by EJ Robinson. Winner of the Best Novel Opening for Children or Young Adults competition 2021

The turning leaves had just begun to graze the green of summer with a glint of autumn gold when the first child was taken. A baby boy, spirited away as though by fairies. Although fairies were not known to leave the blood of infants trailing from cradle to cave. First one infant, then one more, then another. Child after child, snatched as though by magic. No one saw or heard a thing.

There was talk of demons, of witches abroad in the night seeking young flesh to appease devilish appetites. The village elders tore their hair at each fresh loss but no matter what traps were laid, no matter how many torches were lit nor fires left smoking, still the youngest of their numbers were taken from the village and never seen again. At least, not in one piece.

Finally it happened that the womenfolk took to gathering the remaining youngsters together at each darkening of day, that they might safely rest under watchful eyes. It was these wakeful women who finally glimpsed it.

A wolf.

A beast the like of which had never been seen. Tall as a horse and muscled as oxen, with teeth sharp as spears, its rough hide matted with the blood of their children. The village gates were heaved shut and the men armed mounted the walls armed with fire arrows and stood guard. Women were charged with keeping fires burning around the village perimeter. Still the wolf came, somehow, as though it obeyed no mortal laws, as though it travelled underneath some protecting evil eye. At last the villagers, too fearful to go abroad, retreated into their separate houses. They barred their doors, shuttered their windows, and cut themselves off from one another.

And so things were when one of the village mothers faced a dilemma.