A Feast of Souls

Anna Wilson

(this story also features in one of our blog posts)

Night falls. The last light fades from the sky. The white of the snow, the bright red and glossy green of the holly: all turn to grey.

Inside, Julia shivers and pulls the curtains tight. Marguerite wimpers in the corner.
“Shhh! You must keep quiet, especially now.  Dusk is the most dangerous time.”
“But it’s not fair! Why did the people choose MY shoes?”
“Marguerite, you know we have to do this. We have to make an offering, or who knows what he’ll do?”
“But why MINE?  Why couldn’t they have chosen someone else’s shoes? Yours?

Julia's shoes

Or Papa’s?

Papa's shoes

Or Hans’s?”

“The people decided yours were the prettiest in the village, Marguerite, and so we hope they’ll satisfy him for longer – a few days, perhaps – maybe even a week.”
“Why couldn’t they have chosen Loti’s?

“Hers are white, and have ribbons.”
“Marguerite, my child, you know yours were the prettiest, with their bright colours, their sequins and their sparkles.

“Your Granny should never have sent them to you for Christmas, not here. But she did. So now you are learning that sometimes we have to give up our treasures, even though we don’t want to.”

Outside, the Hobnail Goblin prowls through the village’s narrow lanes. He’s hungry; hungrier than he’s been for a while. He sniffs the air. He knows there are humans nearby: he can smell their souls. He pauses by a window, but neither light nor sound betrays those inside. He moves on. Then he catches something on the edge of hearing – a sniffling, a shushing, a muttered conversation.  The gate creaks as he pushes it open. He starts up the path, past the holly, towards the door.

Inside, Julia hears footsteps crunching through the snow, getting louder, coming closer.  She murmurs a prayer. There’s a fumbling, then a slurping, then a loud belch. The crunch of snow. The creaking gate.

In the morning, Julia opens the door. The shoes are gone. And Marguerite is still here.