's 2018 Horror Write-off:

The Standing Stone

Submitted by Gozuforce

My family lived in a house on the north-western coast of France, in a region called Brittany. If you don’t know the region, it’s a fairly rural land, with at least as many coastal cliffs as it has beaches. It’s known for its rainy and chilly weather, its crepes, its cider, and for its numerous prehistoric standing stones.

The house has been home to my father’s side of the family for at least five generations, that I know of. It’s an imposing old mansion facing the abrupt seaside, hours away from anything resembling civilization, with a gigantic garden around it.
That garden always was an important part of my life, even during my infancy. I spent my childhood there, helping my parents tending to it and playing with Axel, my big brother. The garden has a hedge maze we loved to play around, covered with stunning red, cyan and pink flowers I never could identify, which smelled lovely. And off course, it’s in the garden that our standing Stone reside.

It is not very common to have that kind of artifact in someone’s property, even in a region which is filled with those, and that is not its most unusual attribute.
It stand on the far edge of the garden, very close to the cliff. The small hill it crowns allows it a commanding position over the whole estate, including the mansion’s windows facing it. The Stone is light gray, very tall at more than 3 meters, and has an overall almond shape. It has two sides, the rounder side facing the ocean, while the flatter side is oriented toward the mansion.
That side has an odd feel to it. Most of the Stone has been sculpted in a broad manner with plenty sharp edges, but that flat side has few, dull, worn-out edges. At places the surface has small droplets-shaped protrusions, as if water had petrified while running on it. Looking at the middle of the side, you will see ripples that fade out on the sides.
When you stick your ear to the standing Stone, you can sometime hear a rhythm. Short sounds similar to rocks rubbed against each other in a regular cadence. It’s a very bad idea to listen for too long though, that kind of curiosity isn’t really appreciated. The ground on which the Stone is set doesn’t make any sound.

During my early years, I didn’t really question what we were doing as a daily routine. Some instructions of my parents were very strange, sure, and yes sometimes threats of what would happen if I disobeyed sounded a bit odd and specific, but I was a kid and those arbitrary rules felt more like a convoluted game than anything serious.
I can still remember vividly the moment I understood things were wrong in our lives. I was nine at the time. We had been planning to move out for just over a month, and that day, we finally left the mansion for a smaller house in a small town a little south. I remember seeing the public square from my new bedroom’s window and making mom laugh by calling it “our new garden”. We spent most of the afternoon and evening unpacking our things, even though a lot of furniture was left at the other place since it wasn’t actually ours. I think we all slept well that night, or at least I did.
Can someone who has not lived that imagine how weird it felt to wake up back in my old bedroom? Everything had gone back at its place, down to the smallest toy. When I fully woke up, I was convinced that other house had been a dream. I almost blurted that out to my parents as I entered the kitchen, but I noticed how they acted. Mom was looking at her cup of coffee, unnaturally immobile, a couple of tears running down her cheeks. Dad was on the phone trembling nervously, and talking about proofs of purchase, notarial deeds, and other things my kid’s mind wasn’t going to process.

And just like that, it dawned on me my family was actually trapped. The Stone had, I don’t know how, forced us back into its service.

The standing Stone is very capricious, you see, and punishes any wrongdoing or mistake. At the same time, the Stone is never straightforward in its commands, relying mostly on cryptic signals that have to be interpreted according to years of guesses passed down from one generation to the next, compiled in a few notebooks. As years went on, I was taught how to take care of Its many requests. It doesn’t give direct indications, but there are rules that apply most of the time.
Daily rules first, like the plants that need to watered, or the spider eggs behind the TV screen which must be crushed every morning.
Some rules are dependent on the date, for example what must the Stone be watered with, be it actual water, goat milk, honey, or blood. The punishment for messing that specific rule isn’t too harsh, mind you, everything just taste like what I watered it for a few days.
Tasks that depends on a specific sign can be annoying. I must not forget to check for each of the places in the house where those are usually planted. The empty amphora in front of the entrance sometimes contains four snails, and that means I have to cut a piece of the clothes I’m wearing. If it’s two snails I have to break a window of the living-room, Two slugs means I have to burn wood in the chimney all day, and one slug means I can replace one broken window. I hope I never get a dead toad again, that task made me sick for three weeks.
Actually, the worst demands are the unique ones. They are thankfully rare, but they are the most enigmatic and punishment can be really harsh. Those usually happen only once, so the guesswork is at its maximum there, You have to flip through pages and pages to find equivalences between past demands. Thankfully, since the manifestation of those orders is generally very spectacular, it’s at least impossible to miss when it happens. That’s their only advantage. I mean, sure, it’s pretty humorous to have all the characters of the house’s paintings replaced with ducks, but the joke is not as funny when you realize you have to kill a poultry in the attic. Especially when you don’t know what bird the Stone wants since it’s not the way it asks for a duck. So you have to bring as many of them as possible, knowing very well that no matter the answer, there is definitely going to be a big gory mess to clean up afterward.

The Stone chooses every piece of the house: rooms, walls, carpets and furniture. From the anchor over the entrance door to the wine barrels stuck in the back of the cellar, from the toys in my room to the mossy rocks that pave the kitchen, everything here was the Stone’s order or Its approval. This house has been modeled by generations of carefully confronting the necessities of living to the whims of that shifty force and hoping Its anger wouldn’t cause irreparable damage.

I was sixteen years old when my mother got a call from her sister. Her father was very weak, and they were worried he might not live long. With the manner the Stone requires our constant attention, and often resists outsider intervention, social connections are hard to maintain, so my mother hadn’t seen her family in years. Unfortunately, at that time the Stone wanted us all to share the same bed every night. Her family was far enough that the back-and-forth was impossible.
So, after a discussion about it with dad turned into an argument and we all went our separate ways in frustration, mom did the only thing she could think of to solve her issue.

I heard her wails and at first was going to ignore it, but I realized the voice came from the garden. Fearing the worst I ran to her.
As I thought, she was kneeling in front of the Stone, begging for any sign of leniency from it, so she could leave and see her father one last time. I jumped to her, grabbing her wrist, only noticing afterward that Axel was doing the same on the other side. and we both started dragging her away from the Stone, as she struggled, sobbing, wailing, her face distorted by sorrow, tears sprinkling her shirt. Despite her protestations, we kept moving, only stopping once we got behind the hedge maze. We stood still a while, still holding her, waiting for her to calm down. At some point, I believed she was, as her voice died down from a sobbing shriek to a murmur.
My brother and I both leaned over the hedge’s wall, our eyes focused on the Stone, weary of its response. At first it seemed we had been lucky, as the Stone didn’t show any reaction, and the silence was only broken by small clicks on my left, and a discreet growing growl.
Something wasn’t right with those sounds. I turned my head toward my mother.

It was a mess nothing I had seen had prepared me to.
Her face had been twisted, not by grief but by a growing, black with green highlights, chitinous mass that had erupted all over her mouth. Insectoid mandibles, claws, legs, wings, antennas, pieces apparently borrowed from the whole arthropod realm, a constant flood of organs pushing at each other, an increasing sound of articulations snapping as all those appendages were flailing madly in a panic shared by the woman who was hosting them.
We were still holding her arms, too stupefied to react as the aberration replaced her mouth and extended down her jaw.
The swarm began cracking as its expansion didn’t give enough place for the incredible amount of additional sprouting organs. Inevitably, some antenna broke under the pressure and fell. Her sudden spasm caught me off guard and her hand flew away from my grasp. She threw her hand at the mess, but instead of trying to rip it off like I briefly expected her to, she brushed the remnant of the broken antenna, another shiver making clear she had a sense of touch there.
Other pieces, antennas, claws, crab legs cracked in turn, and either broke off, or broke open, gushing a gelatinous gray substance mixed with a pale red liquid.

From that point on, my memory of that day is a blur. I can’t recall my reaction, Axel’s, or even tell you when my dad saw what was going on.
What I do remember was how the Stone continued to punish my mother. But I am sorry to say I won’t share the details. I tried to write it down, but it’s too much. Too painful to explain.

The burial was not much of a ceremony. It was only the three of us, in a secluded spot of the garden, by the side of the hedge maze and far from the Stone. We had a short prayer, and the coffin bearing what remained of her, a box barely big enough for a cat.

I never learned whether dad told her family she was dead. He would never answer me on that subject. In fact, from that point on, he got extremely withdrawn. He didn’t speak much, and everything he would say was of a factual nature and with a monotone voice.
Axel however, had a lot more things to express. For three years, he became very frantic, determined to get rid of the Stone, spending much of his time trying to devise a way to destroy it. He tried to debate the subject with us, but we didn’t show interest at all. My dad would never answer his suggestions, and I actively dissuaded him, shooting down his plans. I think I was already resigned to this life of ours, in a way feeling that we couldn’t counter the Stone.
Undeterred, Axel spent something like a year trying to actually enact his projects. Time and time again, I had to break some tool or confiscate a home-made explosive, spying on him near-constantly to make sure he wasn’t about to attack. Even our father would stop him if he found something suspicious during our routine.

As such, I can’t even begin to explain how he managed to sneak past us a massive very old looking codex about sorcery. I wish I had noticed it though, or seen him draw those symbols on the ground around the Stone’s hill, or lighting those candles, or at least heard him yell some Latin incantation. Then I could have smacked some sense back to him, make him realize how stupid he was for thinking that random book was actually going to kill the Stone, or even that it was magical. I could have stopped him.

Instead, I only knew something was happening because I heard him scream in terror. By the time I arrived, he was trying to kick a hand that had emerged from the book and was firmly holding his arm. The skinny, bony hand with long broken nails looked like a black and white printed image, the kind you would find in old-timey textbooks, and it was clearly trying to pull him inside the pages.
I ran into the fight, grabbing the book and trying to close it. I thought the drawing would retract, instead a second arm jumped out and forced the book open violently enough to have me fall on my ass. By the time I got back to my feet, Axel was already mostly absorbed into the book. Very soon, his legs, fruitlessly dangling upside-down, were the last things left of him. Then in a last effort, he bended them, trying to stick himself to the ground. But the pull was too strong, and the book claimed him entirely.
Reaching for the page in the vague hope I could still grab anything, I could only touch the paper. On the page, There was the illustration of an awful ceremony. I won’t tell you what was on this illustration, all I will say is it wasn’t pleasant. Particularly unpleasant was the fact the victim in that image had my brother’s pain-stricken face.
The wind, no doubt by the Stone’s command, blew on some pages to turn them and show me other illustrations. On all of those, I could recognize my brother subjected to all kinds of terrifying torments.
Then, when the Stone’s point was made abundantly clear, the book closed itself.

Telling my father what had happened was the most mortifying thing I had to do in my life. As he heard what I had witnessed, he did not say a word, he didn’t move, but I saw gradually his eyes losing what was left of his vitality.
From that day on, he would not say anything. More than that, his attitude devolved into that of an automaton, his only worry being to carry through the rules and orders of the Stone, and keeping himself in a sufficient shape to follow those rules. Nothing I could say or do made him show any humanity or even autonomy left in him.
As such, without any other soul to worry about it, I ended up with the heavy decision on the book’s fate. Normally, I would have just buried the book in a tomb, assuming my brother was dead the moment the book produced those images, but I noticed, while skimming through the pages, that the figures represented were moving when I wasn’t looking, including my brother. So, I had to assume he was still alive inside that thing.
So I had to decide whether I held to the book, hoping some unknown miracle would bring him back, or if I chose to end his agony as soon as possible by destroying the volume. Sadly, looking through the pages, I soon realized there was no chance for him, even in the event he went back to the living, to still be sane. So I begrudgingly did the one thing that made sense and, hoping it would free him from his nightmare somehow, chose to burn the book, giving the ashes a tomb close to mom’s grave.

As the months came and went, dad ‘s state worsened still. His face got haggard, while his once robust body went for emaciated look. He kept reducing his appetite, then stopped washing himself. Soon, his motions got more laborious, and would frequently stop midway, as if he had trouble mustering the courage for even the simplest things. Eventually, he didn’t bother getting out of bed entirely.
Understand me, I knew that I had to do something, anything, to bring him back, and I tried at every step of his degradation. but all my attempts to shake him up remained fruitless, and his decline forced me to attend all the routine imposed by the Stone, severely limiting my free time.
So I was completely powerless to break his descent, by lack of time and of options. In the end, I only could bring him his dinner at his bed, which he would occasionally eat, not even really acknowledging my presence.
One day, I felt a strange wind that smelled familiar, seemingly coming from the parental bedroom. Opening the door, I prepared myself for the worst. To be frank, what I saw was calmer than the other destinies I had witnessed. He was just not here anymore. The only traces were his scent saturating the air, and on the bed little piles of pale dust, a similar disposition to his general silhouette.

Since then I live alone. I take care of the manor and its rules alone. I shop alone, I cook alone, I eat alone, I sleep alone. At times too, I cry alone, though I got used to things somewhat.
I tried several times to end it all, including attempts to provoke Its wrath, but now that I am Its only servant, It won’t let me flee. And Its punishments are not kind either, they are just non-lethal and non-intrusive to my duties.

So that was my life story, pretty much. I have something else to say though.
Although I don’t have the full story of the family, I have enough with the notebooks to infer a general idea of what happened in the past. For one thing, I never heard of any living relatives outside of my mother’s family, of whom I know nothing about. No uncles or aunts, or cousins. It is very suspicious for a family that has to live in the same house for five generations.
So, I believe every generation of the family eventually gets shattered by the Stone much in the way mine had been, leaving only one member alive to carry the duty and extend the family one generation longer. it’s either a sick game for Its amusement or Its solution to avoid an overcrowded manor of servants. Very possibly both.
With that in mind, I planned to have the servitude end with my death. I will obey the Stone until my body cannot anymore, and when I’m done for, hopefully the Stone won’t find new servants, and It will either die or become powerless.

But the Stone had prepared a trick for that exact purpose. The flowers of the hedge maze are currently opened, and have been spreading pollen for months now. The smell of that pollen is different than any plant I’ve ever smelled, it’s intoxicating and it provokes constant sexual urges. I’m constantly on edge these days, and going outdoor makes it even worse.
The pollen must be reaching far, since I get more female visitors on a weekly basis than we used to get visits at all for an entire year. Some are able to hide their arousal pretty well, but others try to jump me as soon as I answer the door.
Of course, I expect the Stone to detain any woman who manages to get pregnant from me. So I resist every attacks, no matter how tempting. After three near misses, I don’t answer the door anymore.
But I don’t know how much longer I can resist. Eventually, the next visitor will be helped by the Stone, finding a new trick, something I will be defenseless against, and she will fulfill the Stone’s wish.

And then, the generational cycle will continue.