Art by Melissa Mead
Song of the Laughing Hyena
by David G. Blake
"And that will make her love me?"
The hag inhaled the acrid smoke that rolled off the roasting carcass of the pure-white lovebird. "It will bind her heart with threads of steel," she rasped. "She will do everything for you, but I must impress upon you the importance of it being her labor that prepares it. These forces from which we feed, we must not trifle with them. Do you understand?"
Kalvin ran an eager hand through his unkempt blond hair. "I do."
The hag raised her shaggy head--her eyes smoldered with the life of the sacrifice--and cackled; it was a sound somewhere between a bark and a screech. "You do not, boy. No one does. It would be an undoing of sorts, if any of you ever did."
The taut web that held Kalvin's patience ensnared snapped. "I have done everything you asked of me, witch. Give it to me!"
Hands--sinewy claws--unfurled from within the folds of her dingy fur cloak. Across her palms was the object of his need: A wooden clarinet with a reed carved out of siren bone. Kalvin seized it--it vibrated with a tangible sensation of seduction, and warmed his hand with lust--and fled the shop.
"Let it not be said," the hag whispered, "that I would dare stand in the way of true love."
The foul smoke slithered into her mouth as she spoke and granted her a glimpse of the future that awaited Kalvin. Her answering laugh twisted into a vicious snarl. The air blurred with power. Her eyes melted into beads of darkness; her bones snapped, contorted, and pushed against unyielding skin. Once the air cleared, she was no longer Hag, she was Hyena. She devoured the charred lovebird in one ravenous bite.
Kalvin searched the starlit sky until he caught that first flicker of the shadowy wings of a night swallow. He retrieved the precious clarinet from within his pouch, hands clammy with nervous sweat, and raised it to his lips. The song yearned for a voice; it pulled at him, kissed him and wet his lips with passion's hungry tongue.
He flicked his tongue over the warm reed and allowed his heart to play, as the hag had instructed. The tune broke the night's stillness with a vibrant imprint of his true feelings--wild and desperate, fueled by cold, debilitating love. The night swallow swooped lower; its wings thumped the air like the pounding of war drums. It hovered in the air before him, its red, glowing eyes riveted on the clarinet.
Beneath the thump of wings, Kalvin could hear the night swallow's heart pounding, feel the pulsing in the air with his fingertips, and then it stopped. The glowing red eyes sparked one last time. The wings stuttered to a halt, and it spun softly to the ground in absolute submission to the song.