Anna and her father looked down at the bloody goat carcass on their porch in silence. It was the third of their livestock to be slaughtered that month. The bodies always ended up in front of the house. This one was closer than the others. They stood there for some time, side by side.
Anna was a thin girl of thirteen with dark blonde hair that hung down over her shoulders in limp curtains. Had she lived a different life, she probably would have been almost beautiful, but her face was hard and perpetually determined in an unnerving sort of way. It mirrored her father’s. Her eyes were large, round and grayish-blue. They were alert but flat and somewhat calculating. The few folks in town who had had the rare chance of conversing with her, found that it was somewhat unnerving to have those cold eyes look at you. They seemed to know just what you were hiding in your head. No pleasantries necessary with this young woman. Her disposition made for a good farmer though, like her father. She was precise with her work and unbothered by the business of raising and slaughtering animals on the farm.
Her eyes flicked up to her father. He, Jareth, a mostly silent but not unkind man, turned his eyes, which were not at all flat, but fiery and golden brown, back to her. He nodded. They hauled the body to the back field together, although one of them could have moved it alone. It was not a large goat, and it was missing its head and innards, which lessened the weight significantly.
That night, they burned the goat’s body in a pit that had become the designated burning spot. They didn’t want to use the contaminated and mangled meat and they didn’t want any animals coming in and sniffing around after it, or maybe they didn’t want whatever thing had been tearing up their livestock to come back. Either way, it felt like the right thing to do and it had become a sort of ritual for them, one that each of them secretly felt was its own kind of ancient magic to ward off evil, or bad luck, or whatever it is that poor folks use to explain their misfortune.
Anna’s mother, Ellen, would watch from the window when they did this, her face a frozen mask of worry. She didn’t like the woods and she didn’t like the killing. She did the housework and had planned on doing the child rearing, but there had only been one child; Anna, and Anna took care of herself. So, it was just Ellen, hiding inside, keeping her mind busy as Anna and Jareth did their duties every day, and now their burning every night.
That night Anna had a dream. She dreamed she was wandering through the woods near their farm, but everything was bigger. The brush was so thick she could barely push her way through. There was no path, just leaf-lined ground and trees so thick they blotted out the sunlight. She was frightened and every noise made her pause and wait. She felt that something was stalking her. She could smell it. It smelled like the burning goat, burning flesh. Then the pain started. It ran up her legs to her hipbones. It felt like every bone was splintering and trying to push through her flesh. She felt her arm bones go hollow, like something was eating the marrow inside, sucking it out. Her body creaked like dry twigs and she screamed.
She looked down to see her knees bending, agonizingly, backward and her collar bone jutting out against her tightening skin. She knew somehow that her bones were gone, replaced by animal bones, bird bones, light, and brittle and sharp. She fell to the forest floor, the weight of the meat in her body cracking her new frail skeleton. Her fingertips were bleeding and she saw the tips of sharp talons pushing through her nail beds. The pain was like fire and she wished she would die, wished the darkening forest would take her fast so that the awful pain would stop. And then it did and it was dark. She heard a voice in the blackness coughing and wheezing out the words:
“Killing harvest. Harvest for the blood moon, child.”
Anna awoke in her bed crying hot tears, her throat throbbing from her choked screams. She looked at her fingers, wanting, for one insane moment to see the sharp talons, so that she might tear them down her face, and rip her eyes out….and then, the reality of the cold room brought her dream-drenched brain back to normalcy. Her face changed back to its normal state so quickly, it was as if she had never stirred at all. She just sat there on her bed, staring blankly at the window across the room at the half moon that hung there, her hair clinging to the sweat on her forehead. Finally, she looked down at herself and saw that her underwear was drenched in blood. It was her first time.
That morning, Anna grabbed her knapsack and her mother’s grocery list from the kitchen and headed into town. She hadn’t said a word to her mother about her supposed induction to womanhood. She had simply cleaned herself up, and scrubbed the evidence out of her sheets and underwear as best she could. She wasn’t surprised by the arrival of her first blood. She knew what it was all about, but it didn’t seem like the kind of thing her mother would want to hear about. Change often upset her, so off Anna went with some tissues stuffed into her underwear and her usual determination to get the work of the day finished.
She walked down the dirt road leading from the farm, looking down at her battered old work boots as she kicked rocks and worked her way towards the main road. Suddenly, a bloody mass of fur came into her sight line. She stopped, her boot only six inches away from it. She stopped and stared down at it. It was a cat, or rather it had been. Now it was hardly recognizable as anything at all. It was just a blob of black, blood-matted fur. She could only tell it was a cat because of the sharp teeth jutting out of a small, crushed head. One triangle ear still stood out on top. She felt ill at the sight of it. It wasn’t a cat she had seen before, but it’s closeness to their farm made her uneasy. They were like psychotic gifts, left around the property for her and her family to find, or maybe she was just falling too far into her father’s psyche.
For all the stoicism her father had on the outside, he had just as much superstition and paranoia about the world rolling around on the inside. At night, when they stood by the fire, if there was something to be burned that night, he would tell her his theories. He had many and they were not full of the kind of magic that Anna would have liked to hear. They were dark, and violent ideas about what the world was really made of. He was not the kind of father who would tell you not to fear monsters in the closet. He would look you directly in the eye and tell you to be wary then, and maybe keep a knife under your pillow.
Anna pulled her thoughts and her eyes away from the cat and moved on down the road. When she made it to town, she was reminded again of how secluded their lives on the farm were. She only came into town maybe once a month. Mostly they got on eating off the farm or had some things delivered. She looked around at all the entertainment; a movie theater, a comic book store, a small wooden playground in the park. They all seemed odd to her. The only thing she really liked to do for fun was read. It didn’t seem there was time for much else, and although she didn’t know it, her mind was far more mature than most people her age. She had bigger thoughts in her head than watching a cartoon movie about talking dogs or reading beauty magazines telling her how to get some model’s look with five simple tips. She felt like an alien whenever she came into town. None of it made much sense to her.
She went into the store to get her mother some soap and baking necessities. She got what she needed and briefly stopped in an aisle with feminine hygiene products, but didn’t know where to begin to choose something or what to do with it if she did. She decided she would use the tissue technique until she asked her mother about it. She supposed that was inevitable and she would just have to deal with the awkwardness of that conversation.
On her way out of the store, paper bag in hand, she nearly ran into a boy whose name she couldn’t remember. She had seen him a few times when her mother used to take her to church. His parents owned one of the big white Victorian houses on Main street. She supposed they were rich, but that didn’t mean much to her except that he and his mother and brothers probably didn’t have daily work to do around the house and they certainly didn’t have to skip any meals.
This boy was pale and soft with little sunken eyes that darted around as he talked. He looked at her chest several times during their brief conversation. She noticed men did that now, and she barely had much to speak of in the way of curves yet. She sometimes felt they were checking to see, or rather waiting to see when she would be ripe enough, to see if she had turned woman yet. She supposed now she had, and wondered if this boy could smell it on her.
“Have you heard about all the dead animals?” he said with a grin too wide for such a statement. Anna just stared at him.
“I said, have you heard about something killing all the animals? My Daddy said there’s a wolf or a bear or something roaming around out there in the woods, but my Ma says it’s the devil come to reap.
“Reap?” she said, her eyes locked on his.
“Yeah, you know; take from us for our sins. Punishment for what we are,” he listed off, obviously parroting everything his mother told him.
“And what are we?” she said, feeling light-headed and wanting to run away from his moony cottage cheese face.
“Humans. We’re full of sin and lust. You know about that right? My mom says girls are the most sinful, especially trashy little sluts like you,” he said. He caressed one of her small, newly formed breasts and winked at her. He was laughing at her, sneering at her, perhaps thinking that he was really doing a fine and dandy job of making conversation on this lovely afternoon.
“Oh, wait that’s right. My friend, Tim says you farm folk only fuck animals. Is that right?” he actually laughed out loud at this.
Her head felt like it was full of bees, and a veil of red fury slowly lowered over her field of vision. She dropped her grocery bag, raised her arm up and brought it back down with the swiftness of a cat, raking her nails across his cheek. It drew blood.
The boy screeched and pushed her away. He clutched his bleeding cheek and backed away from her. He tripped over the curb and into the street and landed on his cushiony ass. Anna walked over to him calmly, silently and brought her foot up and then down directly onto his genitals. He coughed out a dry scream, tears streaming down his face, rolling back and forth crying.
“Y-y-y-you BITCH!” He was crying like an infant, his face as red as a tomato, writhing in the street. Anna stood over him, one leg on each side of him, and leaned down into his face. He went silent immediately and looked up at her with eyes like saucers. She crouched down and looked at him, her nose only three inches from his. There wasn’t a hint of anger on her face then, just cold, analytical curiosity.
“We don’t fuck animals. We slaughter them,” she said. He whimpered.
“Do you know how to use a knife?” No answer from him, just wide-eyed fear.
“I do,” she said. She pulled a hunting knife out of her boot. “I could bleed you dry with two cuts. Here and here,” she mimed slitting his throat and his stomach with the edge of the knife. He closed his eyes and promptly peed his pants. She stood up and gathered up her groceries. There were a few people standing on store stoops looking at her, looking at her like she was some kind of beast. She looked back indifferently and then turned and walked home.
That night Anna had another dream. In this dream, she was standing in the middle of her bedroom. The wooden floorboards and white walls were all silvery-gray in the moonlight. She could hear scratching coming from the walls and the floor. The sound was light at first and then it got louder, more desperate. She heard a low mewling sound start from under her bed. It sounded like a cat in pain but then it was screeching louder like a hawk and the sound was everywhere. It was inside her head. She put her hands to her ears to try to block it out but that only made it worse.
Her back was against her windowsill now and she heard the crying coming from outside. It was human crying. Her eyes snapped open and she could feel the cool air from the window and she knew she was awake. She turned and looked out the window and saw her father shambling towards the pig sty. He was shouting to himself, crying, dry heaving but still walking toward the animals.
She slipped down the hall, and passed her mother and father’s room. The door was slightly ajar and she could see her mother standing at their window in her nightgown, watching him too. She turned toward her daughter and her face looked as white as the moon, as white as bone. She looked like a corpse. For a moment, Anna had a wild thought that it was a mannequin, something her mother had put up for sewing but then it moved towards her. She walked towards the door, looked at Anna with nothing but pity and deep sadness and shut the door. She heard her mother drag a chair over and prop it underneath the door handle.
Anna pulled herself away from the door and wandered down the hallway to the stairs. She wanted to go back to her room and lock her own door, but she couldn’t. She was scared for herself but more scared for her father. Something was wrong with him. Something had been wrong with him for a long time but she felt that it was being kept from her; that secret. Her father seemed to disappear into himself around this time every year and her mother warned her to keep some distance from him. She said it was the work, the harvest season that gave him stress.
She left the house through the back-screen door and stepped into the cool night. Her bare feet touched the damp grass as she walked towards the sounds of squealing pigs. She approached the pen slowly and could see the pigs pushing towards the fencing. They were trying to get away from something and there was a clear circle in the center of the pen. Then a scream, high and human-like cut through the night. The rest of the pigs went silent, but for that one dying animal in the center. Then it went silent too. She moved closer, her legs trembling, threatening to give way, and then she saw a figure rise up. It was her father, but he was changed; His shoulders enormous and hulking, his mouth too big and dripping. His face long and pointed like a hyena. He was clutching half of the pig in fingers that looked like claws, gnarled and sharp and much too long. He was covered in blood that looked black in the moonlight. He looked up at the moon and cried out. He howled; an agonized cry that made her moan with fear. Then he knelt again and she could hear gurgling, ripping sounds. She tried to run but her knees buckled and she knelt there, sobbing. She put her hand over her mouth to stop the sounds. She looked back towards the house and saw her mother’s ghostly figure in the window, watching.
The pigs started to squeal again and she looked back and saw the beast standing in the center looking right at her, gore and flesh hanging from his mouth. His eyes were black sockets with flickers of sickly yellow light burning deep down, down through tunnels that seemed miles long. He locked eyes with her and she saw his body, convulse once, flinching at her presence and then go stiff as he assessed his prey. She screamed then, loud, and managed to make it to her feet. He made a lightning-fast move towards the fence to get to her but stumbled on the circling, grunting pigs. She saw him go down. She ran towards the woods to try to cut to the road. All her mind could think was to get into town, to get some help.
She pushed through the trees, and bushes, oblivious to the scratches that were opening up on her face and arms from the sharp bramble. She ran, her throat on fire and her body numb. She ran until she got to a clearing. It was so bright from the moonlight she squinted against it. She saw the path that led to the road on the other side, but it was obstructed by a mound of dirt and debris in the center. She ran towards it, but as she got closer she saw that it wasn’t a pile of dirt. It was a pile of bloodied animal carcasses. There must have been near a hundred dead animals piled high, their dead eyes staring dumbly this way and that.
Suddenly, she was being hurled to the ground. The wind was knocked out of her and before she could even try to take a shuddering breath, she felt her arms being pinned down. Something was on top of her. Then something hit her. She felt an explosion of pain on her right cheek as warm blood dripped down into her ear. She looked up, dazed, and saw that it was a boy. It was the boy from town. Two figures appeared on either side of him; his friends. Her eyes rolled back and forth between them trying to focus. Another hit to her eye and the pain jolted her back into reality. She looked into the eyes of the boy and could see the fury there.
“Got you, you dumb bitch,” he spat in her face. The other boys laughed. She realized the one on the left had a bat and the one on the right had rope. The boy on top of her leaned down into her face.
“You’re gonna be nice now, right? I figured you might want to apologize to me. We’re gonna have a good time now,” he was smiling. Anna whipped her head up and crushed his nose with her forehead. Fresh blood exploded out of his face and flooded her mouth. She coughed and spit. He screamed.
“Tie her up!” he screamed. The other boys began to tie up her arms and legs.
“I knew you and your family were a bunch of fucking freaks! I knew it! They’ll give me a goddamn medal for putting a stop to this evil shit!” He looked at the pile of animals and then to the surrounding woods. She could see the fear behind his anger.
“But first, we’re gonna have some fun,” he said. He licked her face from chin to eyebrow. He looked at her, wanting to see her fear, her submission. She spat blood into his eyes. She had plenty in her mouth. He grunted and wiped his stinging eyes with his shirt sleeve. He looked at her with such hate then that she knew he probably meant to kill her. He put his hands on her throat and started to squeeze. One of the boys laughed and howled like a wolf, but not like any real animal. They sounded small and foolish in the dark of the forest where real monsters roamed. The boy was straddling her, holding her neck and smiling and then he sat up and howled at the moon as well.
There was a whizzing sound and then a thud and his head was gone. Anna gulped in fresh air as his grip loosened and then fell away. His body slumped over and fell to the ground. The other boys were screaming, running. She rolled over on her side gasping for breath and saw her father, or what he had become, standing over her. He looked at her and then leapt over to the boy’s rolling head. He picked it up and tossed it onto the pile of dead animals and then went off into the trees after the other two.
On the other side of the clearing, closest to the road, Anna could see dark figures lining the trees, some had torches. She didn’t know how many there were. They were watching. Then suddenly they began to retreat, back towards the town and she could see there were many, stretching all the way back to the road. Anna closed her eyes. The shock and loss of oxygen was too much for her and everything went black.
When she woke up, she gasped in cold air and sat up. The sky was starting to lighten with the day. Her ties were cut and she sat up and saw her father was crouching next to the rotting pile nearby. She looked at the pile of animals and saw the heads of the three boys neatly lined up on top, their faces eternally frozen in screams.
Father and daughter regarded each other. His eyes were his. He seemed afraid of her, ashamed maybe. She crawled to him, put her arms around his neck and hugged him gratefully. He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her back. Looking over his back, she could see a ring of more carcasses; deer, dogs, cows, and more bloody meat sacrifices that she couldn't identify, didn't dare try to identify for her own sanity's sake. They were littering the tree line where the townspeople had stood, their own yearly offerings left to be collected. He picked her up and carried her back to the house, their duties for that year’s harvest complete.
“Pop?” She looked up at him with tired eyes. He looked down at her.
“Those boys…” she started.
“They won’t be missed.”
“But their parents…”
“Their parents should have taught them the rules. You’re a woman now. It’s time your mother and I teach you too. It’s time you know what you are.” Anna closed her eyes and slept.
Written by Dgrady237
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