Feast of Feasts
by Mike Kerins
A Winters Fairy Tale
The fire crackled in the hearth, as a feeling of expectation filled
the room. The murmur of conversation subsided, as a voice both rich and
dark, began the ancient incantation:
"Gather round the fire and listen, listen well, for winter's the
time for tales and I have a tale to tell. It's a tale of the
Northlands, of ice and snow, where nights are long, and in the
darkness, strange creatures dwell..."
So it began.
In the cold aching silence, a star sparkled, brighter than any other
in the firmament, while a village snuggled beneath its blanket of snow,
and prepared for the forthcoming festivities. The sense of excitement
was almost palpable, lights shone from windows, bright with
anticipation, as soft plumes of wood smoke drifted from chimneys and up
into the night sky. A vast, primal forest sprawled across the land. The
sound of the ice cracking or the occasional whimper of some hibernating
beast, dreaming of a warm and distant spring, was all that disturbed
the stillness of the forests dark interior.
Maria, her face pale and drawn, smiled quietly down at her new born
child. The labour had been long but the others had helped her through
it, offering their comfort and support, yet hardly able to conceal
their own disappointment. So close to full term, their bodies ripe and
round, yet not ripe enough. She'd suffered that same disappointment and
sympathised, but that was all in the past now. The honour had fallen
upon her and her family. It was quite rare for a birth to occur on the
Eve of Feast itself, a miracle some might say, or at the very least a
special blessing for the village; a promise of a bountiful year ahead.
She reflected on what were called The Yule Days, the anticipation, the
excitement, and was looking forward to celebrating the Feast of Feasts
with her family.
She could hardly believe that she'd been preparing for the
festivities that very morning, it seemed a lifetime ago. Her husband
Thomas, fetching jars of pickles, salted pork and beer up from the
cellar, as she cooked and cleaned in preparation for the festival. The
children gathered sprigs of holly to decorate the cabin, asking in
wide-eyed wonder if the Red-man would be coming. "Soon, Mama, will it
be soon?" they'd cried, and danced merrily about her skirts.
"We'll see," she'd said and then asked, "have you been good children?"
"Yes, Mama, we've been good, and we'll be extra good if the Red-man comes."
"You don't want to upset the Red-man now, do you my little loves?"
"No, Mama. Will he come down the chimney, Mama?"
"Oh, children, of course he will."
She'd smiled at their shining happy faces, and absently stroked her
full round middle; her thoughts turned to her beloved husband, gone to
cut the Yule tree at the edge of the forest. He'd be home soon. He too
was anxious about the birth, hoping today would be the day, and she
would be 'chosen' and honour the village with 'The Gift'.
The children's voices interrupted her reverie, "Can we leave the Red-man something to eat and drink, can we Mama--please?"
"Of course you can," she said, "now be good children and stop asking me questions. Dada will soon be home."
"And can we…" but their words were lost, as a gust of wind whirled a
flurry of snowflakes through the open door. Thomas hauled the freshly
cut pine tree into the room. "Give me a hand and be quick," he'd said,
"We don't want to lose the warmth from the fire do we?" The children
quickly closed the door, while he brushed snow from his shoulders and
stamped it from his boots.
His eyes shone in the firelight, cheeks ruddy from the cold air, as
the children capered excitedly about the room. "Dada got the Yule tree,
Dada got the Yule tree," they chanted, before pulling decorations from
the cupboard, spilling baubles and carved toys onto the floor, as they
rummaged for their favourite ornaments.
He'd chuckled at their excitement and taking her by the hand pulled
her close, and then looking up at the mistletoe for a moment, smiled,
before kissing her gently on the lips. Then stroking the soft curve of
her belly, whispered, "This year will be our year, just you wait and
She'd blushed and let go of his hand to put the kettle on. "You'd
best stand the tree in the tub; you'll have no peace till it's done."
The youngest was pulling urgently at his sleeve, "Come Dada, come, we
want to dress the tree. You want to help, don't you Dada?"
He'd just finished planting the tree in the tub, when Maria's waters broke.
The news spread swiftly; villagers crunched through the snow and
crowded at the door offering assistance. "Is it true then?" they'd
"Yes, she is chosen." said Thomas, and held open the door as he bid
them enter. Soon the villagers were bustling about under the watchful
eye of Shayla, the village Elder and midwife. She asked would someone
to help the children finish decorating the tree, keeping them busy,
while she dealt with the serious business of birth.
It wasn't the easiest of births, but before long Shayla held the
baby in her arms. She removed the cowl from the tiny wrinkled face and
it howled, as if in protest at being dragged into a cold, bleak world.
It was large and plump--Perfect, thought Shayla, just perfect.
She cleaned and swaddled the infant before placing its angry red
face at Maria's breast and watched as it suckled hungrily, then
blessing herself discreetly whispered: "Rejoice villagers, rejoice, our
saviour has come…" The villagers bent their heads and joined with a
prayer of thanksgiving.
Later that evening, Maria sat up in bed, surrounded by friends and
family; her face was radiant and she watched the villagers celebrate,
drinking mulled wine, heated by Thomas with a red hot poker. All eyes
were drawn to the soft plump child sleeping in its crib. They nibbled
on the food provided and whispered happily to each other, but as the
evening wore on Maria's eyes grew heavy and tired. Shayla, noticing,
clapped her hands sharply, gaining the villagers attention. "It is
time, we to leave and make our own preparations for the morrow, it's
late; Maria needs her rest. Let us all be thankful for the arrival of
our children's saviour, and may our future be a happy and prosperous
one." She smiled at mother and child, brushing a few stray hairs from
Maria's brow, the baby stirred momentarily, before settling back down
Shayla said her goodbyes, reminding Thomas to dampen the fire before
retiring. The villagers moved towards the door, shoulders hunched
against a wind that already carried wraiths of their conversation far
and wide, spreading news of the birth as indiscriminately as the
In the depths of the primeval forest, something stirred. It looked
at first like roots or the white skeletal branches of a dead tree, half
buried amongst the desiccated remains of leaves and undergrowth. It was
a cosy spot to hibernate for a creature, the bole of a tree. A tree
that had an ancient trunk, twisted and gnarled, was at the dark heart
of the forest.
The wind snaked its winding path through branches and dead leaves,
whispering the news to the sleeping inhabitants of the forest, until,
with its final breath, it caressed the ear of the slumbering
creature--and the Red-man awoke!
Thomas put the children to bed. The day's events had tired them and
they were soon asleep. Now it was time for that most important part of
the festival--the wrapping of gifts.
He took the children's presents from the wardrobe and began to fold
them in brightly coloured tissue paper. He looked up from his work;
Maria's breathing was even and steady. She was exhausted and he doubted
she would wake before morning. He placed the presents beneath the tree,
where they'd be found easily, before making his way to the far end of
the cabin. The flickering remains of the fire casting his shadow long.
The fire would soon be little more than a soft glow in the hearth but
hot enough to give him warning, he thought, as he opened the cellar
door and descended. He'd placed a table down there especially for the
occasion – he'd felt it in his bones that they'd be chosen and had made
plans accordingly. He began further preparations, wiping down the
surface with a cloth, while outside the snow fell heavily and the
drifts grew ever deeper.
The Red-man blinked his blood red eyes, confused for a moment in the
darkness, before scampering up the tree with the speed of a squirrel.
It surveyed the wilderness from the top-most branches. The wind had
abated temporarily, but snow fell heavily on the tangle of the forest's
canopy, occasionally branches could be heard to creak and snap beneath
Sniffing the air, it stuck out its tongue, tentatively; a flake
resting delicately on the tip. Immediately it grimaced and shook its
head, then spat repeatedly into the night, before scampering back down,
sharp claws scoring the bark.
The forest, at this point, was too dense for the snow to penetrate,
but the undergrowth was stiff and white with hoar frost. The creature
skipped through the tangle of branches with ease, its blood red eyes
dilated in the darkness. It padded swiftly traversing the forest floor,
evading obstacles with an elastic agility, and in no time reached the
forest's periphery, then shuddered as it stepped into the cold
whiteness, before slipping on ice and sliding into a drift. It shook
the snow from its pale naked body, angry and disgruntled by the fall.
Its instincts took control and it was soon loping towards the village
with ease, its need to feed growing stronger and ever more urgent, as
the hollow emptiness ached within.
Soon it reached the outskirts of the village. It watched the smoke
as it drifted from the cabins chimneys - all except one. Instinctively
the creature knew its search was over and headed in the direction of
that particular dwelling. It circled the cabin, and sniffed the air
carefully, before leaping and embedding its claws deep into the roof.
Once secure, it padded gently towards the edge of the chimney and
peered into the darkness below. It sniffed and caught a whiff of the
acrid smoke that drifted from the embers of the fire, and made it cough
and sneeze, like a cat.
The creature frowned and licked its lips; it could smell plumpness,
fat, ripe and delicious, waiting below. Slithering down the inside of
the chimney, it landed on the warm ash, but squealed as it trod on a
red hot ember.
Thomas woke startled by the noise; he'd sat dozing, waiting in the
children's room, his axe across his lap. The Elders had denied such
things ever happened, but he'd heard rumours since childhood of how the
Red-man, hungry and unsatisfied with the gift, had once slaughtered
every child in their village. Thomas was adamant that wouldn't happen,
not tonight, not ever--their sacrifice would be the last.
He could hear it, scrabbling from the hearth, sniffling and
snuffling as it searched. He knew it must have caught the child's scent
by now. He'd left it sleeping on the table, in the cellar, bound hand
and foot with red and green ribbons, anointed with oil as tradition
dictated. He'd left the cellar door open, before retiring to the
children's room with his axe--and waited.
It scampered down the stairs, the short brown hairs on its body
bristling as it sensed plumpness within reach, then with a graceful
leap, it landed on the edge of the table and began to stroke the infant
gently, for somewhere in the recesses of its mind, it had learnt and
remembered that this was called 'Gift'--and was his. It sniffed; then
licked with its rough grey tongue, the warm sweet bundle, savouring the
aroma that tickled delicate nostrils. Then stretching its lower jaw
wide, the creature revealed those long sharp barbs that were its teeth.
On seeing this incomprehensible nightmare looking down upon it, the
baby opened its own soft pink lips to scream, but before it could, the
creature plunged expertly, ripping out the frantically beating heart
with its claws, playing with the soft gelatinous contents of the fleshy
parcel. Gnashing and tearing, ripping the poor pink bundle apart, it
bathed in the scarlet slime of its innards, painting its own pale body
red, as it ate, chewing each tender morsel with ecstatic relish. Thomas
listened as the creature sucked on the entrails, lapping at the red
salty pools, dipping the delicate bones like bread in gravy, before
resting, to digest its feast at leisure.
Petrified, Thomas crouched in the darkness. All was silence, an age
of silence as he strained to hear, even sense any movement from the
creature - but nothing. After what felt an eternity he crept to the
doorway and peered out, axe in hand, shaking uncontrollably. What met
his eyes was a scene of pure horror. Red in tooth and claw, the
monstrosity slithered from the cellar. It pulled itself upright and
then belched provocatively as its eyes fell upon him. It was red from
head to foot, a slick wet trail of blood smeared across the floor
behind it. Its eyes met his, its belly bloated and distended as it
waddled belligerently towards him, licking its lips hungrily.
He raised the axe, all the Elders mumbo jumbo about sacrifice and
appeasement were forgotten, he was taking no chances. This creature
wasn't going to take any more children ever again. He ran towards it,
screaming with fear and rage, swinging the axe down at the monstrosity
with all his might, but the creature slipped beneath the blow with
unexpected agility, and the axe buried itself deep in the floor. Its
mobility compromised, the bloated creature pushed him to the floor and
headed, terror-stricken, for the fire place. It scrambled with
difficulty up the chimney and flopped like a stranded fish on the roof,
before falling with a soft muffled plump, into a snow drift--and then
it was gone.
Maria stood there bleary-eyed. She'd lit the lantern. "What's going
on?" she said wearily. The children stood in the doorway of their
bedroom. "Was that the Red-man, Dada?" the youngest asked, rubbing his
eyes sleepily. "Oh, he's left presents, Dada!" then all thoughts of
sleep forgotten the child scrabbled excitedly beneath the tree."
Soon the village was consumed in a wave of excitement and children's
laughter, as they ripped the tissue from their presents. "Come to bed
for a while dear and get some rest." said Maria, "it'll be a long day
for the both of us; come to bed, rest and be thankful. The village is
safe and we can look forward to a prosperous year ahead."
Thomas pulled the axe from the floor and put it away, then sighed
and climbed into bed. It had been a long night; from the warmth of the
blankets they listened as the children played happily with their toys.
They were at least safe for another year, he thought as he closed his
In a place not so very far from the village, lying in the depths of
the darkest forest of the Northlands, a creature, sated, satisfied,
full and plumptious curled itself up, all cozy and warm. It felt
slightly perturbed at the turn of events, but soon they were forgotten.
It closed its eyes and prepared for another year of sleep, snuggling
beneath the detritus of dead things, gathered amongst the roots of the
black and twisted tree, a tree at the heart of a wild and desolate
forest. The creature smiled, dreaming of future feasts, and from the
cold still silence, if you listened very carefully, a pleasant and
satisfied snore could just be heard.
© 2017 Mike Kerins
Bio: Mr. Kerins has written and illustrated for a number of publishers, including The Horror Zine, Black Petals, and Yellow Mama.
E-mail: Mike Kerins
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