(c) 2017, Tara Moeller
It was a good day. There was a funeral in the far corner. The smell of fresh-turned earth and over-scented roses hit her square in the nose.
The caretaker waved, the movement short, off-hand almost. He no longer questioned why she came, stalking the perimeter of the cemetery. Once, he did, the questions growing shorter with each asking. Until now, he remained silent save for the wave, or a quick nod.
She smiled beneath her hood. The old man was tired; the exhaustion crept off him, fingering the fringe of her frayed mind. But she left him alone; it was all he had left.
Not that she had ever taken anything from him. No. Life had drained him all on its own.
“Hey! What are you doing?” A younger man rushed from the office, pushing past the older man to tower over her, hands on his hips, brows meeting above a long, narrow nose.
She stopped, the wave of outrage punching. Blinking in reflex, she took it in, watching the young man’s ire deflate. Careful, she cut off the syphon, leaving him with a slice of indignation.
“Leave her alone. She just walks around.” The old man joined them, leaning heavy in the door jamb.
“But…” his emotion muffled, the young man stood, confused.
“Have a good walk, miss.” The old man reached out and hauled on the other’s arm, leading him back inside.
Releasing a controlled breath, she tasted the outrage, letting its nuance roll through her mind. It was bitter on her tongue. The young man was lucky she’d been able to stop.
She approached the funeral group at a measured pace, tasting for the sadness, despair, and best of all—the fear.
When those emotions lapped at the outrage, mingling at the edges, she paused. She took the despair first. It would be a good thing, temper the damage, and a woman’s sobbing eased.
The young woman huddled beside her was afraid, though not of the person lowered in the casket, but of the elderly woman’s emotions.
So she syphoned off a bit of that, but not a lot. That emotion would alleviate on its own when it became evident that the despair had waned.
The rest of the group was sad, the degrees of it varying, so she took a bit here and a bit there. Some folks stopped crying, others offered a half smile, the ebbing sadness allowing a happy memory to intrude.
It was a meager meal; certainly not a feast. It would sustain her for the moment, keep her alive until the next time. If she took too much, the person would never feel that emotion again.
And she would forget how to survive on just enough. It was a diet that kept her alive, but not much else. It also kept her from being destroyed by those who could never understand.
She finished her walk, keeping to the space between the trees and manicured lawns, enjoying the chatter of squirrels and birds and creaking limbs.
Buried in her hoodie, hands tucked hard in the front pouch, she marched towards home, concentrating on keeping her barriers up. It would be too easy to suck someone’s joy away. Especially after getting a little, after taking the darker emotions, a little light would be heaven. The craving only grew. She could lose herself, her composure and control in the revelry.
Focused inward, she missed the small mob of young men fast-stalking the middle of the street. They were too close when their anger assailed her, surging over her barriers, unchecked.
It flooded her mind, overriding her control. Their laughter and running feet followed.
They surrounded her, pushing, pulling, grabbing at her hoodie, revealing her limp grayed hair and gaunt cheeks.
“Look, it’s a hag!”
“C’mon lady, it ain’t Halloween!”
One pushed hard enough she tumbled to the pavement, hands and knees bitten by tiny rough stones.
Someone kicked and she rolled aside. Her control shredded with her palms and she sucked in the emotion.
Another voice—female, from away—screamed for help and a siren wailed, the grating noise louder the closer it got.
Desperate, she gobbled up the anger–all of it. She left nothing behind, and even started on other emotions: confusion, fear, vengeance, the rush of power.
Once started, she couldn’t stop. She feasted, leaving nothing behind.
When the police arrived, the young men stood in a ring around her, staring into the horizon, drool leaking from slack lips.
A woman, voice high-pitched and breathy, explained what she saw.
The youth were hand-cuffed, not resisting the rough tug of police hands. “Jeez. Wonder what they took? They look absolutely fried.”
Laying on the ground, panting, she waited. She rebuilt her barriers, regained most of her control.
“Miss? You okay?” The officer extended a hand and she took it, offering a smile of thanks and a short nod. She sipped at his exuberance, his pride in catching the young men. “Do you need an ambulance?”
“You are so lucky.” It was the woman who had called for help. Her relief tasted sweet, almost sickly so. “Whatever they were high on wore off pretty fast.”
Standing, legs shaking, she nodded again. She couldn’t speak; her tongue wouldn’t move. Blonde hair sifted across her face and she brushed it aside. Her skin–soft again–wanted to be touched.
“Young girl like you, they could have really hurt you.” The officer tipped his hat and hauled the last young man off to his squad car.
She watched, her own dread building. Her veins thrummed. She wanted to run, to dance, to sing with a voice unheard for decades. She’d been warned, her mother had told her over and over before sending her off to her own feeding grounds.
Once she’d feasted, she could never, ever be satisfied with less.