I’m not a villain. You eat hapless chickens and cows and pigs. At least my prey has the chance to choose another fate.
They choose to come here, to the Lake of Bones, to where the pine trees stab at sky and water alike. But look closer. It’s not quite the same, for I stand in the water, the sword cleaving me in two.
Some who see me think it’s the way the clouds cast shadows on the shale and limestone of the riverbed; an optical illusion nothing to be afraid of. They wouldn’t work for me anyway; it’s flavorless with no imagination. I suppose if I were truly starving I could eat it, but it wouldn’t satisfy. It’s junk food, no sooner eaten than I’m hungry again.
I do try to conserve, you see.
Some, though, see me for what I am. I can always tell, no matter how cool they try to play it. It’s in the way their eyes light up and the way their nerves all sing with discovery and the lightning burst of newness.
The smart ones leave then, and I let them. They go back with Ideas; a lady of the lake, a brutally slain Princess/Queen/Prioress/Sorceress. Their stories feed me almost as much as the ones who become my dinner.
But some, with that spark of creativity and without the wisdom to leave well enough alone… Those few dive in, headfirst. They fling themselves into the fray, and when they pull the sword from me, it turns on them.
I drink the blood it spills then draw them closer and slip their frlesh from their bones.
They don’t mind, I promise. They’re done with it. Why shouldn’t I use it?
When I have fed, I am free.
I never get far. My new flesh is unfamiliar and I stumble at first, adjusting it to my needs. This one, you see, started out too long for me, so I pull the skin up and in, tucking it into itself. I don’t bother taking the organs, they just get in my way.
The air always feels amazing when I emerge, like an invisible massage, like the best sex of any of my lives.
If I am good, and with luck, the people they came with never even notice the change. Humans are good at ignoring the impossible. Still, they always find a reason to leave, then, leaving me alone. I say I’ll catch up. I say I’ll be there in a minute.
None of them ever look back. I like to think they know, that they’ll carry the tale with them.
I walk along the edge of my lake, I climb up the path along the edge of the trees, I try to find it.
Somewhere, on this mountain, is the key that will get me out of that lake for good. Somewhere is a scabbard, once jeweled, probably rusted now, and I have never found it. I don’t know what will happen, after so long, if I do find it.
Maybe I’ll be free of this hunger at last.
Maybe I’ll just be free.
The fog finds me, eventually, rolling in like a storm, galloping towards me like a beast. It sears at my borrowed flesh, it aches in my bones, breaking the connections as it seeps through the cracks and crevices and pores. When it freezes me out, it blows me away, light, drifting. Every time, I think I can just fly away, be free of this curse. Every time, I scream in frustration and pain as the sword slices me in half again.
Someday. Someday I will find that scabbard. Someday I will stop this cycle.
Until then, I will feed. And you, you will carry my story and lure fresh meals to the Lake of Bones.