Beast by Sarah Gribble [horror]

Beast by Sarah Gribble

The chubby kid spots a butterfly and crashes through the brush, his arms held high, fat jiggling as he executes a series of small hops in an attempt to pluck the poor creature from the sky. His troop is moving away without him, the scout master’s droning voice fading into the distance. The giggling boy doesn’t notice, nor does his troop notice his absence. Not surprising, given what I’ve observed over the past hour or so. He’s spent most of the hike dawdling, not speaking to anyone. He’s clearly the weak link in the herd.

My stomach growls and I move closer, ever so slowly. It wouldn’t do to alert him to his situation. Not yet.

I size him up. He’s not the best prey—mostly fat, I’m sure—but beggars can’t be choosers. I can’t bring myself to eat one more slimy fish from that stagnant, stinking pond.

I’m close now, only an arm’s length away. The poor idiot is huffing now, having overly exerted himself with the chase. I reach out, hesitate. I haven’t hunted in so long. A malicious fervor overcomes me. I want this boy to know I’m here, want to smell the sweet stench of fear wafting from his hairless armpits, want to watch a dribble of sweat make its way down his down-covered loaf of a neck.

He’s stopped hopping now, but is still reaching for the sky, not yet willing to admit defeat. Those sparkling yellow butterfly wings flutter above him, teasing, narrowly eluding his chubby, grime-covered fingers.

Oh, this will be fun.

I let my fingers creep forward. My heart races as a warmth settles into the pit of my stomach, expands with a tingling sensation to my groin. I can barely contain my euphoria and I bite my lips to trap the ecstatic cry begging to be released.

My jagged claws brush his back. He freezes. I retreat silently, hide behind a nearby tree. He doesn’t move, but his breathing has picked up once again, coming in short, shallow bursts. Oh, how I wish to see the look on his face. I bet his eyes are popping, his mouth gaping. He may even be crying, those silent tears streaking down his cherubic cheeks. Wouldn’t that be a treat.

He whimpers, turns his head slightly, then jerks it back to front. I watch him take a shaky breath, stealing himself, no doubt. But for what? Fight or flight?

He spins in place quickly, his eyes darting. I almost laugh. No one is here to save you, little piggy. You’re all alone with the big bad wolf.

I can smell him now. The terror emanates from him in a thick cloud. The forest senses it and goes silent. Fear is a powerful thing out here, a basic instinct sent out like an alarm that no creature will ignore.

Oh, my little piglet, what are you going to do? Will you run? I could use a nice game of chase. It’s been so long. I do hope he doesn’t plan to bore me by standing still, giving into his fate.

He tenses and I match his stance. Running it is, then. Good piggy.

He’s off. I take a step forward, from instinct, but stop myself. I’ll give the little squealer a head start. The meal will be all the more satisfying for the wait. Counting silently in my head, I listen to his ungraceful retreat through the tangled forest.

Ten Mississippi.

My legs pump, my heart and lungs expanding with the effort. I feel so alive. More alive than I can remember. I can’t help myself: I call out to him. But I know instead of a voice, all he hears is the primal howl of a predator signaling the beginning of the end.

Wait. I no longer hear his clumsy steps or his pathetic mewling. I stop, sniff the air. My head snaps to the left when I pick up that glorious scent. Has he pissed himself?

I approach slowly, straining my ears. He’s no longer moving and his breath sounds wheezy as he forces large gulps of air from his plump lips. I hope he hasn’t fallen and injured himself. That would be disappointing, to end the game when it’s only just begun.

I circle the smell, giving him a wide berth. He’s nowhere to be seen. Moving in closer, I slap the trunks of trees and push aside briars and bushes. Come out, come out, little piggy. I want to play.

A squirrel chatters angrily in a nearby oak. Something has disturbed, something doesn’t belong, it complains. I grin. My oinker has found himself a hiding place at the base of a tree. A nice little hollow. He’s quite compacted in there, but fit he has.

Stupid piggy. Now you’re cornered.

Pacing, I run through the options. Attack now or wait? Better to wait. Lull him into a false sense of security. Terror spoils the meat, anyway. He’ll come out eventually. The volcano in my stomach protests my decision, but I back off. I find a nice vantage point halfway up a nearby tree and settle in. My ability to be patient is something I pride myself on. The trick of hunting is to know when to strike. Too early or too late, and the prey will slip through and escape.

I always get my prey.

The forest slowly returns to life as the boy calms. The birds chirp, the chipmunks scurry, and the squirrel soon forgets the intruder and goes back to building its nest.

And still my little piggy stays hidden. If it weren’t for the noxious smell of child’s breath trailing out of the hollow, I would think he’d died of a heart attack in there.

Night falls. I will have to stay awake, protect my prey, lest some other animal moves in on him. The piggy is awake as well. I can hear him in there, whining for his mama with every little twig snap and scuttling leaf, his teeth chattering from the cold. Underneath his incessant crying, I can hear the soft lapping of pond water. My stomach growls again. No fish tonight. Tomorrow I eat pork. I smile and relax against the tree.

A distant yell wakes me. I immediately tense, cursing myself for falling asleep. My eyes strain in the dim light of early morning. Is he still here? The call comes again and another echoes it. A search party. There’s a shift in the hollow. He’s there, and he hears voices too. Not long until he comes out now. And a good thing too. I’m almost out of time.

Ah, there he is, poking his head out like a mouse. Come here, little piggy.

As he squeezes his bulk from the hole, I lower myself silently to the ground. When he pauses, I pause.

Why hasn’t he answered the calls?

He moves toward the pond, kneels on the bank and peers into the murky depths. The light is sparkling on the water now, and he seems mesmerized by it. I watch him from a few yards away. I should attack now, while his back is to me, but I’m curious. A little piggy such as this should have already run squealing toward those insistent voices.

His head cocks to one side and he reaches into the pocket of his tattered, piss-stained cargo shorts. My stomach screams. He stops, tenses, hand still in pocket. Has he heard me? No. His muscles visibly relax and he pulls out a pocket knife, the blade glinting as he inexpertly pulls it open, then turns his attention back to the water. I tremble with glee. I should have known my little piggy would want some breakfast before the harrowing trip home. Trust me, little piggy, you’ll need a lot more than a four-inch blade to spear one of those fish.

He leans over the water. I crouch to the ground, ready to pounce. I’ve got to be careful. One wrong move and he’ll end up in the water. And no one wants wet meat.

I charge.

His reaction time is slow. I’m almost on him when he starts to turn and I prepare myself for that wonderful look of fear in his eyes.

His gaze meets mine as I lunge at him.

Something’s wrong. Instead of wide-eyed terror, he’s squinting with determination. It’s too late for me to stop.

I don’t feel the blade as it enters my neck. I only know it’s there because that’s where he pulls his hand from, his palm slick with scarlet.

I slump to the ground and he stands, a mixture of shock and relief written on his face. Tears well and the first fat drop rolls down his cheek just as my vision tunnels.

Well done, little piggy. Well done.

***

Reporter: “Local scout slays escaped child killer on the banks of Almanac Pond. How the brave boy triumphed over the beast tonight at eleven.”

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