Another go-round at the SFFWorld Flash Fiction contest, this one with the theme of “the feast.” I would have liked to have done a little more with the transition and the coda, but 1,000 words run out awfully fast.
He hated when the sugar plums danced. They were so much harder to catch that way, but oh, so worth the effort when they melted on its tongue. He found them no more than a fleeting confection though, nothing to truly sate his hunger. That required more substance.
He watched the girl’s chest rise and fall, deep in the throes of sleep. Yes, this one, and soon. He pulled the rest of his twisting form out from under her bed and touched one inky black tendril to her forehead.
From a swirling mass of color and light coalesced a bright meadow crowned with fat white clouds that bore no threat of rain. The girl danced with a cat beneath a willow tree, while musicians in the shape of the bedroom curtains kept a tune. The music grew louder as a gentle breeze billowed the curtains, and the child twirled and giggled with the sound of ringing bells. On the horizon, a rainbow reach tentatively for the sky, first blue, then red, then yellow, growing brighter and higher as her laughter grew.
He ate the tree first, greedily sucking its sagging branches into his gaping maw and snapping them with his teeth. It tasted of spring and green. The girl shrieked, and the cat gave a hiss and moved to protect her. Such bravery would be delicious.
But he wished to savor that moment, and so instead turned to the sky. He loomed his sickly black bulk into the air and slurped down the rainbow with a loud sucking sound. The colored strands flopped about in desperation before disappearing into his mouth, offering hints of joy and melancholy. He scooped great handfuls of cloud next, smacking his lips as he lapped up the gooey wisps, every mouthful rich with rain and shade. His body writhed and pulsed as he gorged, growing larger, wrapping itself about the meadow. The cat tried to lead the girl away, but his bulk proved an impassable obstacle.
The curtains now flailed wildly, their music replaced by a keening howl as the breeze became a roaring wind. He snapped at the curtains playfully, until his teeth caught hold of one end. He clamped down hard and shook his head, and the curtains tore from the wall with the sound of a bow harshly dragged across a violin. He gathered them up and stuffed them into his mouth to join the other barely chewed morsels, adding their hints of warmth and shadow to the melange.
He felt slicing pain somewhere along his length. The cat was brave indeed, but it could slash with its claws for a hundred years and never completely tear him away. Still, the hope would add a tasty seasoning, well worth the moment or two of pain he’d have to endure. He allowed the cat a few more sallies, even crying in mock terror. When he could bear the anticipation no more, he grabbed the cat. It struggled in his grip, fear adding the final delectable ingredient, and he sank his teeth deep into the cat with a satisfying crunch. He rolled his eyes with delight at the taste of it, and he chewed slowly, savoring every last bit of yarn and purr and catnip.
The girl dropped to her knees near the stump of the willow and cried. His laughter boomed into the broken sky. “Why do you shed your salty tears, little one?” he mocked. “Do you fear the coming feast? Do you quiver in terror at the sight of me?” He loomed like a vast cloud dark with the promise of thunder.
The little girl sniffed. “I miss my kitty.”
An almost exquisite pain suddenly coursed through him, a thousand knives twisting in his gut as one. His mouth tasted of ash, bitter and dry, and he roiled and coiled on himself as the pain tore to and fro within him. His eyes widened as he saw his tail rip to pieces, wet black blobs of ooze flying away to slowly vanish into nothingness. The whirlwind moved up his bulk, tearing him apart as it came. It ripped into his swollen belly next, and he shook and pleaded to the nameless void that had birthed him to make it stop. Then his cries became a deep gurgling, and he coughed and heaved, and up from his maw came the rainbow and the clouds and the willow tree, spewed forth with gobbets of bile that they shook off as their color once again lit the meadow. Then came the curtains, their song one of power and vengeance, deep chords and heavy brass.
With a great rending sound, his stomach ripped open, and a cat paw emerged, five gleaming, impossibly long claws extended and thick with his innards. The cat leapt free, shaking the gore from its body. He was vanishing fast now, his body dissipating with every gust of the returning breeze. He reached out a hand in one last effort to grab the girl, who now cradled the cat to her chest and glared up at him fiercely. With a sigh like the last bit of air escaping a balloon, he broke apart, blown high into the air to shrivel away under the light of the bright sun.
“Honey, wake up.”
Her mother sat on the edge of the bed, gently stroking her hair. “Mommy?”
“Were you having a bad dream?”
“I was, but Max was there. He saved me from the monster that was eating everything.”
Her mother smiled, a hint of sadness in her eyes. “You see? Your father and I told you Max had gone to a better place.”
“Maybe I’ll see him again if I go back to sleep,” she said with a yawn. “Maybe we can dance again.”
Her mother kissed her forehead. “I hope you do, sweetheart.”
The little girl drifted back to sleep, to dance in the meadow with Max while the curtains kept time.