The village of Farrow Glen was haunted. A spirit, or some otherworldly creature, roamed the lands, attacking the village folk; it had a particular fondness for young women. Many lives were left in ruin over the years. The beast was cunning, and disappeared before anyone could do anything to it. One day, having had enough, the villagers came up with a plan. They constructed a labyrinth on the outskirts of the village and lured the beast to its center, where an altar had been built. A young woman named Eloise was to wait there for the creature to arrive.
Oliver took another sip of his coffee, savoring its bitterness, letting it flow through his body. It was a quiet afternoon, and the little coffee shop only had two patrons, himself and an older gentleman with little hair but a full set of luxurious mutton chops. Oliver looked out the window onto the cobbled street, lined with rows of quaint-looking buildings, their sloping roofs pointed at the heavens. As the rest of the world marched further into modernity, Farrow Glen seemed content to lounge in the past. The village had changed precious little over the years.
Everything about it seemed stuck in a different era, from the buildings to the roads to the little tavern at the far end of the main street. Only the people were new. Even the labyrinth at the edge of the village was still intact, looking as new as the day it was built. For as long as he could remember, Oliver had dreamt about the labyrinth. It had consumed his nights, and some of his days. Through school, college, a marriage and a fairly quick divorce, the labyrinth loomed large in his mind. He couldn’t escape it. So one day, he packed his bags and came to Farrow Glen. He had to see it. Maybe that would get it off his mind for good.
As the moon spread its pale light across the forests and the fields, the beast appeared, shrouded in a black, inky mist. It entered the maze, following the sweet scent of young flesh. It navigated its way through winding paths that would have left any ordinary man confounded. At last, it came upon the altar where she waited. Her fair skin seemed to glow in the light of the moon, her soft bosom heaving as her heart hammered in her chest. The beast drew near, and the other villagers sprang from their hiding places, attacking with every weapon they had. It was no good. The beast slaughtered them all, save one.
Oliver finished his coffee and explored the village. It was a big change of pace from his life in the city. He had lived in a place much like this when he was very young, but he didn’t remember much about it. The city was where he really belonged, or so he’d thought. But the labyrinth called to him. It was always the same dream. He would be walking through the maze at night until he entered its heart, where a small altar stood. On it lay a black, wolf-like creature that resembled no wolf on this world. It looked right at Oliver with eyes that seemed to be made from fragments of the moon, unblinking. It whispered his name in a voice like rustling paper. And then he woke up.
As he walked past the old post office, which was also the village’s only bank, Oliver stopped to admire the view. He could see rolling hills in the distance, shrouded in a light fog. Trees were swaying softly in the breeze, and closer than that, just past the edge of the town, sat the labyrinth. He stood and stared.
Eloise pulled the dagger from her belt and struck. It had been given to her by her grandmother, a relic enchanted by a powerful shaman and meant to ward off evil. The dagger pierced the beast’s flesh, or what would be considered flesh. It screamed and lashed out at her. She fell, surrounded by the corpses of her neighbors. The beast was wounded and very angry. It advanced upon her, and she could feel its hot, noxious breath on her face. She stabbed at it with the dagger again, but it was too late.
“It’s hard to resist, isn’t it?” asked a gravelly voice.
Oliver turned to see the old man from the coffee shop. He was wearing a mud-colored sweater and dark slacks, and leaned heavily on a twisted wooden cane.
“I beg your pardon?”
The old man pointed with his cane. “The labyrinth. It’s the only reason outsiders come to this town. Everyone wants to see the spooky maze and find the monster.” His voice was heavy with disdain.
“Do you get a lot of tourists?”
“Not during this time, no. But in the summer? They come in by the handful they do. Walking around having picnics. It’s one big bloody party to them.”
“Have any of them ever found it? The monster?”
“Not bloody likely. Nobody ever goes near the center. For one thing, I don’t think any of them would ever get back out if they tried. But really, they’re scared. Scared that the stories might be true.”
The old man smiled, but there was no joy in it. “I heard about the monster as a child. Never seen it with my own eyes. Nobody had. But we knew it was out there. It had been, for many centuries. Killing, eating, and doing things that would make the Devil blush. When I was a young man, fully fourteen years of age, a young girl named Betsy Miller was attacked. The beast had ravaged her, but she was alive. It was the last straw. We all knew it had to stop. So the labyrinth was built, and the village elders set a trap.”
“And it worked, didn’t it? The beast was trapped.”
“So they say. The elders went in there, along with young Eloise. She was the bait, you see. She was the only one that survived that night. We saw her in the morning, covered in blood from head to foot. She would not speak of what happened. By nightfall, she was gone. Her house was empty, her belongings removed. She had left, and the secret of the labyrinth left with her. After that, the attacks stopped. The village was safe. We boarded up the entrance to the labyrinth for a time, but all the wood rotted and fell away, though the maze itself stood. Nothing’s come out of there, as far as we know, and nobody dares go in. Not too far, anyway.”
The old man was staring at the labyrinth as he talked. His eyes had a far away look to them and there was something else about them. They were filled with fear, Oliver realized. He changed the subject, and they engaged in some more small talk. The man’s gruff demeanor had softened somewhat. He seemed tired. After a while, he excused himself and left, and Oliver turned back to the labyrinth. The sun was setting.
Eloise stood up, trembling all over, her body threatening to fall again. The beast lay on the altar, oozing viscous black blood, but still very much alive. She didn’t have the strength to fight any longer. But it would not leave. She knew that much. It was now bound to this place. She staggered out of the labyrinth and back to the village to let everyone know that it was done. They were shocked to see her and asked many questions, but she would give no answers. She went home and bathed, but still felt covered in filth. Farrow Glen was no longer her home. She left that night in silence and moved to another village where nobody knew her name or her face. She would start a new life and forget about the beast and that horrific night. Or so she thought. Until a few weeks later, when she woke up feeling uneasy and vomited. That was when she knew the beast had left its mark on her.
As the last rays of daylight faded, Oliver entered the labyrinth. The air was chilly, but within the confines of the maze, it felt like a furnace. Or maybe it was Hell. Oliver walked through the maze, knowing exactly where to go. It was the same route he had walked in his dreams and in his nightmares. The moon was full, lighting his path as he went. Oliver could feel the heat emanating from the labyrinth’s heart, pulling him closer.
After what felt like an hour, he saw the clearing up ahead. Skeletons and scraps of dusty cloth were scattered around, and the altar stood in the center, stained with blood. On it lay the beast. It looked much larger than it had in Oliver’s dreams. But, in many ways, it seemed so much smaller. The creature glared at him with luminescent eyes as he pulled the dagger out of his coat. It was an old family heirloom, passed down his family for generations, and given to him by his mother on her deathbed. The beast spoke, whispering his name in a voice that sounded like rustling paper. “Oliver…”
Oliver took a deep breath and walked up to the altar. He looked down looked at the beast with a mixture of pity and revulsion, his eyes the color of the moon.With trembling hands, he raised the dagger in front of him, blade pointed down. He didn’t know what would happen when he struck, but he knew he was meant to do it. This was what his dreams had led him to. He tightened his grip on the enchanted metal. He spoke, in a cold voice that he didn’t recognize as his own.