“Honey. Honey!! Where are you? Where — Augh!”
Cairel jumped as Honey sprang up behind him, out of the darkness and grabbed him from behind. She then ran past him down the path and sprang back into the dark bushes, giggling the whole time. With a grin Cairel ran after her.
The landscape was well lit by the full moon. In years past neither Cairel nor Honey would have dared venture out-of-doors during the Night of Souls, but they were both feeling their full fifteen years’ age, and had decided that they were too old to believe in the fables and tales the adults spun by the fireside for the other children. Besides, there were other, more interesting things to do.
Cairel could not see Honey up ahead, but he could hear her excited breathing and the sound of her passage through the undergrowth. His own breath came out in half-laughs, thrilled at the chase. He always liked Honey, but now he felt a certain, special excitement around her. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but there was something about her that he somehow had never noticed until this year. Maybe it was her new height. Until this year she was always the smaller of the two. Maybe it was loneliness. His older brothers had gone off to war, and half the village children were gone, migrated to the cities with their families in search of work and food.
What Cairel wouldn’t admit to himself was that suddenly Honey wasn’t just a girl anymore, and he was no longer a young boy. He realized now that there was an attractiveness to the opposite sex, and for whatever reason, it seemed to concentrate itself in Honey. The mysteries of love were a mere rumor to him, but there were many mysteries about Honey, and Cairel knew he wanted to stay close to her, in case some were revealed.
He stopped in a small ravine, panting, holding his breath fitfully so he could listen. Where had she gone? The sound of snapping twigs brought him around, and drew his gaze up the steep, rocky, slope. There, up the hill, with the moonlight shining on her, stood Honey.
“Up here, snail!!” she yelled, jumping up and down and waving her arms. “You sure run slow!! Aren’t you going to catch me?”
“Shhh!” urged Cairel, “They’ll hear you back at the house!”
“Slow ox!” she taunted. “Mole feet!”
He dashed up the slope, and she ran ahead of him. The higher they climbed, the slower they climbed. Finally Cairel paused.
“Whew!” he exclaimed, pausing and stripping off his shirt. He mopped his brow with it, then tossed it on top of a prominent boulder. “All this running has me sweating!” Cairel started up the slope again, dodging around the boulders.
“That’s a good idea!” she called out. “I’m too hot for this,” she added, in a tone of voice that caught Cairel’s attention. He looked up just in time to see her throw her dress up over her head. He stood, stunned. She looked down at him with a mischievous grin and laughed at his shock. Cairel could do little but stare. He had seen her naked many times before, as children playing in the nearby streams, but somehow seeing her like this revealed the changes the years had made in them both. In the dim moonlight she was a vision of pale white curves, unmarked by any darkness save her flowing locks above and the beginning of a delta below. For some reason that made his breath shorter, and his blood hotter.
“That’s much better,” she taunted saucily. “Now I can run even faster!” With a hop and a skip she disappeared. Cairel followed, a different sort of energy suffusing his legs.
Cairel knew the slope reached a ridge at the top, then descended to the road. She wouldn’t risk appearing there unclothed, so she would have to go further away from the house. He cut across the slope and crested the rise higher up. He ran hard toward the path, listening to her giggles ahead. He burst out of the brush at the same moment she did. He could see that she was naked, save for her shoes and a band of cloth around her chest. She let loose a delighted shriek, and nearly stumbled while turning back. He followed, and for a moment more they ran, laughing hard. Finally he reached out and seized the cloth, and pulled her in. They went down in a tumble.
Cairel landed on top, pinning his quarry to the dirt. Honey squirmed, trying to push him off, laughing. He tickled her, squealing with glee. She writhed, shrieking, trying at first to escape, then wrapped her legs around his waist. She ran her hands across his smooth chest, her eyes wide. Cairel placed one hand on each hip, then slid them front and back, touching the forbidden cheeks, fondling the hidden treasure. He slid his hands upwards and seized the cloth around her chest. It was tight, binding the lower half of her breasts, pushing them up and making them look larger than they were. He tugged on the band, pulling it down.
“No!” she exclaimed, laughing. “Not my maiden-cloth!” She grasped the band, trying to hold it up. They struggled earnestly until Cairel succeeded in lowering it until first one, then the other nipple emerged. Suddenly her resistence faded, and the maiden-cloth fell away. Cairel tossed it aside and stared in awe at Honey, who lay there, panting, waiting. Unsure just what to do, Cairel lowered his lips to her breast.
“Just a taste of Honey,” he whispered.
“I wouldn’t do that,” a voice behind them said.
They both yelped, scrambling to their knees. Honey covered herself and cowered behind Cairel. They stared trembling at the stranger who had accosted them. He was dressed in dark cloth, with a wide-brimmed hat on his head. From its rim dangled wooden rings strung with colored beads. The couple couldn’t see much of his face, but when he smiled they could see only gums, without a single tooth in sight. The moonlight glinted off his eyes.
“Who … who are you?!” blurted Cairel, pushing back away from the man. “What do you want?!”
“I wouldn’t be … tasting those sweets here at night,” the man cautioned. “The nosuckle is likely to get you.”
“The what?” gasped Honey.
“The nosuckle. Haven’t you ever heard of the nosuckle?” He leaned forward, stepping closer, lowering his head to stare straight into their eyes.
“Many years ago there was a young couple, just like you,” he said. “They were tasting their spring buds too, just like you, only they got just a little bit further. Well, the girl, see, she was ripe, and after a while, she had a baby.”
The two started to squirm uncomfortably.
“Of course,” the man continued, “she was really too young. When the baby was born, see, her sweets were too hard, and they wouldn’t give no milk! Oh, how the baby cried and cried, but when she gave her breast for it to suck, there was nothing there.”
“Well, after a long while of listening to the baby crying she got so angry that she went out and got some butterfly weed milk and gave that to the baby to drink.”
“But … but butterfly weed .. it’s poison!!” stuttered Honey, protesting.
“Aye, that it is. She took the baby out into the woods, and wrapped it in her maiden cloth,” he pointed to the white cloth lying beside the path, “and left it to die. Which it did.”
The man took a step closer, the beads on his hat rattling. “Well, perhaps I shouldn’t say it died. Let’s just say it wasn’t a baby anymore. For, you see, a bit later that same two was out in the woods again, stirring the soup as it were. The nosuckle, for that’s what the baby had become, saw the man and woman, you see. It thought that the man was attacking its mother, for being a baby it didn’t understand such things as you do now. So it grew claws and teeth, and it tore the throat out of that young man, who was actually its own father.”
Cairel wrapped his hand uncomfortably around his neck.
“After that it saw its mother there, with her lovelies exposed, just as if to give it suckle. Well, it was forever hungry, cursed as it was, and it tried to suck. But her tits were still just as hard: about as flat as your own, if you please.”
Honey wrapped her arms around her bare chest.
“Well, it sucked and sucked, but nothing came out. So it sucked even harder, and finally sucked the life right out of her. So you see, that’s why you ought not be tasting those sweets tonight, here in the woods. For the nosuckle is still out there,” he swept his arm around at the darkness, “looking for a breast to suck. And if it saw yours, well, you wouldn’t like it.”
The man leaned forward, stepping even closer to the frightened pair.
“Now you better be getting your clothes back on and be getting back home. If you know what’s good for ya.” When they just sat there, paralyzed, he thrust his head forward with a jerk. “Go!”
Cairel and Honey jumped to their feet and ran. They ran back up the hill the way they came, holding onto each other’s hand and not looking back. They reached Honey’s dress and she snatched it up, then they passed Cairel’s shirt and he did the same. They ran until they reached the path, where they collapsed to their knees, laughing.
“Who was that?” asked Cairel finally, shrugging his shirt on.
“I … I don’t know!” Honey replied as she slipped her dress back over her head. Cairel watched her secret parts disappear from view, wondering when he would see them again. They fell into each other’s arms and laughed a longwhile. Then, holding hands, they started back toward the house. Suddenly Honey stopped, her hands flying up to clutch her breasts.
“What?” exclaimed Cairel.
“My maiden-cloth! I left it back there!”
“Get it in the morning,” urged Cairel. Suddenly the woods seemed darker than they had before. Though he wouldn’t admit it to her, he had a strong desire to be out of the dark, inside with the others.
“No, no, you don’t understand!” Honey insisted. “If I come back without it, my mother will see when I undress tonight. She’ll know I’ve been up to something!! We have to go back and get it!”
Together they turned back and ran up the path, always looking ahead for the dark form of the stranger. They reached the spot where they had met him, but he was not to be seen.
“It’s around here somewhere,” Honey said. “Look at the side of the path.”
They scouted about. Suddenly Honey spotted a clump of white in the undergrowth.
“Here it is!” She bent down to pick it up as Cairel stepped over to her side. What she lifted was not her maiden-cloth, however, but a bundle. It fell apart as she lifted it. Out rolled an infant’s toothless skull. As they stared in horror, a wooden ring strung with beads fell to the ground. It was a baby rattle. With a howl of unreasoning terror, the two turned, and ran straight home, without stopping.