Frederick gazed at the moon, noting how clear its markings were; he could make out features: eyes, a nose, an open mouth. A silver face hung in the sky. A full moon. A Poacher’s Moon, when many a creature was taken for the pot. He wondered who might be out hunting on the sly that night. He had done plenty of poaching himself over the years, cheating the landowner of many a rabbit and hare and plump pheasant, even an occasional deer–not to mention the juicy fish he’d pulled from the river. He and his wife had lived well at their landlord’s expense. He had been careful, of course. And lucky. But Dame Fortune could be a fickle companion.
Worried lest his luck run out on this of all nights, when the gamekeepers would be on the prowl and armed, he had stayed at home. He had his wife and twin babes to think about now. Pity, though, when there was game to catch if one knew where to look–and he knew where to look. He could have brought home a tasty treat.
A movement in the distance caught his attention. A figure, tall, dressed in a long overcoat, was briskly crossing the water meadow. Frederick watched him for a few minutes then slipped on his jacket, left the house and strode toward him. As he drew near, he could hear the man humming to himself.
The stranger, his face pale in the moonlight, halted. “Good evening.”
His very calmness angered Frederick. “Who the devil are you?”
Frederick shook his head. “I know the keepers. I don’t know you.”
“Haven’t you heard? They’ve hired extra tonight for Poacher’s Moon,” the man replied mildly.
Frederick stared at him suspiciously but the man held his gaze, apparently taking no offense at the scrutiny. “Fine evening,” he commented. “Well, time for me to be on my way. Got my round to do. I’ll wish you good night.” He slowly walked away, resuming his humming.
To Frederick, it sounded louder now and more rhythmic. Feeling suddenly shaky and cold, he turned for home, wanting to be back by his hearth. But he missed his footing, stumbled and fell. Instantly the man was beside him, pulling him to his feet. “I’ll help you to your house.”
“No need,” Frederick mumbled.
“There’s every need. Here, take my arm.”
With the man’s support Frederick reached his front door. “Thanks,” he muttered.
Accepting the wife’s invitation to step inside for a cup of tea, the man hummed to himself while waiting by the fireside. An annoying sound, Frederick thought groggily, though there was a certain beat to it; he slipped into unconsciousness.
Waking at daybreak, he found his wife asleep beside him on the sofa. Of the stranger, there was no sign. Shivering, for the fire in the hearth had gone out and the room was icy, he went upstairs to check on the babies but their cots were empty. Frantic, he woke his wife, who rushed upstairs. Finding her infants gone, she screamed and wept and tore her hair.
In a kitchen far, far away, a silvery figure munched on a plump little body; close by another small cadaver soaked in a dish of salt water and molasses. There were few snacks as tasty as a bonny human baby.