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And the Beast Shook the Earth with its Cloven Hoof

   Outside, the rain and wind are raging. Gusts shaking the frail wooden house as the storm seeps in. For a few days now, Jacob should have known something was wrong. His beasts had been very agitated, and several animals tried to escape by breaking the fence. He have found several dead birds that had broken their necks against the building. All around him, in the forest, he had not heard a sound. No bird, no wolf, nothing. Also, he felt like he was being spied on, no matter where he was, outside or inside. The thin walls of his cottage were no refuge. Constantly hovering over him there was this tension in the air, just like those days were a thunderstorm is near. He even surprised himself to think that his goats were watching him, their eyes following him when he was going to cut wood in the early morning. Living alone didn’t help. Since the death of his wife when she gave birth to her first child, and the death of the latter by a fever, a few days after his coming into the world, the world was losing its light every day. The rising sun seemed less and less bright, the prayers to the Lord more and more meaningless, the tomorrows losing all of the promised hope. Yet Jacob firmly believed in heaven and the Almighty God. He feared his anger and oblivion more than death itself. One day, however, he found himself wanting to see his wife and son whom he would never see grow up. In a moment of weakness, he had dared to think that no price would be too great for that. To pull himself together, he had prayed more fervently, begging heavens to forgive him. Some nights he heard noises outside, terrifying noises. Steps. Not an animal, because he knows his animals would have made more noises, but human steps. He had seen them and heard them stop at his door, two small shadows appearing between the ground and the wood planks. Sometimes he also heard a voice, one of a woman, calling him outside. “Come, my heart, come, I missed you so much, if you knew.” A short silence ensued, and then the voice resumed. “Why won’t you come? Don’t you love me anymore? You don’t even want to see your son, so dear to your heart? He is in my arms, we are waiting for you, come to us. Join us outside.” That night he did not sleep. He had remained awake all night, terrified, petrified by what could not be his wife. He had also never heard these steps go away. They stood outside his door, waiting for him.

In the early morning, opening the door, holding his crucifix all against his heart, he opened his door with a trembling hand and discovered no one, only a strand of hair, blond as the sun, blond as his beloved. That day he also discovered that one of his goats had disappeared, without the fence falling or the gate opening. Every night, Jacob is haunted, by voices, by dreams, by fear. The voices drive him to sin, and when he can sleep enough to dream, his dreams are filled with horrors that use his wife’s voice and face. He stopped sleeping. Sometimes visions haunt his day, whispered in his ear before disappearing, silhouettes at the edge of the wood, spying on him, his flock watching him. Prayer has become his only refuge, since sleep is now forbidden to him. Thoughts to his wife occupy his mind, day and night. Only the desperate prayers that now occupy all of his free time, when his hands are not working, allow him to hold on. He came to neglect everything else, fearing of letting himself go to think. He cannot say how much time has passed, for his mind has strayed a little into the mist, observing the passage of days and nights without seeing them, dreading at every moment, a voice, a presence.

The rain always howls, and the wind rumbles between the beams supporting its roof, like a beast. His animals are even more panicked. Jacob never heard them like that, this panicked. A squall shakes the house and violently opens its door, sending it repeatedly banging against the wall. Rising from his bed to close the door and push a plank to block it, he sees the fence swaying with the wind, as if ready to collapse. The gate through which he feeds his goats is ajar. Taking his courage with both hands, he braves the storm and heads for the wooden fence. Closing it properly, Jacob notices one of his beasts in the middle of the ring formed by the logs, away from the others under the shelter made of planks. This beast, staring at him, in the eyes. Moreover, he notices his big horns, and suddenly realizes that this beast does not belong to him. This freezes him on the spot, this vision of horror filling him with terror. A voice, that of his wife, or something pretending to be his wife whispers in his ear, as if it was directly speaking to his mind. “Here you are at last, my dear. Don’t you want to see us finally reunited? You wish for it, deep in your heart, but you think it is impossible, which is why you pray even more ardently afterwards. Yet I can grant you this wish, this desire so profound. I love you, and I want us to be together again, forever.” These last two words bounce in Jacob’s mind, bringing tears to his eyes. He falls to his knees, desperate, crying. He does not know if he is crying to ask for forgiveness or to thank with all his soul. Always observing him, the goat stands up, as if to strike, but he stands, like a man. He steps forward, and on his first step, the beast shakes the earth with its cloven hoof. Then, his left leg changes into a booted leg, then, comes the second one.

Before his eyes, the goat turns into a man. His shape remains fuzzy, in the dark of the night, but he approached. The light of the full moon then revealed the features of divine statues, a pointed goatee and strange clothes, both pompous but very distinguished. He puts a gloved hand on his shoulder, a hand so cold but at the same time so hot that it burns him. The second one hands him a little book. Although he could neither read nor write, he knew what it was all about. The priest had spoken about it during his sermon. The little book opened on its own, on a page, full of inscriptions. “Jacob, write a cross at the bottom of the page. Sign it up and you will finally join your wife and son.” A feather appeared in his hand, and he brought it to the bottom of the page. Trembling, he drew a cross. The tip of the feather, not dipped into ink still wrote. When the cross was traced, it seemed to glow. The notebook and pen disappeared, as if they never existed. Looking up, he saw that the thing was still staring at him, a look similar to that of a goat, with its special pupil. Suddenly, everything around him faded into oblivion. Finally, peace reached his heart.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Fiction, Horror, Mystery/Thriller

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