She was a pale slip of a girl, a ragged strip of white against a black drop of sky, shining almost fluorescently in the night. The moon reflected nubilely off her figure and tore at her thin clothes, leaving her exposed in the still air. She stood alone, frightened yet unmoving, a crinkle setting itself about her lips. Her face, white like her garments, glowed brightly, a tattered oval over-swept by locks of matted black hair. Half-witted, she stood benignly, innocent and intriguing, waiting but not expecting any presence other than her own. As night passed, the moon refracted over her length, changing from white to blue, but always light. The girl’s eyes shone, yet were giant circles of murky, hushed darkness against the paleness of her skin. Her cheeks, played upon by the mischievous wind, betrayed a faint colour, the dark pink hiding beneath a layer of stark white.
Though the wind misbehaved, the moon controlled its whims, and here the light of the celestial being slapped the wind with a jagged cut. The wind shrunk back into the plains.
As night edged closer, slinking about the earth, then, without revealing itself, passed by, the moon lost its brightness and slowly crept aside. Still the girl stood. Pink slashed its way across the horizon, burning a path of murky colour over blackness. Yellow followed timidly in its wake. Orange blasted the heavens with the blazing glory of sunrise, and slowly the star of fire began to rise.
As day came, the whiteness of the girl was lost. She disappeared, overwhelmed by stronger colours and stranger forces. Yet still she stood, invisible, waiting. She would wait forever, edged against the wind, uncomfortable on the earth, above the grass. She did not belong, but could not leave. She awaited something; she did not know quite what, but she could feel its force creeping closer with every shutting off of the stars. Its murky presence lurked on the edge of existence, over the horizon but not far beyond its scope. It would come; the girl knew it. It was just waiting for her to let go of her wariness. But she refused to; she was ever alert. She would not allow herself to forget the danger that hid nearby. She would not tire while she had to hunt. And so she waited, slipped easily into the air, invisible but not forgotten behind a ray of sun that glided over the earth.
When noon passed and still the beast had not come near, the girl palmed her bow and reached for an arrow from her quiver. If darkness would not come to her, she would go to it. Slipping through the sunray, she edged into another and, having travelled across its span, spun herself into yet another. Slowly she made her way across the plain, walking in and out of sunrays, by turns concealed and exposed, a slim, stiff figure travelling across the dry grass.
When the girl reached the edge of the plain, she placed a foot upon the rocks that now covered the terrain. They were firm but elusive, and seemed more illusion than reality. They are a trick, thought the girl. The shadow-beast was clever; it would play many more tricks upon her before it was done. The girl scanned her eyes keenly over the rocks, looking for a slip where the beast could be hiding. She saw none. Stepping over the rocks, she continued travelling, ever wary of her surroundings.
A firm, pulpy murkiness hovered behind a shadow. Stealthily the girl approached it and shot it with her arrow. It fell to the ground. Grasping it in her hand, the darkness dissipated. A trick. This was nothing; a lure set by the beast to steer her away from her quarry. The girl knew it and kept on. She pulled another arrow from her quiver.
The sunrays parted as the day went on, then disappeared as evening stole into the dreadful air. Cold slashed its way into the transparent molecules; even the grass, in its yellowing tufts, shivered. The girl had been travelling all day, and everything around her was now grey. Shoots of grass and weeds lived a hardy existence in crags, but otherwise the air was meagre and hostile. The girl should have felt comfortable; she was certainly used to harsh terrain and a tough life, but she did not. Unease had crept into her muscles through the pores and veins. The girl – her kin called her Sarah – would have appreciated sunlight, even if she had never particularly liked it, if only for the yellow warmth and penetrating light it offered. It would help her hunt.
As evening dwelled, the wind picked up. It was cold, and darkness hovered in. The moon, which reluctantly showed itself, was a welcome sight for Sarah. She matched it in its mystery and depth. Its light reflected off her and shone onto the patchy rocks.
Sarah was awake and aware. She had not slept for far too long, but she did not expect to find the luxury of sleep for a long while. The air sustained her; she had known that she would find nothing to eat or drink in this strange, dark land. A shadow hovered over it; even in the sunlight the earth was not bright, and the air concealed a force that was barely discernible yet distinct. Sarah knew that finding the shadow would lead her to discover the greater, hidden problem of this place, and until she found it she would not rest. There was still time; although the land was becoming more and more unwelcoming, it had not yet been fully taken over by the silent, looming menace. Yet if the shadowy creature was allowed to live, it would rock and pulsate until it had rendered the matter of this planet into a quivering mass alive only in parasitic balance. No place deserved such an existence. Sarah would prevent the ill from happening.
A mosquito buzzed by Sarah’s ear. She slapped it, then, realizing that something lived here, turned around, stunned. The sky was purple; bruised. How had a mosquito come to be here? Sarah scanned the horizon all around her, stepping slowly in a circle, her feet padding the ground, with narrowed eyes. She had been caught off guard.
Although she was frustrated that her prey would not reveal itself, Sarah refused to let her anger show. A quiet blue flame burned within her, but she remained calm. She traced a finger along the hair of her bow, feeling its reassuring tautness. It pressed into her, almost but not quite cutting her overly thin skin. She stood watching the horizon a moment longer, then picked her way over the rocky surface once again, her toes feeling the smoothness of the rocks through the hard, scaly surface of the granite.
The air was still and all was quiet. The stillness of the night was disturbing; oppressive. Tendrils of night shivered and whipped through the air, hung from far above and invisible. They snapped, and sparks lit for furtive moments before fading into blue.
As the sky darkened and the purple changed to deep blue, fireflies rose from the ground and shimmered close. They were tantalized by Sarah; a glimmer of white was new and delicate, a presence to be adored. Sarah was only made more wary by the fireflies; they were supposed to have come out at dusk if they were flies at all. The little lights were pretty and distracting, but they might conceal harm. Sarah let them hover but paid no overt attention to them.
A ragged strip of white dazzled through the air, which now thrummed with energy. The heavens were alighting on the recesses of the sky, their white, pulsing veins skimming over and scarring the blue with their throbbing heat. Sarah eyed the lightning. At least the shadow-beast had no control over the planet’s upper activities. So, this was a night for fishing. The goddesses and their men throwing their lines through the wind and snapping them back when they lured and trapped eddies.
A large, jagged streak struck the sky. The air above writhed as though in pain.
Someone had caught a whirlpool.
Though the high-up air shimmered and shone, Sarah was at the bottom of the pool where all was still. She faced no harm from the heavens. Only the shadow-beast could tear her imprint from the murky purple page of space she walked in. She would not let it do so.
Sarah slipped her toes along the rocks for many moments longer before realizing the danger of moving. If she were spied from above, a leech-worm would spill forward to catch her. It would suck the blood out of her and bring her soft, emptied skin back to its children. The black, writhing creatures were fascinating, but were a horror to behold, for they hunted without mercy and loved only their massy young. The leeches preyed when the fishing lines were out, for only then did the whirls of air reveal the living beings hidden within them.
A beetle scuttled by Sarah’s toe. She squashed it with her foot, crushing its hard, dark shell into the rock. She felt the softness of its innards moisten the ball of her foot. Its tenderness was welcome to Sarah’s callused skin.
A spurt of air breathed down Sarah’s spine, skimming beneath her dress. She dipped and twisted, looking around and up.
Nothing was visible in the sky, but Sarah knew that something lurked there, watching her – a foreign, unwelcome presence that breathed, letting its sides expand and contract, emanating warmth and life. A wry smile stole over Sarah’s lips, and her cheeks blossomed. This was what she had been waiting for. She squeezed her bow, loving its reassuring hardness, and smoothed the fingers of one hand over an arrow. She tried to hide the excitement that crept across her features. Blood coursed through her veins, lighting her with living fire. She burned and boiled and glowed white.
Sarah spread her feet and planted them firmly on the ground. She felt the wind shiver tantalizingly between her legs, stroking the insides of her knees and gently lifting her skirt with its cold fingers. She stared at the invisible shadow; within her she could feel its electric pulsing. It was trying to hide the moon.
“You can’t do that, my cunning friend,” said Sarah, inviting interaction. “You’re not big enough, and from what I can see you’re not dark enough either. Come now – it’s time to leave this place.”
Sarah felt a throbbing and knew that the creature had understood her words. Yet it wasn’t provoked; it was assessing her, letting her speak without really listening. So be it, thought Sarah. The hunt would be that much more interesting.
Sarah bent her knee and touched the ground, fitting her arrow to her bow. She felt the beast’s laughter; it knew that her puny weapon would cause it no harm. It was too big and strong, but was young and was playing with her. It would let her pretend that she could vanquish it. After all, this was her quest to prove herself.
Sarah’s smile did not falter, but she was slightly annoyed by the cleverness of the shadow. She was exhilarated by the pursuit of quarry and loved a challenge. This shadow could prove to be her downfall, but she was only enlivened by this thought. Feral blood pulsated through her veins. The shadow was confident and malicious, not like the blundering beasts that lived in the forests of Sarah’s home. Sarah was used to shadows and was not really afraid of them. Instead of terrifying her as they did others, they energized her, filling her with a pulsating desire to kill. She wanted to feel the satisfaction of having her hand-carved arrow planted firmly in the flesh of the beast; have the knowledge of her prowess radiate outward from within. But this beast was not in the mood to die and refused to take her seriously. It was not the least bit afraid of her. This angered Sarah; she was impatient despite her cool exterior and firm resolve.
Sarah felt harnessed. She was being watched and assessed, and she did not like it one bit. It was a disconcerting, uncomfortable experience; she did not like being on the receiving end of a probing gaze.
Sarah collected her thoughts. She must focus on the hunt. She listened to the blood pulse in her legs and felt the rejuvenation of her body. She was ready for this.
Tapping her fingers on her bow, Sarah distracted her quarry, letting its eyes watch the minute movements of her hand, then quickly sent an arrow flying. She was rewarded with an orange beat of light in the sky, the shocked energy of the beast’s surprise radiating along its outline. She had hit it in the side purposely to annoy it; it had been hurt for a moment, but was now only angry. Sarah smiled cordially. She knew not to say anything; let it expect provocation but receive no satisfaction.
The beast surprised her. Before she had time to realize what it was doing, it shot a fiery tentacle at her. Sarah skipped to the side as the ground that she had knelt upon a second earlier burned from the flaming coil. She stared upward, her lips parted, and felt slightly threatened. So – this was a beast of a different sort, a mixture of a shadow and something more powerful. Sarah was intrigued. What lay in store for her? If she survived, this would be a mighty quest. Perhaps.
Another arrow lived in the palm of her hand. It wanted to be shot; Sarah could tell. “Wait,” she said. “Soon.” She must think wisely and quickly if she was to overcome the power she faced. She could not allow herself to feel pleasure from the chase or the challenge.
Sarah awaited another tentacle, but none came. The beast had been merely annoyed. Now it hovered and watched, waiting purposefully. It was not going to make the first move; that was up to the foolish young huntress.
Sarah assessed the outline she had glimpsed for a second. She could fight such a beast, mixture or not. It was not overly large. It could be killed if she was careful. But her arrows were not sufficiently powerful; she would have to resort to other means. Her thoughts flickered briefly to the fishing lines. They were not strong enough to hold a shadow, but if leech-worms were to see a fiery outline, they would come racing down to enjoy the rare feast. The flesh of shadow-beasts was soft and warm, tender from its transient nature. Morsels tumbled down throats and pulsated within stomachs, warm and reassuring, heady and exciting. The cunning of the dead monster could be felt, as well as its prowess and the pain of its defeat. And the pieces of its flesh that had been swallowed scintillated in the darkness of bile and then disappeared – shadows once more. So Sarah had heard. She had never tasted shadow-beast, but would relish the opportunity if she were to kill the beast before her. She would eat its tantalizing flesh raw, licking its thin veins and stroking its meat with her quick little tongue.
Sarah stopped her burst of thoughts. She needed to protect herself from the leeches if they were to come. The first thing she had to eliminate was the fluttering skirt of her dress. Though her skin was as white as her garment, it did not flutter in the wind. She needed to meld with the cold air, place herself within it so that she could not be seen. If she were lucky, she could catch a moonray and hide in it. Moonrays were thin but could be caught. And if caught they would fight or, if they felt like it, simply disappear. Sarah would have to struggle and hold onto one even if it bucked. Until the leech-worms ate their kill, she would need to conceal her radiance.
Tearing the thin fibres of her dress, Sarah tantalized the shadow with her eyes. She mesmerized it, holding it within her gaze so that it would not notice the work of her thin fingers below. The creamy skin of her thighs glimmered in the light of the moon, happily exposed. Sarah could tell that the beast was both intrigued and confused by her actions. It knew that she felt no fear and that each wanted the other gone.
The beast hovered, watching Sarah as she tore her dress from her skin in ribbons. Sarah skimmed the skirt from her thighs, then moved her hands upward to her soft belly, peeling away the whiteness in tatters. She tore the fabric from her skin in folds, her hands moving in nubile patterns. Her deft fingertips shredded, pulling at threads, which gave easily beneath them. When the bottom half of her garment had been removed, she grazed a finger over the muscle that divided her belly, tracing upward and staring coyly with her haunting, incandescent eyes. The beast watched in silence. Even if it had had a voice, it would not have spoken. One did not speak before a huntress with such prowess unless one wished to break her spell. The beast would let Sarah play her game.
Sarah’s finger traced over the bodice of her dress, then tugged. A ribbon floated away. She pulled at the layer over her breasts and the piece came away effortlessly. The moon caressed her torso.
Still staring at the shadow, Sarah plucked the tatters of her dress from her body and grasped them in her hands. Sails of ribbons scattered downward from each of her fists, floating in the wind. She was naked and nubile, and her lithe body shimmered invitingly in the night. She spread her arms wide and blended into a moonbeam. Her body was enveloped with light, hidden, but the ribbons of her dress danced and billowed, catching the light. She looked at the creature before her. It thrummed with energy. It was growing impatient with her. She should be careful. But she had a plan; she would hunt this beast and stay with it until its heavy groans blasted and then faded in the night.
Still holding her ribbons aloft, Sarah eyed the wicked strips of light that still snapped through the sky, burning the billowing clouds that had teasingly formed moments ago. The heavens were becoming a murky pool of whirling air and wild eddies; the cumulus forms sat atop them and weathered the storm. Sarah could see the depths of purple and the inky edges of the rips of sky. The clouds would make her task tantalizingly difficult, but she loved challenges.
Darting her eyes toward the shattering streaks of light above, Sarah angled her body so that the beast was directly between her and the part of the sky where the leeches most likely dwelled. The invisible shadow would be in the path of her hunters.
Knowing that she was invisible in the moonbeam and that the ribbons of her dress fluttered provocatively in the light, Sarah gazed at the hovering beast and bowed, her head upright and her hands circling slowly in the air by her side. The beast sidled over slightly but remained still. Sarah could tell that it was impatient but too lazy to be concerned with disposing of her just yet. She smiled and set to her task.
Throwing her arms over her head, Sarah let the ribbons fill with energy and catch the radiance of the moon. She bent her head backward and arched her back, her breasts projecting outward, the taut nipples grasping the cusp of the moonbeam’s light. She let the light skim over and caress her, then suffuse her, filling her with its white aura of mystery and its deep, alluring radiance. It spilled over her shoulders, chest, abdomen, legs. Even her toes glistened in the night, beautiful and pebbled. Her murky hair revitalized and billowed in the wind, a savage mass of darkness.
Once she was completely filled with moonlight, Sarah bent forward, then arched her back. Her arms radiated outward in wide circles and her legs created a rhythm of their own. Her spine writhed and bucked, circled and twirled, folded and unfurled, filling the air and the shadow with awed confusion. She intrigued her audience and lit the world with an unholy white glow. And throughout it all the tatters of her dress swirled around her, catching and refracting light, twirling spectacularly and blowing uncontrollably in the air. They caught the eye and riveted the pupil, holding attention and not allowing anything to focus wholly on their furtive, flowing existence.
Sarah danced and danced, the ribbons sailing around her in all directions, whirling and twirling and wreaking havoc on the world. The moonbeam grasped Sarah’s body in its cusp; she was a petal in the wind, all arms and legs and movement.
The beast watched the ribbons flow, a beautiful shimmer and whirl against the darkness of the rocky ground. The pattern was mesmerizing, and every moment the beast spent watching, the ribbons filled it with an ever-greater desire to lunge at the white tatters and tear them from the beautiful creature that held them, ripping her limbs from their sockets and devouring her in bloody pieces. It yearned for the wholeness of a living meal, something more than planetary air and spatial matter. Nubeous clouds were enough to fill but not satiate it. The dancing ribbons drove it toward the edge, but it refused to fall for the huntress’ trick. It would not dive toward her or spear her with a raging tentacle. Instead it watched; let the girl dance – let her drive herself over the rim, beyond exhaustion, overcome with passion, until she was spent, filled with lethargy. Only then would it attack and rid itself of her.
Sarah twirled and danced, her body grasping at the edges of the moonbeam and pulling them taut, holding and not letting go. She held the moonbeam like a curtain, its thin wisps and folds billowing tightly around her. It shimmered and radiated, the tugs and pulls Sarah inflicted on it spreading upward to the heavens. The moon, pulled by this slight tug, shimmered slightly, its radiance flickering for a moment. Wisps of moonbeam fell downward to the earth, spinning crazily in their descent.
Sarah could have continued dancing much longer, but she felt a cold breeze shimmer eerily through the air and knew that the predators were on their way. The white blossoms of movement produced by the ribbons had attracted them, and now they lanced forward through the sky, grey bodies tugging impatiently at the thin air. They descended madly to their quarry. Out of the corner of her eye Sarah saw them coming and danced all the faster, knowing that if she were sufficiently mesmerizing, the shadow would not notice the beings rocketing toward her or feel their murky, dangerous presence.
Relishing the safety of the moonbeam that hid her, Sarah twirled crazily, spinning in one place and creating a whirl of dizzying oblivion. The world spun about her; the ribbons were nothing but a tantalizing, shimmering shred of white circling her body.
Air separated itself from the leech-worms, creating a space for them in which they could plummet downward fast as night. They lanced forward, driven, intent on their pursuit, seeing only the narrow mass of shimmer before them. They coursed silently through the galaxy, attention riveted, bodies elongated. Their rubbery sides flickered over the night air, burning it with the friction caused by the speed of their passing.
The leeches dove, not heeding each other, bent upon one thing. They came at Sarah with a terrifying quickness, and the little huntress felt the power of their bodies and was numbed. She saw them open their horrid, gaping mouths and stared in horrified, dizzy fascination at the tremendous suckers on their dark, cavernous faces. She recoiled, and danced jaggedly, the ribbons spurting in all directions, still attached to her fists. She squeezed the moist fragments between her fingers, afraid and aroused by the imminent kill she could almost visualize. She bowed and her hands speared forward, the ribbons entrancing the leeches and overwhelming their brute existence.
Standing up, Sarah waved the white tatters softly before her and watched as the leeches came toward her, their bodies pushing them on urgently. The shadow was directly in their path. They skimmed toward it, not knowing of its existence.
The shadow-beast remained in place as the worms sped toward it. It was in the liminal state between fascination, boredom, and complete lack of care, and didn’t quite know what to do with the tiny huntress. It had an urge to squash her now that she was nearly still except for the waving of her arms.
The leech-worms plummeted, mouths gaping, and crushed the air in their heated descent toward the earth. They shocked the night with their intrepid eagerness. Sarah, alert, watched them come at her, then shot one arm high in the air as her other arm streaked downward. She spun her wrists; now one ribbon flirted with the air above while the other dangled below. Sarah’s body stood between them.
The leeches hurtled madly, then, when they were nearly upon Sarah, crashed into the shadow-beast. Outraged and in pain, the shadow groaned wildly and flashed orange in the night. It was a great beast and encompassed the air with its bulk.
The leeches, stunned, realized that a large beast hovered before them. They recoiled from its massive bulk and then lunged, their suckers diving madly at its flesh. Though the beast had disappeared, they knew it was there. They could feel it; saliva dripped stickily from their orbing mouths as they seized upon their prey and sucked noisily.
Sarah watched in horrid fascination as the beast, illuminated and glowing bright orange, writhed as it tried to escape the leeches. She and her ribbons had been forgotten. She dropped the tatters and felt them drift softly to the ground. Then she stepped backward into the depths of the moonbeam and drifted into its folds. She was invisible once again. She watched, eyes wide, as four gigantic leeches fought with the shadow-beast and sucked up its flesh. Small drops of emerald blood spurted from the rings where the leeches swallowed. The beast bucked violently and snapped tentacles outward, trying to grasp its captors, but there were too many of them and they were strong. They pushed their long bodies against the shadow and sucked its blood until they saw its veins burst from the pressure, then squished its massive body with their own so they could better vacuum its soft, moist flesh. Wetness gleamed along the monster’s body, which slowly disappeared, consumed by the rabid worms. Squirming did the beast no good; Sarah watched as its orange flesh moved more and more slowly before ceasing to struggle altogether.
The beast’s groans wrenched in the night. They raced through moonbeams and shadow, pulling the air, beating through distance as though it did not exist. The shadow-beast’s misery tugged at Sarah’s heart. She could sense its pain. Howls and groans shook the air, spanning the plains and shattering the rocks in their wake. The leeches devoured; the shadow-beast died. Soon all that was left were the massive coils of the four worms writhing in the air and the vastness of the silent night. Sarah watched as the leeches, fat from the flesh of their kill, fought one another and screamed. Looking about briefly to see if any other beasts lurked around, they turned to one another, then left in a pack, their plump coils shattering the air. They lanced toward the heavens. Soon they melded with the darkness, their shrieks hollow sounds far away.
The ribbons lay forgotten on the earth, still and damp. Sarah stood in the moonbeam. She felt no satisfaction from the death of the monster; only sadness in her heart, and disappointment. Green drops of blood shone wetly on the ground, a sorry reminder of the existence that no longer was. Sarah eyed them dejectedly, then, kneeling, mopped them up with the pieces of her dress. She picked up her discarded bow and placed it on her back. She tied the ribbons to her quiver. Then she started walking, returning to her home.
Snaps of light shone dully high above. Filaments of cloud dissipated into air. Eddies swirled about unseen. The purple light of the night sky gleamed dimly. All was silent. The world was empty and bare save for the lone girl striding across the plain, a pale, ragged strip of stilled movement. She looked like a moonbeam. The clouds pressed silently against the sky. It began to rain.