In the quiet breeze of arid nights, we hear the howl from the accursed forest. It is not the wolf that keeps the children awake, nor is it the smell of blood. It is the knowledge behind the blood and the howl. It is the whispered rumors by the adults that keeps the children tucking their heads beneath their blankets, shivering.
What is the thing the children call a monster? The parents have said it is a man and yet a wolf – a werewolf. The women say it is a man lost in his nature. The men say it is a man, and a man only. The elders dare to call it a demon. There is only one who calls it something other than a beast.
She is a beautiful woman with a kind heart filled with hope. As the scent of the sacrifice makes its way through the village, her footsteps taint the ground with blood-prints. She skips through the streets, passing several stone houses with thick, wooden doors – doors thick enough to endure the scratches and gnawing that mark them. We leer through windows, cracked doors, and from atop roofs with disgust. How could she fall for that beast?
She reaches the stoop to her domicile. Daintily, she takes off her boots and replaces them with house slippers. She enters into her domain, with boots in hand, and closes the door behind her. She has done this for several weeks, and we have grown tired.
We gather at the city square. We ponder on the actions required to rid ourselves of the woman and the beast. Women call for the men to slay the beast. Men call for the woman to be exiled. Elders urge the men to hunt the beast down, but the men are afraid. What if the monster is the demon the elders claim it to be? Why risk lives to slay something meant to be felled by angels or God?
The brainstorm turns into shifts of blame. Fingers scream at the body. Solutions will not be found. The creature remains an upsetting subject for us.
Myths by the elders say he used to be a man, but he quickly became a monster. The garden in the deepest part of the forest reminds us of this fact. The garden is filled with flowers fertilized by the feces of corpses. Promises to see blooming roses, lilies, dahlias, and sunflowers lured many women to bloody deaths.
He needed a woman’s love to know how to be a man – the dream so many fell for. The second they let their guard down, he did unspeakable atrocities to them. Often, we found bodies mangled, chewed, intruded, broken, and ripped. It wasn’t until the more innocent daughters went missing that we sought the monster out.
When we found him, we burned his house, cracked his bones with stones, ripped his skin apart, and nearly killed him. He fled into the forest and hid long enough for his story to become a tale. We thought he would never return.
Now, again, our daughters go missing. This time, the sons join them. How many reports must be told? How many horrific scenes must unfold? We must kill him! Kill him, kill him, kill him!
Into the mob does the beautiful woman enter from her domicile. We see her. The sight of her makes us vengeful. We shove pitch-forks near her and swing torches by her hair. Esmeralda, the beast’s whore, pleads for a reasoning we do not carry.
“He is a man,” she exclaims. “He is harmless,” she promises. “I have been with him many months, and he has never harmed me. Surely, the deaths belong to the animals of the forest. The man, or the one you call ‘beast’, is innocent!”
She is a fool; she is a fuel. She feeds him our goats, lambs, cows, and chicken out of pity. Every day, she returns to the city reeking of cooked blood. She is the reason the beast howls so near to us without fear. She is a virus threatening to expose us.
We return her pleas with scoffs, boos, and grumbles. “You keep playing with that thing and it will turn against you. There’s only so much food you can feed him; only so much love you can give him. He will show you his nature, and if you are not guarded, he will strike you down.”
“Maybe with you, but not with me!” she screams. “I can’t believe I’ve lived with such unforgiving cretins. So willing to cast out a man who has had nothing but wilderness to provide for him! He is not some mythical beast! He is a man! He needs a woman! He needs me! In three months’ time, surely, you will see!”
We shake our heads and tremble in fear. The confidence of a woman is often her downfall. She is a tale as old as Eve and the Serpent. Your voice cannot reach her ears because her heart wills her forward. This is why we set a plan, in secret, for the day she would fail.
Still, the axes are put away and the spears are sheathed. We are tested because of a kind, innocent heart desperate for a fairy tale. Patrols alternate every week. Surely, the beast will not feed except by the hand of Esmeralda the beauty. We will see how the beast reacts when he no longer controls what he eats.
Within a week, he attempts to roam our streets. He is hunched over to the ground; fur growing on him like a gown. He has no snout, but a hairy nose. He does not walk like a wolf, but more like an ape. Even his fangs are more human than animal. Perhaps, we have misjudged him. Perhaps, he is not a beast, but rather, unevolved.
Still, the curse of his wickedness is evident. To have lost so much mobility at the cost of murder. The punishment is not grave enough. In fact, the grave might be the only thing acceptable for such a person.
We follow him through the streets to the stoop of Esmeralda’s domicile. He circles like a dog and lays down on the steps. We go to tell her our concerns, but he growls threateningly. He defends her like a guard dog, which is admirable, but still not human. Like an aggressive stray, we move to put him down.
Esmeralda comes to his aid and we say, “If he is a man, why does he not stay in your house? You must be worried that he will attempt to devour you.”
Thus, bickering ensues. A woman, trying her best to love a man the way he should be loved, and the way he wants to be loved, must be forced to do the former more than the latter. The beast does not want to sleep inside. He is accustomed to the wilderness. Still, we cannot afford to relent. The women and the children are at risk.
Some of us dare to invite him in while others still want him dead. We recognize this and confess the truth. He is still a beast in our eyes. He does not wear more than a cloth about his waist. His hair is unkempt and his manners are poor. He does not walk as us, talk as us, nor live as us. Until he becomes a man, fully, he cannot stay with us.
“I will change him, you’ll see,” she says determined.
With that, she has us empty her house of all the things she needs. We pull clothes, furniture, sheets, and jewelry. She willingly leaves us for her beast. Out into the forest, she hurries, determined to make him her husband. We can’t help but wonder if we’ve just let her choose death.
Week after week, she returns to the city, reporting on the progress her and her lover have made. Still, we see the cleaned bloodstains, and notice the purchasing of the same meats her man likes to eat. Still, she boasts that she’s happy. She’s in love.
From time to time, we notice them walking within the forest. They are hand-in-hand, with him walking on two feet. He no longer looks like a beast. He wears the clothing of men in the city. He is a tall, strong man, with muscles aplenty. With all his hair shaved, we no longer hear discussions of his animalistic nature, but rather, we hear of his appetizing stature. As it turns out, he actually is a man, with bulging muscles and immaculate melanin.
Two more months pass, and we find ourselves in peace once again. There is no howl in the middle of the night. There is no stench of blood entering the streets. The imagery of the beautiful lady in bloody clothes starts to feel like a memory. We cannot remember her face, nor do we know how to describe her. Quickly, she has become a mystery. “Who was the beautiful lady with a heart for the beast?” “Who was the Esmeralda of our city?” “When was the last time we actually saw her?”
We patrol less frequent and the children are allowed to play in the street again. Life feels like we are waking from a nightmare. We are happy. Less doors are locked; less adults are vigilant. Even the patrols into the forest turn up empty. We are free. We can’t thank Esmeralda enough for taming the beast. She accomplished all that she set out to be. We hope and pray her and her husband are happy.
The love of a woman is truly powerful. Within her lies the power of peace, life, happiness, and freedom. Her patience outlasts the longest season; her strength endures the toughest storm. Her heart cures the worst wound; her mind removes every chaotic thought. Esmeralda is no longer just a beautiful lady. She is an angel sent to save the city. Rumors have even spread that she’s having a baby.
We think to throw a party for the couple. We agree to balloons, a feast, confetti, and gifts for the baby. We agree that it is time for the couple to live back in the city. Just as the messenger is told to let the couple know, the howl of the beast returns.
We are not sure of what we heard, so we wait a moment and listen. The howl truly has returned, and on an arid night once again. With no forewarning, the twilight hour welcomes the return of the nightmare. Why is the howl heard?
We wake immediately and search through the streets. Bows and arrows are gathered from the armory and the swords are unsheathed. It can’t be the beast. Esmeralda couldn’t have failed us. Whatever this creature is, we will end its life. We have lived in too much peace to let some creature rob us of it.
The streets are checked, and the doors are locked. We search the alleys, carriages, rooftops, and open squares. No one has been scratched, and there are no reports of bites. Everyone is accounted for and no one has been harmed. Yet, the howl continues on.
Our men are told to search the woods. The hunt begins as the darkness beneath the branches is combed. Not a single leaf falls from above. Death has visited the village this day.
Disturbed, we hasten to the garden. The garden is the only part of the forest that remains beautiful through the horror. The yellow, red, purple, white, and rose colors are surely being vibrant beneath the shine of the stars. Surely, they have kept the angel, Esmeralda, safe. Nothing would dare disturb such a protected place.
The sound of cracking leaves changes to mush. The ground is wet. Torches are brought to the front. The ground is riddled with blood. Panicked, we quicken our pace to her. Esmeralda cannot be slain!
The splotches of blood become a stream as it travels deeper into the woods towards the garden. Quickly, we follow the trail like police being led to the murderer by the witness. The stream quickly becomes drops and the drops become blood-prints. Small, dainty red hands and red feet cover the trunks and soil. Both prints belong to one person, and that one person walks in sync with feet much greater in size. They are both in the garden.
The light above shines just enough for us to see the garden’s entrance. The trees encase the place centered just beneath the stars. Without having to investigate much, the results are clear. The stars do not shine as they normally do. Blood abounds.
There, in the center of the garden, lays a woman doused in blood. Her body is shredded as if ripped apart by a pack of wolves. She has been stripped of all her clothes. Red droplets reach as far as the trunks of the trees that encircle the garden. It’s as if maroon paint was tossed from a bucket over the canvas. We are forced to ask, “Is this Esmeralda?”
She does not look the way we remember her. We attempt to recall our memory of her, but to no avail. Did she have black, brown, or blonde hair? Was she small, thick, or weighty? What did her eyes look like? Why can’t we remember the image of the victim?
How she once looked no longer matters with the image we are presented with. Her hair is maroon, her skin is red, black, purple, and blue. Her teeth have all been removed, her fingerprints have been chewed, and her feet are decapacitated.
She breathes unexpectantly, startling the hunting party, and manages to speak, “Help.”
The air becomes rancid and the leaves scatter about as if controlled by a breeze. We attempt to flee, but the howling blocks our path. The beast is here, and it appears to be mad. We dash into the darkness for its head, but it ends up behind us.
Like the monster it is, it grabs Esmeralda by her head with its mouth. It stands on two feet and towers above us into the branches of the trees. It clinches her skull between its teeth and has the audacity to smirk.
The clothes it once wore are nowhere to be found. It stands naked and bare like a man indecently exposing himself. Its shaved skin reveals the marks sealed by stitches. We can’t help but wonder how many women it convinced to patch it back together.
Each mark and reminds the elders of where they ripped its flesh the first time. Each and every gash is sealed by a mark of surgical nature. Even its bones are medically realigned. Did Esmeralda heal it, or has it been using women all this time to recover its strength?
“Help,” she cries once more as it shakes its head and snaps her spine.
She lies limp in the jaws of her lover, drenched in her own blood. Just as the bodies before her, she shows signs of intrusion, violence, bruising, and chewing. Seeing our sweet angel dangling in the mouth of a demon fills us with righteous rage.
We swarm about the beast. Our feet kick up petals and leaves, uprooting flowers of all kinds. In the bloody dirt, we find the tattered bones of victims long silenced. Some are adult in size, and some belong to children. The beast has had no regard for the condition of its victims. We have had enough.
We spring the trap we set all those months ago. We take one woman and strip her naked. As much as the beast would like to fight, it merely drops the body of Esmeralda and stares. Judge our tactics all you want, but the monster is a monster for a reason.
The children called him a monster. The women and men called him a man. The elders called him a demon. What he is, or used to be, no longer matter. The only thing that matters is what he will be. Death calls for him, and this time, we will ensure that death is answered.
Arrows zip throw the air into its knees and back to its craven image do we return it. Spears, swords, axes, and pitchforks pierce the monster’s murderous body. Scared to die, it cries allowed – that same howl from all those arid nights. “Die!” we scream. “Die you perverted thing!” The howls quickly become whimpers, and the whimpers usher in silence. Mangled by countless blades, the beast lays down dead. We even saw off its head for good measure.
The garden is ruined. The flowers are buried beneath the dirt and bones. The dirt looks like mud it is so mixed with blood. The silence of the twilight brings no peace. How many women had to die before we killed that evil thing?
One last body is laid to rest, along with all the other victims we will soon forget. It is not in our nature to remember traumatic things. Perhaps, we’ll turn her story into a song we can sing. A memorial where the garden used to be just doesn’t seem adequate. She believed in a monster, and paid for it. She had much hope for an ill-conceived marriage.
Regardless, what’s done is done. We will take the beast’s body back to the city and burn it until there is nothing left. We will not be haunted by things we can defeat. We will not cater to creatures who treat us like feed. It is a shame we had to lose an angel to return to our senses. Esmeralda, and our many angels, you will be missed.