A black cat looks on as small shadow creatures circle a teapot

Image by Spiritgrove


We came alive when the clock rang one. Submerged in night, we were safe from the scorching rays of sun and burning beams of lanterns. We emerged from the cracks in the cupboards and swam through the crannies between the floor planks. Famished from our day of fasting, we slid up the table to taste the dying heat of the evening’s tea and gorge on warmth from the oven. Bolstered, we condensed into shadows of the night air. After that we played, but we heard well the chimes on every hour, and once we heard five, we shrank back into our crevices and slept. So it was before the beast came.

We did not see the beast at first, nor did we hear it. It had fur so dark it faded into the night, and the soft pads of its feet made its sneaking and stalking silent. We woke unaware. We dove into the laundry and took its warm radiance for our evening meal. We gathered before the sacred chamber, inhaling the heat of the Radiant One but never stepping within. Oblivious to our danger, we bent and prayed.

Oh, those teeth, those claws! They hurt! As the creature leapt upon one of us after another, we fled under the cushions or into the cupboards, trembling. The beast’s baleful eyes tracked us wherever we went and reflected light that burned our shadowy forms.

We had endured other creatures, smaller creatures that disturbed our quiet with their scurrying. The little creatures sullied our home with dust and droppings, but they spared no glance for our shadowy forms. This beast watched us hour after hour. It followed us over carpet, through doorways, behind curtains, jumping on us the moment we stilled and swiping at us as we tried to shrink out of reach.

Our feeding grounds were perilous, but we had nowhere else. The lands outside the Radiant One’s blessing were steeped in snow and crusted with ice; we would never survive to find a new oasis. We held one ember of hope: when we stayed perfectly still, the beast looked past us. So we hid in our cracks and crevices, praying the creature would move on as others did. Without us to hunt, surely it would venture elsewhere for nourishment. Night after night, we waited.

The beast only grew bolder. It raced up and down the stairs and bounded across the floors. It rolled on the rugs and savaged the upholstery. It ate and drank every night from bowls that clinked on the floor. Though these bowls lay empty by dawn, through some means they were full the next evening. Fed by this endless source of sustenance, the beast was content to stay forever, yet sustenance did not abate its terrible hunger.

Whenever we emerged, the creature made chase, cutting us off from our own nourishment. We could not bask near the sacred chamber or sip our abandoned tea. Our small forms dwindled until we feared that even the gifts of the Radiant One would not restore us. Our priests counted their omens and declared we should do what was forbidden: enter the sacred chamber. The Radiant One would provide nourishment for us all, but coming near Her was perilous, lest She wake and summon burning beams from the ceiling. Now we had to risk that peril, for only the Radiant One could save us from the ravenous predator. These were the chosen lands; She would keep the beast at bay.

The journey was treacherous. If we let slip the faintest rustle or slightest shake, the creature would find us. Slowly, oh so slowly, we crept to the door of the sacred chamber. Gradually we flowed through the crack in the doorway until we reached the sacred vapors and sighed in blessed relief. The warmth! We lapped it as we encircled the bed in reverence, singing praises to the Radiant One. We did not hear the quiet creak of hinges as the beast entered the chamber.

We caught a glimpse of burning eyes; the creature crouched to spring on us! We scattered. In our panic, we crawled beneath the bed, dived into the dresser, and even dared to flee under the covers of the Radiant One Herself. Always ravenous, the beast chased us onto the bed, probing for us through the blankets, closing in on us with its piercing claws. The Radiant One awoke.

We trembled; we had incurred the wrath of the Radiant One! Soon the burning beams would fall upon us, punishing us for our sacrilege. The Radiant One rose up, towering over our meager forms, and gazed upon the chaos we wrought. Yet She did not bring forth the light. The Radiant One took the beast in hand and strode to the doorway. With a thump, She released the creature beyond the sacred chamber, and then She swung the door shut. The cracks of the door were cozy beds to us, but to the beast they were as seams in a solid wall. We were safe in the sacred chamber! Our priests had led us well; the Radiant One protected us.

Then the wails began. The keening, howling, pitiful cries echoed through our domain, piercing the very walls and soaring through the door. It carried with it the sorrow of a thousand deaths, the heartbreak of paradise known and lost, the misery of eternal rejection. The high-pitched song overcame the Radiant One. She rose to Her feet once more and opened the door, standing passive as the creature sauntered into her sacred space. The door closed. Cooing, the Radiant One embraced the beast.

We fled through the cracks. On seeing the Radiant One embrace the creature, a disturbing knowledge assembled in our minds. The beast had endless nourishment because the Radiant One provided for it. The beast was not here by accident – the Radiant One summoned it! Had She brought it here to punish us? Had we trespassed upon Her sacred chamber or played too long in the night? Was this the end? We cried and bowed and repented, even as scratching shook the chamber door.

We did not all despair. Some of us insisted the Radiant One felt our suffering and had shown us a path from our plight. The beast is not unlike us, these few claimed. The Radiant One blessed the creature as She blessed us; we committed heresy by wishing it would depart. The Radiant One appeased the beast’s ferocious instincts with ample nutrition and fluids, with warm embraces in the sacred chamber. We too must appease the creature.

The words were blasphemy. The rest of us would not have listened, but our efforts thus far had failed. Together we considered the unthinkable. How could we satisfy a beast so ravenous, so wrathful? The creature already had shelter, nourishment, and affection. What more could it desire?

The fearsome scratching subsided, and all went quiet for a moment. Then the door hinges whined as the creature emerged from the sacred chamber, casting about for victims. As we felt its burning eyes on us, we remembered the racing through the night and the savagery of the motionless furniture. The beast wanted always to stalk, pounce, and maul; what it lacked was a target. If we offered another sacrifice, the beast might let us be!

The beast crouched, ready to leap at the slightest provocation. Countless nights of hiding and fleeing had left us weak, but some of us ventured bravely out of our cracks. We caught the creature’s eye and bolted for safety, the creature’s feet pounding behind us. Those who were free of the creature’s notice spread throughout the oasis, searching high and low for a sacrifice. Our offering had to be lightweight; only by waving it to and fro could we gain the beast’s attention. But if the offering was too small, we would become a target along with it. We found a broom, then a scarf, then a towel, but alas, we could not lift them.

We hurried upstairs as the beast raced over the carpet, and we heard it scratching and scrabbling to reach the cracks in which our fellows trembled. Our blessed haven must hold the means of our salvation – anything! Then we saw it: a red ribbon, fallen upon the dusty corner of a closet, near the unclean droppings of the scurrying creatures. We hesitated. The ribbon was long and light, but small. Could such a thin ribbon satisfy a ravenous beast? If it was too meager an offering, we would fall prey to teeth and claws. Yet we had to try. We crept downstairs and brought it before the burning eyes of the creature.

We ran, ribbon aloft, and the beast chased us into the darkness. Our home echoed with clattering and banging and thump! Those of us watching quivered, sure our last hope had perished. Then our fellows arose, tattered but triumphant. The beast savaged the ribbon, twisting and wrestling with the long threaded tail. We sang our prayers of appeasement, rejoicing. The beast desired the ribbon more than it desired us.

From that night forward, the bravest and most solid of us bore the sacred ribbon, guiding the beast’s ferocity. The creature raced up and down the stairs as we drank heat from the oven or conducted our nightly prayers. By luring the beast where we wished, we even banished the little scurrying creatures. It stalked the things for hours while we played with the buzz of the electric cords or danced on the cushions of the chairs.

Satiated, the beast would finally tire and nap on the rugs. Each night we circled it and sang soft lullabies, gently lapping the creature’s warmth. Then we crept back to our crevices to sleep out the day. When the clock rang one every night, the beast keened and crouched by the red ribbon, waiting for play to begin.

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