Blackness surrounds me like a cloak of night without stars. The strength of the pitch closes me in and fills my body like a boiling tar. My dampened flesh burns all over my body and my breath brokenly gasps in and out of my aching chest. My lungs press against my ribs from panting so fast, so quick, and so hard.
I awaken from my unconsciousness and sit up in a rush that makes my throbbing head spin. My hands are clammy and they tremble. I try to bend my legs, but a dull ache rushes up my being. I should not yet move, but wait 'til my faintness leaves me.
My newly open eyes look around the small, unfamiliar room I sit in. I am on a wooden bed with a thin, pale sheet covering my body. A small, empty crib sits in the dark corner, rocking gently even though there is no wind that can be felt. The small window to the left of me shows the nighttime sky with a full, yellow moon by the forest on the outskirt of the village. I must be in the abandoned log cabin everyone assumes is haunted by the man who died here a few years back.
My shirt is folded on a chair to my right. I bolt up on weak, shaky legs and grab it although my thin limbs feel as if they are weighted by thick iron chains. I hurriedly throw on my hunting shirt over my linen shirt and hesitantly step into the corridor outside of the room. It's even darker in the hallway than the poorly lit room I was lying in.
I follow the light at the end into a small kitchen with a wood table, two chairs, and a cupboard. My shaky hands search through the cupboard for whisky or ale, but I find only bread and greens that must be from a garden.
I clutch at my head and pull at my black hair until the pounding in my head feels like nothing compared to the pain in my scalp. I run my calloused hand over my unshaven face and pray that someone will return some kind of drink to drown my demons in. I need ale most days to keep my wits about me.
A womanly shriek cries out of the darkness of the forest, a banshee screech that tears at my ears. The ungodly noise pierces my soul as deep as it can go inside of me. I can almost feel the woman's agony from where I stand inside of the house.
I let not a moment pass me before I run out of the house and into the thicket of trees. In my hurry I forget to put on my leather shoes or grab a candle and go through the yard into the woods with only my stockings covering my feet.
Twigs snap under my weight when I reach the woods, crunching in the night like bones being snapped. Leaves rustle as I pass by like the crinkling of fresh parchment. A crow sits on a naked branch and startles me by cawing into the quiet. The wind shakes the trees just enough to make hand-like shadows sway against the forest.
I know not how far I go in. I stop by a particularly large tree with lighter bark than the surrounding ones. My breathing ceases, and I close my eyes to listen for the woman. It is almost as if she vanished when I entered the woods.
I circle the tree, first looking around me and then at the floor of leaves and shrubbery. A reddish creature the size of a small hound is twitching a bit away from the tree. The closer I get the more orange the top looks and the more red the hind looks. I kneel down on one knee to examine the injured fox. His rear legs are broken and half of one is missing, exposing a jagged piece of bone. His crushed ribs rise and fall with his shallow breathing. He makes not one noise while I look him over.
He looks as awful as I do when I'm sober.
If I were in as poor conditions as he is, I would want someone to end my misery instead of prolonging the inevitable. I take a deep breath of muggy air and search for a stone. I find a rough one as large as my fist. I raise it above my head and look into the fox's brown eyes. I picture him thanking me as I pound the stone into his head to end his pain.
The crunch of his skull breaking haunts my mind as I wonder to myself, "What could have hurt that fox so badly?" It's teeth must have been massive to rip off his leg, snap bone so easily. To crush his ribs in such a way… it cannot be natural. My mind goes in circles, and I am almost oblivious to the feeling of eyes raking up and down my being.
I feel like prey.
I slowly turn and raise my hands over my head. Yellow eyes blink at me from the surrounding blackness, waiting to see what I do. Sharp, crimson tinted white teeth snarl at me and lunge my body. I turn on my heel and sprint away like I'm running from the Devil himself.
I briefly turn around to find that a pair of red eyes have joined the yellow ones following me.
The soft footfalls of the monster follow me, hushed by the rustling leaves I storm through. Something scares a herd of deer, and I know not whether it was me or the beast. I fly alongside them until I see the thicket of trees thin out to reveal the village.
I rush out of the trees, onto the grass, and into the cottage where I woke up earlier tonight. I push the kitchen chair in front of the door to blockade myself in. For the first time since my ill mother lived I kneel down and pray to God that I join her in the afterlife if I do not make it through the night. When I hear a knock on the door, I fear that God is granting my wish earlier than I believed he would.
I look out the window to see the run slowly rising in the east. I must have prayed longer than I thought. I hesitantly remove the chair from the door and open it to reveal the small woman who lives in this cabin alone. I usher her in and ask her, "Where were you all last night? You know the full moon makes monsters out of men."
She reaches up to feel my face and reminds me of my fever. She leads me back to the bedroom and orders me to lay down. I oblige and fall into a restless sleep almost immediately. In the afternoon when I wake up she tells me that I must have had a terrible fever dream, that there was no full moon last night to let out such monsters.
I blame my nonsense on the fever but keep to myself that I will find that beast.
I'm not done yet.
I found something in the woods somewhere.