Ghastly Shadows of the Yuletide Christmas Dinner

Submitted into Contest #228 in response to: Write a story in which a character eats something that they shouldn’t have eaten.... view prompt


Thriller Christmas Mystery

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

In the spectral glow of a frostbitten Christmas Eve, August approached the venerable home of his beloved Clara's parents, his heart a tumultuous sea of nerves and anticipation. The old house, adorned with the trappings of the season, seemed to brood under the weight of untold stories, its walls groaning with the secrets of yesteryears. August, clutching a velvet ring box in his pocket, steadied himself for a night of revelation and romance.

As the door creaked open, he was greeted by Clara's parents, their smiles warm yet tinged with an enigmatic reserve. The entryway, decked in holly and ivy, seemed to close around him, the air thick with the scent of aged wood and a faint, unplaceable aroma. Clara, radiant in the dim light, took his hand, leading him into the heart of the house where Christmas cheer and shadowed corners coexisted.

The dinner table was set in the grand dining room, where an opulent chandelier cast flickering shadows across the walls, the light dancing like ghostly apparitions.

The parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harrow, seated themselves with an air of old-world grace, their eyes lingering on August with an intensity that belied their polite conversation. The room, lined with portraits of stern ancestors, felt like a silent jury, watching, waiting.

Conversation flowed like a meandering stream, with Mr. Harrow inquiring about August's profession and hobbies. Yet, it was Mrs. Harrow's questions that bore an unsettling weight. "Tell us about your family, August," she asked, her voice a melodious tune that seemed to hide darker notes. "Especially your mother, dear. Is she still with us?"

August, taken aback by the sudden shift to such personal territory, hesitated. "My mother passed away, in a way, when I was young" he replied, a shadow crossing his heart at the memory. Clara squeezed his hand under the table, a silent message of support. “In a way?” Mrs. Harrow replied. His heart ravaged by sorrow of the topic, “she passed into a coma, not to have awoken since”.

The Harrows exchanged a glance, fleeting and inscrutable, before Mrs. Harrow continued, "Ah, a tragedy indeed. There's nothing like a mother's love, is there? Irreplaceable." The way she lingered on the word 'irreplaceable' sent a shiver down August's spine, an unease he couldn't place.

As the main course was served, a rich, hearty stew, the room filled with the aroma of spiced meat and vegetables. "Our special Christmas stew," Clara beamed, "A secret family recipe, I hope you will enjoy it, August." August, grateful for the change in topic, ladled the stew into his bowl, the steam rising like mist over a forgotten grave.

The first spoonful was curious, a flavor he couldn't quite identify. Earthy, yet with a hint of something wild, something untamed. With each subsequent bite, however, a strange yearning grew within him, an insatiable hunger that seemed to gnaw at his very soul. "This is delicious," he commented, "What's in it?"

"Just a bit of this and that," Mr. Harrow replied with a wink, his eyes gleaming in the candlelight. "An old family secret, passed down through generations. Adds a certain... essence, you could say."

August's gaze wandered to the portraits lining the walls, their eyes seeming to follow him, whispers of the past echoing in the silence between words. The Harrows' questions resumed, weaving around him like tendrils of fog, each one pulling him deeper into a labyrinth of discomfort. "Did your mother enjoy cooking?" Mrs. Harrow asked, her eyes piercing.

"She... she did," August stammered, the stew's peculiar taste lingering on his tongue. "She was an excellent cook. Always said the secret to good food was love."

"Ah, love," Mrs. Harrow mused, a cryptic smile playing on her lips. "The most essential ingredient, wouldn't you agree?"

As the conversation drifted to other matters, August couldn't shake the feeling of being an insect under a magnifying glass, scrutinized and analyzed. The room seemed to close in around him, the air heavy with unspoken words and hidden meanings.

Dinner progressed, the shadows lengthening, the candlelight flickering like the pulse of some ancient, slumbering beast. And as the night wore on, August found himself caught in a web of genteel smiles and veiled questions, a sense of dread slowly creeping up his spine.

Unbeknownst to him, the night had only just begun to unfurl its true horrors.

As the evening wore on, the dining room of the Harrow household seemed to grow more oppressive, the walls whispering secrets just beyond the reach of comprehension. The flickering candlelight cast an eerie pall over the faces of Clara and her parents, transforming their genteel features into masks of inscrutable intent. August, feeling increasingly uneasy, turned his attention back to the stew, its rich, peculiar taste a welcome distraction from the probing eyes of the Harrows.

The conversation, once a gentle stream, now felt like a meandering river of subtle insinuations and veiled questions. August noticed the way Clara's parents seemed almost fixated on his past, particularly on the absence of his mother. "It's such a shame you lost her at such a young age," Mrs. Harrow murmured, her eyes gleaming with a strange intensity. "A mother's presence is so... nourishing."

August, unnerved by the choice of words, nodded politely, trying to steer the conversation towards safer waters. But the Harrows seemed intent on delving deeper, their questions laced with an unspoken knowledge that clawed at the edges of August's consciousness. He found himself answering mechanically, his mind increasingly preoccupied with the stew that seemed to fill a void he hadn't known existed.

As the meal progressed, August felt a growing hunger, an insatiable craving that seemed to emanate from the very depths of his being. With each spoonful of the stew, this hunger intensified, gnawing at him with an urgency that bordered on desperation. He found himself asking, almost against his will, "What did you say was in this stew again?"

"Just an old family recipe," Mr. Harrow replied, his eyes twinkling in the dim light. "A blend of herbs and meats that's been in our family for generations. Isn't it remarkable how certain flavors can evoke such... strong reactions?"

August nodded, his throat tight with a mixture of dread and an inexplicable yearning. He couldn't shake off the feeling that there was something deeply wrong, a sinister undercurrent beneath the veneer of this quaint family dinner.

The conversation took a darker turn as Mrs. Harrow's questions became more pointed. "You said your mother was a good cook. Did she have any special recipes, any dishes that were uniquely hers?" Her tone was casual, but her eyes bore into August with an intensity that made his blood run cold.

"She... she had a few," August stammered, the taste of the stew turning bitter in his mouth. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh, just curious," Mrs. Harrow replied, her smile not reaching her eyes. "It's fascinating how certain recipes can be passed down, how they can become part of a family's identity. Sometimes, they can even become a part of us in ways we never imagined."

August felt a chill run down his spine, the room seeming to close in around him. He noticed Clara's gaze, once warm and loving, now distant and unreadable. The shadows cast by the candlelight seemed to dance and twist into grotesque shapes, the faces of the Harrows flickering between benevolence and something much darker.

As the dinner drew to a close, August's mind raced with unspoken questions and half-formed suspicions. The taste of the stew lingered on his tongue, a reminder of the growing unease that had settled in the pit of his stomach. He excused himself, stepping away from the table under the pretense of needing fresh air.

In the quiet of the hallway, August's thoughts spiraled into chaos. The evening, which had begun with such promise, now felt like a nightmare from which he couldn't wake. He tried to piece together the fragmented clues, the subtle hints dropped by the Harrows, the unsettling focus on his mother.

As he stood there, trying to make sense of the evening's events, a sudden, horrifying realization struck him. The stew, the incessant questions about his mother, the strange way the Harrows looked at him – it all pointed to a grotesque possibility that chilled him to the bone.

He rushed back to the dining room, his heart pounding in his chest. The Harrows and Clara were watching him, their expressions a blend of curiosity and something far more sinister. "What... what did you put in that stew?" August demanded, his voice trembling with a mix of fear and revulsion.

The Harrows exchanged a glance, a silent communication that spoke volumes. Mrs. Harrow's smile widened, but there was no warmth in it. "Why, August," she said softly, her voice a silken caress that belied the malice beneath. "You've been eating a part of your past. A part of your very essence. Your mother has been with you all along, closer than you ever realized."

August's world spun, the walls of the dining room closing in as the full horror of the situation dawned on him. He had been consuming more than just a stew, his mother now rested inside of his stomach.

The revelation hit August like a physical blow, the room tilting and swaying around him as he struggled to comprehend the monstrous truth. The Harrows' dining room, once a place of festive cheer, now felt like a chamber of horrors, the walls echoing with the silent screams of his mother. His stomach churned with the realization of the unspeakable act he had been a part of, the stew he had so eagerly consumed.

August's gaze turned to Clara, searching for some sign of the woman he loved within her now inscrutable expression. "Clara, you knew about this?" he choked out, his voice a mere whisper of despair.

Clara's eyes, once filled with warmth and affection, now held a chilling detachment. "It's tradition, August," she said, her voice eerily calm. "A way to honor the past and keep it alive within us."

Revulsion and terror coiled within August, his mind reeling from the betrayal. He stumbled backwards, knocking his chair to the ground with a clatter that seemed to echo endlessly in the silence. The Harrows watched him, their eyes gleaming with a dark satisfaction, as if his horror was the final ingredient needed to complete their macabre ritual.

In a haze of fear and desperation, August turned and fled from the room, his only thought to escape the nightmare that had ensnared him. The house, once a quaint, welcoming abode, now felt like a labyrinthine trap, its corridors twisting and turning in ways that defied logic.

Behind him, the sound of footsteps echoed, the Harrows and Clara giving chase with a predatory hunger. The air grew colder, the shadows deeper, as if the house itself was conspiring against him. He stumbled through darkened hallways, his heart pounding in his ears, the taste of the stew a bitter reminder of the atrocity he had unwittingly partaken in.

As he ran, August stumbled upon a hidden doorway, barely visible in the dim light. With a burst of frantic energy, he pushed it open, revealing a narrow, descending staircase. The air was thick with the musty scent of decay, the walls lined with moisture and creeping mold. Without hesitation, August plunged into the darkness, the sounds of his pursuers growing fainter as he descended into the bowels of the earth.

The staircase seemed endless, spiraling down into the depths of madness and despair. August's mind raced with thoughts of his mother, the memories of her love and warmth now tainted by the horrific revelation. The darkness enveloped him, a suffocating blanket that threatened to swallow him whole.

Finally, the staircase ended, opening into a series of winding tunnels, their walls rough and earthen. August stumbled through the darkness, his hands brushing against the cold, damp stone. The silence was oppressive, broken only by the sound of his ragged breathing and the distant, muffled sounds of his pursuers.

Time lost meaning in the labyrinthine tunnels, each turn and twist leading him further into a maze with no end. August's thoughts turned inwards, his mind teetering on the brink of madness. The betrayal of Clara, the woman he had loved, the realization of his unwitting cannibalism, and the loss of his mother all merged into a whirlpool of despair and horror.

Just when it seemed the darkness would consume him, August saw a faint light ahead, a glimmer of hope in the oppressive gloom. Summoning the last of his strength, he staggered towards it, the light growing brighter with each desperate step.

The tunnel opened onto the outskirts of the town, the early morning light a stark contrast to the darkness of the Harrows' house. August collapsed onto the ground, the cool air filling his lungs as he sobbed in relief and horror.

As he lay there, the events of the night replaying in his mind, August knew that his life would never be the same. The psychological trauma of what he had experienced, the loss of his mother, and the betrayal by Clara and her family had left deep scars that would never fully heal.

He rose unsteadily to his feet, the world around him a blur of colors and sounds that seemed distant and unreal. August knew he had to leave this place, to escape the shadows that would forever haunt him. With one last look at the town that had been the setting of his nightmare, he turned and walked away, his heart heavy with grief and his mind shattered by the horrors he had endured.

The morning sun rose higher, casting long shadows that stretched across the land like dark fingers. August walked on, a broken man, his soul forever marked by the unspeakable events of that Christmas Eve.

“Merry Christmas August”, the last words of his fading mother echoed in his mind.

December 14, 2023 07:01

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Mary Bendickson
12:47 Dec 14, 2023

Hope he got far, far away from there. Creepy.


Daniel Brandt
08:23 Dec 15, 2023

Yes, I hope so too, poor bastard.. :D


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