I followed the old overgrown road into the dark forest. It had once been a semi-important trade route saving merchants several days of travel. Nowadays only the most desperate would even think of traveling this way. I hoped to change that.
At midday, I stopped and spread a blanket on the road. I sat at on end with my case in front of me. After a while, I began to hear something crashing through the underbrush beside the road.
“I wish to talk with you,” I called out. The forest became deathly silent. “I have something that you will be interested in. From the thick underbrush, a large black formless mass pushed out unto the road and rolled to my blanket. Five eyes, that I could see, surfaced and regarded me. I popped open my case and brought out a bottle. I removed the bottle’s stopper and pressed my thumb over the opening to prevent the pink and red streaked contents from drifting out.
“Here take a whiff of this,” I said offering the bottle to the creature across from me.
“What?” it rasped from an orifice. It extended a black tendril to the bottle’s mouth.
“It’s exactly what you need.” I slipped my thumb off and a thread of pink snaked out. The end of the creature’s tendril opened into a tube and began sniffing at the escaping pink. Half the creature’s eyes opened wide while the rest closed in what I took to be ecstasy.
“This? Where? More!” it said taking a few more deep drafts from the bottle. Its oily black skin glimmered with pink swills.
“Genuine human emotion in a bottle. This one is love but I have happiness, sadness, grief, joy, guilt, the whole range of human experience.” I pulled the bottle away and replaced the stopper. The bottled emotion settled filling three-quarters of the bottle now. “That was about five silvers worth. You can have more if you’re willing to pay.”
“Why pay? I take!” The creature’s rasping voice became a roar as its mass began to lift on trunk legs extending underneath it. Two thick tendrils grew from its sides; their ends divided and divided and divided to form grasping appendages. I sat still as they surrounded me. The creature’s central mass split open revealing a tooth lined interior. The tendrils tightened around me but as they made contact a white light flared up around me. The creature gargled in pain. It pulled back and collapsed back into a formless black blob.
“This is a fairly strong protection charm,” I said touching my necklace. “I was worried it wouldn’t be strong enough to fully repeal you but it seems feeding only on animals has weakened you. You know you’re extraordinary, don’t you? Most emotion leaches rarely grow larger than a foot in diameter. You’re five or six times bigger than that. Which is why you’re starving for human prey. This forest has never been completely safe to travel through but with the proper safeguards, it was passable. This road was once a vital trade route. Then you showed up. A monster that couldn’t be defended against.” I laughed. “Your success as a monster has really bitten you in the ass, if you had an ass, hasn’t? Sure you had all you could eat emotionally and physically but then people stopped traveling through this forest and you started starving.”
The creature moaned and gargled incomprehensible gibberish while stretching and twisting its mass.
“I know you have all the silver and gold from your victims. So, you can pay for the bottled emotions I’m offering or you can keep starving.”
It pulled its body tight into a ball even swallowing its eyes and teeth. After a minute, a mouth formed, “How much?”
“That’s the spirit. Twenty silver coins per bottle or four bottles for a gold coin. Also, you don’t attack people passing through the forest anymore.”
“No,” it gargled slumping back into a shapeless mass.
“Yes. As long as I’m providing you with bottled emotion you don’t need to attack people. The village needs this trade route opened up again. If you don’t take my offer no one will ever walk through this forest again. It will be marked as forbidden and dangerous for the rest of time. Do we have a deal?”
The creature flowed up and then down into itself, eyes and teeth swirling about. “Deal,” it rasped, “How many bottles?”
“I have ten with me.” Two gold and forty silver fell out of the black mass unto the blanket. I opened my case and pulled out the bottles. A portion of the creature oozed out covering the bottles and retracted. “Remember our deal. No attacking people.”
“No attack,” it repeated as the black of its skin gained a yellow sheen. It began rolling away from the blanket and reentered the dense underbrush beside the road.
“Don’t open them all at once,” I called out after it, “I’ll be back in a week for another sale.” I sat for another minute before closing my case and packing my blanket. It would be nearly nightfall by the time I reached the village but the forest was now a little safer than it had been this morning.