The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Josie Queen
“Grandmama says not to touch the crystal.” The boy’s eyes are an astonishing shade of brown, almost black, and I can’t help but be unnerved by the intensity of his stare. The children at school avoid him and even adults don’t care to be in his presence for longer than necessary—I hope we aren’t alone too long in this room with its dusty corners and odd, musty smell.
“I had no intention of touching the crystal,” I say. I chuckle, though it feels false and I fear, unreasonably, that he feels it too. He smiles that strange mirthless smile and looks directly up at the aforementioned forbidden thing.
“But I won’t tell if you don’t,” he says in a sing-song voice. I shiver.
The crystal, a weak amber-colored gem, sits on the mantel and seems to absorb all of the light that enters the room. It’s the only explanation I have for the shadows and gloom in a room that should be filled with sunlight—it’s graced with large, floor to ceiling windows.
“Will your grandmama be along soon?” It was surprising to me that the boy opened the door to my knock, I expected the grandmother to answer. We’ve been waiting for some time now, or maybe it’s been a shorter while and I’m discomforted by this strange child. He just smiles in response to my question.
“Would you like to see the crystal up close? It’s very pretty.” We both look at the object. It’s not at all attractive—yellow and shapeless and exuding almost a sickly ambience—I would rather not get too close. I hold my case of school papers tighter on my lap and shake my head. “My friends tease me,” he says quietly. “They say Grandmama is a witch. They say she turned my mother into a toad and if you look at her wrong she’ll turn you into one too.”
“You mustn’t listen to the silly rumors of children, Matthew. Their heads are filled with fancies,” I say. I’ve heard the rumors too, though. And I’ve seen the way he repels other children like soap repels pepper. They gather in hordes and whisper cruel things—that his mother walked out on her child in the middle of the night because she lost her mind and that the grandmother has a cauldron and a familiar.
“Miss Thompson,” he whispers. “I really hope Grandmama isn’t really a witch. Witches have to burn, don’t they?”
“There is no such thing, Matthew.”
“But didn’t they do that when they found one? Burn them?” His voice is whispery, but it seems as if it’s close by my ear, even though he is across the room. But he isn’t now, I didn’t notice, but now he is by my side. I jump, then laugh—I’m one to talk of childhood velleities. I’m doing a grand job of frightening myself in this shadowy, damp room with this child who seems much older than his years.
“Well,” I say. “That was a long time ago and it…”
“But don’t you think witches should burn?”
“Where on earth could your grandmama be?”
‘Oh, you’ll see her soon enough,” Matthew says and smiles again. I do wish he would find an insect to torment or talk nonsense to me about toys or animals or trees or some such inconsequential thing that children usually talk about.
“Don’t you want to see the crystal?” he asks me.
“Well, if your grandmama says you’re not to touch it…”
“But Grandmama isn’t here,” he reasons.
“Will she be here soon?”
“Will you take the crystal down so I can see it? I promise not to touch it.” I don’t see the harm in humoring the boy, so I rise from my chair and approach the mantel. The room darkens and the crystal seems to shimmer. It is a very pretty little thing after all—the yellow glows in the darkness and I fancy I can hear it humming. I reach up to take it in my hand and as my fingers close around its coldness the world around me winks out.
I come to in a room with damp stone walls and a dirt floor covered with mildewed straw. I am sitting on the floor and there’s a chain attached to the wall and, in turn, to a band around my ankle. There are thick metal bars between my cell and the room beyond. I can smell smoke and I see the flicker of flames dancing on the walls and ceiling. I can hear the low roar of a congregation somewhere and the torturous screams of a person in sheer pain. I hear low footsteps coming down the stairs into the dungeon and then his eyes are looking into mine— those deep, dark, almost black eyes now in the face of a grown man. The evil in them is plain to me.
“Would you like to see Grandmama now?” he asks. “She is barely alive and won’t be for very long, but I’m sure she’ll be pleased to see you.
“Mama didn’t take so long to touch the crystal,” he says with a sigh, as if he’s reminiscing about a fond memory. “But Grandmama suspected what had happened to her witch of a daughter and tried to be rid of the crystal. I had to trick her. You weren’t so hard to trick.” He laughs loudly and claps his hands and I watch as the shadows of the flames flicker and lick across the walls of the cell.
Fiction © Copyright Josie Queen
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More about Josie Queen:
Josephine grew up in England and now resides in the northeast corner of the US. She writes flash fiction and short stories that err on the creepier side of things. She just completed the final draft of a novel length middle-grade fantasy, which she hopes to get published during her lifetime.