Writer: Anna Eberts
Illustrator: Emily Hair
TEXT + IMAGE collaboration
“It was born in the stagnant water of these forgotten woods,” the Pirahan leader warned the group of adolescents, speaking like the wind in a series of complicated whistles. His venerable headdress glowed in the firelight, making the shading difficult to duplicate on the researcher’s sketchpad. She sat beneath a shadow, an uninvited outsider on the fringe of the group, there to document the ritual.
“He embodies a deceitful shape, similar to man. The shape is possessed by two spirits, which fight to control the body. Both wicked demons. The first is a hollow-eyed serpent, it is loneliness. Tread carefully when stepping into the bush. The other is that of a great ape. He thirsts for dominance and releases a guttural growl before charging. If he finds you, climb high and fast, he cannot follow.”
The ten-year-olds were, as he wanted, quiet and still. Their faces lit up like the jack-o-lanterns the outsider was used to at this time of the year. Nervous and excited, she sketched rapidly.
“His name is…’ the leader said loudly, sprawling his arms above his head, “Hissferrmist. Hissferrmist. Hissferrmist,” he whispered, crouching down, the name slithering off his tongue. The children gasped. “On the last moon of the tenth month, we know Hissferrmist is waiting. We must hunt for his offering, ” he said as the children’s eyes followed his to the outsider.
The leader watched a tremble jog the outsider’s hand when the last whistle escaped his mouth. He smiled exposing a set of saliva-covered rotten teeth.
The leader put his calloused hands in the center of the fire, bringing out a charred bowl. The children reveled at his magical ability. “To hunt with the night, we must resemble the night.” He pointed to a young girl, naked except for a thin cloth covering the only discernable part of her sex. The leader reached into the bowl, coating first his rough hands then her bony body with a tar-like substance. Soon the girl was black and it was the next child’s turn. They sat chanting, “Hunt with the night, be the night,” in a series of high-pitched whistles, waiting for their turn to have the leader’s hands on them.
When the last sexless child was painted, the leader stood by the fire, rocking to the rhythm, coating his body with black tar. “Hunt with the night. Hunt with the night. Hunt with the night,” they continued, each whistle increasing with intensity. The chant ceased with a deliberate consensus. The children had disappeared beneath the blackness. The group of night hunters turned to the researcher. Stark, white eyes and yellow teeth glowed with the fire. A deep growl echoed behind the hunters. Startled, their attention diverted. The outsider backed further to the edge. The group looked to their leader for direction. He turned again to the outsider. Their wild eyes followed his to the shadows. Only her sketchbook remained.