's 2016 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by ZippyWharrgarbl

Once, there was a prince who spent his every waking moment roaming the forests of his kingdom, returning only for supper and bed rest. Some nights, he did not return even for that. He travelled far and wide, humming and singing upon the wind, dreaming to one day meet a fair maiden as he had read in storybooks as a child. His golden locks bounced as he rode upon his horse one fine, cool day, as the wisps of the morning's mist still danced beneath his steed's hooves. He was exploring new frontiers, new expanses of wood and green, when he chanced upon an odd sight: a hopping, happy little robin, pecking almost absent-mindedly at a fresh-hunted deer.

"My word!" the prince cried. "Such vulgarity for a robin to partake in!"

Much to his surprise, the robin turned to look at him and, after a moment's scrutiny, spoke in words soft and lilting and far-away. "Not vulgarity, my prince. I was merely mourning for this pretty beast."

"Forgive my rudeness," said the prince with a bow of the head to show his repentance. "I am unused to seeing robins so close to the dead. You are all such mirthful, happy creatures."

"We cannot always be happy and mirthful," said the robin. "We weep for the maiden in yonder tower."

"A maiden in a tower?" asked the prince, somewhat delighted. "Why, that sounds just like the stories my mother told me! Is she beautiful?"

"Very," said the robin. "Her skin is pale and unmarked as the finest-crafted porcelain."

"Is she noble?"

"Noble blood courses within her, pure and of no taint," said he.

"What of she herself?"

"She is clean, and she is pure," replied the robin. "She is as a lily is to the touch, and her voice is akin to that of the merfolk, it is so alluring to those who seek her."

"Hence why she is in the tower?" asked the prince. "Why, I will save her! Surely, she will love me then, as it goes in my storybooks. How exciting!"

"I will show you to her," the bird said, and off they went, he on horseback, the robin on the wing. They came to a marsh, wherein there lay a man's boot in the middle, well-made but stained with murk.

"These woods are dangerous and wild," said the robin. "I will show you how to cross this marsh, but you must leave your steed."

The prince fastened the horse to the branch of a willow, reassuring it of his swift return with a pat upon the flank, and he hop-step-jumped as the robin directed. The bird led him deeper within the forest.

"What are her eyes like?" asked the prince.

"There is nothing like them," replied the robin. "They are as unforgettable and deep as ocean caverns most secret and dark."

They next reached a roaring river which ran quickly and loudly across their path and away. The robin said, "You can jump this path, but you must remove your sword and shield, young prince. They will weigh you down."

Stripped to his cloth, the prince jumped, and jumped well without the weight. He asked the robin another question. "What are her royal parents like? Were they evil and jealous, locking her away? Or are they good folk, seeking her even now?"

"She has none," said the robin, and that was that.

The next obstacle to their noble quest was a field of beautiful lilies, waving gently in the wind. The robin said, "These flowers are tended to by a most awful-tempered witch. She will allow us passage, but you must remove your boots, lest you harm even one of their petals."

So the prince left his boots and walked among the rows of dainty flowers. They swayed back and forth, as if caught in a giant's breathing. They were close now, as he could see the tip of a spire above the treetops. He asked he robin, "Who has so cruelly locked the maiden in yonder castle?"

"She is sealed within by ancient magic," said the robin. "Only those of purest blood may approach her. Us birds and the woodland creatures may keep her company, but we are but beasts, and among those of Man, only nobles of pure blood may approach."

They reached a clearing, marred only by the healthy, green grass below and the tall, silver spire that sat amid it. In the window was a figure, too far away to see but looking to be ever so much like the lovely maiden's description. The robin looked to the prince. "You must walk this meadowed path, and at its source you will see how to help the maiden."

Then, the robin flitted away. The figure above was making odd, exaggerated movements as if dragging the robin towards her, until the little bird finally reached the maiden's silhouette, at which point she took him inside. She returned to the window, staring.

The dirt below the grass was so hard and so sharp, but he pressed on. Ah, she was just as the robin described! Her skin was most radiant and pale, to the point that he could not see her nose, nor the parting of her lips. Her hair was thick and full, and extended past his range of vision in wavy locks. Her eyes were wide with surprise and hope as he pressed on, though his feet were now aching.

He stumbled, and in doing so, looked down. His soles bled, but he could not see it upon the grass. It looked as if it soaked into the soil like rainwater. Another step showed him the pain he thought came from sharp stones in the soil was in fact tiny pinpricks, as if the grass had thorns. He looked up, and the maiden was leaning over the balcony, staring down at him. She was much, much closer now, closer than what he thought possible due to the height of the window. His sight blurred and his breath was hard and short, as if something was coiled tight about his breast. The castle was close now, so close. He could almost touch the smooth stones that made up the tower, and in two more steps, he laid his hands upon them to steady himself, only to find the rocks were soft and pulsing.

A bird alighted on his shoulder, and then another, squeezing his broad, handsome shoulders tightly to the point of pricking the skin with their talons. Their voices sounded strange and hollow, their movements jerking with excitement.

"Oh, thank you, Prince!" they cheered shrilly. "The Maiden does so love the pure bloodlines of nobles!"

He turned his paling face and saw the robin, but from this close he could see the little thing had not been alive for a very long time, even though there was no rot on the creature's feathered body. His odd, jolting dance was less the frivolity of the forest's birds and more the pulls of a puppet's strings, his eyes foggy and blank. The robin bent to nip at a nick he had made in the prince's shoulder, and in doing so, a thin ribbon of red drew up and up from the beast's feathered back and towards the heavens. The prince looked up, and screamed as the maiden looked down.

Here, he could see her. What he had assumed was beautiful pale skin was sickly and translucent, stretched over a near vestigial body that was now jutting at a sharp, impossible angle from the window, neck extended beyond what was natural for any beast. The eyes were large and unblinking, positioned on an otherwise featureless face and with no colour or mirth, only black, inky pupils that expanded nearly to the size of the eyes themselves. The ribbon flowed up to the maiden, and one of her locks of hair went from a blonde that was nearly white to a deep, crimson red. More strands followed from the other bird-puppets, staining her hair the tinge of fresh blood.

He screamed again, and fell back. The grass pierced him, and though his sensitive neck-flesh and the skin of his fingertips he could feel a very faint suckling, like an uncertain newborn calf at its mother, drinking the warmth and life from his flesh. He tried to get up and run, only to fall again, this time due to weakness rather than shock. His final moments were spent lying on the grass, more animal-puppets approaching to nip and tear delicately at his flesh as the grass finished its work.

When the body was no more, the maiden reached and pulled, pulled, pulled upon a strand of hair until she had a bluejay coddled in her hands. With a swift examination and three gentle tugs, the bird flew effortlessly for the horizon. The castle was silent once more, bar from a gurgling, creaky murmur that echoed from the foundations of the spire, reverberated along translucent strands, and emerged from the mouths of the animal-puppets as lilting, sweet vocalisations of contentedness.