• Laughter rang out among the children dancing to the slow beat of drums. The night air warm and so the fire burned to embers, with the elders taking council on the outskirts of the celebration. Parents gathered their children up as the drum’s cadence slowed; the ceremony almost complete. The only thing left was to choose. Choose the sacrifice.

    The crowd awaited the choice in silence, each hoping it wouldn’t be their daughter, their wife, mother, sister. They stayed huddled in their families, as if standing closer together would prevent one of the members from being taken. Whispers sounded out almost sounding like the wind, the speaker immediately hushed, they wanted no extra attention turned their way.

    After much suspense hushed whispers and a few tears the elders marched in a line to the central plaza, the drums roared to life, the crowd stayed silent. Each person silently hoping the sacrifice they’d chosen wouldn’t be someone they cared about.

    The eldest of the council stepped forward, the drums fell silent. He spoke in the ritual language, a speech about honor and dignity. Then, a name, sending gasps through the crowd, did they know that name, was it someone in their family. “No!” everyone turned to see the young woman, a childless widow, the elders had been kind this year.

    She ran, no one from the crowd gave chase, they couldn’t blame her. She hadn’t been the first to run and she wouldn’t be the last. The crowd dispersed and the hunters gathered to find the sacrifice. Their fear and heartbreak had passed. The crowd walked towards their homes, talking quietly as a group. Their families were safe for another year.
    The girl ran, barefoot and in ceremonial dress through the woods. Her long dark hair getting caught on branches, chunks being ripped out of her scalp. She kept running. Panting for breath, refusing to stop she crashed over a small hill and rolled into the river. The water cooled her skin. She started to swim across, barely making it to the other side, she crawled up on the bank, wondering if it was a wasted effort. Her body aching, she forced it to cooperate. She could hear the hunters behind her, crashing through the bushes, having been trained to run for hours on end.

    She bit her lip, in an attempt not to cry. She found a small cave and took shelter inside. She pulled dead leaves and dirt in from the outside of the cave, and used it to cover herself, hoping this would save her from being discovered. Still breathing hard, she rested with her mouth in a position to get fresh air. Without meaning to she slipped into unconsciousness.

    The hunters followed her trail, running more swiftly than she had. Following her footprints, the broken branches and trails of long hair she left hanging from the thorn trees. They rush along until the foot prints ended at the bank of the river. They unburied a raft they kept hidden by the bank and made their way across. They saw handprints on the bank, where she clawed her way up the side.

    Her trail brought them to her cave. They found her and she was taken by surprise, they chained her arms and marched her back to the village. She was cleansed by the wash women, who shot her pitying glances but gave no comforting words. They dressed her in the traditional sacrificial garments, and left the chains. There was a small procession up to the altar.

    They forced her to kneel and glowing prismatic stakes were hammered into the ground around her. When they were done it created a barrier she knew she couldn’t escape from. She glanced around at the people there, they wouldn’t help her, the sacrifice didn’t need to be willing. The chanting started and a few tears slid down her cheeks and she locked herself inside. Eyes losing life before the demon had even been summoned.

    She was oblivious to when the ritual was completed, the demon pulled through. She only noticed, briefly, a deep rumbling and felt a strange numbness, her body slumped forward a bit and then nothing.

    The villagers cheered. The demon had accepted the sacrifice, they would be safe for another year. They left her body in the glowing prison, lined up with the past years sacrifices. All sadistically preserved by the demon’s powers, soulless and entrapped they had no awareness of the world around them. A year from a new woman would join them to start the cycle anew, but for now the demon was appeased.