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Fantasy Horror

"And the poison?"

"Spreading, Damien. Like wildfire. She will not live long."

The words hung like heavy cobwebs in Damien's mind, echoing for a moment before settling fully. "What must I do then, Father Gespie?"

Father Gespie--a man as old and dust--sighed and ran his hand across the face of a pale woman. Groaning, the woman shifted across her sweat-drenched sheets and fell silent. "You must climb, Damien--climb a long way and then some. Up...up to Wulver's Peak. There, cut me a petal from a Black Wedonnna. Bring it to me, and she may yet survive."

"May," Damian shifted and fiddled with his shirt sleeves, "or will?"

"There is no way of knowing, boy. Now--go. If you wish to see her saved: go."

And Damien, who they'd said was afraid of his own shadow, went.

Taking a long dark coat and a logger's axe, Damien left the shallow, thatched hut. Beyond, the night was abloom with stars, but the light felt foreign. They were autumn stars--cold and distant as rain over mountains miles away. Damien, shutting his eyes, breathed slowly. Leaves coiled about his legs; wind whispered through the trees.

Clutching the pendant of a saddened woman in one hand, Damien shivered. "Dear Mother, watch me. Watch me, I ask you." Fingers quivering, he fiddled with his sleeve; the fidgeting focusing his mind. "Watch me, please. I am not sure how to be brave, nor which way to go."

The wind parted and died. Starlight mingled and drowned in the warm milk-white glow of the moon. Opening his eyes, Damien let the pendant lay upon his chest and went along his way.

Through a thistle wood he trekked--there where willows grew and twisted about one another. Tombs of ancient make lay amidst the weird roots, apparitions dancing fleetingly about them. With voices like distant sea-bells, they called to Damien.

Tucking the collar of his coat close to his cheeks, he pressed on. "Dear Mother, watch me...I will not shake tonight, nor bend, nor turn away."

And overhead, hark: how the crows leered at him. "Poor, poor, Damien," they cawed, "he who fears his own noonday shade. Poor, poor, Damien--knee's knocking like ghosts upon their coffin doors."

And within, behold: the many nightmare loomings of Damien's imagination twirled like ballerinas in his head. Every haunted book he'd ever been read--every campfire ballad--came back all at once. There once was an old crone whose skin was spider silk...a headless horseman who wandered through the willows...a leering, lecherous, lover-slain come to steal your shaking bones.

"Poor, poor, Damien, wearing fear like a down coat!"

Damien, shaking his head, remembered the woman laying pale upon the bed, and the sound of honey her voice once carried. Tugging at his sleeves, he went on through the woods. "Dear Mother, watch me, for I know no fear tonight. Let your moon be my guide."

The woods wove for miles; his shaking legs began to ache. Ghouls stalked the underbrush, wargs the growing foothills. His breath was fleeting fairy-glass suspended in the moonlight; overhead, the branches tangled as rattling snakes.

Beyond the mire of willow-wisps he passed and said no words, for the legends said the wisps took tongues when the moon was full. Before the gates of Mangly Manor he passed and bowed his head, hiding his eyes from the electrode-spirits which watched him from the windows. Beside the drooping docks of Dropsie Bay he passed, and there gained some speed as frog-eyed mariners howled at him.

The road grew brambled-over--berooted and bevined--beslicked with molds on ancient times. Charnel houses, sepulchral chimneys, smoke-stacks of midnight-bakers...all rose among the trees. Witch-homes bedecked with rotting pumpkins sat on stilts along the growing crags--those starting fangs of Wulver's Peak.

At last he came to the first hewn step which led up that dreaded way. Looking up, he studied the strange, mountainous geometry. Fear was in his throat. Pulling, pulling, pulling on his sleeves, he shut his eyes. "Please, please, please, Dear Mother...just one climb more. Let me brave. Just this once, let me be brave."

Damien, trying to keep his breath even, scaled up.

Step by step he went, though the stairs were slick. The higher he rose, the greater the stars seemed in the puddles underfoot, until he walked as if in a field of burning mercury. There, on Wulver's Peaks, the winds made strange noises. Keening was the word most folk used--like solemn, somber sobbing. It was the dead, of course--the multitude deceased who'd fallen from that path. As he passed the very clouds, Damien peered over his shoulder. Behind him, where the world fell suddenly, floated the hundred, wispy-blue forms of the mountain's victims. With eyes of strained white, they watched and smiled at him.

His feet slipped. Stumbling to his haunches, he pressed himself close to the mountain and began to pant.

"Silly little, Damian," cooed the mountain-ghosts, "boys like you are not built to be brave. Fall now, dear; fall and let us catch you."

All at once he was a little boy again, cowering under his father's table on All-Hallow's Eve. Do not be a coward, his father would say, can you not see they are only masks? But what did it matter? Masks or not, the twisted visages leered at him from the front door as they knocked. Skeletal teeth a-chatter; witch chins sharper than a butcher's blade...he hated them...hated the grinning jack-o-lanterns and the candy skeletons dangling by the windows.

The wind carried a whisper: She will not live long...

Waving the spirits from his eyes, Damien stood and yelled to the moon. "See me, Dear Mother! I am not afraid. I've never burnt my hand along the stove at night, nor been bitten by the neighbor's dog by the light of the moon. More of peril have I known by dawn's light than ever by night. I am not afraid, Dear Mother--not now, nor ever again."

And, as the moon sank below thick clouds, Damien scaled the great peak, and heard no more of the spirits behind.

Up

Up

Up

He went--beyond clouds. At last, he came to a wide opening where the grass grew silver and short. Here, blue-tailed fireflies hovered and hummed. Along the squat, ever-leaved willows here, box lanterns had been hung, their cerulean light haunting. A single, old mausoleum rested in that garden, though its door had eroded shut forever. About the tomb's stoney base grew a soft, wavering sort of rose.

Damien, sighing, smiled to himself. The mountain air was calm. The night did not seem so foul this far up. Peering back below the clouds, he watched a billion little fires and lamps and lanterns glimmer across the wide world.

"A strange view, is it not?"

Damien's heart lurched. Wheeling around, he watched formless shadow creep through the grass. Taking his axe, holding it out before him, Damian shook.

The shadow laughed in a voice like rolling magma. It congealed slowly, becoming a vast, rolling wolf of darkness. "And who is this creature, I wonder, who has come to my garden?"

Opening his mouth, Damien found his tongue tied and throat parched.

"Answer me, little human."

"D-damien...that is m-my name."

"D-damien? What a curious, curious name. Tell me, D-damien, are you cold?"

Jaw quivering, Damien shook his head.

"Then are you hungry?"

Damien shook his head.

"Old, then? Or weak?"

Damien shook his head.

"How very curious, then, that you should quiver so." The wolf swirled about Damian, growing closer at every pass. "It must be fear then, mustn't it be, D-damien?" The wolf disappeared, its voice becoming a whisper in Damien's ear. "Are you afraid, D-damien?"

Pulling at his sleeves, Damien shut his eyes. Yes, he thought. Yes, he knew. Yes, a thousand times over. Every lurking spider...every scraping branch...every-

No...a voice tinted by honey-warmth rose up from where his pendant sat. No, my Damien is brave.

Damien let his sleeves sit still. They billowed softly in the breeze. Opening his eyes, he watched the flowers. "No, I am not afraid."

The wolf laughed. "Good, for only those without fear may pluck my flowers. Go now, D-damien, and take one. If you are truly without fear, I shall let you be. Yet, if I smell it in your blood--even one drop of it--I will swallow you whole."

With slow breath, Damien stepped forward.

Moonlight...firelight...fireflies...honey...

"What is that scent, D-damien?

Moonlight...starlight...wisps...wisps

"What a strange smell...like...like fear..."

Moonlight...moon...ghosts with spider hands...

Damien strained his brow and reached out for the flowers. The wolf's breath was hot on his neck.

"Yes, D-damien, you reek of it. Come, now."

Ghosts, demons, ghouls, bones and shadow!

The wolf, howling, lunged forwards.

Screaming, Damien wheeled around. Yes; yes, of course he was scared. How could he be otherwise? But there was no time to be. With one mighty swing, Damien lodged the logger's axe into the wolf's mouth. The beast, screaming, recoiled. Grabbing one of the flowers, Damien turned and ran, not bothering to look back.

He streaked down the mountain, under the gaze of the witch-huts, by the docks, by Mangly Manor, and through the winding woods. He ran with a beating heart and aching lungs, the wolf's screams hot on his heels.

Casting open the door, Damien spilled into the the shallow, thatched house and tumbled to his knees.

"Good lord, Damien," said Father Gespie, "you scared me near to death! What of the petals? Did you find them?"

Laughing in spite of himself, Damien rose to shaking legs. Holding out the flower, he smiled. "You asked for one petal--I brought you many. Please, Father--save her."

July 14, 2023 21:46

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2 comments

Mary Bendickson
14:20 Jul 15, 2023

So full of adventure and awe inspired descriptions.

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J. D. Lair
03:59 Jul 16, 2023

Lots of lore here and great descriptions! My favorite was: “knee's knocking like ghosts upon their coffin doors”. This is the first story of yours I have come across, but you have a knack for fantasy. I’m looking forward to reading more from you Sam. Well done!

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