Contest #160 shortlist ⭐️

23 comments

Fiction Adventure Fantasy

Frogs croak at sundown in the bogs. That’s when she took visitors. I heard their chorus and quickened my pace. Each high-knee step took me closer to her, but burned deeper into my thighs and abdomen. My feet grew more tender with each step. My pack was light, but two days traipsing through a swamp was enough to exhaust me. A week trekking down the mountain, and my bones hurt. My lungs burned too, like a hot coal singeing my insides. 


I reached for my canteen–the old stainless steel one I had plucked from the corpse of a long dead soldier, but found it empty. The marsh water was bitter and unfit to drink. I searched for a sign of the village, a lantern, a column of smoke, voices. 


Nothing. 


I’d yet to see any of the Witch's sentinels, but I knew I was close–they’d probably been watching me for miles. I had been assured that they wouldn’t kill me, the red scarf arround my neck indicated to the queen of the Bog that I was an ambassador, a messenger from the mountains, that I come bearing gifts.


Her gift was still there, lashed to my belt with the strongest cord I could find. And no matter how thirsty I was, I wouldn’t drink it. I glanced down at the bottle, the clear liquid gleamed in the fading light. I prayed that it was enough, that she’d accept the gift, accept me. That, perhaps, my efforts would not be in vain, and that the curse would be lifted. I didn’t know what my village had done to incur her wrath to begin with, but she demanded a vial of the crystal clear waters of our spring as a peace offering, a necessary ingredient to whatever new potion she was concocting no doubt, yet they urged me to deliver it to her regardless. 


“A small price to pay for peace,” my people had said. They were tired of bearing the dead. So was I.


But would it end there? 


I pressed on, despite my exhuastion. Swamp scum swirled around me in mirky vortexes of green. The waters shallowed, and the mosquitoes and yellow flies ambushed me as the swamp dripped away from me onto the mucky forest floor. When the moon rose, and the night had become so dark I could not see, I took a rag soaked in pine resin from the mountains of my village, and tied it around a bundle of wetland rattanvines. One spark from my flint, and a ring of orange light burst onto the trees around me, scattering shadows in every direction. 


I was not alone. 


The Bog Witch’s sentinels aimed their spears at me, but they did not attack. I flailed the red scarf above my head like a banner, just to be sure they knew I was the messenger. No one spoke, no orders were shouted but two men stepped forward simultaneously, took me by the arm, and ushered me through the brush. Thick palmettos parted, and there it was–the village.


The men guided me along a board walk, it creaked beneath us as we weaved passed dozens of stilted huts. A woman hurried her child back inside, a man fileting catfish followed me with a watchful eye. The denizens were more cautious and downcast than I’d have expected from a people led by such a powerful queen. A silhouette loomed at the end of the boardwalk, it was a yurt of simple construction but broad and tall. Thatched double doors–guilded with bone talismans and guarded by unusually large men–opened as we approached. None of the mosquitos followed me inside. 


The smell of burning incense, torches, and smoked meat filled the room. I saw a throne in the dim firelight–the skin of an alligator draped ocross its backrest and wicker vines sprouting from its base like roots. A figure, obscured by the smog, rose up. It was the Bog Witch. 


She wore a crown of teeth that pinned her hair into wavy black columns, like wisps of smoke.  


When she spoke, her voice sounded harsh and damaged, yet somehow youthful. Like fruit not yet ripe, but ravaged by flies while still on the tree. 


“You are the messenger from the mountains?” She said. “The water bearer?”


One of my escorts shoved me forward. I stumbled and caught myself.


“I am,” I said. “I have brought the spring water you requested–as clear as crystal.” I unlashed the bottle, and held it up. Orange torchlight splashed in the glass–bewitchingly beautiful.


She leaned forward in her throne, the whites of her eyes materializing in the smoke. “It is pure?”


“It is,” I said, “very much so.”


She made a gesture to the guards, “Bring it to me.” 


“Hold!” I commanded, as I removed the lid from the bottle. “This settles things then?” The guards froze, looking to their queen for instruction. “You will lift the curse, the same spell that took so many lives?” 


The witch didn’t speak. I tilted the glass, a threat. She needed it, I knew that much. Still, she said nothing. 


“You will undo whatever evil you cast on my people?” 


The sentinels inched there way closer, and still she said nothing. 


“You will relent of the suffering you’ve subjected us to? My family to, my daughter…”


The smoke thinned for a moment, and I saw her face in the lull; White teeth exposed in sinister satisfaction, her eyes resolved and unyielding.


“That’s what I thought.” I said, “you lied.” I raised the bottle above my head, smiled, then hurled it at the queen. 


The glass shattered against her jaw, showering her and her throne. A guard gasped, and the room fell silent. The queen held her jaw, blood dripping through her fingers, eyeing me in disbelief. 


“Well,” I said, yanking a torch from the wall, “I lied too. That isn’t water, it’s vodka.”


One spark from the torch and the throne burned like the dawning sun.


The frogs weren’t croaking anymore. 










August 22, 2022 12:55

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23 comments

Hannah Barton
08:24 Sep 04, 2022

I liked this story! You had me going at the beginning, I was curious to find out if she would stick to the deal. Halfway through, I started wondering if there was no curse and people were blaming her for the deaths. And then - way out from left field. I'd read so much more of this.

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Brian Stanton
23:19 Oct 07, 2022

I could have sworn, I responded to your comment, but I guess not. Thank you so much for the kind words! I appreciate you reading my story. And I'm glad you liked it.

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Michał Przywara
21:39 Aug 29, 2022

This is a fun story. There's a good sense of desperation in the narrator, as he's wandering an unfamiliar and unfriendly bog. Clearly some curse has befallen his people and his family, and he's on a desperate quest to save them. The bog comes across well, and I like the descriptions of the witch's village. There's a silent misery there, like she's more a tyrant than a leader who means well. Considering the ending, it seems she does use her powers for personal gain. Critique-wise, the ending may have come too suddenly. The narrator smiles...

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Brian Stanton
01:50 Aug 31, 2022

Hi, Thanks for the feed back. I appreciate you reading my story. I can tell you read the story closely! I completely agree with you about the end. I could have done a better job of preparing the reader for the ending. I could tell something wasn't right about it, but I couldn't put my finger on it. It's always harder for me to identify the problems in my own work. The idea I had was for a guy going on a suicide mission, that his plan, despite what his village might have wanted, was to kill her, and get revenge for his family. I can defini...

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Michał Przywara
21:35 Sep 02, 2022

Congratulations on the shortlist!

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Brian Stanton
13:55 Sep 03, 2022

Thank you so much! I was not expecting that. My wife sent me a screenshot while I was at work showing that it was shortlisted, and part of me didn't believe it. I was floating the rest of the day. :) Very encouraging. Thanks again. :)

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Aeris Walker
23:47 Aug 28, 2022

“Swamp scum swirled around me in mirky vortexes of green. The waters shallowed, and the mosquitoes and yellow flies ambushed me as the swamp dripped away from me onto the mucky forest floor.”—-such vivid imagery here!! I could very clearly envision the MC trudging through this swampy, buggy setting. Clever idea, concise story telling, rich setting. Well done :)

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13:59 Aug 27, 2022

The descriptions of the scene and the action are both captivating! Kept the tension going until the end. I love some of the descriptions such as.. "Swamp scum swirled around me in mirky vortexes of green." Great writing! Would love to read more about the world this is set in.

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Brian Stanton
21:23 Aug 27, 2022

Thank you for reading my story, and for the kind words. Congratulations on your win last week! I haven't read your winning story yet, but I will. World building is my favorite. With short stories I always feel like I'm leaving so much of the world unwritten. Infact, I feel that way about novels too. Lol. I can sit down, stare at a wall, and world build in my head for hours. The hard part, for me, is writing. Ha ha.

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Graham Kinross
08:29 Aug 27, 2022

“scattering shadows in every direction,” I like that wording, really nice. “inched there way closer,” their* Nice ending, big gamble on the part of the MC. If she’d been in a mood to have peace he would have screwed it. I’m assuming the MC was male although there’s no evidence either way in the description. I could picture the rest of it perfectly. There’s a location like that in The Witcher 3 game. Have you played it?

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Brian Stanton
11:31 Aug 27, 2022

I actually just went camping at a place like that a couple weeks ago, which was the inspiration for the setting. And yes, lol, I have played the Witcher 3. Loved it! Probably one of my favorite video games. Thanks for the feedback.

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Graham Kinross
14:26 Aug 27, 2022

This reminds me of the three witches that control one of the villages, in the middle of a bog in the game. You decide whether to save children from the witches or not.

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Brian Stanton
21:27 Aug 27, 2022

I DO remember this section of the game. I totally forgot about it! That was an awesome quest. Man...now I wanna reinstall the game and playthrough it again.

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Graham Kinross
23:38 Aug 27, 2022

You should. It’s an awesome game. I just wish you could get all of the gwent cards even if you missed them earlier in the game. It annoyed me at first but I ended up really enjoying the minigame.

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Kevin Broccoli
16:57 Sep 07, 2022

This had all the best elements of folklore and myth that I really love when still offering a unique point of view. Great job.

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Sophia Gardenia
16:41 Sep 03, 2022

I love the imagery! Like "My lungs burned too, like a hot coal singeing my insides" and "When she spoke, her voice sounded harsh and damaged, yet somehow youthful. Like fruit not yet ripe, but ravaged by flies while still on the tree". It captivated me and made me want to keep reading to find out why the water-bearer was journeying on this difficult quest.

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Brian Stanton
23:18 Oct 07, 2022

Hello, Thank you for reading my story. I just realized I had a few comments this story I never responded to. I guess I overlooked the notification. Thanks! I glad you liked it.

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L J
17:04 Sep 02, 2022

Good work! This is a great start to a fantasy series! I agree the ending came on too fast. I will hope to read more. If you continue this, I think it would be a great preteen to teenager chapter book series. Fantasy is very big right now. I would like to know what event led up to the Bog witch getting revenge. Why did she kill your characters family? That would be a good prequel. What made her into a bog witch? was it something your family did? There is a lot of material here ! Great read: hope to read more.

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Brian Stanton
14:11 Sep 03, 2022

Hey, thanks for the kind words. I enjoy world building and this one was fun to create. My first draft of the story was like 880 words. I tried to be concise this time around, and had to work hard to get it to 1000 without adding unecessary sentences. But in hind site, I should have fleshed out the ending more, especially with a max word count of 3k. I had plenty of room to give the ending the time it needed to develop more organically. I appreciate the critique. If one of the prompts gives me a chance to write in the world again, I will b...

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Daniel Allen
13:03 Aug 30, 2022

Loved this. You've created a vivid and memorable world, populated by intriguing characters. Plus, that ending was just awesome.

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Brian Stanton
01:57 Aug 31, 2022

Thank you! I enjoyed writing this. It was a lot of fun. I appreciate you reading my story. I haven't had time to read anyone else's story in the past couple days, but I'll read yours very soon. :) I DO think I could have made the ending even better. My original draft was only 800 words. My wife was like, "you know that needs to be 1000 words right?" So the final draft of The Bog Witch is EXACTLY 1000 words. But even after adding more, I still feel like I'm missing something. :) Ha ha Anyway, thanks for the read and encouragement. I'm go...

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Daniel Allen
18:41 Sep 02, 2022

Congratulations on making the shortlist! Thoroughly deserved.

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Brian Stanton
13:58 Sep 03, 2022

Thank you so much. I appreciate it. I definitely didn't expect it. As soon as I heard I became ultra motivated, lol. It was all that I could do not to rush home from work just to start the next story. Ha ha.

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