Adam slunk through the summer night with flowers and charm, and although he shook with nerves, he knew in his heart that all would go as planned. They met on the shore beside the lake, in a place he’d selected for its breathtaking view of the glassy waters. His mother’s wool-spun blanket and a bottle of his father’s mead. They lay laughing for an hour before he struck like a serpent, pulling her close, tasting her with a voracity that verged on consumption, tearing off her rags and pinning her to the blanket. When it was done, and he’d led her shaken and bloodied back to her father’s shop, he snuck back into the night with a wide grin. All his life he’d been told that he was the most handsome. He’d heard it whispered behind his back, said to his face, it was a well-known fact in his merchant town. His mother told him once that ladies would fall at his feet, and he knew this would be the first of many. As he strode through the forest back to his family’s keep, he picked up a pebble and dropped it into a sack on his belt. A marker for his prize.
Next came a traveling blacksmith’s daughter. He met her in the market and took her that night. Another pebble for the sack. Then came a traveling nurse, her eyes gaunt from the horrors of war, but she smelled of sweet soap. He took her from behind on the blanket and let her return to her tent alone. Another pebble. At the beginning of Autumn, he met a spice merchant’s apprentice and when he took her to the blanket, she cried thick tears of joy as if she’d found true love. He’d smiled and whispered empty promises, though he already knew that he would never see her again. Another pebble clicked into the bag.
By the harvest moon, the sack was over halfway full. On the night of the festival, when the townsfolk donned their masks, he met a fawn prancing around the party fire. He twirled her in the flickering shadows before leading her through the forest to the lake. There, he stripped her body bare and prepared himself for a fresh stone in his sack, but when he went to make her bleed, he found something surprising. He felt flesh familiar to his own, and in a rage bred from trickery and deceit, he tore the doe mask away to find a young boy’s face. In his anger, Adam dealt heavy blows, and when he was done, he tossed the fawn into the lake. But still, he took the pebble, for he had earned it all the same.
By the end of the following summer, when he dropped off a young milkmaid to the traveling tents, he went to put the pebble into the sack and found it full. This discovery amused him, and as he walked through the forest, flipping the stone into the air, he laughed. He was so young, yet already so accomplished. It seemed a fortune’s blessing.
When he passed the path that led to the lake, he thought he saw a flash of milk white skin traipse across the moonlight and into the bushes. He stopped, because it was so uncanny. Nearly every night for the past year, he’d taken bare flesh and made it his own in that very spot, but to see it from the outside, even for a brief moment, was odd.
He stepped through the bushes and found himself alone, no matter how many times he scanned the brush for some hidden companion of the night. He thought about the girls, an amalgamation of faces and hair and flesh and took a deep inhalation. Though he’d already had plenty, he wanted more. He was worthy of them all, so he would take all.
A rumbling voice spoke from behind him. “Adam.”
He spun, eyes scanning the lake. The rolling water looked as black as coal in the cloudy night. A shiver broke down his spine.
“Ye- yes?” Adam said. He took a wobbling step backward.
The night was silent for a moment and in the distance, he could hear the crash of hammers and shouts of the town workers as they toiled endlessly into the next day. Then, a wave rolling to shore spilt in the center to reveal a sputtering mouth. “You’ve been a very bad boy, Adam.”
Adam turned to flee, but thick, slimy tentacles burst from the surface and slung tight knots around his arms and legs. He fell into the mud and tried to struggle, but they pulled him towards the lapping water.
“You’ve insulted me, Adam,” the voice growled.
His feet were nearly to the water’s edge when he shouted back. “You have the wrong man.”
“I think not,” the voice said. “I’ve watched you every night. I’ve seen your indulgences, feeding yourself fat on what is mine.”
The tentacles yanked him into the lake, pulling his limbs down until only his face broke the surface. A fifth tentacle split the tranquil water before him and stretched out toward his face.
“You know the stories, Adam.” The tentacle dipped into the water and tugged at his belt. “You know that virgins are property of the Gods.”
“I’m sorry,” Adam said. Tears stung his face and the more he struggled, the more his mouth filled with water. He continued sputtering apologies, but still, the tentacles pulled.
“We live amongst you, but only with their taste can we interact in this world. They are our sustenance, and deprived, I’ve watched you waste them on pebbles. Except you did feed me, once.”
The tentacle broke the surface again, and this time it held Adam’s drawstring sack. It brought it closer, the mouth of the pouch held open in a kiss. He could see the pile of wet pebbles stuffed within. “Do you remember the boy, Adam?”
Adam screamed, then felt himself fill with stones.
Andrew has been writing and publishing short stories for the past decade. They have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Penumbric and on the No Sleep Podcast. His fantasy novella, Children of the Arc, was published in 2023 by TWB Press. He currently lives in Arizona, working as a middle school English teacher, and mediating heated debates between his roommates, a Maine Coon cat and the world’s most rambunctious husky.