The first thing to hit me was the stench. It rose up through the mangroves like a living thing, ripe with ammonia and pungent decay. I covered my mouth and bit down on my tongue to keep from gagging. It didn’t work.
‘I don’t suppose you’ve heard of Garkain.’ Ty peered down at the flat, saucer-shaped body that lay before us in the mud. Hollow eyes, a grinning mouth stretched between putrid yellow wings, and a whip-like tail gave the creature the appearance of an enormous bat. ‘They say it lurks in the trees, waiting for its prey in the mangroves after dark.’
I shuddered and adjusted a strap on my perspiration soaked dress. ‘It could’ve washed up,’ I said, trying my best to sound convincing.
‘Garkain always comes down to feed,’ said Ty, turning towards me with his tanned, muscular arms outstretched. ‘Haven’t you heard? It envelopes its prey and suffocates them with its stench!’
‘In your case, I believe it,’ I said, ducking to avoid Ty’s sweaty embrace.
Ty gathered himself then reached up and broke off a long, thin branch from an overhanging tree.
I raised an eyebrow. ‘What are you going to do?’
Ty grinned and brought the stick down against the body with a resounding whack. A ripple passed back and forth through the pale, decomposing flesh. ‘I think it’s still breathing.’
‘Stop it, Ty.’
Ty laughed and hit it again with greater force. This time I thought I saw a dark red protrusion, almost like a claw, emerge from one of the gill-like slits on its body.
I wiped the sweat from my eyes. ‘Stop it! I’m not kidding.’
‘What’s the matter, Mel?’ Ty snickered.
I wanted to slap him hard across the face, to replace that smirk with a glowing red mark in the shape of a hand. Instead I stormed back down the path. ‘Just leave me alone!’
I followed our footprints for several minutes before losing them in the undergrowth. The last orange streaks of the setting sun filtered through the thick mangroves.
I turned back towards the voice. Although I loathed Ty’s taunts, getting lost in the dark appealed to me even less, and he knew it.
I was almost at the clearing when the sound of ripping and tearing reached my ears. I hesitated then took a deep breath and steeled myself. ‘Ty, if you’re trying to—’
But the words caught in my throat.
Both Ty and the carcass were gone. There was nothing except for the beating of leathery wings as a dark shadow passed overhead.