One summer night, a man stood on a low hill overlooking a wide expanse of field and forest. By the orange crescent moon hanging low in the west, he knew it was near the hour of dawn. A light mist lay along the earth, but above it, tall trees showed against a clear sky, and far off, the small dark rectangle of a farmhouse lay visible through the haze.
She’ll be asleep in her bed, he thought, feeling his body stir at the thought of naked flesh enmeshed in an eiderdown and the smell of a sleeping woman. He turned the freshly sharpened axe to a more comfortable position on his shoulder and began to walk the path down the hill, the path to the farmhouse, nestling there in the grey distance, perhaps half a mile away.
As he trod the track in the silent early morning, the first birds began to stir. Soon, the deafening dawn chorus would be ringing out over the countryside. But before then, it would all be over.
At his waist was a pistol, charged and ready to fire at any menfolk who might stand in his way. But shooting was too good for her. No, a mighty blow to the back of the neck with a heavy, sharp axe was what Sarah deserved, and what she would get.
He reached the farmhouse as the first tentacles of daylight reached out with supplicating fingers. The birds were waking up now, starting on their early-morning racket. He went around the back, fearing the bark of a dog, but all remained quiet within. He turned the back door handle, expecting it to be locked, expecting to have to break a window or find some other way of gaining ingress. But, to his surprise, it turned, and the door opened.
He found himself in a corridor and, by the dim light coming through a window, saw a rough tiled floor and whitewashed walls. There was the odour of cabbage broth and mould. He hesitated at the foot of the narrow staircase to the bedrooms, holding the axe near to its head and carrying it at waist height. Then something caught his eye. A door slightly ajar, further down the corridor, and the light of a lamp showing through the crack.
He went to the door and looked through the gap, shocked and surprised at what he saw. There, by the dying embers of a fire, sat Sarah, clad in a white robe with a red shawl around her shoulders. Her face was white, and her eyes stared at the wall opposite.
The man pushed the door open, lay down the axe and approached the woman. “Sarah?” But she didn’t move, didn’t blink. He put a hand under her nose and felt a faint, warm breath. “Sarah. Are you all right?” But her dark eyes continued to stare straight ahead. Then, before he had time to react, she opened her mouth and clamped her teeth down on his hand. “Aagh, stop it, you bitch!”
He beat her about the head, but still, her teeth bit down into his hand. Blood began to drip from his fingertips. He pulled the pistol out and put it against her head, fighting the agonising pain, but somehow, whilst keeping her sharp teeth locked firmly into his palm and knuckle joints, she whirled an arm around and sent the pistol flying out of his hand.
“Sarah, for God’s sake, stop it!” He grabbed her hair and yanked it so hard that a handful came away. And yet, she bit deeper and deeper.
He began to feel consciousness slipping away, and then he was aware of an impact on his imprisoned arm, looking in wonder as he was able to lift his arm up, whilst his hand was still clamped in the woman’s mouth.
Before he fainted, he looked up at a bearded man holding a blood-stained machete.
The man awoke, aware of a throbbing in his right hand. He raised his arm to see it lacked the hand. Then he remembered.
Two men swam into view. One was the man with the beard, the other a medical man by his appearance.
“I’m sorry for the loss of your hand,” said the bearded man.
“Damn you! Why could you not slice off her head?”
“Sarah has something in her. An evil entity, a demon, if you like. Should I have killed her, it would have taken lodge in my soul.”
“Just rest,” said the doctor, for so was he. “I have cauterized your wound with silver nitrate. It may turn black, but there is little infection. You have been given opium for the pain. You may feel a little confused for a day or two.”
“The children, what happened to the children?” asked the man.
“They are in good care. My sister is looking after them,” replied the man with the beard. “I know you are bitter that she left you and brought them here to live with me. But now Sarah is suffering retribution from the dark world of evil spirits. She has no memory, nor is she able to think of the future.”
“Then may my children be returned to me?”
The man stroked his beard. “Two priests have tried to exorcise the demon – without success. Now a great exorcist is on his way. He will be here within three days. Should he succeed, well then, perhaps we can all come to some arrangement?”
The man felt exhausted. “Is it not fair that I gave my right hand for my children?”
“It is fair, but life is not fair,” said the doctor, “just rest, and, as our friend here says, all will be sorted out in the fullness of time.”
The next day brought new light and new comprehension. Accept things as they are. Don’t struggle or fight. Sarah had betrayed him. Her lover had sliced his right hand off. Maybe it was the opium, but in that quiet moment of awakening, he entertained the realisation that whatever happened, all would be well.