The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Sonora Taylor
Maggie didn’t know why there was a covered well in the marsh. It had fascinated her since she and her mother had moved in with her grandfather earlier that summer.
“That well holds secrets we’ll probably never know,” he said when Maggie drew him to it on an afternoon walk. “Maybe it holds the sea. Take a deep breath – can you smell the salty air?” He sniffed and puffed out his chest for effect.
Maggie copied him, but rather than sigh, she crinkled her nose and tried not to cough. All she could smell was dead fish.
A small rattle sounded near them. Maggie looked and saw the well’s lid tremble. Her eyes widened, and she turned to tell her grandfather. But he’d already continued down the beach. Maggie hurried to catch up with him.
Maggie’s mother sighed as she sipped her tea. Her head was bald and her skin pallid, but Maggie could see shades of beauty beneath the pale. Cheeks with a blush of rose, eyes as black as the ocean at night.
Maggie had always seen her mother withdrawn. With each year she grew, her mother seemed to grow sadder. Her father told her that childbirth had left her weak, so Maggie had to do her best to never disturb her.
Maggie didn’t understand, then, why her mother insisted on bringing Maggie with her when she decided to run away. “Don’t I weaken you?” Maggie asked as they drove towards her grandfather’s house, somewhere near the ocean that Maggie had only ever heard about in her mother’s stories.
“Weaken me? Never!” Her mother ran a trembling hand through Maggie’s hair. “You keep me strong. Why would you think otherwise?”
“Because Daddy said –”
“What Daddy says are lies.” Her mother’s eyes narrowed, and Maggie swore she saw them darken in their reflection in the windshield. “He stole things from me – things that kept me tethered to him, things that weakened me. He wants to do the same to you. I won’t let him.”
“Is that why we’re running away to Grandpa’s?”
“Yes. I need to go back to the things that I lost.”
“Maggie, wake up!”
Maggie blinked the sleep from her eyes and saw her mother shaking her. “What is it?”
“He’s here. Daddy’s here. We have to run.”
Maggie bolted out of bed and followed her mother down the stairs. “Run where?” she asked.
“Away. No, honey –” She swiveled Maggie as she moved towards the hall leading to the front door – “out the back. Grandpa’s distracting him.”
They moved to the back door, and Maggie heard the menacing softness of her father’s voice float from the front door. “You haven’t seen them?” he asked.
“Nope. They haven’t been here,” her grandfather replied.
Maggie and her mother stepped outside, and Maggie gently closed the door behind her. They ran as quietly as they could towards the marshes. Maggie felt the pungent odor of dead fish and salt hit her nose.
“This way!” Maggie pulled her mom in the direction of the well. Something told her they would be safer there than near the water. They reached the well, and her mother let out a cry. “How did you find this?” she asked.
“I found you because I know these marshes well.”
Maggie and her mother turned and saw her father staring at them from the other side. He smiled, and it was far from kind. “I grew up here too,” he said. “I knew where to hide in the marshes, and where to bury the –”
The well rattled. It shook so much that both her parents saw it. Maggie stepped back just as the concrete cracked. Black tentacles burst from the cracks, sending their briny scent into the air around them. Maggie screamed, and her father looked on in horror.
But her mother – for the first time in all of Maggie’s life – laughed. She grinned and held out her arms. The tentacles slithered up her arms and coiled into her head, where they settled into a sheath of beautiful black hair. The faint rose in her mother’s cheeks turned to coral pink as she dipped her hands into the well and brought out a mottled, shiny mat, one she draped over her body like a cloak.
“You wouldn’t return to the sea,” her father said with a sneer. “You’d never leave Maggie.”
“Of course not.” Her mother’s voice sounded like wind chimes made of seashells. When she grinned, her eyes glittered like lightning. “But I can leave you there.”
Maggie’s mother grabbed her father before he could run, and pulled him towards her. She leaped into the well, a tentacle of hair pulling the lid over top. Maggie heard her father thrash and scream while her mother laughed. She waited for her mother to return, and took in a moment to breathe in the salty air.
Fiction © Copyright Sonora Taylor
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Sonora Taylor:
Cara Vineyard lives a quiet life in rural North Carolina. She works for an emerging brewery, drives her truck late at night, and lives with her mother on a former pumpkin farm. Her mother is proud of her and keeps a wall displaying all of Cara’s accomplishments.
Cara isn’t so much proud as she is bored. She’s revitalized when she meets Jackson Price, a pharmacist in Raleigh. Every day they spend together, she falls for him a little more — which in turn makes her life more complicated. When Cara goes on her late-night drives, she often picks up men. Those men tend to die. And when Cara comes back to the farm, she brings a memento for her mother to add to her wall of accomplishments.
Cara’s mother loves her no matter what. But she doesn’t know if Jackson will feel the same — and she doesn’t want to find out.