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Horror Fiction Fantasy

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

After a long day of driving, Brea and Ridley had at last made it free of the city. A winding road now guided them west, and with each turn they found themselves swathed in a fleeting moment of orange silk. The lazy sun had drawn the horizon’s blanket up to its chin like a drowsy giant. Ridley’s main focus was the road—an anxious driver who feared the sentinel oaks that flanked him on both sides. Tall and imposing, they cast a verdant dark canopy that turned the blue day overcast with leaf-green clouds. 


 Beside him a sweet voice broke the silence, soft lips wet by a nervous flick of the tongue. “May I get a share of that?” Brea asked. 


“Hm?” Ridley responded, his eyes briefly darting to the rearview mirror as he gradually eased off the pedal. “Share in what?”


“The attention you’re lavishing on the road,” Brea clarified.


“Last thing we need is to turn our holiday into a countryside ditch misadventure, especially while I carry precious cargo,” Ridley responded, his gaze caressing her. Brea was beautiful—her hair was short and wild, like stiff black coral fighting the sea’s current. She had dark skin peppered with freckles that glowed copper in the sun. She wore a clean white sundress patterned with yellow flowers, which blossomed like small suns beneath Ridley’s weathered brown leather jacket. She would often borrow it as the days came to a close and the cold started—her head fell cosy in the jacket's hood, trimmed with a soft white fur.


“Just teasing,” Brea replied with a smile, her hand tender on his back as he was more than a palm’s breadth from sitting comfortably.  


“Something else is on your mind.” Ridley said, “We’re never five minutes from home before you’re queuing up some ghastly tune on the radio.” 


“Oh, very nice! I’ll have you know my taste is impeccable thank you very much,” Brea defended with a wide grin. 


“Spill it.”


“I’m just really proud of you. I know it's rough for you, getting out of the house. Commitment,” Brea spoke earnestly, her index finger traced delicate spirals along his back. “Mum was starting to think I’d made you up.” Brea looked at Ridley, their eyes met like earthly brown sprouting lush green grass. Even while seated his height was unmistakable; his fiery red hair brushed the car’s roof, flowing long and artfully swept behind his ears. He wore a navy shirt, tailored and smartly tucked—it was Brea’s favourite, for it was soft to the touch and cradled his waist perfectly. 


“Does she now? Well, maybe you’re the one behind the wheel, chatting away to yourself like a madwoman,” Ridley quipped.  


“Hey!” Brea laughed, her fingers playfully dancing along Ridley’s side.


In the blink of an eye a car appeared before them, its hazard lights resembling the eyes of a sinister serpent. A man stood between the blinking red; frantically he waved his arms like the snakes flickering forked tongue. Ridley steered clear of the car and slammed on the brakes, after a tense moment of skidding they came to a halt. 


“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Brea repeated in a panicked frenzy.


With his hand entwined in her hair, lost in the soft strands of night, Ridley spoke reassuringly, “You’re okay, chicken. You’re safe.” With a gentle pull, he planted a kiss upon her brow and shifted the car into reverse. 


“You think they need help?” Brea asked, her tone now calmer. 


“Likely just a flat or something. Hopefully they have a spare, then I can help.” 


Stepping out of the car, Ridley graced the elderly man with a polite smile, but instead of reciprocation he was met with an unsettling glare. His eyes were large, black, and encumbered by heavy, sleep-deprived purple bags that were bundled in wrinkles. His pallid skin appeared frail, while tufts of grey facial hair sprouted in patches across his jaw and upper lip. His clothes, mostly shades of navy and forest green seemed ill-fitted, as if borrowed from a larger frame. Ridley noticed a figure in the back seat, their eyes forward and head still. 


“Need a hand?” Brea spoke, her words offered in an attempt to dispel the tension she sensed rising. “My Ridley’s good with cars, and I’m good with small talk.” 


“Well, you two are sweet, I’m quite small talker myself,” The man replied, his accent was elusive and thick, requiring a moment for it to make sense.


“Got a flat?” Ridley asked. 


“Flat?” The man replied with a perplexed twist of his lips. 


“Are your tires okay? Is one of them deflated, no air?” Ridley attempted to clarify.


“No. Tire… okay.” The man smiled, withholding any further information. Beads of sweat dappled his forehead, racing the curves of his deeply etched wrinkles. 


“Go wait in the car, honey. I’ll handle this,” Ridley declared tersely. Brea didn’t question him as she turned back, as he was not one for excessively sweet pet names.


“You have phone in car?” The man peered past Ridley to ask. 


“Yes, we do. I can call someone if you’d like? We still have some signal, I think,” Brea offered, her voice shaking with unease. 


“No. Maybe you could small talk with my son, he use cane. You take him to trees over there, let him relieve self. Long car ride here, many days,” the man chuckled, his black eyes shifting from Brea to Ridley. “Car tired like me. You see engine?” 


“In truth, we’re on a tight schedule. Your parents are expecting us before nine, aren’t they?” Ridley redirected the conversation. 


“Yeah, dad’s eager to show you his hunting gear, maybe take you pheasant shooting in the morning,” Brea fibbed, her upper lip shimmering with sweat.


The man’s tone grew grim as he replied, “I think you stay. Good with cars and small talk you say.” 


“Sorry, but do you have someone we can contact? We’ll do it on our way,” Ridley said. 


“No phone call. It okay, thank you for stopping,” The man responded. He extended his hand; tremors were noticeable from fingertips to elbow. Against his better judgement, Ridley accepted the man’s hand. The skin felt as thin as paper, and his nails were long and dug deep into Ridley’s wrist. “You have strong shake—warm.” He pulled Ridley closer, attempting his best to grapple with him. As chaos unfurled and Ridley resisted, the car door swung open and a cane planted firmly into the earth. A young man emerged, handsome yet frail with thin brown hair. With a wobble he raced to their side and placed a black bag over Ridley’s head. 


Amidst the darkness, Ridley felt the warmth of his breath flood the bag and wash over his face. The fabric had an odour to it that tasted sweet and clouded his senses. Hands clawed and assaulted him relentlessly. Although battered, Ridley was stronger. 


He wrestled himself free and tore the bag from his head. Brea was crying out in fear and distress as he crawled into the car, yet the world seemed silent. Ridley’s foot pressed firmly on the pedal and the tires released plumes of smoke into the air. His senses grew increasingly disoriented, limbs seeming detached from his body. The road now twisted and spiralled in bewildering circles, and the trees that once stood sentry now marched forward, seemingly closing ranks against him.


“Stay away from the fire,” Ridley mewled as the car flooded white.


***


“Hello, my sleepyhead,” Brea greeted tearfully.


Ridley’s eyes opened and traced the contours of the sterile white room with measured caution. The distant howl of a car horn echoed in the back of his mind, twin beams of white light racing toward him. A warm hand cradled his, its touch familiar. Brea was by his side, her eyes swollen red and rimmed with purple. 


Ridley’s lips parted and his tongue danced the words, but only a hoarse croak drooled free. 


“It’s okay, chicken. You’re safe,” Brea shuddered the words—he’d seen her grieve once before, an aunt he’d never had the chance to meet. Yet this was beyond that; she was already in mourning. Ridley sensed the pain was dulled, the effects of painkillers rendering everything soft and distant. His head was cradled in a snug neck brace, and his mouth bore the metallic taste of blood as a lazy tongue probed loose teeth. Words remained elusive as his mind drifted, moments from slumber. 


“Um, the doctor said…” Brea’s voice hiccupped with emotion as she held his hand to her cheek. “You’ve got a bit of a fever; they’re having some trouble bringing it down. He gave you some more medicine and said I could be with you. Right here by your side the whole time while you fall asleep.” The tears flowed heavier now, her attempts at reassurance marred by her own anxiety. He wasn’t falling asleep… her top lip shimmered with sweat. 


Run away, Keep away from the fire, Ridley thought. He scanned the room and saw the doctor, leaning heavily upon a cane. He watched as the doctor’s eyes lifted in a wide smile concealed beneath a surgical mask. Panic seized Ridley, yet the spurious medicine had already sailed the rivers of his veins. He was powerless to shake off Brea’s gentle embrace as though he were a delicate and broken thing.


“I love you,” she whispered into his ear. 


I love you, now run, the words remained trapped in his mind, unspoken. Her tears fell upon his cheek, turning into wisps of steam.


***


Amidst the night, red serpents of flame writhed and coiled. They slithered ever higher, their tongues of smoke licking the dark sky, extinguishing stars with each insatiable gulp. Bullets flew and lit the sky in falling meteors, their tails long with wisps of heat. Men cried out, their voices high like babes, clutching damp red worms to their open stomachs. Once they had acted valiant and spirited; now they were naught but green boys. 


The fire within the trenches had rendered Ridley’s body a deep baked brown, the smell sickly sour. Clumsily, he fumbled with a grenade pressed against his chest. A cold muddy hand plucked it from his trembling blackened fingers—a green boy had crawled up beside him, now dyed red and brown. Death seeped from the burnt stumps behind him. He gave Ridley a hug before he fell exhausted into his lap, his eyes watching the stars fall out of the sky one by one. 


“Keep away from the fire,” Ridley whimpered, but the world was loud, and the boy was ready. He pulled the pin. 


***


Ash clung to his fresh skin, and around him the hospital had fallen—timber aflame with scarlet lightning. How many souls had this sinful rebirth consumed? His body felt weightless as he was dragged without care through the choking smoke into the open air. A prick in his wrist brought a familiar face into view, black eyes gazing hatefully into his own. The needle plunged deep, its venom cold. 


“The injection my son gave you… very potent, a test to bring out the fire. This one just take you to sleep, you rest now,” the old man said, his actions graceless as he hoisted Ridley into the back of the car. The night was bright, a full moon spiced with ember stars. The car’s boot slammed shut. 


Time flowed, a river through his fingers that he couldn’t stop nor track. His consciousness wavered, drifting in and out of sleep, ensnared by dreams of lives long past and forgotten—friends turning grey and fluttering away like wind-blown petals. With sheer might, Ridley slid his tongue between chattering teeth. Beneath him the road roared, thunderous detonations of fire cleansing fields of grass, swords clashing and arrows soaring, men wailing—war. Then silence enveloped it all and he beheld Brea trapped in fire; yet her face was calm and her hand never left his, soft velvet ash between his fingertips. He bit down, and let the blood fill his throat.   


***


“May the woods shield me better than this blasted armour,” Ridley cursed as he crawled through the frigid woods. The air carried the haunting howls of dying men from the battlefield he’d abandoned. A cunning arrow had found its path between the split of his breastplate; he had snapped away its wooden stem and feathered roots, but the petals of the iron head had unfurled between his ribs. His leg lay shattered behind him - a consequence of an ungraceful tumble from his horse. His helmet, armour, chainmail, and leathers lay strewn behind him, porcelain shards of a broken vase. 


His clothing now hung in tattered ribbons as he dragged himself through the thistle and underbrush. The cold surrounded him; wolves with ice on their breath and frosted fur sunk their fangs deep and chilled his bones. What a short life to end in the dark heart of the woods, pecked by hungry pheasants and nipped by ravenous foxes come the morning.  


“I forbid it. I forbid you death’s claim on this soul, I forbid the hungry my flesh and bone,” Ridley gasped the brave words. The last thing he carried with him was a sword: long, sharp and void of blood. He thrust it into the earth and used it to help him stand. One misstep and Ridley’s foot caught a stubborn root—a small tumble that nonetheless wrenched the iron flower from its bloodied soil. 


 “Foolish man. It is not my right to forbid it. Fate seems most keen to collect me,” he muttered. 


Through the gaps in the trees, Ridley observed the sight of a blind-eyed deer approaching, its antlers scraping the clouded night sky to unveil the stars. As it drew nearer the biting wolves fled and a den of snakes coiled around him, bundling him in warmth. The deer’s front legs rose and the creature began to walk upright on its hind legs. Ridley could now discern that its antlers were coiled white serpents, lively with forked tongues and chattering mouths. The deer’s cloven hooves unfurled into black hands that shimmered like fractured flint.  


“Not arrow nor sword shall be your day's end,” the snakes spoke in unison, their tongues flicking embers into the night air. “The womb of fire shall nurture your rebirth, bringing you into the world anew from the ashes. Consent, and you shall witness as many suns as the night beholds stars. But know this - whoever shares in mother’s heat, shall become mine.” 


Without hesitation Ridley accepted the deer’s hand, longing for warmth above all else. An intense agony surged through his body, numbing his senses and sending him into fits of maniacal laughter, emerging like wraiths of grey smoke from his tortured form. A blinding white fire consumed him, bubbling and crackling. Through the scorched black skin, flowing with rivers of red heat, his new self emerged. Breaking free from the shackles of his dying body that flaked away into pale ash, Ridley stood tall and counted the stars. 


***


A mantle of radiant steel draped over Ridley’s shoulders - its glowing red metal coursing down his arms, cooling only as it reached his fingertips. His body billowed wisps of black smoke, shrouding the sky in a vast ashen haze that suffocated the old man as he approached him. His son lay unconscious in his arms as he rescued him from the wreckage. 


“Give my boy the fire, let him see sun again!” implored the old man, his ugly black eyes lost in swollen red. “The cane won’t hold him up anymore—let him rise from ash like you!” 


“Then carry him into the woods and tell him to ask the devil nicely,” Ridley responded bluntly, his mind filled with the wails of Brea’s voice in the rising smoke, her face flickering in the wild flames.


The old man collapsed, his son’s feeble head resting in his lap. “You’re a monster!” he yelled. “Unnatural!” he wept. 


Ridley stepped off the road and ventured into the forest. He inhaled a breath of cool air and turned to address the old man. “Then let your boy die, let him be natural.” 


With his body blanketed in cold metal, Ridley marched alongside the towering oaks. Uncertain of his destination and the path to follow, he allowed himself the freedom to wander, guided by the shifting winds. When the air grew cold, he turned; when it warmed, he quickened his pace. His feet became bloodied and splintered until he stumbled upon a clearing - the moon at the peak of the midnight mountain, casting the forest in a pale glow. Exhausted he sank to his knees and heard the approach of four gentle hooves, which as they drew nearer, became two. 


“Child of fire, I can taste the request you seek to bargain,” spoke the white serpents, their tongues painting the featureless sky with red and yellow stars. “But all deals must be made fair. The fire hungers. You will be the table ever set, the bowl forever full. Flames shall etch your flesh and never leave you cold. Until the sun’s light is extinguished, you shall be mine, my fire’s pet. 


“I accept,” Ridley declared, extending his hand, expecting the deer’s hoof to blossom into five stone petals and clasp his own. Yet his hand remained suspended in the air. The deer collapsed to the ground - all four hooves pounding the earth as it bleated and wailed, shaking its head until its antlers, one by one, dropped free. Then, it fled into the night. The largest of the antlers snaked its way toward Ridley, writhing and contorting in pain until it transformed into the sword he had long ago discarded. 


“At last, you claim your first blood,” Ridley remarked, freeing the sword from the earth and plunging it into himself. The fire swiftly consumed him whole and burned all through the night, and come morning Brea rose from the ashes, weary eyed and miserable. 


September 16, 2023 00:15

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4 comments

Mike Panasitti
15:03 Sep 17, 2023

This is lavishly written. Much symbolism to analyze and dissect here. It reminds me of a surreal story by Julio Cortazar: "La Noche Boca Arriba," where the protagonist shifts from one dreadful reality to another. Very well done.

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Greydon Blight
14:27 Sep 18, 2023

Thank you so much for the in depth comment! And I had not heard of that story before so I appreciate the recommendation, I'll have to give it a read myself. Thanks again!

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Joaquin Otanez
18:54 Sep 18, 2023

I read your story and I really liked would it be possible to use your story and narrate myself for my YouTube channel.

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Greydon Blight
20:05 Sep 18, 2023

Hi, thank you for asking for permission! You may, as long as proper credit is given!

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