Absolute terror. He is gripped, controlled. He wants to be so far away. Back in the cottage, wrapped up in his patchwork blanket, clutching his toy bear, enveloped by sweet sleep. But he is feverish, fervent, hopeless. The chasm within him is opening up, consuming him. He wants tears to rock his body, to pour out of him. The boy feels something.
She has drunk. She contorts, writhing, her naked flesh flashing like a gem in the torchlight. Death echoes in the chamber. She has filled herself, she is powerful, delirious, drunk on the fountain of his youth, his naivety, his innocence. She laughs, a rich peal of danger.
The knife is in his hand before she can break his neck, the claws enclosing. The cackle distorts into a scream as the blade violates her. Somehow he is dressed, he is tumbling down the stairs, a howl of pure rage pursuing him, snapping at his heels. He crashes through the door, across the clearing, plunges into the trees. She follows, a silken trace of scarlet falling in her wake, grasping her way through the treetops, panting, gasping, bleeding, ashamed, furious, alone.
She dives through the branches, knocking him to the ground, claws flurrying about his body, stealing more of him, ripping his clothing. Wildly he slashes. She pouches back, a streak of luminescent blood drawn on her white cheek. He stands, tall and cold. His shirt is in tatters, revealing his muscular chest, gashed. His dark hair is feral in the wind. His eyes pierce her emptiness. She is disgusted. He repulses her. Melting into the darkness, she returns to her tower, her hatred healing her skin, her pain eating her heart.
The villagers hardly recognised young Benjamin Thorn when he returned. He was so stern, so chilling, somehow taller and broader as he emerged from the Devil’s Whim on the third day. The grand old maids averted their gaze, knitting the funeral shrouds for the newly born babes.
He is a man now, they say, a shiver of discomfort running down the lace of their shawls. Benjamin grows up, he marries, becomes the father of a son, and then a daughter. He sends his son out on his fourteenth birthday, the son returns a man. He carries on living, as we all do, he builds Karletto’s first airship dock on the hills nearby, as air travel sweeps a new generation of travellers from the coast to the capital. As the village grows and becomes a town he grows old, sinks into bed, and ponders his dance with the beast in the forest, while his son stands in the dusky light, his newborn boy held in his arms, eyes piercing the night sky, watching the hills roll away, over and over, over and over.