The darkened house flashed in time with the distant streaks of lightning, followed by the rumbling of the gods as they clashed within the roiling darkness in the heavens, their tears streaking down and washing the land clean of its impurity. Everyone else was asleep, save for little Anna.
Little Anna barely stood knee high, and was a precocious child; she liked to walk around the three-room shack at night, talking to the shadows and looking out the windows at the dark forest that surrounded the homestead. She’d bleat along with the corralled sheep and moo along with the lone cow in the barn, all in between giggles of innocent delight. Standing on the low table next to the window, the latched wooden slates now wide open to allow a misting of the cooled despair of the god’s, Anna stared off into the darkness, trying to get tired enough to finally get some sleep.
For the past few nights, she’d been woken, late in the night, by a distant voice whispering her name. She’d checked all the nooks and crannies, walked around the property under the light of a full moon… only to find nothing. Sometimes she’d hear knocks, three in rapid succession against one of the support columns, or smell the stench of rotting meat wafting from somewhere. When she mentioned it to her Papa, he’d merely told her to stay in the house at night.
“Wolves come around, and I wouldn’t want you to fall prey to a roaming pack.” He’d said, hefting an ax over his shoulder one morning. “Just try and ignore it, say your prayers when you hear it, Anna.”
And so Anna did.
Though it didn’t help…
Tonight, she’d been roused from an awful dream by the foul stench, and the staccato knocking from within the shack. Tossing her blanket aside, she raced to the living room to see what was making the noise, only to hear the knocking coming from outside now.
Opening the door, Anna walked out into the rain, looking from side to side. The cover over the front porch was keeping her dry enough, but there was still no sign of the knocker… until she heard it again.
Looking up, she heard the knocking on the roof, where the rain was pounding. Quickly folding her hands, her stuffed bear trapped between her wrist and chubby body, she closed her eyes and began reciting the Lord’s prayer, just as the wafting odor of rotting meat washed over her like a wave, swirling around her as if it had a life all its own. Opening her eyes, she saw a stark figure standing in the doorway, the lantern from the windowsill blocking most of the person’s features.
It was definitely a woman, judging by the flared hips and delicate features, but something seemed… wrong. Her head was bent at an awkward angle, her arms a little long. Her fingers looked brittle, like twigs that had been dried for days, and ended in dirty gray fingernails. Her face was angular and her hair black, ending just at her hip. With a hiss, she took a step forward, watery footprints being left in her wake.
“Hello,” Anna said, curious about the strange woman. She was soaked to the bone, and quite thin. “Are you okay?”
“Okay?” The woman rasped her voice gravelly and deep. She tilted her head even more as if listening to the wind. “No child, I’m not okay.”
“Are you sick?”
This made the woman pause. “Why do you ask?”
“Because you’re so thin and wet. Do you need something to eat? Or a fire?”
“No fire, but I am here to see if I could get something to eat,” the woman replied, running her cold fingers down the side of Anna’s face in a soft caress.
“We have lamb stew, and some milk and cheese.”
“Everything I require is right… here!” The woman whispered before latching onto Anna by the throat.
Taken by surprise, Anna let go of her bear, dropping it to the front porch before bringing up both hands to her neck, trying in vain to pull the water slicked fingers to grant her access to air once more. The woman padded out onto the front porch, away from the lantern light, pulling Anna close enough for her wet hair to brush over Anna’s face, like slimy weeds being pulled from the creek.
“W-Why?” Anna asked, her voice a choked whisper.
The woman did not answer, instead bending low to run her rough tongue over Anna’s brow, in a long languid lick. She smacked her lips a few times before turning her gleaming eyes back onto Anna.
“Your father fears the wolves of this area, yes?” She asked, stepping out into the downpour, carrying Anna as if she were weightless.
“Y-yes…” Anna gasped, slapping at the hand around her throat for more breathe. The fingers instead squeezed, making stars appear in Anna’s vision.
“Do you know why he fears the wolves, little girl?” The woman asked as she plodded through the mud.
Anna struggled to speak but couldn’t. The woman didn’t seem to notice, or care.
“That is because they are the hunters, the killers of this region. And your father, your father and the rest of you are just food.” The woman tilted her head back, bones popping from the jarring movement. “Just like the sheep over there bleating in the rain, you and your kin are food.”
“Food to what?” Anna gasped before the grip became tight.
Lightning flashed, filling the sky and everywhere else with a brief burst of light. Anna would have screamed if she could have, upon seeing the woman’s face. What might have been beautiful features now hung in tattered loops of flesh and muscle, exposed yellow bone peeking through the macabre mess that her face was? Only one eye rested in her skull, the other bearing an open void that Anna could feel was swallowing her up.
“Food to me!” The woman hissed.
The woman moved before the flash dimmed back to darkness, leaning in and biting directly into Anna’s hard skull, crunching through the bone. Anna tried to scream, tried to fight, but the other hand gripped her waist, holding her taut as the monstrous woman began to noisily chew flesh and bone from Anna’s forehead. Anna began to see black and red, red from the blood flowing over her eyes and black from the edges of her vision fading due to her continued strangulation. Her last conscious thoughts were of the Lord’s Prayer, and her unanswered pleas for salvation from the horrible woman eating her face.