The entire village had gathered inside the church. Families and neighbours huddled together, talking in whispers. The Fair Ones were abroad, dancing under the harvest moon, and it was not safe for men.
Pietro started awake as the padre grabbed his shoulder. ‘Nessum dorma,’ the old man whispered urgently. ‘Sogni chiamano a loro!’ No one sleeps. Dreams call to them. They fed on dreams, invading your mind and driving you insane. That’s why everyone was in the church tonight: to keep each other awake; to keep them out.
Shadows flitted across the moonlight in the stained-glass windows. Children’s voices laughed outside. Mothers pulled their children closer to them. Pietro felt the little hairs in the back of his neck standing up. They were here. There were muffled cries inside the church as someone knocked at the door. ‘Please, can we come in?’ Their voices sounded like singing. ‘It’s cold out here, and we’re hungry. Please, can we come in?’ The padre crossed himself and started praying the Our Father, most of the other villagers following his example.
Pietro felt the world around him blurring, the sounds around him fading away until there was nothing but the heavenly voices, calling to him, luring him, seducing him. He knew what he had to do. He walked to the door as if in a dream. He was aware of other voices calling him, warning him, but they sounded crass and ugly and he ignored them. He pulled back the heavy bolts and swung the doors open. They were standing outside, beautiful, radiant, smiling at him. He raised his hands in a gesture of welcome, inviting them in.
A terrified scream from inside the church broke the spell. For a moment he saw the Fair Ones as they truly were, their cruel little black eyes staring from faces like death masks, before the first one to pass him snapped his neck with a twist of its fingers. The screams inside the church quickly stopped, and all that remained was the sound of children’s voices, laughing.