The weather was poor the day Rose was led into the demon’s woodland.
Gray and chilled with the promise of rain, the townspeople marched in somber silence. But Rose knew that behind those masks of mourning were sighs of relief.
It wasn’t them. Not this year.
It was poor Rose.
But that was hardly surprising. A fair-faced girl such as herself could not expect to have been spared. She should be honored to have been selected. Honored to protect the town from evil. Honored.
Rose slipped and planted her hands on the cold ground.
No one reached to help her. She was, essentially, untouchable.
Her hazel eyes fell to the snake bite on her wrist, irritated and ominous. She swallowed and stiffly stood.
Pleading would do no good. She had seen the results of doing so before when others had been selected in the past.
No. She wasn’t one of those townspeople. Not those who tried to fight an inevitable fate.
She was submissive, obedient, weak. Rose would enter the forest and never return with trouble on either end.
The town reached the gloomy woods much too soon. The only sound to be heard was the howling wind and Rose’s screaming heart.
Please, she inwardly begged, someone save me.
Rose would have remained staring at the woods, seemingly endless in length and depth, had it not been for the townspeople. They wanted this over clean and fast.
She peered to the right, seeing her dear father gaze headily forward. No look of conflict nor retaliation showed. He knew where he stood and so did she.
Rose placed one tentative step forward, past her friends and family, into darkness.
A sudden hand pressed against her spine, shoving her into the woods, and there was no turning back. She broke into an instant sprint, the hem of her ivory dress tangling around her ankles.
No direction in mind, just an instinct to run, urged her onward. Past the eerie sounds, past the shapes and shadows, onto safety.
Rose cried out as she tripped over something solid and smooth. A rock, perhaps.
She glanced down and saw to her dread a snake, black and white striped, slithering through the grass.
Fear forced her head to stay down as a shadow loomed over her.
“Please,” Rose croaked. “Please don’t kill me. Please let me go.”
The townspeople heard her hideous scream like a thunderclap.
As the small clan returned to their cursed homes, a sour-faced woman whispered, “I hate the taking season.”