Into the stillness of night came a shrieking cry; a woman’s voice echoing over the field. Tremendous concern flooded the minds of the villagers as they stepped out of their homes to listen in. And it continued. Where some believed it would diminish, it prevailed. Soon children awoke, and soon after dogs began to bark. Something—a terror—was alive in the wild.
“I just wish you didn’t have to go,” Mirabel nagged at her husband while he tied his boots.
“If I don’t go, no one else will,” Barlow put firmly as he stood tall. His shadow eclipsed his young wife as she gazed up at his concerning brow.
“What if that creature is still out there?” she asked.
“Then I’ll kill it.”
Standing with a group of men near the village gate, Barlow looked back at his wife through the constant airy snow that began after dawn. He squinted, nodded, then went out with the hunting party.
“They’ll return,” Laurel—hopeful and pale—spoke as she took Mirabel’s arm into her own. “They will,” she went on.
“Who was it?” Mirabel asked of the screaming woman from the night.
“It was the Fletcher girl,” Laurel told. “The eldest.”
“Nola?” Mirabel asked, and Laurel agreed with a nod. The pale woman continued to look outward to the men, even though they had disappeared into the white. “She was seventeen,” Mirabel contested.
“We best make camp here,” Barlow suggested. The men—seven including Barlow—stood atop a small hill on the meadow. The snow was less than two inches, but it the cold wouldn’t stop. With a fire and a drink, the men tried to relax in their pursuit to the unknown. Then, a shriek.
“Is it another girl?” one man stood.
“It can’t be,” another argued. “We’re a mile out.”
“Isn’t the Fletcher farm over the creek?” Barlow interjected.
“Would it strike there again?” another hunter questioned.
“One way to know,” Barlow said as he grabbed his sword and started to walk. The shriek was constant, like it was the night before. Like it had been in the past. But the hunters searching the creature believed it had gone away.
“Why now?” one man asked. “After all these years.”
“I think it’s because of the holly,” another hunter spoke.
“The bushes?” Barlow asked.
“Yep,” the man continued. “They’ve grown wild in the past ten years. Reaching up to the cliffs, attracting crows.”
“Why doesn’t he just eat the crows, then?” a different man queried.
“He likes flesh,” Barlow sparked. The shriek had guided the men to their current position, someplace dark and distant. Now, the cry ceased and the men were left alone in the wild.
“I don’t feel right,” one hunter spoke.
“Barlow, we need to head back,” another chimed.
“Are we not here for this?” Barlow attested. “Are we not the protectors of our people?” The men held their heads low. “We have to end this beast before it claims our wives and daughters.” Barlow’s chin was high as he lectured, waiting for one of the men to object. But no one did. Instead, a growl came from behind. Soon, it formed into a low and terrifying voice.
“I do not want your daughters. I do not want your wives,” the voice confessed. Each hunter tried with great difficulty to locate the monster in the darkness. “I want to play a game.”
“We aren’t here for your tricks,” one hunter shouted with a trembling voice.
“It isn’t a trick,” the voice corrected. “I’ll count and you hide. And we’ll see if I can find you,” it teased with thickness in its voice. The sound entered Barlow’s ears and roared deep in his mind.
“Enough,” Barlow declared.
“Yes,” the voice curled. “It is enough.”
And in the village, while the women waited for their men, together around the fireplace at Barlow and Mirabel’s home, a shriek let out. Several, strong shrieking cries echoed in the night.