“Good morning, Goody Prynnehorne. Fine day for the offering, y’reckon?”
But Constance Prynnehorne did not think it a fine day. She flashed a weak smile at Parson Becker’s greeting and hurried home, holding baby Nathaniel close to her chest. She clung to him like gold these days, ever since her husband passed in the tragic churning accident. That boy was all she had left.
And oh, how the other wives in the village had cleverly abandoned her, cooing their false sympathies while keeping their distance. It was worst now at the time of the Offering, when their husbands prepared their bounty from their fields, while all she had to show for months of spinning was a few meager spools of thread.
“‘Tis not the size of the gift that pleases the Great One,” Goody Proctor assured her at the weekly bible study. “‘Tis only the generosity in your heart that He sees.” But the smug looks that passed among the other wives told a different story.
Constance gathered her thread in her prettiest basket and carried them and Nathaniel to the town square. Already the crowd had begun to gather: Jonas Wynterbrook and six bales of his finest hay; Ethan Grenvelt, with his fattest pig of the season. One by one they took their places around the great stone well that led deep into the earth, where the Great One lay sleeping.
Night came. Men raised their torches and families kept a respectful distance from the edge of the well, knowing the time was near. Soon a foul smell, like a thousand years of death, oozed from the opening and spread into the still air. The ground began to rumble and from deep within the bottomless abyss came an unearthly howl: yyoooooooooooooge.
The gathered crowd watched in anticipation as the Great One emerged from the depths and stood before them. The beast was hideous, with lumpen, leathery skin and a sneer rolling across his face. “Yyooooooooooooge,” he called again, and the villagers rushed to him with their offerings.
One by one the beast devoured their gifts. The creature washed down Jonas’ wheat with a full tankard of ale in what seemed the blink of an eye. Ethan’s pig died screaming in terror as the lumbering beast tore it to pieces and stuffed it into its enormous mouth.
Constance pushed forward with the others, clutching her basket in one hand, Nathaniel in the other. The frenzied crowd knocked her back and forth and her spools of thread fell from the basket and scattered across the ground.
Her stomach twisted as she frantically looked down, but the thread was already gone, kicked into the dirt by dozens of rushing feet. As her eyes darted about, she caught a glimpse of Nathaniel, calm and serene. In that moment, she saw the purity in his eyes, like his father’s, telling her all would be well.
“Yyooooooooooooge,” bellowed the beast.
Constance clutched Nathaniel and pressed to the front of the surging crowd. This year, her offering would be best.
(Update: Now that we’ve all had our laugh at the nice people, I’m blurring the photo out of respect to folks who didn’t ask to be made fun of, and also to avoid the wrath of the Great One and his cabal of lawyers.)