This story is by Alma Mikaliukas and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
To My Storm Sun
I see them all. Every single one. They run and skip, call out to each other, lifting their eyes from time to time to see their parents. I see the parents too, chatting, looking around, scrolling through their news, un-engaged. The meadow in the hills echoes with the children’s voices, and the rays of the afternoon sun scatter among thousands of glimmering soap bubbles streaming through the air. Dozens of tiny hands wave around, trying to catch them.
My eye stops on a blonde girl of about four, squealing delightfully with each popping bubble. She seems to be enjoying the event more gleefully than the rest of the crowd. There is an air of intensity about her, enticing and calling out to me. I am no longer content to linger at the magnificent oak treetops in the park. Suddenly, I am interested.
I swoop down to get to know her a little closer. She turns in my direction and smiles, wincing in the woosh of air my movement has created. I like her. Before I am returned to the swamp, before my night begins, I want to know who she is. Before saying a word, she has already spoken to me. I follow them to where they live.
“ Mom, what does a Black Stork look like?”
“ Let’s look it up and see”, the woman says. They sit, holding a heavy picture book on their knees, balancing it carefully until the woman finds the right picture.
“ The Black Stork is a skittish, solitary bird, unlike its cousin, the White Stork that nests at the rooftops of old buildings in the Lithuanian countryside. It’s a good omen to have a stork nest on your property. They bring blessings to the family. They even bring children!” The woman says, as I am watching them without being noticed, and the little girl is watching her mother, eyes sparkling in the light of the fire.
“ Have I told you the legend? You see, Black Stork is elusive. It lives deep in the swamps, far away from people, and one hardly ever sees them. Few are left because the swamps are drained to make farmland. Long ago, when the forests were old and swamps were plenty, village children would go berry picking. It’s easy to get distracted in the forest, and sometimes a child would get lost, separated from their group. In the twilight before the nightfall, if they couldn’t find their way back, the Black Stork would come and guide them home. They were protectors of lost children, you see. Villagers would tell stories about their children returning home, hoodwinked but otherwise unharmed.”
“ Why would Black Stork protect them?”
“ Legend has it that Black Storks once were lost children themselves. They couldn’t escape the marshes, and before they died, they swore to protect the lost children. They were granted the power of turning themselves into a Wise Woman of the forest. They say her face was kindness itself, and her touch as gentle as the touch of a mother; so the lost children would believe she was their mama and follow her, unafraid. They would walk with her until they were safe, and as soon as they were out of the forest, the children would forget the Wise Woman, remembering only the woosh of the graceful, black wings. Or was it the wind they remembered? The fog of the swamp would cover their memories.”
“ And I think Mama is making it all up!” The girl’s father dispels the magic of the moment.
“ I was just getting to the good part,” Mother says, looking up to him. “The camp where we will be staying is close to the Swamp habitat nature reserve, one of the few Black Stork nesting grounds. What if we are lucky to see one?” She glances at her daughter’s face. “ And – no, nobody is getting lost in the marshes!” Mother scoops the girl up into her arms, hugging her tightly as the father wraps his arms around them both. A picture of human happiness!
“ A Field Trip on Friday!” Mother says.
It suits me just fine. There is a sharp turn of the road, right before the campground. I will see to it that there is a vehicle there, in the blind spot. I will see to it. So far, the woman was responsive to my whispers. She chose the trip’s destination, my backyard. I am so much stronger in the marshes! What I want will be mine.
Mother thought she was making up the legend about the lost children. She wasn’t. She was good at hearing my whispers, taking them and making them her own, while thinking it was her imagination. Her mind was ailing, I had told her. She had to have been one of the special children, once; like her daughter was, just now. I buzzed with anticipation of a feast. Feeding on generations of souls was rare, even in these times when humans were falling at the mercy of the soul eaters, practically begging, Eat me!, by the thousands. Eww. As if their filth could ever be enjoyable. But Not. These. Two. Their love, their closeness, their unbreakable bond. . . . I could persuade myself I had a body capable of physical senses – so delicious a promise was making my gut tingle. Do you know what happens when death severs an unbreakable bond between pure souls? Sweet and salty, and oooh, so rich with fatness, melting in my mouth, enhanced with the delay and desire is the taste of sorrow!
Or, maybe I won’t kill her. My web is around her mind already, all I need to do is pull, gently, gently, until one day, Snap! And to the asylum she goes. Her husband doesn’t quite trust her already. HEHEHE! That could be an interesting experiment. The girl will grow up as if without her mother. I could show her such expanses of hatred! I have their time in my hands. I will enjoy my feeding to the fullest – here it comes!
The distracted driver in the pickup truck ignores the speed limit… then, the obscure stop sign… and now, the turn. Yes!
“ Elena!” The Father screams, as his wife’s bloodied body slumps out of the vehicle and onto the gravel road. O don’t worry, man, she’s just unconscious. What am I talking about, worry, PLEASE! Please worry as hard and as hopelessly as you are capable!. What will happen if she dies? What will happen if she lives? What if she is disabled? C’mon! Worry! She is the love of your life, isn’t she? And what about your daughter? Best you start forgetting about her. Are you able to raise a girl on your own?
“ Mama? Mommy?”
As the ambulance technician leads her to be examined, the girl looks a little shaken but calm. From the outside. I begin to feed. The flood of emotions going through these two humans, especially the girl, is just as I’d hoped it would be. O, never stop being terrified! Here it is, the wave of perfect terror, sprinkled with fear! I know what I will make of it while you’re growing up. For I will never leave you. I am bound to you, now, forever! Unless… But no. For generations, we have worked on humans. There is no way. There is no way the child knows how to. . . .
“ Raudonas!” The girl calls me out, and I startle. She is here, in my realm, the girl full of terror, right when I am feeding on her soul! No. No! It’s not possible for her to see me. If I stop feeding now, when our bond is not yet strong enough to last her lifetime… Why is she so quiet?
“ How interesting! That is indeed my name, and I don’t recall introducing myself.”
“ Why are you following me? I am not lost.”
“ O, but you are, my dear. What happened to your Mama?”
Was this last question somehow a mistake? Her eyes begin to lose the fear that gripped her. Now she is just a happy little girl, intently focused. How?
“ You will return my Mother,” she says.
“ No.” Terror paralyzes me. NO!
“ It wasn’t a request. In Jesus name, return my Mother. Now.”
How do you know? I will get back at you! I will get back at you! My web is torn, the padlock opened, and I have no strength left to hold on to Elena. I have to let her go.
No longer mine, the girl sits quietly in the speeding ambulance, bleeding through her nose, as Mama’s pulse beats steady through the monitor.
I have lost.