A ring of flickering torchlight bathed the town's center, splashing an eerie, reddish glow onto the gathered townspeople's faces. The squat mayor, Barnabas Baily, stood in his nightshirt on a makeshift platform of wooded crates, staring nervously into the mass of faces that displayed a range of varied emotions: fear, grief, anger, and confusion.

"Well, my dear friends," he began in disappointingly small voice. "We have all experienced quite a fright this evening and I'm sure that there are many of you who are still wondering what the ado is all about. So before rumors start to circulate, I would like to present you with the facts.

"It is terrible business indeed, and I regret that I must say it so bluntly, but the fact is, that — well, Eileen Stone was murdered on her way home this evening."

There was instant uproar, even among those to whom this news was not new. Voices shouted indiscernible things at the mayor; people put their heads together to whisper urgently; someone cried out loudly in anguish. It was quite a while before silence settled once more and the mayor continued to speak.

"Listen! Listen!" cried mayor Baily. "Listen, please! Now, some would tell you based on ungrounded fears and rumors that this was the work of the legend that many are calling the werewolf. This is frankly not true —"

But the rest of what he was going to say was lost in the torrent of shouts and indignant retorts that ensued.

"I was there!" called out Olga Whittleshire from the back of the crowd in her booming voice. "I saw 'is claw marks! There's no mistakin' 'em!"

"Here, here!" shouted old Lester Sullivan. "Like she says, there ain't no mistakin' it!"

"Quiet! Please, please, listen to me!" whimpered the mayor in vain. "Listen, whatever you saw, there's still no proof —"

"Proof! Proof!" shrieked Penny Farthing, the school teacher. "Do I need more proof than my own eyes? That's proof enough for myself and a good deal more!"

There was a chorus of angry shouts. Then there was a deafening bang followed by absolute silence.

The sheriff, Oliver Brown, leaped onto the platform, his pistol — which was still smoking — held high in his hand. His tough, muscled frame cut a far more impressive figure against the torchlight than the pasty, fat, nightshirt-clad Barnabas Baily who stood meekly beside him.

"Mr. Baily, you can go on and stuff the rest of your useless speech in your ear. I've already taken the liberty to inspect the victim and there is no doubt whatsoever that it is not the work of any mere man."

The crowd waited with rapt attention and bated breath.

"Eileen Stone was murdered tonight by the werewolf, and I believe we all know how he operates. So be on your guard, everyone, and don't ever head out after dark if you can help it. Because the werewolf could be any one of us."

And with that, the sheriff jumped down from the platform and disappeared into the night.

The End

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