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by Joanna Ham about a month ago in monster
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The Gift of the Candle

Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

The cabin in the woods had been abandoned for years, but one night, a candle burned in the window. We were surprised to see the light, and excited. A sort of buzz went through my band, and several of us blurted out involuntary noises of excitement. Where there is a light like that, there are people.

My band has been travelling in the same region for years, looking for food, days running endlessly into each other. We have a rhythm, travelling in large loops, always moving, always hungry. It takes months to complete a circuit. We never stop more than a few days in any spot. Sometimes we have good luck foraging in the wooded areas, but usually the towns and cities still provide more. Constant moving is the key to survival though. We can’t be complacent and stay in one spot, although we do return to better spots as we wander. This past couple of years, we have needed to increase our range to search for scarce food so have been returning to the same places less frequently.

Whenever we passed through this specific area, we would see the cabin at the top of the steep, rocky hill that jutted up, just above the forest around it. We had once climbed up to look around it once, years ago, and saw no signs of life or anything there to attract us. Since then, we never bothered to go up there again when we passed by. Now, though, we had spotted the candle flame in the dark night. It had been just the briefest of glimpses -- a quick flash of light before being snuffed out -- but we had all seen it. I am not sure which of us had sighted it first, but as one, we turned to see it for that joyous moment before it was extinguished. It had been a long time since we had seen people.

Life wasn’t always as hard. Years ago, there was enough to feed us, and we could easily overtake our adversaries and evade their dangers. At the start, my band was small, and we could easily surprise our enemy. More recently, though, they became better prepared for us. They started to set up protected buildings to hide in, with walls and vicious traps laid for us, and weapons to attack us from a distance. My group had grown for a while, as more joined us, but now our numbers are dwindling again as we are killed off, or we waste away from hunger, growing weaker until we cannot keep up with the group. Those left behind are completely vulnerable.

Through the night, we climbed up to the cabin, full of anticipation.

Having reached it in the early rising light, we now wait. Growing hopeful, we find ourselves instinctively pushing, almost flowing, towards it. We must be cautious and linger outside, under the cover of the trees and bushes, to watch, but it is too hard to be still when we are so excited. We are so close we are quivering with anticipation, although we know we must hide and await our moment. Hiding is not our strong point; we are more disposed towards taking action. Our thoughts get too muddied to form the logical processes and our feelings surge too strongly for self-control so hiding or other such activities are often beyond us.

My stomach is so empty, it pains me, and I cannot think of anything but eating. I grow weaker. If we do not eat soon, I will grow frail and waste away, like others we have had to leave behind.

One of my group suddenly senses a little pack of the enemy, coming out of the cabin, and lets loose a guttural cry – our battle cry to ready everyone. We all respond with our own calls, random noises full of raw emotion. Anger, need, excitement bursts out of us uncontrollably, taking the form of roars, growls and moans. We feel too much to keep it inside of us so the noises erupt out as physical manifestation of our passions which we cannot control, even though it attacts the attention of our enemy.

My rage overwhelms me, and all I can think of is to attack. Our foes are both enemies and prey, the potential sources of our deaths and food to survive. These ones have blades, which they use to hack and slash at us, abhorring us for our very existence. There are are only four of them, though, and we surprised them, so we will overwhelm them with our greater numbers. Regardless of the likely outcome, we would still attack, compelled by instinct and wrath.

In the heat of our assault is the only time we have perfect clarity; we know what we must do. We must reach the people at any cost, biting and clawing through them. We must take them down.

Beside me, one of my band is attacked by one of them, and her arm is slashed off, leaving a bloody stump at her shoulder. She bravely carries on, though, her focus and dedication to the fight absolute. We are tougher than those we fight, because we don’t let pain and injury stop us. My fury intensifies and I crush forward towards her attacker. I feel the enemy stabbing and slashing at me, but I ignore it. My frenzy and hunger are more important – they are the only important things – and they protect me from pain.

If I fall, at least I will have weakened the enemy so others in my group may kill them and feed. We are not selfish.

Life was not always so hard; it used to be easier, but at least for now, we have brought down this pack of human people, and will eat. I have what appears to be a woman. I have her cheek to tear at and chew. We are all hungry, but we always share.

No one in the group hoards or is greedy and selfish. That is our other strength. All are equal and all get to eat, regardless of who made the final kill. My group members press in beside me, trying to reach the food. One is feasting on her thigh, the muscles and sinews stretching out. The blood leaks everywhere and it is hard to get it all. Delicious. Another of our people has joined us to eat the woman’s stomach, and more of us join, eating from whichever part we can reach. The rest of us have taken down two others and are devouring them.

The people hate us now, or rather, they did before they died, but they will join us after. We always leave enough of them so that they can become one of us. Then they will understand. They only ever understand after the giving of their flesh. Once we have helped them shed their first life, they can let go of all the petty things they used to worry about. They can enjoy the comfort of being part of the band, working as one, sharing, and simply letting the instinct guide us.

The fourth person of our prey managed to escape, but I know we bit him, so he will still convert to one of us eventually. We may stumble across him again; if so, he will join us, or perhaps he will find another band. Our kind is generous, and will let them join us, even if they were selfish before death and didn't let us feed off of them, which is such a waste. If he doesn't find a band soon, he will be vulnerable and probably will die his second death at the hand of a human.

He might try and rejoin other people, but it is only a matter of time before he will belong to us and not them. Sometimes a newer convert will recognize a person they knew from their first life, and hesitate, just for a moment, but we all know it is better for them to feed us to become one of us. The new convert always remembers this right away. With renewed glee and vigour, the convert will then surge forward to feed on and transform the human.

The simplicity of our second life is a blessing ... although it is a shame that we cannot remember just enough to know where to look for any other people we knew in our first life, so we could eat and transform them quickly. It would certainly be easier if our new group members remembered if there were more of them in the cabin for us to wait for. We cannot smell or sense any, so our instincts advise us to keep moving.

My rage has eased, with my stomach full and the comfort of knowing we have increased our numbers again. We have eaten enough to keep our health and slow our flesh from rotting too quickly. It is always a delight to have converted more of the evil ones who try to kill us! Spotting the candle light was such good luck. Because of that, we are strengthened and can continue another circuit to search for more people. We are content.


About the author

Joanna Ham

When I was young, I loved fantasy and mythology of all kinds. I enjoy reading all genres now, but still love fantasy.

I also write content for D&D at Dungeon Masters Guild under Joanna Gerber.

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