The forest watched the couple collide and fall down for their final rest together. The night remained still except for the quiet dripping of blood into the understory.
The flow spent, a pygmy owl on the wing finally announced itself, “Peeppeeppeeppeeppeeppeeppeep,” and swooped low to feast on the mosquitos and gnats performing crazy loops over the warm but cooling bodies. The spell finally broke, and the night slowly resumed its traffic as tree frogs chirruped and myriad insects buzzed and babbled and called to each other, “Here!”, “Go away!”, “Here!”, “Mine!”.
A heron that had been standing rock still in the shallows of a nearby pond suddenly darted its dagger beak and speared a torpid fish, which flashed its scales as it disappeared down the gullet towards oblivion.
A keening wail pierced the glen followed by thrashing sounds in the underbrush from upslope. The insects went quiet first, then everything else in earshot as two voles, attracted by the small of cake, turned away from licking crimson-soaked butter frosting from the face of a server and reluctantly scampered back to their nearby burrow to watch and wait.
One voice was joined by others, until a dirge chorus assembled around the bodies. Bridesmaids all, garbed in emerald satin and gore, joined hands and wailed to wake the dead.
The dead stayed dead.
The bridesmaids didn’t hear the subsonic slicing of supersonic blades approaching. Only until the Blackhawk skimmed directly over the tops of the Douglas Firs, over two hundred and fifty feet above, did the bridesmaids stop screaming.
Dropping to their knees as if to pray before the dead and previously happy couple, they scrabbled for rocks and bashed in the heads of the bride and groom. They began to feast on the exposed, leaking brains.
“I’ve got multiple infrared bogeys ahead, gentlemen, at one seven two,” said the calm voice of an Operator. He hung out the side of the cabin with goggles strapped to the front of his face and looked like an armored metal and glass nearsighted insect.
“How many?” came the query over the comm.
“Looks like four…but they’re low heat, they could be freshly dead and cooling.”
“Let’s buzz ’em and see what we get. Jacket, take us in, low and fast, about fifteen meters to the north, and do a tight orbit before we set down on the lawn.”
The throttle went up and the nose went down.
“Jackson, you man the UV torch and beacon. Phillips, switch to UV.”
Insect man rotated his lenses.
“Torch is on.”
“Confirmed. Hey, anyone want some venison for breakfast? There’s a beautiful six-point buck we’ve flushed out down there…”
“I’m more of a chorizo man myself,” Larson chimed in.
“Cut the chatter boys, we have work to do.” The copter surfed above the canopy.
“Phillips, any movement yet?”
“One hundred meters and closing.”
“What is it Phillips?”
“Well, we’ve found our targets for sure, and they’re moving. Looks like they’re performing first aid.”
He paused, and they could hear the smile in his voice, “Maybe they’re giving mouth-to-mouth?”
“Jacket, set us down. Cut the editorializing Phillips. We know what they’re doing.”
Phillips leaned back into the cabin and set to work with the rest of the men for a final gear check.
“Spectre’s little behind, Chief,” Jacket said. “Should be here in five.”
“Have them take up station over the beacon.”
The UV flasher had dropped into a clutch of sword fern, very close to where a raccoon was washing its paws in the pond. Startled, it darted behind a moss-covered nurse log and pressed close until the helicopter moved away.
Ignoring the sloppy feast near the water’s edge, the animal’s curiosity got the better of it and it nosed over to examine the shiny, lens-studded metal cylinder. Gripping it between its teeth, it began to carry it off towards its den on the far side of the pond, making a wide circle around the humans.
The bridesmaids scooped their fingers into the skulls and ate like kindergartners attacking marshmallows embedded in cherry Jell-o. Having gorged through the cerebral hemispheres, they were digging through the thalmus on the groom and scraping around the bottom of the brain pan for the pons and medulla in the bride.
They sensed that the helicopter was coming for them and their actions hastened.
Brains devoured, they tugged on spinal cords, and leaned in close to bite off what they could with their bleached white teeth, scraping their foreheads on arcing jagged bone. Craniums cleared, they groomed flecks and membranes off of each other’s dresses and exposed skin in an final orgiastic dessert.
Toileted, they rose, joined hands, and moaned and swayed for a few seconds. The forest creatures went quiet again.
Ending, they unlinked, and each melted off into the forest upslope to wait for the next meal. Alone.
“Chief, the GPS on the beacon is moving.”
“Shit. OK. Phillips, Larson, switch to IR, everyone else stay on UV.”
“Phillips, pitch an IR and UV flare down that slope. I can see the lake, but there’s a lot of trees and brush between us and it.”
“Jackson, take point.”
Jackson darted from tree to tree, sweeping left to right and back again with his weapon and his goggles. He slowly worked his way down the slope until he could see the shoreline clearly.
“Chief, we’ve got two dead bodies down here and no bogeys.”
“OK everyone, stay tight.”
Jackson slid down to an old rotting giant that was taller than him even on its side. This Western Red Cedar had sprouted about the same time as the Black Death was spreading west and toppled over during a spring windstorm on April 15, 1865. In the intervening years, it had shed its outer bark and was home to a thriving colony of fir, huckleberry, fungus and insects, all feeding off hundreds of years of stored nutrients in the colossal remnant.
“I’m going to head up the hill and take a look around.”
He clambered up to the top and looked around.
“Looks clear, Chie…”
A bangled, delicate hand had gripped his boot and yanked roughly. He windmilled and kicked to keep his balance, lost it, and slipped down hard onto his back, pounding the air out of his lungs and causing him to convulse and fire off a few rounds from his M4. He bounced off the ridge and fell pond side and face down onto an outcropping of granite, smashing his goggles and forcing even more air out of his lungs.
Before he could catch his breath and triage his pain, a huge rock arced out the darkness towards his forehead and dazed him even further.
The bridesmaid swung the rock down in fury, smashing the soldier’s hand against his gun, crushing most of the bones. He was struggling even harder now to draw a breath and she brought the rock up again and smashed his other wrist, snapping it. He would have howled in pain if there was air in his windpipe, but there wasn’t, so he sounded like he was having the asthmatic attack of a lifetime.
She picked up a shard of optics near the rocks and held the glittering point out before her as if to acknowledge its role. She jumped on top of the flopping soldier and felt a thrill as his buttocks heaved below her.
Reaching behind with his broken hand and wrist, he tried batting her off to no avail. He couldn’t see her, had no way to grab her, was low on oxygen, and being face down, he had no way to kick her off.
All he could do was try to wiggle away.
She reached around and slit his throat and then leaned down and over and began lapping at the warm fluid spurting out of his neck. His final throes made her shudder pleasantly as she gripped his helmet.
Fumbling for the buckle, she finally found it and removed the helmet.
Grasping the back of his head, she started biting off chunks of flesh from his neck and swallowing them whole without chewing.
Chipping her tooth on C2 didn’t stop her, but made her frantic, and she hefted the granite again and smashed her way into the spinal column in order to suck the fluid out. It reminded her of brains.
She paused, smiled, and then murmured, “God I love a man in uniform.”