Fantasy Horror

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


It almost got Sissy today.

She’s the littlest one, and Mama usually keeps a careful watch over her — but somehow she crawled too close to the doorway.

I saw it out of the corner of my eye; something dark and very quick.

Sissy squeaked in fear. Mama grabbed her and bundled all six of us into the farthest part of the room.


Mama says we can’t go out. 

“We’re in mortal danger!” she warns. “Don’t you stir from this spot!”

It’s boring in here. All there is to do is eat, sleep, and squabble with my siblings.

Our home is cramped. I want to explore.

“Mark my words, we are being watched. There’s an enemy close at hand!”

“But, Mama! Who would be our enemy?” I protest. “We’re just children!”

Sssh!” Mama says. “Don’t be so loud!”

I think she’s tired, and just trying to keep us quiet to suit herself.

I used to think Mama was mistaken about the enemy, but something did try to take Sissy.

When Mama’s back is turned, I sneak closer to the doorway. I want to peek out, to see what’s there, but I can’t quite do it.


Mama says things we don’t understand. She says we’re keeping safe here, and we don’t dare go outside — but then she says that it won’t be long before we’re all out on our own. 

We can’t even explore everywhere inside, yet. There are passageways she won’t allow us to go down, because we might get lost. 

Somewhere, there’s a storeroom.

I remember crying, when I was younger, because I was hungry.

“I’m out of milk,” Mama said. “I’ll be back. You all stay right here and don’t get in any trouble.”

She disappeared down a passageway — I think it was the middle one. It seemed like a long time, but she came back and we all had some milk.


Now that we’re older, she brings fresh vegetables and roots for us. She believes that’s the healthiest diet. We still get to have milk, but not as much.

She says that, someday soon, she’ll take us all with her so we can pick out our own food.

She goes outside sometimes, very cautiously. She’s never gone long.

Bruno, the oldest, nudges me and whispers that, next time she goes out, he’ll follow.


Mama says, “I need to go outside. You all stay right here and behave. Bruno, you’re in charge.”

Instead of staying with us, he sneaks out behind her. She doesn’t notice.


Mama is back. 

Bruno has not come back. He has disappeared, and Mama won’t say what happened. She won’t even allow us to say his name, so…

We don’t talk about Bruno anymore.


I saw it again — the dark, swiftly moving thing. Just before it happened, what little light we had was obscured. The intruder was blocking the doorway.

Mama was down the corridor at the time, so we had no protection. This time I was left in charge.

“Sissy!” I gulped, pulling her away. But not before something sharp slashed her shoulder.

Owww!” she whimpered. “You’re hurting me!”

I’m hurting you?”

“You pinched me!” she claimed.

“I saved you! You were too close to the door again, and the… the enemy almost got you! That’s the second time, Sissy.”

“Hush, children!”

Mama is back. She drops the produce and runs to Sissy.

“What happened?” she demands, glaring at me before giving Sissy her full attention. “Oh dear, you’re bleeding!”

She begins cleaning Sissy’s wound, while I try to explain how it was all Sissy’s fault for being too close to the door and how I’m actually the hero of the moment for saving her life.

“It was the — whatever that is that’s outside. Our enemy.”

Mama nods grimly.

“That was a close call.”


Sissy has been kidnapped. 

It wasn’t entirely my fault; I was trying to break up a tussle between two of my other siblings, and I turned my back for a split second. 

Why does something like this happen when Mama leaves the room? She’ll think I’m not responsible. I was trying!

I got the skirmish settled, and looked over to check on Sissy just in time to see her being pulled through the doorway.

“Sissy!” I shrieked desperately — but there was nothing I could do. I’m not allowed to go outside.

Mama must have heard me, because suddenly she’s here. I’m panting, wild-eyed, facing the door. Right away, she sees that Sissy is gone.

“I — I…” Wanting to explain, all I can do is stammer.

Ssshhh…” Mama says. “It was bound to happen. There was nothing you could have done.”

We don’t talk about Sissy anymore.


There’s more room now that there’s only four of us children left. But we’re also growing, so we each need more space.

Today we get to see where Mama gets our food. Mama leads us, and I take up the rear.

The corridor is very dark and twisty, but not scary. It has a strong, comforting smell of earth, and the enemy feels very far away. But Mama says we can’t stay here long; there’s not enough oxygen.

There must be a lot of greens and roots stored back here. The smell is intense.

“There’s no milk!” I notice, scanning the nooks and crannies. 

Mama laughs a little.

“It was never stored here — and you won’t be needing it anymore. Milk is for babies.”

Back when we still needed a lot of milk, before Bruno disappeared, he always got the most. 

“It’s because I’m the biggest and strongest!” he boasted. “I need more to keep me going.”

I never thought that was fair. Shouldn’t the smaller ones get more, because they need to grow more? By my reckoning, Sissy should have had the first chance to drink her fill.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter now. They’re both gone. I’m kind of glad Bruno’s not here, but I feel a tiny bit guilty about Sissy.


Mama says it’s time. Today I will venture outside.

She peeks out to make sure it’s clear, then gives me a little boost.


I scurry over the dry grass, looking this way and that. I’m not sure what I’m looking for, and I feel vulnerable. I decide to go back home.

I see something that looks familiar. 

Sissy. I’ve found Sissy.

Part of her, at least.

I’m staring in horror at the remains of my sister. Her blank eyes stare, unseeing.

I don’t realize that the enemy is approaching.


Everything goes black, and then there’s millions of tiny pinpricks of shimmering lights.


The last thing I hear is the deep, rumbling voice of a human. 

It says, “Whatcha got, Kismet? What is it? A gopher? Oh, good kitty. Goood kitty!”


I have met my fate.

October 23, 2022 07:18

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Suma Jayachandar
05:41 Nov 03, 2022

Hi Cindy, I'm a little late to catch up on this one, but I'm glad I did. This is such a well-written story! The language is a breeze ( with your trademark usage of onomatopoeia), and the doomed but lovable protagonist and his very relatable struggles are portrayed with empathy. The anticipated end was well... a bit crushing. Thanks for sharing.


Cindy Strube
04:38 Nov 04, 2022

Hi Suma, Glad you enjoyed it! Making the protagonist lovable and relatable was my aim - gophers are real pests for us, but they are cute little furry critters. First thing I thought of when I saw the “Black cat” prompt was a gopher encountering one. A bit crushing - yes! I like that! ; )


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Andrea Hanssen
19:47 Nov 02, 2022

"We don't talk about Bruno" OMG LIN MANUEL-MIRANDA IS THAT YOU Loved the story, really great buildup to the twist. I guessed cats initially, but not gophers- very well done!


Cindy Strube
00:07 Nov 03, 2022

Thanks - glad you enjoyed! Yeah, gophers aren’t your usual protagonists… I appreciate the read and comment!


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Aaron Tippit
02:54 Nov 02, 2022

I loved that they stopped talking about Bruno. I laughed. The suspense was great and I loved the pragmatic response to losing the kids. Great story.


Cindy Strube
18:16 Nov 02, 2022

Thanks for the read and comment. Glad you got a laugh from the Bruno reference - some impulse made me name him that, and then I just had to use the line!


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19:50 Oct 31, 2022

I definitely read through the whole thing thinking it was a story about humans. With that perspective it was a great (relieving) twist at the end. I loved it!


Cindy Strube
17:23 Nov 02, 2022

Thanks for the read and comment. Happy to know that my attempt at disguising the species was successful… Glad you enjoyed it!


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Francois Kosie
21:45 Oct 30, 2022

Interesting idea and a great story! At first, I thought they might be mice and then maybe rabbits. Did not expect gophers. The story really pulled me into their little world of a besieged family just trying to survive, with a nameless enemy prowling outside. Loved the themes of mortality and the natural world in this.


Cindy Strube
22:46 Oct 30, 2022

Thanks for the read and comment! The concept came from our regular encounters with gopher “gifts” from one of our cats. Found it intriguing to write from perspective of the gophers!


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Michał Przywara
20:52 Oct 25, 2022

Woo, we're prompt buddies this week! And I see we had a vaguely similar idea about black cats :) I love the voice in this piece, and the stark contrast between the mother's love and her pragmatism, to the point of forgetting the dead. It definitely hits some nice horror vibes, with the ominous enemy and the finding of the sister, and it reminds me a bit of Watership Down. I like the way their experience is described, as it's not immediately clear these are gophers, and it even reads like they could be humans. Very easy to empathize that ...


Cindy Strube
22:30 Oct 26, 2022

Yup! That prompt snagged my attention right away, and the one who encountered a black cat HAD to be a gopher - due to our very personal experience! (I am very familiar with finding disembodied gopher heads on the porch, sometimes complete with glassy eyes… : 0 ) Nighttime the cat has six toes on each foot, so a bit of advantage for her. Writing Mama gopher’s character, I actually thought the word “pragmatic” to myself to describe her nature. So glad you understood that, as well as her gopherly love. And I was intentionally writing to veil ...


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14:27 Oct 23, 2022

"We don’t talk about Bruno..." Cue Lin-Manuel Miranda. Nicely done here. Readability is easy, but the subject matter is emotionally impactful. As they say on Reddit: Nature is metal. This hits home as our smoky gray/black cat "adopted" us from out of the blue. As a stray, our cat is ridiculously healthy and will probably outlive us all. Your story prompted me to research if animals grieve, and the evidence suggests that they do. (How could they not?) I often wonder where our little guy came from, how he survived into young cathood, who hi...


Cindy Strube
18:29 Oct 24, 2022

I’m always glad to know a story was thought-provoking. Have to credit one of our two cats for inspiring this story. Just had to consider her actions from the prey’s point of view! Ours are both tuxedo kitties who formerly belonged to a friend of ours. She had to move, and could only keep one cat and one dog. I think they’re more useful on our two acres of gopher-riddled sandy loam. ; ) “The female of the species is more deadly than the male” and it helps that she’s polydactyl. She regularly scoops gophers out of their holes and leaves remna...


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Amanda Lieser
14:21 Mar 22, 2023

Hey Cindy! Oh my gosh! What a tale! I loved the way you incorporated the phrase, “We don’t talk about Bruno anymore”. I also loved the way this story leans on its name. I think it’s amazing the way we learn the twist right at the end. But you had plenty of great breadcrumbs to help us figure it out. This was a visual stunner as usual. Nice work!!


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