[mc, mf, fd, ho, tr]

((The following piece was written for a collection entitled Tales of Belle’s Beast: A Halloween Anthology from The Garden of MC. It’s a bit on the dark side but, given the overall theme, that shouldn’t be surprising. Please be sure to check out my friend’s stories at the link above as well if you enjoy these types of things.))

“There’s something in the mist,” Steven thought as he gazed at the convoluted grey shreds of cold air all around.

Part of him knew that notion was a doubtful one. It was an imperfect psychic reaction heavily conditioned by years of horror literature and movies. One of the implicit rules of the macabre genre was that mist or fog was always the hiding place for terrible things: flaming eyes … bloodthirsty, sharp teeth … mutated, leathery claws … every single nightmare human imagination could conceive lurked in its depths, always ready for the hunt.

Steven was no stranger to spooky stuff. Whether for recreational purposes or academic ones, life had always led him on the discovery of otherworldly paths, and he eagerly loved to explore their most profound connections with human spirituality even if he didn’t believe in a great number of things associated with them. That was the reason why he was standing still in the dead of the night, three thousand miles away from home, in a forsaken Welsh village he couldn’t even spell out straight. He was looking for obscure elements for his Post-Grad thesis on The Myths and Legends of the Middle-Ages in Northern Europe, and the stories he had heard about that region were just the kind of thing he needed to breathe a new life into his researches.

For centuries, the elders spoke of the one that came down from the surrounding hills on Hallow’s Eve in search of a companion and God knows what else … Described as a beautiful, raven-haired woman who appeared to be in her late-twenties, she was seen by some as a remnant of the days of the Old Religion, and by others as a malevolent force that would stop at nothing to fulfil her sinister desires. She was known as “Belle,” and no one who had been brought up under the influence of the lore dared to stay outdoors on the only night it was said she could run free.

“No one but me, it seems,” he muttered whilst rubbing his hands together. It was getting colder, and his joints were already starting to feel the effects of the adverse temperatures.

A shadow moved intently to his right.

“Or maybe not … ” Steven said, although he wasn’t sure if the words had really come out of his mouth this time or he was just hearing the projections of a restless subconscious. Another shadow slid closer to his line of sight, this time coming in from the left. It was followed by another, and another, until he felt the unnerving awareness that he was surrounded by semi-invisible manifestations of extraordinary power.

A large paw scratched the dirt in front of him, and one of the creatures came forward. It had blue-gray fur very similar to a famous Russian breed of cats. However, its elongated, angry snout, and reddish eyes were more akin to those of wolves, even though animals of that sort were a rarity in that part of the world. There was something quite noble about the beast, but also something very dangerous. The fact that on occasions it looked solid and at other times nothing more than a gaseous phantom one could easily blow away with a sigh had him muster all his inner strengths not to shudder. How many more like it remained beyond the veil of ever changing mist? Whatever the answer, it was sure to be far from reassuring.

The beast faced him for what seemed an endless loop of eternities, until it phased out of sight in between growls. Steven interpreted it all as some kind of signal. He was convinced he had just witnessed the work of a scout, and now that the assessment of the situation at hand had been made, the time had come for a face-to-face encounter with its Mistress.

He wasn’t wrong. Out of the protuberant mass of darkness that enveloped the village, there came a hint of silver light. It began as a single line creating a rift between a gloomy night and the promise of a wondrous day. Then it grew in a series of interconnected spirals that spread far and wide to form a web of phosphorescent light. In the center of this ephemeral net bloomed a black rose the size of a man and, from within its petals, dressed in white satin and green foliage from bygone days, Belle sprung, smiling mischievously. The flower withered as she did this, ceasing to be almost at the same instant.

The stories about her beauty weren’t exaggerated. In fact, Steven thought them to be riddled with understatements the moment his eyes met hers. Belle possessed an elusive transcendence that seemed capable of escaping the limitations and frailties of human speech, dooming every attempt of description to failure.

He found himself quivering against his will. Her emissary had caused him justified fear due to its uncanny nature, and the sensations emanating from her presence were very similar, yet heightened ad infinitum … His legs became wobbly as she glided vaporously toward him.

Have you come to offer yourself willingly to me? Belle asked, without the need for actual words. Are you here to be reborn as the companion of my heart’s desire in this night where all boundaries can be crossed, and all dreams can come true?

“I’m a scholar”, he replied, surprised by his own choice of words and the fact that his voice didn’t falter as much as he had anticipated. “I’m here to study … and learn.”

Belle’s iridescent eyes locked on his in a mellifluous way.

And what exactly do you wish to study and learn, O mortal one?

“Exactly what you are: your origin and nature … the reason why you exist when, for all purposes and effects, you were meant to be just another fairy-tale, a myth forged in the collective memory of our ancestors, nothing more.”

She smirked in a mix of idleness and wintriness.

Big words, but oh … so very meaningless, for ‘myths’ and ‘fairy-tales’ are just words your kind has created in a feeble attempt to reduce the primeval forces of the universe to something easily definable and, like anything else that fits inside a definition, controllable. What you aim to know can’t be understood unless you recognize the presumptuousness of your reasoning …

Steven couldn’t separate his beliefs from the reverberating echoes of her mysterious mental voice. Though she stood in front of him, it was as if she was also dancing inside his soul, yet he couldn’t ascertain for sure if it was a pure waltz, a bacchanalian tango, or an unsettling combination of both. The only words that seemed appropriate for the occasion were these:

“If that’s so, then I wish for enlightenment. I wish to know more about all those things that are as ancient as the stars themselves. I want to shed these preconceived notions and uncover the truths you hold so I can share them with the rest of the world.”

That’s not an option, she hissed languidly, and the eroticism of the scene melted a piece of him with ease. The knowledge you speak of can only be imparted on an individual basis, and only to those who fulfill certain requirements in agreement with what has been established at the First Dawn of Time.

An image of a black circle of stones in the midst of a scorching, alien landscape was projected onto his brain, and he felt the heat and inhaled some of the hostile atmosphere that made his eyes almost dissolve in a pool of acidic tears. Belle continued to smile, and the way she did so was as enigmatic as it was enticing. Her warm hands caressed the base of his scalp and then proceeded on a downward path across the more tingly zones of his well-built body.

“What must I do, then?” Steven asked as he coughed and an erection grew where once there was nothing.

Answer my original question, of course. Have you come to offer yourself willingly to me? Are you here to be reborn as the companion of my heart’s desire in this night where all boundaries can be crossed, and all dreams can come true?

Steven pondered, for a moment, the possible implications of giving her the answer she required. None of the tales about her shed any real light as to what Belle meant by ‘companion,’ as the oral tradition wasn’t as strong as it had been in the past. He had every reason to be wary, despite her staggering loveliness, and yet the unquenchable thirst for knowledge he possessed was of sufficient weight to tip the scale in favour of unknown delights.

“Yes,” he answered with a newborn, unwavering conviction that would soon morph into absolute oblivion in the blink of an eye.

Then, so be it! Belle cooed before shrieking in a dreadful way, worse than a covenant of Banshees. Her lips thickened and then cracked open, revealing layers upon layers of spongiform, decaying tissue, each one of them animated by a will of its own, yet focused on a single design: to take his spirit by force.

The demonic kiss was as fierce as it was unexpected, draining half of his energy in the fraction of second it took him to realize what was happening. Steven’s arms fell limply to his sides as the supernatural apparition feasted on the might of his young and gullible mind. It was only once a year that she was allowed to feed off the delicious essence of humankind, and thus regain some of the power they had taken from her when they had inherited the Earth.

Belle took her sweet time with her helpless victim, savouring each thought, each synaptic connection, each chemical burst as if it would be the last time she would ever get the chance to do so. As the years drew by, it was getting harder and harder to cross the dimensional gap in search of a decent meal, and she knew there would come a day when she would no longer have the minimum amount of energy necessary to open and sustain a portal long enough to draw a child in, let alone an adult male so full of vigorous wants.

She kissed, and sucked, and didn’t leave anything human behind. Steven’s will-power was obliterated whilst she sated her starvation and his body became lifeless, grey, a heap of flesh upon a flimsy pile of bones. When she finally released him, he had the complexion of a ghoul, and the vacant gaze of a zombie servant. With a twitch of a finger, she instructed him to follow her into the mist, and he, effortlessly, complied. Now, she had total dominion over his existence, which she was sure to exert in highly imaginative ways for the next three hundred and sixty five days.

According to the laws of old, that’s how long the thrall would be able to retain its bipedal posture and the guise of a human being that no longer existed. When the time came for her to feed once more, its new evolutionary condition would begin.

All of Belle’s beasts had once been like him. After a year of slavish service, he would become like them.

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