Bogleech.com's 2017 Horror Write-off:
Four Pink Fingers
Submitted by Dandelion Steph
Boxed in within the darkness of its talons, the princess could see only a sliver of sky. The odor of the dragon's claws was strong, oppressive, like a molded wagon of five-day-old, hickory-smoked fish. She felt like its fumes were working their way into her skull, shoving at the inner walls of her nose.
The princess was carelessly shoved inside, tumbling to the floor. When her vision adjusted, she noticed rough-hewn stone. It looked like she was in a tower of some sort. Outside was an enormous cavern, grey and damp and smelling faintly of fungus.
Half-asleep, she looked outside the window. There was the enormous bulk of the dragon, tail undulating before her. There was a voice - a man's - shouting and grunting, hidden behind the dragon's body. With wide eyes and a big smile, the princess leaned out of the window.
But the knight never got any closer.
With a smack of its claws, the knight collided with a cavern wall. As the knight lay, dazed with the impact, the dragon blocked his escape with its massive body.
By the time the princess got the courage to leave her tower, the knight was spread onto the ground, his armor dented and sword tossed aside.
The dragon enclosed its talons around his body, his still weakly wriggling body, and applied the full force of its weight. The metal - or was that his bones - made a sudden creaking pop.
The man made a bloodied gasp as the dragon slowly lifted its talons off the man's back. It stared at her horrified face, and without looking back, pulled his body in closer. Another crack shook the air - yes, definitely bones this time - and another gasp, a cough, a rattle of breath, and then nothing.
Once again she was tossed inside, and the dragon returned to its horrible work. Her eyes were blinded by tears, but her ears, curse them, did not go deaf as well.The crack and clang of smashed armor was an irregular beat to the song of her sobs.
The books of the tower's previous resident was the only thing keeping boredom at bay. The princess had no idea what the man looked like, as he left no portraits in this poorly-furnished tower of his. But, judging by his books, she guessed it was the typical wizardly look, with a long, white beard, elegant robes, and perhaps some pointy hat.
In all of his books, he spun a tale of odd ingredients and strange rituals, all in search of good health - or better. The man seemed enamored with the idea of immortality, to the point failure after failure meant little to him.
The princess could imagine him huffing and frowning as he tersely wrote about the latest failures. He seemed to think his ingredients, "the little devils",had formed a grudge against him as they stewed in the cauldron. The princess had to suppress a laugh at the wizard's little eccentricities, lest the dragon peer in on her again.
Over time, she felt like she had come to know the old wizard well. Eccentric, yes, but kind. She almost thought to call upon - no, beg him for help. But it was no use.
He was long gone.
The dragon coiled, not far outside her tower. It gave a single snort before sliding into sleep, its eyes glassy and unblinking.
The princess leaned out the window. Nothing changed. Nothing to see, or learn from.
The dragon sleeps, coiled up on the cavern floor, filling up the expanse with its rank breath. Creeping behind it, on the far corner of a wall, is the princess.
She stepped carefully, picking her way over the hazardous shards of metal and bone. A skull, remarkably intact as ex-knights go, seemed to stare at her as she passed.
The cave's entrance - its exit - was close. Light, so intense after all this time, seemed to pour down from the sky. Just at the edge of her hearing, a bird chirped out a song.
She ran. She ran, out to freedom, away from that empty, lonely and dark space, from the blood and bone and skulls and steel -
She was too hasty.
There was something off about it all.
Its mouth was half-open, its lips drooping, as it stared at her again with its dead-fish eyes.
The princess stood calm - bold, even - before the approaching beast.
"You would not kill me."
The dragon's mouth drooped wider, its surface dull pink and slick with saliva. Then a flash of bruise-purple leaped at her, swift as a viper, and a terrible pain shot up her leg.
The princess screamed. The dragon's teeth were embedded in her leg. This time, it dragged her back, hiding her away, like prey it could not be bothered to kill before eating.
She felt like a hock of ham, cured above wood-smoke. No matter how much the princess coughed, she could feel that accursed scent of hickory (and fungus and fish) floating into her lungs.
Her leg did not heal quite right. Its bones shifted, grinding against her joints. She grimaced at the pain, limping.
Suddenly, the silence was broken by a massive, creaking shudder. A slab of stone, but a few paces from her, shifted back into a wall.
The princess cringed, and looked outside with a frenzied speed. Any time now, the dragon would return from within the recesses of the cave. It would catch her, maim her, and leave her but a walking corpse once more.
But it did not come when the chamber opened, showing her its shadow-coated depths. It did not come when she stepped inside, when candles lit of their own accord in their sconces. And it did not come when she opened one of its crinkled leather-bound books and started reading.
Between despair and boredom, there was no room for fear.
The subject, however, was strange. Strange, and deeply unsettling. But she had no choice.
In one chapter, it mentioned a healing poultice of mashed tendons and bone - from human feet.
In another chapter, it discussed the potion-enhancing merits of fresh and fermented blood - humans' blood.
In another chapter, it outlined a ritual through which fingers, freshly lopped off, would do one's bidding - human fingers.
That last one's requirements: a good knife, an incantation, and freshly-dismembered fingers.
No obscure herbs, gathered under a hunter's moon.
No powdered horn of some animal she had never heard of.
Just a knife. Some words. And a convenient source of human fingers.
But it would work.
The princess looked at her fingers. Not as a part of her body, but as tools. Her way out.
She silently read over the ritual again. She did not really need the fingers of her left hand, after all.
Do not scream.
Do not scream.
Do not scream.
Do not scream.
At the end, there were four pink fingers. They laid in front of her, oozing blood. They seemed to twitch slightly - without her will. Just the reflex of the freshly dead.
She spoke the incantation.
The inward curve of the joints, and the sharp edge of the knuckles,brought to mind a knee bent in supplication.
They were bowing to her.
The princess gave the command.
At once, her fingers shifted and wriggled towards each other. Their stumps, slick and red, stuck to each other. The blood seemed to thicken, thicken like a glue, merging the fingers almost seamlessly into a strange figure.
Soon, that figure stood before her, standing with slender, bony legs that did not quite match. Neither, for that matter, did its arms. It was a little man, of sorts, but only vaguely humanoid - and it was made of her own fingers.
The creature of fingers bent its joints once more, looking like a quick bow, and scurried away.
Within sight was the dragon, an enormous, greyish bulk. It body heaved as it breathed in sleep. The finger minion crept towards the dragon, avoiding the metal fragments on the ground with little effort.
A warm and fragrant breath emanated from the dragon's nostrils as it slept. The minion crept in, finding itself in a ridged, dull-pink tunnel.
The dragon gave a weak snort. Fumes streamed out, hot, hotter than any animal's breath should be. It was as if hell itself had reached up to claim a dead man within a incense-filled mausoleum.
The finger minion braced itself against the wall of the dragon's nostril, its upper fingers bent around the sliver. It had to keep going, to shuffle along in the damp.
The minion waded into the stagnant fluid of the dragon's skull, then floated towards the beast's brain.
The princess's words: Kill the dragon.
The dagger-like shard of metal flipped outward, and the minion's finger-arm plunged it into the beast's brain.
Blood streamed out, a red dye into the swamp-water.
The dragon thrashed madly, instantly awake. Its glassy eyes stared, its head shook, but there was no one in the cavern. None but itself.
Again and again the minion plunged its shard into the dragon's brain. Hot, piercing fumes filled the chamber. The dragon flailed its neck and stomped, and smashed the ragged carpet of swords into smaller, pebbly shards. It groaned, and roared, and nearly slammed its head against the walls with its mad flailing.
But there was no escape, and the beast's flailing meant nothing to the minion deep inside its skull.
Eventually, the dragon's roars became whimpers. A stab here, a stab there. The brain was punctured like a pincushion, patterned in grisly pinks and bruise-purples.
Then the finger minion left the skull. It clambered through the rapidly-cooling, moist tunnel of the beast's nostrils and emerged into the open air. The delicate, tapered fingers of a princess were coated in blood and bits of brain.
The dragon breathed weakly. Blood trickled down its nostrils, a fresh little stream as it lay still.
The princess limped towards the downed beast. The beast's eyes flicked, its breath huffed out. Its throat fluttered purposelessly.
The princess paused for a moment, looking upon the creature. Her face was blank, her eyes like stone. She looked down and knelt, hands scrabbling along the ground.
There. It was long enough.
The remains of a sword, mostly hilt, with a thin jagged spike of iron left atop. The princess picked her way closer to the dragon, clenching the broken sword.
The dragon's left hind leg looked too healthy and whole for her purposes.
Like jagged teeth, the broken sword gnawed its way into the dragon's tendons and bones. The dragon could give only weak gasps as its leg twitched reflexively.
You did not stop. I will not stop.
Her makeshift blade was red-stained, just like her robe was. By then, the dragon's eyes had stopped moving. Its chest had ceased its lift and fall.
The princess smiled at the jagged slits and rips in the dragon's scaly flesh. She smiled at her broken sword, her little minion, and even her bandaged still-aching hand.
It did not matter she still limped. The air was fresh, the sky was blue, and she could finally hear the taunting birdsong.
And the princess lived happily ever after.