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.



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.


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.
“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?”

“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!”



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.


Guardians of the Sky Realms

Wow, am I excited and motivated!

Over the last few days (sick in bed, mind you), I have written over 7k words toward my small YA novel. I am guessing it will get to around 60k when finished – which is odd for me (as I tend to write them a lot longer). 11k in all has now been written. I am on a roll big time, and I don’t suspect it will sustain at this rate all the way to the end (yes, work is calling), but it will make a sizeable dent to the novel and, more importantly, I am in the groove – there will be no stumbling blocks now.

This is new for me, but it feels right. I call it a YA novel, but I am guessing the core readers will be girls aged from about 13 to 17 – I am guessing, as I am 48 and a male. That’s radically different! Does this constitute a YA novel? It wont be long before I start to find some of my nieces and get them to sanity check what I have written.

I have a short story posted on the Internet that is pretty close to what the prologue of my novel will be. Here it is to give you a bit of a taste what the story is about (but only a taste – there is a lot more to it!).

I call the short The Painting.

It was a balmy night but Maree shivered, buttoning up her coat. It was fear. Not for something specific, but the unknown – the back lanes of The Rocks were dark and menacing at midnight.

This was one of the oldest parts of Sydney and many of the narrow buildings she silently passed were nearly two hundred years old. In the old days the narrow byways were frequented by footpads and other villains. They killed for a few shillings. The history of the area was tangible: you could smell and taste it, and every shadow seemed to form into a knife-wielding psychopath.

She kept reminding herself that it was just her imagination as she continued down Kendell Lane, looking for No. 42. She still glanced over her shoulder every few seconds.

"There," she whispered, when she spotted the rusty number in the dim light. She read the signage underneath it: ‘Azimuth Galleries – viewings by appointment only’. Not this night, she thought.

Maree looked around her, making sure that no one was in sight. When she was sure it was clear she pulled out a pair of wires and expertly picked the old lock.

She quickly entered the old building and shut the door. She then pulled out a pocket torch and switched it on, immediately flashing it around to get her bearings. It was, in some ways, scarier in the gallery, as the paintings in the shadows seemed to come to life, shifting as the torch flickered by, the eyes of abstract figures seemingly following her. She shivered again. She wandered into the next room, picking her pace up as if to avoid the gaze of the phantoms behind her.

Her torch light almost immediately found the painting she was after. Wings. The work she saw in the magazine, the magnificent work of art she had to have. This was not going to be theft for profit; this was for her.

She had been dreaming about the painting for weeks, the swirling reds, greys and oranges of barely discernible winged figures; angels perhaps, but the subject matter wasn’t angelic. There was grief and death in it. She needed to study it alone, to absorb the artist’s impression, to feel the paint under her fingertips, to grasp the complete meaning of the work.

Maree held her breath and approached the painting. It was larger than she thought, perhaps four feet square. The colours were richer, more penetrating, and the winged man and… yes, woman! were more easily discernible. She was in awe, frozen in wonder before it.

"A beautiful work, no?" a deep, masculine voice came from behind her.

She started in surprise, but she didn’t move an inch. She was now frozen in fear.

The voice came again, this time a little closer. "Do not worry. I am a stranger in this gallery as well. I too have an… affinity with the painting."

A sweat bead ran down Maree’s neck. She found the courage to turn around. A tall man stood before her, no more than five feet away. He had short cropped hair, dark but the exact colour was unclear in the shadows. His eyes seemed light, perhaps grey; his face was thin but his body seemed full and fit. "I suppose you are wondering why I am here?"

Maree’s voice was weak, still with fear. "I… I suppose so…"

"I too wanted to view the painting. I have seen it before but I never tire of viewing the captured emotions on the canvas." He slipped past Maree and came within a few feet of Wings. "Do you mind?" he asked, pointing to her torch.

She complied, standing next to the stranger, and illuminated the painting.

The mysterious visitor’s voice seemed to mellow, almost break with emotion. "This is the story of Alanar, the Guardian of the Northern Sky Realm, and his consort Mirriam. They were Protectors and fought the daemons of the Fire Lands valiantly, never allowing the enemy to taint the Homelands. Protectors always worked as pairs, as a team." The stranger started to cry, not vocally, but allowing the tears to cascade down his cheeks. "Then one day a stray arrow dug deep into Mirriam’s breast, cleaving her heart. Alanar was devastated, and he caught her as she fell and carried her in his flight to the Homelands.

"This painting captures the moment when Mirriam’s body was caught. It faithfully portrays the agony of Alanar, his yellow-tipped wings rippling in the wind as he concludes his terrible descent. The swirling colours reflect the awful light of the Fire Lands but they also depict Alanar’s darkened heart. I look upon this work and I cannot but weep."

Maree heard his words and they all rang true to her. How could this be? she asked herself, for this was but an artist’s fantasy; and yet she now realised why she was drawn to the painting. There was some inherent truth in the canvas. Something that needed to say something to her. She also began to weep.

His hand gently clasped her shoulder. "You feel this too?"

She could only nod. Words were too difficult to say.

"And why?"

She shrugged her shoulders. She still couldn’t speak.

"Come with me."

Maree turned to the stranger, looking up at his face. She saw compassion in him, and yet she only met him a few minutes ago. She wanted to instantly reply ‘yes’, but all she could do was look at him quizzically.

He laughed while he cried. "Look at the painting again."

She did. The swirling colours suddenly seemed to have a life of their own; they actually were swirling. The tall man’s hand was still on her shoulder, and it ever so gently urged her to move toward the canvas, but not forcibly.

She didn’t know why but she allowed herself to fall into the painting, and then, without warning, she unfurled her expansive, blue-tipped wings, and flew into the maelstrom of colours.

He never let her go.

"It has been a long time, Mirriam."