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by Baggage

The Nimblestrel

A clear winter sky enclosed the surrounding countryside; just the right shade of indigo to venture out into. The Nimblestrel stretched out its bat-like wings and flew up and out of it’s cave, leaving the barren quarry behind it.
It soared the short distance across the dark night and landed deftly on the slope of the new cemetery. The hairs on its feet gripped the newly formed ice like a flies feet might do to a wall. The Nimblestrel stood upright and sniffed the air, walking slowly up the side of the hill, to examine the scents of the air for any trace of food. As always, the most enticing smells came from the village.
Nobody came to the new cemetery much, so the only trace of anything vaguely organic came from the rats that lived in the dike at the bottom of the field and the decaying flowers wilting against their pots. Some graves didn’t have that luxury, even though their inhabitants were recently dead. Only a bare patch of earth and an empty vase told of their demise.
But underground in the caves, the organic flourished. Fortune had smiled on The Nimblestrel occasionally when the earth had been disturbed by other burials. The ceilings’ of its smaller burrows would sometimes collapse and a relatively fresh corpse might land in its lap, but usually it was nothing but rotting wood and bare bones.
These past occurrences were only a lucky fluke. It delighted in the odd treat, but it lived for the hunt, from its initial rising to its retiring at dawn.
After meandering through the graves the Nimblestrel came to a good spot and stood with its wings as open as possible, the icy wind blustering against its leathery torso. It wasn’t sensible to fly around the village, the human kind would certainly notice a man sized bat. Instead, it gave its wings a moment to air and collected its thoughts, looking behind it at the village shrouded in amber and then out across the fields at the neighbouring towns, their flickering golden lights winking at it through the darkness. Anything that sparkled was fair game and if it were possible it would have taken the lights out of the sky and added them to its collection. It felt the plastic carrier bag tap against its muscular leg, the contents making clanking, tinkling noises with the motion of the wind.
Each time the Nimblestrel looked out at this scene it reminded it of when there were no lights. When it had followed its mother, through miles and miles of tunnels, burrowing feverishly with its clawed hands to keep up with her. That was over a hundred years ago. Back then it had no horns, no wings and its middle eye was all the vision it used to detect warm blooded prey, their forms depicted in deep red. It could sense the subtlest of movements in the soil with the wiry black hairs that covered the skin on its back, snapping up worms and bugs to sustain it as it followed the hulk of its mother’s body.
The night of its arrival it had stood in the very spot it stood in now, after the exhausting climb up the quarry side, when the cemetery was just a mound of earth. Its sense of smell was awakened tenfold by the arresting scents of non-subterranean life. It had opened the eyes it used now and beheld the beauty of the night, leaving its middle eye redundant. It was just in time to see the other that had given birth to it, take to the sky, gone forever.
It saddened it now to think of the loneliness and loss it had felt that night, standing alone on the mound, left to its own devices. At first only a deep, mournful howl was all its body could produce, clawing at the grass looking up into the vast sky, but better times were ahead.

It quickly learnt that cattle dung was nutritious and that with cattle came people. As its legs grew stronger it would make the journey to the little farm buildings across the way and feast on rotting vegetables, dead livestock and catch rats when it could. At first any close contact with people frightened it. There were quarry men with picks, that hacked away at the quarry wall and threatened to reveal its den. However, they never came close enough to the burrows within the caves and the Nimblestrel learnt that it could always make a different burrow. It was free.
More men came to the quarry and within no time at all the houses of the village began to spring up. With a denser population came more waste, waste it never failed to take advantage of. It also learnt from a few mistaken close encounters, that the human kind didn’t wish to see it, that they would close their eyes to its existence. Still caution prevailed.
Soon the quarry returned to its former tranquility; the quarry workers moved out and shop owners moved into the village, along with their prospective customers. In fact their homes were much grander and so was their refuse.
As the village prospered the Nimblestrel began to notice further changes. No longer did the dung of horses’ soil the streets. Horses were confined to the fields, their carts left to rot in ditches and replaced by honking, spluttering machines that grew sleeker and quieter through the decades. There were even enormous versions; great, blundering metal tubes on wheels encased from the elements, small pale faces staring at the streets through rectangular transparent screens. These vehicles carried an indescribable lure for it and seemingly for other members of the village. Soon nearly every family had a small version; even teenage boys managed to procure lesser specimens, the noisier and smokier the better. For a while the car replaced clothing because at this point these youngsters could buy clothes in any kind of cloth. The males grew bored with the variety, preferring to wear very similar uniforms. The females however, opted to dress with more variety, which appealed to the Nimblestrel. It even went so far as to wear a small flowery skirt it found in one of the skips outside a more opulent home, in an attempt to capture some of their beauty.
Although it loved the vehicles the boys played with, it never wished to drive a car. That wasn’t what attracted it. It was the shiny painted surfaces, the powerful smells and most of all the oil and petrol. Cars were often dumped near the cave in the quarry and if they escaped being burnt out, he would investigate further. Oil leaks left pretty iridescent patterns on the quarry floor, staining the sand black, green and purple and it often could not tear itself away from the beauty of these puddles. It soon found that its stomach could tolerate the substance and even became so bold that it would visit closed petrol stations in the dead of night to drink the droplets that were left in the pumps.
Beyond all these trappings there was one innovation that made the Nimblestrel feel masterful, strong and possessive, and that was lighting. When looking across the hills at streetlights or when haunting the streets amongst them, it felt it was no longer alone, that the village was at its feet. Anyone could see the Nimblestrel now if they cared to look hard enough, but many didn’t wish to. Only the homeless, the inebriated and the drug addled held glimpses of what stalked the fields and increasingly the shopping centres, parks and gutters of their village.
This had been worrisome at first, but it learnt that nothing ever happened after a sighting. The human kind continued riding up and down the roads, going to public houses, hoarding food and watching the magical glowing pictures change on the screen of the box in their front rooms. Most preferred to be inside at night and often closed their curtains on the dark.
The concept came slowly, but soon the Nimblestrel possessed the knowledge that the higher echelons of this small society actively feared the dark and coveted the light, whether candle or electric orb, locking it away in their walled gardens and brick houses. Originally the Nimblestrel believed that this light must be better than that from street lamps or shop windows, that it had some special powers. It realized eventually that the power it brought was to keep possessions safe from others, when it witnessed a burglar climbing out of a bedroom window. The house was dark when the man descended with an armful of goods; the light therefore, somehow protected the humankind from danger and kept their treasures safe. After a few failed attempts at steeling bulbs and finding they dulled when disconnected, the Nimblestrel contented itself with owning the lesser light on mass and often blotted out street lamps with a brick as a show of power.
Now as it waited on the cusp of nightfall it pleased it to think of the foolish humankind doing its very bidding. They left the streets at night, so it could take what it wished. The humankind were scared of their own waste, as its use became outdated and threatened to delay them in their frantic race. It observed all as a beekeeper observes his hive, taking the honey as needed, the queen oblivious to the alien hand that steals her riches. It was its choice not to eliminate the individuals that crossed its path and no measure of its growing power and skill that had gone unchecked for over a century.
Suddenly the headlights of a car driving up the lane to the village, swept across the hillside, shocking the Nimblestrel out of its reverie. Instinctively it crouched down and enveloped itself in its wings to avoid discovery, giving it the appearance of a large headstone to the casual observer. As it waited for the illumination to pass, it noted that one of the hypodermic needles in its necklace was gone; the central and most important one. It ran a rough finger tip over its collar bone, dislodging the other needles that had become embedded in the tough skin. It decided finding a new needle was of the utmost importance, since finding food was easy and it knew just where to look for a replacement.

The black iron gates at the back of the old church yard were shackled as usual, but this posed no barrier to its powerful thighs. It made the five foot height in one jump. The old church yard was only a short walk from the new cemetery and was therefore the most obvious place to look. By the glow of the security lights it saw a young man lying prostrate across a large flat tombstone, his grey complexion glimmering, the needle still hanging from his arm. It had found what it was looking for almost immediately.
The man was very close to the side of the church, but the boxy front tower hid his position from view of any belated churchgoers, so too that of the Nimblestrel. Faint voices came from within the church; one man making a speech and a small group replying in unison after a short pause. The gatherings were few and far between, and their numbers had rapidly diminished over the years, making the graveyard a perfect place to remain undiscovered during the night. Usually the coloured windows combined with the haunting voices raised in song, captivated the Nimblestrel, but tonight they held no thrall over it. St. Christopher in all his Technicolour, stain glassed glory, was gazing out at an audience that was blind to him. Instead the Nimblestrel focused on an attainable prize.
It slowly circled the man on the tombstone, checking to see if he had woken, but he did not stir from his torpor on the grave. As it stopped at his feet it spread a pall of shadow over him, blocking out the glare of the security light. It tilted its head considering how long he had been like this; if it had just happened it might have time to get what it wanted. If he'd been knocked out for a while he might be coming round. For a moment the Nimblestrel considered breaking the man's neck, just to be sure, but then it remembered that when it’d been spotted by a tramp on the roof of the supermarket and the tramp began to rant and rave, everyone passing by ignored his comments and there was no trouble. This man would be ignored by the masses. There was no need to kill him.
The Nimblestrel bent low exchanging acrid breath with the man’s, its face inches from his. It watched his chest rise and fall in a paint stained T-shirt and then returned its gaze to his eyelids. There wasn’t a flicker.
Slowly it reached for the needle, gently extracting it from the man's battered and bruised arm and then withdrew to the shadows below the security light. Holding it up so it could see the brown and red coating within, it turned the needle deftly between its over-sized finger tips, careful not to squeeze the glass of the tiny cylinder too tightly, wishing the needle was larger so it would produce a greater spectacle.
The man remained immobile on his concrete bed, so the Nimblestrel took a split elastic band from its bag of treasure and began twisting it around the plunger of the hypodermic, making little knots and then finally attaching it to the necklace.
Bored now that it had made its conquest, it felt emboldened enough to walk round to the entrance of the boxy front tower, but still stood to the side of the great wooden front doors and away from the light. Beyond the faint, reedy voices that came from within the church, it could hear the constant stream of traffic, tires hissing through surface water and the low rumble of engines as they progressed ever forward. The smell of greasy food wafted up from the street. The aroma of people near and far overwhelmed its olfactory senses, drifting through the iron railings that ran all around the church, so it couldn’t tell exactly where the scents were coming from. A large rat stirred under the enormous fir tree that stood not five feet away from him, the tree’s lower branches bereft of bulbs due to relentless theft. The rat nibbled on an old bag of chips left discarded at the foot of the tree.
The Nimblestrel felt the emptiness in its stomach spread up to its ribs, watching the rat keenly as it gorged itself on chips. The Nimblestrel remained perfectly still and then, one large pounce saw it descend upon the rat in a perfectly fluid motion. The rat struggled and screeched in the Nimblesrel’s clutches, feeling the squeeze of its powerful fingers, until finally the two clawed hands met and twisted. The rodent was no more, its head lolling out of the Nimblestrel’s grasp.
The Nimblestrel bit off the head and spread the inky fluid over the chips, leaping up to the porch with it’s meal to get out of immediate sight. From here it could see a small group of girls, almost naked against the elements, laughing and giggling as their heels clicked against the pavement walking up the hill.
The meal was so soft it simply tipped the contents of the greasy paper down its throat and let the litter fall to the ground.
It wanted to get higher up to get a better view of the village, so it scaled the roof and then began to climb the side of the great tower. As it clawed at the slimy, blackened brickwork it tried not to think about the gargoyles. When it neared the large, moon face of the clock it saw them crouched just beneath the turrets of the church tower. To the Nimblestrel, these were the shriveled bodies of its ancestors, shrunken with age and starvation and eventually turned to stone by the human kind. It had never seen this occur, but assumed this was the case because there were no other Nimblestrel in this area. At times it felt like the victor; the one that grew strong and triumphed over the land. However, its lone status made it yearn for company, a mate, Nimblestrel young.
When these feelings entered its head that night, it struck at the pronounced beak of one of his breathren, so the sandstone cracked and the beak broke off and fell, landing with a thump in the bushes below. More satisfied, it climbed over the turrets, the bedraggled and slimy remains of the rat still clenched in its fist.
Tonight had to be special to make up for this loss. It wanted a trinket that would be the envy of the human kind, something pure and beautiful. No needle or light bulb, something that if faced with a rival, it could show with pride. It considered one of the fresh bodies from the grave yard, but they weren’t sparkly and pleasant to look at and a human could have easily dug one up. No, it had to be a trinket, but an almost unattainable one.
It looked out over the surrounding houses. It was the right time of year for a search. Nearly every house had candles in the windows, lit up figures on the roof and lights in the garden. The gargoyles had dampened its spirits though, reminded it of its loneliness. If it was to go to another town and find a mate there might be other fierce competitors, maybe stronger than it.
At this mental suggestion, it snorted through the slimy holes on its muzzle. No human within a hundred miles could tackle it and none had tried. But then it reminded its self that it would be a Nimblestrel it had to fight, not a human.
The trinket seemed even more pressing than ever, so it lept from the tower to the branches of a neighbouring tree and set off on its quest.

The most obvious place to search was the nearest council estate. The people there were much more exciting and colourful than the people in the richer houses and so was their clothing and jewelry. Often he would find gold coloured loops the women wore in their ears or a single shiny high heel in the gutter.
After traversing rooftops crowded with Christmas lights and figures the Nimblestrel came to a halt. It was time to turn back; the search had been fruitless. Everything it liked it had seen before.
Then suddenly it noticed something. An object glistened in one of the automatic lights that came on when it moved past a house. It was a beaded necklace, pearls of green with a large, green stone set in black plastic. Although the whole thing was plastic it had to have it. It was more than plastic; it was the trinket it had been looking for.

There was no fire in the hearth, but the central heating had just kicked in with a loud thump.
Karen's father and her Grandpa suddenly stopped talking about cars and grimly sat waiting for further inspiration. Karen watched as Granddad filled his pipe. She turned to her Mother and her Aunt Theresa, who had also stopped their babbling chatter and were waiting for Grandma to tell them why Grandma’s sister, Great Aunt Bea, was a “good-for-nothing hypocrite with a turnip head”. However, Grandma did not explain. She was away with her thoughts again, staring down at the swirling pattern of the carpet, an ever-present cigarette clutched between her gnarled, old fingers. Karen's cousin Susan, was dozing against her Aunt Theresa's shoulder. Karen envied her cousin’s comfortable position and rested her chin on her scabbed knees. Through a thick mist of second-hand smoke she willed the larger hand of the clock on the mantel piece closer to the hour.
When there were too many adults at Grandma and Grandpa's house, only Susan was allowed to sit on the sofa, even though she and Karen were cousins of the same age. It was a tight fit though, and the sagging floral sofa could only just take the weight of four occupants.
Instead, Karen had found a different safe place, through months of trial and error. If she sat at her father's feet she would be far away enough from the window, to avoid the gaze of the dead little boy she suspected was spying on her outside. If he tried to reach through the glass and grab her, there was Grandma, Mum, Auntie Theresa and Susan on her right side blocking his path. This could have left her vulnerable to the ghost lady who she thought might watch her from the mirror on the hall stand, but she was protected by one of Dad's legs, Grandad and the sitting room door. Ghosts were known to walk through anything really, but as long as there was Grandad between her and the ghost lady, she was sure the lady would trap him in the mirror instead of her, rather than go to the trouble of walking through him to reach a mere girl. Karen wasn't completely satisfied with this plan, but it was the best she could do in the circumstances. Whenever she showed fear, she was always met with disapproval and anger from her family and if either presence was acknowledged with explanation, she was sure she would meet her demise. So, she had to remain silent about her tormentors in her safe place.
There was just one problem though. She needed to go to the toilet.
Not only was the ghost lady of the hall stand barring her way to the stairs in the hallway, but the entire upper floor of Grandma’s house posed a threat to her. It was filled with malicious intent. Inanimate objects like doorknobs and the banisters, doorways and windows watched her every move, judged her and threatened her, but even in her own home going to the toilet was difficult. Something was always watching and waiting for her to let down her guard. She could not be alone. Nowhere was safe.
She wasn't quite sure what it was that lurked on every landing, of every house she ever visited, but what she was sure of was that, if she did not have company, if she was put in a vulnerable position, a terrible thing could happen.
She had never chosen to test her hypothesis, but once the experiment was forced upon her. After being berated by the family, her mother refused to stand outside Grandma's bathroom door and wait for Karen while she went to the toilet. At first, Karen was fine alone, but then she pulled the toilet chain. The noise filled the room.
It was the perfect opportunity for her assailant to get her. The sound of the cascading water, the bang of the chain and the hiss of the systone refilling, would mask any whimper or scream she made. In response to the noise she'd pulled up her panties and trousers in such a rush they were all twisted and wet. When she went to wash her hands, she saw from the corner of her eye that something flitted past the back of her head in her reflection in the mirror. That was enough to send her bursting out of the bathroom door and onto the landing. Terrified, she didn't look where she was going and fell down the first flight of stairs. Luckily, she fell onto her backside and skidded down the stairs feet first. All she sustained were carpet burns. She did not, however, wish to repeat the experience.
So when faced with the challenge once more, she waited patiently and crossed her legs, hoping the cigarette Dad was smoking would be his last and that they would soon head home.
Sure enough, Dad did not let her down.
"Right, I think that's me done" he said, stubbing out the butt "Are you ready Moll?"
Karen's mum nodded and they both got to their feet.
Karen followed, but tried to stay behind their legs, so she didn't have to enter the hallway alone to get her coat and shoes. As her father edged towards the sitting room door, keen to get away, something clattered down the chimney and landed in the ashes in the grate. Karen saw a green glittering object in the hearth. It was the necklace she’d left outside in the garden.
“What the hell was that?” Grandma asked, quickly rising from her sunken chair, but she wasn’t quick enough.
Karen had beaten her to it and retrieved the necklace from the ashes.
“A a get out of the hearth” shouted Grandma “Its hot!”
It wasn’t, but Karen quickly obeyed and drew back.
Earlier that day Grandma had given Karen and Susan some of her old beads to play with. The necklace she gave Karen was green and clumpy. The necklace she gave Susan was delicate and sparkly. Karen had left her necklace outside earlier because Susan always got the better toy. Now it had returned to her of its own accord.
“What is it?” Grandma asked again, trying to wrestle it from Karen’s hands.
“She just threw it in the grate!” Aunt Theresa shouted, when she saw what the necklace was “Oh Karen, you can be so ungrateful sometimes. Grandma gave you that especially”.
“I didn’t” Karen said, quickly, when Grandma handed her back the necklace, Karen’s eyes wide and pleading.
“I don’t know why I bother” Grandma said, sagging back down into her chair.
“I didn’t throw it in the grate” Karen said, tears springing to her eyes, but Grandma wasn’t listening.
“Aye, hang on Vi, if she said she didn’t...” Dad said, trying to defend his daughter. He glared briefly at Aunt Teresa, but she paid no attention.
“Every time something happens, you always...” her father began to say to everyone in the room, but he was interrupted by a thud. There was a scraping noise too that seemed to be coming from the chimney.
“Is it Father Christmas, Mum?” Karen asked, and at the mention of his name Karen’s cousin Susan woke from her doze.
“Err... no love” her mother answered, patting her on the head.
“Get up off your arse Jud” Dad said quickky to her Grandpa, signalling for the two of them to take a look outside.
Grandpa struggled to his feet and Karen’s father almost pushed him out of the room. Theresa and her mother watched them go, but Susan and Grandma looked disinterested.
“You do know its naughty to lie?” Aunt Theresa said, returning her attention to Karen and pointing her finger at her.
Karen didn’t answer. Neither did her mother.
“Mum, I need the toilet” Karen said, quickly.
Her mother looked at Aunt Theresa, Susan and Grandma.
“Well go on then” she finally answered, leading her towards the door.
“But, I daren’t”.
If Karen didn’t go to the toilet soon she would lose control of her bladder.
“You know there’s no such thing as ghosts...” her mother began, bending down to her level.
“There’s more to fear from the living than the dead” Grandma said, staring at the floor again.
“Please Mum” Karen begged.

The Nimblestrel lay flat against the roof of the outhouse next door, seething with rage. It never made mistakes, but that night it had lost its treasure forever to a bunch of idiot humans.
It had swooped down, grabbed the necklace and returned to the roof as it would have always done. It stood against the chimney stack admiring the colour of the beads when it heard some youths coming along the road. It jumped and lost it's grip on the plastic bag.
Fragments of coloured glass from old light bulbs, aluminium cans, odd earrings and all the things it had recently collected clattered across the slates and rolled down the roof slates into the garden below. It reached out to catch some of its lost booty and the necklace slipped through its fingers down a hole where the chimney pot should have been.
There were voices down the chimney and it fled to the neighbour's outhouse roof. A light went on in an upstairs room, it heard voices again, a toilet flush and then two of the big, male humans had come out of the house looking up at the roof.
The humans went back inside, but it dare not move for fear of an ambush.
The Nimblestrel hissed at the sound of the pet rabbit beating its back foot in it's hutch, clawed at the felt roof of the outhouse, but still it didn't move.
After a long time, more of the human kind came to stand at the back door, no doubt gloating over their success at defeating such a powerful entity.
They weren’t looking anywhere near the roof, just holding one another, patting arms and pecking at each other with their small  mouths; on the cheeks, on the lips and on the forehead. A bedroom window was wide open on the second floor, with enough room for the Nimblestrel’s enormous frame to squeeze through, if it chose to. As it started to plan its entry into the house to retrieve it's treasure the Nimblestrel paused. It noticed one of the smaller humans clutching something in her pocket. When the adults weren’t looking, she pulled a small chain of green beads out of her coat pocket, admired them and then smiling to herself, returned them to their hiding place.
The big humans chatted and ignored their offspring; she stood to one side and waited.
Ah so even small humans stole things! The Nimblestrel was shocked, but pleased it wouldn’t have to break into the house after all. It should have been easy enough to wrestle the beads from such a small human, but timing would be everything. It would have to wait until she was alone and without the protection of the very large human man. It would have to be dark, so there wouldn’t be anyone else to raise the alarm to. Three of the humankind moved off and got into their automobile, including the small one with the treasure, while the other’s waved at them through the glass. The engine started and the car pulled away and even before the other human kindred had returned to their home the Nimblestrel began leaping from roof to roof in pursuit of the small blue car.

Father Christmas had to be real. He’d given Karen her necklace back and then, Mum had taken her to the toilet. She sat smiling to herself, feeling the smooth texture of the beads in her pocket.
“Did you see him?” she asked, finally, but Dad wasn’t listening.
“Who love?” her Dad asked some time later, peering at her through the rear view mirror.
“Father Christmas” she said.
“No, I didn’t” he grumbled.
“Well, he is magic” Karen answered from the back seat, still smiling, pleased she had been chosen for a visit from the great men himself.
“There’s no such...” her Father began, but quickly stopped when her mother reached across the gear stick and tapped him on the leg.
Just then a tattered, old man in a dirty raincoat stepped off the pavement into the road. Her father swerved to avoid him and then put the brakes on just outside the park. He quickly wound down the window.
“Dennis lad, watch where you’re going” Dad shouted.
Karen saw the strange man stagger towards the car through the back window. He raised his right arm to wave and then lent against the stone wall to his left for support. He then started looking up towards the trees. She was worried that Dennis was hurt.
“He really needs to lay off the sauce” her mother said quietly.
Karen knew what “sauce” was; she’d smelt it. She longer felt sorry for Dennis.
As they drove away she noticed some teenage boys walking toward Dennis with a determined look in their eyes.

It had been really quite easy to follow the little blue car travelling through the estate, because the rooves were so close together. However, when the estate ended and the car drove past the park, the Nimblestrel found it had to enter the trees and then when it did, it got stranded in a large oak tree at the front gates to the park. Teenagers sat drinking from cans on the crumbling sandstone wall, blocking the monster's departure. If it made the leap to the tree across the road they would definitely see it go. It still had the scent of the little girl, so it could wait until they weren’t looking, but it was infuriated all the same.
It watched as the teenagers threw empty cans at a homeless old man, shouting and goading him, when he began to rant and rave about the Nimblestrel. The Nimblestrel had seen him before. After a while the teenagers seemed to lose interest and the man staggered away.
The humankind were everywhere in the centre of the village and the Nimblestrel was now alarmed by the power they had over it’s actions. Such insignificant beings seemed to rule by numbers against it, threatening to raise the alarm. And what would happen if they did so? How could even a gang of human kindred harm it? Fire?
The truth was it didn’t know, but it was scared and detested feeling such things. It had gotten used to doing as it pleased, relatively unimpeded and now there was a slight obstacle it wanted to rip the branches from the trees, crush the sculls of the nearby teenagers and roar with all its might.
It didn’t.
Instead it waited for what seemed like an eternity, until a boy and a girl left the main group and walked over to a distant tree and it followed them in the tree tops. If they would use numbers against it, it could use pure brute strength.
It watched the boy and girl coil their arms around each other from the branches of an enormous Ash. Tiny beads of sweat trickled down its back between the fine hairs there, so it felt cold, exhilarating tingles up and down its spine. The more unbridled the couple’s passions became the more giddy the Nimblestrel felt. The absolute power it could wield made its great heart beat faster and faster, sweat loosening it’s vice grip on the bark of the tree.
Finally, the time to pounce came.
The boy stayed to urinate and the girl began to amble back towards the group, pleased with her conquest. As the boy unzipped his trousers again, the Nimblestrel swung down and grabbed him by the hair on his head, sweeping him off his feet. The Nimblestrel gave him the chance to let out a piercing scream. It waited for the girl to turn, look and let out a scream herself. At that moment it snapped the brittle bones of the boy’s neck, almost as easily as it had broken the rat at the church, and let the body fall and crumple at the roots of the tree. The boy’s dead eyes were turned upwards into his scull, his face a mask of horror.
As the Nimblestrel had expected the girl alerted her friends, who came running over to the scene of its crime, enabling it to make a swift exit. After stumbling through the tree tops it made one large leap across the road onto the roof of another house, shielded from view by the tops of conifer trees in the front garden. As it looked back it noticed there was one teenager remaining, the cigarette he was smoking dangling from his lip as he stared up into the sky, stupefied. Convinced of its ultimate power and past experience of being ignored, the Nimblestrel pushed onwards towards its final destination.

The house wasn’t as far away as it had expected. It was very similar to the one the humankind had departed from. Another estate. However, there was no chance to make an ambush, because its quarry had already fled to safety inside.
The garden was very accommodating though; high grass and two empty dog kennels. It could smell and hear running water, voices coming from an open window on the first floor with frosted glass. It looked across at the dark, larger window to the right of it, also on the first floor. If someone would only open the large window, it thought to its self, it might be able to fit through. The Nimblestrel considered breaking it with one of the bricks that littered the back garden, but that would make a noise and was probably unnecessary. It could wait there all night, if it had to, and there was always the next night.
It watched as the light in the frosted window went out and the light in the larger window went on. A hand reached out into the night and opened the larger window slightly, before swiftly retreating into the light.
The Nimblestrel was growing more and more impatient for its treasure; first crouching in the long grass of the garden and then climbing up the house wall and squatting on the roof. The sound of shallow, rhythmic breathing coming from the open window, told it the human inside was probably asleep.
It watched as a cat slunk along the high fence, precariously balanced on its narrow platform and then looking up to the roof, it hissed at the Nimblestrel and jumped down. The back garden of the house had nothing inviting to collect, just old tools left to rust, bits of fishing tackle and a dog collar discarded at the back door. Chatter and the smells of food from the surrounding homes invaded the Nimblestrel’s senses, making it nervous of the obvious human presence. It was still too early for them to retire with their lights to their safe havens.

Finally, the Nimblestrel could wait no longer and the risk was probably greater sitting where it could be spotted on the roof, so it swung down from the shaky guttering and riddled through the open window, careful to fold its wings in tightly.
Its feet immediately soiled the soft cream carpet with leaf mould and dirt. A strong scent of menthol filled its nostrils and made its eyes water. It located the small, blue pot from which the scent emanated, on the dressing table.
The small human was fast asleep, curled up tightly in its bedding, a thumb wedged firmly in its mouth. The Nimblestrel’s heart skipped as it realized it would be undisturbed. And what a place to be left to your own devices!
Everywhere there seemed to be lace and frills, trinkets and sweet smells, apart from the menthol. It edged towards the dressing table, picked up the blue pot and peered inside at the iridescent slime. A searing pain shot through its temples right to its horns, as it inhaled the pungent  balm. The Nimblestrel found the lid to the pot and screwed it down against the evil smell inside.
Its treasure was in a small, shiny box, also on the dressing table, filled with other such trinkets, overflowing in fact. Deftly, it separated the beads from another necklace and wrapped the treasure around its wrist, dropping the spare necklace into its waiting carrier bag, delighting in the soft clink it made against the remainder of its hoard.
Another, better bag, a sturdier version, hung on the back of the chair at the dressing table. It was shiny and red, with a small gold clasp, much better than the carrier bag the Nimblestrel owned. Without thinking the Nimblestrel greedily snatched it up and emptied the contents of the carrier into it, along with some other bits and pieces. A creature as powerful as it shouldn’t have to slave away every night trying to find such beautiful things. The young of the human kind simply got what they wanted without even trying.
Suddenly it heard a noise, almost imperceptible. A sharp intake of breath.
It turned around very slowly, hunched against the new threat.
The small human was sat up in bed, eyes wide, mouth open.
The Nimblestrel hissed and spread out its wings, crouching ready to pounce. The human seemed resigned to her fate. The utter terror in the little girl’s expression slowly turned to regret and knowledge, as she found herself locked in the Nimblestrel’s gaze. She trembled in her bedding, yet she seemed to have expected the discovered invading entity. A noise from downstairs, the whistle of a kettle.
The human didn’t seem to notice the noise or care about out-numbering her predator. She had lost all reason. What did that look mean?
It confused the Nimblestrel. The human looked to the Nimblestrel’s wrist where the beads dangled. She sighed and something unlike anything it had known, left her body.
Was it worth a fight? Destroying this human cub was no challenge to the Nimblestrel and discovery by the others would be inevitable.
The Nimblestrel let its ragged tongue wet, what would be its lips. Should it take the human with it, back to the den?
The human no longer seemed to fear it, her eyes deadened, like the rat it’d killed by the church. They were hollow and rotten. They weren worse than that. The Nimblestrel could eat something rotten. This small human was empty of anything. It contained nothing nutritious. It was almost diseased.
With a swift pounce the Nimblestrel was up on the window ledge, almost out. It squeezed through the window frame and flew to the roof of a nearby house, close enough so it could hear what would happen inside the house. It would know how safe it was to do this again.
The small human wailed and eventually another voice came, a soothing voice. The other human spoke softly until the wailing stopped. Then after a while the quiet, rhythmic breathing came again.
The Nimblestrel waited longer than he had to, pleased with his treasure, but more fascinated by what had just happened. HE didn’t have to fear a thing, as long as he picked the right human young. When they were alone, HE could get whatever treasure he wanted, there would be no hue and cry.
HIS power had increased tenfold in just one night, proof of HIS indestructibility. The light of the whole village could no longer stop him. There was no need for other Nimblestrel company. They would only get in the way. All the small humans needed to know was that HE was there and HE was watching. HE wouldn’t have to stay after their essence left them and then they would become harmless adults.
It was time to step into the LIGHT.

© Baggage 2011


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