Their small sacks heavy with apples, they huddled on the cobblestone path, not sure if they could make it back in time. Bright orange and yellow leaves rushed across their shoes and they shivered, their cloaks no match for the approaching dusk. Their eyes widened as the town’s striking clock began to issue its warning…

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Jennet heard the beast growl in the distance, a sound she’d only ever heard once before. She glanced over her shoulder to see the darkness crawling across the hill behind them. “Davion, we have to go now!” Tugging her twin brother’s tattered cloak, she insisted, “It’s getting closer.”

“Give me a minute. I just need to get a couple more.” He strained his arm toward the two remaining red globes that were dangling just out of his reach.

Pulling her cloak around her against the chill of the breeze, she whispered, “We’ve got enough. Please let’s go!” Jennet whirled around at a rustle in the graying undergrowth. A sigh of relief escaped her when a small ground squirrel scampered past her feet and into a nearby tree.

Davion crept further on the narrow branch and wrapped his small fingers around the fruit, twisting his wrist to dislodge it. “Got it! Here, Jennet, catch.”

She caught it and tucked it safely in the burlap sack with the others while her eyes scanned the lengthening shadows.

“You’re just a scaredy cat, Jennet.” He recited the familiar rhyme in a sing-song voice. “Safe until eight, you’re dinner if late.”

“That’s just it, Davion. I don’t want to be dinner!” She couldn’t keep the waver from her voice.

“Then catch this and get out of the way so I can jump.” He swung both his legs over to one side of the branch and then dropped to the ground.

As they both reached down to take their side of the sack, heavy with apples, a distant chime froze them. Their eyes locked in fear. They’d miscalculated how late it was.


“Hurry, we can make it if we run together!” Davion yelled.

The two lifted the bag between them and started home. They’d only managed a few paces before the rough material burned Jennet’s fingers, and five or six apples spilled onto the ground.


The children dropped to their knees, scrambling to corral the runaway fruit that sought to hide under the yellow and orange carpet of leaves. Jennet wished they could leave the bag and run.


An eerie growl reverberated from behind them, still at a distance, but closer than before. Safe until eight, you’re dinner if late. What if the stories were true? Jennet could hear it now, crashing through the faraway forest as blackness overtook the trees.


“Wait! I’m going to drop it again!”

Davion snorted. “C’mon!”

Tears blurred Jennet’s sight as she entwined her fingers in the coarse sack once more, and her brother pulled her to start running again.


The chill from the dewy grass gave way to the uneven cobblestones as they passed the scattered dwellings on the outskirts of town. One house, then two, shutters tightly closed, blocking out the minutest sign of life. Even the familiar smells were closed inside, no freshly made bread, no soups at full boil. It was as if the townspeople had departed with the rays of the sun.


Davion screamed in pain and tumbled to the street. “My foot!”

His sudden stop pulled the bag out of Jennet’s hands and apples rolled in every direction. Another growl sounded very close now, and Jennet imagined she could feel the beast’s hot breath on her as she scurried to gather the apples. Her knees scraped against the cobblestones, leaving a trail of blood. Safe until eight, you’re dinner if late.

No more running, limping. Jennet urged Davion forward, wincing with him as he hobbled to keep up.


Only three more streets to cross. They were nearly home. Jennet heard the beast howl from the edge of town, its talons scratching against the stones.

“Hurry, Davion! Hurry, it’s almost here!”

Her brother tried to move faster, but she could tell he’d wrenched his ankle severely. Safe until eight, you’re dinner if late.


Jennet’s blood froze when a blast of hot breath surrounded them. Death. It reeked of death, the blood of its previous prey, the foul stench of decomposing corpses. Their house was just ahead, only a few paces away, but the beast was too close.

“Go, Davion, go!” she said, seizing an apple and throwing it with all her might at the beast behind.

The black line of dwellings split in two when the door to their own house opened. Two silhouetted figures stood, haloed in the glow of a welcoming fire and the promise of protection.

Jennet pushed Davion into their mother’s arms, but before she could step through the doorway to safety, razor claws sunk deep into her leg. A cry of both fear and pain shattered the silence in the streets.

A flash of steel, a roar of a wounded beast, a final ripping of flesh as the claws dislodged from her leg, a strong arm around her waist before all went black.
Three anxious faces were staring at her when her eyes fluttered open again. Her leg throbbed. The pungent odor of her mother’s special wound ointment helped to clear her head.

“Momma, I lost one of your apples.”

Her mother leaned in and kissed her on the forehead, brushing the little girl’s sweat dampened hair to the side. “I have you two, honey. You didn’t lose anything. As long as you are safe, that’s all I could ever want.”

Crowds swarmed Jennet’s house the next day to hear about the encounter with the beast. As sunset approached, even more care was taken to secure their houses.

At a little before eight, Jennet felt an odd tingling in her foot, a sensation that rose to the pit of her belly. Dinner. Time to go out and feed.