The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by R.A. Clarke
The mist moved in fast, catching me off guard. I was foraging for berries to fill my aching stomach when I noticed a hint of haze. It had been resorting to drastic measures lately, rolling low to the ground, sneaking in while I was distracted.
I need to reach my camp. It’s the only place I’ll be safe.
None of my shipmates had believed me when I said the fog was sentient. It seemed to track and anticipate our moves, stalking like a hungry lion. Of course, our starvation made the hunt easier. After several days on this barren island, our limbs and minds grew sluggish. That’s when it first came, appearing out of nowhere. It began consuming us one by one. Bodies left behind, ravaged.
I sprinted up the well-worn path leading up the hill. Exotic foliage whipped against my legs as I jumped craggy rocks and gnarly roots. Huffing for breath, my arms and legs pumped, pushing to keep up the pace. I couldn’t afford to slow down.
Just fifty more feet and I’d be there. I spied the tip of my roughly constricted shelter, smoke wafting from the fire as it dried ragged cuts of fleshy meat. Perched atop a solid rock plateau at the top of the hill, this camp had become my fortress. There, the mist could invade and slather me with evil whispers, yet could never grasp me.
For weeks I’d been evading its clutches. Staying careful was key. Planning and outwitting. I left camp to forage at random intervals. Left decoys behind to trick it. Threaded my clothes with grasses and other camouflage. And with each failed attempt to catch me, the mist’s aggression increased. Whispers grew into roars.
I passed the spot where Tony breathed his last breath. A weight settled in my gut, memories flooding in. I recalled how the mist caught us in the open early on. We’d stumbled upon the plateau by sheer accident, only moments before the mist enveloped us, yet we didn’t die. The truth came as a revelation. The fog didn’t kill on contact, as previously believed.
No, it served as a puppet master.
Swiftly, we set up a camp, and for a time, lived together as partners. Tony had been a good friend. Perhaps more than that—once, but… it was only a matter of time before the mist killed him, too. I couldn’t let that happen. He was too valuable. With food stores running low, it was either him or me. I made sure his death was quick. Humane.
Sometimes I wondered if he would’ve killed me if given a chance. The fact that he didn’t try to fight back that day kept bothering me, gnawing at my insides, but not enough to stop chewing.
Blinking hard, I refocused on the plateau.
Something about that rock kept the puppets at bay. They were insidious creatures who snarled and snapped, salivating over their prey at a distance. Sometimes I walked to the edge to watch them writhe in the soil. Feral and slithering, their silver scaled bodies appeared ghostly within the ashen fog. A crop of ravenous poltergeists tethered to this forsaken island, both revived and compelled by a murderous mist. Their eyes haunted my dreams.
When I began to recognize faces—their twisted features disturbingly familiar, I worried I might be going crazy. Tony and I had killed some of these people ourselves, harvesting them in brazen competition with the mist. Those faces should not belong to the fog. Yet they did. That’s when I realized the mist collected souls. Reaped, repurposed, and then unleashed.
A wall of white rose behind my camp, looming ominously. Sneering at me.
“I’m too late.” It would hit me before I reached the rock. I’d be vulnerable on the soil. My steps faltered. Stumbling, my shoulder crashed into the earth, berries scattering down the slope. The ground already trembled in anticipation—puppets stirring below, waiting for their show to start.
Scrambling back to my feet, I kept running. With every stride, I regretted ever going on vacation. I cursed the half-price excursion that stranded me here, and the wretched captain who’d promised this beach would be heavenly.
Only twenty more steps. I can make it.
However, the mist disagreed. It swept through my camp like a tsunami, surging to overtake me. The earth quaked beneath my feet as I charged forward. Every inch of ground I gained now was integral. If I could get onto that rock quickly, I still stood a chance. Maybe.
Seconds later, the cloud blanketed my body, swirling particles of whitewashed murk so thick I could barely see. Tripping over a shrub, I lurched. The sound of crumbling earth raged in my ears. Soil collapsed into a hole in front of me, and I dodged left. A snakish ghost with Jessica’s eyes lashed out. She’d been my very first kill, the weakest. But not anymore. I winced as the electric burn of her teeth grazed my calf.
I can’t be far now.
Another hole, another spectre. Dave this time, missing an eye just like the moment he’d died. I could still taste the vitreous fluid on my tongue, feel the crisp pop as the orb crunched between my teeth. He’d sustained Tony and I for weeks.
Deeking right and left, I narrowly evaded fatal bites. What would happen to me if I died? Would I become one of them too? Digested and regurgitated as one of the mist’s legion?
Mercifully, the plateau’s rocky ledge revealed itself several feet ahead. A shout ripped from my lungs, dripping with relief. I’d won another day to survive. To kill the captain and escape when the next shipload of gullible tourists came in. I clung to the belief that they’d come.
Hair prickled on my arms. The mist whispered in my ear, promising to devour me.
“Fuck you!” I roared back. Distracted, I didn’t notice the soil crumbling until it was too late. Barely two steps from the rock, my body dropped suddenly, gravity pulling me down.
Dark, fragmented earth swallowed me whole, muffling my screams. Then my body jolted as an iron grip clasped beneath my jaw, squeezing. One of the mist’s hoary creatures lifted me from its tunnel, holding me close. Feet dangling, gasping for breath, I gaped at the monster.
A maw of sizzling fishbone teeth smiled back.
Tony’s silver tongue licked my cheek, tracing a line down my jaw. Then lower down my neck, leaving hot saliva in its wake. In the next moment, my airway closed. I couldn’t even cry out as an electric pain shredded my flesh.
The mist whispered in my ear as Tony secured his revenge for my betrayal.
Fiction © Copyright R,A. Clarke
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
About author R.A. Clarke:
R.A. Clarke lives with her husband and two children in Portage la Prairie, MB. She enjoys writing multi-genre short fiction, and is currently working on a novel. She’s won the Writer’s Games and Writers Weekly international short story competitions, and was a finalist for the 2021 Futurescapes Award. Her stories have been published by Polar Borealis Magazine, Jolly
Horror Press, and Sirens Call Publications, among others. R.A. also writes/illustrates children’s books as Rachael Clarke. Her debut chapter book The Big Ol’ Bike (for ages 7-10) is available on Amazon!