Playing with Fire
by Suzie Lockhart
I conceal myself amidst a cluster of bushes, watching the human woman.
She arrives nearly every evening, at about the same time. She wanders the docks, as if searching for something. All the while, her eyes remain focused to the entrance of the forest.
It always takes a moment to remember. I hold so many memories, absorbed with each one of my prey. It makes it hard to focus, but slowly images begin to take their shape.
It is a child’s mother; one that I had lured many moons ago. The taste had been delectable. Children always have a particular relish, and are easiest to ensnare into my lair by the river. I wander if the mother would have a similar flavor. My mouth waters at the thought, and saliva seeps through my teeth, dripping onto the bare branches.
The maternal bond is strong. The human woman yearns for her child. I feel my body shifting already.
Her child is long gone. Just one of the many meals needed for sustenance; for survival.
My insides rumble, and a small growl involuntarily escapes my throat. I crouch down lower as my form continues to change.
Winter is coming, and the visitors are all gone. Already, the mountains behind the forest are capped with white.
But this woman; she is always here.
I see her eyes skirt the edges of the trees, and it’s as if she knows…
I hear a warning inside me. A chill runs through my body, instinct urging me to leave. Try again tomorrow.
Long ingrained instinct warning me not to tempt this woman.
But I am starving, and food will soon be in short supply. My tongue involuntarily licks across my black, bumpy mouth, and I feel the coarse gray hairs underneath my bottom lip disappearing. I take the form of the human child; the one that had been my victim so long ago.
The woman’s eyes grow wide as I reveal myself, and her hand flies to her mouth. I use the soft tinkle of her child’s sweet little voice as a siren; to lure this human woman. I will lead her into deep into the forest and trap her near the water. Perhaps it is what she desires? To die, as her child had.
Slowly, ever so slowly, she makes her way silently across the fine sand surrounding the island.
“Mama!” The child’s voice cries out.
Ahh, it is working. She begins walking towards the trees. “Mama!”
Her steps quicken. “I’m coming, baby. Mama’s here!”
I smile the child’s smile, looking forward to the feast ahead.
Every so often I glance over my shoulder; to be certain she is following, as I lead her deep into the woods. At the river, I shall reap my reward. It is almost too easy. That unsettling feeling returns, urging me to leave this woman alone.
I scoff. What can this human woman do? She has no weapons, like the human men that often hunt. I sometimes play games with them, shifting as I weave in and out of the towering trees. But I never try to lure the hunters. I am too smart.
I chide myself as she continues following me deeper into the woods. There is nothing the woman can do. Her scent drifts through the air, and I close my eyes, savoring the sweet smell.
Where has she gone?
I can smell her, but I can no longer see her.
I spot her wandering in the other direction.
“Mama!” I cry. She turns back for a moment, and then continues up a hillside. What is she doing?
Now, I am following her. I pick up my pace. It is difficult in this child’s body. Frustration wells up inside of me.
As I near the top of the hill, I sniff the air. An unwelcome stench greets me. Cautiously, I creep around the towering spruce trees and cringe as the sight of a campfire comes into view.
The menacing flames lick at me. That’s when I see her, on the other side of the reddish-orange blaze. She points to the tent beside her, and puts a finger to her lips before disappearing again.
My frustration turns to anger as I scurry around the outskirts of the campsite, trying to find her. What kind of game is she playing?
Again, I feel something stir inside, signaling a threat. The sight of the fire has shaken me.
I’m left with no alternative, as I tread behind her. How stupid can she be? I am her child! She should be on my heels.
It is beginning to get dark. The moon offers little light as it rises in the graying sky. I hear wolves howling in the distance; I need to grab this woman and get back to my lair.
A pack of wolves is the last thing I wish to deal with.
The only thing worse than the wolves is fire…
I haven’t survived this long by being stupid!
I should not go this deep into the forest, but I am determined to finish this.
To finish her.
I whimper in the child’s voice, crying, “Mama, please!”
“Just a little further, baby.” Her whispered words reach my ears.
I cannot turn back. While the need to flee is strong, there will be no satisfaction until I tear her apart.
I see that she has finally stopped in a small clearing up. She sits on a rock, looking suddenly exhausted. How I long to consume her. My stomach rumbles again.
“Baby,” she coos. I start to lose my focus. The need to devour her is overpowering. I would have to be quick about it, and then make my way back to the river. I am disappointed that I am unable to savor the moment, but I smell the wolves closing in on us.
She is smiling at me as I approach her.
Perhaps I am right. Perhaps she wishes to die, as her child had.
I slide next to her, and her hand runs down my back. I begin to shift.
No one is around to hear her.
No one, except those wolves.
The urge to leave has reached a fevered pitch, but hunger overtakes everything.
I sink my sharp teeth into her flesh, and my gnarly fingers grasp her arms tightly. A small squeal is the only sound she makes before the paralyzing poison I exude courses through her body.
I consume her quickly, ingesting her whole being in a matter of minutes. My hunger is satiated, but I am left with a certain dissatisfaction. The human woman had not tasted as I had expected. It was as though her blood had been tainted…
Dread slithers through my veins.
Something is wrong.
What has she done?
I begin to absorb her memories. I witness her giving birth to the girl. I feel her joy as I watch all the loving moments the two exchange.
Then, a cruise to Alaska. She is on the island, with her mate and the child. I experience her pain as she realizes the girl is missing.
Aughhh, I can hardly stand the searing grief that grips me.
My vision becomes blurred. Charlotte is her name. She stays on the island, but her mate leaves her. More horrible pain.
I see her working in a book shop, in the little town called Sitka. She always stays late. She pours through books, until one day . . .
“Kushtaka!” She hisses. She has discovered my secret.
Always she works late; looking for something else.
Searching for a way to kill me.
I hear her reading to herself aloud as she says the words, “Mag-nesium carbo-nite; that’s it!”
Then, I see her looking at a reflection of herself. She speaks to her replica. “For you, baby.” A look of determination is plastered on her face.
Then she smiles. I’m forced to watch her plan unfold as she sits on this rock, and lifts her hand to her lips. She uncorks a small vial, emptying the liquid into her mouth just moments before I find her. She coughs and sputters, but promptly regains her composure.
The compound begins to burn me from the inside out.
Fire. She knew what would destroy me, and in my haste to eat, I’d senselessly ingested it.
I thrash around, screeching in protest as a liquid inferno oozes through my rough skin, and singes my pores. Steam emits from my body, the smell of burning flesh filling the air around me.
I throw myself onto the ground, but the small patches of snow aren’t enough to extinguish the searing pain. The river is too far away; I would never make it.
That atmosphere around me changes and I feel them before I see them. My demise has come. The growls make me quiver in fear. Slowly, I move my head to face the carnivorous yellow eyes staring back at me.
The pack descends; coming to finish the job. They smelled their meal from a mile away. They clamp down on my flesh, tearing my body apart.
It is not quick.
It is not painless.
I feel every excruciating bite as the fire inside me rages. The only small satisfaction I take is the fire being passed on to the wolves. I listen as they howl in pain.
The last thing I see before my eyes close for good, is an image of the human woman, Charlotte, embracing her child.
She had bested the Kushtaka at his own game.
This time, it is I who screams . . .
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