"Lovely," said the beast, caressing Michael's hair. It perched on his shoulder, the flesh over its teeth quivering slowly.

Michael hesitated. In front of him, a child's castle set was made from blocks and populated with small, plastic figurines. Several had started to melt under the heat of the small lamp that Michael had put nearby.

"There, there," it said, sweetly. "Don't you like playing with your new toys?"

"I don't know," said Michael.

"Let's try a new game," said the beast. "Go and get the cloth blanket from your closet."

It had been an unseasonably hot summer. The townspeople had also been visited by a steady rhythm of serious misfortune for several weeks: crops failed, or the children became sick. The priest decried the town as cursed before disappearing into the middle of the night. “You have all come to worship the Dark One,” he had warned.

Of the remaining able-bodied men and women, several tended to the sick and elderly still suffering from exhaustion.

One young girl, while her family aided her grandmother, glanced outdoors. "Look," she said, pointing upwards.

Slowly, surely, the entire pitch of the sky was going black in the middle of the day as shadows advanced from the distant horizon.