The Beast That Waits And Waits
I am afraid that my sister will do me harm.
I think she has done harm, many times in fact, to a great number of people. Nobody in our village has witnessed her do this. I think if accusations were to be made, there would be few who would even suspect her. But I know it, I think I have always known. It is why I move my chair in front of my door at night. It is why I sit here awake in the dark.
There are nights I hear whispering; I hear the voice of my sister and something that is not my sister with her. Nights, I see her leave her room. I heard the click of the front door opening and closing. Once I rushed out and spied her from the kitchen window. She was walking towards the woods. I wanted to follow her; I was so sure I had moved to open the front door myself. But then suddenly it was morning, and I was in my bed asleep dressed in my shoes and cloak.
Something is wrong in our village and in my heart. I know that my sister is responsible.
It started with Mara, the Innkeeper’s youngest child. She disappeared on a dark, moonless night several months ago. The men found her footprints in the mud outside her house. It looked as though she had climbed from her bedroom window and left her home of her own volition. The footprints wandered through the village and into the woods where she strayed from the path and into the thorny undergrowth. A day of heavy rain obscured her path and though the hunters searched for days, Mara was never recovered.
The second girl, Eliza, the Miller’s lovely daughter, was seen before she vanished. It was the night of the harvest festival. Long after the wine was finished and the campfires burned out, a group of men spotted Eliza as she passed them by the well. She had not removed the crown of irises from her hair, and she wore only one shoe. They had thought her silly from the dancing and the wine, and they paid her no mind as she followed the path that twisted out of the village. The next morning, she was gone. The hunters found tracks heading into the woods, further this time, but Eliza’s trail ran cold.
A month ago, was Laurence, the pastor’s pretty son. His mother found him in the kitchen, staring at the bright moon in the sky. She tried to rouse him back to bed, but he responded to her questions as if asleep though his eyes remained wide. He told her that a fox had been waiting outside his window, watching him and that he had been waiting for the moon to shine so brightly as to scare it away.
She dismissed his ramblings as dreams and returned to her bed. But in the morning Laurence was gone. He had left the front door open behind him and left without his shoes or cloak. The hunters found markings on the trees where he appeared to have stumbled and hit his head. Footprints to suggest he dawdled, back and forth at the edge of the village. After that, like Mara and Eliza, Laurence was just lost.
My sister and I took bread from our father’s shop to the innkeeper when Mara went missing. She sat with her while she cried. She did the same when Eliza disappeared. She let the miller cling to her like a child as he howled out in misery. But as she comforted the pastor with her oh so sweet words, I noticed the flicker of a smile as the pastor took his head in his hands to weep.
But it is more than that. For I had known my sister to be jealous of Mara. The innkeeper and her husband had bought her fine dresses. Our father lives modestly. He does not buy his daughters fine clothes and trinkets.
She hated Eliza too. They had been close, the two of them would walk arm-in-arm, whispering and laughing. But then something soured between them. I never knew what. But Eliza had taken to sneering at my sister when they passed each other on the street, and she would exchange her whispers with other girls. My sister would not discuss what had happened. She held her head high and answered irritably if I pushed the matter further.
And Laurence had been a favourite of hers. She used to stay late to collect the prayer books at the end of Sunday service so she could linger in his presence a little longer. He never noticed, of course. He had grown up being observed and admired by all. Girls and boys were so keen to stand in the sunlight of his smile.
But as the weeks passed of him not noticing, eventually my sister stopped lingering around the chapel after service. She hardly looked his way at all. Not that he noticed that either. To Laurence, I doubt my sister registered on his existence at all. I said so to her once and a day later there were pins in my shoes, though she denied placing them there.
After Laurence disappeared, the pastor began urging our village not to let their young people out at night, to lock our doors and be vigilant of any strangers lurking in the woods. I believe the consensus among our parents is that a stranger is responsible. An unknown, sinister figure, luring children from the village into the woods for insidious purposes.
The younger children have since spent their free hours imagining this phantom. They claim to have seen him. A man with fire on his face. No, with long white hair and black eyes. Red eyes. No eyes. A man who speaks with the voice of a dog, a bird, a devil. The butcher’s boy claims to have narrowly escaped this man while doing his morning errands. The doctor’s twin
They claim to be alert, peering out of their windows in the gloomy darkness of the night, wary of some stranger. And yet not one of them has ever seen her.
The moon was full and bright in the sky last night. I had moved my chair against my door and armed myself with a pair of embroidery scissors. My sister left her room and stood outside my door all night. I called out and she laughed at me, laughed in a voice that was not hers. It was then I saw them at my window, out in the fog, Mara and Eliza and Laurence dancing in a circle around and around. I cried out and they vanished as quickly as they
appeared, though out in the hall I heard the clatter of three sets of feet.
“Dear sister, when are you going to let me in?”
daughters say that this man scratches at their window with his long, clawed nails.
Not one of them claims that the thing that wanders the village at night is small and slim with long golden hair, a comely face and dark eyes that burn bright.
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