It was on the eve of the Great Lord’s birth that we were felled by the corpulent weight of our own fury’s wrath. Twilight had fallen and festivities were just starting. By some act of a righteous, benevolent God, I had been chosen as this year’s leader for the Hoodening, the annual Yule parade of our sacred cloaked equine. The creature we’d crafted this year was a right sight; a massive gaping maw, big marbled eyes, and a coat as long as I’d ever seen.

Things had been difficult in the town as of late; the disappearances had shaken everyone from the slumber of safety and a fine dusting of tension had been lain across the lungs of every man, woman, and child. It had started with Allison Harper; quietly playing in the street by her house one moment, gone the next, leaving a screaming mother in her wake. Then, two days later, the young Breveor twins were out walking by the pond just a mile past their house, and by nightfall, no one had heard from them. None of the three children were seen again, but on the week’s anniversary of their disappearances, a small token appeared on the doorstep of their family homes. For Allison, an interwoven blackberry bramble. For the twins, a thick silver chain. No one could decipher their meaning, and no one had any clue as to the origin of their sudden departure.

In the last two months, a half-dozen more children have been lost, sucked into the wind without a trace. At first, the entire town was in a full-on panic. Then, as if by some grand mystic hand’s wave, a hush fell and it became the norm, almost accepted. Almost expected.

Any families with children under the age of 13 (it seemed as though the phantom’s lustful malice stopped there) went on complete lockdown, chaperoning wherever they went, moving as a unit; but even that didn’t stop it. Surely, the disappearances thinned in volume, but they still happened, regardless of any precaution taken.

Then, a little bit of the mystery broke. Someone misstepped and the shroud slipped just enough to get a semblance of an answer; in the investigation for the fifth child taken (an eight year old boy named Charles Meadow) a policeman had accidentally uncovered a secret hatch in the boy’s bedroom. Within that hatch, they found evidence of suffering, of extended captivity, and other things that I dare not think of, let alone repeat aloud. Needless to say his parents were brought in for questioning, and subsequently arrested.

This news shook the town, but it also dropped a suggestive veil over the remaining disappearances; what were they hiding? What terrors had these families wrought upon their own kin?

Like an unfolding fan, the horrendous secrets came to light one by one. Of the nine total children taken, every single one was found to have been the victim of some unbelievable atrocity perpetrated by the parents. Arrests were all made, but no matter how hard any of the parents were interrogated, they never gave up information related to the potential whereabouts of the children. Eventually, with a path full of dead ends, the cases were dropped and the parents were left to rot in their respective cells.

Through all of this pain, through the collective torment and turmoil, I have remained silent. I haven’t uttered a single word; not about the locations of the children, and not about the things that the great wooden beast whispers to me in the night.

When I took my daughter’s life, placing her favorite pink and white lace pillow over her face as she slept, I held nothing but sorrow in my heart. I didn’t know its purpose back then, but I now realize that I was meant to commit to a higher cause, to herald in the new age for our community and cleanse our crimes through the compassionate breath of fire.

The rest of the men in the Hoodening party assisted me to the town center, carrying our steed with pride. They knew nothing of what was to come, and wouldn’t have understood if they did.

As the last taste of light falls behind the treetops, the darkness in our hearts will outweigh any shadows the night may bring, and we will be shown for what we truly are.

Thus, now, I stand on the edge of the circle; the flames lick hungrily and greedily at the soot-blackened feet of my neighbors, and they sing, sing, sing into the night sky. The Great Horse rears its head, its whinny a valiant roar, and blares our truths into the screaming vortex; we are reborn.