You stand among the other women as you strain to see what’s going on. On your tiptoes, you try desperately to peer above the heads in front of you. So far you see nothing but the edge of the forest, the trees tall, dark and secretive and blending into the darkness of the night. But you can hear the commotion. You can hear the men talking and shouting. Several women hold lit torches, the flames flickering and dancing against the breeze, throwing deceptive shadows across the scene.
The woman beside you seizes onto your arm, looking pale as you all wait to see if they’ve caught the monster. You heard the gunshots. You heard the screaming. Either they’ve been successful or something terrible has happened.
You suck in a breath as the first men appear. The woman’s grip tightens. At least one man has been injured. He’s being helped by two others, his arms slung around their necks, his face bloodied, as he limps between them. For a moment you wonder—you hope—that it’s Derrick.
It doesn’t stop there. More and more appear. Some seemingly whole. Others wretchedly injured. The rest are pale with fright or rage. Still no Derrick. One of the men marches up to the group of women and tells the Head Lady to go fetch two hammocks—to carry back the dead.
She and two other ladies rush away.
You feel a surge of hope. Maybe Derrick’s dead?
With bright gleaming eyes, his face grim, the man tells you and the rest of the women to back away and keep clear, for the monster is coming.
You stagger backwards as the woman ahead of you trods on your toes. You’re bumped and shoved as you and your little group try to heed his warning. But none of you leave for the safety of your homes, eyes fixed on the trees. Despite your warm cloak, your skin goose pimples. Your heart is pounding and you’re finding it difficult to breathe—not only because of the terror but the excitement too.
Nothing much happens in your little village. Rumours of the monster have abounded for decades but there has yet to be proof of its existence. Until now, you’ve never quite believed it ever truly existed—the beast that steals children in the night.
For the next several moments nothing happens. No more men appear through the trees. The commotion quietens. The injured have been taken to the village to be tended to by the healers. A cool wind makes the branches rustle. The moon gleams brightly upon the forest. You begin to wonder whether this is all just more superstition, when your ears prick up at the sound of men’s voices and the crack and snap of breaking branches. The women stir. A young girl is weeping. On your tiptoes again, you strain your ears. It almost sounds like something or someone is being dragged along the ground.
Then it appears. You suck in a breath. The woman beside you squeals and digs her nails deeply into your forearm. Several women run away back to the village, while the rest gasp and moan and shriek.
You were right—something is being dragged along the ground. Two strong men haul it along by a rope as more men follow, their weapons braced at the ready, though they don’t seem to really need them, the monster thoroughly tied up.
As you stare, you wonder if it’s alive at all. It looks dead. Your heart thuds as the men pass you by. It’s difficult to see much against the flickering light of the torches but you see enough to recognise some kind of man. A big man with skin so dark he almost blends into the night like the trees.
But that’s not what grabs you hard by the guts. It takes you several moments before you realise what exactly you’re looking at—wings. He has wings! Black, leathery. They, too, are tied up, looking more like some kind of weird backpack than a part of his body.
They’re hauling him along by the wrists, the ground bumping and snagging against his body. As you watch, you suddenly recognise a familiar face—Derrick. Dirty, sweaty and gloating, he’s marching smugly at the head of the group.
You hide behind the women in front of you so he can’t see you. The monster’s big, hard body is stretched out, revealing what they’ve done to him. He’s only wearing a ragged pair of pants, leaving his chest bare, and you can see the wound in his belly. A gunshot. They haven’t bothered to staunch it and the blood is pouring out of him.
Surely, he can’t still be alive?
The women around you are murmuring frantically to each other, but when the monster suddenly turns his head, they all stop to gasp. You can only stare as he opens his eyes and looks straight back at you. The woman gripping your forearm has finally had enough and runs away with a scream.
He’s struggling to stay conscious, his eyes heavily hooded, and yet he continues to stare at you as they steadily drag him away.
You, along with the group of women, follow, keeping your distance as you return to the village.
‘What is it?’ a woman murmurs fearfully to her friend.
‘A monster, of course! Did you see his wings?’
‘Did you see his size?’
‘Is it really the monster that’s been eating our children?’
You can’t help but snort. ‘Animals have been eating our children.’
The woman glares at you, then sniffs as she turns back to her friend.
You watch as the men continue to drag the monster towards the village and the detention shelter that they’ll use to contain him. Why are they keeping him alive at all? What do they intend to do with him? If he truly is the monster who’s been eating the village children, then shouldn’t they kill him, rather than risk his escape?
You twist your mouth. It’s not an unusual occurrence for the village fighters to hurt or torture the ‘guilty’. You, above all, know that.
It’s best not to think what they might do to a devil.