Dust motes eddied in the fluorescent glow illuminating the farthest rows of stacks. Niccolo stared at the leather-bound volume with wide-eyed anticipation. A dank, musty odor clung to the book so potently that he was certain even a human would detect it. The search for answers had led to many similar tomes and he wondered if the information he needed could be found within these pages or if his search was doomed to continue. He was desperate to find a way to defeat what was lurking in the woods.
He wiped his clammy hands and turned back the cover. The cracked leather complained. The first yellowed page contained two words and a date written in fine calligraphy.
His paint-stained fingers traced the name, while he hoped to escape the awaiting tortures. He was unaccustomed to feeling helpless but was at the mercy of a psychopath until the means to salvation was discovered. He turned the page and took a reassuring breath. It was like turning back the clock to an earlier era, one that was equally difficult, but plagued with different challenges. The words on the page told a story of longing, manipulation, torture and deceit. It was a story much like his own.
* * *
October 12, 1597
We were forced to leave the settlement, ere it were impossible to await the arrival of supplies by ship. People were starving. The worst were the crying children with their tiny emptie bellies and their large, pleading eyes. Mothers were going hungry so to offer their rations to their young.
We set off to the northe, hoping to find better fishing and hunting. We were slow to advance and much was left behind. It was a hardship for all, yet if we were to survive this New World, we were to be doing it together. The future seemed most grim and morale was lowe, yet we pressed on, praying for salvation.
As the days became weeks, people began to succumbe first to a most ravenous madness and then to sweet, sweet death. The children wilted and faded like the last of the summer’s flowers. Mothers and fathers alike wept over the traile of crude graves left behinde. In the late hours of the evening, among the nighte song of the forest, quiet sobs could be heard throughout the camp. It was a time of most great sorrowe.
Upon occasion a hunting party would bring back an animal they had trapped and we would delight in the too, too savory foode that filled our bellies. But it was never enough, ere the foode always ran out before the hungry mouthes did. We tried rationing, but when one was starving, restraint was hard to find. The hunger made even the most noble of people do the most vile things.
We were all quite astonished one morning to find all of the remaining foode stores missing. During the nighte, one of my fellow colonists had taken every last crumb. It did not take long to locate and charge the criminal; it was he who had a bursting energy coming from a full gut and a good nighte’s sleep.
He was shackled and put on display in the centre of the camp; a warning against all who dared steal foode. He was viciousley harassed by passers-by. It was decided ere he consumed rations for twelve, he would suffer twelve days withoute sustenance. Although he quickly grew weak, people didn’t slacken their tormentes. He was publicly degraded, beaten and left to suffer. I questioned who deserved to bear more guilt, he who stole or his abusers. It was a most uglie time. I felt quite certain he would perish before he finished his sentence. Then when the camp awoke on the twelfth day, he was gone.