Josiah had come into the forest looking for a clue but instead found a flowing crimson skirt in the water. The river was turning to blood. A wide swath where he stood, it narrowed upstream. An accusatory arrow, pointing back to its origin.
A deer, he thought, or some animal. Something shot and left to die, to waste.
“Ass-hats,” he murmured to nobody, resettling his pack on his back, making sure he could reach his camera.
He had started bird-watching two summers ago, but this year he had found several carcass abandoned in the woods. Usually deer, sometimes a wild pig, once a bobcat the latter still alive and bleeding. These animals were left for the other wild animals to scavenge on. The inhumanity of it was too much for him.
He’d gone to his head once, complaining about poachers.
“You can’t poach a deer, son.” His dad had dismissed. “Besides, it was probably an animal killed it anyway.”
Animals didn’t hunt with spears and bows, Josiah knew. Animals didn’t leave their kill to waste and rot either. Something was going on in his woods.
Now, ripples of red led him back upstream. He thought to take pictures of whatever victim had fell in the water. Maybe catch an arrow shaft, a clear bullet hole. Have evidence.
The trail of ichor didn’t lead to the fawn hide of a dead doe. His eyes stopped at a swatch of creamy white, a leg, a thigh.
He gasped, camera stopped midway to his eye as he realized he was looking at a woman. More than likely human, because nymphs didn’t exist, she stood naked and blood smeared, her side turned to him, her head down. She wasn’t aware he was there.
Her hip was bleeding, her stomach, her breast covered in scratches. She seemed to be washing the blood off her body. Something dark floated in the water in front of her. Her clothes she supposed. But if she had stepped in the water to bathe, why wouldn’t she have taken her clothes off at the shore.
Her hair was deep burgundy. What a day for red things, Josiah thought. Then wondered, was it really red, or was it more blood?
He knew he should say something, felt like a pervert peeking on her. Clearly she was hurt, needed help. After all the crimson skirt that led him here came from the pool of blood awash at her hips.
Still, he couldn’t stop staring. Bloody, disgusting, she was beautiful. Raising the camera he pushed the button.
His camera was digital and nearly silent. He used it to hunt birds with and didn’t want a flash or click to scare the timid ones away. But silent as it was she heard it.
Her head snapped up, turned towards him in an instant. Her eyes flashed, later Josiah would tell everyone that they ACTUALLY flashed, giving of their own light.
Her lip curled over her teeth, locked in a snarl.
Hatred flowed from her as thick as her blood, and Josiah blushed, looked down at the black mass near her feet. Was it moving?
“S..s…sorry.” he stammered. “I just saw the blood in the water and I thought… Are you okay?”
He felt pulled to look at her again. Not at her body, but at her eyes. Brown, flecked golden, flecked a glowing yellow.
She stood up straighter, eyes still bright, teeth still barred. As she straightened a fresh gout of blood poured from the biggest wound in her side. One hand she kept clenched at her side. The other she reached out towards him, red covered palm up. Fingers beckoned.
Again he found himself thinking how beautiful she was. How perfect her body was. How much he wanted her. Behind those thoughts he knew they were wrong. This whole situation was wrong. But something more primal was pulling at him.
He took a step towards the water, a second. A third and his boots were in the water. A fourth and tainted water poured into his boots. She never moved. She stood, hand out, teeth showing, chest heaving, bleeding everywhere.
The sound blew though the woods. Birds scattered, the woman flinched slightly and a man stepped out of the trees.
His clothes, his face, his weapon raised and aimed towards the river, each part of him looked as if it had grown out of the dirt with the rest of the wild.
“Help her,” Josiah said. “She’s hurt!”
“She’s savage son.” The man said. “Come away from her.”
Behind him something splashed, moaned. Ignoring the man he made to turn back to her, but she was coming to him, hand still out, teeth still barred
“I SAID COME AWAY!”
The mans voice was stronger than whatever primal spell the bloody woman had him under he looked past her, seeing that the dark form in the water had a face, had a body, had been the source of most of the blood after all.
The woman seemed to flicker, and he felt a sensation in his skin, in his bones. The world thrummed and there was a woman there, but she was also more. Something dark and hungry and he didn’t want to see it, refused to see it.
He turned to run for the man in the woods, to the safety of the spear he had, to seek shelter behind his commanding voice, but she was on him already, strong fingers digging into his shoulder.
Her body was cold and he could smell the blood on her, the bile on her, could feel her hot breath on his throat and he found himself immobile.
The man in the woods shook his head slightly, ever so slightly and he saw him shift, saw the spear coming forward, its silver tip glinting against the darkness of everything around him, taking up his whole world.
Then there was pain. The spear ripped into his shoulder. Her teeth tore into his neck, something else raked across his back. Something that felt like live electrical wire. He thought momentarily about the human mouth, and how bites from people tended to fester.
He opened his eyes to the same pains that had closed them. The shoulder hurting the worst, pumping fire down his arm, into his torso. Merging with the lightning bolts of electric pain in his back.
He was alone. He felt it before he opened his eyes. No man. No woman. Frogs sang at the waters edge. Stars flicked above him like celestial fireflies.
The camera was gone. His pack was still there. A dirty bit of paper fluttered from beneath its strap.
Only two words, looked like they might have been smeared in blood, and he wasn’t sure what they meant. Sorry for what? For who?
Somewhere far away he heard an animal cry out in the night….and the electricity in his spine responded.
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