Her prey was nearby. On the wind, Kelsey could smell the musky fragrance of a warm body, salty from a hard day's work. She had been following the scent through the woods, noting where the damp, rotting leaves on the path had been scattered as her prey walked this forest path. She had picked up the trail a few leagues back, never having seen her prey. But she knew what the victim looked like. It was a girl, judging from the distance between footprints where the girl had stopped by a creek, undoubtedly to dip cool water for refreshment. The prints were mid-sized, and would span at least the distance from the tip of Kelsey's fingers to the heel of her hand. Too small for an adult, and extremely shallow. The girl could weigh no more than eighty pounds. Her prey was a child. Nine years old. No, probably eleven, but skinny.
"Hold me, Papa. Just until I fall back asleep."
"Kelsey, you're trembling. Did you have another dream."
"You're mother is gone now. You must stop thinking about her."
"I have, Papa. I don't ever think about her anymore. When I am awake…"
"You must train your mind not to dream about her either. You should train your mind not to dream at all. If you open your mind to your sadness, it will only consume you."
It was now dusk. She knelt to survey her surroundings, just as the forest path emerged to spread out over a vast field. The grasses rippled in a slight breeze, looking like tiny living tentacles, shining with inky blackness in the light from a slivered moon. Kelsey could see before her where her prey had cut through the tall grass, bending the blades as she passed. The distance between footprints lengthened considerably. The girl was running now. Had she somehow sensed her pursuer? Kelsey began walking a little faster, following the girl's trail closely. Here she looked to have stumbled. There was a stutter in her gait. And again here, on the other foot. Of course! The girl was not running at all, but she was skipping! A slow smirk crept onto Kelsey's lips as she thought about her prey, completely unaware of how short her life really would be. Kelsey's pace quickened to match her own racing pulse. She could smell the girl now, stronger than before. She knew she was close.
"Sing to me Papa. Sing that song that M--…sing that song about the little blue bird."
"I am tired tonight, Kelsey. And anyway, I do not know the words."
"But Papa, I—"
"Enough. I said I was tired. I will not sing to you tonight."
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a faint movement. She stopped dead, her face twisting with the strain of seeing. The girl was but feet from her now, crouched low, snapping wild flowers at their stems and dropping them into her basket.
"Tell me a story, Papa. Tell me that story that Grandpa used to tell, about the princess and the pony. And Mama can listen too, because I know she's here, somewhere, and she hears us when we speak, and sees us in everything we do."
Kelsey was on her in an instant. The girl looked up, her eyes vivid and wild…and knowing. There wasn't time for the look of horror to completely overtake the girl's face, but it was all there, in the girl's eyes. Kelsey felt a thrill at that, and locked the image into her memory, as she pulled her dagger across the girl's throat. A trickle of crimson issued immediately, spreading down the girl's neck in a bubbling stream. The girl's body went limp seconds later, and Kelsey caught her in her arms. She stood in the waning light from the setting sun, looking down at the girl. How beautiful Kelsey thought the girl was. How innocent, she thought, just before the girl's eyes rolled back in her head…
But your Papa is dead now, Kelsey. Just like your Grandpa. Just like your Mother. One by one, they were all murdered. Just like you have murdered this girl. Just like you will murder many more. This is the path you will walk, now…and forever.