Contest #189 winner 🏆

107 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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107 comments

Haylee Weltlin
17:41 May 17, 2023

omg that was scary

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Jesse Neethling
16:28 May 15, 2023

Hi Fabi! I was pulled in by the amazing title! Congrats on the win! The story reminded me of a blur between hemlock grove and sleepy hollow.

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Brenton Foale
13:01 May 12, 2023

Hi Fabi, I am a volunteer at a community radio station, and I am starting a new radio show where I tell spooky stories late at night. I wonder if you will please allow me to read your story on the radio, and obviously give you full credit? The owner of the radio station may upload a recording of the broadcast online to a podcast on Spotify. I won't use your story unless you give permission.

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Fabi M
20:02 May 17, 2023

Thank you so much. And sure! I don't mind as long as I am credited.

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Graham Kinross
21:35 Apr 26, 2023

No wonder this won. Well done, Fabi.

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Avals V
19:35 Apr 20, 2023

Hello, Fabi. I wonder if I could translate your story on the other languange? Cause it seems really fascinating and I would really like to share it with others. I hope that you won't be mad if I translate it from eng to rus. :)

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Fabi M
09:46 May 04, 2023

Hi, sorry for the late reply, but yeah that'd be perfectly fine. In fact, I'm flattered. Just please take care to credit it back to me and reedsy, otherwise translate away. And please let me know when you finish it! I know I am not fluent in Russian at all, but I'd love to see it either way!

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Geet Saini
05:18 Apr 20, 2023

Best story in years I bet you would become a great author in the future! Thats kinda all I had to say but I encourage you to keep moving forward! GREAT JOB!

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18:19 Apr 19, 2023

Pretty good the ending though got me

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Leona Burrell
16:49 Apr 13, 2023

I agree ur vocabulary is TRASH

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Rudy Greene
22:59 Mar 30, 2023

I agree with most of the comments below. The descriptions are vivid. The writing evokes a sinister atmosphere. The voice is excellent but there there needs to be better continuity and tightness. A little more background would help.

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Koky Ashraf
18:25 Mar 29, 2023

hi Fabi, you have very good taste in writing. I can see you have a broad vocab. I really enjoyed your book, it is extremely amusing, I hope you write more too. keep up the nice work

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Snow Eve
04:32 Mar 29, 2023

Hai, I read your short story and was mesmerized by it, it's scary and psychological?. Even so your writing skill definitely so high, Btw I wanted to ask you few question about writing can you DM me just asking?

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Mary Lewis
02:24 Mar 29, 2023

Congratulations!

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Marisa Billions
22:10 Mar 28, 2023

I felt that this story was definitely dark and poetic. I do agree with another commenter that I wish that there were more background on the two characters. But at the same time, it's hard to sometimes create a rich background when it's a short story. I loved the description and I felt like I was there in the forest looking for mushrooms. Overall, congratulations and well done!

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Keyanna Jones
20:25 Mar 28, 2023

You got me shaking in my boots

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Ken Cartisano
17:48 Mar 28, 2023

Congrats on the win, Fabi M. It must be stated, up front, that this is an uncanny, creepily good idea and concept, with some outstanding writing and haunting imagery, but it also has an abundance of confusing language and questionable syntax. Starting in the very first paragraph, and it continues throughout the story. The first paragraph seems like a barely comprehensible ‘blend’ of nuance and nonsense. A troubling hint that the reader is in the confines of a literary ‘funhouse’. I (in my ignorance) did not know that a ‘sweet tooth’ (unca...

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Lisa Cornell
08:19 Mar 28, 2023

I enjoyed the creativity of your story. Your words are so poetic. I am working hard to bring some life to the way I describe things and hope that reading this gives me some inspiration. Reading your feedback and then your reply was probably the most intelligent back and forward comment section I have ever seen on the internet haha who knows a debate between yourself and Marcus could make for a very interesting story itself.

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Sjan Evardsson
19:21 Mar 26, 2023

Beautiful, haunting, chilling - sounds like I'm plugging the latest Netflix thriller - but those words so perfectly capture this poetic prose. Well deserved win.

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Fabi M
07:49 Mar 27, 2023

Thank you and thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Also you're perfectly fine, I don't mind if it sounds like the latest Netflix thriller, haha, which I don't think it does. Besides, if the words you used to describe the story fit in your opinion, then they fit. It's still lovely to hear.

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Sally Jupe
18:57 Mar 26, 2023

Hi Fabi, I have to tell you that I am mainly only reading the 'Winning' and shortlisted stories in the prompt competitions at the moment to see what I can learn from them as someone very new to writing fiction, being old(er) to the writing desk, and without any formal literary training. But I also have to tell you (politely) that by the second paragraph, I was like, what is this story? And what is duff? :) I was completely lost BUT also in awe that writers use such language that 'looked and sounded' good but I did not really understand or re...

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Fabi M
08:36 Mar 27, 2023

Hello Sally, It's a pleasure to meet you. And I commend you for making the leap from scientific and educational writing to fiction. It's always brave to me when someone decides to pursue something they've always wanted to pursue. Welcome to the writer's block! Haha. (Also, in my opinion, a writer is always a writer even if they never publish their work. Or if they don't find success. Or even if they haven't written in a while. I know I went a while without writing after being disheartened by the writing world. If you have ideas, if you hav...

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Simone J Fry
17:29 Mar 26, 2023

Congratulations on the win Fabi! Very creepy, a bit too for me, but I loved the poetical imagery and presence that it evoked. Thank you :)

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Fabi M
07:34 Mar 27, 2023

Thank you! I won't lie to you, despite having written this with the genre of horror in mind, I actually quite detest horror. I still watch it though, and read it. I guess I love to suffer. But, even though I don't like horror, I can appreciate the ways it can be beautiful. I mentioned in another comment that filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro's body of work comes to mind. So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I can relate to finding something way too creepy for my taste, but enjoying other aspects of it despite that, haha. And I'm happy to he...

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KT George
14:23 Mar 26, 2023

Some of my favorite lines: "Told me to hold leaves as delicate as you would a pretty girl’s hand." "his meaty fingers pressed white hot divots into my skin." "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." Your writing has a poetic quality, which paints some really nice visual scenes. Congratulations on the win.

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Fabi M
07:30 Mar 27, 2023

Thank you very much, and I'm glad that those particular lines stood out to you.

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