Night fell in Gotland while an old lady, strands of gray hair escaping from the brown hood over her head, leaned on her fence. Fading sunlight played on the triangular wall of a church ruin. Higher on Visby's hill towered the iron grillwork of Sankta Maria church. Among the cobblestone streets walked emaciated children with none of the exuberance they should've shown. She wondered why Saint Maria couldn't hold sway over the streets at dark. Her neighbors had hidden within their walls, but not her, not a single night over seventy years. She lived her way, not the villager's way. Bribes.
Each child fanned out to wander in a different direction like a drunk weaving his way from a late night rendezvous, leaving the clutches of his love, her vapor thick on his breath. The old woman watched a little girl. Grime coated her cheeks. Blonde hair matted beneath the black rags of her cloak.
The children never looked the same to the old woman. Even though they came every night during the autumn. Why they came, no one knew. Perhaps, for the apples.
She swallowed once so her words wouldn't catch in her throat. "Apple, little girl?"
The girl shuffled closer, her teeth loose in her mouth as the gums pulled back leaving caves of darkness around the gray stumps. The wind, cool off the Baltic Sea, never made the children wince. The girl reached an arm up, a claw, and took an apple.
As the last light faded, night coming earlier every day, the children receded down the hill. They flowed out to the ocean where the fog kissed Gotland's coast.
Unlike the other nights, the departure of the children didn't leave the streets bare. Instead, the old lady, her arms propped on the weathered wood, stared into the depths of the fog. A skeletal man approached wearing a black robe with the hood pulled to leave his face in darkness.
He stopped and crooked his finger to call her forward. Her heart bubbled in her throat as she looked behind her but she knew deep down that he called for her. It was time. The apples fell from her hand and scattered in the grass as she loosened the gate and took his hand to walk through the streets of Visby one last time.
Update: I'm back from Germany; the last week has been particularly busy (meetings all day and then calls with the US office all evening) leaving me with little time to write. I've added a little to an old scrap of writing for this week's nearly Friday Flash.