Fantasy Horror Speculative

The sun disappeared below the trees on the horizon and twilight approached quickly. The lone traveler, dressed in a sleeveless leather tunic over a linen shirt and breeches, quickened his pace. He could feel the temperature dropping and a cold autumn breeze was whispering through the trees. His pack grew heavy after a long day's travel and he needed to rest. The short sword sheathed at his waist slapped against his thigh as his brisk walk became a desperate jog.

Edwin had seen a plume of smoke just over the next hill and he prayed to the gods that it came from the fireplace of a friendly dwelling with hospitable folks. One did not want to get caught wandering the roads at night, especially not alone, and he needed a safe place to sleep. The dark would bring unseen terrors, shadows stalking the trees and a biting cold. 

Cresting the hill, he saw a stone shack with a thatched roof ahead. It looked to be part of a larger farm and as he got closer he could see a cattle barn, a pig pen and a chicken coup, all surrounded by empty fields. Smoke rolled out of the chimney and he could see that lanterns and candles were lit inside. Someone was home. He would appeal to their kindness for permission to sleep in their barn after warming himself by their fire. His stomach tightened and twisted at the thought that they might refuse him.

He cautiously approached the front of the dwelling, took a deep breath and wrapped his knuckles on the oak door. He had barely heard the knock himself and feared nobody inside could have heard it either. Again, taking a deep breath, he banged harder against the wood. He could hear someone walking on the other side, fumbling with the board that secured the entryway and then the door slowly creaked open.

The entry opened wide enough to reveal the shadowy figure of a large man framed in the light from the room beyond. He stood quietly staring at the stranger outside. His head shifted as he looked around, trying to determine how many visitors there might be lurking in the shadows.

Edwin broke the silence nervously, “Good... um evening… sir.” He cleared his throat and began again, “Good evening, sir. I am Edwin and I would appeal to your kindness…”

The man cut him off, with a deep and determined voice, “Are you alone? Are there others in the shadows?” He continued, not waiting for a response, “Why do you lurk on my steps at night?” 

Before the traveler could respond, the door swung open and the light revealed a middle aged woman standing next to an even older man. Both wore tattered clothing hinting at their lack of wealth. They were farmers and one need only look at them to see that they lived a hard life and that every day was a struggle. 

The woman swung the door open wide, “Please, do come in. I am Azalea and this grumpy hulk is my husband Osric.” She smiled and grabbed Edwin by the arm, tugging him through the doorway. “Pay no mind to him. All travelers are welcome here. Please share our fire and have something to eat. We just finished dinner, but I can prepare something for you.” She shuffled Edwin across the floor and sat him at the table in the chair nearest the fire. A young boy, maybe twelve summers old, appeared from nowhere and took his pack, sitting it on the floor under the table. The woman shot off to the cooking area of the one room hovel and began preparing some food. The boy took a seat next to Edwin.

Osric crossed the room to the back door and picked up a shovel that was propped against the wall. “I need to tend the garden. I have diggin’ to do.” He swung the door shut with a bang.

Edwin sat at the table with mixed emotion. The warmth of the fire and promise of a meal was heavenly, but it seemed the man of the house did not want him there. He looked at the boy. His face was dirty and his hair a tangled mess. He grinned, appearing to be excited to have a visitor, but something about him seemed odd. “I am Edwin,” he said, extending his hand toward the boy. 

The boy hesitated for a moment and then shook his hand. “I am Daven,” he said with a widening grin. “I like you.”

“Well, nice to meet you Daven. I like you too.” Edwin smiled and patted the boy on the shoulder. “Do you live here with your grandparents?”

The boy looked confused for a moment before responding, “That’s my Ma and Pa. I like to carve wood.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a piece of wood whittled into the shape of a dog.

Edwin reached for the carved statue, “May I?” The boy handed it over. Edwin looked at it carefully. It was very detailed and very life-like. “Daven, this is exceptional work. I’m very impressed!”

The boy smiled. “It is Rufus. My best friend.”

“Well, I would very much like to meet Rufus,” said Edwin with a caring smile. “Perhaps after dinner….”

Daven interrupted angrily, his temper flaring. “Rufus is dead!” he barked, glaring hatefully at his mother in the kitchen.

Edwin changed the subject after the boy calmed down. “So, do you help work the farm?”

The boy laughed. “Nothin’ to do. Pa tends the garden. Mom helps sometimes, but they don’t let me go near it.”

Azalea approached from the kitchen and sat a plate of food down in front of Edwin. The only thing on the plate was a large object, like a fruit or vegetable, cut in thick slices and fanned out across the plate. A bowl of greens, covered in a syrupy dressing accompanied the main course as did a wooden cup.

“Now, eat and enjoy,” the woman requested kindly. “It is a special fruit we grow in the garden. It is thick and meaty like a tomato, but much more delicious. The salad is made of greens from the fruit stems, covered in a sweet fruit dressing, and the cup is a delightful fermentation of the fruit’s juices. It is good for the soul and has all that the body needs.” She sat down at the table opposite the boy and handed Edwin a wooden fork.

Edwin examined the food curiously. “All this is made from the same fruit?”

“Oh, yes,” the woman replied. “We have found that it is all we need to thrive.”

Well, it looks delicious, but surely you must tire of the fruit and desire more variety in your diet? There must be other foods near at hand on a farm this size. Milk and eggs? Pork and beef? Corn or other vegetables?” As the words left his mouth, he remembered that when he approached the farm, he never saw any crops in the field. He assumed they had already been harvested, but the fields were barren and looked unkempt. He never saw any pigs in the pen or chickens in the coup. For all he knew the barn was empty too. “Forgive me, you offer me what little you have and I seem to ask for more. I meant no offense to your family and I’m sorry your farm has fallen on such hard times.”

“Now, don’t you worry. No offense taken. This life is one we choose and the fruit is all we need,” she reassured him with her kindness and hospitality. “Now eat and enjoy, my boy. Surely you are hungry.”

Edwin realized he was starving and the fruit’s aroma was delightful. He could no longer ignore his hunger. He picked up a slice of the fruit with his fork and shoved it in his mouth. It was amazing, perhaps even the best thing he had ever eaten. Edwin ravaged the food before him and when he was done he was a little embarrassed. “Forgive my manners... or lack thereof, I mean. I fear my hunger got the best of me. This is delicious. I have never had its’ like.” 

“Yes, it comes from a rare plant that grows in the bogs nearby. But, my husband and I have made it better. We have unlocked the secrets of the plant and discovered ways to improve the flavor. It thrives in our garden, even more than it would in the wild. We tend to its needs and it sustains us with its fruit.” The way Azalea was speaking showed her reverence for the plant. Her feelings seemed to border on worship or unwavering love. It was odd and it made Edwin uncomfortable.

Edwin stood up after drinking the last delightful gulp from his cup. His hunger was satisfied completely and he felt strong and revitalized. “Well, if you would excuse me, I feel I must earn my keep and repay your hospitality. I will help your husband in the garden…”

“No!” Azalea insisted, grabbing Edwin’s arm and tugging him back into a seated position. “My husband needs no assistance. He is very protective of the garden, very particular about things. You are kind to offer, but you would only get in the way. Please stay with me and the boy. Tell us, what brings you our way?”

Edwin was surprised by the old woman’s strength. He was uneasy, but complied with her wishes and began to explain his story. “About a month ago, my brother left our village of Dunley on a quest for a better life. He was heading for the Kingdom of Rhylaria to seek whatever fortune he could find in the capital city. I refused to go. My father had just died and my mother was sickly. She was a cruel woman and my brother Rolan despised her. He refused to be tethered to her deathbed as our father had been. I could not leave her though, hateful as she was, she was still my mother.” He paused, a little choked up. Doing the best he could to hide it, he awkwardly wiped a tear from his cheek. “Anyway, she passed this week. I sold all that was left and set out determined to find my brother. This road is the one he said he would take, so I followed.”

“You poor boy,” Azalea said warmly, grasping his hand between hers and rubbing it in a motherly way. “I am so sorry you have to go through all this.”

The back door swung open and Osric entered, returning the shovel to its place next to the exit. “My work is done. It is dug.”

The woman looked at her son. “Daven, it is time to show Edwin what else you have carved of wood.”

The boy jumped up and ran to a chest by the fireplace. He returned with an oak club, as long as a man’s arm, elbow to fingertip. He smiled and held it in his hands so Edwin could look at the wonderful carvings. It was decorated with a depiction of a plant with a bulbous stem and large, wavy pedals. Many tendrils grew from the center of the plant and were wrapped around the club in intricate designs, carved with exquisite detail. Edwin noticed that the club was covered with dark stains. His heart pounded and his stomach felt like it was crawling up his throat. The boy grinned sadistically and the gleam in his eyes turned from innocence to evil. He gripped the club tightly with both hands and swung with all his might.

Edwin was quick to react and he sprang up from the table. The club glanced off the side of his face, splitting open his cheek. The sting was numbing and he staggered. He tried reaching for his sword, but he realized the motherly caress of Azalea’s hands had become an iron grip on his sword arm. She pulled him violently to the table, his head crashing into the plate and bowl that remained after his dinner, splintering them and lodging jagged bits of wood in his skin. Dazed, he fumbled for the wooden fork on the table and as he grabbed it, the club came down on his hand. It was an agonizing blow that shattered his fingers and the fork fell from his grip.

With all that Edwin had left, he desperately tried to break free of Azalea's grip, but the strength she possessed was inhuman. Another swing of the club and Daven missed, striking the table instead, sending splintering wood into the air. He knew he had to try for the door even if it meant dragging the woman with him. He was certain his right arm was dislocated and the pain was overwhelming. He felt the club glance off the side of his head and he saw his blood splatter on the floor.

“We need him alive!” commanded Osric.

In a fog of pain, Edwin realized that Osric had moved to position himself in front of the door. Fear overcame him as he realized his escape was blocked. He remembered the shovel by the back door and in a panic, he shifted his flight in the other direction. The hulk of a man was quicker. Edwin looked up in time to see a huge fist coming at him and then darkness fell.

When Edwin regained consciousness, he could not move. His body was racked with pain. It was just after dawn and he could make out the gold and red colors of the sunrise in the sky. Terror gripped him and his heart nearly pounded out of his chest. He was standing upright, buried in the dirt up to his neck. He was still able to feel his body, but unable to move other than to breath and turn his head. Panic ensued and his sanity waned. He was completely helpless.

“We put you beside your brother,” came a soft and caring female voice. “We thought you might like that.”

Edwin realized it was Azalea who spoke. She and Osric stood before him. It took a moment for her words to have meaning. Edwin looked to his left where Osric was pointing. In the ground, buried up to his neck, was the body of another. The remains were unrecognizable and merely skin and hair stretched over bone. “Rolan?” he murmured softly.

“Yes, that is your brother Rolan,” Azalea explained. “I know you must be happy that you found him. Your journey is over and now you can rest.”

“I don’t understand?” Edwin asked. “Why?”

Azalea laughed. “Surely you’ll think this sounds crazy, but look to your right and say hello to that which you will now serve.”

Edwin turned to see a strange plant with a bulbous, purple stem as tall as a man. Blue and gold pedals waved above it, moving like a ship’s sail in the wind. Hundreds of tendrils grew from the center of the flower and writhed in the air like nothing he had ever seen.

“You see the plant needs us. We feed it and it feeds us. It was by chance we discovered the secret. Our cat was the first to be buried in the garden. We noticed the fruit that grew after was sweeter and more plentiful. We were stronger when we ate it and we had never felt better. The plant called to us in our dreams and demanded more flesh. So, we buried our chickens here. The pigs followed and then the cows. There was no need to farm anything else. This one plant was the answer to everything. Then, I had a dream one night. It called to me and told me that the flesh of the dead was good, but the flesh of the living was better. But, we had no animals left.”

“We had Rufus is all,” interjected Osric.

Azalea slapped Osric on the arm. “Who is tellin’ the story?” She continued when she saw the apologetic look on her husband’s face. “Yes, we had to part with old Rufus. The boy is still angry to this day about that. After, the fruit was even sweeter and the power we gained from eating it lasted longer. It became necessary to seek food for the plant elsewhere and we opened our doors to weary travelers like yourself and your brother. Not many travel this road, but we are the only place to stop for those who do. The occasional traveler is enough for now. Sorry, we do feel really bad. You seem so nice, but we like to think fate brings people like you to our doorstep and we just do the rest.”

“You are insane. All of you!” screamed Edwin defiantly. 

“It would be better to just accept your fate. It is over for you, but your body will do us good and feed us for weeks. Just relax and think of happy things. The process takes awhile. The roots of the plant will work their way inside you to feed. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a fortnight. It’s best not to fight too much. You will only get yourself worked up. Just let the plant savor you and know that you have become a part of us.” With a parting smile the woman turned and went back into the house.

Osric approached with a watering can. He inserted the spout into Edwin’s mouth and poured until he choked and coughed on the water. “Learn to accept the watering,” he demanded, “it will go better if you do.” He walked around Edwin’s head and stomped the ground around it, packing the loosened earth ever tighter. He returned to the house without another look back, ignoring Edwin's hysterical cries for mercy as the roots of the plant began to constrict around him.

October 24, 2020 03:30

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Yolanda Wu
09:09 Oct 28, 2020

Wow, wow, wow! Your descriptions had me clinging onto every sentence. I agree with Ray, the build-up of the fear and dread was so well-executed, the tension just kept getting greater and greater, until the true horror of the ending. Edwin's emotions throughout were handled really well, and your descriptions, as usual, are effective and captivating. I love how it begins relatively normal, and just like Edwin, the readers really don't know what they're in for. And once again, that ending, just fantastic. Amazing work, Ryan!


Ryan Dupont
22:10 Oct 28, 2020

Thank you so much Yolanda!


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Ray Dyer
20:56 Oct 26, 2020

The dread starts building soon after he gets inside, and from there it turns into a chute straight into horror. That last paragraph, especially, when you realize that you're in the hands of people who know longer see you as a person. That's some real-world horror reflected in a fantasy world...that's what it's all about. Thank you for sharing your story!


Ryan Dupont
16:03 Oct 27, 2020

Thanks for the kind words Ray. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.


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Cassandra Durnin
20:47 Jan 16, 2021

You write music with your words. The length of the sentences become beats, the words their tune. It’s quite an astounding thing to watch unfold, and I’m entranced. Well done!


Ryan Dupont
05:16 Jan 17, 2021

Thank you so much for leaving such a wonderful comment! You certainly made my day!


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Kristin Neubauer
17:18 Oct 24, 2020

Poor Edwin! Another creative and wonderfully written story. So well-paced, so full of life. It was really a pleasure to read despite the outcome!


Ryan Dupont
18:15 Oct 24, 2020

Thank you Kristen. I almost wrote it so that Edwin was more unlikable just because I felt bad too!


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23:21 Oct 31, 2020

Heebee Geebees all the way. Your imagery is amazing and the way it took a turn from soothing to horrific was wonderful. I admire your ability to not hold back when it comes to hurting or traumatizing your characters. I'm still struggling with that and sometimes I feel like I am way to easy on my characters.


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