Blood Red

Don’t go into the forest at night.

That’s what the townspeople say.

It seems like common sense, or folksy wisdom, but there’s more to it than that. Nobody will say anything further.

Find a man in a tavern and buy him enough beer, and he’ll start to talk. He’ll tell you about the town and its secrets, of the mayor’s affair with the baker’s daughter and how nobody makes eye contact with Farmer Hill anymore, not after the rumors spread about the sounds that come out of his barn.

Buy him a few more beers and he’ll tell you about the girl. His eyes, though glazed with drunken pleasure, will show a flicker of fear. His voice, loud and jovial, will drop to a trembling whisper. He will beckon you closer and tell you about the red-hooded girl of the forest. Or at least, what appears to be a girl.

It’s believed that she is a spirit of some sort. She is definitely not of this world, and even her human guise is not without its flaws. Her eyes are too big, some say, and her teeth are too large. On nights when the moon is a pale shimmering disc in the sky, she is seen roaming the forests surrounded by wolves. They do not harm her and she does not mind them. They move as one.

He looks around, even though nobody is paying the old drunk any attention, then locks his glassy eyes on you. And if, he says, if you disregard the townsfolk’s warning, if you find yourself wandering through the trees in the darkness and you come face to face with the red-hooded apparition, tell her you’re going to grandma’s house.

She may let you live.

He runs a finger across the twisted scar running from his throat down to his chest and takes another swig from his beer mug. He will tell you no more.

As you leave the tavern, having paid for the old man’s booze, there is a sound of howling. The pale yellow moon shines down upon you, full and bright. Wolves. You turn away, but another sound follows the howls, a sound made by no man or beast of this earth. It is the sound of lost souls or vengeful demons or horrors yet unknown, wandering the land cloaked in a red hood.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 6: Came Tumbling After

  
Jill downed another glass of scotch. Half-drunk was the only way she could live anymore. The Thirsty Bandit was like a second home to her. She could barely breathe in her house, let alone live in it. Lenny, the owner of the tavern, was more interested in earning his coins than anything else, though even he often arched an eyebrow at how much booze Jill put away in the evening.

As she poured herself some more scotch, Lenny placed a glass of water in front of her. “Something to wash it down with,” he said, smiling through yellowed teeth.

Jill averted her eyes. Catching just a glimpse of the water made her feel sick. Everyone in the village knew her story. They remembered when she was just a little girl and would often play with her twin brother Jack. There were bouts of sibling rivalry that made people laugh. How typical of children, after all.

Every day, the twins were responsible for collecting water from the well on top of the hill. Jill remembered that one morning when she and Jack had gone up the hill, as always. They had been arguing bitterly before that, and their mother had sent them off just to have some peace in the house. Everything had felt different during the climb up the hill. There was a strange feeling in the air. Jack filled his pail and started to walk back, but Jill lingered. She could see faces floating on the surface of the water, hear voices that spoke directly to her.

Jill had rushed back to the house, almost tumbling down the road, babbling and in tears. Once she had been calmed somewhat, everyone discovered what had happened: Jack had tripped and fallen on the way down, and was lying at the bottom of the hill in a shallow pool of his own blood. Everyone knew the story. But nobody knew about the faces in the water, and the voices that had harnessed her anger towards Jack for their own dark purposes. Nobody suspected even for a moment that innocent young Jill had walked up behind Jack and pushed him down the hill. Nobody knew that Jill had stood by Jack’s body, watching him convulse until he was still. That she had laughed and laughed until forcing the laughter to turn into screams before running back home.

And she could never tell anyone that Jack haunted her. In every lake, every river, every wretched glass of water, she saw his face. She heard his voice, wetly gasping for breath as blood filled his lungs. She drank water only when her thirst grew too desperate, bathed just long enough to wash her skin. But there was a deeper thirst that she could never quench, and her soul would remain unclean. She would forever be plagued by visions of Jack falling down the hill as she tumbled into madness.

20 Tales of Terror – Day 5: The Baker’s Wife

  
There once lived a baker whose pies were the most famous in town. He used only the tartest cherries, the sweetest blueberries and the juiciest apples in all his pies, using the magic of his oven to create tasty treats that no one could resist. He had a lovely young wife who was also his partner in the bakery, and whose smile was just as sweet as the pies they both sold. Together, they lived a most comfortable life.

But one day, a new neighbor came around. He a was a butcher, and owned some of the finest knives ever made. He stepped out of the stagecoach that had stopped in the town square, followed by his beautiful bride, looking radiant in a dress of the most elegant silk. Her hair shone with the light of the sun and her eyes were so blue that they made the summer sky look gray. The baker was smitten at first sight. Lust had driven its claws deep into his heart and knew he had to woo her.

He did what he did best, baking a pie with the ripest fruits and topped with the sweetest cream. It was the finest pie that he had ever made, and even his wife marveled at his creation. He claimed it to be a welcome gift for the newcomers, but it was much more than that. When the butcher was out, preparing the best cuts of meats to sell, the baker delivered his gift, along with a note requesting a moonlit tryst. The butcher’s bride received it, and after taking a bite, declared it to be the finest pie that ever she had eaten. Unknown to anyone, a small note was tucked into her bosom.

That night, the butcher’s bride stole away from her husband’s bed as he snored, and went to the spot that the baker had suggested. He was waiting for her there and took her in his arms. Their lips joined, and soon their bodies, united in a forbidden love.

But they were not alone that night. A lonesome crow was flitting around in the dead of the night and spotted the two lovers. Immediately, it flew to the baker’s house and rapped on the window until the baker’s wife was awakened. Irritable at being roused from her sleep, she demanded answers from the bird. And it sang. In its cracked crowish cawing it told her everything. It told her of the baker and the butcher’s bride and the unholy union they had formed under the light of the moon.

The baker’s wife was livid. Her life and her soul she had given to her husband, and this was how he repaid her? It simply would not do. In a fit of rage, she dashed into the house of her neighbor the butcher and searched around until she found his sharpest knife. The butcher still snored and paid her no heed.

Then she went to where the crow had told her to go, and she found the baker and the butcher’s bride entwined around each other, blind to the world around them. So the baker’s wife took the butcher’s knife and hacked the lovers apart. Their blood pooled on the ground like the juice from fresh cherry preserves. When the deed was done, she carved out both their hearts. The heart of the girl she gave to the tell-tale crow, who flew off with it in his hungry jaws.

She carried the baker’s heart back home, where she sliced it and put it into a pastry, baking herself a pie as the sun greeted the town. She knew from the sound of screams that her gruesome work had been discovered. The townspeople broke down the baker’s door and discovered her sitting at the table with an empty plate in front of her. As they led her outside, her hands bound behind her, she said it was the best pie she had eaten in her life.

Story A Day Challenge – Day 5: Don’t Go Into The Forest

This is a sort of continuation of my previous story, Blood Red.

The horse whinnied loudly and shook its head, stamping its feet impatiently on the mossy ground.

“Tha’s as far as she goes.” the coachman said, making more of a definitive statement than an observation.

“I’ll pay you triple your fare, my good man, if you’ll just get me through to the village.”

The coachman grunted. “I already told ya, I cannae go through the forest. Nobody can. Best to turn back.”

“Nonsense!” Archibald Wolfram had exhausted the last of his patience. “If you won’t take me there, then I’ll just have to walk.”

The coachman shrugged. “Suit yerself. Bu’ I still think ye should go back. Ya don’ wanna run into her.”

Wolfram let out a sharp, mocking laugh. He wasn’t about to let fairy tales and ghost stories keep him from his business. He pulled out a few coins and handed them to the coachman.

“Thank you for your advice, but I think I’ll manage quite well. I outgrew ghouls and goblins a long time ago.”

The old man pocketed the payment without hesitation. “Alright. Then I’ll bid ye good night here, stranger.” He took off his hat, and Wolfram saw his face for the first time. It was heavily lined, and he looked older than his voice made him sound. One eye was a cloudy gray and the other pale, almost the color of sour milk. Small pink scars were grouped around that eye, as if it had been scratched or gouged at by small hands. His discolored eyes stared straight into Wolfram’s.

“But if ya see her, tell her yer goin’ to grandma’s house.”

Wolfram blinked. “W-what?”

The old man put his hat back on and pulled at the reins. The coach receded into the darkened horizon, and was swallowed up by the night. Wolfram turned to face the forest, completely alone. There were no monsters in there, surely.

Keeping a firm grip on his briefcase, Wolfram walked into the green canopy in front of him, feeling very unwelcome. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing at full attention. A full moon was out, bathing the forest path in silver. Wolfram walked at a brisk pace, keeping his eyes ahead of him. If there were any animals lurking in the shadows, he didn’t want to draw their attention.

The forest was getting denser, with more patches of darkness than moonlight. The trees huddled close. They appeared to be looking down at him, their gnarled and tangled branches reaching down to scoop him up and carry him off into the shadows. Wolfram smiled, feeling sheepish. He was letting silly stories get the better of him. It was a long walk, but he would make it to the blasted village and discuss the affairs of the recently deceased landowner Jonathan Hemming, and then after spending the night there, he would go back into town (by coach, as there were no monsters during the day) and take the first train back to London to report his progress on the case. That’s all there was to it. He straightened himself to his full height and walked on, his stride more confident. The confidence wouldn’t last.

In a small clearing up ahead, he saw her. A little girl, sitting on a log and idly picking the petals off a small purple flower. She appeared to be wearing a black frock, though most of her body was wrapped in a voluminous red cloak, with a hood covering her head. It was pushed back just enough to reveal her face. It would have been a very pretty face, if not for the abnormalities.

Wolfram narrowed his eyes, examining her closely; she took no notice of him. Her eyes, blue as a lake on a clear day, were a bit too big. Her ears were also too large, elf-like, and the fingers on her small hands were just a bit too long. The girl jerked her head up to look at Wolfram, giving him a start, and smiled. He couldn’t help but notice how large her teeth were, and how many they were. Too many for a normal human mouth. She plucked the last petal from the flower and ground it to dust between her too-long fingers, turning her full attention on Wolfram.

Before he could blink, she was standing in front of him, only inches away. He hadn’t seen her move. There was no indication that she had. The grass behind her was undisturbed, and her cloak completely still. Her hood covered most of her face, leaving only her numerous teeth exposed. She also seemed taller, her face level with his. From somewhere in the distance, he heard a howl, followed by several others. His breath was coming in short, ragged gasps, and he realized that he could no longer move.

The girl bowed her head, emitting a noise that sounded very much like the laugh of a little girl, or more accurately, it sounded like someone trying to imitate the sound of a child’s laughter after having heard it once or twice. Wolfram stared ahead, goggle-eyed, petrified by fear and some unnatural force.

Still laughing, the girl looked up and pulled her hood back. She no longer resembled a girl. There was no humanity to her face, or any recognizable form. Gasping, Wolfram tried to recall what the coachman had said, but the words would not come to him. He couldn’t remember how to ward off the girl, or demon, or whatever it was. All he could do was scream.

Thankfully, he didn’t scream for long.

Untitled Story Excerpt: The Visitor

The following is an excerpt from a story that I’ve been contemplating for the past few weeks. I’d watched The Grand Budapest Hotel recently, and fell in love with its charming fairy-tale atmosphere. The story was inspired by that atmosphere, and the introduction of the villain (as presented below), was actually the first part of the story that I’d thought up. As you can see by the title, I don’t even have a name for it yet!

The story is framed as a bedtime story told by a father to his young daughter. 

“They had a visitor one day. A hunched man who was neither very tall nor very short, dressed in a black overcoat and a top hat, his gray face set in a permanent frown and his wispy mustaches dancing in the breeze. He skulked through the garden, past the cheery red roses, the deep blue begonias and the sunny yellow tulips, dulling their bright colors as he moved past them. He skulked up to the front door with its ornate wolf’s head knocker, the ends of his long coat flapping around him as if he were always surrounded by a murder of crows, where – ”

“Murder?”

“Yes, that’s what a group of crows is called, sweetheart. A murder.”

“That’s creepy. Why is it called a murder? Do they kill people?”

“Not to my knowledge, but who can say? The birds hide many secrets that are unknown to man.”

“So what happened? Who was he?”

“Hmm? Ah yes, the visitor. His name was Gaspard Michel Haricot de Grenouille, and he was not a pleasant man. Monsieur Valiant met him in the atrium.”

—–

“Monsieur Gaspard,” the old man said, eyeing the sallow-faced visitor with disdain. “I wondered why the birds had stopped singing their sweet song and why the sky had darkened as if covered by some odious cloud.”

“Enough of your flattery, monsieur! We ‘ave busi-ness to discuss, n’est-ce pas?”

“We have no business with you, Monsieur Gaspard. I suggest you return the way you came and never look upon this house again.”

“Ah, surely you joke, Monsieur Valiant. You know pairfectly well why I am ‘ere. Ze book. Give it to me. You know it is mine.”

“That book is now property of the family Valiant. You will not see a page of it.”

“Eh bon? You theenk this will, ‘ow you say, dissuade me?”

An amber-toothed grin spread across the ghastly face of Gaspard de Grenouille, making him seem even more unpleasant. He made to march up the stairs, past the old man to the library. He had scarcely taken two steps when his body decided to change course, flying off the staircase and landing on the polished atrium floor. He lay on his back, limbs splayed and a throbbing sensation in his nose, and blinked up at the arched ceiling. He sat up to see Monsieur Valiant in front of him, looking calm and a bit bored, with one outstretched fist.

“That’s quite enough of that, Monsieur Gaspard. I need to get back to my tea.”

Gaspard picked his top hat up off the floor, dusted it, and placed it on his head. He stood up, as tall as his hunched form would allow, and addressed Monsieur Valiant in a tone so malevolent, were his voice a dagger it would surely have laid a fatal wound on the old gentleman.

“You, mon ami, ‘ave made a mistake most terrible. I will ‘ave that book, soonair or latair. I will put a stop to your goody-goody Valiant family busi-ness and I will pairsonally see to it that your grandchildren spend the rest of their lives in misery with not one penny to their names.”

“Monsieur Gaspard, you are a most vile and horrid man.”

“I thank you for that, Monsieur, but it will not sway me. I bid you adieu.”

And so, Gaspard de Grenouille turned with a quick flourish and walked out the door, fuming, and muttering under his breath. Had he paid more attention, he might have avoided the jaws of faithful Sebastian, but as it happened, Monsieur Gaspard left with half a trouser leg less than he’d entered with.

“Even your dog will not be free from your suffering!” was his last threat before retreating from the manor.

If Wishes Were Horses

If wishes were horses,

Beggars would ride.

Perhaps they would band together and form their own mounted legion.

Would they be kind? Would they be crusaders for justice, riding to the aid of their downtrodden brethren?

Or would they be cruel? Exacting brutal vengeance on a world that shoved them in a corner and tried to forget them?

What if the horses weren’t enough? Would they use their wishes to amass wealth and power? To become the ruling elite while turning us into beggars?

Or would they be benevolent rulers, humbled by their own experiences?

We may never know.

Wishes aren’t horses, after all.

But if they were…