It was the longest night of the year, and in these parts we know how to do a long night. Everywhere you turned, bonfires were burning and people gathered around. But they weren’t generally facing the fire. No, they knew that out there in the long darkness were things that wanted to take advantage. By instinct if not by direct knowledge, they gathered with light behind them and faced their fears.
Even the children who were usually first to take advantage of a celebration were nervous. The youngest poked at the fires with sticks, and played quietly in the dust, of course. But the older youths could tell the adults were nervous, and reflected it back in their attitudes.
A few brash near adults were trying to shift the mood. There’s always one or two in every village. They don’t believe the old tales because they are from times before they were born, and everyone knows instinctively that nothing important happened before you were born. They sang bawdy songs, egged each other on, jumped through the fires, and generally made pests of themselves.
After a time, even they realized that this is the night when the adults are serious.
For their parts, the adults mostly secretly envied the foolishness of youth. Some of them remembered being that brash, before the truth approached them with bared teeth and stole their loved ones from the village. The rest remembered their envy when they were that young, that they didn’t dare join in the dance and play when they’d had the chance.
For now, it was too late for them.
It was the longest night of the year, and in these parts we know how to do a long night. Everywhere you turned, bonfires were burning. And people stood nervously in circles, with their children, sick, and elders inside the circles, and the adults at the edge. Facing their fears. Facing out into the darkness, clutching what weapons they could find, and waiting.
Noises from the south attracted some attention. Murmurs. But they were the wrong kind of noise, neither other victims of the dark, nor the beasts of song and lore themselves. The southern noises died down shortly, without reaching a place where they were visible.
This year, some of the adults carried newfangled gadgets that some huckster had brought to town with a good sales pitch. No one was quite certain what they were supposed to actually do. The wise old women (as usual, ignored by the youngers who knew better) were pretty sure that their primary function had been exercised already, that is, separate the hopeful from their money. But on the longest night, you joined the circles, you brought what weapons you had, and you hoped that you and yours would be spared the worst fate.
A fate that when glimpsed and survived seemed to involve teeth.
No one who caught more than a glimpse ever survived.
It was the longest night of the year, and in these parts we know how to do a long night. Everywhere you turned, bonfires were burning. The people were huddled close, enjoying the warmth, protecting their young and weak, and waiting their fate.
Noises suddenly from all directions.
The children suddenly quieted and stilled their play.
The fire jumping youths even stood still to listen and tremble. Although none would later admit to fear. Out loud, at least.
The adults braced, readied their weapons, and waited.
A snarling toothy black cloud raced through the town square, seemingly arriving and departing simultaneously from all directions. Sound and fury at all sides. The adults held their ground, refusing to look away.
The attack subsided as quickly as it arose.
The square was a mess. One fire was rubbed out completely, but as the people calmed down, they realized that it had been burning low and everyone had dispersed to the other fires well before the attack.
As the sky lightened in the east, the fires were allowed to die down, and the cooks circulated to bring warm tea and fresh bread to everyone.
It was the longest night of the year, and in these parts, we know how to do a long night.