The Beast

Calvin recited the story they all knew: Adam’s mother, dressed in only her nightclothes, an enchanted smile on her face and a feral gleam in her eye, had strolled out under a full moon straight into the Forbidden Forest. Adam’s father, perhaps guided by a similar spell, or perhaps concern for her safety, followed her into the trees. Credible reports followed, describing sightings of Jedediah and Hattie in friendly company with wild bears, known to religious experts as the Beast of Witches. Seven years later, when the memories of those tragic events were fading, their son, Adam Green, suddenly reported an outlandish vision: a black box with a talking head inside it. The spot in the woods where he found this devilish box was exactly the same spot his parents vanished.

“Naturally, my father Titus detected the first spoor of the Evil One’s presence with the behavior of his parents. At that time, he attempted to raise the alarm about it in his sermons. It was as though Adam’s parents had heard a Satanic voice calling them from the woods, and they lacked the spiritual purity to resist the temptation. Of course, even prior to this, Jedediah Green was well-known to have suspicious inclinations.”

“What sort of suspicious inclinations?” asked George.

“Well, for example, he and his wife had an unusual interest in music and dance. And Jedediah possessed an unnatural dislike for the weaponry of old—guns, as we used to call them—and campaigned strongly against their use.”

“We don’t use these weapons anymore, do we, Reverend?”

Obadiah frowned. “No, we stopped using them, largely because of Jedediah’s campaign against them. We have domesticated our meat-animals. And we depend on trapping for fur. The old practice of using muskets acquired a dark reputation, largely due to the efforts of Adam’s father, who found sympathy in many others in the community, including former Mayor Increase Gladford. He claimed they promoted weak morals and were a hazard to children. In fact, he prognosticated that at some time in the future, these devices would become sufficiently dangerous that individuals would regularly assault the children in the schoolhouse, or the children themselves would become so corrupted they would assault one another. Preposterous claims, of course. I must confess, however, being soft-hearted when it comes to children, I was myself initially sympathetic to his efforts, given the metal balls that were exuded from the barrels of these weapons were animated by charges of sulfur, which, as everyone knows, is the devil’s powder. Guns have never been rehabilitated, although our ability to protect our loved ones from wild animals, especially bears, would improve if they were.”

George cupped his chin. “Maybe in this time of social change, the issue of gun control is something we should re-consider.”

“After Adam Green reported the phantom in the forest,” continued Calvin, “I began to study his actions more closely. And I was filled with alarm by everything I saw. Naturally, with the killings of these girls, there was nothing left to doubt. I knew the Beast had returned.”

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