Today’s quick online read comes from the photo prompt above. Each week, myself, Ian Steventon, and T J Kelly challenge each other to write a piece of fiction in under 1000 words. You can check their entries out by following the links above, but for now, grab a quick coffee, and enjoy!
When Marcus headed out into the woods for his routine walk, he didn’t expect to end up running for his life away from a horde of ritualistic maniacs. He raced across dense woodland, fighting through patches of nettles and leaping low shrubbery as he went, his face and legs cut raw from hostile twigs and branches. His lungs were on fire, his breath shallow gasps of air that cut through the silence of the trees in short, raspy bursts.
He could hear them on his tail, their own crazed breathing blaring in his ears, as if some sinister playlist injected the sound straight through headphones. The pounding of their boots grew ever louder. Ever closer.
He didn’t dare look back. He knew if he did he could fall, or slow down, or be petrified through fright. Robed monsters in the fading light, shrouded in the ghastly shadows of twilight. He knew what would happen if they got him. After what he’d seen they couldn’t let him go. Worm food. And by what sickly means? For what twisted goal?
No. He must keep going. Must get safe. He’d sprint all the way home, where Dinah was getting ready to serve her famous red pepper and tomato tacos, where Lucy bashed her toy cars across the wooden floor and drove her mummy mad through the noise. He’d lock all the doors and check them twice, dial 999, run Lucy a bath, and tell Dinah all about what he’d seen. The police would arrive at the old castle ruins, and the vile lunatics would’ve cleared out. They’d find the poor girl where they left her. Cut up, bled out, tied to a wooden structure suspended over demonic symbols and mystical ornaments, all speckled red with splashes of gore.
He’d never, never, forget that girl. Her pallid face drained of all life. All hope. Her small, delicate fingers curled around that expressionless doll, it’s leg torn from it’s torso and tossed aside like trash. Her last remaining scrap of innocence, the only comfort along her final breath.
He felt a blunt pain where a rock struck the right of his pelvis, another along the center of his spine. That one hurt. He didn’t care. He had to keep going. Had to get to Dinah. Had to call the police. That little girl’s parents needed to know what happened to her. They deserved to grieve their daughter.
The next thing Marcus felt was a sharp pain across the top of his head that sent multicoloured stars darting across his vision. The impact sent him crashing to the earth, and then, nothing.
* * * * *
When Marcus awoke he was roped up on the same wooden structure that he had witnessed just before. His body was bruised, beaten, and dripping with blood. Smaller cuts had clotted with darkened chunks and scabs, his cheeks warm where the wound on his head continued to stream out across his face. Surrounding him were the robed figures, their faces a hostile red where the flickering candle light illuminated them against the blackness of night.
“He awakes,” One declared, throwing his arms out to the side as if in worship. The congregation repeated him a second later in a monotonous droan. He awakes. “This man, this Marcus Frank Hammer,” He read from the ID card he had removed from his wallet, “Believes he can interrupt our sacred awakening ritual. This, this Outsider!”
Marcus was frozen in fright. The ritual items that lay decoratively beneath the young girl before, had been replaced by a circular pit, stacked high with logs and kindling. The smell of fuel saturated his nostrils, kept him dizzy. Unfocused.
“we all know the punishment for such crimes,” he said, his icy gaze locked to Marcus’ panicked eyes.
“Burn him, burn him”
Marcus tugged against the ropes that bound him to the structure, all his might failing him. “Though such burdens are hard to bare, it falls upon us now to make the hard choices.”
A mound of fresh earth lay off to the side where Marcus guessed the little girl was buried. After all, they had to make room for him up on the wicker-man. Round two. A double meal for the sickos. What a sacred, bless-ed day.
Images flashed across his mind, polaroids darting in and out of focus. Dinah in a candle-lit bath, Lucy’s gleeful expression Christmas morning, a loaf of his mothers homemade onion bread. He could smell that. Along the waves of imagery came tsunamis of feeling, floods of emotion, he himself a mixture of anger, fear, sorrow, and rage. The thought of never seeing his family again sunk him into a low he had never felt before. A stilling, overwhelming numbness. Just blackness in the cold reality of his situation. He was never gonna make it home. His entire family, all of his friends, would have to suffer his loss.
“He was too young,” they’d say, “And the way it happened, gasp, nobody deserves that.” He could hear their condolences as clearly as the first strike of the match. On the second, flame came, and it was tossed into the fuel-soaked fire pit.
It came in an instant—sickening, blinding pain. Nothing but panic, noise, heat, smoke. The smell. The smell of his own body burning. The smell of the paraffin. Just seconds after, the pain stopped. Gone almost as fast as it came. His first few layers of skin had all but melted from his body, now just a dangling, skinless figure of muscle and bone.
In these moments he accepted his fate. Accepted death. Willed it. Anything to end the torment, the sight of the robed freaks rejoicing around him, the tiny, pale hand that had burst out of the earth. He tried to scream but he already was. He tried to close his eyes but he couldn’t. His gaze locked onto the one thing he didn’t want to see. Couldn’t bare to see. Wished he’d never seen.
The soulless, pale little dead girl crawling out the earth, tiny limbs bloodied and dirtied and dragging her back above ground. An expressionless creature of evil, each of it’s breaths a raspy growl from the very depths of it’s throat. Eyes red and hungry, thirsty for blood and pain and death.
“Behold the awakening!”
The creature stood before him, dead eyes reading his soul. Haunting his final moment, his final breath, dead hand clutching that legless, lifeless doll.
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