The villagers of Canut made it a point to not go out into the woods. Those who had lived in town all their lives could tell travelers about their great-great-grandfather who had gone in and not come out, or the last merchant who had tried to cut through the woods and save a day or two of travel and not returned, though his horse and carriage had. Mother's warned their children to stay out. The woods, and the being that lurked within, was the town boogeyman. A few years ago, young Abraham Miller had gone into the woods, and come back a few days later stark raving mad. He claimed that he had saw a light flickering in the trees and believed it to be a fairy. Fairies are supposed to be benevolent, so what was the harm in following one?
"But it wasn't a fairy, was it?" The town constable asked. The priest just sighed and crossed himself.
"Flies!" Abraham gasped. "Flies everywhere! I've never seen so many flies!"
"So, it was the demon." The priest murmured. "You're very lucky to be alive."
"There were so many flies Father! The buzzing! I couldn't hear - there was just so much buzzing! I ran and I ran, but the buzzing, and the flies! I ran and I can still hear the buzzing." The boy was in tears. "How could so many flies be in one place?"
It is very sad to report that even three years later, Abraham has not recovered much from the incident, and screams in terror upon seeing flies or hearing loud buzzing. He had been a bit 'touched' to begin with, but now...
To go into the woods is a death sentence, but to not send the sacrifice is a different kind of suffering. Occasionally, it is a fate worse than death. The loud sounds of shouting and screaming had brought the priest and the constable inside the house. Many villagers had gathered outside. "I'm not sending my daughter!" Peter Miller shouted, his arms wrapped around his daughter. "My son is... My son is ruined! Ruth is all I have!" The constable looked down. It was true. With Abraham's condition there was only Ruth to help with the farm and her brother. The mother had passed on several years ago, before Abraham's incident. Why had the demon picked Ruth? Didn't it have any mercy?
Ruth looked at the engraving of a fly that had been burnt into her door the previous evening. She blanched. It was understandable. She would have to leave home, the only place she had ever known, and journey into the woods, and no one knew what she would find there.
Every six years the demon came and selected a girl to journey into the woods. It was a tradition that was not openly spoken of, especially with the travelers, but referred to as 'The Fly's Bride'. Apparently the demon had spoken many years ago with the town original elders, who had been dead and buried before the towns current elders had even been born, that it was necessary to send a girl into the woods every six years, or face the consequences. It was fairly simple for the villagers. The demon came and selected a girl, leaving a fly burnt into her bedroom door as she slept. If the girl shared a room with her sister, the fly manifested as a rash if she shared a bed, or on her blankets if she had her own. From then the villagers dressed the girl up in finery, gave her some crops and perhaps livestock if it had been a good harvest and sent the girl on her way. If she tried to run upon entering the woods, they would find her body dead on the scaffold, her insides gone, and the town would be punished. It was hard to say what happened to the girl if she made it to the demons lair. No girl ever returned. "Have mercy." She murmured, her eyes finally meeting the priest.
He had baptized her. He had married her parents. He had loved her mother with a rare intensity. She could have been his daughter, and Abraham his son, but he wasn't sure, and neither had Sarah been. Could he allow this to happen?
"You're a priest!" Her father shouted. "Why don't you protect us?" He had never protested before, but everything changed when it was his daughter. That was how most parents reacted, but it had never really phased the priest until now.
"Do you want to doom this town?!" The constable asked. "Do you want everyone to lose their crops? Their livestock? We must all make sacrifices!"
"He's right." The priest interjected. "I am the priest. It's my job to protect this town for God. I haven't been doing a very good job with that, have I?" And a silence filled the air. He did not know if the people where blaming him, or what was going through their minds. "I'll get a few things from the Church, then I'll be on my way."
There was a rhyme passed down through the generations about how to find the demons lair. Luke, the priest, did not remember the rhyme, but recalled the words of a mother to her daughter. "Just walk until you find it. Chances are, you'll know something like that when you see it. You find it, or it'll find you." So, he wandered through the forest. There seemed to be a path, and he followed that. He was left to wonder how it came to be. Girls only went every six years, hardly enough to wear away the grass. Perhaps it was from the demons comings and goings. That seemed more logical. But oh, it had come and gone so often that it had stripped the grass away! And the path was so wide! He had never faced a demon before, or even performed an exorcism. What had he been thinking? "Well, I can't turn back now." He muttered, and he noticed then that he could hardly hear his voice over the sound of buzzing. "I'm close."
Belah Zebub considered herself to be a woman of simple pleasures. She enjoyed food. She enjoyed sleep. She enjoyed the company of the large mass of flies that gathered around her, as well as the sacrifices from the villagers. She was quite disappointed that she would not be getting her sacrifice from the village of Canut, and that instead the priest had opted to come. Didn't they realize that sending the girl was in their best interest? Why ruin things by sending a priest? Oh, what a headache that would be. She hated when priest came. It was a simple endeavor for a demon of her status, but she would rather have the girl and whatever else she brought with her. If she had wanted to fight a priest and give a village her wrath, she would have just done that. She could easily just do that but she enjoyed the simple pleasures of having things brought to her and taking things while no one was looking. "Oh well." She sighed. "Canut has a great harvest this year. I suppose that should cover for their disrespect. Maybe some livestock too..." Her stomach grumbled. "I'm hungry. Are you babies hungry?" She asked.
Her flies just buzzed in response.
"Don't worry babies." She cooed. "You can eat soon." She plopped herself on the large stone throne outside her lair, a rather rickety old "church". She remembered years ago, before all the witches had been driven out, how they would hold their sacrifices here and she would come to watch and accept the offering. Those where the good days, where it was all liver pie and baby guts. No one made her lift a finger for anything she needed. All they asked was the power to dictate their own lives. Those where much simpler times.
A few flies landed on her, and she brushed her hair out of her face, trying to look as intimidating as possible. It wasn't hard.
It did not take long for Luke to stumble upon the clearing with the rickety "church" and the buzzing. In a stone chair, a throne of sorts, a large heavyset woman lounged in it. She wore strange clothing, the likes of which he had never seen before. Slowly, her eyes opened, and all he saw was black. "Luke." She said simply. "Priest of Canut."
"You - You're the demon?" He stammered. He was expected a large bestial creature of no noticeable gender, but here was this woman. This strange woman surrounded by flies.
"I know, I know. I'm not a giant monster like you where hoping for, but I wanted a sixteen, maybe seventeen year old girl, and you certainly aren't that." Within a blink she was on her feet, a few feet away from him. "I don't take insolence well."
Luke grabbed for the flask of holy water and attempted to splash it on her. "Go back to Hell!" He shouted. The flies blocked his attack, but disintegrated.
"Let me tell you something about Hell." Belah made a face as she advanced, the flimsy wings so similar to those of her flies, fluttering behind her "It's very hot. The people aren't so kind and neighborly. No one really wants to be there." Luke found himself frozen in place. Was it fear? Her will? "You'll see. You'll see soon enough." The flies where coming closer, a few had landed on him.
"Stop!" A new voice cut in, as Ruth rushed into the clearing. "Don't kill him, I'm here." She carried several ears of corn and a calf on a rope. Belah directed her attention at the young girl and Ruth gasped as the all black eyes focused on her.
"Well, this doesn't happen often." She quipped and made a motion with her hand. The flies swarmed on Luke, and there was a muffled sound, almost like a scream, under the buzzing. "They call me Lord of The Flies for a reason... Now, what do I do about this?" She gave a smile to Ruth, who took a step back. "I like to think of myself as merciful and benevolent. You did come. But you let the priest come first." More muffled sounds came from under the mass of flies, as if on cue.
"My father didn't want me to-"
"Of course." Bellah interrupted. "With your brother and dead mother and all. I don't really care." She shrugged. "If I cared about tearing families apart, I wouldn't be doing this to your village and all the other little hamlets on the outskirts of the woods." She flies fluttered towards her, slowly leaving Luke's body a mess of bone and gristle on the ground. "All the other villages can listen. No one else has sent a priest in seven years. Humans." She nodded at the swarm, making an expression one could believe was the rolling of her eyes. "You give them an inch, they take a mile."
Ruth's attention had focused on Luke, or rather, what was left of him. She felt the bile rise in her throat, but forced it down.
"I take it they don't educate you in your village, so let me explain something." Belah had returned her attention to the young girl. "When you're trying to establish and keep control of people, you don't let the people do whatever they want, and when you have rules and punishments, you follow through." The swarm flew around their master in a flurry, as she tapped her fingers to her lips.
"I thought you said you where merciful and - and benevolent!" Ruth protested.
Belah chuckled. "Just because I think it doesn't mean it's true."
In the woods, the trees are thick and abundant. No one can hear you scream.
The sun was setting on Canut. The people where finishing their daily activities and the excitement of thee morning had almost been forgotten by most. Abraham Miller lay curled into a ball on the kitchen floor. "Ruthie.... Ruthie...." He moaned. His father stood by the window, holding on to some glimmer of hope that his daughter would come walking out of the woods, laughing and smiling. Life would go on as it had before.
Slowly, a distant sound of buzzing grew louder. Abraham shouted. "Flies! The buzzing! Make it stop! Make it stop!" He flew into a tizzy, running into Ruth's room and shutting the door. The flies came, and the sheer number of them blacked out the sun. The people panicked and ran into their houses, dropping whatever they had as they ran. Doors slammed shut, and locks clicked.
It was hard to say when night fell, but under the cloak of darkness Belah stepped into town. She observed the main street of Canut, grabbing an apple from a stand and taking a loud bite. It was time to do what she did best, and that was eat.
The people of Canut rose in the morning, they knew better than to expect crops or livestock waiting for them. They checked the scaffold for Ruth, and she was all they found.