The End of Innocents

I don’t normally write stories like this… it’s really just creepy. The prompt was even creepier.

**

The End of Innocents

“I’m telling you, it’s madness. It’s as if they’re possessed or something!”

Madeline paused at the words, her brows furrowing. She pretended to be interested in some trinkets that the tinsmith had. Really, she was listening to the conversation. Any mention of madness or possession got her attention.

At the moment, it was a stranger to the village discussing the matter with the baker’s wife. Jeanette was a kind woman and easy to speak to. If she had any faults it was that she failed to see just what people were capable of doing to others.

“Why would they do that, though?” she said, shaking her head. One arm moved around the shoulders of her young son, Henri, as she spoke. “To kill their own children? How could they?”

This wasn’t the first time that Madeline had heard of such a thing. In truth, Gilbert had been hearing rumors about it for the last several months. It seemed to have started somewhere far to the north. However, news of the incidents was moving southward at an alarming rate. Gilbert had heard of such incidents happening in the past. It terrified him to think that the time had come again.

Madeline’s brows furrowed and she moved away from the tinsmith’s wares, towards Jeanette and the stranger. The woman had pale skin, almost like alabaster. Her hair was nearly as fair and her eyes were a vibrant blue. With looks like that, it was obvious that she was from one of the northern lands.

She shook her head. “I can only tell you what I saw,” she said, her voice strained. She released a shuddering breath and shook her head. “This man choked the life out of his daughter and – and then, when the child was still, he blinked and shook himself and – and it was as if he hadn’t even realized what he’d just done!”

“You husband?” Madeline said, her voice faint.

The woman blanched and her hand went to her throat, clutching at the fabric of the shawl that was pinned in place there. “I didn’t say that,” she said, her voice even softer than Madeline’s was. Tears welled in her eyes, then, and she shook her head. “I didn’t know what to do! I screamed at him to stop. I tried to pull him off of her… but… I couldn’t stop him.”

Madeline reached out and touched the woman on the sleeve. “It wasn’t your fault,” she said, her tone gentle. She shook her head and then heaved a sigh. “Was it only the men in your village that killed their children? Do you know of any women that did it?”

The woman took a shuddering breath and shook her head. “It was the men only,” she said, her voice soft.

Jeanette looked horrified. “You don’t think…” she started. Then, she caught Madeline’s hand and shook her head. “That won’t happen here! Will it?”

Madeline shook her head. “Who can say?” she said. She looked over at the stranger. “Was the incident isolated to your village? Were there other villages that suffered the same tragedy?”

“It was happening everywhere,” the woman said, her voice soft. She fidgeted with her shawl once more. “Do you have children?”

Nodding, Madeline said, “A little girl.”

“Guard her,” she said. Then, she looked at Jeanette and touched Henri on top of his head. “Guard your son well,” she said. “There’s no telling when or whom the madness will strike.”

As the woman headed away from them, Jeanette looked at Madeline and shook her head. “But, your husband is the village parson,” she said, her voice strained. “Surely, you can’t think… He wouldn’t… He’s a man of the cloth!”

“I should like to think the village baker wouldn’t kill his son anymore than the parson would kill our daughter, but… well, you heard her,” Madeline said, shrugging. She touched Jeanette on the arm. “Just… try to keep Henri away from Jacques.”

Jeanette nodded and took Henri by the hand. Then, she hurried away. Madeline could only imagine that she was going to try to focus on her shopping. That wasn’t something that Madeline could do.

She whirled away and hurried towards the church. She sighed in relief when she saw Margot playing on the front steps. She barely resisted the urge to pull the girl into a rough embrace. Instead, she simply smoothed Margot’s hair.

“Hello, Mama,” Margot said, grinning at her. “I’m making flower fairies!”

“That’s lovely dear,” Madeline said. She glanced around and frowned. “Where’s Papa?”

“Something happened at the butcher’s house,” Margot said. Her brows furrowed and she shook her head. “Papa didn’t say what, though. The reeve came and whispered something to him and he said he had to go.”

Madeline sighed and sat down on the church steps beside her daughter. “So, it’s started already, has it?” she breathed. She lifted Margot and settled the girl on her lap, hugging her close.

Not long after, Gilbert returned. He gave Madeline a weak smile, one that held no joy. Then, he shook his head and his expression turned grim. He looked at their daughter. “Margot?” he said, his voice faint. “Would you go and play in the garden?”

Margot nodded and, gathering up her flowers, scampered into the church. Madeline knew that she would go out into the small fenced in garden that was behind the church. She would be safe there. After all, the danger was here.

As Madeline stood, Gilbert said, “Luc… he’s dead, Madeline.” He covered his face with his hands. “Charlotte killed him, but… it was too late. He’d already killed both of their children.”

He looked up at her and shook his head. “I’ve prayed that, whatever was causing this, it wouldn’t come here,” he said. “Now… I’m not sure what to do. Why is this happening?”

“Is it affecting you?” Madeline asked, her voice weak.

Gilbert bit his lip and then nodded. “Before the sun sets… Madeline, take Margot and get her away from here! Away from me, before…” he trailed off and shook his head. “I’ve already told the reeve to tell the women to take their children and leave. We have to save the children – as many as we can.”

“I’ll come back,” Madeline promised. Then, she whirled away and hurried into the church. She knew Gilbert was right. This was the only choice. It would pass, as it had all the times before. However, until the madness had moved on to the next village, children would not be safe in this village.

As Madeline lifted Margot into her arms, her daughter said, “Where are we going, Mama?”

There was only one answer that Madeline could give her. “North,” she said.

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