Her giggle was loud as the man nuzzled at her throat. The voices of the visitors faded away as the sky shifted from blue to pinks and purples. It was getting dark and soon the man would notice. Soon her heaving chest and the sweet scent of the perfume she donned earlier wouldn’t be enough to keep his attention.
Cleaver Woods at night was not a place anyone wanted to be.
The faster she worked, the faster they could all feed. The children were growing restless. The rustling of the bushes that bracketed the park were getting louder. She glared at the moving foliage as if to say Wait, not yet. Patience.
The laughter was her response and the man jerked away from her warmth, looking around, eyes wide as he noticed they were alone now.
“Didn’t realize it was so late.” Dark eyes darted from his watch back to where her top dipped dangerously low, smooth brown flesh on display, her breasts threatening to spill free. He licked his lips. “My house not too far from here.”
She already knew that. She’d gotten all the details back at the bar, where his loud bragging had drawn her eyes. His friends had laughed when he’d described how he’d hunted down the poor animals in their domain, patted him on the back as he gushed about how the animals had squealed when he’d brought them down with a few pops of his gun.
Brazen, bold, fool. Not caring that anyone would report him for hunting in off season. No one in the bar would deal with him, so she brought him to Bois. Bois would be pleased with her tonight. This one radiated arrogance and cockiness. Her mouth nearly watered at how they’d feast. The energy around him crackled, beckoned, demanded she taste.
Soon she would fill the ache in her belly, and that of the others.
Soon she would be free of the denim that encased her legs and the boot that trapped her hoof.
He’d noticed her limp, but had been too enthralled by her red lips, skimpy top and the way her ass filled out the jeans to care about her uneven gait.
“We have the woods all to ourselves now,” she purred. “Let’s stay awhile.”
“But it getting dark,” he insisted.
“But you’re not afraid of some woods, right? Nothing here to hurt you, just some defenseless animals.” Lie. There was so much that could hurt in these woods. Least of all the tiny creatures prowling the bushes now. Hungry. Waiting. Dragging their turned around feet as they waited impatiently.
She rose and wandered closer to the path that started right where the trees were thickest “Are you afraid?” she taunted. “Scared like those animals you slaughtered? Are you going to squeal like them too?”
The man’s dark eyes blazed. “I not ‘fraid nuttin.”
She cocked a hip—the better to ease her uneven stance but it would draw his eye right where she wanted it.
Hop and drop, they called her sometimes, as she clomped down the road in search of more prey. Getting angry made no sense, the children didn’t know better, didn’t know how hurtful that could be. She wasn’t whole like Bois with his magnificent hooves and horns. No, she was the strange one with her one human foot and one hoof. And no horns a burnished brown like Bois’ was. Sometimes she’d look in the mirror and imagine them above her locs, just like Bois’.
Except, she wasn’t like Bois.
Her mother hadn’t known what to expect, but then again who would? A human lying with a forest spirit didn’t happen every day. So they pointed and laughed and left her to hide away the reminder that she was a little like them, but not nearly enough.
But she could do this, she could pick the ones Bois would want to punish and maybe he’d care enough to call her one of his own.
She smiled at the man now. Time to work. The La Diablesse had to earn her keep.
“Then show me,” she crooned, popping the button on her jeans. She wondered how loud he’d scream if she drew the jeans down her legs and bared everything to his eyes. She didn’t dare, not yet not yet. Instead she leaned against the tree, ignoring the brush of a cold hand against her elbow and beckoned.
The children were getting too bold in their hunger. She had to hurry, before he could see and run.
“Patience,” she muttered. Hoping they would listen. Hoping they would let her do this and prove she was one of them. She’d fallen short of the desired quota last month, but they hadn’t given her a chance.
“What you got dere for me, eh?” The man leered, walking over to grip her hips.
“Anything you want.”
Warm, eager hands on her hips counterbalanced the cold grasping ones at her elbow.
Wait wait wait
“Stop it,” she hissed and the man pulled back. Damn them. High pitched laughter echoed throughout the woods and the man froze, eyes squinting as he tried to see in the growing gloom.
“What was that?”
With one red tipped nail, she brought his eyes right back to her. “Nothing.”
“Sounded like children.”
“Here this late? How much you had to drink, hmm?”
Friendly, easy smile. Anything but the snarl she wanted to release to shut the children up.
“I never been in these woods so late. My grandpa used to tell me things.”
“Things?” She made sure she was heavy on the incredulity. “You don’t believe these old tales do you? Soucouyants and douens and,” she leaned in and brushed her lips against his ear, “Papa Bois.”
He shuddered as she tugged at his earlobe with her teeth.
Now now now. The chant filled her head and she turned his head to take her first taste. His lips were hungry beneath hers, but she was hungrier. She sipped and drew on his energy, feasting on the deliciousness. She just wanted a tiny taste before Bois got to him. She was hungry too.
“Share share share.”
The chant was louder now and the man—she hadn’t bothered to learn his name—bucked in her tight grip, trying to pull away. Pointless. Pathetic. They always sized up her body, labelled it weak, inferior. Oh, the pleasure she got when holding them in her strong grip. The tall, strapping ones who always loomed, always tried to make her feel small, they were the most fun. The flash of lust turning to shock, then fear, sent a thrill though her body. Almost filled the ache inside. But not quite. Nothing could replace the spark that sizzled around humans. Waiting for her, and other jumbies to feast on.
“Relax. It’ll be over soon.” She spun him around and pinned him to the tree. He looked dazed as she stepped back and kicked off her boots. The moon suddenly shone bright overhead, casting down on her, on her bare feet. She wiggled the toes on her right foot and stamped the hoof of her left. Finally.
The man kept blinking at her face then her feet, wide eyes lingering on her lightly furred leg that ended in her hoof.
“Wha…?” His mouth hung open. He was a pretty thing, this one. Moonlight glinting off his bald head and sharp, clean shaven jaw. Eyes dark like the rivers the water jumbies lurked in at night. Shame. She’d have liked to play with him a bit longer.
Her smile was wicked now as tiny hands came around the tree and gripped the man’s arms, clinging, trapping him.
“What is this?!” he shrieked. The ones not holding him tight in place scrambled out into the light, eyes bright with mischief, sharp teeth gleaming, backwards feet shuffling in the gravel.
“No no no!” The man pulled and pulled but the children were strong. “D-douens.” His lips quivered around the word.
The ones standing under the moonlight cocked their heads and smiled.
“Taste?” One sporting a tattered straw hat asked. She was surprised they even bothered. Most times they did as they pleased. Bois was probably in one of his moods, so they were cautious. There had been many illegal hunts going on this season so she was not surprised.
She shook her head. “Wait.”
If they had eyes under the shadowy brim of the hat, she was certain they’d be narrowed. They didn’t think she was deserving of Bois attention. She was pushing it just by the one commanding word. Their possessiveness of Bois was well known.
The ones who held the man to the tree petted his skin and gnashed their teeth as he shivered. No more fighting. Maybe he finally realized it didn’t make sense.
“Whyyyy?” he wailed. The audacity of this man.
“Bois doesn’t like hunters in his forest. Especially those who brag about doing it on off season.” She drew closer, dragging the back of her hand down his cheek, nails grazing lightly. She clucked her tongue. “Sad to see this face go, so pretty. Tasty too. Maybe Bois will share some more with us before he’s done with you?”
“Please, I’m sorry.” The man pleaded and the children clapped their hands in delight. Yes. They loved when they begged. It made them taste sweeter somehow. The little spice of fear adding a heady flavor.
She was getting hungry again. When would Bois get here?
A loud rustle came from deep in the wood and one of the children grinned, “Father comes.”
“Father? Who…” The man tried to whip his head around. Poor fool. Didn’t he know it was best not to see what was coming?
Bois came out of the forest, a sight that had the man cringing back against the tree, even as he tried to break free of the children’s hold again.
Their father was an imposing figure. The moon shone down on the dreadlocks that spilled down his back. His horns gleamed as he stopped in front the hunter, arms folded across his bare chest. The hunter’s wide eyes took in the tattered pants and cloven feet. Whimpers fell from the man’s lips as Bois approached.
“You have broken the rules, hunter.” His voice was soft. That always surprised those who were unfortunate enough to cross Bois’ path.
The first time she’d heard him speak, Dia had been surprised too. She’d expected something grating, befitting his rough appearance. But that day when she’d seen him near the edge of her house, he’d called out to her and his voice had wrapped around her like a song, the sinuous notes brushing against the hollowness that burrowed deep inside, sparking something…something familiar…like recognizes like, her mother always said, and that day she’d known she was like him.
“No,” the hunter started to lie, body trembling as Bois sneered and turned to her.
“Dia.” It was all he needed to say. She knew what he wanted. They may not consider her completely one of them, but they knew she would not lie.
“He was bragging to his friends.” She confirmed, and for a moment the hunter’s eyes heated with hatred. But not for long, not when Bois’ black eyes drilled into the man.
The children were a buzz with excitement. Voices rising in their chilling chant as Bois sized up the hunter.
“Release him.” The words spurred the ones holding the man against the tree into action. Hands slid away and feet shushed against the gravel as they came round the tree, mouths stretched in those wicked grins.
Now was the main event. The children’s delight at what was to come should have twisted her up inside, but Dia knew the hunter was about to get what he deserved.
Her mother’s creased forehead and disapproving eyes flashed in her mind. She shook it away. Humans didn’t understand. Her mother couldn’t…wouldn’t understand. Although she should have. It was her very own family of hunters that had given her to Bois all those years ago, as payment for their wrongs. So Dia couldn’t understand why her mother didn’t approve of how they dealt with the hunters. Her defense of them made no sense.
Her mother said her defense of the father who used Dia’s gifts for his own gain didn’t make sense.
Dia shook the thought away. Maybe her mother wasn’t completely wrong, but she could…would fit in here. The chances of that happening were greater than out there with the humans, who averted their eyes every time she walked by.
They all knew. And whispered.
Ms Francis make a devil baby.
I hear she scream when the chile come out
Is true she have a cow foot?
Maybe she should have struck back, watched as fear sparked in their eyes, then feasted on it, drank her fill until all the hollow spaces inside her were filled up.
But she never had.
Now Bois was holding up a blade to the moonlight. The hunter’s shuddering growing more violent as he cried and pleaded.
The villagers told stories of Papa Bois that painted him as the fierce but gentle protector of the forest. There was nothing gentle about him now as he slashed at the hunter’s arm, red welling up from the gash. Dia’s stomach clenched. The red trickling down the arm drew her eye. The children were getting into a frenzy now as the coppery tang scented the night air.
Bois gripped the hunter’s chin and held him in place as he ducked his head and lapped at the man’s arm.
“Please no. I’m sorry.” Snot mingled with tears as the man sobbed. But Bois only let up to turn to Dia, lips stained red.
“Daughter.” The word had her jolting. He’d never called her that before. He barely acknowledged her at all. The one word had her heart pounding against her chest.
She was the lure for the humans who broke the rules. They didn’t see her coming until it was too late. He used her, she knew that. She had no delusions about why he’d come to her that day, shown himself, made her feel useful. Like she belonged somewhere at last. She’d clung to it, foolishly hoping something more would come of her work for him. But, never actually thinking it would.
The children grew silent. They all knew what that meant. Drink him. Drain him. She’d never tasted blood. She’d only fed off the energy that radiated from humans. To feed off their blood meant something different.
It was a test. She faltered for a moment, her mother’s voice in her head again, “I know what you need to do to keep strong, but I hope you only do the least you need to.”
The least being the tiny sips of energy Bois had been allowing her. The most? Well that was far more.
With each drip of the hunter’s blood on the graveled pathway, her hunger grew.
Do it do it the children sang join us join us
The hunter shook his head, eyes pleading with her. But she smiled. A feral, frightening thing and gripped the hunter’s arm, feeling his pulse pounding away beneath his fragile flesh.
Bois stood silent as she drew the hunter into a lover’s embrace then slashed and slashed as he screamed and screamed.
The first taste was delicious.
The second sent shivers throughout her entire body.
And the third filled her up with a calm that she’d never felt doing anything else.
She was finally one of them.
The children linked hands and formed a circle around them and sang:
There’s a bloody girl in the ring
Tra la la la la
There’s a bloody girl in the ring
Traaaaa la la la la
Their laughter drowned out Dia’s sighs of pleasure and the hunter’s dying screams.
She was finally free, and filled.
No more empty spaces.