A crisp evening breeze swirled dry leaves around the feet of the three teenagers. The makeshift table wobbled. They steadied the stolen wooden sign atop the waist-high tree trunk as the older boy placed their silent victim atop it. Overhead, the thin grey clouds parted to reveal a gibbous harvest moon.
The blade of the butcher knife, gripped firmly in the girl's left hand, glinted in the silvery moonlight. She applied light pressure, dimpling the sacrifice's flesh.
'C'mon!' implored the younger boy, as he glanced nervously about. The girl tossed her head contemptuously. Her accurate imitation of a chicken's cluck made the boy's acne-scarred face darken with anger. The girl's sable shoulder-hair shrouded her face in darkness as she bent over the tree trunk and shifted her grip. The knife flashed as the tip pierced skin and then sliced deeply into moist, red flesh. Sticky red liquid squirted out over the blade. She raised it to her lips and delicately licked some away. 'How sweet it is!' she chuckled with satisfaction. She carved off a moist chunk for each of the boys, and another for herself.
They feasted, oblivious to the near-silent footfalls approaching in the darkness until a soft sigh made them start guiltily. They spun, wiping the incriminating stains from their mouths and hands as best they could, to look at the small man dressed in canvas pants and a faded flannel shirt. His worn International Harvester cap threw his time-creased face into shadow. 'What you do, it is forbidden!' the farmer said sharply. He strode forward angrily and spun the wooden sign over, flinging the messy remnants atop it into the nearby ditch. 'Can you not read?' he demanded as he slammed the sign back onto the trunk, right-side up.
A bright crimson bar that read 'Quarantine' and contained several government logos and the biohazard symbol crossed diagonally over the sign. Beneath, some of the characters that spelled out 'Zhou's experimental farm' could be seen.
'The government has condemned my crops!' Zhou shouted angrily. 'Tomorrow they burn all! The Greens says the modifications might get into the insects. You understand genetic modifications?' he asked the teens, looking up into their faces. The boys' faces showed fear and shame, the girl only contempt. She said 'Yeah, gramps. We get it. Tomatoes that taste like strawberries and are the size of human heads … 'tain't nacheral is it?' she said, slipping into a wicked parody of the local rural accent.
Her tone stung Zhou's already-wounded pride. 'Go!' he shouted, waving his arms. 'Take what you have stolen! They will not know a few are missing when they come to burn my work to ashes. Enjoy!' Zhou turned away bitterly.
The teens glanced at each other and then walked to the bushes where they'd hidden the massive urban assault vehicle that the older boy had wheedled from his father for tonight's activities. They clambered into the king cab, the girl at the wheel even though she wasn't yet licensed to drive. She eased out of the bushes and braked hard as they came up to Zhou, jerking the vehicle to an abrupt halt. She leaned out the window. 'We've got several bushels of your fancy fruit, pops. Gonna sell them in the city. Have yourself a nice bonfire!' She threw the vehicle into gear and spun out, gravel pelting the roadside like shrapnel.
Zhou watched them go impassively. His cheek stung where a stone had struck him. He wondered how long the truck had been parked in the bushes, and whether he ought to have warned them. The insects would have been drawn to the warmth of the truck cab. He wondered how many had gotten inside.
In the truck, Korn blared from the sound system as it raced down the side road. In the back seat, the younger boy started as he felt something pinch the back of his neck. He turned to look behind him and screamed as a beetle the size of a small dog mounted the seat, pincers clacking.…
For The Blood is the Life: A Frightful Halloween Quest.