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Horror Adventure Fantasy

(trigger warning: some violence)


Lauren looked down, horrified, at the blood pouring from Joshua’s stomach. She couldn’t look at his mouth, but the distorted mumbling of her name told her all she needed to know. Whoever that stranger had been, they’d punctured her brother’s lung.


“Lauren,” Joshua garbled. Lauren raised a hand to cover his stomach, staring as his blood continued to spill. “Lo.”


“Shh,” she said at last, unsure what else to do. “It’s going to be okay, Josh. I promise. I’ll call an ambulance. Yeah, everything's okay.”


She winced at her words, knowing there was no use in being calm. Joshua was losing too much blood. Her many years of watching medical dramas warned her nothing could save her brother now.


If anything, she should tell Joshua how proud she was of him, how much she loved her big brother, but she couldn’t. All Lauren could focus on was the gruesome scene before her. Her brother was going to be toast soon. All because of a stupid stranger, a throwaway taunt, and a stupid sharp knife.


“Lo,” Joshua’s voice sounded even worse for wear, and Lauren couldn’t look at him any longer. She held her head straight, refusing to look at the bloody scene before her, instead focusing on the crowd. For a Friday night, there were surprisingly few people in the nightclub. Lauren cursed her and Joshua’s poor decision making. The siblings had just wanted an enjoyable night out. Well, Lauren had.


Joshua had divorced his wife two months ago and had been acting recklessly ever since. Lauren should have known that going out would have led to trouble for them both. Her brother couldn’t keep his mouth shut at the best of times, and he was hurting. She scolded herself for that thought, realising nothing could have prepared her for this. How was she supposed to know that her brother’s mean words could end with him dying from a well-placed stab wound? That wasn’t supposed to happen to anyone in her immediate family. They were the Wilson’s. They were all supposed to be fine.


Another bloody cough.


Joshua was definitely not fine.


Frowning, Lauren glanced at her phone, which was slack in her grip. A slight splash of red covered the screen. Lauren winced. It was paint from when they were decorating the guest bedroom for her brother, she told herself, knowing all the while her brother’s room was duck egg blue. She tried to unlock her phone, but her password escaped her as she glanced down and saw Joshua trembling.


There was nothing she could do. For whatever reason, fate had decided it was Joshua’s turn to die today. Fate had also decided Lauren had to be there to see it, even though she would much prefer being anywhere else. Screw the universe, she thought, and closed her eyes. She grabbed her brother’s hand before sitting down beside him, on a floor that felt too warm. Warm from Joshua’s blood. She tried not to throw up.


“Joshua Wilson,” a calm voice said, and Lauren couldn’t even find it within herself to open her eyes. Her brother was dying. So what if now even she was hearing Death? The creature had probably come to greet them both, knowing Lauren wasn’t ready to face a world without her older brother there to guide her. “We need to get you to Coeden y Bywyd. Come.”


Lauren raised an eyebrow. She’d heard of Coeden y Bywyd. Everyone in her town had. It was said to be a massive tree. Leaves made of molten gold. Branches made of the finest silver. Rings made of the purest bronze. The tree stood on the very edge of their town, hidden in a forest composed of wisps of black smoke that made every human that passed it cough uncontrollably.


Lauren had never seen the tree herself, but she’d heard the rumours of the creatures that passed there. Monsters she’d never thought real; monsters from fairy tale myths and horror legends. The tree was said to draw creatures from all over the world; werewolves, mermaids, vampires, zombies, dragons. All creatures that Lauren knew for a fact didn’t exist.


“Let him die in peace,” she told the voice, eyes still closed. She didn’t see the point in opening them. Not when Joshua was bleeding out next to her. She owed her brother company while he died on the tiled floor. It was the least she could do, after being so unable to help him.


“Come,” the voice repeated, and Lauren noticed her brother’s weak grasp had left her hand. She opened her eyes and grimaced.


The floor was still red, and Lauren wanted to be sick, but she held it in, instead glaring at the man before her. He was pale, too pale, with straggly black hair that went all the way down his back. His nails were yellow and long, and his eyes a dark brown. But it was his teeth that made Lauren pause. They were so white they seemed to reflect off every surface, and as pointy as the knife that injured her brother.


The man had Joshua cradled against his chest, looking so small Lauren couldn’t bear it. She’d never seen her big brother look so frail before, but there was no other word to describe him. Joshua’s skin was almost as pale as the man that held him, and his eyelashes were fluttering. His mouth hung open, a combination of drool and blood running down his chin. Worst, his entire body seemed lifeless, hardly even moving in the man’s arms. Lauren clenched her teeth, wishing she’d kept her eyes shut. It would beat having her last memory of her beloved brother being this.


“Follow,” the man said to her. Lauren glanced down at her hands, unsure. “Come with us. We’ll take him to Coeden y Bywyd.”


Coeden y Bywyd is a myth!” Lauren shouted, annoyed. Her brother was dying and all this man could focus on was a stupid legend. “Let Joshua go. He’d want to die peacefully.”


“He’s not dying peacefully,” the man told her bluntly. She watched as the man walked away from her, Joshua still curled up in his arms. “He’s in a tremendous amount of pain.”


“Oh, thanks!” Lauren said, waving her hands. “That makes everything much better!”


“We can save him,” the man said, walking out of the club that had led to the Joshua’s horrific state. “Trust us. We can do it. We’ve saved others like us before.”


“Us?” Lauren asked, confused. This day had already been a nightmare, and this man was confusing her even more.


“No time. We need to go. Come.”


Unable to do anything else, Lauren followed. The man was fast and seemed to float over the paths. Lauren, because she was Lauren and ungraceful was her middle name, stumbled over every branch that got in her way. She blamed it on the fact her brother was dying. It was a traumatic experience. How could she not trip over stuff? The man snorted, and for a second, Lauren was worried he’d read her mind. But that would be ridiculous. Wouldn’t it?


“Very ridiculous,” the man chuckled, still speed-running across the paths. Lauren tried not to freeze. She definitely had said nothing out loud. Lauren knew that. She would have felt her vocal chords moving, if so. “Calm down. We’ll explain everything when we reach Coeden y Bywyd.”


“If we ever reach it,” Lauren muttered. She was glad the man just chuckled. Her parents had often told her off for her insolence, but this man didn’t seem to care. Thank goodness, she thought. It would be her luck to be murdered by a stranger on the same day that her brother met a grisly end. At least they could go to Heaven together. Or Hell. Hell seemed more likely.


The man came to a sudden stop and Lauren fell right into his back. She rubbed her forehead, concerned at how hard the man’s body seemed to be. It felt like she’d just walked into a wall made of solid diamond. Lauren wasn’t an expert, but in her experience men weren’t usually built like brick houses. Not ones who looked gaunt, anyway.


“Here,” he said, and Lauren looked around. The air was full of black smoke, which tickled her nose. She wanted to sneeze and cough at the same time. Lauren could hardly see apart from the weird light that the man emitted. His skin was so pale it almost stuck out in the absolute darkness of the night.


Okay, Lauren finally thought to herself. Maybe he isn’t human.


“You’re getting it now,” the man said, still holding Joshua. Lauren couldn’t see her brother anymore, but she also couldn’t hear him. She tried not to think about what that might mean. The weird man had said her brother would be fine, and she felt like she owed him enough to believe him. “We’re almost there.”


They walked a little further into the forest, and Lauren felt a cough escape her throat. She felt like she’d smoked a thousand cigarettes, but she’d never smoked a day in her life. With a stifled cough, she realised they must have reached their location.


Wiping tears from her eyes, Lauren glanced up and frowned as she came face to face with the biggest tree she’d ever seen. The leaves were as golden as Californian poppies, out of place in the dark forest. Its branches were as silver as the finest dinnerware, and Lauren wanted to make a bracelet out of them. The rings surrounding the tree were as bronze as the wedding ring her mother still wore, though Lauren’s father had passed many years ago. Those rings called to her, drawing her closer. It was almost like they were breathing life.


Wait.


She’d heard the rumours about the tree, the way Coeden y Bywyd seemed to draw creatures from all over. She’d never considered why it summoned them, of course, but she’d known. Everyone in her town had. The tree was famous for sustaining life. Creatures were all drawn to Coeden y Bywyd because it could grant them the one thing nothing else could - life.


The man hadn’t been lying. The tree could help her brother. And to think Lauren had thought it a fairy tale all this time.


“Lay him down,” she said. She wasn’t sure why, but it felt right.

The man smiled at her and lay Joshua down until he was parallel to the tree itself. Joshua’s body looked awful, pale, and thin and unmoving. There was a tinge of red covering his whole body, but Lauren ignored it. If this didn’t work, she wanted to remember Joshua as she’d known him. Happy and vibrant and alive. She could ignore a little blood out of sheer force of will.


The man beckoned her forward, and Lauren followed, seeing no reason to disagree. He’d led her and Joshua here. No reason to doubt him now, she figured. If he wanted to kill her, then he would have done it when they first entered the forest.


The man took her hand in his grasp, and Lauren winced at the sudden tightness. The man was strong, too strong, but she held still, content to let him do whatever if it would help her brother. He seemed to know what he was doing, and he was her only chance at saving Joshua, so how could she refuse him? The answer was simple. She couldn’t.


“This is going to hurt,” the man said. Lauren let her hand slack a little in his grip, but the man shined his pearly white teeth at her and bit down on a vein in her arm. Lauren tried not to wince, but the sharp pain of a bite hurt, and she felt tears welling up in her eyes. She hated any kind of pain.


Still, it was nothing compared to what Joshua was going through.

The man let go of her arm, his mouth full of her blood. Lauren frowned as the man leaned forward and spat some of her blood onto Joshua’s numb body. He paused and then spat some more onto one of the silver branches that had crept forward from the tree. Lauren watched as her blood travelled from the branch to Joshua. The tree glistened a sunburnt orange that made her want to cover her eyes, but she couldn’t look away.


The man smiled at her and walked away, watching as Joshua’s body lifted itself into the air. The orange glow surrounded him. Lauren was pleased to note her brother no longer looked on the cusp of death. His veins glistened a vibrant blue, and the red that once overpowered his body faded until nothing was left but pale skin. Lauren watched as his teeth lengthened, his nails grew, and his eyes opened.


Joshua was alive.


Relieved, Lauren threw herself into the man’s arms and sobbed. The man offered an awkward pat to her back. Lauren accepted the shoddy comfort for what it was and then turned to face her brother. He was glancing down at his body in awe and slight confusion. He held a hand to his chest and frowned.


“That’s right,” the man said, pulling away from Lauren. “You don’t have a heartbeat.”


“But-“ Joshua said. Lauren had never been happier to hear her brother’s low-pitched voice.


“You’re like me,” the man said, offering a smile. “Us. You know what that tree does, I assume?”


“I heard the rumours,” Joshua replied, “but I never believed.”


“Neither did your sister,” the man said, pointing a thumb at Lauren. Lauren thought that was rather rude of him. She’d helped her brother survive too, after all. “But she does now.”


“I can speak for myself,” Lauren said, brushing her knees and glancing towards her brother. “Josh, I thought you were a goner. There was so much blood and I didn’t know what to do.”


“It’s okay,” Joshua said, smiling. “You helped me. I knew you would. Thank you.”


Lauren nodded. She glanced at the man, who was watching the interaction with a smile on his face.


“This tree,” he said, after he noticed Lauren and Joshua’s attention was back on him, “this tree sustains life. But that’s not all it does. I don’t know if you noticed, but Joshua was dead. Coeden y Bywyd, it saved him, as it saved me. As it’s saved many of my kind before.”


“What are you?” Lauren asked, but she already knew. She’d had a suspicion ever since she saw the man’s sharp teeth.


“Vampire,” Joshua said, using a finger to prod at his newly lengthened teeth. “You’re a vampire.”


“Yes,” the man agreed, “and we owe our lives to this tree.”


Lauren glanced at the tree. Now Joshua was no longer under the peril of immediate death, it didn’t look special at all. In fact, it looked like a normal tree.


“This tree was the creation of our kind,” the man said, patting the tree as if he was greeting an old friend. “The first vampire stumbled here by mistake when she was dying. Drunk and stabbed, just like your brother. She bled onto the branches. The branches grew and gave that vampire eternal life, just as the name promised.”


Coeden y Bywyd,” Joshua breathed. “The tree of life.”


“Exactly,” the man said, smiling with his sharp teeth at Lauren. “Your brother’s a smart one.”


“And he’s a vampire now?” she asked, feeling her arms slump. “What does that mean for us? What do I tell people?”


“We’ll take your brother under our wing,” the man said. “Teach him our ways. Tell your family he’s gone on an adventure to find himself. That’s what humans like you do, isn’t it?”


Lauren tried not to take offense. She’d taken a gap year after high school, and the man’s words felt like a slight dig.


“I’ll be okay,” Joshua said, smiling at Lauren. “You saved me, Lo. Thank you.”


“It was him,” Lauren said, pointing over to the man who was still watching the interaction.


“My name is Gruffud,” the man said, and Lauren frowned as she realised she’d never thought to ask. The man had never asked for her name either. They sort of had a bigger problem, what with Joshua dying and all.


“Lauren,” she said. “And my brother, Joshua.”


“The Joshua tree,” Gruffud said, stroking his chin. “I see. You were destined for this, Joshua.”


“Destined to be stabbed?” Joshua asked, raising his eyebrow. Lauren felt proud of how similar she and her brother were. Their parents had raised them right. “I doubt that.”


“Destined to be one of us,” Gruffud continued. “Now, it’s time for you to learn how to adapt.”


Joshua looked down, frowning, but nodded and started following. Lauren looked at them both.


“Wait,” she said. “You can’t go. I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again.”


“You will,” Joshua promised. “I’m not letting anything stop me.”


“Come meet us in two months,” Gruffud said. “Right here. At this exact spot. The tree will breathe some new life into you.”


“Okay,” Lauren said, glancing up at the tree. It had been an exhausting day. “Okay.”




April 19, 2021 12:23

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10 comments

Michael Boquet
16:17 Apr 21, 2021

I love the dark humor in this story. Laughed out loud at "Joshua Tree"! Very creative to make the 'people' referenced by the prompt vampires. One thing I found confusing, Joshua got stabbed in a nightclub, but no one is freaking out or calling the police? A very minor detail obviously but it struck me as odd. I don't think the reader necessarily needs to know where he was stabbed. The story still works without that detail, in my opinion. Great mix of lore into a modern setting. I love your explanation for vampirism and the story has susp...

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Rambling Beth
14:05 Apr 22, 2021

Thank you for the lovely comment! I don't have am excuse for the police not showing up, whoops. Just imagine that the nightclub is dimly lit and that Lauren is covering Joshua's body so everyone just assumes he's drunk. They can't see the blood because Lauren is blocking them. I'm really happy you enjoyed the humour! I love writing humour and I'm always happy when it pays off. The lore was a lot of fun! I had a great time figuring out how the vampires were connected to the tree and I'm very glad you liked it! Thank you again for the lov...

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Valerie June
23:04 Apr 23, 2021

Sorry that I didn't leave a comment sooner! Things have been busier for me. Anyway, the twist with the vampires was very unexpected. The idea of the tree healing people but changing them into a vampire was pretty genius. Not to mention, the amount of detail put into this story! Another fantastic read as usual Beth.

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Rambling Beth
17:22 Apr 24, 2021

Oh no, that's perfectly fine! Thank you so much for commenting, especially as you're busy! That's very kind of you. I'm really happy that the story worked for you! The little details throughout were probably my favourite parts to write. I think that it's a world that I could definitely explore further one day. Again, thank you so much for commenting and reading! Hope everything is okay. ♥

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Kristin Neubauer
21:41 Apr 19, 2021

What a great story! It’s this mix of contemporary, myth and legend with horror elements, but not really horror. So creative! I did not expect it to take the turns that it did - it kept surprising me, which is always such fun in a story. What inspired this one?

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Rambling Beth
08:14 Apr 20, 2021

Thank you for the lovely comment! I'm a big fan of fantasy and legends in general so I think when I saw the prompts, I got the idea of a tree that sustains supernatural life. I was actually going to do a whole story on the different creatures the tree attracts but then Lauren and Joshua happened and the story became this, which I personally like better! I'm really glad you enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun to write. <3

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Shea West
15:11 Apr 19, 2021

This was a fun read! There were moments of humor from Lo that I personally loved, in spit of the fact she thought her brother was dying. I thought maybe Gruffud was reaper of some sort at first. I was curious why Joshua was stabbed? The way you made the connection between Joshua and the Joshua tree was my favorite part. The way you ended it made me want to know what happens next.

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Rambling Beth
17:19 Apr 19, 2021

Thank you for the lovely comment! I'm glad the humour came through. I didn't want to make this story as dark as it could be so I'm really glad it worked for you. Ooh, Grufud as a reaper is a great idea as well! I think if I hadn't been determined to show how the tree sustained life then that would have been the direction this story took. Joshua was just stabbed bc of a wayward comment. I couldn't decide exactly on what he said so it's left up to interpretation but it was definitely enough to annoy the wrong person! I couldn't resist the...

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Shea West
17:59 Apr 19, 2021

It gave me some Gina Damico vibes, have you read her Croak trilogy??? They are dark and hilarious about grim reapers. This kinda made me think of those. I look forward to reading another one if you do write about Lo and Joshua meeting again!

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Rambling Beth
20:16 Apr 19, 2021

Ooh no, I haven't but I'll definitely check them out! That sounds like my cup of tea. Hopefully I'll write for them again someday. :)

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