A familiar scent wafts among the reeds and rot of my domain. Erick, a boy of eight or nine stands with two other, smaller boys. His eyes desperate as he searches the reeds. Did he regret his choice already? Such funny little things, these mortals.
“If you two are so worried about getting lost you should head home before it’s dark,” Erick says, his voice almost lost in the discordant symphony of mosquitoes and frogs. Such lovely music.
“We’re not letting you get lost out here, and it’s my brother that’s lost,” a tall lanky kid says, all skin, bone and fear. “I’m not losing my brother and a friend to this stupid swamp.”
Oh but it’s all bravado, isn’t it. I see your eyes darting at every shadow, the startled flinch as a bird leaps from the reeds. You’ll run, and you’ll flee, and then, then my dear you will never leave.
“My dad said there was a serial killer that hid bodies in here, and that’s where all the stories came from. We should keep moving or we’ll never find Lenny. He’s probably just lost crying in a tree or something,” the smallest of the group says, he looks almost like a frog with his green vest and wide nervous face. His pudgy little nose wrinkles at the smells as he steps though the shallow much with squelching steps. Mortals always do find the smell of death and rot so offensive.
“Yeah, all the stories were just the killer trying to keep people out. Nothing to be afraid of,” the Lanky one agrees. He stares into the fog, his brow furrows as he focus on the changing shapes. His eyes go wide with fear as the fog thickens. “Does anyone know why Lenny came out here anyway?”
Does he think the shapes are just his imagination running wild? That the feeling in his gut, the desire to sprint home to electric lights and picket fences, was an over reaction? Oh but it’s not, you tasty little morsel.
Can we eat these ones mistress? Wrap them wriggling in our roots? They are so fresh mistress, so fat.
Not yet. Let them be lost and lonely. Let them wander.
The Frog lights his feeble metal torch, the electric beam barely bright enough to pierce though the red gloom of the fading sunset. “We should have brought better flashlights.”
It wouldn’t have helped.
“There’s a clearing up ahead, we’ll be fine.” Erick tromps through the darkening path, swatting at mosquitoes with every step.
They find the clearing, the honeysuckels as plentifull as the grass. Their sweet poison almost stronger the rotten musk of my home. Would they be foolish enough to slumber here? Oh, that would be a treat.
The lanky one looks up, squints, and then turns in a circle while still staring at the sky. “Guys, the stars are wrong.”
“Isn’t that in one of the stories,” The Frog asks, his voice half an octave higher.
“It’s in all the stories.” Erick looks out, into the reeds, into the fog.
Is he looking for me? Does he think mere mortal eyes can pierce this darkness?
“Erick, how’d you know this clearing was here?” The Frog asks.
“Because, my dears, he’s been here before.” I step out of the reeds, standing on the fragrant water. The swamp shadows follow, clinging, almost solid in their own right.
The three of them turn around, the Frog’s flashlight makes the shadows flinch. The lanky child steps back, his foot sinking calf deep into the muck. Erick stares, his face as still and dark as the swamp water.
“You’re her! Where’s my brother? Where’s Lenny!” The Lanky one yanks his boot out of the muck and takes a step towards me, despite the fear he reeks of. Is there anything sweeter than young courage?
“Do they still talk about me as if I eat children? How very charming.”
Erick marches forward and looks me in the eye, his gaze sturdy with defiance. “Let Lenny go.”
“Why? Are you going to take his place after you so cleverly tricked him? Just how long did you have to talk to convince that poor innocent boy your family needed you more then his needed him?”
“What’s she talking about Erick?” The lanky one’s hands tremble at his side, fingers making a quivering fists. “What did you do? Lenny idolized you, did you tell him to come here? Why?”
The emotion roiling between them is an almost a tangible thing, a little longer and it might be. What sort of creature would be born from that? I’d love to find out.
“It doesn’t matter, I came here to get him back. You two were never supposed to find out.” Erick looks away, shame and fear twisting his face.
“Just tell us,” The Frog says. “What could you possibly need so badly it’d be worth dealing with her.”
Erick shakes his head.
I step closer to him, the honey suckle sweetness tingling my nose. The the other two scamper back, their bravado sinking. What do they see? Just how have the centuries changed me? Mirror show only swirls of magic, and my minions, well, they’re entirely biased. I stroke his cheek, so much pent up emotion in this one, he’d lead a bitter life. “Your friend Erick here needed a rather powerful potion. For his beloved mother.”
He looks up at me, and I nearly drained the soul from him then so pitiful was his expression. He speaks, “A life for a life you said, so you take me, and you let Lenny go. He wasn’t supposed to come, I was scared, and I didn’t think he would, he just, he just said good bye and left.”
The lanky one speaks, “What did you even damn him to? Do you even know what she’s done to him?” He glares at me with a helpless, terrified rage.
“I haven’t done anything, yet.” I lick my lips. “But he slumbers deep in the reeds, his weak little limbs wrapped in roots, his soul, his life, slowly seeping away.”
“You said I had a week.” Erick fists tremble at his side, and the water tremors. Oh my darlings, there’s nothing to be afraid of.
“And you do, but you’ve made your choice haven’t you, just come this way.” I step back, a path forming out of the muck. Erick takes a step to follow.
“There has to be another way!” The Frog says. “Does it all need to be the same life? Can’t we split it?”
I laughed, not at the boy, but in pleasure. There is nothing sweeter than a noble sacrifice. “Twenty years from each of you.”
“I can’t let you guys do this. It was my deal.”
“Yeah, well, maybe we don’t want to lose you, and I don’t want to lose Lenny either.” The lanky boy stands taller and looks at me. “I’m in.”
The frog nods, and so does Erick.
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