Contest #23 winner 🏆

117 comments

Fantasy Horror Fiction

The boy should have known something was wrong the moment he glanced back over his shoulder, but he was too tired and wary and afraid to register the truth. He followed the sound of the keening pipe. Its unfamiliar melody, absurdly cheerful, jarred him from the carnage. It filtered through the pores of his skin and infused him with the strength and warmth he needed to run through the icy clutches of winter.

The forest muffled the sounds within and beyond it as if the trees themselves swallowed noise—all but the tune of the unseen piper. Time stood still, cradled between the labyrinth of jutting roots and a cotton-cloud sky that was falling apart. Tufts of snow floated down through naked branches as if massive pillowcases had exploded during a massive pillow fight between massive gods who did not care that far below them the falling snow sizzled against flames that devoured a village.

Run, his mother had rasped, pushing him through the back door of their home, the door that led to the chickens and pigs, and he’d run until he’d fallen, slipping in the snow and in the refuse of the squealing animals, his vision fractured by his tears. He turned back then, ashamed to have run, ashamed to have left her, even though she no longer quite looked like his mother.

Once she’d been beautiful—the belle of the village, people said. Then the red blotches appeared, lesions that began on her arms and spread across her chest and throat, an army of ants beneath her skin that disfigured her face and body. She did not cry out when she cut a finger or burnt her hands in the kitchen. Her once-lush hair fell from her scalp like shorn wheat, littering the floor in clumps. Yet her eyes were always his mother’s eyes, calm and blue and cool like a damp cloth against a fevered brow, radiating such love that he felt she embraced him even when she avoided touching him. She was all he had left, the only person who cared enough to weep and caress his face when lesions spread across his own back and grew thick like the pedicles of a second spine.

When he crept back into the house, keeping to the shadows, the boy found nothing left of his mother but a dark stain on the floorboards that streaked from the kitchen to the bedroom. A man appeared in that doorway, his body and face sheathed in fabrics and spells that would not let the infection touch him, gripping a sword that wept red tears from its edge. The boy hid until the man turned away, and then sprinted back out into the night. He ran through the streets, dodging the hooves of horses and the torched firewood that the yelling soldiers threw his way.

He fell only once, when something sharp hit his head.

It seemed he opened his eyes mere seconds later. Snow filled his nostrils until he raised his head; once he did, the scent of smoke engulfed him. The crackle of the fires was nearly drowned by screams that would not end. He scrambled to his feet, the snow beneath him stained crimson as if with wine, and stumbled away from the slaughter and toward the trees.

And so now he ran, torn by despair and fear, amazed that his matchstick legs could outrun the sinewy limbs of the armored horses and the fiery wrath of their riders’ flamethrowers. He wished he could have found—could have lifted—the ax that had been his father’s, with its handle longer than his arm, and swung it into the chest of anyone who dared approach his mother. He wished he had not left her when she pushed him out of their home. He wished he had not seen her blood upon the floor. He wished someone would have come to their village to cure instead of to eradicate.

The forest echoed with the shrieks of women who fought and pled and bled as gloved soldiers dragged them through the streets and pushed them into burning homes, of men as their hands—along with the pitchforks or knives they held in them—were severed by swords whetted on the bones of prior villagers, of children who collapsed when those who chased them flung torches at their backs. And above all this, the haunting croon of a pipe, promising all that a hurt little boy could desire, and so to that piping this little boy fled.

The more he ran, the stronger he felt. When he could no longer hear the screams and the flames, the boy realized what the song said, even though there were no words. It spoke of melted snows and rays of sun that embraced all whom they touched like warm knit sweaters. It spoke of a father who opened his eyes as color filled his cheeks and laughter spilled from his mouth. It spoke of a mother whose skin was smooth and soft and smelled of vanilla and kneaded bread. It spoke of brothers and sisters who danced and teased and loved and lived, who picked him up when he scarred his knees and told him stories when he could not sleep. It spoke of a world where bad things couldn’t come, where he could be free to grow old and weathered and well-loved like the most kindly of grandfathers.

The boy ran faster, fast enough that it felt like he flew, anxious to get to the world the song spoke of. He even began to catch glimpses of the piper through the trees. Though he scampered and danced as he played his pipe, he appeared sometimes before, sometimes behind, and sometimes beside the boy. He wore a black hooded cloak that hid his face. Beneath it his clothes were pied, a patchwork of vibrant color impossible to miss whenever the wind whipped back the cloak. His pipe and fingers were white, of bone.

And just like the boy, he left no footprints in the snow.  

January 08, 2020 19:37

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117 comments

Mark Wilhelm
12:55 Jul 16, 2021

Hello I'd love to perform / narrate this story, could you please contact me to discuss. mark @ markwilhelm dot ca. It's a great story, and I'd love your permission to perform it. Keep up the great work.

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Angeliki P
08:51 Jul 20, 2021

Hi Mark! Thanks for your comment. Can you tell me a bit more about yourself first?

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Mark Wilhelm
16:41 Dec 01, 2021

I thought that I had replied to this... no time like the present... If you visit Frighteningtales.com you can listen to other stories that I have performed and written. Some from other authors here and others from out on the web. Season 2 has started to get rolling behind the scenes and I am starting to get some professionally published authors agreeing to let me read their stories. I'm not looking to monetize on your story, or steal anything, you will be credited for writing it. I'm just interested in sharing scary tales. No, pressure - I'v...

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Angeliki P
09:49 Dec 02, 2021

Hey Mark! Nice job with the frighteningtales podcast; the current stories sound good. :) You can narrate this one in your upcoming season.

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Karl Malone
10:48 Jul 02, 2021

Really great story and such a pity it's not a longer story, I think I read it in seconds as I was so compelled and yes the "Red Tears from the sword" is brilliant, well done.

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Angeliki P
08:48 Jul 20, 2021

Thank you Karl!

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Aman Fatima
08:38 Jun 03, 2021

I really enjoyed this story. It's a beautiful tale and is so well written. It was truly amazing. :)))

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Angeliki P
08:48 Jul 20, 2021

Thank you Aman!

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Aman Fatima
08:57 Jul 21, 2021

Welcome!!! :)

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Hailey Sanchez
16:02 May 18, 2021

I really love your writing style, the figurative language is just amazing and I really enjoyed your indirect portrayal of things, where you not quite saying something but its obvious its happening. It shows the hidden beauty of horror, just really well done!

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Angeliki P
08:48 Jul 20, 2021

Thanks very much!

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Anisa Jimenez
17:53 May 17, 2021

Very great story! I love the figurative language! "Tufts of snow floated down through naked branches as if massive pillowcases had exploded during a massive pillow fight between massive god." Absolutely love that quote!

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Angeliki P
08:49 Jul 20, 2021

Thanks Anisa :)

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Santos Reyes
18:02 Apr 29, 2021

This was a very mysterious and sad, but it was very exciting to read through the end as you understand more and more as the story goes on. I'm assuming there was a kind of sickness which explains the gloved men and the executions of people into fires. I love the relationship we see between the boy and his mother, but a sad ending.

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Angeliki P
08:49 Jul 20, 2021

Thanks, Santos!

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14:02 Aug 11, 2020

So well done!

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Angeliki P
08:49 Jul 20, 2021

Thanks! :)

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Katy S.
19:20 Apr 13, 2020

Beautiful story. You didn't spoil the narration with needless explanation, but no one is left confused. You deserved to win!

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Angeliki P
08:49 Jul 20, 2021

Thank you :)

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Yoomi Ari
19:50 Jan 27, 2020

Great story! I keep on re reading this story because I am in love with it. Well done!

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Angeliki P
08:49 Jul 20, 2021

Thanks! :)

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Fazila KP
09:07 Jan 23, 2020

Congratulations on your win!! The story was dark and hauntingly beautiful!! I loved it...

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Angeliki P
08:50 Jul 20, 2021

Thank you. :)

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Melanie Dean
20:29 Jan 22, 2020

Wow! What a read... Beautiful and haunting.

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Angeliki P
08:50 Jul 20, 2021

Thanks! :)

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B R
18:41 Jan 22, 2020

Wow. Just wow. My eyes fogged up while reading this. No wonder this story won. I felt strong emotions and feared for the boy. I want to eat more of this story like I do potato chips!

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Angeliki P
08:50 Jul 20, 2021

Haha! Thanks! :)

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Arielle - Reedsy
17:49 Jan 22, 2020

"A man appeared in that doorway, his body and face sheathed in fabrics and spells that would not let the infection touch him, gripping a sword that wept red tears from its edge." "He wished someone would have come to their village to cure instead of to eradicate." These two lines were so well written, I got chills!

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Angeliki P
08:50 Jul 20, 2021

Thank you!

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Ruby Towvim
22:03 Jan 21, 2020

really well done!

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Angeliki P
08:50 Jul 20, 2021

Thanks! :)

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Ruby Towvim
22:02 Jan 21, 2020

This is nice

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Emma-Li Ames
03:54 Jan 21, 2020

Your plot is very unique, and new. I haven't heard many stories like it. I really love how much story and character you can convey in only a couple thousand words.

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Angeliki P
16:50 Jan 21, 2020

Thanks very much! :)

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Zahli Gilbert
16:41 Jan 20, 2020

love it need more

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Angeliki P
16:50 Jan 21, 2020

Thanks Zahli

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Margie Ricca
13:16 Jan 19, 2020

Well written and haunting. I loved it.

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Angeliki P
09:56 Jan 20, 2020

:) Thanks!

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Sherry Monfils
01:24 Jan 19, 2020

Just--WOW! Congratulations on the win, u deserve it!!

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Angeliki P
09:50 Jan 19, 2020

Thanks so much! :)

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Sherry Monfils
02:32 May 01, 2021

No thanks needed, but you are welcome...( as I'm still applauding your work!)

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Raven T
23:52 Jan 18, 2020

Congratulations on the win! I loved the imagery in this.

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Angeliki P
09:50 Jan 19, 2020

Thank you very much!

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