No one ever returned. None before. None after. Just him.
A figure exploded from the edge of the forest, scattering twigs and scraps of mist. Donafel let out a sharp breath, a plume of condensation. Ghostly antlers crowned the figure’s head and, for a moment, the familiar terror gripped him. But no—the antlers were merely the crisscross of branches.
He took a shuddering breath, letting his fear and disappointment dissipate into the chill morning air. The wooden porch creaked as he shifted.
The figure spotted Donafel and careened to a halt, still shadowed by the towering trees. Mud streaked his face and clothes and he cradled his wrists, scabbed with dried blood. Donafel and the boy stared at each other.
The weight of another’s gaze—a human gaze—made Donafel feel naked. For so long his companions had been the silence of the cabin walls, the forest that crouched just beyond the fence, and the unseen watchers in the trees.
The sight of the boy brought back flashes of memory.
At the center of town, the fog dissipated until a rough circle cleared around the hitching post and the child tethered there. Out of the viscous, billowing white, a figure emerged.
His old life seemed more dream than reality. But that one night remained sharp, pungent. On the days the fog crawled from the forest, so, too, did the memories.
Once, it had been yearly; the fog would slink from the east, defying wind and sun to creep from between the trees, across the fields, through the town’s main gate.
Now… now it came far more often.
Each month, at the dark of the moon, the scars around Donafel’s wrists started to throb. The pain heralded the wall of white that oozed from the forest and occluded the cabin. When the ache in his left wrist extended to his elbow, he knew the fog had reached the town, and preparations had begun—quietly, so as not to alarm the children.
Donafel remembered the fear in his parents’ eyes. The children would be scared anyway.
The townsfolk would lock their doors, keep the children hidden beneath beds. Livestock would huddle in the farthest corner of each barn. The main gate would stand open to the abandoned streets: an invitation.
Donafel whimpered, throat too raw to scream anymore. He tugged at his bonds, frantic, until his wrists bled down his arms, but the hitching post was set deep into the ground. The figure stepped forward...
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