The coal-black creature tapped its hoof impatiently on the jagged hunk of granite it had perched itself on, feigning impatience. It mimed idly checking an imaginary watch and, looking up at Sergeant Joseph Leibowitz, huffed and crossed its arms. It was not that Sergeant Leibowitz was an indecisive man; to the contrary, he liked to believe that it was his quick thinking, steady hands, and tireless leadership that had kept causalities on this godforsaken rock to a minimum, at least on his side.

It almost seemed unfair, he figured, how easily they had captured them. How easy he had gotten himself into this mess. 24 prisoners of war, a mixture of true believers and half-hearted conscripts. Two tried to run, making it 22. He neglected to report to the brass that they’d found three Germans, too: Waffen SS. He couldn’t guess what they were doing here, this far south. He always figured they wouldn’t be here, in fucking Sicily of all places. Three dead stormtroopers. Three days until this thing showed up.

Now, it was here. He was speechless and had tried to reason with it, hope for survival fleeting as the thing’s face shifted into a demonic, porcine sneer. He had no knowledge of the machinations of pigs, he told it. How was he to know that those stormtroopers were agents of this creature’s unseen and unknowable master? The warm Mediterranean wind blew all around them, accompanying the sound of waves crashing against the cliffs. Seagulls screeched overhead, their cries drowning out his plea for clemency.

The beast leapt from the rock it had been standing on, dropping onto all fours in a way that seemed to come naturally to it; he blinks, and it’s gnashing its teeth, drooling and slavering, only a few centimeters away from his genitals.

“You’re avoiding the question,” it barked. “The court has reviewed your case and elected to be merciful; make no mistake, Sergeant! You are not on trial here. The sentence has already been passed, dear friend, and I am only its executioner. I will not ask you again. You have three hours to decide.”

It rose to its feet again, legs cracking with each movement. The body it had chosen must not have been intended for bipedal movement, but it was too dark to see it clear enough to make out what it really was, be it man or animal. Whatever pain it felt, if it could even feel, it ignored; it relished in the faces he made, in the discomfort it caused him to move about in a manner so obviously unnatural. He blinks, and the thing is holding a key in its hands, or what it considered a close enough approximation of them, and drops it in front of him.

“Three hours,” it said, lips dripping with saliva. He tried, in desperation, to say something, to try and appeal to some shriveled sense of mercy the animal may have once had, but—


“Three hours. Your skin or the child. Choose. This key will save us the trouble of having to track your scent. Use it on any door and we will come.”

“Fine,” he said. “Go. Get the fuck out of here; I’ve got to think about this.” He tried feigning bravado, courage. Whatever courage he had once had left him the instant it had shown up, gripping his neck and whispering the crimes he had been found guilty for into his ear. His legs felt weak, like flimsy planks of wood deigning to snap in half at any moment. The hog’s face curled into a toothless smile and he watched as it folded in on itself, each fold another cacophony of bones breaking and joints popping. Within the minute, it had vanished, folded itself into nothingness, back to wherever it was that it had come from. He bent down to pick up the key it had dropped before him and squats there for a long time, thinking about the options he had; for his crimes, they demanded either his skin, freshly removed by their own hands, or his daughter. Teresa. His stomach churns at the thought of giving her to them; his mind races at the enormity of what his two options are. What do they need her for?

After an hour, he decided to search for a door to bring them back with. He found one, two or three miles down the shoreline, a derelict villa, the stucco walls marred with bullet holes, all the windows smashed. He approached the door and took the key from his pocket, turning it over in his hands; brass, barely the length of his palm. Would it even fit? He stood there until he could see that the sun had risen, deep in thought; what would he say when they appeared? He drifted between the possibilities they’d given him, each seeming a worse fate when he considered it deeper than the other. The sun was on his back when he finally put the key in the hole and, breath held, unlocked the door. Without urging, it opened.

The scant few rays of morning light that filtered past him as he stood in the doorway helped him understand what they looked like; it had not come alone, this time. Their skins were scored, blackened, as though charred to the point that whatever was left in front of him was composed of pure carbon, animated only by its unburned love of cruelty and animal hatred for man; the foremost one spoke, its voice now akin to a flensing knife that stripped away whatever tranquil silence his last moments could be granted.

“Have you decided, Sergeant? What will we be taking with us?”

His heart began racing, his breath ragged and struggling to leave his body and, suddenly, he found it hard to speak to them. The thing before him repeated the question, now smiling. He stuttered out a reply that they took in the affirmative.

“Yes, we know that you have decided. You would not have brought us here if you had not. What will we be taking with us?”

“I, I, I,”

“You, you, you. Out with out. Tell us, or we will take both.”

“Take her!” he shouted, panic bursting to the forefront of his mind as though a dam had burst. “Take her! Take her! Just get away from me!” All three of them now began to smile at him; the two flanking the one speaking had teeth, he noticed, whereas the one in the front—the one who had given him the key—did not. In an instant, all three of them began to sprint into the air on all fours, heading towards the moon and he saw them disappear, slowly, into the sky.

He vomited and sat there for what felt like an eternity; by the afternoon, he spotted three black shapes growing larger over the horizon, headed towards him. His eyes widened in fear and he turned to run, sprinting away from the cliff, his mind overtaken by the primitive desire to get away. He stopped when he felt their ragged, excited breath on the back of his neck and turned to see their hands on his shoulders; he stopped breathing when he turned to see that the toothless one now possessed a full set of teeth, small—a baby’s teeth, he knew. Her teeth.