startling a chipmunk in the process. Barrett asks Lucas while they pick up their arrows, “Did you hear about that monster that’s been seen in the city?”
“Oh, you mean the thing that those drug addicts swear they saw last week? Yeah, I read that on CBC last night.” Lucas grabs his last arrow from out of a tree and the two start walking back towards their firing line.
“I think that what they saw was real.” Barrett hits another pop can with ease.
Lucas stops dead. “Really? Those guys were high on crack, and you think that their hallucinations of a monster are real? Wow.” Lucas’s next shot flies deep into the trees. He swears under his breath.
“I mean, think about what they said the monster did. They claimed that everything living it touched withered and died, the water it stepped in became poisoned, and dirt and stone cracked under its’ feet.” Another pop can goes flying off of the log, an arrow sticking out of the middle. “Now consider the recent news reports from the city. People have been finding their pets half decayed in their backyards, racoons lying dead beside contaminated pools of water, and large areas of ground cracked and ripped up. You can’t tell me that an entire city was having the same hallucination.” Barrett shoots the can that Lucas missed.
“I don’t know… Those things could have easily been done by some psycho with way too much time on his hands. Bodies can be decayed with the right chemicals, any number of poisons could kill wildlife, and some sort of power tool could’ve been used to tear up the ground.” Lucas starts to set down his bow and walks towards the road in front of Barrett’s house.
Barrett shouts towards Lucas’s retreating form, “Say whatever you want, I still think that monster is real. Lucas waves his hand in a dismissal gesture. “It can’t be just a coincidence…” Barrett mutters as he picks up the arrows that the two had shot.
Barrett was right; there was a monster roaming in the city, and its’ name was Grendel. Where ever he went, everything died. However, most people, like Lucas, did not believe that Grendel was real and blamed his doings on other, more obvious things. That doubt of Grendel’s existence would soon be changed, with Grendel setting his sights on Barrett’s hometown.
Barrett wakes in the middle of the night to the sound of cats screeching as if someone was trying to murder them. He waits another moment before hopping out of bed and puts his sweatpants, a hoodie, and shoes on. On his way out the front door, he grabs his compound bow and quiver of arrows.
The sight that awaits him outside is gruesome; six cats lay dead, half decayed, halfway across Barrett’s lawn amidst withered grass. Barrett slowly edges towards the cats and notices a single starling sitting in the birdbath. The water appears toxic and the bird is unmoving. The trail of wither grass comes from behind Barrett’s house and leads to the road, which is cracked like dirt in the desert.
“It’s just like the news reports.” Barrett says to himself, barely stifling his gag reflex. Suddenly, he hears a groaning noise coming from the road. Turning towards the source of the noise, Barrett recoils when he sees the monster Grendel. His skin is mottled with decaying flesh mixed with severely cracked skin. Half of the hair on his head has fallen out and toxic fluids drip from his fingers, sizzling on the pavement at his feet. As Grendel moves to face Barrett, he sees that his eyes are pure jet black, glinting with malice under the streetlight. Barrett is frozen in place, staring at Grendel.
With a grunt, Grendel reaches over and rips up Barrett’s fire number sign, throwing it at Barrett like a spear. Barrett barely regains his composure to leap out of the way in time, accompanied with a shriek of surprise. His shriek wakes most of his neighbours, and they either open a window or step outside to see what’s happening.
In retaliation, Barrett nocks an arrow and shoots it straight at Grendel’s chest, aimed right for his heart. Barrett slumps in disappointment as the arrow pings harmlessly off of Grendel’s skin. He can’t get another arrow ready in time and resigns himself to death as Grendel charges towards him, talon-like nails held like knives. A split second later, someone shouts, “Eat rocks!” and Grendel reels back in pain, screaming, holding his head right over his right eye. Lucas is standing nearby, slingshot and rocks in hand! As Grendel stands upright, the two men see his eye heal itself and makes the flow of crimson blood come to a stop.
“His eyes are his weakness… Maybe if I hit both at once I could kill it!” Barrett says to himself as he nocks two arrows at the same time. Grendel turns to face Lucas while Barrett takes aim at Grendel’s eyes. Time seems to slow down as the arrows leave the bow and fly towards the unaware Grendel. The arrows hit their mark! Grendel staggers backwards for a moment, grunting in shock, before falling to the ground, dead. As his body hits the pavement, large cracks form in the road and radiate outwards, damaging most of the road.
Barrett stands up and walks to Lucas. “Thanks for helping me out there. You gave me the idea of shooting both eyes at once.”
Lucas smiles and puts his hand on Barrett’s shoulder. “No problem.” He pauses for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “I guess you were right; that monster was real.”
Barrett looks downwards and says, “I feel that this isn’t the last we’ll see of monsters like this…”
Life in both the city and Barrett’s hometown became much calmer after Grendel’s defeat. A few weeks later, however, reports of another monster started cropping up. The few people who spotted this creature said it caused huge gusts of wind and drew water towards itself, destroying anything that got in its’ way. They claimed that it had the form of an older woman, so they called it ‘Grendel’s Mother’. To this day, no-one knows her true name. Just like Grendel, most people doubted the existence of this monster until she was slain.
Barrett and Lucas sit in Luca’s living room, watching a breaking news report on CBC. “This new ‘monster’ seems to be similar to the monster known as Grendel that was killed by a civilian three weeks ago. Please be sure to keep an eye on wind speeds and water levels, regardless of hurricane or tornado warnings, and stay safe.” The news reporter finishes saying from her office in the city.
“See? I told you that this wasn’t going to be the last we saw of these monsters.” Barrett says to Lucas.
“I don’t know… Weather reporters tend to be wrong a lot. I mean, look at the recent hurricane forecasts. They say ‘it’ll go into this gulf’, then say ‘sorry, it’s going up the east coast’, which becomes ‘well, it’s now going up the west coast’, and then ‘we are so sorry, it’s going over land from west to east’. Either way, it’s terrible, but I think that this is just a case of poor weather reporting.” Lucas practically dismisses Barrett as he takes the remote and changes the channel to a comedy network. A ventriloquist with a white furry puppet is doing a routine on the show.
“You didn’t believe me when Grendel was stomping around the city until he showed up here. What’s to say that won’t-“ Barrett gets cut off with howling wind from outside. A moment later, sharp pieces of wood and metal cut through one wall, barely missing the two men on the couch. They both leap towards the centre of the room as a scaled hand smacks against the only window, making it shudder like a child that’s afraid of a thunderstorm. The second hit from the hand shatters the glass pane, sending shards flying across the room. A large piece slices deeply across Barrett’s cheek, drawing blood. “I think this is that monster, Lucas!”
“Gee, you think?!” Lucas shouts back to Barrett as Grendel’s Mother steps through the window frame. All of her skin is scaled like a lizards’ hide. Thick, waist-long ebony hair flows around her as if in water and her cloud-grey dress, torn at the bottom, ripples gently amidst the gale sweeping around the room. Like Grendels’, her eyes are pure jet black, glowing with hatred aimed right at Barrett. She stands almost between Barrett and Lucas, with Lucas being closer to the door.
“Lucas! Get my bow!” Barrett screams, desperately. Lucas takes off at a run towards the front door, drawing Grendel’s Mother’s attention. Barrett picks up the discarded television remote and whips it at her. It misses the mark, but it does draw Grendel’s Mother’s piercing gaze back to Barrett long enough for Lucas to return with the bow and three metal-tipped, wood shaft arrows. He wordlessly hands them to Barrett.
As Grendel’s Mother raises her hand, levitating some wooden planks as spears, Lucas ducks behind the couch and Barrett nocks two arrows, aiming at her eyes. She just smiles a wicked grin as Barrett lets the arrows fly. When they get an inch away from her face, a gust causes the arrows to miss their mark, hitting the couch near Lucas. However, Barrett notices that a piece of wood is sticking out from between two of the scales over her collar bone and gets an idea. He quickly snaps the metal tip off his last arrow, causing the end of the wood to splinter. Barrett nocks the broken arrow as Grendel’s Mother makes the planks spin rapidly, getting ready to propel them at Barrett. He lets the arrow loose and it embeds itself into Grendel’s Mother’s chest.
Her wicked smile quickly turns into an open-mouthed expression of shock as she looks down at the arrow sticking out of her, crimson blood blossoming across her dress. She slowly raises her head to look back at Barrett. As she does, the wind swirling around the room quickly dies out and the planks she was levitating fall to the ground. Grendel’s Mother falls to her knees, a thin trail of blood creeping from a corner of her mouth to her chin. As she slumps to the ground, she grunts something that could be heard as “Grendel”.
Lucas stands up from behind the couch, still trembling. “That was… interesting.”
Barrett flops onto the couch, not caring about the broken glass and splinters strewn across the cushions. He sighs, “I really hope we don’t have to deal with something like this again.”
Unfortunately, Barrett did have to deal with something of the likes of those two monsters again, albeit not for another few years. In the time between Grendel’s Mother’s demise and the appearance of the Drake of Death, all sorts of ecological disasters kept becoming larger and deadlier. Hurricanes became so strong that categories six and seven had to be added to the scale, Richter ten earthquakes became more common, acid rain was stronger than ever before, and volcanic eruptions happened more frequently all across the globe. Despite these new and more intense disasters, the general population believed that these things were just the aftermath of Grendel and his mother and that it would blow over soon. Very few believed that a new beast was causing the beginning of the end until it was too late.
Barrett and Lucas now live in the same house together for safety due to the natural disasters running rampant across the world. They sit in a secured room, watching the latest report from CBC. The same reporter that talked about Grendel’s Mother is on the air. “This just in; a hermit living in the last standing National Park in this province claims to have seen a drake-like beast living in a cave. He said, and I quote, ‘When it hit its’ tail against the wall, the whole earth shook like an earthquake and when it breathed fire, lava came up from cracks in the floor’.”
Barrett stands up with a look of determination on his face and starts to put his boots and hoodie on. “What’re you doing?” Lucas asks, concerned for Barrett.
“I’m going out to that cave to kill that drake.” Barrett straps his compound bow and quiver to his back, not looking at Lucas.
“What?! Going out there alone’s suicide! What makes you think that there’s a drake out there, anyways?” Lucas shoots to his feet.
“Grendel and his mother were real. Why can’t a drake be real too?” Barrett walks towards the door and puts his hand on the knob.
Lucas sits back down and says, “I’m not going out there for a suicide mission.”
Barrett says coolly, not looking at Lucas, “I didn’t expect you to.” With that, Barrett walks out the door into the cold May afternoon. Even though it’s Spring, the forest looks like late Fall with the dead trees and fallen leaves everywhere. Everything’s silent except for Barrett’s footsteps in the dry leaves as he runs towards the cave mentioned in the news report.
When Barrett reaches the cave, he ducks behind a rock and looks into the mouth of the cave. Thin rivers of lava illuminate the cave. A large drake lies inside, asleep. Its’ scales are black as night. Barrett hears a twig snapping behind him, and turns to find Lucas crouched behind him. “I thought you weren’t coming with me.” He whispers.
“I was thinking; you were right about Grendel and his mother, and they caused ecological trouble, like what’s happening now. And as I can see, you were right. I’ll help you fight the drake.” The two men slowly walk into the cave, avoiding the lava trickles, and approach the drake. However, Lucas shrieks when a previously unseen glob of lava falls from the ceiling and lands on his foot, waking the drake. Its’ eyes are narrow and are fire-orange with black holes for pupils. “You aim for one eye, I’ll get the other!” Lucas suggests, nocking his bow while Barrett does the same. As their arrows fly towards the drake, it closes its’ eyes and the arrows bounce off, ineffective.
The drake lets out a deafening roar, sending chunks of rocks falling from the ceiling. It flinches when a particularly large rock hits it in the forehead. When the drake flinches, it also swipes its tail towards the two men, hitting Barrett in the arm, sending his bow flying across the cave and snapping his arm backwards with a sickening crunch. Screaming with pain, he falls to ground, clutching his broken arm.
The rocks hitting the drake gave him an idea. “Lucas, take your explosive arrows and cause a cave-in. It’ll kill the drake and stop this mess!” Lucas is about the protest when Barrett cuts him off, “Don’t worry about me; go!”
“Alright…” Lucas sighs, then nocks an explosive arrow and aims straight up. It explodes against the ceiling, sending rocks and boulders raining down. He runs out the mouth of the cave and lands two more explosive arrows on the upper part of the cave. After a few moments, the dust settles and the drake can’t be heard roaring anymore. “I hope that your death won’t be in vain Barrett…” Lucas mutters, a tear running down his cheek as he slowly walks back to his now empty house.
Barrett and Lucas had the right idea, but they were too late in their endeavour. With the drake’s dying breath, it shot a plume of flame from it’s mouth, causing most of the planet’s volcanos to erupt. Now the world is burned, broken, and mostly dead. Only a few humans are left. Some say that the three monsters were created by the earth to punish mankind, but no-one’s been able to come to a common consensus on what we did wrong. Hopefully this tale will inspire the remaining humans to do better than their predecessors.