Rapturous applause followed as they concluded the storytelling session. The community fire pit was nearly empty within a few minutes except for a few meandering to know more about the strangers.
The man and the partner were alone in no time. They were gathering alms left behind by the crowd when four chubby adolescents interrupted them.
‘We want a private show,’ the meanest looking one among the four demanded.
‘My apologies. That is not possible. We wish to retire,’ the man answered.
‘Do you want us to beat you up? Your girl will give us company then, alone,’ an evil grin spread across the mean face.
The man peered at the faces in the group and sighed, preparing to narrate one last tale.
Many summers ago, in a faraway land, one evening, it rained as if the sky had a hole, and thundered as if the mountains were moving. A young lad braved the weather to venture into the woods in search of his brother.
‘Beware of the devil living in the forest. The night is nigh, boy,’ an old man forewarned him.
The lad ventured deep into the woods. None ever stepped into this part of the forest willingly. Something sinister lurked in these parts as per the legends. The sky turned dark, darker than he had ever seen it. The wolves howled, and the owls hooted. He shivered; wet and hungry, he was losing hope and contemplated abandoning the search.
It was then that he heard a wail. His heartbeat quickened, ‘my brother, is that you?’ he called out, again and again, in vain.
Clutching the axe in one hand and an oil lamp in the other, he followed the wail to its source.
A maiden lay injured. Her torn white gown left nothing to the imagination. He froze upon seeing her. Her youthful skin shined in the flicker from the lamp, enticing him to quench his darkest desires.
Resisting the strange temptation, he bent to cover her with his shirt. But she disappeared into thin air. He rocked back in disbelief. Then a piercing shriek knocked him unconscious.
The lad woke up in a cave, covered in the blood and entrails of unknown people. His panic-stricken mind urged him to run. Gasping for breath, he scampered towards the exit. But a lady with blood-red eyes stood in his way.
She spoke, ‘A great flame falling from the sky will annihilate these lands, soon. None living here will survive. I give you a chance to leave, but you have to permit me to travel with you as your partner. I shall harm no innocent and shall only feed on….’
‘Only feed on?’ the group drew closer to the man.
‘Only feed on the scum among the men!’ the man concluded the tale, adding ‘Will you beat me now?’ A pair of red eyes shone over his shoulder and a deafening thunder roared across the sky.
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