Contest #189 winner 🏆

106 comments

Fantasy Horror

Hugo told me once that fall was his favorite time of the year. Told me to hold leaves as delicate as you would a pretty girl’s hand. His teeth would then spread wide across his face. Pallid and flaked with brown. Rows of sweet tooth that hadn’t been cleared of duff. 

On his days off we’d go hunting for mushrooms in the forest behind our house. “It’s hard to tell which mushrooms are edible,” Hugo would say. Always said, giddy over the possibility of the inedible as he led me through the forest. My studies turned to what you can eat. It didn't matter if it were safe or not.

That day, Hugo pulled me along— his meaty fingers pressed white hot divots into my skin. I followed as quickly as I could, but Hugo was excited, alcohol and smoke wafting off him in ribbons. My shoes filled with filth. 

Mycology was his most recent hobby. An acquisition from an old friend he said.

Hugo's hobbies often skipped from one gruesome hobby to another. From taxidermy to collecting dead things in jars; these activities though innocuous in some hands, turned sinister in his. A field mouse captured in our backyard was less a friend and more an exercise in how long he could extend its suffering, how well he could preserve those little moments of despair, driving a needle in, then capturing the moment in frame by frame photographs. To pinpoint the exact moment, the most miniscule of details. Measured them in the span of flesh stretched to its limit, twisted in abject horror. It was a different kind of science. One that I likened to a kind of dark magic; powerful and detrimental to its user and the people around him. Wrapped up like something beautiful and awful, sequined and glittering, but dripping in oil slick, rainbow sheets of sludge.

Hugo yanked me forward, grip turning tighter. I tripped and he laughed, still dragging me along over root and rock until we hit a clearing with one solitary tree sitting in its center. Its trunk was devoid of a small swath of bark, smooth even at a distance. 

As we got closer, I saw a ring of mushrooms at its base that traveled up its trunk in a spiral pattern. Up and up it disappeared into its canopy. 

“Oyster mushrooms,” he said, releasing my hand to pluck one from the bark. He left marks. My reddened wrist contrasted against the pale white of freshly pulled bark. It reminded me of his angry red gums gnashing at me, smiles and frowns. Hugo was smiling at me then, pulling swiftly and roughly, tearing off just as much bark as he was mushrooms, raining clumps of brown to join the clutter of the forest floor.

Bark and mush fell haphazard atop a corpse—a fox—carpeted in what looked like to be more mushrooms. They bisected its torso. The mound of mushrooms, which looked like nothing I'd ever seen in Hugo's many, many books, stemmed like a dress from its waist, draping the rest of its body in its fungal carpet. Only its feet were left uncovered. But they were not bare, frost had started its seasonal creep, transforming the Foxes’ paws into glass slippers. Winter’s supine approach had begun, starting with her. I hadn’t realized it when we first arrived. This was a birthplace; a death, anchoring itself to the forest. 

I continued to stare at the fox, searching. Her light-less eyes glittered at me in the dying light. Resurrected under my attention; life found unraveled, unspun at my feet, thread loose and fibers imbued with story. I imagined that she smiled a smile at me full of sharp, friendly teeth. For the briefest of moments I felt the whisper of her touch—her paw caressing my cheek, and telling me how this fate had befell her. A story not too dissimilar from mine. I had to protect her.

I knew what Hugo would do to her if he found her. Exactly the way he’d extricate her and preserve her, perpetually dead in his basement with a sprinkling of mushrooms and fall leaves for company. The other dead animals didn’t count. They had no more half lives; no in-between. That was my domain. With liminal fingers half crusted with frost, straining from the breakdown of cartilage, that life would wrap around the soft bend of my joints, her joints. She’d sit taut and stiff, halfway between specimen and taxidermy, a product of clumsy hands and even clumsier mouths, cruelly propped up against the door to let the draft in. We weren’t meant to be gutted and set for display.

Hugo’s delighted face was sharp; shadows fell across him like they belonged there, deepening the crags and dips of his smile.

The fox’s unseeing eyes still bore into mine, and as Hugo stepped back from his rough foraging to look at me, I blocked the fox from view with my body, leaning languid against the tree.

His eyes raked over me, hungry open maws of sight. He made to move toward me, his basket overflowing with an abundance of mushrooms dangling from his elbow. I did not flinch. I had been chewed up and spat out before. But a single oyster tumbled out of the basket, falling at his feet. His eyes darted down. Curses tumbled from his lips just as the mushroom just had. He crouched and picked up the singular mushroom, angrily brushing the excess dirt off it. He looked so vulnerable there, on his knees, cooing over the fallen thing as though he hadn’t just violently torn it from its home moments before.

A rock sat right by the foxes' head, large enough to serve as its stony pillow, jagged enough that it could promise a painful and messy death. Her dead eyes smiled at me; her form less vulpine and more human the longer I stared at that rock and breathed life into her story. If the fox had hands and strength enough to lift it, would it have lived? Would her paws not be dipped in ice? Would she be here now, acting as my hands? My hands had already found their way to the rock, having leaned down as I had pondered those questions. I inched closer to Hugo, staring at the top of his head. I examined his receding hairline and the numerous nascent liver spots and silver hairs—it looked like pencil lines interrupted by a filthy and worn down eraser.

His eyes met mine then. I don’t know how he didn’t notice until I was already towering over him, rock gripped in both my hands, raised over my head. His eyes bore into me. Terribly blue eyes as death clung to me, whispering to me, “I’d never get them out of my hair—the leaves—the mushrooms—not until…. “

She sat at my shoulder, right there inside the memory of our house sitting quietly without him. A vision tailor made for me. Her tails unfurled; her teeth sharpened. Her gown of mushrooms was apparent and as white as the snow, taking on the quality of shaggy fur. Delicate like the tendrils of a medusa, she was a woman sitting on our porch. She was a fox sitting on my porch, her ears tipped with frost and twitching as leaves fell from our maple tree, never falling outside of the careful circle that we laid out for him. 

What would I do without him? she asked. 

Maybe spend that fall studying the weight of the leaves and measure them in the fade of green to withered brown. Gather them in piles, feel how they’d crumble to pieces in my hand—the crunch of their skeletons, soft and grainy in their collapse. 

Decomposition will sit with you. Set in the circumstance of life. Circles of death and rot. The house will sit empty, but they will sit quietly. No hands to interrupt.

My hands shook imagining the collapse; she shook, shedding the gown of mushrooms, taking on the look of death in its entirety and encouraging me to lift.

And so I did. As I raised the stone higher, I watched his eyes drown with a surety. A certainty. Realization. Recognition. She comes for us all at some point; clever little foxes that don’t stay dead. But for now she wasn’t here for me.  All she did was help guide my hand. 

The oyster mushroom he had cleaned of dirt sat snug in his hand. I could see it waiting; the knowing of what was to come and the knowing that it would not change anything for it and its brethren. But Hugo and his eyes, those terribly blue eyes did not care. He smashed it in his fist, letting its flesh ooze out between his fingers. And for the second time that day he showed me that sweet tooth smile, wide and menacing. 

I swung down.

March 17, 2023 21:33

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106 comments

Molly Kelash
17:04 Mar 24, 2023

This is a fantastic, poetic fever dream, Fabi, wrought with magic and lyrical prose. Little Fox as bringer of death, agent of freedom. Such a well-deserved win. Congratulations!

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Fabi M
09:12 Mar 26, 2023

Wow, that is the best descriptor of my story ever: poetic fever dream. That's exactly what I was going for. Thank you very much for the comment and the congrats. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

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Riel Rosehill
09:33 Mar 28, 2023

Congratulations on the win! I hope the more negative feedback isn't getting you down - of course, take the constructive feedback you find useful, but I see some people just a bit bitter in the comments here - ignore that (looking at you, Anthony Cross. He seems very cross indeed.) I enjoyed the setting and imagery of this piece. Wild and beautiful nature blends well with showing the more cruel side of existence. Well done with that. :)

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Daniel Allen
08:48 Mar 28, 2023

There's a lot to like in this story. Some powerful moments of imagery and intriguing characterisation. Congratulations! As far as some of the more negative comments go, I think it's worth remembering that all writers have their own opinion on how prose should look and how storytelling should be done. Just because your approach is different to theirs, that doesn't make it any less valid. The very things that make some people dislike your work, might be the things that make it perfect for others. Congratulations again!

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01:50 Mar 25, 2023

Hi Fabi. I can see you have a broad vocabulary, but regrettably you don't know how to use it to construct sentences and paragraphs that have meaning. That draw the reader forward. (The story itself has merit, though you really need a lot more background on the relationship between the two for the denouement to be poignant.) You propagate jumbled sentence parts that sound good, and then throw them together like an art-student saying that that egg they threw against a wall is really art. No. It is not, it's just an egg. Perhaps, if they...

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Jeannette Miller
16:17 Mar 25, 2023

Marcus, some interesting and good points you make here. The premise is good and the writing is on the dark poetic side of things; however, I agree that it has to go together to make sense and what is written here can only do so much. Time and word count often play against me when I submit. Sometimes I get lucky and other times, not so much, haha. I would be curious to hear what you have to say about some of my stories. A note though about the delivery of your feedback. When you break down the grammar or structure, it works. Some of your fe...

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01:16 Mar 26, 2023

Hi Jeannette. I appreciate your taking the time to read my critique, and to comment on it. I apologise if I came over as condescending some of the time. To be brutally honest, I was feeling a bit sour-grapes about you winning instead of me! (Which was embarrassingly juvenile of me, and I feel bad about that now. I'm sorry.) I do feel that I made some valid points, and I hope that they may be helpful to you. Now I'm feeling a bit more level-headed though, I have to say that my main issue with the story wasn't anything to do with the qual...

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Fabi M
09:37 Mar 26, 2023

Thank you! And it's all good. It happens. I still very much appreciate your feedback, and will take it into account in my future work. Both writing and critiquing puts yourself out there in a vulnerable way, and takes major effort and time, so I am grateful to you for taking the time to do it, regardless. Yeah it was more poetry than prose. But even poetry takes a crack at prose, I can't recall if she ever published it, but Portia Choi's prose poetry is lovely, particularly "Buddha's Hands," I think it was called. It was a prose poetry, ha...

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03:10 Mar 26, 2023

In your fourth sentence you refer to Jeannette as the winner, which is confusing, as someone with your laser sharp analytical skills should recognize that the winner's name is "Fabi" and Jeannette is someone else (unless there is something you know, that I don't.) So you might feel that having someone directly pointing out errors can feel a bit jarring? To be fair, I appreciate seeing writers sticking their necks out to give some constructive commentary, even on winning stories. More people should do that if we all want to improve. Another ...

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04:49 Mar 26, 2023

Hi Scott. Yeah, I wondered about that name thing. I guess I assumed it would be Fabi writing a reply instead of one of his/her/their fans writing it for him/her/them. Perhaps I should've known. If it had been Fabi replying, it would've started, "Replying to cretins is my favourite time of the year. Their teeth-of-ill-repute are in dire need of the cleaning services of sweet tooth mushrooms." Lol. Just playin'...

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Jeannette Miller
15:37 Apr 01, 2023

Hi Marcus, it wasn't me that won. Easy to mistake that since I commented on your critique. :)

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Sarah Winslow
18:03 Mar 25, 2023

I really like your feedback. More interesting than the story. Thanks.

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Fabi M
09:27 Mar 26, 2023

Ouch. Haha. But hey, your opinion is very valid. Thank you.

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01:20 Mar 26, 2023

Thanks Sarah [grateful-but-embarrassed-emoji.] I do feel I made a few valid points, although, as I imply in my response to Jeanette, above, perhaps I should've slept on it before writing...

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Fabi M
09:10 Mar 26, 2023

Hiya, Marcus, Fabi here. Thank you for your comment. Before I address your comment, I'd like to preface this and say that I am a poet. This is not to say that I don't write plays, or prose, rather its to say I am quite familiar with it, poetry that is. Moreover, I sincerely hope none of this comes off as defensive. I simply want to clarify my thought process. (Also its fun to discuss my own work as I rarely get to do it these days.) With that said, I'd like to address all of your critiques in order. I'll try to be concise. (To be honest,...

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05:41 Mar 27, 2023

Hi Fabi. Thanks for taking the time to read my feedback and write a good reply. And, by the way, it really annoys me that many of my teachers from school would've chided me for writing such a reply, saying that is wasn't concise - but I do NOT chide you. I THANK you for being clear, and not assuming more than you have to. The result of aiming for clarity is partly going to be a longer than average piece. But it's still better than being concise - if being concise also means being unclear (which it so often does.) I hear your comments, a...

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02:38 Mar 29, 2023

An amazingly detailed reply, which helped me appreciate your story even more. I thought your prose is amazing, and while I didn't quite follow the plot, now I see it now as more of a dream scene. A few people massively downloaded on my winning story as well so I know the feeling. But I know writers will put 20 hours into writing a short story and pour their heart out so people can understandably get emotional. It's like we want to win and get recognition, and then dealing with people is maybe part of the package I guess. Imagine the replies ...

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Mary Bendickson
16:31 Mar 24, 2023

Congrats on the win.

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Fabi M
09:11 Mar 26, 2023

Thank you!

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Amelia Ramble
01:17 Mar 27, 2023

To be completely honest this kind of work is exactly what I would read in my free time. I thrive off poetry particularly writing it. So to see something written under such a similar format, is truly beautiful. Thanks for the great read, I am excited to read more for from you!!

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Fabi M
07:52 Mar 27, 2023

I appreciate your honesty, and its great to meet a fellow poet and poetry appreciator! I feel very similarly about poetry. Thank you very much for reading and for leaving a comment. And same to you, I hope to read your work in the future!

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Louise Wernham
00:48 May 14, 2023

I loved reading this story, it was so colourful and I loved how poetic it sound. I had so much fun figuring out and interpreting your words and allusions. I aspire to write like you when I’m older.

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Antonia Sullivan
20:03 Apr 01, 2023

I thought the writing was exquisite. There were so many ugly aspects in this story and yet the descriptions of ugliness were beautiful if that makes sense. I am a reader much more than a writer and this was an amazing read. Congratulations!

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John K Adams
17:59 Mar 30, 2023

I'll keep it brief, Fabi. Despite some naysayers, I thought it was beautifully written although the characters are not very sympathetic.

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Neil Amponin
12:59 Mar 28, 2023

I'm still a newbie writer, and I just wanna say that I really, really aspire to write my story like yours one day! It was so poetic and vivid and thrilling! AAA You were able to paint a clear image into my head! Gosh, I really, really love how you play with your words, and how you intentionally leave some parts off of the story for the readers to analyze and digest. AAAA I so love it, Fabi!!!

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Shaivi S.
20:30 Mar 26, 2023

Truly one of the most beautiful tales I've read, Fabi! You tie words together like an exceptionally alluring song. So poetic, so gripping. Congratulations on this well-deserved win!

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Fabi M
07:50 Mar 27, 2023

Much thanks, that is very wonderful to hear!

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20:47 Aug 31, 2023

https://taplink.cc/tgotery

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J. S. Bailey
18:12 Jul 18, 2023

Very nice story. You somehow managed to tell a tale of just a few minutes in these characters lives and a single interaction. With a brief mention of some of Hugo's past hobbies and great descriptions you paint a great picture of who he is. No need to know more or understand the relationship between the two in order to enjoy this story for what it is. Congrats on the win and best of luck with your future writing. I thoroughly enjoyed this short and sweet read.

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Galen Gower
16:21 Jul 08, 2023

Just thought I'd let you know this story is also on Vocal with a different name on it. Hopefully that's you, as I hate the idea of someone else making even $1 on your work. https://vocal.media/horror/decomposition-sits-with-you

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Fabi M
19:27 Jul 08, 2023

Thank you very much for letting me know. I shall contact the website immediately about this.

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Kev Skout
14:56 Jun 20, 2023

Hi Fabi, I enjoyed your story and found it pretty interesting how you used the prompt! I have a tiny channel on YT, and I was wondering if you would be okay with me reading your story with full credit (on both video and description). Again really loved the story and your writing style.

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Fabi M
20:04 Jun 20, 2023

Hi Kev, thank you for your interest in my story, please share with me your youtube channel so that I may properly consider your request.

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Kev Skout
20:55 Jun 20, 2023

Of course! Right now, the channel only has gaming videos, and I was thinking of expanding it and doing something more interesting. Thank you for even considering it. The channel name is Robovassa, and here is the link https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC96R5DuxE0jcIQMJFoG0yqA

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Fabi M
21:19 Jun 20, 2023

Thank you so much, having looked at it and watched some of your shorts, I would love to allow you to read my story. Of course with proper credit and a link back to the story itself, which thank you for saying you would provide credit. Just let me know when you put the video up, I'd love to see it. Also consider me subscribed! :)

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Emma D
04:36 Jul 12, 2023

I listened to the reading and I just wanted to say, well done!

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Mark Wilhelm
14:44 Jun 18, 2023

Greetings Fabi, my name is Wilhelm and I run a podcast sharing scary stories. I really enjoyed your story and would love to discuss some of the details of it. The podcast can be seen at Frighteningtales.com - see if it's a fit and if you're interested in sharing your story reach out to me at: creepy@fighteningtales.com Thanks for the great read.

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Brandi Martin
03:37 Jun 06, 2023

damn i didn't expect her to kill hugo in the end

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Minou S
16:07 Jun 04, 2023

love the structured nuance throughout the story. I aspire to write a story as poetic and dark as this one someday!

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Aliza Khan
18:05 May 27, 2023

good

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Haylee Weltlin
17:43 May 17, 2023

hi fabi im haylee i wanna know will u be writing more storys i really love them

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