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The Thing That Came at Night

The Thing That Came at Night

By: James G. Boswell

Valerie held her torch above her head as she scanned the campsite. Her other hand rested on the hilt of her sword which hung from her belt in its sheath. Rows of canvas tents surrounded her, set back several meters from the dirt path where she stood.

Standing torches lined the path. They sent waves of orange firelight through the camp and into the surrounding forest. The smells of damp earth and burning pitch filled the air. Her men, wearing mismatched pieces of leather armor, sat upon wooden crates close to the tents. They slurred jocular taunts and insults at each other between gulps of grog.

She smirked as she recalled the day’s events. Earlier, a carriage had tried to travel through the woods, but her men stopped it by blocking the road with a large tree branch. Then they surrounded it with their bows drawn and their arrows pointed at the passengers and their guards. “Those fools should’ve known better,” she thought as she shook her head.

After they tied up their victims, they noticed that one of them, a woman, was different. While the others looked terrified and whimpered in dismay, she remained stoic.

“You there,” Valerie had said to her, pointing her sword at her throat. “You don’t seem to understand the danger you’re in.”

The woman locked eyes with her and said, “It is you who is in danger.”

With a triumphant laugh, Valerie said, “And why is that?”

“You’ll see when it comes at night.”

With a single, fluid motion, Valerie cut the woman’s head off. Her men chuckled at the sight and then executed the rest of the captives. They then discovered with jubilation a chest of coins among the passengers’ things. The haul from that one robbery was enough to last her and her men for weeks, and now they were celebrating.

She glanced behind her and saw that the far side of camp looked darker than she remembered. Had some of the standing torches gone out over there? She couldn’t tell.

The sound of her men’s banter went silent. She looked and saw that they’d disappeared. Only the cups and crates remained. Then all the torches around her went out at once. The entire campsite was now pitch dark, except for the light from her own torch.

Panicking, Valerie drew her sword and said, “Who’s there? Show yourself!”

Something cold and slimy enveloped her body, paralyzing her where she stood. It snuffed her torchlight out like wet fingertips squeezing a candle flame. Her eyes darted around as she struggled to move or breathe.

In the moonlight, she saw a disembodied head float toward her through the darkness. When it came close, Valerie realized that it belonged to the woman she’d beheaded earlier that day. It had a blank, emotionless expression upon its face.

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