Fiction Friday: The Primordial Feast

Beast: The Primordial

The Primordial Feast

The Primordial Feast

This week we dine on Trinkets, a story by Lauren M. Roy from The Primordial Feast, a fiction anthology for Beast: The Primordial.

“This place is a shithole.”

“A townie shithole.”

Dav and Galen aren’t wrong. The place in question is a townie bar, run by three generations of Stowes, frequented by three generations of Colebridge residents. Usually, we’d drink over at Jana’s place, or bring our booze to the park, but she’d wanted to come out tonight and this is where the cheap drinks are. That, and Jana’s hungry. She’s kicked back in her chair, eyeing the regulars at the bar the way some people eye a dessert tray. When she shifts, I feel her shoulder brush mine, even though we’re a foot apart.

Jason sits hunched over his beer, trying to make himself small as possible next to Jana’s bulk. He didn’t want to come out tonight, though I know he has to be hungry. Every time Jana’s laughter booms out across the bar, he ?inches. Her laugh draws attention, and even though Jason and I are technically townies, too, he doesn’t want to be spotted. His family and mine have lived here a good three-quarters of a century, but small town bullshit means some last names are more important than others.

High school was more than ten years gone, but that’s easy to forget in a town no one ever leaves.

It doesn’t take long for the elbowing and nudging to start. It gets more exaggerated with every round, until one of the former running backs comes over and leans down next to me. “Miranda. I thought you’d dropped off the planet.” He speaks to me but the gaze and the smirk are directed at Jason.

I want to send him packing, say something that’ll make him wet his pants and run back to his frat bro friends, but this isn’t the place for it. To a point, it’d be shitting where we eat and Jana frowns on that. Instead I clap a hand on his shoulder, turn him so he has to look me in the eye. “I haven’t yet. Shane, right?”

“Yeah.”

“My friends and I are having a conversation, but maybe I can catch you later?” The odds of him taking the hint and walking away are lousy, but it’s worth a try.

He doesn’t take it, shifts his gaze past me. “Hey, Jason,” he says, that syrupy,drawn-out, fake friendliness made worse by his drunken slur. “Hey, buddy. How are you? How’ve you been?”

Shane was huge in high school. He graduated and went straight to work for his dad’s landscaping company, so even though he got a little thicker around the middle in the intervening years, he’s still muscle under the pudge. Jason looks like a reed next to him.

But that’s why we’ve got Jana. My hand’s still on Shane’s right shoulder when hers comes clamping down on his left with a meaty smack. He lets out an urk at the force of it, and turns to peer at her. His muscles tense beneath my fingers as he gets ready for a brawl, then loosen when he realizes the dude who just dared lay a hand on him isn’t a dude at all, and he dismisses her as a threat.

That’s a mistake.

“What my friend is too polite to say,” Jana rumbles, “is fuck. Off.”

His mouth ?aps a second while his brain catches up. Jana leans forward a little, looming even more, and it’s suddenly very crowded at our table. Shane trips his way back to his feet and stumbles over to his bros. By the time he gets to them, he’s all eye-rolling and shrugs and pretending he didn’t nearly scream like a little girl. But I saw the way he waddled, like it took all his control not to let his bowels loose right then and there.

Dav snickers. He’s never been Jason’s biggest fan, but if nothing else, Jason makes good bait. And in the end, he’s family. None of us would let anything happen to him.

Jana swigs down her beer and orders another. “So, that’s dinner sorted,” she says.

She doesn’t mean it, not literally, but Jason looks like he’s about to throw up anyway.

• • •

I like it better when I can plan ahead, but it’s been a lean few weeks. The last few nights, my own Lair’s been trembling as Jana’s Horror stomps around hers. Her footsteps reverberate through the Burrows, setting the leaves of my trees shaking, sending ripples across the water of Jason’s pond. I imagine even the shadows in Dav and Galen’s shared Chambers shiver. It’s a small damned town, and there’s nothing bigger in it than Jana. For a while, that was what kept her fed. Even a town like ours has its bad neighborhoods, and she lorded over the down-and-out, told the gangs what to do, how to commit their crimes in a way that kept people afraid.

Until, that is, the new police chief got sworn in. Jana’s been laying low for a month, playing it careful while she figures out what to do about Chief Bessette’s pledge to straighten out the criminal element or send them packing. It was fine at first; she went with Dav and Galen when they raised hell in the posh section of town. Break-ins that never tripped alarms, smashed windows that had the selectmen investing in baseball bats and Maglites — not that they’d have done any good. It got the focus off Jana, but not her people, and the three of them backed off before someone got too brave and decided to play hero. But she’s still not sure whether the Chief can be bribed or manipulated or just plain needs to be run out of town himself, and it’s made her growly. Both her attitude and her stomach.

So now it’s my turn to feed us, and Shane’s the best candidate. I time my bathroom break to one of his; seems our little chat made him have to go, and once you break the seal, well. You could’ve set a watch by his bladder after that first trip to the can. Now he’s drunk enough, and arrogant enough, and questioning the size of his balls just enough that when I plant a hand on his chest, he’s ready to try again.

I don’t let him do much more than leer. My fingers play with the pendant around his neck, one of those thin, twisting cornicellos. Back in high school, he called it his Italian horny charm, and pointed it at whatever girl he was scoping out that lunch period. It’s supposed to ward off evil, but if I count, nothing’s happening. “I need some air,” I say. “How about you?”

He doesn’t even wave goodbye to his bros.

The park’s only a five-minute walk from the bar, across one busy street and down a much quieter one. We go in the back way, down the trail that leads to the row of log cabins the day camp meets in on rainy days. The park’s empty this time of year, just past Halloween. Once school starts back up, the novelty of trespassing after hours wears off quick. By the time fall nights get their bitter, first taste of winter chill, the kids have discovered much warmer places to loiter.

He’s sobered up a little as we walked, enough for a touch of common sense to creep in, for his lizard-brain to wake up from its beer-drenched nap and remind him that walking off into the woods late at night is a bad idea.

Which, hey, good for him. Except we’ve already stepped into the inky shadows that mark the edge of Dav’s Lair, and there’s no way Shane knows how to get out again. I lead him in farther, let branches brush at his face and roots make him stumble.

Part of me almost feels bad for him. Shane was loud and obnoxious back in school, sure, and if he ever gave me the time of day, I don’t remember it, but ignoring someone isn’t a crime. Then I think about the way he zeroed in on Jason, the cruel glee that crept into his voice as he said hey, buddy, and whatever fucks I was starting to give about Shane evaporate.

He’s getting nervous now. His breath comes in ragged gasps. In what little light Dav and Galen are letting through, I can see how wide his eyes are, how they roll towards every snapped twig and half-heard rustle. When I reach for his hand, his skin is clammy. I don’t hold it for long.

I know the twists of this maze, but Shane doesn’t, and losing him is only a matter of ducking behind a gnarled and twisted old oak and letting him stumble past, calling my name. I don’t answer. Why would I?

The hunt is on.

It’s for Jana more than any of us, and even though we’re chasing Shane through Dav and Galen’s nightmare woods, conjuring roots to send him sprawling, whispering in his ear, tracing icy fingers down his spine, we’re driving him inexorably towards her. She’s a dark shape through the trees, and when her Horror plucks him from the ground, lifts him up and up and up so he can look her in her red, red eyes, I can’t help but be in awe.

Shane shrieks. Dav and Galen echo it, mocking him with his own fear. Moonlight breaks through the clouds, but it brings him no comfort. Part of me is up there in the sky, my shadow skimming over the lake, dark wings beating in his ear, a talon grazing across his cheek. Above us all, Jana laughs.

He blacks out before she can lift him to her mouth, but that’s fine. Like I said, she wasn’t really going to eat him.

We leave him on the beach in the real world, roll him out of the Lair and close the path. Tomorrow he’ll wake up cold and hungover and more than a little ashamed.

I take the charm from around his neck, and realize Jason is nowhere nearby. I haven’t seen him since I left the bar.

Found out what happens to Shane, and what happened to Jason, in The Primordial Feast, now available from DriveThruFiction in ebook and print.