Death Cycle rolled in at night, once the final rays of sun had dipped behind the horizon. It came hungry, searching for a soul.
Nestled in huts, natives hid with their children praying that death would pass them by; that the characteristic smell of ammonia would not reach their homes or noses.
Darkness swept across the plain as Sammi clung to her mother’s ashen tunic, wringing shaky fingers around burlap fabric. A shudder moved across her skin to every sound the night made.
“Please don’t stop here,” she whispered through chattering teeth and tightly closed eyes, “please!” The urge to run begged for obedience, yet she was rooted to the ground like a sapling.
Mother’s hand swung down smacking the side of Sammi’s face. “Shh, be quiet!” Mama hissed.
Little Nick was on the other side of mother, lost in her skirts, as his sister received the smack. Her head had bounced unnaturally to the side then recoiled back. He winced as though he had been slapped himself.
Sibling’s eyes locked for the space of a breath. They held hands in their mother’s lap, interlocking trembling fingers.
Suddenly, the air grew heavy and damp like a blanket of steam had been pulled over the tiny hut. The family of three clustered in the corner against mud and straw.
Sammi prayed to the God of Protection. She vowed never to be late to her studies again, or talk back to her mother, and she would help more with errands.
Just keep us safe and you can have anything you want, she bargained.
Even so, the unmistakable sound of Death Cycle happened into existence and a simultaneous dread spread over the huddled family.
Pounding heart. Sheen of sweat. Pupils dilated.
It had come for one of them.
Death Cycle was at their door. Its slimy appendages bled through open cracks, puddling on the welcome mat made of large forest leaves.
Ammonia spilled at Sammi’s feet. Its putrid smell burned her nostrils and throat, forcing tears to her eyes. The mud floored hut scorched beneath her soles as her terror-stricken heart thumped like a hummingbird’s wings against a frail ribcage.
Then, Death’s tendrils spread toward little Nick, moving in as if time stood still, weaving through the air like a vine.
Sammi’s chest caught ablaze but not from the fire of death. “No!”
She pushed her mother’s panicked hands away and put herself between Death and little Nick.
“Take me,” she said with a determined tremor.
Only sacrifice will do, thought Death with a smile. Satisfied with this catch, it receded, slipping back through the cracks of the door leaving behind two natives and the faint smell of ammonia.
The next night, as the final wisps of sun fell behind the Earth, Sammi rolled onto the buff dirt path sending waves of dust clouds in her wake. Death Cycle searched for love; for in love there was always sacrifice, and she was hungry.
© Andie Ski 2019