Good evening on this All Hallows Eve. How fare thee on this darkest night? Sit down, weary traveler, and rest your feet; out there in the bitter cold you’ll not last long. Why trudge through the frozen snow to set up a bivouac with your frostbitten fingers, when you could stay the night here in this cozy cabin by the warm fire, comfy as can be on this chilly winter’s night? Oh, do stay, it gets ever lonely. Your horse will be taken care of.

Aye, so you want to know why you’d not last long? There is, for one, the cold, but even if that does not finish you off, it will.

I see you are intrigued. You want the story? Ah, well, here it is.

Am I the only one who can describe such a horror? It appears I am. There used to be an evil lurking in the woods beyond this cottage. It was a terror; it preyed on any traveler who passed through those woods, and not one ever came out alive. Oh, it became a test of daring for those in the town not ten miles from here.

The never-ending struggle continued. And what a ruckus it was! Horses and carts rumbling down the path in front of my house, weeping mourners on the way back. Even the bravest souls, who claimed to be able to make it through the night alive, could never survive. Children dared each other to go touch a rock a few feet into the woods, but there’s a bend in the path that takes one out of sight a few moments. When one child went to touch the rock and was seen snatched into the darkness by a hand cloaked in darkness, going near the wood became forbidden.

Evil struck always at night, never in the daytime, but the townspeople never seemed to understand how I could still gather my firewood in the forest. So over the years the townspeople ceased travel around the wood, preferring, instead, to go around it. Of course I was forgotten, for no one really gave me any regard.

And so eventually the town fell to ruin, but more travelers came my way. I told them this very story. Some went anyway, and I could hear their mournful howls and shrieks at night – oh, the terror, the sorrow I felt at having not been convincing enough to warn the pour souls away! But not one ever believed me.

I am not quite sure when it happened, but one evening there came a knock on my door. I opened it to see a bone-weary traveler, clothes torn is several places, spattered with blood. He was on the brink of collapse, so I brought him inside and helped him….

Will you tell me, can you hear that? Tilt your head a little and you just might.

Kill, he told me when he awoke. It killed him. ‘Kill, kill, kill,’ it said.

You must imagine my confusion and horror at this point; he had been through the wood. I put him to bed quickly, hoping it was only a delusion.

In the dead of night, it came. Coiling through the window, the misty darkness slunk through the hallway to the room where he lay in deep slumber.

Your eyes are looking to the window, I see. Ah, no, it won’t come for you, do not worry. It hasn’t tasted you yet. Now, where was I?

Sleep. Oh, yes. The man was in a deep sleep, but he twitched in the night, as if sensing the presence of his pursuer. And up it crept, ready to steal his soul.

You can tell now that I tried to stop it, for I was sitting in the room keeping an eye on the poor thing. I stood up and I shrieked and I waved my book in a fury, and I drove it to the window. Leave my dominion, I shouted, or I will disperse you myself!

Are you understanding now? It scurried away into the woods.

A needless thing, for the man died in the early morn.

Sacrifice, it wanted. A sacrifice.

Now, are you ready to go to bed? I have it ready for you. Upstairs. Go on. Nothing to be afraid of. Good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the demons bite!

^^^^Who caught that? I’ll post the answer tomorrow. If you did, though, comment below. What do you think the traveler will do in the morning: go in the woods or go around? The clues are in the passage, but they’re very subtly hidden; to find it you’ll have to think outside the box.

Hope y’all liked that little tidbit. This is Imaginealpha, wishing you a happy (and safe!) Halloween.