The Dwimor

According to the old folks, the Dwimor was a legendary phantom, used by the demons to take wrongdoers into the depths of the earth. Grandmother said it was a great white swan that rode upon the river; Grandfather said it was a cloud of fog that crept through the forest. The priest gave it a new name: Satan. Either one could be true, for the old folk's fears were supported by grim travelers passing through. They found the villages in smoking ruins, with the bloated dead strewn along the river. Not even cattle were spared. This apparition should have been enough to frighten anyone from sinning when the fog gathered, but there are stronger forces than morality when children's stomachs are left unfilled.

Frost grew on the eaves by the river and chilled the toes of a little boy crouched in the bushes by a hut. Starvation had pulled his eyes deep into his skull.

"Unnatural, this cursed fog," a woman mumbled to herself as she walked out of her cozy house, lugging a bucket. This woman's face was round and full, with a double chin to boast of a life of full stomachs. As she walked by the hidden boy, she brought the scent of fresh cooking, making the child bite his lips in envy. His stomach gnawed at his insides ferociously as the smell mixed with the warm air swept over him. She had left food in the hut.

The priest had said often it was an evil thing to steal from one's neighbor, but all sense of right and wrong vanished in the steam of fresh cooked oatcakes on the hearth. The father tended the family's cows, and the children played by the river. The temptation was far too great to resist. The boy stole silently into the woman's hut.

He grabbed a steaming oatcake, not noticing how it burnt his hands, and ran as fast as he could back to his family's shack. Old boards cut by crude tools and covered in mud bricks formed the walls, and a rotting thatch made a weak roof.

One of his sisters peeked around the door as she heard him come running, a hopeful smile stretching her thin lips. With a pang he realized he should share his capture with his lean-cheeked mother and crying sisters, but he was so hungry that his greed took precedence. He hid the oatcake beneath his shirt, so they wouldn't see it. A brief sliver of fear and guilt slipped through his mind, but his hunger absolved him.

The boy pretended to go to sleep with his empty stomach crying in dulled pain. When the rest of the village was quiet he could stand it no longer; he crept out of the hut and hid by the river to eat the oatcake. This river was so deep that sea traders could come in their ships; buying whatever goods the townspeople could sell. He chewed on the oatcake; by now it was cold and tough. The sea fog came up the river as he ate. It writhed above the calm surface of the water, like serpents in their death tolls. Soon it was so heavy that he couldn't see more than a rock's throw in any direction, and any resemblance that the fog held of the snakes melted away into spoiled milk. "Cursed fog," the boy whispered, imitating the woman.

Suddenly, a soft splash on the river made the boy look up again. Perhaps the fish were jumping? He had heard tales of enormous fish that lived in rivers as deep and wide as this one. To catch one would feed his family for days. The boy squinted through the fog, but saw no fish. Slowly sliding through the mist, came a great snarling head of a swan, suspended by its monstrous neck, taller than the houses in the village. Its white plumage glowed in the faint moonlight that shined through the haze. It advanced noiseless and terrifying, its wings suspended over the water.

The boy stood dumbfounded for a moment, trying to understand what was happening. As it came closer, the swan transformed into a huge boat, painted purely white, an old god defying enlightenment. The mist billowed and churned in obedience to the boat's smooth advance. The Dwimor had come to take everyone away, the boy realized. He had brought it here.

Desperate, the boy screamed, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'll give it back! I'm sorry!" but the ship continued to approach the village.

The boy screamed louder and louder, but the demon wouldn't stop. Something grabbed his shoulders. It was his mother, who had sprinted to the sound of his cries. "Son! My child!" she gasped, trying to pick him up. "Why are you crying? What's wrong?" He struggled out of his mother's grasp and pointed at the coming terror. Her eyes widened, and she dropped to her boney knees, clutching her son. "No!" she screamed. "Lord no!" Tears fell down her starvation-withered face, leaving dirty tracks in their wake. Her daughters had followed her to the river, and when they saw the Dwimor, their shrieks awakened the villagers.

Soon all of the villagers gathered on the bank of the river, staring in awe and utter terror at the approaching ship. The only sound was the soft wash of tiny waves on the bank and the priest chanting in Latin, desperately trying to repel the demon.

The great ship slid to a stop, as its hull hit the river shallows. The people stood, awaiting their doom, when a rough foreign voice began to yell. The people all stared, the truth not quite realized yet. A young warrior leapt out of the demon and into the waist deep water, waving a bright sword and wielding a strong shield as he struggled toward the shore. Hundreds of foreign voices filled the night, and hundreds of helmets, spears, and shields protruded from the ship's deck. Then the villagers understood.

Screams of their own erupted, and people trampled each other in the rush to get away. All except one. The little boy, still holding the stolen oatcake, stood on the shore. He bowed his head, ready to take responsibility for what he had done.