She sat at the top of the stairs. Her face held the remnants of dried tears. She was silent, save for the occasional dry sob.
“Mama?” A small boy approached her. Wrapping his arms around his mother as well as he could, he said, “Don’t be sad, Mama.”
She unwrapped his arms and took him into her lap.
He looked up at her and asked innocently, “Are you sad because of Papa?”
The woman took in the child’s blue eyes, his dark hair. His brow was furrowed, his eyebrows a little too thick, his nose just a little crooked.
“You look just like him,” the woman whispered, and then a blind rage overtook her. Grabbing the boy, she made him stand.
“Mama? Mama, what’s wrong?” the boy asked. And then he let out a terrible scream as he was pushed down the stairs.
She stood there at the top, breathing heavily as she stared at the broken body below. Then she sat down again. She sat there all night.
In the morning, the neighbors came and saw the dead boy and his numb mother. Crying and weeping, they buried the child, comforted the mother who said nothing, did nothing. Poor woman, they whispered. She’s gone mad. First her husband’s run off with another woman, then her son’s fallen down the stairs and died.
They left her alone in the house.
And then children began disappearing. First a little girl, playing hide and seek in the woods, then a boy on his way to church. Five children went missing, and still the town had no idea what had happened. Then someone said they’d seen the woman talking to the last little boy who’d disappeared. And someone else said they’d seen her in the woods the day the first girl disappeared.
So the priest and the children’s parents and a few other young men in the neighborhood went to her house. They knocked on her door, and when she wouldn’t answer, they broke it down and went in. The woman was sitting at the top of her stairs. The priest said hello to her and asked her to come down. She looked at him and blinked but didn’t move or say anything. The priest asked if she knew where the children were. Nothing.
One of the mothers told the priest to forget her and to please search for her child. And so they searched the house and in the woman’s son’s room, they found the broken bodies of the five missing children.
It was horrifying to see, and they would have killed the woman right then and there, had it not been for the priest, who held them back. They sent the woman to an asylum, and buried the children and for a time all was as it had always been.
Then children began disappearing again. After the third child went missing, the priest thought to check the woman’s house. And again, the townspeople found three broken bodies in the bedroom of the woman’s son. So they sent some people to the asylum to see if the woman had escaped, and they came back with the news that she had killed herself the night before the first child disappeared.
At this the priest paled and said that she had sold her soul to the devil. He instructed the townspeople to always have their children wear silver crosses and to not let them out of their sight and to read the Bible with them.
So the children stopped disappearing but the cattle and the sheep began to die as if a plague had overtaken them. So the priest gave the farmers holy water to sprinkle on their crops and animals.
They did all that they could, but if a child were to take off his cross or if a farmer forgot to water his crops with the holy water, disaster would strike. So the priest wrote to some other priests and they gathered and talked and wondered what they should do.
At last, they went to the house where the woman had lived and they called her by name and told her to show herself. What appeared before them was not a woman but a ghastly figure with hollowed eyes and a face with features so distorted, it looked melted. It did not walk, but rather it seemed to float so smoothly over the earth that it would have been beautiful if it weren’t so horrific. And the priests were frightened for they had never seen anything like this before, and they would have fled if it were not for their faith in God.
And the priest of this town spoke and told her to leave in the name of God but his voice trembled and his hands shook and his breath came in short gasps.
And the figure laughed and it inspired fear in the hearts of the priests and again they would have fled if it were not for their faith in God.
“God?” said the figure. “What God? I serve a different master --your God cannot harm me.”
And the priest cursed the figure, for it no longer had a soul but was instead an instrument of the devil. And then the priests then did what they came to do, and they chanted words from the Bible, and the figure screamed for the words burned it, and the priests stopped chanting and the figure stopped screaming.
“What have you done?” hissed the figure for it knew something had happened, but it did not know what.
And the priest of the town spoke again, and his voice was strong now, his hands steady and he said that they could not defeat the figure but they managed to contain it for it could no longer leave this house.
And the priests left and the figure tried to leave too, but it could not and it screamed and howled and called for its master but nothing helped for what was the power of its master in front of the word of God?
And so the townspeople knew to avoid that house and then once again they were at peace.
And for a time, all was well.