Bogleech.com's 2019 Horror Write-off:
Submitted by Shakara
They say my mother died upon the day of my birth. I did not mourn, for I never knew her.
I knew only my father. He was a kind man, but listless. Never strong, for he had lost most of his spirit when my mother faded away. I remember how he looked out the window, as if at something a thousand miles far off… A pity to see. I did try in vain to cheer him, but he would always return to his mournful gazing.
In time, he remarried, and I met my stepmother. A cruel woman. Though I had no idea why she hated me so. Not at the time.
In my own home, she made me do the chores and wear shabby clothing. The servants didn’t try and talk back to her. Father didn’t stand up to her, and I hated him for that. So passive was he, the idea of upsetting his new wife unbearable to him. How weak can a man be?
In my youth, her hatred was mainly passive. I cleaned up, avoided her sight, and lived as well as I could. I mainly spent my girlhood in the garden, singing. I preferred to be alone. The creatures of the nearby forest would flock to me.
The power of my voice, I soon learnt. Squirrels, birds, hedgehogs, rabbits- even a few deer! Despite this new power, my father did not take notice. Not even when I brought venison to the kitchen did he look up. Alone, save for my stepmother’s hateful glare. She spent more and more time in her chambers, pensive, and looking into the mirror. Vanity. Such a poisonous thing.
I once toyed with the idea that her gaze could kill me. Little did I know that she actually did plot my death. I had been sitting by the garden when the vandal came, blade in hand. I ran. I ran so far. Fearing I would soon die, I spoke piteously, tears welling in my dark eyes.
“I am but a poor girl with no friend in the world. I beg of you, spare me! I have done no wrong!”
Shockingly, he stopped. He froze in his tracks. His eyes misted over and he left me. Just wandered into the wood, as if he were a puppet. … I knew it wasn’t just out of kindness. I felt that I had done something. I couldn’t describe it. I… put the idea of sparing me into his head?
Brushing the event aside, I walked deeper into the woods. I knew I couldn’t go back home, my stepmother seeking my death. I’m not sure how long I walked, but I was getting hungry and tired. The sun was sinking. Eventually, I did find a stone cottage with a lot of beds. Seemed more than one person lived there. After a quick pilfered meal of rabbit and red-currants, I lay down to sleep.
Quickly, I was awoken by panicked shouts. Several bearded men stood in the room, holding pickaxes, chairs, random items, all looking at me fearfully.
I explained my situation, of how I was being chased, and needed sanctuary. I’d trade with them. My necklace, my rings, my shoes, coin- anything for safety! Something must’ve worked, since I garnered a place in their home.
They would go out to work in the wood, hardy, tool-hefting men, and I would clean their house. I sewed, worked the loom, planted flowers and even found animal companions. The birds would bring things to me if I called for it. Coins, bits of fallen jewellery, cloth and so forth. The foxes helped me sniff out good herbs and edible mushrooms. The wolves helped me to hunt. I favoured them. As time passed, I learnt how to cook blood into black pudding, so nothing would go to waste. The years ticked by. The men trusted me, grateful for my tasks. They thanked me, giving me my own jewels and new-woven clothes. As soft as flower petals, colourful as the day. Brothers, all of them were. They worked in the mines, earning through honest work. They built the cottage from the ground up, so they did.
Feeling safer, I grew bolder. I strode the woods, hunting game. I pursued bigger prey, and blood did flow. I grew taller, no longer the little girl I was. I did not feel afraid. I knew I could defend myself. Blood did flow.
That is not to say I grew wiser. I knew there was something wrong with the visitor that came to the house. An honest merchant, they’d said. Just a humble old woman in a grey cloak.
“Laces and combs, goodwife! Peruse my wares!” Curious, I approached. I’d not seen anybody else enter the forest for a time. Sometimes I saw other hunters. Sometimes walkers. Occasionally the secret lovers meeting together. I was sure to avoid them, silently skulking.
The laces were beautiful, even if I hadn’t known how to tie one. A gilded comb. Why gold? Couldn’t it simply be wood? I looked at what else they carried in their basket.
It had been the winter, and I was hungry, having no prey to hunt. My bearded friends were out, cutting wood for the fire.
Apples. Oh, the purest red apples they brought me! So very round and fresh, smelling lovely.
One cannot be blamed for hunger. How was I to know it was poisoned? It occurred before I even knew what had happened. One bite, and the sound of terrible laughter ringing in my ears. My throat shut and the ground rose to meet me.
I do not know how long I lay like that. I awoke uncertain, my eyes still foggy from my unwanted slumber, my throat rough from having nought to drink. It didn’t feel like I was on the ground or the floor. But I knew the feel of soft, warm flesh when I found it. Imagine my shock, my horror, my raw disgust- when I found a youthful noble having his own way with me. I was in slumber! He saw fit to take my flower! Of course, I had to punish him. Wouldn’t you?
He was no noble, he was a lecher! My foolish bearded friends, presuming me dead, had given me a funeral. A lovely procession, though they had not buried me. A coffin above the ground? And not even nailed shut! I’d almost wished to have been buried- perhaps cremated. Feh. And this accursed man-! He saw fit to stick his whole tongue down my throat! The bastard!
Having much stronger teeth of a grown woman, I bit him. Hard. His screams were piercing. The blood was hot, and it washed away that bite of apple. Fumbling onto his horse, he sprinted away, still screaming. I wiped my mouth and put my dress back on. I walked out of the wood, ignorant of the confused, fearful cries of the bearded men behind me.
One look behind me, I had seen their beards were grey. Their faces paler, shock running riot through the crowd, electric and sharp. I cared not.
Years must’ve passed. Decades, even. Yet my slumber had felt only like hours…
So very strange. I had not turned old. Looking at my reflection in the river deemed it true. I was young still, though taller and with prodigious curves. Turning my hands over, no wrinkles marred the pale skin. My jet hair had not turned white. Despite the frost under my feet, I did not feel it. The snow bothered me not.
After a quick drink of water, I made my way back to the town. Back to my home.
Back to my stepmother.
The town had turned to a city. The wooden houses I once knew were now of tall stone. Marble. I saw fine glass windows with gem inlay. Horses and carts. People walked by in satin coats and muffs. Lanterns abound lit up the white-grey sky with an orange corona.
One saintly old man- mayhaps a priest- offered me his coat, saying it was so unfortunate to see a foundling freezing near to death. One look at my face, and the blood drained from his.
Ah, how naïve I was. To think that a simple absence would dispel all knowledge of myself.
No, it seemed the people still believed me a beast. My stepmother still wanting to see me die. Feh. How vain does one have to be? Making my way to the city centre was a hard task. I snatched a few cuts of meat from a butcher window, and hid in the back alleys. I grew accustomed to raw meat in the wood. Aye, I could’ve cooked it, but raw tasted better. I hardly fell sick.
Several times over I almost was caught by a mugger or murderer. Well, your knife counts for nothing when I have my power. They let me pass, their eyes misted over. I remembered how I called the songbirds and deer to me. The magic faded back into my being, like a dam breaking, a river unleashed. Rabble, gentry and guard- they all tried to stop me.
With a single look, they stopped in their tracks. Just like that huntsman so long ago. They know they can’t kill me. They don’t have it in them at all. The guards at the castle gates let me pass without incident. I could see them shaking inside their armour.
Eventually, I made my way into the castle, my stepmother older now. Still the evil woman she always had been. I did not see my father. My questioning revealed that he had died of grief. The false news of my death led him to weaken, taking no food and not sleeping. He gave up. A miniscule spark of love rose in my heart for my father’s mourning, but it was quickly replaced with rage. This virago deemed it prudent to slaughter me because of my image, turning the entire city against me? Throughout the discourse, she kept on looking into that damn mirror…
I tore it off the wall and shattered it to pieces. I could’ve sworn I heard a far-away howl.
The bloodless woman didn’t even have the stomach to fight me. Calling in the guards did her no good, I stared into their eyes and overrode their will, dissolving their minds like ice.
I did not expect the dagger to pierce me so suddenly. Had she hidden it in her dress? I knew not. But I did remember her face as I slowly dragged it out of my chest and ripped it across her throat. I fastened my lips to the wound, seeing her eyes slowly cloud over, her quivering mouth trying to curse me even as the end came.
Such a pathetic woman.
I sat atop the throne, the body at my feet suddenly aged and shrunken.
My power grew. I didn’t need to hide. Rightfully, the crown was given to me. The people had hated living in such fear. I dispelled their panic. I would rule just and well, unlike my late stepmother. I did not bury her. I allowed the townsfolk to throw it atop a bonfire in the court. She made better firewood than a person, I say. I did not look away until her bones had charred. I spat into the ashes.
The coronation was splendid. I treated my servants well and spoke to many nobles in the court. I would rule. No more cowering in the woods. I was queen.
I contemplated the castle, looking at my triumphant reflection in the frosted windows.
My face. Had my stepmother’s rage been all for my image? Petty.
My lips, blood red. My hair, coal-black. My skin, snow-white.
What is so special about looks, anyway? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to eat.
Black pudding is a favoured dish in my castle.