The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Leigh M. Lane
The numbing chill burned Lana’s toes as her bare feet broke through the morning frost. The path behind her stretched into the horizon, but the shrine was near. She could smell the sulfur. Her pack had grown considerably lighter over the past week, her provisions down to a few cups of rice and a baggie of dried fruit. The river she followed provided sweet water most of the way, so she’d only boiled enough to keep the canteen refreshed. The sour region had unfolded slowly enough for her to overlook her extinguishing supply, however, and now she took sparing sips, the canteen nearly dry. Her body craved rest, but the virgin-lily she’d protected had already turned from white to black, so her trip had to be nearly over. She pressed on.
The river’s remnants swirled with yellow foam, the flow obstructed by tangles of bog weed, and the stench grew to a whole new level of olfactory torture. She nearly dropped the flower when the sulfur had moved her to gag, and she let out a heavy sigh as she righted herself, clasping the delicate stem with both hands.
She steadied herself with the reminder of how many people depended on this single act. Only this one chance, or the river hag would come for her sister. Her limbs trembled and she sweated despite the cold when she spotted the shrine at the river’s bend. Made of stone and bone, the coffin-sized mass supported a single, silver tray. Lana eyed the flower for any imperfections while she moved toward shrine. Satisfied, she set the flower onto the tray.
She shuffled backward when the river stalled, but she knew better than to run. She held still while the hag rose out of the steaming shallows. Those who’d survived the journey had described her as wrinkled and ugly, but the creature before her had a youthful face and a pleasant smile.
“You’ve brought this gift to me?” The hag’s voice defied her appearance, and Lana suppressed a cringe at the shrill, grating croaks. “Why?”
“I’ve come to beg you cleanse my family’s name from your ledger. I bring the sacrifice of a virgin-lily for you to add to your underwater garden.”
The woman eyed the lily. “Bring the sacrifice to me.”
Lana brought it to the river’s edge, but hesitated when her toes hit the boiling, icy water.
“You know what you need to do.”
Lana took another moment, then strode toward the hag and handed her the lily. The water came up to her knees, and Lana cringed at the foam and other debris that collected and bubbled around her legs.
“And now a test.” The hag dipped the lily into the water, then offered it to Lana like a chalice.
Lana took it, but held it at arm’s length. “Um… thank you?”
Lana tipped the flower to peer inside, surprised that the water appeared to be clean. “I don’t understand.”
“The water will reflect what the flower sees in her carrier.”
Lana sniffed the water, finding only the mild but pleasant aroma of the flower itself. With one last steeling breath, she swigged down the contents.
“Such a shame,” said the hag.
Lana felt the flower slip from her hands right before her legs both failed her. She knelt in the freezing water, her trembling body growing increasingly weak. “What’s happening?”
“The flower saw deception. You were supposed to be a virgin.”
“But the water—”
“The water lied.”
Lana looked down. “Daddy would’ve killed him. We were planning on marrying… soon.”
The hag gave her a sympathetic nod. “Then it really is a shame.”
Lana collapsed, dropping into the shallow water and submerging. She tried to hold her breath, but her heart raced and her lungs burned. She let out the last of her air in one final shriek.
The hag turned her to her back, letting Lana bob just beneath the water’s surface. Lana breathed in the foul liquid before her lungs seized as well, and she watched the hag through the water’s haze while her mind slowly slipped.
“Well, let’s get you planted before you shrivel up,” said the hag, staring back. She grabbed Lana by the hair, and then pulled her bounty beneath.
Fiction © Copyright Leigh M. Lane
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Leigh M. Lane:
Finding Poe is a riddle to be solved, and this edition caters to those who feel up to the task. If you’re a Poe fan, you’ll already know he was the father of the deductive detective story. Many scholars will argue that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series was inspired by Poe’s Detective Dupin stories.
This book asks the reader to assume the hat of the deductive detective. Throughout the text, there are numerous clues to direct the reader toward an alternate speculation about Poe’s untimely death. Before you set out to solve the riddle, however, you must first find the question….
About the story: When reality and fiction collide, there’s no telling what horrors might ensue.
In the wake of her husband’s haunted death, Karina must sift through the cryptic clues left behind in order to solve the mystery behind his suicide–all of which point back to the elusive author, Edgar Allan Poe.
Karina soon finds that reality, dream, and nightmare have become fused into one as she journeys from a haunted lighthouse in New England to Baltimore, where the only man who might know the answers to her many questions resides.
But will she find her answers before insanity rips her grip on reality for good? Might a man she’s never met hold the only key to a truth more shocking than even she could have imagined?
Finding Poe was a 2013 EPIC Awards finalist in Horror.
“Atmospheric, lush, and lyrical, Leigh M. Lane’s Finding Poe is a haunting Gothic novel which will delight anyone familiar with the works of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as anyone who enjoys an evocative and classic tale of terror.” –horror/mystery author Dana Fredsti.