Cold, Cold Heart

“What should we do with the body?” Luna asks her twin. “We can’t just leave it here to rot.”

“Is that all you’re worried about—Mother rotting?” Fauna shot back. “You can be so cold-blooded at times.”

Luna’s blue, elliptical eyes move from the withered body on the gray boards to meet Fauna’s. “We are cold-blooded, Sister.”

“Not completely.” Fauna sniffs. “Just half.”

“Well, I didn’t see you turning away from feeding on her.”

“I was so hungry. And after I saw you taking her blood, I couldn’t stop myself. But we shouldn’t have….”

“We had to if we are to live,” Luna says. “Father hasn’t brought us anything to eat in weeks, and we’ve eaten all the rats and everything else around the house. Who knows, he may be dead.”

Fauna grabs her sister’s arm. “Don’t even think it! Surely, he will come any day now. It’s barely summer; it’s not time for him to go away for a while. How will we survive if—”

“We will do whatever we have to.” Luna pries the clawed, pale-green fingers from her arm. “Just like Father taught us.”

“I hate this!” Fauna wails.

“Hate it all you want, but do it on your own time. Right now, help me get Mother in the root cellar. Her meat will sustain us for a few weeks if we’re careful, and maybe Father will come before she’s gone.”

#

A month passes and Father doesn’t come, and Luna knows she and Fauna will have to leave their home to find food. She informs her sister they will leave in the morning, go out into the woods surrounding the old house, and make their own way in the world. On his last visit, Father said they would be ready soon, and soon had come, whether either she or her sister likes it.

She worries, though, that if they find Father, what will his reaction be to them killing and eating Mother. He seemed to like Mother, and Mother, him. Every visit, after giving a sack of dead and dying things to his daughters, he and Mother would go into Mother’s bedroom for a couple of hours and make noises like both were being tortured—though Luna knew they were in fact mating. She and Fauna feasted while they waited, first on the living creatures, tearing open furry throats with their fangs and sucking out the warm blood before devouring the flesh. Food was always better warm. And shortly after Fauna and she were stuffed to the gills, Father would come out of the bedroom to tell them stories while Mother lay in the rumpled bed, pale and trembling and smiling. He was usually gone before Mother summoned the energy to rise.

Luna’s favorite story is of his and Mother’s courtship. Father had been lazing in the sun on a log jutting over the murky slough that meandered deep inside the swamp bordering the old house inhabited by the twins’ mother and her aged mother. Mother’s mother was a witch and often sent Mother into the swamp to gather wild herbs, and on occasion, stump water to use in her potions. On that day, Father wasn’t listening as closely as he should, the sun’s warmth inducing a soporific state of both mind and body, and Mother saw him. Father knew he couldn’t allow her to take back tales about him or people would flood the swamp, searching for him and his kind, whom all believed had been extinct for at least a hundred years. He had to kill her.

Mother was fleet of foot and almost outran him, but he took to all fours before she emerged from the swamp and bore her to the ground. His webbed fingers over her mouth to hold in her screams, he stared deep into her wide blue eyes, and she went still beneath him as if she were a terrified little bird mesmerized by a hungry cottonmouth.

Her sky-colored eyes entranced him, as did her raven black hair and full red lips. This one, he wished to devour in another way.

She had thrashed and moaned when they mated, her creamy legs wrapped around his scaley, green trunk. And after that day, Mother returned to the same spot many times, and many times they mated. Then, late in the fall when the winds spoke of the coming winter, Father grew sluggish. Soon, he would retire to the den he had dug beneath the water’s surface into the slough’s bank for the winter. Mother’s belly was beginning to round out, and Father knew he could not enter brumation and leave Mother alone to face her mother when their child came; he had heard tales that children of such rare matings were killed upon birth. Sometimes, the mother as well.

Father feared emerging in the spring to find his child, and possiblyMother, to be no more. Mother knew the ramifications of her pregnancy as well and took matters into her own hands. She mixed a liberal amount of the powdered leaves and flowers of the maypop vine into her mother’s afternoon tea, inducing a heavy sleep in the old witch. Then, she opened the front door for Father, and he ripped out the sleeping woman’s throat with his powerful jaws, then dragged her body deep into the swamp. Father said the old woman was tough but made a nourishing meal.

Luna and Fauna were born in late winter, earlier than expected. Mother said they were an easy delivery, though she was surprised to deliver two children instead of one. The twins fed on her milk, and blood she drained from rats and small forest creatures, until Father came out of brumation. By then, they were hungry for meat and often nipped Mother when at her breast.

That had been six years ago. And now Luna knows she and her sister will have to leave the familiar old house and go into the swamp. Neither had been permitted to roam farther than the wood’s edge. Neither knows what lies beyond the tree line, other than the swamp where Father abides—if he is alive.

#

Not long after the sun peeks over the treetops, Luna, being the braver of the two, leads the way into the woods at the spot she had observed Mother entering. She doesn’t look back as Fauna does, knowing all they are leaving behind is an empty house holding nothing but Mother’s bones. She sees the faint dirt path and follows it.

The woods are hot, muggy, and still. No birds sing, no small creatures move about. Luna supposes they fear her and Fauna for they are predators—Father had said—that feed on the weak. “Predator…” she says softly, liking how the word feels in her mouth.

“What?” Fauna asks.

“We are predators, Sister,” “she says, “and predators need meat.”

“I know. My belly is gnawing on my backbone.”

So is Luna’s. They had eaten the last of Mother a week ago. “Keep your eyes and ears open and walk softly. Maybe we can find something if we are quiet.”

Luna drops to all fours; Fauna follows suit. Their pale green bodies more slithering than crawling, they cross a sunny glade carpeted in wildflowers. As Luna moves back into the shadowed darkness beneath a thick canopy of trees, she hears a faint rustle to her right, and moving on instinct, shoots toward the sound. She has the rabbit’s throat in her mouth before it can even squeal and bears down, her upper and lower teeth meeting. She gives her head a sideways wrench, and the rabbit goes still, its throat torn out.

Fauna rushes to her side, her blue, reptilian eyes shining with excitement. But being well-mannered, she doesn’t make a grab for the rabbit; instead, she waits as Luna sinks the claws of both her hands into the rabbit’s midsection and rips it down the middle, then holds out the half that the head is attached to toward Fauna.

“No, you caught it, you take the bigger half,” Fauna says.

“You need it more than me,” Luna says. “Take it.”

Fauna doesn’t have to be told twice. “Thank you.” Her green-tinged, ivory hand snatches the offering.

The sisters sit cross-legged beneath the drooping shade of an ancient hackberry and eat their meal. All is silent except for the sound of crunching bones and occasional moans of pleasure. Neither girl notes the motionless, upright green figure watching a short distance away, mostly hidden behind a water oak’s thick trunk. When they stand, licking blood from their hands and the ends of their long, black hair, neither see it slip away.

After a few moments spent inspecting the ground, Luna picks up the path once more, and she and Fauna walk deeper into the woods. Sniffing the air, Luna says to her sister, “I smell water. Father will be near water.” Her skin calls out for a drenching. Unlike Father, she and Fauna can go for days before needing a good soak, but the twins prefer a daily immersion.

The forest floor grows spongy beneath the twin’s bare feet. The trees crowd closer together, their trunks crawling with leafy vines, some supporting unfamiliar flowers or berries. And though Luna knows the sun rides high in the sky, it seems as if twilight has set in. She likes the gloom. It reminds her of home, where dark curtains or boards cover all the windows. Not home anymore, she thinks. With Mother gone—her own fault, she knows—she and Fauna must make their home with Father’s kind if they are to remain undetected.

Shortly, Luna and her sister emerge from the thick snarl of trees and vines into an open area of land where the vegetation thins. Before them, the narrow backwater both Mother and Father had spoken of meanders along, its surface dappled with sunshine. Reeds grow in the shallows along the bank. A smattering of lily pads clusters nearby. And a little distance upstream, Luna spots a thick log—Is it Father’s log?—jutting over the surface. A large snapping turtle drops from it into the water with a loud splash. On the far side, a canebrake stretches as far as the eye can see.

“Water!” Fauna gushes. And before Luna can stop her, her twin runs toward the brown-tinged water, tearing off her clothes as she does so. Her creamy, pale-green legs ripple with muscles that bunch when she bends her knees before diving off the bank.

A mixture of fear and irritation propels Luna forward. Stupid girl! Just goes jumping in headfirst with no idea what’s in the water or how deep it is.

Fauna surfaces, laughing and shaking her wet mass of black hair. Her small, red-tipped breasts bob on the water’s surface. “Come in, Sister,” she says. “The water is wonderful.” She ducks her head, takes the water into her mouth, sloshes it around, then blows it upward like a fountain. She takes another mouthful, swallows. “Come on!”

Luna scrutinizes their surroundings, her sharp eyes detecting no movement. No disturbing sounds reach her ears—other than her noisy sister. The water calls to her, pulls her as if it has a will of its own. Her eyes are grainy, her mouth like cotton, her skin hot and dry.

With a final glance around, she sheds her clothes and joins Fauna, but wading into the sluggish water instead of diving. The muddy bottom falls steeply away, and with just a few steps, she is over her head. She lets her body sink, her hair a dark curtain waving in the murky water above her head. Her eyes remain open, taking in the abundance of small water creatures darting about. She opens her wide mouth, snatches a small fish—a perch, she thinks—chomps it several times, and swallows. She hasn’t had fish since Father’s last visit. Delicious. She catches another between her sharp teeth and rises to the surface.

She hands the perch to Fauna, who says a polite “Thank you,” before popping it in her mouth.

“I see you have found your way home, Daughters.”

The twins gasp. Half the perch falls from Fauna’s mouth. Both sets of elliptical, blue eyes turn to the log, take in the long, slender form, feet planted apart on sturdy, green legs, atop it. A wide grin bisects the familiar face.

“Father!” the sisters squeal in unison.

His double-jointed back legs fold neatly as the manlike creature drops and slides into the water, rolling as he approaches Luna and Fauna, then playfully thwacks the water’s surface with his long tail. Both had always admired the powerful appendage, wished they had more than a small, useless nub.

Luna throws her arms around their father’s upper body, and Fauna follows suit. “We thought you dead, Father,” Fauna says. “Why haven’t you brought us food?” Her eyes cut to Luna’s. “Or…or come to see Mother?”

“It was a test to see if you are ready,” Father says. “I had expected you a little sooner than this, though. I was beginning to worry.”

The sister’s eyes met again. “Did Mother know you were…testing us?” Luna asks.

“Of course, she knew. I told her that if you asked to come search for me, to give you permission.”

But they hadn’t asked, only griped about being hungry, and when the hunger grew too strong…well…ate her.

Luna sees fear in Fauna’s eyes and wonders if hers reveal that same emotion. What will Father do to them…?

A stillness falls upon the water as the twins’ eyes continue to hold contact.

“Is something wrong, Daughters?” Father asks, his voice low and somehow menacing.

Fauna turns in the water, glides a short distance away, leaving brave Luna to speak the horrible truth. “Mother is dead.”

Father’s eyes widen; he grasps Luna’s shoulders. “How?”

Luna tries to swallow the apprehension knotting her throat. Fails. “Uh…er….”

The clawed hands dig into her skin. Yellow eyes bore into hers. “Tell me.”

“I…we…Fauna and I were awfully hungry. We thought we were going to starve.” She drops her eyes. “We…well…ate her.”

Father’s hands fall away. He turns his back to her, drops his large head.

“We’re sorry. We didn’t mean to. It just…happened.”

After a time, he shakes his head, mumbles something.

“Wh…what?” Luna asks softly.

He turns back to face her. “It’s my fault. I should have told your mother to send you to find me when the hunger became bad.” He brushes back her hair from her face. “It’s all right, Daughter.” He gathers her to him using one arm. With the other, he beckons to Fauna, who swims into his embrace. “It’s all right.”

#

The following spring, a blond-haired man with a fishing pole resting on his shoulder comes upon Luna sunning on the log. Instead of running, he watches in awe as she stands, stretches her naked, creamy-green body, then glides into the water and to the bank where he waits. He doesn’t fight, just drowns in her eyes as she takes him to the ground and mates with him. When the final spasm racks his body, Luna leans over and tears out his throat, and begins sucking the blood from his jagged carotid artery spurting blood on the left side.

Fauna drops down beside her, crowds in close to lap the blood running from the right carotid. After both are sated, they stretch out on the ground to either side of Luna’s kill, and Luna thinks, sex, a filling meal, and sunshine…who could ask for more?

Fauna sighs. “What should we do with the body, Sister?”

Luna giggles. “Why eat it, of course.”

The woods echo with their laughter.

©2022 July Day


Image by Sascha Fritz from Pixabay

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