The sleeping city lay under a thick fog that granted occasional glimpses of the moon. It kept the prying eyes of heaven off what was happening below, where a young woman’s life hung in the balance.
She had been running down the dark streets for what seemed like forever. Her gown flapped around behind her loosely, rustling with her every step. Heavy make-up, revealing clothing, and a stench of sex gave away her profession, her filth lingering behind her in the darkness.
If there had ever been a time when she would live to see the dawn, it had long since passed. The only course of action that remained to her was to delay the inevitable.
It was becoming harder with every step: she was exhausted.
She had been chased through the streets at night before, by angry men who had taken advantage of her and then returned at a later hour to take back the money they had paid her. But this time, her pursuer was no man – it was something far more sinister, more monstrous than anyone who threatened her with cruel words or solid fists could ever have been. Fear was something she knew well, but tonight … this was a new kind of terror.
The narrow, cobbled streets she ran through were devoid of human life, but then no passer-by would have stopped to help her once they spotted the monster at her heels. Not to save a woman of the night.
The ragged breath that struck the back of her legs sent shivers up her spine; the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end at the feeling. She screamed as her chest began to tighten, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes.
She turned sharply to the right, down a hidden passageway that led onto the next street. Not fooled, her pursuer flew around the corner after her, spitting and snarling. It wanted her to remember it was there; she was hardly likely to forget. In fact, the part of her mind that could still concentrate on something other than panic and faster and death was convinced that it was toying with her. Twice she had thought she had escaped, and twice it had jumped at her out of nowhere, continuing their pursuit.
It was a swift and powerful beast, bouncing off the ground on four lean legs, the occasional sharp claw scraping across a stone. The whore ran barefoot ahead, leaving a trail of blood in her wake and trying her best to ignore the pain.
Barks, growls, and crueller sounds filled her ears. They were the sorts of noises she had only heard before in her nightmares. The beast grunted and snarled like a creature of no natural origin.
She knew what it was. There was only one thing it could possibly be. She was being chased through the streets by a demon. It was proof that her sins had condemned her to hell, proof that there was nothing but torture awaiting her in the next life.
The woman tried to turn left, but the creature snapped at her and forced her to go right instead. She realised her mistake immediately when she came to the bottom of a steep, cobbled hill, too fatigued to climb. Stumbling onwards regardless, she tripped and caught herself, then picked her feet up and focused herself on the ascent. That small portion of her mind again told her that the beast was waiting for her to collapse, waiting for her most vulnerable moment.
When that moment came, she would feel the true power of the monster. She had seen it only for a moment, right before the chase had begun, but the image had seared itself onto her irises. It had wide, staring eyes and enormous teeth. It was covered in black and grey fur, water droplets clinging onto the longer hairs from the heavy downfall that had engulfed the city earlier that night. The largest of its teeth, a pair of yellow fangs, had promised to tear through her clothes and skin with ease.
It was the pitch-black eyes that had scared her the most about the creature, their soulless glare deeply unnerving. The beast had stared at her intimately, eagerly, as though it had been assessing her, before she had overcome her initial feeling of shock and started to run.
Close to the top of the hill, she turned and tripped around a sharp corner, then flew straight into the wall of a house and landed on the ground with a huff. If anyone from the nearby houses was woken by the sound of her fall, none of them came outside to see what was going on.
She realised in that moment that it was over.
The creature was on her in an instant. A pair of huge, sabre-like teeth sunk into one of her shoulders; she screamed out into the night, but still nobody came outside. With teeth and claws it dug through flesh and bone, scattering what little she had been wearing and creating a bloody mess as the beast devoured her with haste. For all of the patience it had shown during the chase, it was evidently desperate to feed. She was not left to scream for long; an assault on her neck left her vocal chords scattered down the alley.
A barely audible gurgle signalled the final moment of the whore’s physical life, and then her suffering ended.
Blood and small pieces of skin dangled sloppily from the hairs around the beast’s mouth. It took a final bite before leaving the carcass of the whore in the alley, to be found by some unsuspecting person the following morning. She had been a hasty feast that it had eaten its way through in under a minute.
The animal sped off, far from satisfied. Keen eyes adapted to the night sought out a second victim. Real food came once a month, and only human flesh could truly please it.
And the chase – the game it played – was a celebration of its freedom. Like real food, freedom only came once a month. For the rest of the time, the creature was a prisoner, trapped inside the body of a human who had no idea that it was there and knew nothing of what happened when the monster took over.
It was incredibly smart and had great mental strength. The more people it tore apart and devoured, the stronger it seemed to become. It was sly enough to allow its human host to live their normal life, oblivious to the beast within, and ready to take over should it become threatened.
There, within that human, it had grown. A prisoner trapped inside a human-cell. The longer it had been in there, the more it had yearned for release, until it had been willing to do anything to escape. One day, it would take complete control of the body they shared, and then it would be the human trapped within the body of the beast.
There was nothing it thought about more than destroying the human: it was obsessed. Yet it was also patient, incredibly so. Patience was something it had always known.
Not much longer. Not much longer. Soon, it would be able to take control more frequently, and feed increasingly often. That was when it would be able to strike. The human would know the unnatural, unstoppable pain of being trapped inside a body that was not their own.
It was hardly the first to kill for freedom.
The second feed was easy for the beast to find. The only people who were out in the city at that hour were slow, easy targets, with no idea of what was lurking in the shadows.
He was a scruffy-looking man sneaking about at the back of a gambling den, probably looking for coins that had been dropped on the ground. The downward spiral of addiction encouraged by the city was evident on him. In a way, the monster would be doing him a favour.
After a while, the man gave up searching for coins and set off down the street, the beast following him. His life and death were under its command.
They walked for some time, the human staggering from side-to-side and muttering to himself, clearly intoxicated; the beast following without a sound. This was going to be a poor hunt, but chasing the screaming prostitute had been extremely satisfying and the animal knew it would be best to lay low after her deafening shrieks. The game was not an essential part of the hunt.
The gambler paused at the corner of a house, leaning against the wall to catch his breath. He did not seem to have the ability to run in him. Having no desire to continue the crawl, the beast took its chance and struck.
It leapt at the man and sunk its teeth into his neck, digging its fangs deep into the skin and slicing across his neck, leaving a trail of blood. The gambler did not even have a chance to see who his attacker was, dead before he hit the ground; the creature devoured his limp body just as it had done the harlot’s. Like her, the taste of his sins mingled with his flesh. A stink of impiety and negativity came off the meat, foul even to the beast’s nose. It could taste and smell every crime, every wrong, every immoral action the man had ever committed, from the first lie to the drinking and the gambling of that night.
The feast finished, the beast skulked away. One more meal to finish off the night, and then the creature would spend its remaining few hours wandering around the countryside, where it could chase wild animals and quietly observe the pack of wild dogs that lived in the nearby forest. They were instinctive animals without the same intelligent level conscious thought that the beast possessed, but it yearned to live as they did nonetheless. A simple life. An animalistic life.
Perhaps it could persuade them to allow it to join their pack. It would take some time. The beast was more powerful than any of them, strong enough to tear a man in two. It would continue to hunger for the taste of human flesh, like none of the others did, because it knew the power of that precious meat, but life with the wild dogs would be easy. It could live as nature had intended, no matter how unique it was.
The first few times that it had taken control from the human, it had not killed. It had done nothing more than enjoy its newfound freedom. Back then, the creature had believed it could have done anything; it had come to understand that it would have to suffer before it could do the things that others took for granted.
It tried to behave as the wild dogs behaved, to follow its instincts and do what felt natural. As the clouds drifted across the sky slowly, the full moon came into view, and instinct kicked in: the creature stood on its two back legs and reared up, howling at the moon, the only god it would ever answer to. The full moon was a blessing, the sign of its monthly night of freedom.
It would grow hungry in the last few days before the full moon. By the time it took control, it was usually ravenous. The beast would be desperate for the taste of skin and blood; sometimes it became so needy that its human host would crave large amounts of meat too. Two minds did not fit well in one body and one could have an impact upon the other without either of them noticing.
A third victim was close – the beast could sense it. They came out at night, the sinners. A part of the creature wanted to punish them for what they had done, perhaps a way that it could justify what it did, to carry out the work of the being that humans called God and purge society of their filth. It was a message to those who remained alive that they should live better lives and avoid immorality.
The last meal was not difficult for the monster to find, but he was accompanied by another person: a young girl, who he had been having an adulterous relationship with. She could live for another day, young enough to learn to change; if the beast caught her next month, that would be too bad. She would have to learn to run, and fast.
The beast’s quarrel was with the man, the one with the large stomach who reeked of sex. He should have been at home in bed, asleep with his wife and under the same roof as his children, but instead an excuse had allowed him to meet up with his younger lover. Whatever he had done to encourage the girl to believe his lies, it had been successful.
Wary of approaching more than one person at a time, the beast held back. It had learned previously that it was important for its prey to be alone and defenceless. If there were too many witnesses to its presence in the city, that would bring about its disaster.
After a short distance, the pair stopped, and the girl turned to face the man. She stood on the tips of her toes and kissed the man firmly on the lips before vanishing into her parent’s house and leaving her lover behind in the darkness. It would be the last time that she would ever see him. The beast was to save her from his manipulation.
The beast’s nose crinkled in disgust. There would be punishment for this man’s sin in this life, and in the next. He stood there, half shrouded in the shadow cast by that house, for a minute or so, seemingly lost in his thoughts. It was nothing for the beast to wait for him to turn and begin lumbering back down the street.
What a shame it was – he was too fat for a long chase. He would make a good meal, though.
The beast emerged from the darkness, gleefully watching the way that the man’s eyes went wide and his face fell as he spotted the great hulking monster in his path. It growled low and snapped at him; he tore off in the opposite direction, his footfalls heavy. There was no reason for the beast to toy with him: he offered it no fun. It sped after him, catching up with him before he was able to reach the corner at the far end of the street.
He was pulled to the ground as though he weighed nothing. The third frenzied feeding of the night followed, and then the beast, wary that it must have been heard and likely spotted, crept away on quiet paws. It retreated to the dull green countryside beyond the city walls, where it felt the forest call to it.
The beast made its way over and settled down in the undergrowth on the outskirts of the forest, where it could look out into the stillness of the night. It enjoyed the contrast between the atmospheres of the city and the countryside. The only sounds in the forest were quiet, sometimes so quiet that it had to strain its ears to hear them. That in itself was significant: the animal had highly acute hearing.
Nocturnal animals hooted and called out into the night, their sounds sinister and uncanny in the darkness. The beast let out a soft howl, joining their chorus. Soon, it would be able to call this place home. Before then, there would be several long months, when it was not in command. It could feel itself growing stronger, but it was not yet strong enough.
One day, it would have full control of the body that it was forced to share with a worthless, hypocritical being. One day, but not yet.
For the present, the only home it had was the one where the human decided to spend their days. For the present, the human was so strong that the beast was sometimes unable to understand where they ended and it began. Two minds, forced to live where there should only ever have been one. A body pushed and forced to twist and change, depending upon which one of them was in control, and the way the controller wanted to look. A painful combination of monster and human that should never have been brought together, in which one of them would always be the captive of the other.
Maybe the human would realise that there was something living inside of them soon, and find out what the creature did. Perhaps they would discover what they became on the full moon and try to fight back, but the beast doubted that they would have the strength. It was confident that it could dominate, should the human ever learn that it existed within them.
There was a more pressing worry than that human, in any case; the beast knew them inside out. Other humans, however, were not the same. If a large enough group of laypeople discovered it, then they would have no issue with killing human and best as one, taking them both out with a single blow to kill the nightmare that stalked the streets. Then there were other dangers, hunters and soldiers, which would be even more dangerous for the beast.
Humans spoke of monsters and demons that could transform into whatever shape they desired, their stories making little or no distinction between the human and the beast that occupied that body, imagining them to be indistinguishable in some instances. Was that what it was? A demon? The beast had no answers to life’s simplest – and hardest – question. Humans had concluded, with their limited knowledge, that monsters were instinctive creatures, wanting nothing more than destruction and death, but this beast wished for far more. It knew loneliness like no human could understand it – it wanted to belong, to be accepted.
If it was a demon, then humans knew nothing of demons.
The beast had learned these stories through the human, their memories and conversations. It had spent a lot of time learning how to delve into the human’s mind without arousing suspicion. They were a well-educated person, a matter which had served the creature well, with a wide knowledge of folklore, religion, and modern thought.
The human had been useful, in this respect. They had taught the animal much about the world around it, including their weaknesses and how it could use those to its advantage. It would almost be a shame when the beast took over and the human was no more – or, rather, it would have been, had the concept of taking over not been such a glorious one. Freedom was the one thing that the animal would give anything for.
Yes, it killed. It destroyed lives, from individuals to whole communities, but it did so in a righteous way. Those it took down and fed upon were sinners, and their punishments in the next life would be far worse than anything it could possibly do to them in this one. With each human it devoured, it could feel its autonomy getting closer. The need to be free was, after all, hardly alien to mankind: it was only natural. It killed so that it could life, no in self-defence, but in self-preservation. It had never considered that there might be another way.
From the stories that humans told, the animal knew that it was a monster. This was what monsters did.