The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Michelle Joy Gallagher
Helena learned early on that silence was its own language. It overcame the joyful when words were insufficient. It paralyzed the fearful. Rage, in its greed, stole words directly from the throat. Much could be learned from silence, even the pauses between words. Silence had weight. It took up space. It had inflection.
The forest knew this language, which in its vastness and depth seemed to always carry a low hum. Wildlife rustled in the leaves. Birds heralded the sunrise and sunset. Creeks gurgled. Rivers roared. It was thrumming. A living, breathing thing. It too, used silence. As a clock. As a warning. As a weapon.
The absence of light worked in much the same way. The mere “absence” of light did not reference darkness. Darkness was its own animal. The absence of light; the artifacts of shadow left behind when light is obscured or bent in just the right way, the void beneath and behind real solid objects in the presence of light, behave much the way silence does. Helena knew this too.
She sat by the humble fire she’d built out of the bramble of dead blackberry vine and dried pine branches. She fixed her gaze at her upturned, scarred palms and waited.
Embers swirled upward into the night sky, a supplication to the stars.
The trees cast long shadows in the presence of the flickering firelight, unearthly dark compared to the brilliance of the flames. It was there in the void the shadows carved into the pine needles and damp soil that she saw it emerge slowly, as if crawling out of a deep sleep.
None of her songs or her supplications soothed it, and it advanced across the clearing with frightening grace until it stood over her, a being crafted wholly out of corrupted dark.
It grabbed Helena by the neck with one practically formless hand and started to drag her back to the shadow it ascended from. It meant to take her through.
She gasped for air and struggled to pull herself away from the grip of the thing, but it had overpowered her easily. At the speed which this being moved, her feet barely scraped the ground.
Helena went limp. Her arms fell to her sides in one helpless yaw that spoke of helplessness and dwindling will. Her right arm brushed against the ceremonial knife at her hip, snug in its leather sheath. Her father insisted she carry it when she went on her excursions. She had just sharpened it in anticipation of this one.
Only a few feet away from the void where she would invariably be dragged to whatever darkness and doom lay beyond it, she drove the knife into the back of the interloper, spilling the dark and rotten contents within it. It froze, soundlessly, and turned its masked face toward her.
Helena removed the knife from the thing and plunged the blade once, twice, a third time into the body of the thing until the blade and her hand was slick with vile muck. Over and over she stabbed it, cutting her hand on the blade as it slipped. Her blood mixing in a strange alchemy with whatever substance filled her captor. It only stood there holding her in its grip, observing. Finally she drove the blade deeply between what must have been ribs, breaking its grip on her neck. She fell backward in a daze, and found her focus just in time to see it disappear into the impossible gateway the shadow had provided.
Dawn broke, and she extinguished the sacred fire and headed back to the village.
Helena told no one what had transpired, but packed carefully all the herbs and tonics she might need for tonight. And her blade, which now carried an oily sheen that did not wash off.
Tonight, it would be back and she would be waiting.
Fiction © Copyright Michelle Joy Gallagher
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from author Michelle Joy Gallagher:
This collection of twelve stories and artwork by women is truly a collection of the macabre. Make a reservation for terror and get ready to delve into the deepest, darkest fears of some of the best writers and artists in the fiction game. Leah McNaughton Lederman has collected an anthology of the truly strange… a tome of the weird. Take a seat and order a cup, you’re dining at Café Macabre!