Her stomach grumbled at her as she walked through the haunted wood. The snow fell softly on the treetops before landing on the ground with a hush. It had been three days since her beloved Robert had left her to find some food. The wildlife had always been sparse, but this winter had been particularly barren. They hadn’t even seen any owls flying overhead during the frozen nights. It had been three long cold nights without him. Three excruciating hungry nights.
With every step she took in the heavy snow, she mentally kicked herself for not following him that night. She could have walked in his footprints then. Now she wouldn’t know it if she was going in circles or not. Pulling her cloak tighter around herself, she wrapped her arms around her middle. Her hand clutched her only weapon, a spear, and wished for it the ache to end. She pulled her head down and watched her drenched skirt push through the sparkling snow.
The shadows of the trees seemed to loom over here, from protection or as a threat she knew not. The moon was almost invisible that night, the small spurts of light called for aid from the pure white snow.
Without warning, her skin pimpled, her hair stood up, and her shoulders tightened. She halted and snapped her head up. A sudden fear of something sinister came over her. The shadows stretched their fingers into the darkness until everything blurred together. Her breath caught in her chest, a small frozen cloud wrapping around the last puff. She was tense and afraid, but knew she needed to turn around. With caution, she spun in a circle.
Nothing. Her eyes met more snow and darkness. The emptiness did nothing to calm her down. Her ears perked, her breathing quickened. Her eyes darted around, looking for anything that might be there. She still saw nothing, but her gaze kept going back to the far spot in the dark where the emptiness seemed greatest. She stared at it for an eternity.
She was certain something was there.
She was certain she was being watched.
Her foot hesitated forward. Her fearful curiosity seemed to be getting a firm hold on her. Before she could complete the step, a small emaciated rabbit darted in front of her, his wild eyes not seeing her. With the skill of a long time huntress, she hurled her spear and struck him dead through one of his twitching ears.
Forgetting herself for a moment, she grabbed the rabbit by the middle, and tore her teeth into his fur, vigorously ripping tufts of it off before getting to the small amount of meat he had to offer.
Tossing the carcass aside, she continued on her original path, licking her fingers clean. She continued to lick her lips as she once again wrapped her arms around her waist, her spear now bloody. The shadows seemed to go on for forever, stretching far ahead of her, almost as if they were leading her in a certain direction.
Her stomach grumbled again, louder this time. The rabbit may not have had much meat on it, but it did nothing to appease her hunger. It even seemed worse. Tears began to streak down her face. She was just so hungry. Her thoughts no longer dwelt on her missing husband, she only cared about finding food.
She kept her eyes searching the dark as she trudged on, looking for anything else to eat. Berries. Another rabbit. She even briefly wished for another human to just appear. She needed to eat before the snow buried her own corpse.
She walked on into the far reaching shadows, the fear on her back getting closer. The snow had stopped falling now but the silence that came with it became deafening. She could hardly bear it.
She hated it. The nothingness that pounded her ears. The frozen tips of her fingers and toes. The hunger in her stomach. Her knees began to buckle. Moans escaped from somewhere deep inside her.
She needed to eat now.
Far off to her left she heard it.
It was only small at first, but her ears picked it up right away.
It was a glorious sound. Curious, but glorious. It sounded to her like something was being eaten. She could hear the small grind of tooth on tooth. She could faintly smell the blood of a fresh kill. She could taste it all on her tongue.
Forcing herself to her feet, she ignored everything that had been driving her forward and headed toward the curiosity. She stumbled over hidden roots and her hunger pains, though not taking notice of her struggles. She could only hear the chewing. She could only imagine the feast. She only cared about eating.
She soon entered a tiny clearing directly under the moonlight’s path. She froze in her tracks, hardly daring to believe what she was witnessing.
A creature. One she had only heard about from the natives.
He stood an easy ten, maybe fifteen, feet high. She could easily count every single one of his bones through his deathly skin. He had antlers like the devil himself coming out of his head. She watched him as his long claw-like fingers tore into the limbs of an unfortunate wanderer. She watched as he feasted on the succulent meat.
Cautiously, not wanting to anger him, she crouched down and approached him. As she drew level with him, he turned his head slowly to peer at her, his mouth still dripping scarlet blood. She gazed back into his glowing eyes and felt her fear vanish.
They stood there looking at the other, not recognizing each other in appearance, but knowing each other in spirit. Without a word, he turned his attention back to his meal. She followed suit and tore into a meaty forearm with her teeth. She groaned as she eagerly ground the flesh with her teeth and tongue. Her skin prickled with renewed warmth as satisfaction overcame her. It was by far the most tender meat she had ever had.
A small part of her nudged her memory as she glanced at the wanderer’s face. Regret never crossed her mind. She was hungry and he was already dead. Every bite brought her bliss, but it still did not appease her hunger.
She never stopped. After the arm was part of the stomach. Then a thigh. Toes provided little meat. As she ate, a pain developed in her head.
Her hair shifted as they began to push through her skull.
Her skin cooled down and began to fade to a deathly shade.
Her body seemed to stretch taller.
Her vision became brighter.
Her fingers lengthened as they became sharp.
She ate and ate until there were only bones and rags left. She turned to her companion, licking her fingers clean, and found that she was now at eye level. None of this seemed strange to her.
Reaching out, she wove her fingers in his, and together they set off into the long shadows, using their noses and their stomachs as a guide. She was hungry again.