A cracked skull the constables told me, must have happened when I hit the flagstone walkway. And the bruises, obviously caused by my convulsions. There was no doubt in their minds that I had succumbed to a fit of hysteria, which was perfectly understandable considering the recent spate of molestations in area. The dark stains on my bodice they attributed to a bloody nose, a matter of a weak constitution to be sure. They weren’t concerned about the volume of blood and didn’t seem to notice that there wasn’t any of it around my nostrils. They also didn’t seem to notice the rumpled grass at the edge of the walkway—or that it continued to the garden.
It was an uncivil hour, and he made quite a racket banging on the front gate and yelling that the beast had been seen prowling the lane. He said he followed its curious spring-heeled footprints to our garden wall where they simply stopped, as if it had leaped straight up into the air and over the top. If I could just spare a candle, he could continue the hunt.
From what I could see of him, he wore a long, dark cloak and carried a bullseye lantern that was spent. As I opened the gate, I offered a candle fetched from the kitchen—but instead of accepting it, he threw off his cloak with a sudden jerk revealing a devilish visage and claws that glinted in the moonlight as if made of metal.
He seemed surprised that I didn’t immediately faint at the sight of him or run as he belched out a gout of blue-white flame and clawed at me. He seemed equally surprised at what else I had brought from the kitchen—and at just how much blood a dinner knife could draw.
I wonder if, after I rolled his body off me and began dragging it to the garden, the thought crossed his mind that I might have been expecting him.
Francesco Levato is a poet, professor, and writer of speculative fiction. Recent books include SCARLET; Arsenal/Sin Documentos; Endless, Beautiful, Exact; and Elegy for Dead Languages. Recent speculative fiction appears in Savage Planets, Sci-Fi Shorts, and Tales to Terrify. He holds an MFA in Poetry, a Ph.D. in English Studies, and is an Associate Professor of Literature & Writing Studies at California State University San Marcos.