Of a Wood and Monsters
Deep in the wood behind draped moss and drooping lichen lurked a monster. The children knew it; they had seen it out of the corner of their eyes and in their nightmares. Those grown remembered their own childhood terror, and did not doubt. Only the village witch calmed fears and said it would do no harm. But when first the oozing stag appeared and then the festered game, the men marched out to find the beast and put it down.
Thus the village witch moved in the night, through moss and under lichen, until it came upon the beast, who wasn't a beast at all. Only a man, gnarled and grey. With beady eyes topped with thick matted hair. Fleeing his demons.
The witch warned the man. But his demons were too much to leave his home. And the men marched as the witch yelled her advice and then her warning and then her curses.
But they killed her.
And they killed the beast.
Then they saw he was only a man.
The hearts of the men formed apologies. It seemed but a moment before these hearts hardened and justified. Yet, when they went home, they told the true story, for there were too many of them to hide it from knowing women.
All grew more wary then, for still the animals came with their sores, month by month, year by year. The nightmares grew. And the women told the tale again and again. Of the men's folly. So that everyone would remember.
A little girl grew up and went away and came back. She became the village witch.
She found the polluted pool filled with the bodies of other men's monsters, arrows in their chests, their blood a poison to the creatures who drank the water or nibbled the flesh. She buried them.
The village watched.
The village witch smiled, her eyes wise. She saw forgiveness in the wood and the clean pool and the new graves. And hope in a village that hesitated to call anything monster.
The nightmares fled.
All that was left was the story.