Eris lay spread-eagled on the stone in front of the cave entrance and bathed in the moonlight. The rays danced upon her skin and gave her renewed strength and energy. A shadow of a smile spread across her face, and it grew as she listened to the sounds of agony in the cave behind her. Her first captive of the year.
He’d been so easy to lure into her clutches. She hadn’t even passed the bush line when he’d wandered into her presence. And with barely a bat of her eyelashes, he’d been hers. She’d dragged him back into the cave and her army had strung him up over the pit.
Thinking about his bare body waiting to be sacrificed, Eris pulled herself up off the ground and strode away from the moon. In the flicker of firelight, she admired her prey. Ropes dug into his ankles and he swung back and forth as her army prodded at him with sticks they’d sharpened into points. He whimpered with each turn and they cackled back at him.
Eris tilted her head and tapped her chin with a bony finger. Deciding on where to start was her favorite part. Should she do it quick and spare the pain? Or drag it out and savor every one of his cries? It had been so long since she’d been able to enjoy this, and she wasn’t sure how many more she’d catch before the moon waned. Best to make the most of this one.
“Flesh,” Eris croaked and waved her hand.
Her army shrieked with delight and went for their knives.
“Please let me go,” the man said. He tried to catch Eris’s eye, but they hid under her nest of hair. “I won’t say anything. Please. Just don’t kill me.”
Eris approached him and ran her fingers through his hair as though he were a lover. “Hmm…” She tightened her grip and thrust his head back. “I don’t think so.” She licked the side of his face and then dug her nails into the skin on the back of his neck. He yelled as she pulled up a layer of flesh and threw it into the fire pit.
“Better gag him, mistress,” one of her girls whispered at her elbow. The woman hunched over from improperly healed injuries and could only see out of one eye. She held out a length of cloth and bowed her head.
“You’re probably right.” Eris took the cloth and shoved it roughly into the man’s mouth. “Pity. I enjoy their cries.”
“As do I, mistress. But there are crowds tonight. People want to find you.”
“Yes. And we shall let them.” Eris drew her own knife and dug the serrated edge into the man’s calf. She dragged it down in a slow line to his kneecap. The blood ran over her hand and down her arm. Then she pulled the flap of skin forward and sawed at it until it came off in her hands. The man was shuddering and sobbing behind the gag. She smiled and threw the skin into the fire pit. She retreated and waved her army up for their turn at the man.
Eris meandered over to the cave’s entrance once more and licked the blood from her hand. She stared up at the moon and wondered again if she would be free this time.
A noise in the bushes caught her attention and with a wave of her hand, the cave behind her went silent.
A crackle of a radio and a snap of a branch. Then a policeman emerged from behind a tree. He hadn’t spotted her yet, but her eyes locked on him. And then there were two men, and then three. Their flashlights shone around the ground, and one man pointed at something he saw in the dirt.
“I think he must be close,” one officer said and waved the others on with him.
“He’s closer than you think,” Eris said. Her voice came from every direction.
The officers froze and looked around, their guns drawn, but they still hadn’t seen her in the shadows.
“Show yourself,” the first one said. His gun pointed three feet to the left of where she stood.
Eris grinned and felt her army move in close behind her. “As you wish.”
Her girls leapt out and tackled the men to the ground. They tore, and scratched, and bit at their skin, and Eris reveled in the sounds of their deaths.
“Did you hear that?” Steven stood at the edge of their campsite and stared out into the trees. He kept his back to the others to hide the genuine fear on his face.
“What?” Trey joined him and turned on a flashlight to shine into the woods.
“He heard nothing. You’re both ridiculous.” Andrea lounged in her chair and turned a page in her magazine.
Adam grinned at his sister but humored the boys. “What did it sound like? Could be a bear.”
“Nothing like a bear. I heard someone scream,” Steven said.
Trey flashed the light back and forth and took a few steps back. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”
“Pussies.” Andrea turned another page.
“Hey! You don’t get to call us that! You didn’t even want to come!” Steven turned and stomped and waved his hands in the air, anger taking over his panic for a moment.
“No, I didn’t, because I think this is lame and nothing is going to happen. And yet, here I am, cool as a cucumber, while there you are about to piss your pants.” She flipped another page.
Steven took a step forward, and Adam moved into his path. “Okay, bud, let’s chill out.”
“She needs to chill out!”
Adam pushed Steven’s shoulders and then changed his direction to take him to his own tent on the other side of the clearing. “Sit down and cool it for a bit, yeah? Smoke a blunt and get your head on right. Nothing’s going to come of this trip if we freak and bug out early. So relax, yeah?’
Steven slumped into his chair. “Yeah, okay.”
Adam turned to Trey. “What about you? You good?”
Trey still had his light flashing all around and didn’t look at Adam. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Quit with the light, then. There are bears out there and shit. You’re gonna draw a lot of attention to us.”
“Right.” He turned it off and put it back in his pocket. “Sorry.”
Adam smiled and rejoined Andrea by her tent. “You have the feed going?”
She jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “The screens are on. Nothing good yet. There was a scream, though.” The corner of her mouth twisted up, and she shot a glance in Steven’s direction. “Saw some cops cross one path further up the trail. They haven’t come back yet. That’s all.”
“Cool. Keep me updated. I’m gonna go smoke with Steven.”
Eris preened from a low branch and watched her girls at work. An entire family was spread out below her, each wrapped in their own length of rope. Their eyes were wide and stared up at her, but they hadn’t made a sound since she’d taken out her knife.
Her girls tied the last knot, and she jumped out of the tree. Eris approached Sasha and nudged her with a toe. She was young. The perfect age to be converted. Eris leered down at her and the girl whimpered.
“Let’s get them back to the cave. This one is mine.”