John walked through the streets, he was the only one out. The midday sun shone down on him, the heat making beads of sweat pop out on his forehead. He glanced at a house as he passed, they, like the others, had their shades drawn, no one peeked outside. No one would look to see who had been chosen, no one ever did. The town was eerily quiet, not even birds sang from the trees, nor was there a breeze to rustle the branches. It felt like the entire town was holding its breath, waiting for that moment of sweet release. John carried nothing with him, he wore the old jeans and the ragged t-shirt he had thrown on that morning, there were a few things he needed to do around the apartment, assemble those shelves from Ikea, give the walls of the office a lick of paint. It was all sitting out in his apartment still waiting for him to start. He would never see any of it again. Up ahead he could see the trees above the buildings he was close to the forest now. He wanted to slow a little, to dawdle and spend more time taking in the town, but he was compelled to walk forward.
He walked between the trees and into the cool shade, he moved through the forest, the only noises were the crunch of leaves and the occasional snap of twigs as he walked. He could feel a pressure building up around him, pressing in on him from all sides. He reached the river faster than he expected, it looked different somehow, but he couldn’t figure out why. He quickly stripped from his clothes and waded into the river, enjoying the refreshingly cold water against his skin. He quickly splashed water over himself, washing away the worst of the sweat and dirt that had accumulated through the day. Once that was done he walked out of the river on the other side, leaving his clothes behind.
Though he walked through the woods barefoot, he didn’t cut himself, nor did he need to pay attention to where he was going, his body knew and still he felt that pressure building and building. Finally he reached a small clearing, in the centre of it was a man sitting on a tree stump. The mans face was bland, nothing about it made him stand out, however from his head sprouted two large twisting antlers that reached up towards the sky. John stopped walking about two feet from the man.
“Did I have a choice?”
“There is always a choice.”
And just like that the pressure seemed to evaporate, he could control himself again, he wanted to turn and run but he couldn’t. He knew what would happen if he did.
“Will it hurt?”
The man shrugged, “I imagine so but I can’t say for sure.”
“I never thought I would see a God. You’re shorter than I expected.”
The man grinned, it was a friendly grin, and stood. John moaned, he couldn’t help it, the man seemed to take a long time to stand, his body stretching upwards and widening. Then it all snapped back and the man was sitting again. John was shaking uncontrollably. “I try to make it easier for you. This doesn’t have to be difficult.”
John didn’t say anything.
The man lunged forward, his mouth growing impossibly large, in one bite John was gone. The man chewed for a moment, his mouth and cheeks slowly shrinking until they were normal again. He belched, then stood from the stump he was sitting on. He walked a few steps and a slight breeze picked up, as though the forest was exhaling. The branches of the trees shook in the breeze, throwing their shadows over the man. As the shadows touched him he began to shift and change and as the breeze died he was simply gone. Back in the town people began to emerge from their homes, faces turned towards the cooling breeze and as one they breathed a sigh of relief, it was done for another year.