As the stars glittered indifferently over the natural recesses that let in the chill air, the black-robed men gathered in the cave; the folds of their robes were over their mouths and noses, but their breath was still visible even though it was not winter.
The parents, also wrapped against the mountain cold, stood on either side of the basket that contained their twins, a boy and a girl.
Sensing they were no longer in the safety of their home, the babies began to stir and cry, opening their eyes and lifting their arms, but their parents remained looking at the black-robed men.
The infants reached toward one another, their hands joined, and a warm glow lit the skin of their hands from the inside.
At peace now, assured they were not alone, they turned curious eyes on the black-robed throng before them, and their parents on either side of them.
A robed man stepped forward, broad of shoulder, tall and strong.
The mother, wide-eyed, began to whimper. “No, no please…” and stood in front of the basket, shielding the babies from his reach, as their father stepped into the man’s path.
The tall man stopped, and looked over his shoulder inquiringly at an old stooped figure lost in the folds of his own ebon robe.
The old man looked at the father and said, “We will keep them safe.”
“You told us you just wanted to see, and that we could keep them, raise them until they were prepared to come to you!”
“And now,” the old man said with something resembling compassion, “we have deemed that will not be necessary.”
The mother plucked the daughter from the basket, and the father his son, but the ensuing chase and struggle were tragically brief.
The tall man collected the restive infants from the arms of their lifeless parents, and the gathered throng left as quietly as they came.

The tall man returned alone to the cave entrance, casting light around his hand in order to see.
Finding the murdered couple, he put their arms around each other, propped up their broken necks so they faced each other, and closed their eyes.
“I’m sorry.”
He was surprised to find his voice raspy with emotion, the taint of taken lives like a thin layer of slime on his hands.
“We will keep them safe.”
As he walked away, leaving the bodies in the dark, the light around his hand dimmed, and went out as he left the cave entrance for the last time.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr. 2015