Illusion

Usually, when the moon is this high, the stone paths they build their dwellings alongside are empty. This is the best place to hunt for stragglers, those that wander along the fringes of the colony are often in a dazed and confused state. Tonight though, there are many of them. A large group sit across the stone, all facing the same direction. A few smaller groups wander around, many carry lightweight boards splashed with color. Some raise their voices in a low, relentless chant, and they all wear cloth on the lower half of their faces. She can see now that the crowd is edged by their warriors, and the crowd seems to be bickering at them.

The hunting tonight will be tricky. She already passed nothing but empty campgrounds on her trip into town. Always empty campgrounds. Summer is usually the time of plenty, and now it is drawing to a close with no where near the bounty that previous years have provided. The pantry is still thin, though the air grows pleasant as the days grew longer. It has been that way for far too long, the elders have been overheard whispering their concerns to each other. It is risky to be this close to the heart of their village, but her family is hungry.

The humans all seem tense and angry. The general guidelines recommended targeting the more aggressive ones, to remove them from the colony so they didn’t damage each other, but tonight they all seem likely to turn on their own.

There is one. A man standing in front of a building with wood panels along the front and sides. He is pacing along the walls in an agitated state, but instead of facing the direction that most face, he is directing his anger at the crowd itself. He seems to be protecting the building, dashing at people who get too close, waving a club at them.

He seems to be protecting the building from the crowd. Everyone is tense, but his anger seems to be facing the people around him, and they do not seem angry at each other. Sometimes their anger directs at him, but they do not rise and charge him as he does them. Those in the crowd are mumbling to each other. They seem to be soothing each other. They seem to want to avoid conflict, though they seem to seethe as a whole. Some even ignore him completely. Perhaps he’s done something wrong, they are trying to exile him and he is refusing to leave. Would their warriors not remove him? Why is he guarding that building? Perhaps there is food in there and he doesn’t want to share, and that’s why they are angry.

Whatever it is, he is likely a good target. His removal will be good for the colony, prevent them from turning on each other. But how to lead him away? His eyes are not lingering on female bodies. Her usual methods would not likely work, either with rolling hips or an air of vulnerability. He seems to want to remain between the crowd and that building. Perhaps she could threaten the building, on the side away from the crowd.

The warriors pay attention when she tries to slip down the alley behind the building, but with a little mental push they seem to forget about her well enough. She clings to the corner of a wall and faces the man.

She sends him the scent of smoke, and the flash of fire. It works, his head snapping to the alley almost immediately. She lets herself be seen ducking behind the corner, and makes sure he sees her head into the grassy area, toward a corner shaded by tall shrubs.

He jogs after her, jingling as he runs, and quickly starts panting heavily. She muffles the sound of his cries toward the warriors, and watches him pause in his frustration, as he fails to get their attention. She jiggles her shrub to draw his attention, and he decides to pursue her rather than get help. It’s nice when they mistake you for weak, thinking they can take you easily when you’re alone. Their look of surprise always amuses her.

His neck snaps cleanly, and he falls silently to the ground. She is hungry, the illusions took energy she barely had to spare. She slices off an ear to nibble on, when a scream rings out. She looks up, one of the crowd is pointing at her, and others near her are rousing, looking around in increasing panic. The shrubs didn’t offer as much shelter as she thought, and she doesn’t have enough energy to cover her tracks. She tosses her kill over her shoulder, and runs.

P.S. – This is the first of thirteen prompts I have selected from Grim List. All thirteen stories will be in continuation.

Savor

Horseradish. That would be perfect, just enough to give the other flavors a bit more punch. Usually she prefers pork seasonings, but the occasional hint of something good with red meat helps bring out the earthier tones of the dish.

Grandma would disapprove of such additions to her recipes, designed to be simple and enhance the natural flavor. Unfortunately, the difficulty of the hunt lately made it so that meat was rare, every effort must me made to maximize enjoyment. The prey were learning to protect themselves much better than they did in Grandma’s day.

She hummed as she worked, slicing turnips while a thigh soaked in the marinade. So many people undervalued a good roasted turnip. The flavor was so strong when raw, you would never expect it to turn so savory and mellow.

The repetitive task allowed her mind to wander, and she considered the satisfying catch and kill behind her. This one had been taken in his sleep, always better for the meat. Once, she heard one of the campers tell a story about a creature that hunted humans. Talked about fear enhancing the flavor of meat. It was obvious the human didn’t know what he was talking about. In her experience it made it taste a little off. This one never saw a thing coming, he was nice and cozy in his sleeping bag.

The park rangers are cracking down like wildfire, but they don’t know how to track something like her. They look for their trails on the ground, not in the trees. They would be aware, and so would the campers, but there will always be one or two that consider themselves to be safe enough to stray.

P.S. – Found another older story that contains elements I will hopefully be using for Grim List 2020.

The Entomologist

“Oh, she is beautiful. I bet Dr. Fairweather will notice you for this one. You might even get more than just the grant out of him.” She winked.
“Excuse me?” I could never remember this one’s name. Grad students are so temporary lately.
“Was that too forward?” She smiled. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell. Anyway, she should help you get that grant for sure. I know you’ve certainly been working hard enough to deserve it.”
“It’s not about me. It’s not even about my work, but she does bring me some hope.” I couldn’t help the smile I felt rising to my face as I put her in the specimen jar.

“I don’t understand, what do you mean the funds aren’t available?” No, no, I needed this grant.
“I’m afraid the last of it went to Dr. Aemulus.” Fairweather wouldn’t even look me in the eye, shuffling through papers on his desk instead.
“But it was promised to me, you told me you would make sure of it.”
“Well, to be frank, she has an amazingly persuasive argument for her cause.”
“Does that argument have anything to do with the weekend you spent together?”
A deep flush spread up to his face from the over starched collar of his shirt. “Don’t be petty.”

The whole campus was abuzz with excitement.
I sipped at the champagne and wished it was mead. I like mead, the child in me enjoys sipping nectar like a bee. Dr. Aemulus came in on Fairweather’s arm and everybody clapped. The grad student said, “This should have been your event.” Incubo. That was her name. Something Incubo.
“Don’t be petty,” I sighed.

“Wait, that’s mine. That’s all mine. What are you doing with my things? That’s delicate equipment, what are you doing?”
Fairweather the betrayer came in, holding his hands up as if to physically restrain me if need be. “Calm down, we need this space for Dr. Aemulus to run her experiments. Your equipment will go down to storage where it will be safe until it’s needed again.”
“Calm down? How do men always think saying that will help?”
“Just be reasonable. The money from forensic research will be far more valuable than conservation efforts. Why are you letting some grad student put a bug in your ear anyway?”
“What grad student? How can you think I’m angry because of a grad student? You’re insane!”

I shouldn’t have to do this. I am a good person. I deserve loyalty. But no, here I am covered in fucking blood up to my arms in these stupid beetles. Necessary forensic research, my ass. This “research” has all been done before, it solves nothing. Nothing.
Out of pure spite, I crumpled his stupid starched collar before dumping more of the flesh consuming beetles over the pair of them. I patted Aemulus’s hair. “Feed your children well,” I whispered.

Fire grew in my heart. Fire grew in my eyes.
Incubo was right. Sometimes, fire is good for the forest, even if some pollinators die. I was wrong to stop the controlled burn the farmers wanted last fall. Sometimes, burning it all to the ground gives room for renewal, for the new, the strong, the helpful, to flourish and grow.
The heat tingles my skin, flush from being so near, the smoke billows to the sky and blows through my hair. I feel so alive. What an absolutely beautiful day.

They found her bones in the ashes. Her grad student stood quietly with the other onlookers as the bodies were carried away.
With a sad smile, Incubo said, “it looks like I will need a job soon. What about you? I hear you’ve been busy, but they haven’t given you the help you need,” the muse of jealousy continued, “Personally, I think you’ve been underappreciated.”

P. S. – This is an old story I’m posting because I’m fairly certain this will be referred to in the upcoming stories for Grim List.

The Souvenir

“Supposedly, Janice Marie Rodgers, age 17, knew nothing of the legend surrounding the item she found when she entered the house. Neighbors saw her walk directly into the home through the unlocked front door, and she was only inside for a brief moment before she walked back out and continued on her way.

As was previously reported, there is no forensic evidence tying her to any activity within the house other than the trail of bloody footprints she left as she walked through Sarah Baker’s blood directly to the display cabinet. There is evidence that she removed a single figurine before turning around and walking out again. There is no evidence tying her to any of the murders in that home, or to the previous tragedies. All evidence corroborates with Baker’s confession, and he claims to have no knowledge of Rodgers. He refuses to discuss the figurine.

It is unlikely that a teenager from a neighboring town with no social ties to any of those involved would have walked directly into a murder scene and have been so unaffected. Currently, investigators believe that Miss Rodgers may already have been on the brink of violence, and her happening upon the scene was coincidental, though likely to have motivated her “psychotic break”. Family and friends state that she seemed like a happy and well-adjusted young woman, and her murder spree is entirely unexpected.

Exactly how the figurine reached Colin David Brand is not known, but it was not found on or near the body of Miss Rodgers. When police raided the hotel room where he lived, it was seen as the focal point of an altar Brand decorated with belongings from his victims, but while police were still in the room, the figurine seems to have vanished. Brand’s whereabouts are still unknown.”

Excerpt from The Liffey Chronicle, May 18, 2018