FICTION: Victim du Jour by Michael F. Havelin

Two Days Ago

It waited, low in the bushes, patiently, saliva pooling beneath clenched jaws that occasionally clacked together. It was used to waiting, waiting for an unexpecting victim to come along. Perhaps a dog this time, which might put up a fight, or a child, defenseless, tender and moist.

Step, drag, step, shuffle, step. The man wasn’t too steady. Perhaps he’d been drinking, perhaps it was the effect of old age. The taste might tell.

It gathered itself for a leap, tendons and ligaments tightening, charging with energy.

The man shuffled past. There was a rustling noise as it left the bushes and sprang into the air. The man turned, saw his death coming and tried to raise his cane in defense. It was over too quickly.

A sticky trail showed where the man’s corpse was dragged back into the bushes to be devoured at leisure. One kill would serve for the day. There was no need to be greedy. There were so many of them.

Yesterday

It awoke from its torpor state, flexed its limbs and tail, adjusted its position in the bush to avoid an annoying thorn. The thorn couldn’t penetrate its integument, but the pressure bothered it.

It liked these bushes. They hid it well, provided good camouflage to attack from. But the bodies had soiled the ground beneath them and had begun to decay. It was time to find a new vantage point to observe from, to strike from.

It slowly stretched to its full length and sensed in various directions. Except for some insects and a single squirrel, there wasn’t anything nearby to notice its passing. Best to move along through the underbrush though, to avoid an accidental encounter. The young ones in particular could appear suddenly.

But there were benefits to that. The challenge of the unplanned kill. The fresh young flesh. The immature bones so easily broken open. The clean blood unsullied by cumulative poisons that were always present in the more mature ones.

It continued through the brush, branches snapping back into place as it passed, the tattletale slime of its trail drying on them.

Today

Rain fell, the condensing moisture in the atmosphere. It lapped the rain water from the leaves around it, from the puddles on the ground. It cleansed itself. Though there were no nutrients in water to speak of, the clean fluid was refreshing, not sticky and congealing like the blood of its prey. Water reminded it of home, so far away in time and distance.

It sensed life approaching, small this time, not an adult of the dominant species. Two lives. A young one and a dog. Danger. Decision time: take the dog first, then the child? Or let them pass unmolested, unaware of the closeness of their deaths?

The dog growled. They were sensitive, too, those creatures, and protective of their companions. Better when they wandered free and could be attacked without complications.

The dog pulled away. The child pulled back, dragging the dog closer. More growling, then the barking began, shrill and vehement, a warning and cry of terror combined.

It leaped from the bush, engulfing the dog. The barking was clipped off, like the end of an audio tape that had been snipped with a scissor.

The child screamed, then turned and ran back the way it had come trailing the torn end of the dog’s leash. There would be others coming, bigger ones that could hurt, damage, perhaps even kill.

Gripping the dog’s body, it retreated into the bushes, chewing to release the juices, sucking them down in great gulps. Only a few minutes of feeding, and then it was time to leave this area.

It sensed them coming, but they wouldn’t find it, couldn’t find it. It snuffled down into the earth, between the sand grains, spreading itself so thin it was not even a membrane, but merely loosely connected molecules of predatory life. It was safe now, unseeable, unassailable.

They came, more dogs with them, and found its most recent kill quickly, puzzled by its chewed appearance, the lack of blood on the ground. The dogs they brought sniffed and recognized a strangeness in the moment. They began to bark, to yap and mewl, and finally to cower back in fear of the death they knew was lurking beneath their feet. They wanted to leave.

The big ones wrapped the dog carcass and took it away with them. They would examine, analyze, and come to no conclusion except that something strange and fatal had occurred. There would be stories told, and eventually there would be legends told by children one to another: “Don’t go there. It will get you.”

And it very well might.

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Michael F. Havelin has worked as a musician, author, publisher, teacher, lawyer, woodworker, and interpreter. Yankee by birth, he lives and works in Asheville, North Carolina, USA. http://havelinblog.wordpress.com

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