(IP) The Horned Menace

(IP) The Horned Menace

               There
were rumors of a creature who terrorized villages, with long, wickedly pointed
horns and eyes that glowed like flaming coals. It was vaguely humanoid in
shape, but for the claws on its hands and feet.

               But the
whispers were eventually proven true: livestock and crops were dying
mysteriously, and more than one villager had disappeared, both in town and
within the wood that kept the village hidden.

               For her
part, Flora thought that it was all stuff and nonsense; she was certain that
there was a logical explanation for all of these events, and that everyone was
just frightened of their own imaginations.

               She was
working in the pub down the street from where she lived, and all everyone would
talk about was ‘the horned menace’. The latest person to have disappeared was
the town crier, and they’d lost their news in the morning as a result.

               There
was no real proof, but science was foreign to her fellow villagers, especially
a girl.

               Don’t
you have more feminine duties to attend to, Flora? Some mending, perhaps, or
needlework? Maybe you’d be better off with your mama, at least until you’re of
marrying age.

               No
matter how many times she said that it was an education she wanted, just like a
man, she was always laughed at. Her cheeks were always burning; no one ever took
her seriously, saying that her parents had spoiled her beyond measure.

               An idea
formed in Flora’s mind: a crazy, half-formed idea that could pan out or mean
her ruin.

               A soft
voice sounded in the back of Flora’s mind. Ruined? In their eyes, you
already are. Where’s the harm in actually giving them something to talk about?

               **          

Her mind made up, Flora counted
down the seconds until the sun set, and she was relieved. Slipping a fat sack
of coins into her apron, she walked out of the building, going over the things
she needed mentally, again and again.

               Rope,
flint, oil, firewood, a cask of watered wine, a crust of bread, a bit of good,
salty cheese. And the heart she would harvest in order to lure the beast into
the wood, where she would kill it. She couldn’t let herself think about the
outcome.

               But it
wasn’t the village’s safety that was on Flora’s mind; no, she was braving the
night for entirely selfish reasons. And anyway, it was difficult to care for
those who’d cared so little for her. She’d been sentenced as odd, strange, an
interloper. She would’ve been blind not to see it.

               She
wanted to see if this beast was real, if the whispers of magic gone awry were
true, or if the shadows that lurked within people’s minds had somehow been
given life.

               She
went back to the hovel that was her home, a ramshackle, decrepit affair.

               Dimly,
Flora found herself wondering if she was going to slay the beast, all to win
the approve of people who had never wanted her.

               But her
choice had been made. She would find the truth, no matter the cost.

               **