He fetches the photograph from a drawer he keeps locked and passes it you without looking at it. His hands shake while he does it.
It’s a picture of woman, young, brunette, short hair. Her mouth is frozen open and she’s looking down at the child holding her hand, caught in the moment of talking to her daughter, her daughter looking up, long hair only a six-year-old could love, the same shade as her mothers. It’s dusk, the end of a beautiful day of walking and being with your child, a picnic in the woods perhaps. They’re standing in the courtyard in the folly on The Scar, the mother’s green coat flipped back on one side by the immobile wind, her left leg rising to take a step, the daughter echoing her movement.
All this, you see in an instant, then forget it. It’s the woman behind them you who pulls your focus, the woman standing there in the blood red coat, white hair streaming over her right shoulder. Your eyes are pulled to her face, the eyes that are nothing but black holes, the mouth a feral snarl, the hint of shark teeth. You follow her eye line to the back of the head of the woman in green and fear for her; nothing good is coming her way.
Worse, you know the story of this picture. The old man who refuses to look at it, the one who took it, has told again and again how the woman in the red coat wasn’t there. He saw nothing but the woman and child and the courtyard of the folly.
Then it gets worse. He will tell you, if you push him hard enough, what happened next. How the woman in green encountered the woman in red. How lucky she was just to lose a finger as her daughter was snatched from her hand by a bloody shape who vanished. Others have been less lucky, their hands and arms torn away.
The man in front of you will tell you he took the photo, then looked away. In that instant, the girl was gone and the mother screamed her name. The man looked back up, and saw only the mother standing there.
The girl screamed a second later, from somewhere in the woods behind the folly, an impossible distance away. That scream was loud enough to be heard five miles down the valley, a scream cut off in the middle, the crashing silence awful in its finality. The people living below The Scar knew that scream too well: The woman in blood had come again and took another daughter.
It was always girls, you see. Never boys – the woman only craved girlmeat.
She had struck before over the years, five times, but never again after this. This is the only photograph of anything resembling what went on up there. There are no copies remaining; and this is the last man alive who remembers the woman in blood. The other copies, the ones in newspapers and the darker corners of the internet, have been destroyed by fires or lost.
There’s been nothing for a generation…until the folly was destroyed last year and houses strung along The Scar. New houses with new people who know nothing about the woman in blood. New people with new families.
One of their daughters went missing last night. No screams this time. She was in the back garden of a new house, playing with her new toys, when something very old reached for her.
You stare at the picture in your hand much more closely. It’s been magnified, analysed, interrogated and reproduced a hundred times. It’s taken years to track them all down and patiently destroy them or remove them. You rise towards the old man, smiling, thanking him for his gift.
For no one has ever noticed you, hiding in the woods, watching the man take the photograph, watching your beautiful mother in her red coat take what she needed.
And as your hands close around his wrinkled throat, you tell him how much you appreciate the gift of the last photograph. As his eyes widen then glaze over, you tell him how she will adore it when you give it to her on Mother’s Day.