There once was a woman, O children, named Laquinda.
Laquinda lived in a small cabin, deep in the woods, with her three dogs. She meditated, and read, and enjoyed walks in the dappled sunlight shining through the forest canopy. She worked as an accountant at Brickenden National Bank, performing financial services for people and businesses; she was very good at her job, and found satisfaction in it every day.
In this way, she lived and worked and was happy.
At the end of every workday, Laquinda left the bank and began the long walk home through the woods. The woods were deep and deserted, and home to all manner of beasties: demons, ghosts, vértékties, vampires, and other creatures besides. Laquinda always made sure to go home while the sun still shone down and drove the dark things into the shadows.
One springtime, tax season enveloped Brickenden National like a dark cloud, and Laquinda found that she could not keep up with all the work that needed to be done. On the day of the deadline, the bank manager requested that Laquinda stay and work until all the tax documents had been filed. Laquinda worked hard, doing calculation upon calculation, but still found that the moon was full and heavy above the trees when she was finished. Laquinda quickly said a prayer and jogged down the path.
Laquinda was in the forest no further than ten yards before she found her path blocked by a vértéktie.
A vértéktie, if you have never seen one (and I hope for your sake that you have not), is a small creature the size and shape of a cat, with the head of a possum and the tail of an otter, and two sharp horns spiraling from its forehead. Vértéktie stand on their hind legs, and they are dressed all over in soft shaggy fur; their large velvety bat ears swivel to and fro so they can hear their prey from a great distance. Their tongues are half the length of their bodies, and they have two small hands, like the hands of a child.
Vértéktie smile constantly, showing all of their tiny sharp teeth.
"Clear my path, beastie, or I shall make you move," said Laquinda, pretending to be brave even though she was very scared.
"Oh, I think not," said the vértéktie, slowly padding toward Laquinda and licking its thin pink lips. "You look plump and nourishing. I think I shall take my fill of you."
Laquinda let out a bellowing shriek and ran at the vértéktie, which startled and froze; she raised her foot as she ran, and attempted to boot the creature into the trees, but the vértéktie was too fast for her. It clung fast to her leg with its small hands and scampered up her body. Then it perched on her back, where she could not reach it, and began whispering an eerie incantation.
Laquinda knew that it was too late, but the damage could be managed; she broke off the branch of a nearby rowan tree and began to flail away behind her, whipping the vértéktie, so that it could not continue its disgusting spell.
Vértéktie, you see, do not feed the way monsters normally do. Most fearsome critters want to eat the flesh or drink the blood of their victims. A vértéktie, forgoing this physical sustenance, grabs hold of a person and slowly consumes their ability to experience joy. Once they have encountered a vértéktie in the light of the silvery moon, even a person who smiles easily and has found inner peace can find themselves staring into the carpet as if into a wishing well, unable to find even the smallest measure of happiness.
Laquinda ran as fast as her feet would take her, flogging the vértéktie with the rowan branch. She could hear the whisper of dark words, and could feel herself begin to despair. She began to shout over the vértéktie, singing prayers, calling out Our Fathers and Hail Marys at the top of her voice. She took her silver necklace and pressed it into the monster's leg, making the fur singe and burn; she did every thing she could think of to make the critter pause or start over or halt.
Before too long, she saw her house through the trees, and called her dogs.
The dogs came running up the path and circled Laquinda and the vértéktie, barking and growling. It is well-known that vértéktie are terrified of dogs, and the beast clambered its way up to the very top of Laquinda's head, where it turned round and round, spitting and squealing. Spying her chance, Laquinda grabbed its bony thorax and wrestled it to the ground, where she wrapped the necklace around its neck like a choker, and clutched the devil close to her.
She ran the rest of the way to the cabin, shooing the dogs inside before her as she went. Once they were all inside, she slammed and locked the door behind her and threw the vértéktie to the floor.
Now that the physical connection had been broken and the panic had begun to subside, Laquinda could tell that the vértéktie had badly diminished her capacity for merriment. Before the encounter, she could laugh at any joke, no matter how badly constructed or poorly told. Now she found that when she tried to smile, the corners of her mouth twitched halfheartedly and lay still. She knew that unless something was done, she would be unable to enjoy her walks, or her books, or her dogs, or her work, and she would soon begin to wither away.
"Vile beast," she hissed at the vértéktie. "Undo this damage! Restore me, or I shall kill you, and throw you in the fire, and let my dogs chew your bones!"
"Anything, please," said the vértéktie, "just let me go."
Laquinda grabbed the devil by the scruff of its neck, and attached bells to the silver necklace it wore, so that other people would know if it came near. She squeezed the vértéktie hard between her hands, and felt satisfaction rise within her.
Once this was done, and she was made her old self again, she opened the door to allow the demon to escape. Instead of running into the darkness, however, it looked at her plaintively.
"Please," it said, "with this bell around my neck, I shall never be able to feed. Soon, I will die of starvation."
Now that her gaiety had returned to her, Laquinda felt some small sympathy for this pathetic monster. "I shall place a saucer of milk on the front step every night," she said.
The vértéktie cocked its head and squinted at her. "On the first cold night I will freeze to death without the stolen joy of others to keep me warm."
Laquinda sighed. "All right," she said. "On very cold nights you may visit me indoors, and keep warm by the fire."
The vértéktie nodded once and was gone.
This is how Laquinda came to have a pet vértéktie. If you visit her in the woods on a snowy night, you may see it curled up by the fire, caressing its necklace of bells and smiling sweetly at you with all its tiny sharp teeth. Look at it, but do not touch; for deep down, the vértéktie is always hungry, and will not hesitate.
Artwork by the fabulously talented and wonderful Jes Seamans.