's 2013 Horror Write-off:

"The Modern Age"

Submitted by Esther Roman

The old man sat at the restaurant, and nobody looked at him twice. Or maybe yes. It's not because his face, one of the thousand of faces eroded by time. It's the little things about him that catch the eye: the freshly cut flower in his lapel, the knobby walking stick, the weathered elegance of his dark green clothes.

He only stops at transient places: pubs, diners, bars. He does not sleep. He usually asks for the soup of the day, or a salad, or meat in some special days. Last week he tried a delicious venison stew, but he does not like to visit the same place twice. He always pays in crumpled dollar bills and dull coins, and he never takes any change back.

The old man pays his round and leaves the counter parsimoniously, tipping his hat as he leaves. The waitress has already forgotten him. Meticulously slow, he puts on his coat and takes his cane. In his step there is a limp that does not slow him down.

It's really not so bad, ponders the old Wendigo. He was getting weary of wandering the empty wilderness, jumping from tree to tree, so swift and so alone. When man first conquered the woods, he got furious: he howled with a voice that was the wind, he lurked around the barracks to destroy the machinery and take the incautious men. However, one night he stopped. He looked at his reflection in a pool, and he looked so tired. How long since he didn't bathe in the frozen pools by the moonlight? How long since the cold that fed his heart started gnawing his bones?

It was easier in the cities. He found out about the vast emptiness that haunts crowded places, where no one looks at other people in the eyes. He admitted to himself that hunting here is easier than in the forest, where he had to stalk for weeks groups of lonely and paranoid men, looking for the weakest. In the city, he only has to find a loner and hide behind his or her mirror. He just had to whisper to them every night, and in less than a week they are his. So aseptic, so convenient. The progress offers so many wonders.

Limping slightly, he walks to an unremarkable neighborhood. Last week he found a treat, a divorced woman. She has no family and no real friends, and she does not like her job. She is now realizing that her life won't be special, just a succession of days and nights until the final darkness. He just had to suggest, and she acted. It was so easy, so smooth. Almost as if she wanted it too. Just a little pressure, and he could find himself behind her eyes, looking at her face in the mirror. It's only been a few days, and already she can only wear long sleeves, to hide the missing flesh in her arms. The blood she offers willingly is not so nourishing, but soon he will convince her to provide richer sustenance.

The old man walks into a gory twilight. Once more, he is surprised to realize that he does not really miss the woods. And he smiles, a smile with too many teeth.