Bogleech.com's 2014 Horror Write-off:
" MR. STITCH "
Once long ago, there was a village on the side of an old, twisted mountain. No one knows what the name of the town was back then, and none have dared go up the blackened, beaten trail to ask those that live there now what it might have been.
If anyone did dare, though, they would see that the town is very much like any other town you might happen upon. It has little houses scattered around a tightly knit town square, with all the amenities you would expect a small, mountain town to provide. There’s a general store, a fresh grocer, post office, town hall, a barber, and a variety of shops, big and small, with painted signs and weather-worn doors.
And once long ago, the square would be filled with the delicate ambience of simple small town people going about their simple small town lives, talking and laughing, feeling the mountain wind occasionally flush their cheeks red with a momentary chill.
All of this, once long ago. But no longer.
And like every town, no matter how small, this one had its share of interesting people with curious quirks and strange little habits. Mr. Boughs, the town baker, used to sing opera with a booming, lively voice, as he baked the town’s bread. Mrs. Abernathy would give each flower in her sprawling front garden a name, and treated them as dearest friends. And the school’s headmistress, Miss Kennedy, would spend hours after class sharpening pencils. Just in case. All of this, once long ago. But no longer.
There was one person though, that was a bit more than “curious”, a bit more than “strange,” and everyone in town knew him only as Mr. Stitch.
Mr. Stitch was the town’s tailor, but that was neither curious nor strange. What struck people first and hard about Mr. Stitch was his appearance. He was a tall fellow, needing to duck down slightly to make it past the headboard in his shop’s doorframe, and not a single hair grew above two bushy, black eyebrows. His face was drawn and thin, black eyes gleaming in the back of his prominent skull. And if you were to glance at him quickly, you might take by the color of his skin that he was deathly ill. But Mr. Stitch had a warm disposition and an easily given smile and would laugh at such a silly notion, if he could laugh. And he would tell you that he was the perfect image of health, if he could speak. But he could do neither.
Born without the ability to utter a sound, Mr. Stitch kept a little slate to write down anything he couldn’t manage to say with a pointed finger or shake of his head. He kept his shop neat and orderly, spending nearly all his waking hours tending his modest storefront. Though good-natured and well meaning, Mr. Stitch was always aware of his patron’s furtive glances, drawn by the grotesque curiosity of his visage. He kept the curtains drawn and the shutters dark, so as not to offend even the most frequent of customers.
Mr. Stitch was a solitary man, living in a humbling space above his shop. When the time came to venture outside, he would always wait until dusk, when the light was low and the townsfolk sparse. The only ones who seemed not to mind his presence at all were the town’s children.
He felt such a great love for them and showed it any small way he could. He would donate frequently to the tiny orphanage on the other side of town, mended their clothes for no charge, and for those that came to his shop, he fashioned ragdolls from the scraps of fabric he had lying about. His greatest joy in life was seeing a child’s face light up as he stooped over to hand them one of his handmade toys. And he did his very best not to see the restrained disapproval in their parent’s eyes. He was a kind and gentle man, and wanted little from the simple life he lived. But what he did want, he knew he couldn’t have. He wanted someone to care for, someone look after. Someone to teach his trade and to learn how to keep shop. Someone he could love and call his own.
Mr. Stitch wanted a son.
Try as he might though, there just didn’t seem any way. The townsfolk tolerated him, but they were fearful and watched his every move with a nervous and apprehensive eye. They looked the other way when he came around, or pretended not to see his ghastly form until they were absolutely forced to acknowledge him. They practically shunned him in his little shop, though Mr. Stitch would hardly admit to that. Even the orphanage, who would only accept his generous donations via messenger, gave no thought to his requests for adoption. Yet through all of this, his warm disposition remained.
One night, as he lay in his cramped little bed, his dark eyes fluttering closed, on the edge of sleep, Mr. Stitch saw something in the dusky mirror at the side of his bedroom. He focused on it with what little concentration he had left, thinking it a dream. Only when the wind blew his window open with a clash did he bolt up from his bed, the vague image in his mirror crystalizing and forming into the shape of a small person, bathed in a shimmering white light. Mr. Stitch stood there, frozen in place on the bare wooden planks of his bedroom floor, scared and enraptured at the same time. His thin chest broke out in a cold sweat and his mind felt as if it was in the grip of a giant vice. Then the form slipped from the mirror as easily as one would walk through a door, and spoke in soft whispers. “Breathe. Be at peace.”
Instantly, Mr. Stitch felt his paralyzing fear slip away, trying to catch his breath. He could finally take in what was happening in his very own bedroom. The form bowed its featureless white head, its gossamer hair flowing with unfelt breeze. “We have been watching you for a long time,” it said in a whisper that seemed to come from all sides of the room, “and we have decided to grant you a gift for your kindness and altruism.” A white light engulfed the room and he was blinded again, but only for a moment. When his sight cleared, a small carved box was at his feet. Bending down on one knee, he opened the hinged top slowly and peered in. Pulling the lid back, he could see a little spool of thread and a pair of shears.
“The thread cannot be broken unless you will it to, and will never run out,” the soft whisper explained, filling his thoughts once more. The blazing white figure pointed slowly, deliberately “These shears will cut and shape any material. With these gifts, you can create wonders this world has never seen, anything your imagination can devise. But…” The form stepped closer to Mr. Stitch, as if to emphasize a point, it’s strangely smooth face staring up at him with an eyeless gaze “…you must never use these gifts for personal gain. They are given to you in the spirit of selflessness, and so must remain. Break this bond, and terrible things will befall you and all you love.”
Mr. Stitch nodded his head almost without thought, his throat dry, eyes transfixed on the rapidly fading shape before him, it’s softly spoken warning still filling his mind. The last light of the form having exited the room, Mr. Stitch collapsed. When he came to, it was just after sunrise and the small wooden box was still beside him. He went about his day, cleaning his shop down below his room. He would stop, though, in the middle of his tasks to go back upstairs on occasion, just to see if the ornate little box was still beside his bed. He saw it every time. Last night was no dream.
He decided to bring it down with him into his shop, and just as he did, he heard the front bell tinkle. It was plump little Mrs. Haverford, clutching an old blue dress in her hands. “It’s just this tear here, near the hem. It’s just so unsightly, I just can’t put it off any longer,” she said with as little apprehension as she could show. Mr. Stitch took the dress carefully from the short woman, looking at the damage thoughtfully. He picked up his slate and wrote “Come back after noon.” Mrs. Haverford gave a hurried nod and quickly skittered out of the dark shop.
Mr. Stitch gave the dress another look, then glanced at the spool in the little box on his countertop. He threaded a needle with it and moved to his work bench, starting to mend the hole. The thread felt strange in his long, calloused fingers. It was nearly weightless and slick like spidersilk, shimmering faintly in the dim light of the shop. Despite this, Mr. Stitch quickly closed the hole. Just as he was finishing, he felt the string move under his fingertips. His mouth fell open in sheer befuddlement as the thread knotted itself. It glistened brightly and the mend was gone. It was as if the dress had never been torn at all.
The next few days were filled with similar wonders. Mr. Stitch found himself able to weave magic into every piece of fabric that came across his hands. Skirts would pleat themselves at a word from those that wore them. Floral patterns seemed to come alive with a touch. Bowties would knot themselves perfectly without the help of any hands. And more than one baby jumper was rendered completely stain proof and unable to tear, no matter how much baby tried.
Slowly, the people of the town began let their curiosity get the better of them, frequenting the little tailor shop more and more. Mr. Stitch took them all in, being the proud host he was quickly becoming. He would work as people watched on in marveling awe, seeing their ordinary clothing transformed before their eyes. He made sure never to charge a single cent, though, remembering the words of warning given to him in the dreaming darkness.
Mr. Stitch was pleased to have so much activity in his shop, but he saw in the eyes of those who came there the same nervous reservation he’d always seen. The only difference now was that they were distracted and amazed at the wonderment he produced. He wanted everyone to see he was just like any of them, with the same capacity for hope, and fear and love, not the twisted oddity living away in a ramshackle shop. For all the power his new gifts gave him, he was still no closer to what he wanted.
One night, after feeling particularly sullen and taking an early night’s sleep, Mr. Stitch dreamed of a boy. He was a strange looking sort, with thick yarn for hair and shining brass buttons for his eyes. His skin was linen and his smile was sewn on. Mr. Stitch delighted as the boy danced and frolicked in the spring meadow of his dream. He felt a deep, wonderful sense of purpose and happiness in the boy’s presence. The wind blew open the shutters in the little bedroom and Mr. Stitch nearly jumped out of his bed. He was momentarily saddened to be pulled from such a lovely dream, until he realized who the boy in it was.
It was his son.
Mr. Stitch wasted no time, the inspiration like a bolt of lightning in his mind. He locked the door to his shop and got to work quickly, his body forgetting the need for sleep as his hands moved diligently deep into the night. They didn’t cease until the sun crept up over the peak of the mountain. Only once did he stop, recalling the words of the spirit. Never for personal gain or terrible things would happen. It was quickly dismissed though, his excitement outpacing his concern by miles.
As the first splinters of dawnlight slipped into his shop, Mr. Stitch put the final details on his creation and set him in a little chair. A moment later, the little rag boy was up on his feet, just as he had been in the dream. He gave a gracious bow, his brass button eyes twinkling with new found life. Mr. Stitch bowed back and gave a silent, appreciative laugh. Even after all he had seen the thread and shears do for the people of the town, he was still in complete amazement at what he was witnessing in now in the early morning glow.
So enraptured was Mr. Stitch at his newly sewn son that he forgot to open his shop that day, feeling the complete joy and love he had always thought having a child would bring him, marveling at every little movement his son made, delighting in every hug and every kiss upon his soft linen forehead. And the next day, when Mr. Stitch had again not opened his shop, the townspeople, for the first time, became concerned. He had not been absent minded this time, though. Mr. Stitch had purpose. He pinned up a sign on his door, saying that he would not be open for business the rest of the week, but to expect a big surprise at the end. And the whole town was invited to come and see.
Mr. Stitch had something planned.
Though everyone in town stayed clear of his shop, Mr. Stitch had his storefront lit up all night, his tall silhouette moving from side to side endlessly as he worked all through the night, filled with an excited energy. A large tarp appeared on the side of his shop one night, covering a large section of grass beside the western wall.
Everyone in the little town came out that last night, gathered in a half circle around the tarp, seeing the flickering lights dancing about under the fabric. Just as the last light of the sun melted from sight, the tarp slipped away, crumpling at the foot of a makeshift stage. Mr. Stitch could not keep his crooked smile from his face as he heard the hushed gasps of everyone from behind the back curtain. He stepped out onto the stage a moment later, so excited he didn’t even noticed the front row of people recoil slightly from him. He wore white from head to toe, a suit he tailored just for this occasion and spread open his arms in a gesture of welcoming to all the people in attendance. As he looked out into the crowd though, something caught him off guard. He recognized nearly every face he saw in the bright lamplight, but there was one old woman he could not place in the middle of the gathering, her pale face set rigidly in an intimidating scowl, standing motionless as people clapped and cheered hesitantly for Mr. Stitch. He shook off the twinge unease she gave him and held up a hand to his mouth, calling for silence, ready to reveal what he’d been saving at last.
He took a breath and held it, giving the signal, and out jumped his son from behind the curtain. The two of them held up their arms high as everyone around the gasped in complete awe. Mr. Stitch gave another signal and the pair went into a routine, the little linen boy dancing and moving about the small stage as Mr. Stitch demonstrated he did so freely, with no wires or strings. The crowd watched on in silence, no one daring to even move. He clapped his hands in time to a little jig his son was dancing, smiling proudly. He looked out into the crowd of stunned faces and felt better, seeing the old woman had gone. Just as he turned back to signal his son again, he heard the sound. Someone in the back was laughing. He steadied himself, trying to take it as good-natured fun, but he heard more joining in now. Mr. Stitch looked out and saw that those who weren’t laughing now seemed angry, giving him the same frightful look the old woman did.
He steeled himself and carried on, motioning the boy into the next routine they had practiced, when a rock clattered to the back of the stage. Looking back toward the crowd, Mr. Stitch heard the laughter growing louder, mixed with the angry shouts of those in front. His brave front broke, and his face gave away a look of genuine distress as his son continued to dance. Another rock flew past his head with greater speed than the first. He ducked down and gave the crowd a last ditch smile, wavering nervously on his lips as the shouts became louder, the crowd seemingly pushed on by some unseen instigator.
Someone screamed as one of the thrown rocks hit a lantern lighting the stage, crashing onto the tarp, exploding as the flame and oil mixed. Mr. Stitch could no longer hold together his stoic facade at the sight of the flames, holding his hands up in a muted plea to stop the maddening crowd, but it only seemed to push them on. The back row threw more rocks, trying to hit the lights intentionally now, as the mob of yells grew deafening. Two more lanterns fell, igniting the back curtain. Mr. Stitch knelt beside his son, trying to shield him from the barrage of stones. His black eyes darted around the burning stage, trying to find a way out, his breath choked with smoke. The yells continued, calling him the most foul, hateful things. He brought his son to the side and stood once more, begging the crowd for mercy in silent gesture. A particularly sharp rock struck his temple, and Mr. Stitch fell to one knee, clutching his face. The wound was long and shallow, and as he looked up, his face was a twisted crimson mask, his blood dripping onto the burning planks of the stage. His sight was blurred, and his mind reeled, trying to keep some semblance of reality in his perspective. All of that fell away once he saw his son lying motionless, consumed in flames, his white linen skin burning away to nothing. Mr. Stitch froze in place, despite being surrounded by a roaring fire. He could take it no longer. Every taunt, every cruel word, every apprehensive look, every fearful stare, every disapproving gesture, everything the people of the town had ever done to him came crashing down on his mind at once. He looked out one last time at the people before him and did something he’d never done before. Mr. Stitch made a sound.
He clenched his gnarled fists tightly and gave forth a terrifying howl, as if someone were squeezing every last breath of air from his chest; a shrill wind of desperate agony and seething hatred. And with that, he leapt through the window of his burning shop. His cry seemed to shake something in the crowd, as if they were only now just realizing the situation and how they’d been acting. Those that held rocks dropped them, and everyone moved quickly away from little shop as they saw the fire consume it. After that day, no one ever saw Mr. Stitch ever again, and no trace of a body was ever found in the charred skeleton of the building.
The town went about its business as best it could manage, until a week later, when something peculiar happened. One morning, a few of the parents in the town found their children had gone missing. When they went to question others in town, they discovered even more children gone. Panic started to quickly build as everyone in town realized there didn’t seem to be a single child left anywhere.
A search party was formed, thinking perhaps to scout the neighboring hills and forests, when a disturbing discovery was made. Someone had found a square piece of slate in the town center. It had been Mr. Stitch’s writing tablet, and it was smeared with fresh blood. Scratched indelibly onto the hard surface was a message to the town. “You’ve taken my love. Now I’ve taken yours.”
The search party quickly made its way to the burnt remains of the shop. What they found was gruesome beyond measure. Small bodies littered the blackened floor, some piled onto one another, others set up in grisly tableaux. A few of the braver in the group got closer, finding that the children hadn’t just been murdered, but mutilated horrifically. Limbs had been severed and reattached, rearranged. Eyes had been popped out, lips carved away from teeth. Entrails were strewn about in violent pattern; fingers and toes seemingly torn off by a pair of twisted, powerful hands. A row of decapitated bodies sat neatly to one side and a string of tongues was nailed to the charred doorway. And then there was the blood. It soaked the very earth the gathering townspeople stood upon, turning the ashes of the shop into red-streaked mud. There was not a drop left to be spilled.
So utterly terrible and heinous was the scene that day, that no one who saw it ever spoke another word for as long as they lived.