It was around twilight, and I was watching from the front window of a dark house, and I saw a sea of flickering lights making its way down the street to the town’s square. As they got closer, I saw that it was a mob bearing torches. In the middle of the mob, I could see that they were carrying the faceless figure of a woman made entirely out of paper mache’. The figure was at least twice the size of a real person. They were carrying it over their heads, and they had it lying flat across their hands. The figure bobbed and rolled with their steps, tossing this way and that, with the thick loose locks of red paper hair knocking all about and straying dangerously close to the flame of a few of the torches, and the smooth blank face showing expressionless and undisturbed in the light.
They brought the figure to a place that they had prepared for it at the center of the town’s square. There was a wooden beam that stood tall and straight, and it had logs and kindling arranged around its base. They bound the hands and the feet of the figure to this post. They cinched the bonds extra tight with a particularly malicious vigor, and they glanced up at the figure, smirking with their burning eyes dancing, as if they expected to see pain registering on the empty face. The logs and kindling were doused with gasoline, and the mob edged forward in a frenzy, eager to set the blaze going with their torches.
But a man with a megaphone mounted a platform beside the bound figure, and he managed to push the mob back a ways through the sheer volume of his words blasting into their faces. It was too far away for me to make out what he was saying. It was just a general rumbling of thunderous hostility with bursts of angry shouting carrying across the otherwise clear and deserted evening, and it was answered now and then by a roar from the mob and a wild waving of torches in the air and a steady thumping against the ground that I could feel even in the floorboards beneath my feet.
Unable to be restrained any longer, the mob surged forward, everyone pushing everyone else aside and struggling to the front of the crowd, so that it could be their torches that lit the logs and kindling. Instantly the figure was engulfed in flames. I could hear the loud whoosh as the whole thing caught fire. I could see the sudden flare of the light. I could already smell the burning paper. I could almost feel the heat coming off of it. The mob surged back a little from the flames, the light flickering in their eyes. They grew somber and still and they all stood watching the figure burn.
One of the arms of the figure looked like it was about to fall loose at the shoulder as the flames were consuming it. But just as it was about to drop, there was a sudden unfolding of wings, and then a hawk soared up out of the fire. Its wingspan was dark and terrible, and there were flames all around its body. Its eyes smoldered a bright, sinister red, and its talons glowed like hot coals. It swooped up, leaving a trail of smoke and fire behind it, and it circled over the mob, and they all twisted their heads around to follow the path of its flight.
Two more hawks emerged from the figure, just as its other arm and the head were about to come loose. They joined the other hawk in its circling path over the mob. Together the three birds let out a piercing call that ripped through the air. The mob stirred, and I saw them all begin to slowly move in a mass away from the burning figure. One of the hawks seemed to hone in on someone specific in the mob, and it dove straight at him, the other two hawks following closely at its tail. The man tried to push through the crowd and run, but the hawk got a hold of him. Its talons sank into his shoulders with a pop and a hiss of burning flesh.
The hawk dragged the man back to the burning figure, and it dragged him straight into the hottest part of the fire. The dying man cried out in agony, but the hawk’s screams were even louder, stranger. It threw itself into the flames right along with the man for the sake of its vengeance. The two were consumed together, but as they burned, three more hawks emerged, just as they had from the paper figure, tearing up into the air and shedding sparks and burning bits of bone and debris over the terrified mob.
The other hawks began grabbing random people from the crowd and dragging them back into the fire, and the hawks multiplied threefold with every victim that they consigned to the flames. The mob had dispersed now, and everyone was running from the scene as fast as they could. Some, when they saw one of the hawks honing in on them, tried to throw the person beside them to the glowing talons. But the hawks stayed on their target, and each person seemed to have a hawk specifically assigned to their fate. A few people almost made it to the edge of the town’s square, but the hawks got them all in the end, dragging them one at a time into the fire.
This went on all night with the sky as black as I’d ever seen it beyond the roaring light of the fire and the burning embers carried up and away on the air. The bodies had gathered in a pile in the fire, and I could see people still alive in the there, climbing, struggling, flailing, and finally collapsing and crumbling into ash and cinders indistinguishable from the rest. When the morning came, there was nothing left but smoke and soot and the charred remains of the tall post to which they had bound the paper figure.