A SCREAM SPLIT the night, waking the girl in her narrow bunk. She opened her eyes wide, her breath stopping. The familiar roof of the wagon met her eyes, its beams hung with bags and tools. She waited with blood pounding in her ears, trying to determine if the scream had been real or was part of a dream.
She closed her eyes... but suddenly heard more screams reverberating though the wall. She stiffened, then, white-knuckled hands clutching the rabbit-fur covering. There were the sounds of running feet and the rattle of weapons.
Bandits! The girl thought with panic. The guards must be protecting the wagons from a bandit attack. She peered at the other beds, but they were empty. The rest of the family were still outside. They'd stayed up late that night, enjoying themselves by the fire. When the soft conversations and strumming of her father's pipa had begun to make her feel sleepy, she'd retired to bed. The adults, along with her elder brothers, had remained outside.
Terrified, the girl dropped to the floor, dragging the blanket with her. She held it tightly around herself, ears straining for the voices of her family. They must be close to the wagon. They would open the door any minute and hide with her inside. Mother would hold her close, and everyone would wait in a tight huddle for the danger to pass. The guards were experienced, the girl knew. They had fought off bandit attacks before, and no one had been harmed. Everything was fine, she tried to reassure herself. Everything was going to be fine.
She was shaking. The wagon's door remained closed, and she remained alone. The yells and sounds of struggle were loud now, so loud, and she pulled the blanket up over her head to drown out the noise. It wasn't working. She heard a shout cut off into a choked gargle...and then there was the sound of ripping, clothing and flesh ripping, bones popping apart...
The girl felt a scream trying to come out, but it was choked by the fear compressing her lungs. Then there was a earth-shattering bang as something struck the side of the wagon and the scream was shaken loose. She knelt on the floor, screaming and screaming as though it was the only thing that would protect her from the horrors outside.
Then there was a voice she knew. Her mother's voice, panicked, crying out words that the girl couldn't hear. The words became louder and more frantic; a rhythm that wavered between whispers and screams. There was another loud sound, but the girl had already stumbled to her feet, and now slammed herself against the door.
"Mother!" she screamed as the door burst open, and she tripped over the step, falling to the ground. She looked up... and a massive, blood-stained thing stared back at her.
Her body became numb. The creature was enormous. It was taller than a horse. Long, blood-matted fur... black spines. Bony spines growing from its head and back... jutting from its limbs... The face was the worst. It was almost human, but the furthest thing from human. A man's face, but with fur, and the eyes were wrong... and its long fangs dripped scarlet.