And then the Feeders Came

Jeanette stared at the sunrise as it melted its glow over the city’s smog. The smell of jet fuel and sweat mingled through the air and carried up her nasal passage, making it tickle and itch. It was amazing to her that as the population shrunk, the stench of labor grew.

“Going hunting today?” Abe asked.

Jeanette shrugged. The question seemed superfluous. She couldn’t remember the last day she hadn’t hunted. She also couldn’t remember the last day one of the feeders hadn’t hunted her. The hunt was all that existed anymore.

“Listen,” Abe continued, his tone suddenly stark. “We gotta head north. I know how you feel about it but -”

Jeanette snarled dismissively. It was the closest she’d come to a laugh in a long time. A week ago she would have shot words as sharp as darts at Abe. Head north for what? It’s a bullshit lie. The feeders are there too, you know. They’re everywhere. You know that. But today, today she didn’t have the fight in her. So she just snarled, and kept her eyes facing forward. From her peripherals, she could see Abe huffing, his heart aching at her coldness.

“What’s left for us here, Jeanette? Vicki and I have thought it through. Even Garret says -”

“I don’t care what Garret says.” There they were, the darts. Laced with poison at the mention of Garret; an amateur who couldn’t last a day on his own. They had taken him in for his eidetic memory thinking he’d be  an asset – until a few days ago when he had almost gotten them all killed.

Abe stepped back as a show of faith. He knew he had taken the wrong approach and was surveying his mind eagerly for the right one. Jeanette faced him and let out a slow, frustrated, sigh. Her resistance to heading north was purely based on logic. Travelling ill-equipped and malnourished was a bad idea. It was best to stay put, where the grounds were familiar. But she had to admit, Abe’s logic was sound too.

The malnourishment would not be solved by staying put. They had depleted their food sources. The Hudson was their best bet now. As for Garret, he might be a coward and a poor shot, but he was a human map. He’d get them there. That was true.

“I agree, Jeanette. The theory that these things can’t survive the cold is just that, a theory. But how do we prove it if we sit here, rotting in the sun, shooting feeders from afar until we run out of squirrels and ammo?”

Abe smiled at Jeanette in that warm way that always settled her. By sundown the four of them were headed north, with Garret leading the way and Vicki by his side, gun-drawn at all times. She was one of the few soldiers who had stayed behind with the civilians when the military pulled out of their zone. Jeanette had prodded her for answers: Where was the military going? What was the plan? She never answered a single question. Within hours of the abandonment, the fences had been torn down and most of the population made a run for it – most right into the arms of feeders.

“It’s a good time for it,” Abe assured Jeanette who couldn’t help but look unsure of each step she took. He continued, “by the time we get there, we should still have a month or two before the snow.”

“And then?”

“And then, we acquire winter survival skills.”

“If we make it that long,” Jeanette mumbled.

“We will.”

On the third night, Jeanette scratched a seventh slash in her rock. She liked the idea of keeping track of how many feeders they encountered. It was a hangover from being a records keeper in a past life. She had to admit, the trek had not been quite as dangerous as she had expected, and it gave everyone a reason to keep going. Goals were healthy.

She sat by the fire, quietly thinking about how glad she was that they were all doing this together. Hell, she and Garrett were even being civil again. The fog was thick, a blanket that made everything seem a little unreal; a little magical, even. The air had a sweetness to it she couldn’t place, and even though they were still eating rodents, she was excited for the fish. The Hudson was known to have had over 200 species at one point.

As she lay under the heavy sky, Jeanette drifted off to all the best thoughts and let good dreams take her over. For once, things seemed to be falling into place.

And then the feeders came. A hoard of them greater than any other they had ever encountered. Jeanette was thrust awake by inarticulate screams. Vicki was probably giving orders to the others; Garret was probably babbling through tears; Abe was likely hollering for ammo. He was kicking wood from the fire towards the coming monsters. But they were still coming, and it was over before it began.

A small group leapt on Abe, taking him down in one swift motion. His screams became garbled as his wide eyes stared into Jeanette’s from across the way. She sat, frozen, only partially upright where she had been sleeping so peacefully just moments before. Simultaneously, a larger group descended upon Garret. He tried to run but fell, inviting the feeders down onto him. Vicki ran towards Jeanette, hand extended, wanting to pull her out of her shock. But Jeanette just stared at the hand, trying to process how her dream had so quickly turned into a nightmare. And how the world had so quickly become this Hell.

The feeders got Vicki from behind. The blood splattered across Jeanette’s face, bringing her back to life. She scrambled up and ran. She ran faster than humanly possible. She ran further than humanly possible. And not once did she look back.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

 

 

The Night of the Moonlit Curse (Midwinter Special)

A special thank you to Three Drops from a Cauldron for including my dark fairytale, The Night of the Moonlit Curse, in their seasonal special (page 31).

A mile later Poppy’s knees grew weak and the insatiable hunger she so feared began to creep up her throat.

Midwinter Special 2015 is currently available as a free e-issue, and a print anthology will be available soon.

Thank you to anyone who takes the time to click the link and have a read! There are some great fairytale shorts and poems collected here… some darker than others.

Hunger

Beth could not hush her appetence; not tonight. It had burrowed too deep inside of her, had become intrinsically linked to who she was. She had been embedded with a voracious appetite, and now she meant to satisfy it.

She looked up. A symphony of sounds was cluttering her mind: the crickets, an owl, the dancing trees scattering their leaves about. She could barely hear herself think. The moon was full and tinted with blood. The equinox was just around the corner. She needed to feed.

Beth tilted her head down again and continued her work. She swore it seemed that the digging was getting more and more tiresome each year. When she finished, she leaned against the tombstone to catch her breath. ‘Well worth it,’ grumbled the gnawing, insatiable, hunger inside of her. ‘Always well worth it.’

Grace and the Varmin

Donnie had never been particularly perspicuous, so when he asked Grace to attend the concert with him she was taken slightly aback. Up until that moment, she had been unsure whether he had any real interest in her, or if he had just been making the best of the situation. She had been a gift after all; a compromise; a symbol of gratitude – though never treated as one. A concert, though, was a clear indicator of affection. Or, at the very least, fondness. It eased her mind, and even loosened the figurative cuffs around her wrists.

The rendition of Sonata no.14 was poor, but Grace tried to appreciate the effort behind it and clapped heartily with the crowd when it was expected of her. She snuck glances of Donnie every now and again, but he seemed indifferent to all of it. At the intermission, she hurried off to the ladies’ room – an excuse to gather her thoughts.

“I’m awful tonight, I know.”

The voice was soft but sent a jolt through Grace, who had not expected Donnie to enter the washroom. Her face flushed immediately, and she stuttered without eloquence. She had no idea what the appropriate words were, nor what reaction Donnie was trying to garner from her. That always made her nervous – not knowing what others wanted of her. He approached slowly, eyes locked into her own. She tried to look away, but found herself mesmerized by his forwardness. In all the time she had know him, he had barely said more than a few words directly to her. In fact, he rarely spoke at all.

Grace’s knees buckled as she backed into the counter, clawing the edge with her satin-gloved fingernails. Donnie came within a couple inches of her and stopped dead. The intensity in his eyes melted away, leaving behind those of a confused youth. He shook his head as though awakening from a trance and looked around. Grace cleared her throat, still absent of vocabulary. In the distance, the bell sounded to urge the audience back to their seats.

“We should,” Donnie started.

He did not finish. He simply wandered out.

Grace spun to face the mirror again. Her dress was a vibrant pink that shone under the pot lights. Disoriented, she tugged at the strapless number to raise it higher on her bust, tucked a few rebellious curls back into her diamond encrusted hair clip, and exited the washroom.

Donnie was nowhere in sight. Rattled, Grace walked back to her seat on the balcony. He was not there either. After the show, Grace stepped into the cold night air and used her cellular to dial her driver. It was supposed to be his night off, but he would have to make an exception. He brought her home, where she undressed and retired to the library; one of the few rooms Donnie had granted her access to (although it was not without a fight).

The next morning she attended to her usual chores. It was while she was dusting the entertainment set and watching the news that Grace heard of the gruesome murders of two concert goers. Both had been wearing stunning pink dresses, much like her own.

She turned away from the screen, resisting reaction. It was not her job to understand Donnie, or his motives. When he came home, she would not even ask the question.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

The Antidote

Johnny entered the pub through the side door and looked around. The atmosphere was exactly what he had been expecting. The room was dimly lit by low hanging chandeliers that were caked with dust, most of the stools at the bar were occupied by middle-aged men sitting in silence and sipping aggressively, and in the back corner a booth was enlivened by two drunkards carrying on a desultory conversation. Johnny took a deep breath and strode over to an empty booth near the back door. He was close enough to the drunkards now to see their spit flying back and forth and wished he could settle in elsewhere. It was too risky though; the instructions for this meeting had specified this booth, and he did not want to get it off to a rough start.

“What’ll it be?” the waitress asked. She was the type of woman who Johnny guessed was much younger than she appeared. Chronic exhaustion seemed to be taking its toll.

“Um, just a water please.” The waitress sighed, dropping her hands to her side, still lazily gripping the pen and pad.

Johnny tried to smile politely but she took off without a glance back. Only a little scathed by her rudeness, Johnny slumped down in his booth and began tapping his fingers impatiently on the poorly wiped down table.

It was nearly an hour after their agreed upon meeting time when Oliver finally entered. Johnny perked up at the sight of him and gulped the remainder of his second coffee. It was tepid and strong; too strong in Johnny’s opinion but he kept ordering them to keep from further upsetting his waitress.

Oliver gracefully took the chair opposite Johnny, and it was not until they were eye level with one another that Johnny saw how much the other man was sweating.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Oliver whispered. “It’s been a difficult morning.”

Johnny nodded sympathetically, but said nothing.

“Look doc,” Oliver continued, leaning in now, eyes wide. “This needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.”

Stunned, Johnny began to stammer in opposition but was abruptly cut off by more of Oliver’s urgent whispers. Johnny shifted in his seat, discomforted by the intensity.

“I’m not messing around here. It’s serious. You gotta help me.”

Johnny nodded. Panic was obviously taking Oliver over. Johnny had hoped he would be able to convince him to come back to the lab with him for a proper assessment; a night of observation, even. But Oliver was intent on meeting in this very spot, which should have been a red flag that no amount of common sense was going to change his mind.

“I want the cure. I want it now.”

“It’s not like that Oliver. Like I said, we need to evaluate the circumstance surrounding the -”

“Doc!”

He raised his voice nearly, leaping out of his seat. Immediately afterwards, he became aware of the attention he had drawn, slunk back down, and glanced around nervously. Lycanthropy in such early stages had many possible symptoms which depended upon the infected person’s own genetic makeup. But no matter how you analyzed the data, aggression and the inability to control oneself were always at the top of the list.

Johnny tensed, trying not to let Oliver sense his building fear. The scent, as far as Johnny’s own studies showed, could enhance the potential for sudden onset rage in the infected.

“Okay,” Johnny whispered. “Order a drink.”

Relief overcame Oliver. It was visible, especially in his demeanor which lightened significantly. Oliver hailed over the waitress and had her bring him a tequila. No salt, no lemon. After a deep breath, and a slight smile, Oliver shot the liquor back and rubbed his eyes as if just waking up. Johnny could see how happy he was in that moment; it was a moment he had dreamt of for weeks on end now. The stress of the change had been an unbearable burden, but it would be over now. Johnny discretely passed him the vial under the table, and as it exchanged hands he felt a thankful squeeze of his own.

With that, Johnny rose from the table and nodded a friendly goodbye. As he made his way back to the side door he could hear Oliver order a second tequila; the one he’d poor the vial contents into. It ached Johnny to know he would not get the chance to study this one. All the same, the fallacy of the so-called antidote would be taken willingly, which was to Johnny’s benefit. Yes, they needed to die; but he always preferred it not be directly by his hand. He slept better that way.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

The Sickness

I wheeze, sniffle, muffle, and cough – the common cold. Only it’s not so common for me. When it comes, it knocks me down like a vengeful wind. Ten feet ahead of me the world is consumed in a dizzy fog; a miasma of infectious symptoms envelope me so that even my dog stays away.

“Uhh,” I groan as the morning light splashes across my face.

Some of my senses dull, while others seem to heighten, which leaves me even more disoriented. In the distance, I think I hear the hiss of a missile, and for just a moment I panic. Then I realize it’s the kettle and a wave of relief and lulled excitement washes over me. Warm liquid is my euphoria.

I stumble towards the kitchen, fighting my way through the spider webs. In my haze of hindered health, I have forgotten how quickly Halloween is approaching, and how energetically I had decorated only days before the germ storm.

“Morning sunshine,” he whispers as he kisses my cheek.

I nod and force a smile as I reach for the steaming mug. Wordless, still, I gesture to him to shut the blinds and he does. The sudden sensitivity makes me feel like a vampire, which is amusing since it will be my costume in a few days. I almost chuckle, but manage to shiver instead, and he drapes my housecoat over my shoulders.

“You should stay home,” he insists, again; this time I choose to oblige.

After he leaves I send a text message to my assistant saying that I will be working from home today. Neither of us believes it.

A hunger I cannot satisfy courses through me so I crawl back into bed, fully giving into my new found monstrosity. I hide from myself all day and by the time I rise the moon has too. Pleasantly numbed, I stretch out and head to the washroom. The flip of the switch disturbs the darkness and sends my ailments into a frenzy. Squinting and yelping I hit the switch again and let the darkness ease me, but not before catching a glimpse of my reflection.

I’m paled, with sunken cheeks and dark circles around my eyes. Absorbing the welcomed darkness I smack my tongue against the roof of my mouth and realize I am parched. I twist the tap and cool water streams from it. Feverishly, I duck my head and take it in straight from the source. As I drink, my tongue works itself around my mouth, and I can’t help but wonder: have my teeth always been so sharp?

As if testing them, I pierce my lower lip and blood swirls with the water to create a warmer, thicker substance. I have to admit, I like it. In the background I can hear my dog whimper – it’s the only sound I can hear clearly, now. The only smell that is precise.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

The Visitors

As the minute hand crept its way closer to the top of the clock, Jaime sighed. It was time to begin the ritual. Like every year, she began with her ablutions; she washed her hands, feet, and face with warm water and soap made of goat’s milk. As the water eased its way into her pores she relaxed, her muscles easing. After filling the bucket up she retreated to the living room where she emptied it onto the fire. Embers swirled around her, ashes floated to the floor, and smoke filled her lungs. The room fell dark, a heavy smoke fog obscuring any view she might have had of the clock.

Guessing she probably had a few minutes left to spare, Jaime made her way over to the big window and drew open the curtains. An orange tinted light spilled in from the blood moon, glazing the room with a speciously warm coloring. Everything was still, save for the smoke and moonlight which danced an eerie duet. The ominous BONG began in the distance; the town clock had struck twelve. With a deep breath, Jaime flung the shutters open, letting a gush of cold night air in.

From across the field she could see the corn stalks rustling. They were coming. As they did every year, on this night, at this hour. Crossing worlds could only be done on Halloween, after all.

From the fields, shadows emerged stretching over twenty feet of her lawn. They approached slowly, and steadily. Jaime knew she should hide, but there was still some time for that. She liked to watch the shadows come upon her for a while. This had been the case since she was little. Fear mingled with curiosity in a way that only made sense to her. Over the years, she had tried to explain it to people once or twice, but it was always a feckless endeavor. Nowadays, she mostly kept to herself year-round. She tended to her crops, sold her herbs, and waited in eager hunger for this night – the night when they would come.

She would hide, and they would seek. She knew as well as they did that only someone with a gift as powerful as her own would be a worthy opponent; a worthy prize. Knowing her own strength that way was nothing short of exhilarating. Admittedly, Jaime liked the chase, liked being hunted, liked outwitting the hunters. Then the clock would strike six, and a new day would dawn, casting them away for another year.

Maybe one night she’d surrender. Let them take her. See what all the fuss was about her there on the other side. But not tonight.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

Arctic Apathy

Ana coughed violently as a miasma of blowing snow and fog swirled around her.

“You’re just not used to this climate, yet,” Tucker yelled over the whirring sounds of the harsh environment.

It was true; Ana was not used to the climate. She had only left Calescent a few months ago, and her body still ached for its warmth, its moistness, and its luscious vegetation. Here on Zephyr, everything was a struggle. Her muscles panged all the time, her eyes burned, her skin cracked. Still, she had made a point not to complain aloud, for fear that her guides would question her motives for coming.

As it stood, she had told Tucker and Reese that she was searching for a long lost friend. They may not have believed her entirely, but they were willing to take her through the tundra and up to the mountains for a fair price – or, at least what they considered a fair price. 80 coins. Ana had given them 50, and promised the other 30 upon arrival. She wasn’t good for it, but she’d cross that bridge when she came to it. After all, she was pretty sure she could outsmart the two men, neither of whom seemed particularly quick-witted. If she was misjudging them, she had two knives they hadn’t thought to search her for.

“Should we set up camp soon?” Ana asked, trying not to sound too eager.

Reese looked around at the vastness before them. Ana could not even guess what he would be looking for. There was nothing; nothing, and snow.

“We’ll head north for a while longer and find a cave. We’re too exposed out here. The Feeders will be out tonight.”

Ana thought she saw the shadow of an ominous smirk flash across Reese’s face, but as quickly as it had appeared it had vanished. She shook it off, but patted her breast pocket to feel the assurance of a weapon. The other was hidden deep in her travelling pack.

The trio trudged on in silence, each conserving their breath for when the winds would choke them. By dusk they had found a cave. Tucker and Reese scoped it out, while Ana waited patiently on the outside, keeping guard. She was enjoying playing the role of meek damsel, it suited her. Since she was a child, she had liked to use her femininity to her advantage. It made her difficult to read. Ana liked being difficult to read. It helped her keep her secrets wrapped up tight.

Inside the cave, Ana faced the unpleasant discernment that as happy as she was to be sheltered, she would not be able to sleep next to two men she hardly knew. In an effort to mask her vulnerability with the falsehood of heroism, Ana offered to keep watch against Feeders.

“I’m not much up for sleeping. I’m -” she stumbled, “I’m excited to see my friend.”

The men eyed her suspiciously, but agreed. While they slept, Ana could not help but entertain the idea of sneaking away. They had gotten her so far already (40 coins worth, at least), and it would be an easy escape from the dues. She stood in the cold, trying to assess the barren land. She squinted through the storm, and tried not to wince as the frost fought its way through her cheeks and settled into her bones. She was almost certain she could make out the mountain ahead. If she could just get to the top… Yes, that’s what she’d do.

Ana peered into the dark cave and listened closely. The hush of slow breathing was apparent, as she had assumed it would be. Ana took off in a hurry, but not before stealing 10 coins back. Neither men roused. Not even when the Feeders came.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©