“If he comes closer.”

“Into the pot he goes.”

“A tasty morsel.”

“Sorrow like garlic.”

“Eats him.”

They think I cannot hear them mutter as I pass. Stupid things in the trees and shadows. I just shrug them off.

“Closer. Come closer little human.”

“Find a different snack,” I call to them.

“He speaks. Does he talk to us?”

“No. Puny ones cannot hear us.”

“We whisper.”

“He smells like dinner.”

“Must eats him.”

“Soon. He will stray.”

I’ve never seen them. They rustle through the trees and brush as they follow me. Out of the corner of my eye I can watch branches bend and snap. The first time I heard them I crept to the edge of the path. A pungent scent drifted from the trees. Death. An undertone of avarice. Enough to send me to the center of the worn trail through the trees and not get curious again.

At least not that curious. And never at night. I don’t know if they can leave the woods when the sun goes down. There are whispered warnings that every child knows of disappearances in this stretch of wild land. The evils hidden where they normally walk out right.

When I was little I played in this area. Climbed trees and built ramshackle forts with abandonment.

Then I learned the real meaning of the word. My dark period. When childish joy turned to bitter loss. The same sad tale as old as time. Mom slowly goes insane from the whispers of evil spirits. Eventually she kills her husband. And tries to kill her son. My right arm flares with pain as I remember the butcher knife embedded into it. The feel of metal hitting bone.

I couldn’t scream. My mouth moved soundlessly. The look on her face froze me in place. It was my mother’s body but it was not her. Her eyes were solid black and the voice that came from her smoldering tongue was ancient. Evil.

“So little. So delectable. Soon to be a feast.”

I was going to die. As sure as I knew she was no longer my mother I knew I was going to die.

And then the door burst open and the priest came in waving his crucifix. He spoke with authority in another language. My mother locked into a rictus as he approached. Black oil dripped from her eyes and ears. A blinding light as the cross touched her shoulder and a piercing cry of a thousand voices rocked the entire house. As the light faded I saw my mother again. She tried to speak and I leaned forward to hear her.

I was covered in a shower of dust as she exploded in a shower of glittery light. I didn’t realize it but I lost everything in that moment. My father and mother, my home and all comfort that there was good remaining in this world. As I cried her remains became mud on my cheeks. I was alone. Truly alone.

The priest, Father Matthew took me in with him at the church. My nearest relatives were far away and wouldnt want the stigma of a marked little monster. It was a sparse existence. Living on the charity of other poor villagers. Always hungry and cold. Just another orphan in a world with too many orphans.

And the voices began to murmur soon after. The small hut behind the broken down church lay in a grove at the far edge of the woods. When I was little I remember the entire village walking the path to it every Saturday for sermon. Smiles and conversation filled the air. I was small, usually on my father’s shoulders high above the crowd.

Back then the tiny church was the nicest place I could imagine. Filled with love and laughter. The entire populace rejoiced and sang as one. Candles burned and the holy light seemed to fill everyone. Father Matthew was young and Father Isaiah was in charge. His beautiful voice echoes with the power of God himself. He could sing so lovely birds would fly down to find the source. Father Isaiah was now buried in a shallow plot to the East of the church. Two sticks tied together in a makeshift cross the only marking of his final resting place. Or as much of him as Father Matthew could find. He had been ripped apart and his pieces strewn across the valley. The evil targeted him first when it swept down upon us.

Livestock died or was born with hideous form. Two headed cows with chitinous shells. Roosters with scales instead of feathers. Milk came out curdled or tainted and caused visions. Old Man Lindy cracked open an egg only for it to explode and kill him and his sons. We live in age of Hell on Earth. Our entire valley cursed by demons and spirits. And none know the cause of it. Foul creatures stalk the corn rows. Poisons sully the waters of the rivers and streams. The land itself belches flame.

The King sent his finest soldiers to protect us. They were slaughtered in the night within a week of arriving. In partnership with the church they decreed our small land desecrated and erected a barrier to keep the infection from spreading. We were alone with creatures, cut off and waiting our death.

But as time passed we grew stronger. Father Matthew wields his faith like a sword to smite the evils. Our inevitable slaughter slowly became a tortuous stalemate. Life gained a semblance of normality again. As normal as this godforsaken land could get as evil relaxed it’s stranglehold. The flying bat creatures became less a nightly fear into a weekly torment. It seems even madness can become mundane if it becomes part of the natural routine.

“Is it mad?”

“Why does the dinner stand still”

“Should we grab him?”

“Eats him. We must eats him.”

“Master says stay in the trees.”

“So close he is.”

But the voices in the woods never cease. One day I will journey back to the edge of the trail. Lure them to me and finally see their faces. But not today. Father Matthew waits for me.

“Come back little snack.”

“One day.”

“Into the pot and then into our bellies.”

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