's 2019 Horror Write-off:

Al Fresco

Submitted by Shakara


Allie always liked the outdoors. Since she was a baby, she loved playing in the garden, picking flowers, making daisy chains, pretending to look for fairies and just having a good time in the sun. Even in the winter, wrapped in her big parka coat, she’d romp about in the snow, making snow angels and lines upon lines of wee snowmen. At age 8, this interest hadn’t dwindled, but had blossomed further.

She was never content with watching TV or listening to music, instead drawing upon her own imagination, holding many sessions of make-believe. Her creativity flourished, her voice able to mimic many accents and pitches as she formed characters for playtime. Men, women, nobility, royalty, warrior, merchant, singer, butcher, baker, candlestick maker…
It was a welcome change from her sister, Frannie, who’d mainly be found in front of the computer. No wonder her eyes hurt so much.

Her father purchased a swing-seat just for Allie’s outdoor sessions. Many a time she could be seen sitting on the rocking wicker, lost in reverie.


Allie’s house was close to woodland, with the garden rather close to a thicket. If she got up and walked for some time, she’d find herself in a little glade. She had claimed it for her own, spending many days of play there. She’d pick up a pink-white polka dot blanket and hold mock tea-parties and picnics. But one particularly fresh summer day, she decided to bring along some actual food. She packed her schoolbag with tubs of mixed fruit, bottles of lemonade in a bucket of ice (though she pretended it to be champagne), a loaf of crusty bread, a jar of French jam and some chocolate stars, alongside the respective paper plates and utensils. She was careful to bring along a garbage bag, as she didn’t want to spoil the majesty of the glade.

With her favourite doll Poppy and teddy bear Waffle, she commenced the picnic.

“Ohh, lovely champagne, Miss Alison!” she voiced Poppy, a plummy British voice, moving her arms onto the lemonade bottle as if she were animate.

“I love these sandwiches!” she began to puppeteer Waffle, a jam-covered slice of crusty bread in front of him, the tarry purple ooze staining his muzzle. “Num, num. Delish!”

“Well, I’m happy you like it!” Allie laughed. Minutes ticked away as she polished off a bowl of cherry and nectarine. As fun as make-believe was, it could get a bit quiet. She provided further voices for Poppy and Waffle, including a discussion about milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Soon, she ran out of ideas. Maybe she should’ve brought along some more toys. 3 was a good number for a group of friends, but toys were hardly the best conversationalists.

Perhaps she should’ve invited Frannie? But knowing her, she’d only want to listen to music the whole time and not talk one bit. Besides, Frannie was sick, holed up in her room with monstrous stomach pains and chocolate bars. Seemed to only happen once a month.

How unfair, to be sick on a beautiful day...

She was morosely about to drink the rest of her lemonade when she heard rustling on the other end of the blanket. Someone else had joined? She looked up, seeing another child sitting on the grass.

“Oh, hello! Welcome to my picnic. I’m Allie.”

Allie didn’t hear him speak loud enough, but she heard him mutter that his name was ‘Cassius’. He looked around, seeing the plates. He was clad in a basic outfit of simple grey. Slacks, a shirt and shoes. They looked sort of old, like from her grandmother’s time. His hair was white, like the moon.

“Ah, how rude of me. Would you like something? I have fresh fruit, jam and crusty bread, chocolate stars and lemonade.”

Cassius pointed to the bread. Must’ve been too shy to speak. Couldn’t be blamed for that. Allie had been rather quiet when she first went to school, always unsure.

“It’s good of you to come. It was getting kinda lonely with just Poppy and Waffle here.” She puppeteered the doll and bear to make them wave. The boy laughed a bit, quickly finishing the bread and jam.

Despite how silent Cassius was, he seemed to convey all he needed with a simple gesture. Was he deaf? Allie knew that Tristan from school was deaf, speaking with sign language, but she didn’t know anything besides ‘hello’. Cassius seemed more mute than deaf, not speaking much. Not that it ended their conversation.

“… so I think playing make-believe is better than other hobbies. It exercises my imagination. Books and drawings are also good, but it looks better in my head. Not that I’m bad at drawing, it just takes some time.”

Cassius nodded on, complimenting. He emptied his second bowl of fruit and was curiously sniffing at a lemonade bottle.

“You’ve not tried lemonade? It’s not sour, it’s quite sweet. Well, with the sugar added. I personally prefer red lemonade. Raspberry. Not that regular lemonade isn’t good. They’re both good. Did you finish that already?”

He hiccupped, setting down the empty bottle, smiling, looking a bit guilty.

“My, you must be thirsty! Oh, I forgot to ask. Where’re you from? Were you walking in the woods? … You live in the woods? Oh, like a wee cabin?” 

He shuffled at the other end of the blanket, his face dark, like a cloud passing over the sun.

“No family? … Well, that’s rather sad. I’m sorry… Oh! You can come visit me if you like! I’m always outside. Food does taste better outside in the sun. Unless it’s bug-season. I would bring a scented candle, but daddy says I could get burnt. Maybe a reed diffuser. Frannie uses reed diffusers, I always smell sandalwood and lavender around her room.”

Cassius smiled the broadest smile Allie had ever seen, and she instantly felt at ease, smiling back.

“Of course! You’ll be welcome any time! Just look for me, and I’ll be here!”


“Allie, are you coming inside yet? I don’t want you getting sunburn!” Frannie stood in the door. Mother told her to bring her inside. Although she never liked getting up from a movie, she had to nanny her little sister. Begrudgingly, she paused The Fifth Element and stood in the patio doorway. Allie was there, sitting in a glade with her picnic party.

“Come on, there’s bugs out!”

“Comiiiing!” Allie gathered up her toys, and seemed to be talking to someone. Whatever. Probably an imaginary friend. No… No, there was someone else there. She squinted in the sunlight, seeing a dark shape shuffle away from the picnic scene.

Allie entered, lugging a bag of refuse behind her, Poppy and Waffle under her arms.

“Now, I hope you know how to recycle. … Jesus, did you drink all that lemonade? And the chocolates?”
“No, Cassius ate most of it. He was really hungry.”

“Cassius?” Allie had never been one for Roman history. “Very odd name.”

“Well, it’s his name anyway. I enjoyed the picnic with him. … I think he’s lonely. Told me he has no parents.”
“Poor lad. Orphaned." Her mouth dried. "W-Wait, if he’s in the woods, shouldn’t we call him over? We should call the social services!”
“Oh, he lives in the woods.” And without another word, Allie went to empty the bag of empty lemonade bottles and chocolate wrappers.


The summer ticked by. Allie sat outside, eating her meals out there. She couldn’t sit out during the evenings, though she desired to. Father and mother warned her it could get dark. Most days she’d return covered in moss, looking rather crestfallen. Typical kids, wanting to stay out late, playing all night.

So, she sat in the swing-seat, her plate with her, looking out at the glade.

Inside, Frannie completed her binge list, finally read Salammbô and did some drawing. She’d sit in the living room, next to the patio door, Allie in the swing-seat.

She sat and played Jool, her tired mind on autopilot. She started to hear something. Allie was speaking. To who? That imaginary friend?
Frannie turned to the patio door, the seat rocking back and forth, the back of Allie’s auburn head poking at the top. Nobody else was around. Must’ve been just playing…

Did Frannie ever have an imaginary friend? Not that she could recall. Perhaps a pony or a fairy friend. She stopped all the imaginary play once Allie was born, turning resentful.

Time passed. Frannie downloaded some new music. Allie was still speaking. Huh.

“Wish I could be as creative as her.” She mumbled. Instinctively, she began to listen in, trying not to curse as she saw her character fall off the screen- 'Game Over' flashing in fluorescent pink and blue.

“My house? Oh, it’s just me, mom, dad and Frannie. She’s my older sister. No, she stays inside mostly. Sensitive to the sun. And the bugs. Yeah, not as fun.”
Perfect. She and the imaginary friend were slagging her off!

“You wouldn’t know her. … Rather tall. Yeah. Mom says if I drink enough milk, I’ll be tall like her. You’ve not tried milk? Are you allergic?”

This was getting weird. It didn’t sound like make-believe, more like a one-sided conversation.

“Yeah, I’ve got meats in my fridge. I could make sandwiches with ham next time, if you like.”

Whatever. Allie had always been a bit weird. Frannie continued playing Jool, putting some Velvet Acid Christ on in the background. Before long, Allie came indoors.

"About time."


Summer ticked on. Frannie read on and watched films as Allie ate outdoors. She pulled over the garden table and a few stools, making an outdoor dining set. On the sunnier days, she brought along two parasols. Now she was truly committed to her imaginary play.

“This is just weird.” Frannie sat on the wicker seat, finishing off a bowl of pretzels.

She looked out at the glade, some distance away. Allie was talking away at the invisible friend, pushing forth bowls of fruits, sweets and meats.

Was… was that meat… raw? No. No, Allie wasn’t that stupid. It must’ve been cooked salmon. Salmon was pink… Where did it go? She must’ve eaten it quickly. … Frannie rubbed her eyes. Was she sleeping enough? She went back inside for some cola.

When she went back outside, the picnic was clear. … Nobody ate that fast. Frannie strained her ears to hear over the wind.

“You want more? My, you are hungry, Cassius!”

She prepared to sit up from the swing-seat, but Allie walked deeper into the woods.

“Allie? Allie, where are you going?” Frannie’s stomach went cold.

She waited ten minutes, but she didn’t return. Her big-sister instinct kicked in, and she rose from the swing-seat.

“Allie, you come back here! You’ll get lost in the woods!”

Frannie strode through the grasses, walking into the cool green, shadowed by the canopy.

“I know you like playing outside, but walking in the woods isn’t safe! Come on! Get back here before I call dad and mom!”

She found Allie bent under an oak, in the deeper part of the woods. It was hard to walk through the thicket.
“What’re you doing? Get back to the house!”

“I’m hosting the picnic for Cassius!”

“Imaginary friend or not, you can’t just go deep into unknown territory! You can get hurt! Mother will tan my hide if you come back scrabbed and dirty.”

“Oh, shut up, will you?” Allie carried something in a cradle of her skirts and made her way back to the table.

In all her years, Allie had never talked back to Frannie. She was never rude like that!

… She never looked like that. She seemed... sick. Was she dehydrated from the sun?

“You were not invited. Go away.” Allie said bluntly.

Before Frannie could interrogate her further, Allie set out stuff on the table, wrapped in leaves. She unfolded the green packages, revealing bodies of birds. They weren’t moving. Dead, their heads backward.

“Allie… What…?”

Allie picked up the body of a still-struggling hare, its back legs twisted. It squeaked horribly. In one fluid motion, she cracked its neck.

Frannie felt her gorge rise, acidic and thick in her throat.

ALLIE! What the Hell are you doing?!” tears pricked the corners of her eyes.

“It’s for Cassius.” Allie looked back at her, almost insulted that she was being questioned.

Frannie raised her hand and sharply smacked Allie round the face, almost astonished at how her palm stung. Allie didn’t flinch a bit.

“… I… Why? This is sick! You’re sick! You need help!”

“It’s for my friend.” Allie said tautly, her eyes dull. “My very special friend.”
“It’s just imaginary! You just can’t do things like…”

A shape blurred at the opposite end of the table, like smoke through glass. Her eyes stung and her head hurt. The summer wind died as ringing filled her ears. It looked like the shape of a boy, but wrong. It shifted into something rotten, like it’d been skinned, burnt alive, and skinned again. Like a bad copy. A reflection in muddied water.

It stood up from the table and limped towards her, mouthing something as if speaking silently, unlike any language she had ever heard before.

Frannie began to gasp, her breath slowing down painfully. She struck at her sternum, trying to revive her dying heartbeat, but couldn’t. She fell into the grass.

Allie looked at her fading sister, not saddened a single bit. She looked at Cassius, and Cassius smiled his warm smile back at her, and she smiled back.

“Well, we have more meats for the picnic now! Ha!” Cassius handed Allie a dark stone blade. Frannie could only let out a panicked, fluttering breath as her sister walked forward, her vision rapidly fading as the blade came closer.