Short Story: The Prey


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On the fourth floor balcony of an aged, decrepit apartamento block in Old Havana, a flower petal began to sway in a salty breeze, sourced from the Straits of Florida. The older folk who lived in the street, despite the very late hour, made themselves comfortable at their open windows, for the stifling November heat was now being relieved by the rare wind, and those in the know started to chat about the chances of a hurricane coming their way. They whispered because they considered the midnight hour to belong to the dead.

1

 

The yellow petal suddenly separated from its parent flower and zipped up, over the rusted iron railing.  It spiralled and climbed a hundred feet into the air, far above the sweaty, smelly streets of the oldest sector of Cuba’s capital. The updraft ceased and it then followed the prevalent wind, toward the Vedado district of the old city. It dropped and climbed, depending on the chaotic rhythm of the breeze, finally plummeting into the 140 acre Colon Cemetery, dodging the multitude of mausoleums, and racing along the narrow paths among the many hundreds of thousands of grave stones.2

The petal bounced along the concrete path and missed the footfalls of a pretty young girl, who purposefully trudged toward the centre of the massive necropolis. The wind ceased for a moment; the tiny object rested lightly on the dimly lit path, and was crushed by the young girl’s left shoe.3

As quickly as the flower petal was pulverised, thunder and lightning cracked over the sky, and heavy drops of rain spattered about, and within seconds, the rain fell heavily, soaking the young girl. She completely ignored the change of weather; it was as if the rain did not exist.
4

***

Nearby, deep beneath a ninety year old, cracked grave, amongst the dry and mouldy bones of a coffin’s inhabitant, something stirred. It wasn’t like a wakening, as the being was not exactly asleep, and it wasn’t something physical, terrestrial; the spirit had been preoccupied within its own world and it had sensed that something alive was walking the path in the hours that belonged to him. Alive. Breathing. Disgusting. I am not breathing. Join us, mortal. Feel the worms and decay erode your body; feel your flesh corrupt. He expanded his consciousness and allowed himself to rise to the surface…5

The spirit of Emilio Esteban eased its way through the ground into the necropolis proper, the place for the dead, yet part of the world of the living. At night, however, the living had less right to claim the place theirs. He had no interest in the weather, only the fact that it was the dead of the night, and that there was, inexplicably, a young living being taking a seat on a nearby bench. The nerve of her. Is she insulting us? Does she take pleasure in flaunting her aliveness?6

“Emilio, do not fret,” came a very familiar spirit-voice from behind. “She seems like a lovely girl, doesn’t she. Very young – surely no more than seventeen, no?”

“She’s alive, Beatriz.”8

“Ah, Emilio, you are so depressive, so morose. We all were alive, and now we are dead. She has an unknown allotment of time on Earth – why begrudge her her time?” The female spirit could not be seen, but was tangibly sensed by a matronly presence – empathic, warm. 9

Emilio was about to retort with a barrage of reasons why he was angry and why, as a result of a bitter betrayal, his life was cut short, when a third spirit emerged from the depths of the earth. He grimaced; it was Alejo, that estúpido writer.10

The spirit of the young novelist joined the other two phantoms. “My, my, my, what do we have here? A young, and pretty girl sitting in Colon? How interesting. Ah, if only I was made of flesh and blood… what a scrumptious looking thing.”11

Beatriz laughed. “And what are you planning to do? Woo her with your skeletal visage? Caress her with your bony – oh my – the best you could come up with is a chill on her flesh!”12

Alejo feigned injury. “If I did not know you well, I would have thought you were being cruel. Yes, it is just my imagination at play. Alas, all I would do is frighten her.”13

Emilio jumped in. “Why not? Sneak up on her and frighten her! With luck she will die from heart failure and then you would have the companion you so yearn for.” His eery presence intensified with his malignant words.
14
“Now that was cruel,” Alejo replied. “I could not do this to such a frail girl. Look at her – she ignores the downpour and just morosely sits on the stone bench. What is she thinking? Why is she here?”
15

“Hard to tell, my friend,” Beatriz replied. “It does seem strange. She is small and fragile – must be from some well-to-do household. And yet she should be asleep. Look at her face, it is angelic, although a little pasty. Perhaps she has had some bad news given to her, or someone close has recently died and lies here.”16

Alejo sighed. “I believe she is depressed. I recall that some adolescents – many of whom have moments when they are dark of mood – cannot escape it as the years roll by. Her frowns lay too comfortably on her face. I fear she may be a troubled child.”17

“Poor dear,” Beatriz said. “If I could only console her. I fear that if I make myself appear before her I would only make matters worse.”18

“And why not?” Emilio chimed in, venom dripping from his words. “She is doomed! Look at her; of course she is loco! Why did she come to this God forsaken place? Because she means to commit suicide. I have seen this before, a number of times. This is a favourite spot for those fools.”19

“You can’t be sure, my friend,” Alejo said, indignant at Emilio’s tone.20

“Don’t call me friend! I am no-one’s friend. If I had friends I would have died an aged man and passed to a better place. Instead, I am here, stuck for eternity with a pair of pathetic ghosts!”21

Beatriz ignored Emilio. He ranted so often there was little meaning to his words. “There is too much speculation. She is a mystery, and only time will tell us why she is here. Let us just wait and observe.”22

“Why?” Emilio blustered. “I am sick and tired of both of you – why should you care for her? She is ALIVE – do you understand? She is a blasphemy to us! This is our territory, where we can suffer the agony of our existence. Why should a young girl come here and remind us of what we have lost, and yearn for so much?"23

Beatriz looked in Alejo’s direction quizzically, expressing concern at a turn of emotion Emilio had not demonstrated before. When she turned her attention back toward Emilio, the spectre had gone. “Oh, dear. I hope he doesn’t do something rash!”

24

***

Emilio materialised ten yards behind the girl. He studied her, angry that she was there at all, but nevertheless trying to explain the mystery of why she was sitting in the pouring rain, alone, in the cemetery. He could not see her face, but her body language was that of someone broken, or depressed. Her head was slightly tilted downward, and her long auburn hair was soaked and clingy, exaggerating her posture. She wore dark clothing and had long leather boots, which were alien to him, as he was accustomed to women wearing light colours and much more modest dresses. There was a moment – only fleeting – when he felt sorry for the young one, and thought of retreating, but his anger flared again. He revealed as much of his being to the mortal world as he could muster.25

Aniya, the young woman who sat on the stone bench, sensed that someone – something – was approaching, and she jumped to her feet and spun around. She saw a dimly glowing human form approach her slowly, wearing a wispy shroud, but revealing skeletal hands and a skull where a face would normally be found. A dark green luminescence emanated from the eye sockets, and liquefied flesh oozed from all of the ghost’s spectral bones.26

She sucked her breath in quickly, not in horror or dismay, but in glee.27

The young girl pulled out of her right sleeve a small doll made of wicker and leather, depicting a terrifying skeletal god, and out of the other a wrinkled, severed human hand, decorated with colourful feathers and blood. She quickly raised her clutched objects into the air and cried in a Haitian accent, “Dieux de la mort, permettez-moi à manger!28

Emilio was taken completely by surprise and reacted slowly – too late to fade into the earth. He no longer had control of his form, and to his horror, he was slowly being drawn to the girl.29

What the spirit was witnessing was a nightmare he never thought he could have. This child was petit, and she had porcelain skin. Her eyes were brown and her lips were red and full… and then he realised that her face was actually painted white and was already starting to run, and her lips were red with blood. She screamed in some foul, uncouth tongue and her teeth were bared, and each tooth was filed into triangular daggers. Emilio shuddered but could do nothing. As he got within a few feet of the witch-girl, her mouth extended to four feet in diameter, and he felt his being drawing into her hell-maw.30

“What are you doing? This is my home, not yours!”31

She said nothing, but her eyes turned claret-red and there was a slight turn to her cavernous mouth, that resembled a smirk.32

Emilio almost instantly disappeared into Aniya’s gullet. She closed her mouth, and in moments appeared again as the lonely, rain-drenched girl. She gazed about her, and stopped for a few extra seconds, staring in the direction of the Baseball Hall of Fame Mausoleum, nodding slightly to Beatriz and Alejo, who were cowering behind a monument. She smiled, invigorated with the energy she had consumed, and retraced her steps out of the Colon Cemetery.

 

3 thoughts on “Short Story: The Prey

  1. Gerry, as you may know I love to read, I read well over 150 books a year, and the books I remember most, and the stories in those books are the stories that stick with me for days on end. This story did just that. I found myself thinking of this story time and time again over the last few days. I was fascinated by the lives of the undead, and the sweetness of the voodoo witch in disguise. This tale was haunting, and full of metaphorical symbolism about life, living, dying, bigotry, and so much more. I don’t know how you manage to pack such a punch in so few words. but I’m learning from you with each read. Terry (whyguy) This is my favorite thus far.

    Like

    1. Wow, I didn’t think this would be your favourite, but hey, am I to complain? This story was inspired by a drawing of a hentai-style female figure in the rain at night, sitting on a bench, with a spectre lurking nearby. I was asked to write a story. I chose to write it in a YA style – and yet I couldn’t resist to ad more depth to the characters (even though they were dead) than perhaps a typical YA story would warrant. It always concerned me that having a very living-human-style conversation between ghosts was a bit weird or even cheesy, but no one seems to make that observation, which is good. thanks again Gerry

      Like

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