Newly-hung stars light our path through the grove, fat with summer fruit. I crouch low against Arye’s back, my fingers buried in her mane. Wound round my throat Nachash eggs Arye on.
“They’re gaining.” she calls out as if we don’t already hear the hooting, stomping melee that is Ben and Keves, coming up fast behind. A great rumble of laughter rolls through our lioness ride as she clears a felled tree.
The ram and his boy will lose time going around.
We reach the clearing and fall in a heap beneath the trees at the edge of the moonlight field. The air is still warm and heavy with the scent of jasmine. Quince, pomegranate and figs hang above our bed of clover. My belly growls.
Arye licks her fur with a practiced boredom as Keves clambers into the clearing. “I told you so.” She purrs without looking up.
“The girl weighs less than this brute.” Keves gasps, catching Ben in the arse with the tip of a horn as he slides to the ground.
‘Paws beat hooves yet again my friend.” Nachash says with barely concealed venom.
“Would that you had either.” Ben flops down beside me, his salty heat stirring another hunger.
“Sustenance!” he demands, looking to Nachash and then the shadowy clusters of fruit above. Her eyes narrow, but she slips over my shoulder and scales the tree. Moments later, a fat fig nails Ben in the forehead.
I snatch it and manage a bite before he lunges, then take secret pleasure in his flesh against mine, as he wrestles it from my hand. When he’s claimed the fruit, I shove him off and finally swallow my bite.
Immediately fire fills my belly, my vision blurs and my limbs grow heavy. On the insides of my eyelids flash visions of desolate land and rivers of blood. I open my eyes to find my friends crowded ‘round, shadowy figures against a darkening sky.
Arye calls for help from beyond with an unintelligible roar. I feel Nachash at my shoulder but hear only a hissing as her tongue flicks my ear. In fact, in all the commotion it’s only Ben I can understand.
“Azazel!” he spits out my name out like a curse, “What have you done?”
The whole world has changed in an instant.
I will forever bear the blame.
Details on The Dark Fairy Queen‘s Midsummer Night Dream flash fiction contest are as follows: