[SFX]: Droning sound fades in and cold wind blows through.
[NARRATOR]: When the moon is whole, and the snow falls thick, there you will find it – the village. It is much like any other village. People are born, they live, and once the time is right, they leave forever. It is a small haven for those who have made it their home.
As the start of yet another wintery storm begins, the villagers busy themselves with their final preparations of the day. The dark-wood shutters are drawn across shop windows, and the merchants sing out the last call for their dwindling wares. The village butcher clears away his tools. The snow makes quite the surface for clearing away blood.
And with the shopkeepers returning home, so do the children. While a few manage to escape the shedding of honest blood, sweat and tears in the fields with their elders, even in this place, everyone must pull their weight. From the smallest of toddlers to the nearly-grown adolescents, there is always work to be done.
But tonight, there is a buzz in the air. The children have gathered into small groups, giggling and whispering in corners while their hands fidget on the edges of their already well-worn clothes.
Even the Mayor’s unassuming daughter cannot hold back her smile tonight, though she’d never tell anyone what she was awaiting. With the town full of children’s laughter, the villagers finally end their laborious work. All is well.
[MUSIC]: Synths start to play.
[NARRATOR]: But when the moon is whole, and the snow falls thick, things that lurk in the woods awaken. Most creatures would stay slumbering through these hazardous months, praying to whoever would heed their prayers that they would make it through the night.
As multitudes of blankets are pulled over heads, another one slowly descended – pulled lower, yet lower, at the fall of the sleet and the dying sounds of the day.
[NARRATOR]: And then, as that blanket fully unravelled… the rest came down with it.
[SFX]: An ominous bell starts to chime.
[NARRATOR]: There! The ring everyone but the adults can hear. All at once, multitudes of bone-cold feet hit the floorboards of their bedrooms. A wave of bare flesh delicately padded around in the homes of the villagers, desperate to flee but fearful to be caught. Some were more prepared than others, with slippers or their work-shoes ready to go; an extra vest or coat laid out waiting on the door. One child had even gone to sleep with their socks on, in the vain hope that they would give some sort of protection to the howling winds outside.
[SFX]: A bed creaks, waking a disgruntled parent from their slumber.
[PARENT]: Adam, what are you doing, go back to bed! There is nothing for you down there but a chill for your bones.
[SFX]: The wind gets louder.
[NARRATOR]: With a multitude of held breaths and racing heart beats, and they take one step.
[SFX]: A floorboard creaks.
[NARRATOR]: Against all laws of nature in the wind and cold, beads of sweat pool on the mass of little heads. What to do, the children thought, minds racing through all the possible outcomes, to all the possible situations. What to do?
Some are daring. One needs to be, to undertake a mission such as this. No time, rhyme, or reason to wait. The snow was falling fast, and they would have to be faster to keep up with it.
[SFX]: More floorboards creak.
[NARRATOR]: One floorboard, two floorboards, three… for every creak in their steps, doubled the amount of space in their mad, final rush for the door. They could not be caught, not tonight. They could not be late. Not tonight.
[SFX]: Much quieter floor board creaks.
[NARRATOR]: But for every lion, there must be a herd of sheep to gorge on. The rest of the children did what they knew best – stop, be silent, and wait. To hold their breath and keep their eyes down, pinpointing the treacherous floorboards that would betray them. So many hours of practice they had honed for this very purpose.
There would be none better to snake their way across the floor, avoiding even the tiniest of splinters that would dare to squeal and whine. The tortoise did not beat the hare through panic and mad flight, but sheer determination alone. Be still. Be silent. Be free.
[MUSIC]: String instruments pick up and create a call and response like a drone.
[SFX]: The wind gets louder and louder.
[NARRATOR]: When the moon is whole, and the snow falls thick, children of the village huddle thick near the woods, right where pine trees bow. They have all made it here, it seems, with their small bodies gasping and shaking for air.
One would expect there to be much laughter and joy – silly jokes and small mockeries on every tongue; when so many children meet. But the entrance to the forest remains silent. Even in the sheer cold and harsh gale, only the sounds of chattering teeth and bone can be heard.
Soon some of the children appear to be agitated, vainly bouncing from foot to foot in an attempt to fend off the weather. Was this really what they had come all this way for? To stand and share the cold amongst themselves, when they faced the same each day and night regardless? What a waste that would be. Even the tortoise had won a fair prize for his labour.
However, as soon as the first thought to abandon the meeting was born…
[THE BONE COLLECTOR]: Your village has been fruitful this year, I see. Such a fine selection of youth, standing right before my altar…
[NARRATOR]: A mass of little heads whip around as a new voice rings out, one they could not recall hearing but could swear was familiar to them all. But nobody besides the children were there. Was someone… hiding in those woods? They remained in formation, those little child soldiers, waiting for a command. To go or flee – either would be a relief.
[SFX]: Warped synth sounds play as the Bone Collector speaks.
[THE BONE COLLECTOR]: This collection pleases me. But you could all be greater still… come deeper through the trees, my dears, and stand beside my pyre.
[NARRATOR]: The voice retreated further into the treeline, with one last, coaxing breeze.
For some, it was an easy choice. To turn around and begin that arduous trek back to the lonely little room, no matter the consequences of the initial breakout attempt.
[SFX]: A childlike chant or whisper rings out.
[NARRATOR]: First it was just one child, turning back almost instantly. Little eyes watching him make his way back through the snow, fighting the harsh north wind and the disappointed stares. But one was all it took to start a wave, and in these sorts of conditions, even a small wave will have deadly consequences.
Another child. Then another. Next, the twins, and the girl from Old Market Lane. A few more followed after that, as scared children often do, and the remaining ones watched as the deserters struggled to make their way home.
[SFX]: A shuddering synth sound pans through out as the children start walking in the snow.
[NARRATOR]: No words are said – there is no need. Nothing really, can express what the remaining children were thinking. As the last of the traitors made their way over the hillside and out of sight, the group turned, and began a slow walk through that sunken arch of pine. One-by-one, single-file they went, through the wind and snow.
[SFX]: A faint fire thats crackling fades in.
[NARRATOR]: Because of the long trek and twisting turns, none of the children could really remember getting to that dwindling pyre. A circle naturally formed around the structure, and the children all sat at the same time, gazing expectantly at the embers.
[SFX]: The synths mimic the cold winds being blown and the fire crackles.
[NARRATOR]: It doesn’t feel real in the moment, despite all they have been through so far. Even as the frost gnaws on their fingers and the wind batters their cheeks, they could swear that if they simply wished hard enough, they would wake up safe at home. But they hear it speak again;
[THE BONE COLLECTOR]: Your village thrives, yet you still sit before my pyre. I can make you all so much greater, so much brighter. You could be my finest work yet…
[NARRATOR]: Everything has a price. That is one fundamental law of this world, and the next, and the many others beyond that. Nothing is ever gained for free. No… every good deed must be paid back tenfold in the richest of blood.
[THE BONE COLLECTOR]: Choose the brightest star amongst you, and grasp that light for your own. When one God dies, its corpse remains for the universe to feed on. Death brings forth light – always better than before. Always brighter. Yes… I will give you back all that you take and more. All I require is the bones. Pick them dry, and scatter them across my altar.
[SFX]: The weather changes as the wind feels even colder and stronger. Somehow the fire remains.
[NARRATOR]: Another cold wind blows, though this time it was not the gentle touch of a guiding hand. It bites hard, lashing against the faces of the children, before rearing back into the ebbing flames. The wind settles once more, and the voice does not return. It is time to choose.
[CHILD 1]: She said ‘choose’? Who are we choosing?
[CHILD 2/LILY-RUTH]: The brightest among us. So… the smartest? Who’s the smartest?
[CHILD 1]: I don’t know… I would have said who was the prettiest. My Grandmother always said Mary had a bright face.
[CHILD 3/MARY]: What? No, that sounds stupid! How can a face be bright?
[SFX]: The child-like chanting returns.
[NARRATOR]: And thus, like how many people elect to act when a big decision must be made… the meeting dissolves into chaos. Names are slung back and forth like pebbles in a sling, and perhaps a few… actual pebbles were involved, too. But could anyone blame them? In the village, decisions were always left to the adults, the elders. No child could be trusted with a choice, especially not one such as this.
Minutes pass; perhaps hours and days did as well, though the pyre bravely continues to burn. Argumentation turns to deliberation, deliberation turns into accusation, and of course, accusation turns into argumentation. But one child, the smallest one present in the circle, pipes up with a tone that silences the clearing.
[CHILD 4]: It has to be the best one of us. The one with everything. We need to get the one with everything, and we will get everything that they have.
[SFX]: The fire becomes more present. Almost like it’s agreeing with Child 4.
The fire continues to flicker, though somehow it seems stronger after that one little outburst. The children sit and stare at the littlest child, eyes wide in awe, as they slowly begin to grasp the meaning of what had just been said. The small child pauses – they hadn’t been expecting the sudden and rapt attention of the group – but realising the power they now held, they steel their gaze and continue to speak.
[CHILD 4]: Who’s the one we all want to be? Who has the things that we want? Who is the best and brightest of us? That’s who we need to get. That’s what She wants. We need to get their bones.
[NARRATOR]: This revelation from the smallest child sends the clearing into another, albeit more hushed, frenzy. Deciding who would work the fields, w ho would darn the socks and wash the bedsheets… those decisions were simply too hard for a child to make.
But to point out a playmate who had the nicest house in the village… the one who wore the nicest clothes, ate the nicest things, and never got caned by the elderly headmistress of the little village school? That was something that every child could say without hesitation; without even having to think.
[CHILD 1]: Lily-Ruth always wears the nicest dresses… mine are made out of the old potato sacks we get from the farm!
[CHILD 3]: She’s the mayor’s daughter… and she has no brothers. She’d get everything, wouldn’t she?
[CHILD 4]: And she always gets the best things our fathers grow for her table. I only had soup tonight, with last night’s bread. What did you get to eat, Lily-Ruth? And which of our families grew that for you?
[NARRATOR]: Lily-Ruth, the only daughter of the village mayor, look back at her playmates with her mouth agape, clearly trying to form some kind of defence for herself.
Some of the other children also seem unsure of this proposition…
[CHILD 3]: Lily-Ruth? But, she shared her sweets with me the other day!
[CHILD 1]: But Lily-Ruth is so kind to me, come on guys, we can’t let her go like that!
[NARRATOR]: What good would Lily-Ruth’s sweets do for them now? Her voice could not warm them from this chilling breeze, her nice clothes provide them with a future worth living for. The mumbles for the girl’s defence waxed, and waned, and finally grew silent.
When the moon is whole, and the snow falls thick, one will find that men turn against each other very quick. They would betray each other for a second of warmth, a mere glance at a bowl of stew, and children will do much worse.
[CHILD 1]: You could have at least lied to me! You could have been nice about my singing in the choir!
[CHILD 2/LILY-RUTH]: I was nice! Your singing is good! I-I love your singing.
[CHILD 3]: I want to wear nice clothes for once! I want socks with no holes in them, and I don’t want to share with my stupid brother!
[CHILD 4]: It’s her. We need her bones.
[CHILD 1]: Yeah!
[CHILD 2/LILY-RUTH]: W-wait! I don’t understand, please-
[SFX]: The children get up and surround Lily-Ruth and begin to attack. Lily-Ruth screams as her skin rips and her body is pulled apart.
[NARRATOR]: The process of extracting bones from a body while keeping the skin intact can be a difficult feat. Even more so for a horde of ill-trained children; no matter if one or two come from a butchering family. But when a crowd demands blood, and they believe they are justified, they will surely collect what they are owed.
[NARRATOR]: It’s hard to say when Lily-Ruth finally perished. It could very well have been when one of the miller’s boys tugged on her upper ribs with a little too much fervour, crushing the tiny still-beating heart within. Flesh and fat convulsed together, sliding and dripping off the other as the girl’s tiny white bones were pulled from her body.
[SFX]: Bones clinking together due to the wind.
[NARRATOR]: After washing the stains in the snow, the bones of Lily-Ruth shine brightly, catching the light of the moon and stars above. The offerings clink melodically against the rough stone altar; the smallest fingerbones and ribs rolling against each other like marbles.
[SFX]: The fire grows large as Lily Ruth’s remains are put in.
[NARRATOR]: The unneeded remains are thrown into the pyre, fuelling the flames to the highest they have ever been that night. They gather in their now-smaller circle and watch as the fat burns and sputters, remaining until all turned to ash.
[MUSIC]: The synths fade in one last time.
[NARRATOR]: When the moon is whole, and the snow falls thick, the light beams on the earth below. Onto the children who approach their village with feet dragging and eyes half-open. Onto the forest with a fresh blanket of snow covering their little tracks. Onto the unknowing sleeping village. And onto the remains of Lily-Ruth.