“Prey” is one of the older pieces I wrote, and it will probably show up in a personal collection at some point. I tend to look back at my older stuff and wince, but this piece is one that I’m still proud of. “Prey” first won a contest quite a few years ago, then was picked up by Pseudopod.org and performed on their podcast. (If you prefer to listen to Flash: Prey read by Christina Ellis rather than read it, be sure to click through!)
Anyway, I wanted to offer “Prey” to you here on my website, as my way of saying “Thanks, for reading!” I hope you enjoy the story!
A musky scent drifts lazily on stale, moonlit air. Alara knows this scent—fear—it holds little meaning to her. Her hawk’s eyes narrow as she circles above the cemetery searching for her dinner. Focusing on a small, brown mouse huddled against a piece of stone, Alara dives to strike. The mouse sees her and freezes.
Something hot hisses and sparks, burning her dinner to a blackened crisp. Alara leaps to the night air, squawking in alarm. She lifts higher caught by the smell of pungent, moldy earth and burning candle fat. Faint sounds penetrate the smells; a harsh voice interrupts the monotonous droning. Alara knows the voice—it belongs to her master.
Circling above the voices, Alara’s winged form is thinly veiled by the moonlight’s smoke-filled mist. Syllables turn into well-formed sounds; she knows little of the language of men. Swooping again, her watchful eye catches white, wriggling worms breaking free from the ground before her master. Her body streams through the air, diving for her prey. Clamping down on the worm, she leaps to finish it off, but the thing won’t let go.
Alara spits wriggling flesh out of her beak. A human hand rises from the ground and creeps forward. Her master’s mouth turns foul; blackened sparks of menace fly from his skinny lips. The more he speaks, the faster the unnatural thing turns over well-shoveled earth. Alara looks from her master to the rising form and loudly complains. Nothing here is safe to eat.
Carefully placed candles burn brighter than a midday sun. Shaking her foggy head, she casts off a ravenous glare that bores into her feathers. A naked hand grabs for her wing and misses. Alara lifts gently above her attacker and dives, pecking at it. Fingers pry at her tail feathers, she screams out in pain and flings herself on her master. Instead of saving her, he throws bits of oily words at her, coating her wings. She knows her own scent now—fear. A face appears before her, her master’s face, holding something sharp that glints in the moonlight. Inhuman eyes glow as he pulls back his knife. Alara juts forward, pecking blindly at whatever is in front of her.
Howling in pain, her master stops the flow of menacing words. The candles’ light dims; Alara pecks her master again and again with wings outstretched. He swings the knife at her, his anger thick. Pushing herself off the ground, she attacks his eyes with her talons. Black ooze seeps along the deep grooves in his face. Her master drops the blade and Alara forces herself up to a low hover. She cannot move, or fly, or breathe.
Opening her beak, she gasps for precious air. Black ash swirls around her, stinging her eyes. Somehow, she finds the strength to peck hard, claw harder until she has no master left.
Too exhausted to lift her head, Alara crashes into a deep sleep, dreaming of mice and fish and morning’s light.