Fantasy Horror Speculative

Flickering flames danced in the dark woods as the three women gripped their torches tightly and made their way through the tangled old growth. It was thick and unforgiving, tearing at their cloaks and slashing at their skin. They pushed on with determination and haste, crouching, climbing and even crawling in places too dense to walk. They were terrified, but remained steadfast and focused on their intention. Each one of them knew how mad it was to be here, for it was Allhallows Eve and this was the haunted Blackwood Forest. 

A full moon brightened the sky as they crashed through the edge of a thicket into a small, flat clearing. Wolves howled somewhere nearby as they marched on. Crashing and snapping branches sounded behind them, but they did not turn to look. They quickened their pace as a harsh, autumn wind gusted suddenly and the trees around the glade moaned and creaked adding to the cacophony of doom.

The three women quickly reached the interior of the barren expanse and cautiously approached a large, circular, stone dais. Steps led up to the flagstone platform. They walked up slowly, searching their surroundings and watching for the unexpected. Several large, cracked and broken stones lined the outer edge of the dais, each carved with a different runic symbol from some long forgotten language. In the center was a round opening as wide as a man is tall. Shadow filled the hole, unpenetrated by the moonlight. The women approached the edge of the portal and held their torches above it. The light showed only the rippling and swirling blackness within The Well of Darkness.

“Are you certain about this, sister?” Anora asked with undeniable fear and uncertainty in her voice. “Can we even do this?”

Rowena turned to her sister with an angry scowl, “Do you want to be powerful? Do you want to be one of the most feared witches in all the land?”

Anora nodded, her body trembling, “I am scared, sister.”

“We have come this far already. I will not turn back now,” Rowena insisted. “Swallow your fear and let us continue. With this summoning, we will have the power to exact our vengeance on the little brat queen of Rhylaria. She will rue the day she made enemies of us!” Pulling a small, flesh-bound book from her satchel, she opened it and searched the blood-written pages for the correct incantation. “With the Book of Shadows, we hold all the power to summon the servants of the dark,” she added without lifting her eyes from the pages.

“Shall we begin the circle?” asked Ophelia, the third witch of the group.

“Yes,” Rowena replied. “It must be complete. Unbroken. Write the symbols on the flagstone around the portal. Be quick,” she snapped, “the moon approaches its zenith.”

Rowena began muttering words in a long forgotten tongue as the other two witches began drawing symbols with chalk around the well. She was careful with her words, making sure that all of her pronunciations and intonations were exact. She had been taught by the leader of her coven and even though she lacked experience, she had confidence that the spell would work. It had to work. She had put much at risk to steal the book and would be hunted when it was discovered missing from her coven. She cared little. Her desire for power and her longing for retribution against her enemies drove her on. No matter what the outcome, she had no choice but to see this through to the end.

The women were interrupted by an owl landing atop one of the rune stones on the dais. It was black as the night with eyes that burned red in the dim. It stood silently before them staring at each witch in turn. The look in its eyes seemed to peer into their very souls. Looking back at Rowena, it called out, hoo, hoo. The three remained still and quiet. The owl repeated, hoo, hoo.

Ophelia was the first to break the silence, “Is it asking us?” 

“Is it saying ‘hoo’ or ‘who’?” questioned Anora, visibly shaking with fear. “Should we tell it who we are?”

“No!”, commanded Rowena, but her order came too late.

Ophelia blurted out their names, “Ophelia. Anora. Rowena.” 

“Silence!”, Rowena screamed. “Never tell the shadows our names fool!” As the scream echoed across the glade, the owl took flight and disappeared into the night.

“Forgive,” begged Ophelia, “I knew no better…”

“Fool witch!”, Rowena barked furiously. “From this point, do nothing without my permission! Understand?”

Ophelia nodded as she wiped tears from her cheeks, her lower lip quivering.

“Now continue the circle before time runs out, both of you.” 

Rowena continued the preliminary incantations until the others had completed the circle and stood at her side. The moon had reached its zenith and they all began to chant the words from the book, repeating the phrase: Alant Merhk Goauthra. Bethast Vahg Norghul. Clouds thickened in the sky, the moonlight dimmed and the night grew darker; unnaturally darker. Shadows swirled above the rim of the well and a shifting shape began to rise.

The three witches were resolute and continued the chanting. As they looked on in terror, a shadowy figure took form before them, suspended in the swirling dark mists hanging above the gateway to the abyss. It was in the shape of a man, unfolding before them, one leg dropped to hang beneath it, then the other. Arms unfolded from the shadow to open wide, seemingly intent on embrace. Wings unfurled behind it and moved awkwardly as if the creature was learning to use them for the first time. The swirling blackness fell away, slipping back into the well, leaving only the chiseled, ebony form floating in the air, wings gently flapping. Serpentine eyes opened, reflecting hatred in the flickering torchlight.

The chanting ceased.

“Do not move,” ordered Rowena as the others gasped in fear. “It is ours. It serves us.” She quickly flipped through the pages of the book. “It must be fed. Ophelia, did you bring the food?”

“Yes,” Ophelia answered, her hands trembling. She was just a girl, so young and naïve. She untied a small sack on her belt and opened it. “I have bread, an apple and some carrots.”

“What?” Rowena glared at the ignorant girl. “I left it to you. The one thing that was in your charge. It was a simple task and I thought it needed no explaining. Are you so daft to think demons hunger for carrots?”

“I knew not!” exclaimed Ophelia in terror. “You said only to bring food!”

“Fool! I knew better than to bring you and now you have put us in jeopardy.” Rowena flipped through the pages of the book again, feigning to look for a solution before continuing, “It may work, but you shall do the deed. Walk forth and give the demon the offering.”

Fear gripped Ophelia and she shook at the thought. She knew she had to be brave. This is what she truly wanted, to be a member of a coven as her mother and grandmother had before her. “I shall,” she agreed. She took a deep breath, restrained her fear and turned toward the well, but she kept her eyes down, afraid to meet the creature's gaze.

“The creature will accept only meat. It will eat nothing else,” explained Rowena, her voice barely loud enough to hear.

“Where are we going to get meat out here in the middle of nowhere?” asked Anora, her voice but a whisper.

“I have an idea.” Rowena crept up behind Ophelia while the girl lay the offerings on the ground outside the circle. With a kick from her booted heel, the girl screamed and fell headlong into the well.

The demon struck as quick as a viper, grabbing the girl and pulling her close. Ophelia’s horrific screams of agony and terror sounded through the clearing, then at once, fell silent. The demon began to feed, rending her apart and devouring her piece by piece. Anora looked away and vomited while Rowena watched in awe of the beast’s power.

When the carnage was done, Rowena stepped forward. “You serve me now, demon!” she commanded. “I have fed you and now you are mine. I bend you to my will.”

The demon hissed and tried to escape the area inside the circle, but it could not. Hatred burned in its reptilian eyes as it struggled to resist the witch. It knew it had been bound through the summoning and there was no escape.

“You are bound to me and must obey!” Rowena shouted the commands with confidence while her sister silently cowered behind her. “Pledge your loyalty to me. Agree to serve me and I will let you out of the darkness. Let your word be given!”

The demon uttered the words, “I serve.”

Rowena strode forth with certainty and smudged a portion of the symbols in the circle and the demon slipped free. It flew into the air, circled once and then landed on the dais with a heavy thud. It stood before Rowena, looking down at the witch. There was a moment of doubt in the minds of the women, but the creature bent the knee and bowed before her. “I serve.”

“For your first task, you will travel to Rhylaria and strike down my enemy--”, she was interrupted by the flapping of wings in her face and she waved her arms frantically, trying to ward off an unknown attacker.

Again, the black owl landed atop one of the rune stones that encircled the dais and glared at the witches. “Who?” it asked in a hateful, mocking voice. This time there could be no doubt that it spoke.

“Who are you?” demanded Rowena. “Speak the truth or my demon will slay you.”

“I am the queen you so despise, fools!” came the rasping voice from the owl. “I have a surprise for you,” it added with an evil snicker.

Anora clutched her sister's cloak, terrified. “Rowena, is it her? Can it be?”

Ignoring her own fear, Rowena stood her ground. “The owl is but a vessel. A familiar. We both know you can not hurt us here Queen Vahnessa. I know not what hell you crawled out of little girl, but I will warn you of your doom. My demon comes for you and you will have nowhere to run. A shadow demon can move through anything. You can hide in the deepest vaults beneath your palace, but my servant will find you. It will choke the life from you before devouring your flesh!”

“Well then, surely I am done, but before you release your demon upon me, I have a question for you.” The voice from the owl deepened and laughed sardonically. “Do you know how easily your little pet can turn on you? Do you know what little it takes to have it slip from your grasp?”

Rowena felt her confidence melt away. She began to tremble as she recalled the foolish event from earlier that evening.

“Do you know what happens,” the voice from the owl continued, “if the shadow demon discovers your identity? If, perhaps, one among you had been foolish enough to reveal your names to a seemingly insignificant bird of the night? If a certain name were to be revealed?” There was a moment of tense silence before the voice continued, “Do you know what would happen then... Rowena?”

The witches both looked at the demon that bowed before them. It stood up and in the shadow of its face, they both saw the fiendish smile.

“RUN!” Rowena screamed.

Both witches dropped their torches and bolted across the clearing, hand in hand, heading for the trees. Rowena stumbled and the Book of Shadows slipped from her hand. She tried to snatch it from the ground, but Anora pulled her hard away and they continued running. They saw the owl fly overhead, a small book clutched in its talons, laughing before it vanished out of sight. They could hear the leathery wings of their demon pursuer closing in behind them. With a terrifying scream, Anora was lifted into the air, hand slipping from her sister’s grip.

Rowena did not stop. She reached a dense patch at the edge of the woods and crashed into it at a full run, thorns and branches rent her arms and legs and tore at her face. A broken limb punctured her thigh. She cried out in pain. Her cloak was tangled and twisted in the branches and she slipped free of it. She panicked, falling to her knees, frantically crawling through the tangle around her seeking a way out. Her clothing was catching in the brambles and the more she struggled the less she could move. She was trapped. Her heart raced as she heard her sister scream somewhere in the night. She wept.

There was silence around her now. No creatures sounded in the night and the wind was calm. She stared up at the thick web of branches that shielded her from view. She felt safe for the moment. She did not hear the demon’s wings and she was sure she would hear if anything moved in the woods. A shadow crept into view above her amid the tangle of thorns and a dark face appeared. Venomous eyes glared down at her and stained teeth were bared in a smile. She remembered that the demon was of shadow and shadow could move through things and without a sound.

Rowena felt the creature grab her leg and with effortless strength that terrified her, it tugged her through the tangle and into the clearing. Every thorn, branch, bramble and stick kept a bit of her flesh as the demon tore her loose. Sweat mingled with her open wounds and stung her skin. She cried out, begging for mercy as she was dragged back to the dais and up the steps to the dark portal. In the torchlight that still flickered on the flagstones, she could see the broken and twisted body of her sister. The demon grabbed her by the throat and lifted her to meet his gaze.

“Row...eena,” it said with a smile. “You serve.”

The witch struggled and gasped for air as the demon held her over the well and released her to disappear into the shadows of the abyss.

October 30, 2020 22:02

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Kristin Neubauer
10:19 Nov 07, 2020

That is so terrifyingly vivid, Ryan! And poor Ophelia! Your writing - your phrasing and choice of words - is so powerful that you completely immersed me in your story. And brilliant dialogue to boot. Your stories are always such a pleasure to read.


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Yolanda Wu
07:19 Nov 06, 2020

Wow, this was such a dark and gripping story. Your descriptions were on point - perfectly creepy, I know Halloween is over, but I'm in for a spook any time of the year. I love all the details that I could imagine so clearly in my head, and oof, that ending was just perfect. Great story! Amazing work, Ryan. :)


Ryan Dupont
20:54 Nov 06, 2020

Thank you for finding the time to read my story. Your comments always brighten my day.


Yolanda Wu
21:38 Nov 06, 2020

I'm glad yo hear that. :)


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