The early summer night seemed unseasonably cold to John Hathorne, as he leaned out the back door to check that the path was clear. He grimaced at the chill in the air and clutched his wife’s woolen shawl more closely about him. His dismay when he’d found that the chamber pot was missing was doubled now, as his breath puffed out in white clouds and the bare flesh on his legs rose in goose pimples.
But the demands of his earthly flesh could and would not be denied.
The moon was high and full, lighting the garden path sufficiently that he barely needed the lantern. Still, he carried it high as a standard of godly light against the Devil and his kin. No wind shook the new leaves above, and the crickets were silent. He was keenly aware of the loudness of his breath and the drumming of his heart in his ears. No matter that the trials had ended, he knew that many more witches still remained free, still presented a danger to God-fearing men in their heathen alliance to the Devil — he could feel it. Hathorne pressed his lips together as he surveyed his property once more for signs of Satan before setting the lantern carefully on the ground.
His hand trembled slightly as he reached for the handle of the privy door. Shameful. Hathorne shook his head at himself, wiped his sweaty palm on his nightshirt, and reached back for the lantern once more. Then, whispering a psalm for courage and protection, he took a firm grip on the door and flung it open, thrusting the lantern before him into the darkened space.
No demon leaped from the inside to attack him; no spectral figure crouched on the sanded wooden seat, ready to pinch and claw his flesh. There was only a little empty room, emitting the usual offensive odours. Hathorne found that he’d been holding his breath and released it with a whoosh as he set the lantern back down, entered the small wooden closet, and shut the door.
He immediately regretted the loss of light. His internal organs seized up in utter and irrational terror. A bead of perspiration slid down his forehead, and his heart hammered against his chest. One toe snuck forward to open the the door a little and admit a shaft of warm yellow light. Pale moonlight poured in as well, and hating himself for allowing fear to battle propriety, he pushed the door open half-way.
There. Now, he could see the friendly glow from the kitchen fireplace through the glass window, and the candle he’d left on the table to light his way through the house.
After a few moments, his pulse slowed and the first trickles of urine promised the coming relief of his aching bladder.
A sudden gust of wind pushed the door the rest of the way open, startling him so he cried out; at almost the same moment, the lantern fell and rolled away in a half-circle, extinguishing the candle within. A great black shape stepped before him on four legs and growled. Hathorne’s scalp tingled as his hair stood on end and his bladder emptied in an unexpected gush.
The thing looked at him with eyes that glowed red, living coals of fury over a pointed snout and bared, glistening teeth.
And then it reached for him.
Hathorne’s throat closed even as he tried to call for help; gibbering madly, he pressed himself as far back against the wall behind as he could, trying vainly to avoid the thick, hairy limb. Rough claws found purchase on his calf. Hathorne felt splinters dig under his fingernails as he held onto the doorframe, resisting the pull of the demon with all of his strength.
Look for “Thy Will Be Done” in Dark Moon Books this fall!