A flurry of snow blasted down upon Orville’s face, forcing the young boy to let go of his mother’s coat as he pulled his thick woolen scarf back up over his frostbitten nose. She gave a smile that was warm only in spirit before pulling the blanket tighter over the babe cradled in her arm. Orville looked at it curiously, as he’d never really been around a baby before, let alone one that he would call brother.
“Wait,” His father said, holding up a gloved hand to halt the families advance through the woods. He leaned against a thick tree and glanced around, looking for some specter that Orville couldn’t sense. But Orville wasn’t scared.
Father could handle anything!
The woods were sparse and snow covered, a thick matte of white frost upon grey wood, rocks jutting up from snowdrifts at odd angles. The ground was uneven and slippery, and the small family was doing their best to go unnoticed. Orville didn’t really understand why, but he was a good boy and stayed as silent as his mother told him to be.
Father, a tanned man with a thick build and a thicker belly, kept one hand on his sword and another against the tree he was using as support. They’d been traveling for days, and Orville had seen Father trick a group of bandits away from them using only a few pebbles; not only was Father strong, but he was clever as well!
“What is it Papa?” Mother asked, rocking the bundle in her hands back and forth gently, pressing it tight against her for warmth. Orville pouted at this, as he was cold as well, but Mother couldn’t carry both him and the baby.
Father looked back to Mother with a look Orville had never before seen on his face, a mixture of pain and sorrow… what could it be? Orville didn’t bother to think about it for long as he heard the low rumbling growl echoing from the trees around his family, the low growl of something inhuman.
Father grasped Mother’s hand, pulling his sword as he begin hauling her up the hill as fast as he could. Orville sprinted alongside Mother, looking around for whatever the noise could truly be, and where it was truly coming from.
All he saw was the vast expanse of the snowy wood and the beginning of a gradual snowfall, whipping about in the air due to a sudden burst of chilling wind.
“Papa,” Orville said, easily keeping up with Father’s long strides through the thick snow. “What is it?”
Father ignored him, choosing instead to move deeper into the woods, casting a wary eye around him as he pulled Mothers hand along. Orville continued sprinting beside him as he moved from tree to tree, always looking over his shoulder.
The growls were still echoing from the woods, and the sky was growing darker by the minute, casting deep shadows across the snow-covered ground. The twisted images made Orville think of twisted images, of long pale expanses broken only by a circle of craggy, red –stained rocks surrounding a bottomless pit.
“What’s making that noise Papa?” Orville asked, just as the baby began to sniffle and cry.
“Shhh…” Father shushed him without looking, his eyes pinned on something in the distance. Turning to look for what Father had spotted, Orville froze at the sight some forty feet away.
A crooked creature, stooped like a an old man, covered in black leathers and furs that were roughly stitched together. Long arms, far longer than should be possible, ended in black gloves, pressed down into the snow for the man… no, the creature to balance itself upon.
“Run Mama!” Father said, pushing her aside as he moved towards the creature, sword in hand. “Go and don’t look back! You must not see this again!”
Again? Orville thought, looking at his Father in awe as he strode forward, towards the source of the deep grumbling. When have we seen this, of all things?
The growling stopped, punctuated by a sick hacking sound. It took Orville a few moments to realize that the creature was laughing at his Father and the bravado the man was showing.
“You… surprise me… little… man…” The creature rasped, the words tumbling forth in short bursts from a scratchy throat. The creature’s small head bobbed up and down excitedly as it lowered its torso to the ground, spreading its arms and legs outward like some horrifying spider, before scuttling forward at an unearthly speed.
Father stood his ground, back straight and face as passive as stone. As the creature came within a few feet of Father, Orville stood transfixed as it once again reared up onto its hind legs like a man, straightening its back with a series of haunting pops and cracks. Together, the man and beast stood facing one another, a minute of silence slowly ticking by as a fell wind blew past them.
“Be gone demon! Leave me and my family alone!” Father broke the silence, bringing the sword up to point at the narrow chest of the blackened creature. “Have you not done enough already?”
Orville stood, half behind a tree, watching with amazement. He let out a small shriek of terror as the creature’s head snapped to the side, it’s red eyes landing on Orville, the protuberant glowing orbs gazing at him with a sense of sick satisfaction, like a cat with a freshly killed mouse. Father didn’t move, but stood still between the beast and Orville, sword still raised.
“Your quarrel is with me demon!” Father growled, lunging forward to slash into the beasts side, a crack akin to the snapping of dry timber sounding throughout the entire wood. “Leave my family be and deal with me!”
The creature seemed unfazed by the blow, slamming one of its long arms into Father’s side, sending him tumbling to the ground, the sword flying from his grip. Orville gasped as he saw Father fall, moving out from behind the tree to call out to him.
But his words of caution died on his lips as he saw a flash of white seemingly sparkle from the horrid black demon.
Looking closer, Orville could see a long line separating the beasts flesh, from neck to groin, peeling back to reveal a gaping maw of blackened teeth. A large dollop of gooey, glistening saliva pooled from the horrid mouth, dripping down with a solid plunk onto the snowy forest floor below.
“You speak… of… family,” the creature rasped, its scorched face breaking into a wide smile, “yet… you would… deprive my… child… of its… dinner?”
Father moaned from the ground, that same strange feature ghosting over his face as he rolled onto his back, crawling back as quickly as his bulk would allow. The viscous globule of spittle quivered as snow drifted upon it, shaking as if something underneath was moving. Orville’s fears were only confirmed when a pale-as-snow arm slid free from the mucous, fingers splayed wide with strands of goo sticking between them.
“No… not that! You couldn’t have done that!” Father said softly, his voice rising in tenor. “You monster!”
A pale head popped free from the opaque yellow mass, gasping and hissing as its hand wiped the grime from its face, revealing twin eyes of coal. Fully emerging from the expelled ball of fluid, the tiny being was but a fraction of Father’s size, dressed in soaking wet brown and grey woolen clothes, a long woolen scarf hanging limply from it’s neck like a noose.
“No!” Father cried, tears streaming down his face as he began crawling for his sword. “I won’t allow you to hurt him any more demon! I won’t allo-urk!”
Orville gasped as the pale figure moved forward atop the snow his Father was wading in, before plunging its arm directly into Father’s chest with a disgusting sound of a rotten pumpkin being stepped on. Blood seeped around Father’s grey shirt, dribbling from the wound as the pale boy opened his mouth with a hiss, his teeth jagged and crooked…
“…crooked like the stones.” Orville muttered, looking down at his own hands. Bringing one up to his face, he felt nothing. Not numb skin or cold flesh… nothing. Waving his hands through the air, all he felt was a bitter chill, but not one of winter.
One of death.
Looking on in horror, he watched the pale body - His body - lean forward and bite into the throat of his Father, tearing away a large section noisily. Looking at the blackened demon, Orville shuddered as he met its gaze.
“Yes… little one… you are not… dreaming.” The demon muttered, low and gravelly. “That is… you… eating your father.”
And with that Orville screamed, a long scream not heard by any mortal ears. A scream of a lost soul in the backwoods, with nothing to keep it company but its own fears given form.