6 – Angler

Bonnie had never really understood the appeal of rusalki. She knew what they were and what they were like: monstrous creatures that existed as corrupted spirits of the water, enticing unwary travelers into the water with them before pulling them down and devouring their flesh. 

She was aware of them, aware of what they could do, aware of how being drowned was excruciatingly painful as the lungs fought for air and the brain starved of oxygen. It was a state of pain, to be drowned, a moment of utter agony as the body fought for survival in an environment it could not survive in, bloodshot and struggling, breath unobtainable, pulsing headache, blackening vision, then the release as the body became akin to weightless, muscles failing entirely to control anything. 

It was a painful death.

So she was aware of rusalki and the danger they possessed. That it would be a kindness were they to simply dig their teeth in to kill rather than force the pain of drowning. She just didn’t understand how people fell for them.

Why was the logic, upon seeing a woman bathing in a lake, to approach her? What was the assumed outcome? Bonnie was quite content in honestly stating that she would likely shoot a man that elected to approach her while she was bathing, so she wasn’t sure what would prompt such a decision from the typical rusalki victim.

Still, as far as monsters went, they were indeed dangerous, so when the job came to take care of an infestation, she set about with the usual level of caution and enthusiasm that she took most jobs. That is to say high and low, respectively.

The woman in the lake was indeed ethereally beautiful, from a general perspective. Her skin was pale and her hair was light, though the alabaster shade could be considered too pale and the light hair tinged more towards green. The flesh looked almost translucent in places, where the veins stood out in stark blue webs.

The bullet went straight through its head in a spray of blood. A beautiful face became a ruin as an eyeball flew free. If she didn’t know what she was hunting, Bonnie might have thought she murdered a young woman. But the blood was blue and the alabaster flesh sloughed from the body on its death, leaving gray rot and misshapen bones.

Bonnie frowned. She had been told of an infestation. A single rusalka was not an infestation.

She lowered her rifle, then looked across the lake from her hilly vantage. She took binoculars from her coat and scanned the area, peering out into the cold waters. Not frozen, but close enough to be chilling and deadly to anything that entered it.

There were three more women where one had stood.

Bonnie blinked. She looked again and saw there was indeed a trio of identical women beckoning towards her, cooing and mewling enticements with significant jiggling motions.

The first shot took one in the head and scattered pieces of skull. The second went down with a bullet in her eye. The third dropped soon after, shot through the heart, and none had ceased their enticements the entire time.

Bonnie grimaced, then moved to load her rifle back up during the lull. Then she noticed where three had been, there were now five. And a horse.

The horse was bewildering. It had the same white flesh. It had the same light mane. The look it gave was disturbingly smoldering. 

Bonnie had heard of kelpie, water horses that similarly people into the depths, though she did not think they enticed in the same way. 

She shot the horse for good measure, along with the ladies. They crumpled easily enough, though this time Bonnie watched the sloughing flesh, because it moved. 

The bones broke apart and reassembled. Sinew knitted together, flesh folded, roiling rolls of fat coalescing into facsimiles of bodies. There were a dozen now, cooing and mewling and jiggling, though the flesh had not been distributed evenly. Pieces of bones peeked through flesh pretending it wasn’t rotted. Green hair was caught in the teeth. The horse was there again.

Bonnie considered reporting back to the Union to inform them of a greater problem when one of the rusalki stepped onto the beach.

They couldn’t do that.

Rusalki were waterbound, monsters that could not leave the water they resided in under any circumstances. They would rot the instant their feet touched the sand, and yet this one was walking towards her, bouncing like bait on a line as it giggled and simpered through a half-whole jaw. Then the others began to giggle.

The giggling turned to laughter as the things that were not rusalki walked out onto the beach. It was still playful. High-pitched, excited, eager. One hadn’t formed its lower jaw and its tongue bounced with every laugh, flicking the air as though tasting it.

Bonnie fired. 

The pale things still walked, bouncing, jiggling, shaking with laughter even as one’s head erupted and it dropped. Their walk was unsteady but still they came as one, two, three more had hit the dirt.

Bonnie fired enough times that she had to reload. The head was what she had to hit. A shot through the breast only made one laugh louder and all the rest echoed it. There was no other way to make them drop. Even a bullet that blew off a leg did nothing as the monster continued to walk as though it had not taken a single injury.

This was beyond what she had been paid. It was beyond what most hunters were willing to be paid for. She might need an exorcist.

One started sprinting. She wasn’t sure why, but it did, and it was coming right for her. She still shot it in the head easily enough, but the rest began to sprint and she had to fire faster because she knew if one caught her, she was dead. 

One did.

She’d shot down eleven, four of which had sprinted at her all at once, when she felt arms wrap around her and a giggle in her ear. “Caught you.”

It dawned on her that she had been too focused on the beach when she felt a yank as though she was being reeled in. The thing opened its mouth, showing a hook for its tongue, and Bonnie swung her knife at the space above the monster’s head.

A shriek sounded out over the lake as the line was cut free, one of frustration and pain as Bonnie fell to the ground, a rotting corpse on top of her. She shoved it off.

She pushed herself up, looking out towards the lake as the string vanished beneath the water. The horse was still there, staring at her with a rictus grin, showing human teeth. Its eyes were narrowed in a glare that did not belong on a horse’s face.

Bonnie decided this hunt was beyond her grade and someone more dedicated to aquatic hunts would be contacted to handle it. She did, however, shoot the horse for good measure.

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