Hunter’s Glade

An elevated howl echoed against the night, its origin huffed the air with heated fervor. The cry for blood reached the ears of its singular meal—two-legged hairless indulgence. The scent of fleeing feast invigorated Hunter; he stood tall and sniffed, the scent was prime. Prey’s hot sweat danced in the air, motes of terror in an otherwise serene glade. Hunter waited, restrained, veins engorged with anticipation. His maw of blades drooled with tasteful senses. Each hair upon his body stood with electric hunger.

Hunter reared and ran across the damp grass. Each step pounded against soft earth. Each lent pleasure to the game. Prey dared not look back as Hunter reached the end of his chase and pummeled Prey to the ground. Prey screamed and cried out in mortal reply. Hunter begged the sound with elated ears.

The moon watched in silence as he fed, the meal no longer able to utter a cry to the indifferent nature of Hunter’s ground.

∼ Lee Andrew Forman

© Copyright Lee Andrew Forman. All Rights Reserved.

 

Human Prey

I had been single for nine years when I met Spider. The sky was overcast. I smelled fried onions, heard the sizzle of hot oil from the kebab van by the side of the road as I made my way to the park. My watch still sat on the bedside table; it could have been any time between five and seven. The last nine years could have passed between these hours; that halfway time after the evening but before nightfall, when clouds and shadow obscure the sky like muddied waters and the streetlights seem premature. As I approached the van, I found myself wondering if there was such a thing as any other time. It didn’t feel that way to me.

I visited the park often in the evenings, but rarely this van. It was the same park where I used to play with my friends as a small boy. I liked to watch for dragonflies in the spring, and pond skaters, and the fat worms that emerged from the soil when summer turned and it began to rain.

There was no rain that night. Three silhouettes huddled around the light from the counter. Stronger than the streetlights and nearer, the glow reminded me of a lamp, the people like fat moths in their vast overcoats. Two of them stood slightly apart, mouths close to their food, chewing slowly behind their collars. I can still remember the sound of their chewing, the gradual motion of their jaws, the grinding of pitta or grey doner meat between their teeth; a ceaseless mastication.

The third man stood by the serving hatch while the van’s occupants prepared his order. He didn’t turn, but stepped slightly to one side as I came up behind him. This close to the van, the aroma of vinegar, cheap aftershave, and hot Middle Eastern spices was almost overpowering. I ordered quickly, my mouth watering, eyes burning slightly from the onion and the cold.

I didn’t realise the man had spoken to me until I felt his hand on my shoulder. My flinch startled him, but his hand had startled me first. After nine years, the loneliness had become a part of me, and it wasn’t used to being touched.

“You dropped this.”

He wasn’t tall, but he had a couple of inches on me. He looked older, maybe mid-thirties to my twenty-nine. A thick crop of blonde hair gave him a youthful aspect, as did his smile, but his eyes were honest. I wondered if he was doing the same to me; reading my face, my mouth, my mother’s brown eyes. Still teary, cheeks flushed from the chill, I thought I must have looked one-hundred and nine.

“Here.”

He extended his hand again, and I realised he was holding a tenner. The note was crumpled between his finger and thumb. I took it quickly, careful not to brush his fingers with my own. Behind us, in one of the many tiny gardens squashed between the rows of terraced houses, a dog began howling.

We spoke while we waited for our food. Mostly it was he who spoke, but I replied when it was polite and, afterwards, when I wanted to. I learned he was Swedish, that he had moved here for work eight months ago and was missing his homeland dearly. The dog did not stop howling, but it was not unusual for dogs trapped in the small gardens here to sound off. I realised it was night. Even without my watch, we must have been speaking for hours. I had said very little, but the time had flown. I couldn’t have begun to imagine where it had gone.

We continued speaking at the park, and the week after in a coffee shop. One evening we visited the cinema where we caught a late showing of an indie film from his homeland. I didn’t – I don’t – understand the language. There were subtitles, but these paled in comparison to the sweeping panoramic shots of black lakes shining with starlight, and black cities lit up with little lights of their own; Stockholm, Malmö, Gothenburg, cities and the streets that made them up shivering like bright nests in the dark. I had not lived anywhere else than home, except for three brief years at university in Nottingham, and certainly not abroad. When the film was finished, he asked me whether I had enjoyed it. I told him I didn’t know what it had meant, but it was beautiful. He smiled.

I will never forget the day he met my parents. I think they had grown lonely in their own way from lack of any significant other in my life. It is a parent’s job to worry. Then they met him, and they seemed better. Though they had met him only briefly, that made me feel better, too.

It was summer when he asked me if I would visit Malmö with him. We were drinking red wine on the stained patio that amounted for my back garden. The paving slabs were cracked and hot. Weeds tickled the soles of my feet. He had not said how much he missed home, not since the first time we had met, but I caught him looking in the mirror sometimes. His was a pale face. I recognised guilt, and an emptiness that could have been my own. My Spider. Of course I said yes.

We flew that autumn, before the trees bared their branches and cobwebs glittered with more than flies. I had never flown before, but I was not afraid. I slept most of the way; the flight passed in the blink of an eye. The last six months had been a blur. After nine years of struggling like one of those flies trapped in silk, my life was speeding around me, and I was happy.

I couldn’t wait to explore the city; from what I could see as we navigated the roads, it actually shone. The night was black, the streetlamps tall, the buildings of a different sort to any I had ever seen before. I have never given much thought to heaven, or imagined what it might look like, but after last night, I would imagine it looks like this.

It did not take long to explore his apartment. One of the rooms was locked. The other two I surveyed in minutes: a main room, and a bathroom that doubled up as a storage cupboard. The main room featured a stove and several bare shelves. Dust coated the solitary windowsill like a second layer of paint. Looking back, he had seemed anxious, although I couldn’t tell why. We shared a futon and a heavy duvet to keep the draught at bay. Spiders fought over dust balls by the skirting boards. I fell asleep in his arms.

In the morning – this morning – I woke up to find myself gagged. The pain at my wrists told me they were bound, although I couldn’t see them from where I lay. I felt for Spider; his weight, his aftershave, the tap of his boots on the floor, anything to let me know he was still here. The house made sounds of its own, but none I could attribute to him. When I realised he had gone, I thought I was going to be sick. The back of my neck prickled, and my chest closed around my lungs so that every breath was small and tight. I felt a crushing sense of hollowness, like someone had reached inside of me and scooped everything out.

Outside was still black, but brightening, growing lighter with every passing hour. I am still lying here now, my face in the futon, knees tucked under my chest. I am on my side. The door that had yesterday been locked swings slightly ajar. A mattress spring buries uncomfortably into my naked hip.

I can’t hear the tap of Spider’s boots, but I can hear other things, moving behind the unlocked door. I have been listening to them for what feels like hours, scratching in the darkness, testing the stairs. The first I see of them is a white hand, fingers curling around the doorframe. The digits are long, skeletal. I think that whoever the hand belongs to must be very Nordic, or very ill.

The figures slink cautiously into the light. From where I lie, I can count three of them; I don’t know if they are his family, but there is a likeness in their arms, their slender legs, the long curvature of their necks as they scuttle closer. They too are naked. I don’t recognise their bald heads, or their mouths, except maybe to liken them to the mouthparts of newly-hatched dragonflies.

They move cautiously but with an eagerness that bears them quickly across the floor. Behind them, on the other side of the room, I can see the apartment’s sole window. Outside, the sky is grey, muddied with swirls of darker cloud, like gutter water run through with grime. I don’t know what time it is, or where my watch is, but I know that it is sometime between five and seven. I wonder if time ever sped up, if I ever escaped the spider’s web, or if that was just another illusion; the distorted perception of a thing struggling its last, trapped for months, years, almost a decade in a life from which there is no escape.

I am not struggling now. Somewhere outside, a dog begins barking. Perhaps it senses my fear, but I don’t think so. More likely it hears the wet chewing sounds that are filling the room; sucking, crunching, the roaring of blood in my ears. I think of two men, huddled around a van, nuzzling strips of grey meat, then a city doing likewise, then the world; for one moment billions of men, women, and children bent prostrate, heads bowed, mouths quick as they devour their hands.

I am not struggling, and I am not afraid. The mattress sinks around me as they shift, biting harder, bringing me to tears. My vision blurs. I think about last night, about the city streaming past me, and my place in it, tiny and awestruck. I remember the magnitude of the blackness, and the lights below, like golden pinpricks. I think about that first conversation with Spider, and the ensuing six months; the first and only time when I have ever been happy. It seems a small price to pay. As I drift away, I remind myself I am in heaven, foodstuff for angels with black eyes and butterfly’s skin.

~ Thomas Brown

© Copyright 2015 Thomas Brown. All Rights Reserved.

The Other

With a steely-eyed gaze, she watches those far below performing their meaningless and menial tasks. Her clawed feet grip the head of the gargoyle she squats upon as the wind tunnels down the avenue. Her wings flutter slightly; she tries to hold them closed yet they begin to unfurl nonetheless. This one has no control. She caresses the stone creature she clings to. I see longing in her expression for the days when their corporeal brothers took flight with the likes of our kind.

Tasked with watching her movements, yet instructed not to intervene, I take a perverse pleasure knowing that she hunts so near the house of their current prevailing god. Glancing over, I survey the cathedral of this Saint Patrick. It’s a magnificent structure, shame it serves no purpose other than to collect lost, frightened sheep. This urban sprawl is no different from any other these humans have littered the ground with – houses of false worship, dens of inadequacy, squalor in the name of ownership. They do love their tenement housing and the riches it brings them to take advantage of the less fortunate. Even the well-to-do who buy into their own lie of opulence live like rats in a sinking cage. Some are enlightened and grateful for what is shared with them, but most – they display undignified arrogance, believing they’ve the right to divide the land among themselves.

Visually sorting the wriggling maggots below, she spots one that holds her eye longer than the rest. She scents the human while I watch her. Then I look down and immediately know what she is taken with. No, please no.

My gaze slowly rises to watch her once again; she is patting her stone companion on the head, scoring it with her talon and a smear of blood so others of our kind will know it belongs to her. Task complete, she sets off in steady yet slow pursuit of her prey.

The girl on the ground is not going far – I know exactly where she is going. A short taxi ride takes her to her chic-to-be-common Tribecca residence guarded by an ass in a ridiculous hat. Settling in a stone archway a short distance away, I wait for what will happen next, though in truth, I already know.

The girl enters her building. Minutes later, the entire top floor illuminates. I picture it in my mind’s eye: she removes her coat, hanging it on a hook as she pulls the clip from her hair, allowing her mane to fall freely about her shoulders. She kicks off her stilettos, sliding them to the side with a delicate bare foot. She drops her mail on the sideboard as she begins her evening ritual. Why was she on Madison Avenue today?

I watch as sly satisfaction crawls over the Other’s features. I’m sure she’s wondering if the advantage of enjoying the finer things in life will make the girl taste sweeter – I would wonder myself. Meanwhile, I nestle deeper into the cloaking mask of twilight as the shimmering refection of the Hudson glimmers in my eyes.

***

Night has fallen, her prey has settled comfortably in for the evening, or so the poor girl thinks. I feel regret, but like all other things, this too shall pass… Dropping to the ground, the Other opts to visit the door-monkey, an unnecessary cruelty. He rushes to grant her egress. Most of our kind hide their true nature from these humans. She prefers to flaunt it… let them see her shimmering wings, her clawed feet, her taloned hands; let them see all she has to offer – haughty bitch! Her hold over him masks his fear until she decides to let him feel it; I am guilty of wearing the same mask, but not for the same reason. As she walks past the door-monkey, I watch while she mockingly thanks him for opening the door. He bows in supplication; her left arm strikes out, crushing his head against the marbled wall of the foyer. Kneeling beside him, she removes the ring of keys attached to his belt and shakes the ichor from her hand at the same time.

She ascends the stairs, walks across the well-appointed lobby and calls for the elevator. It arrives and as she has guessed, the Penthouse unit requires key access for the lift. She inserts the key into the slot, smears a finger across the button labeled ‘P’, and the doors close behind her. I can see no more from where I am. I move to the building’s ledge, finding better vantage to watch what is to unfold.

The elevator doors open onto a comfortable yet highly privileged loft. The thought that the girl living here knows of her arrival must have crossed her mind by now, but to one like her who enjoys terror as much as flesh, the squealing pork is that much sweeter. My heart rises to choke me.

She begins to walk through the apartment; I see confusion on her face. There are antiques of great value here; stone carvings hang upon the walls that are far too reminiscent of our kind’s past. She runs a finger across a 17th century credenza in exquisite condition, a Celtic dragon carving hanging above it. She glances at my latest gift, a Victorian fainting chaise poised below the windows opposite the entry. Most Manhattanites, wealthy or not, don’t posses such things. Her interest is piqued… and the hostess in residence has still not come out to play. I swallow the sickening feeling in my gut.

The Other sniffs the air; I know what she smells. The scent of warm honey and jasmine coming from the left – it often greets me. She heads in that direction.

Following along pace by pace on the outer ledge of the building, I reach the room the scent is emanating from the same time she does. She slowly pushes the door open as I peer through the window. What I see confounds me for a moment. The girl, my girl, my pet, is lying placidly in a tub of warm water, steam rising from it, hair pinned atop her head, with a cloth resting across her eyes. I simply stare. She must know by now it isn’t me, why hasn’t she run?

My lovely pet begins to speak, the movement of her lips the only thing disturbing  this twisted diorama.

“She won’t like that you’ve come here. You should leave.” Even through the glass wall of the window and the vying sounds of the street below, I hear her taunting the Other. My eyes sting in the biting wind. Goodbye my beautiful pet.

Shock freezes the Other in place for a moment, indecision caused by the unexpected brazen nature of the creature resting in the water. Then realization dawns upon her; this human is already kept by another. As if sensing this comprehension, my pet lifts her arm from the water to display a small black feather inked on the inside of her left wrist. It is the mark I make upon my own.

Moving her hand to the edge of the cloth, my pet lifts it slowly from one eye; I see my own arrogance radiating from her gorgeous emerald lens. Lowering the cloth once more, her arm sinks back into the water, she waits. I am to blame for this.

The Other loses what little control she has maintained up to this point. She dives at my pet, ripping her throat open with snapping teeth. I watch as she tears apart tender flesh with raking talons and scratching claws. Honey and jasmine scented water splashes the room as my own vision tinges red. Within, I silently howl my rage. Throughout the encounter, my pet does not struggle… not once. She dies with dignity.

I slowly withdraw from the glass as the Other withdraws from the bathroom; she backs down the hallway. Sensing she is being watched, her head whips toward the bank of windows set into the exterior wall, her eyes narrow, nervously searching. There, in the darkness, I crouch.  Waiting…

skull_fangs2

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright 2013 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.

Odonates

Beautiful creature of destruction; you are the embodiment of majesty and grandeur darting through the air; humming past in the blink of an eye, stunning your prey into a shock of paralytic fear; engaged always in aerial combat with the currents that fight your forward progress; rising, dropping, jerking, zipping.

Always seeking…

What is it you seek on those elegant gossamer wings? Perhaps the next meal that awaits you… What else would a voracious thing such as yourself desire? You, with your crushing mandibles and gnashing teeth, so willing to consume all that cross your path and thereafter, your gullet. A beast of miniscule proportion whose lust to sate itself knows no bounds – respects no boundaries.

The patter of rain does not deter you from the hunt – your need for nourishment is all consuming; it’s all your disjointed body knows. The repeated pumping of your clasping organ seeking purchase as it curves downward to secure a hold in this new and foreign terrain. Your legs spread so delicately, laid wide ever so gently, in this most opportunistic of places. Large bead like eyes of gleaming blackness adapted for spotting the smallest of morsels passing by whilst you suckle on nature’s other offerings.

You have at last found a worthy feeding ground amongst the thin grasses of this murky bank. This piece of drift offers a perch from which you may indulge your glutinous greed. You seek a place to hide, a place of recess from which you may ambush unsuspecting prey.

Cloaked by stealth and the hush of your own inner stillness, you await what tasty treat flicks past seeking a safety all its own whilst knowing not that you are now the monstrous dark occupant which all others must fear in this previously safe harbor.

~ Nina D’Arcangela

© Copyright 2012 Nina D’Arcangela. All Rights Reserved.