A cacophony of shadows, and all I feel is fear.
Our village lives in terror of the Night Shadow, the supernatural being who supposedly decides which townspeople live and die. As a means of warding off death, the village chooses one young woman a year to give to the Shadow in marriage. They always make the sacrifice during a full moon in March.
I’ve known since I was old enough to understand the stories that my name would eventually be called, and yesterday it was.
Tonight I stand in the middle of a forest, with my arms tied to a rope wrapped around the tree. This is where the villagers leave the girl every year. In the morning, when they come back, the rope is always cut, and the young woman is always gone. None have ever returned.
I don’t know what happens to them – no one does – but we all assume the same thing: The Night Shadow accepts the village’s sacrifice and kills the girl.
Through the treetops, I see clouds moving to cover the full moon. Instinctively, I know I’ll see the Shadow soon.
I hear no noises; shadows are always silent. But a change in air pressure assures me that he’s close. I spent all of last night awake, wondering what I would say to him and how I could best plead for my life. But now that the moment is here, all I know is that I won’t die whimpering or begging, as the previous girls assuredly did.
“Hello, husband,” I say, trying to sound amused.
The breeze pushes my hair into my face, and I blow it away.
“I was beginning to wonder if you’d had a change of heart. Cold feet and all that.” I focus on a tree a few feet away, looking for the shadow in my peripheral vision without being obvious. I think I hear the slightest laugh, but it could be branches moving.
“I really don’t remember accepting your proposal,” I continue, “but I suppose I must have. Congratulations to us both.”
I feel something brush my neck, and tell myself it’s the wind.
“I really can’t wait to meet your family,” I say. “Are they quiet types, like yourself?”
I feel him behind me, and I notice the moon has now cast a second shadow on the ground by mine. I shiver when he speaks.
“Beg,” he whispers.
I should. I know I should. But I don’t.
“No,” I reply.
“Do it,” he presses on.
I close my eyes. “I won’t beg. Ever. Kill me or set me free, but I will never beg.”
I listen for a response, eyes still closed.
I feel a release of tension in my wrists. The rope has been cut.
“Will you beg?” he asks one last time, mouth inches away.
“I will not.” I don’t look at him.
“Maybe next year,” he breathes.
And he’s gone.
I’ll be here when the villagers return in the morning.