Evil is tangible; it stinks in the air, warm and rotting.
In many stories, inflicted villages are shocked when it arrives at their door. But evil isn’t hidden, not truly, not ever. The darkness seeps toward the light, tonguing its borders for weaknesses.
When the woman in red came to the village, the air paused, holding its breath. The leaves ceased rustling. The livestock laid down or hid in the barn. Evil was upon us, if only we would have paid attention.
Her maroon skirts ruffled as she glided through our town, her movements graceful. She stopped at the inn and asked for a room. She was just passing through, she said. Thought this looked like a quaint little town. One of godfearing folk.
Stella, the innkeeper, recounted this that evening at the pub, her fleshy cheeks the color of rubies. Already the woman in red was infecting the women of the town.
The next morning, Stella was bedbound. They said with a sudden sickness. I could smell the copper when I walked by her house; it was thick with the scent of rust and unholiness.
It happened in a long, silent wave. By the next day, every woman in the town was confined to their beds with the same sickness infecting Stella. Every woman but the woman in red.
The town stunk of copper. No one dared utter the word, yet we all knew it was blood. She remained in her room during the day, only surfacing once the sun had set and the sky was cloaked in gray and black.
Some tried to follow her, of course. Mysterious women are always seen as a threat to our community like ours. Yet they always lost her around a bend in the road or at the creek’s edge. The only thing beyond the babbling brook was the woods, the naked trees twisting into monsters with claws and fangs in the darkness. No one from the village dared pass that boundary. We have always been a people of superstition and fear.
The next day, the women appeared miraculously cured. The smell had subsided, and the sun even shined brilliantly on our village. Perhaps the worst was over. God had blessed us many times before.
At dusk, however, everything changed. Before witnessing such perversion, I had only read about it. Bodies contorting into unnatural shape, claws and fangs extending from nail beds and gums. Cries that could only be described as feral. The women were unrecognizable.
The townsfolk hid behind barred doors, pitchforks and guns in trembling hands. I stood in the shadows outside of the inn, waiting. I knew she would emerge. This was her doing, after all. I was certain of it.
Blue light shined above me. I looked up at the moon, so full it seemed ready to explode. I wondered, what will the moon birth?
The door to the inn swung open, the woman in red’s face bathed in lantern light. She strode past me, in the direction of the woods. I followed, my steps careful and quiet. I knew this land better than anyone. Howling and mewling surrounded me as we neared the creek and the forest’s edge.
The woman in red was driving the women of the town to the woods. Was it sorcery or female instinct? I’ll never be sure.
I stepped timidly on slick rocks to cross the water. I dropped to my hands and knees and crawled the rest of the way to the trees, my fingers and toes flexed like a beast’s.
I paused at the opening to the woods, its mouth opened wide, inviting. Do not give into temptation, I chided myself.
The moon’s light trickled down the trees in spurts. It was all I needed to see. The women, naked, crouched as blood ran freely from their womanhood. Their lips stretched wide in grins. Their flesh flushed red. They cried out, echoing one another. Were they laughing? Was that glee? The woman in red kneeled in the middle of them, arms into the dirt. Her eyes white orbs reflecting the full moon.
With care, I retraced my every step. Sometimes it is our duty to vanquish evil, to try to tear it to shreds. Sometimes, however, all we can do is run.