The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by R.A. Clarke
Trapped in a gnarled and splintered prison thick with knots and fibre, my body is wooden, paralyzed. I’ve been cursed to stew on my so-called atrocities, but they don’t know the depth of my capabilities. What I’ve seen. What I’ve done. If they knew the truth—the full scope of me, they wouldn’t keep coming back here year after year to celebrate my murder. I watch as they gorge with food and gleefully dance around my trunk. They recount the time-skewed tale and gloat about their glorious victory over the evil swamp witch. They pour fertilizers at the base of my bulk to preserve what remains of their sacred monument.
The tree still rots. I need it to.
They believe I’m dead. That their haphazard ritual killed me—encasing my living body in this deciduous tomb. But my power is far beyond what their simple minds can fathom. Now free from my mortal skin, I am resplendent.
I strain for release. For revenge.
Even now, my scraggly twig-laden hand rises from the crumbling stump, reaching for freedom. It’s taken years of effort to sap the last vestiges of life from this stubborn old hardwood, usurping its roots and sucking in the fuel I need to transform.
If the villagers were smart, they would’ve burned this tree to the ground. But of course, nobody had ever accused the Heedlevale townsfolk of being bright.
I can smell their sweaty bodies as they dance. Eager, I drain the last nutrients from my unwilling host. It’s not easy, but I circle my figurative hands around the tree’s broad coiled neck. White knuckled and shaking, I squeeze as its essence quivers.
It takes a last shuddering breath.
I smile and release. Power flows like warm sap in my veins. My outstretched hand twitches, fingers bending one by one. Ah, someone notices—a girl. Barely five years of age, and grown with perfect plumpness.
Uninhibited now, I cackle and stretch my other hand through gritty strips of bark, twisting my wooden fingers to grasp for that young, pale flesh. But the tiny beast screams, recoiling. I shrug. No matter. All in due time, child. Turning my focus to reforming the rest of my spirit’s exterior shell, I chant, whisper soft, and channel the dark energies of the swamp. I feel the full intensity of my power infuse me, its electric caress scintillating, welcome like a lost lover returned from battle.
One leg breaks free, crafted with joints of pitted wood and skin of sandpaper bark. I flex it and laugh triumphantly, the sound hollow and splintered. They all see me now. More feeble screams assault my ears. They know I am free.
Women and children flee, while men scramble for whatever meagre weapons they’ve brought. They cry, “Send for help and secure the village!”
“Yes—run. Scream. Beg for mercy. But you’ll receive none of what was denied to me! You will all die,” I rasp, each word raw and gritty. A second leg emerges and my limbs push upward with as much force as a woman in labour. I must free my shackled core from this lifeless stump. Sharp pops and groans ring out into the foggy dusk, and I’m rewarded with an inch. I push harder. The sun will set soon, its eerie amber glow piercing the swirling murk. Failing light—the perfect time to hunt. As every fibre of me shakes with effort, the villagers rush forward, hacking with their steel blades. They’ve realized my plight—perhaps not as simple-minded as I believed, yet their actions are no less futile. A large knife hacks off my wrist, but in the space of a twitch, another grows in its place. Two men snap one of my legs at the knee, and I sprout two new feet, kicking them back.
I send out a branch-like appendage, the tip razor thin and impale a man aiming his hatchet at the swelled bark protecting my throat. As he gurgles, I swing him like a mallet to topple the others nearby.
More of my limbs soar—snaking around and between my attackers. One bright-minded individual manages to set fire to dried mossy debris collected at my base. Though I feel the building heat, I worry not. For with one last push and hulking crack, my core jolts free, and I rise to the height of my brilliance.
I shriek, sending what’s left of these men into convulsions as they clap trembling hands over their ears. Stepping free of the stump’s rotted remnants, I stomp on the squirming morsels and scoop a handful to nibble on. But what delight! My new generous form allows me to devour each man whole. The soft flesh splits between my stake-like teeth—blood squirting like gravy to flavour the bite. Their bones crumble with a satisfying crunch.
When silence falls, I reel in my projectile branches. But not before licking the bloody spears as I once did with finger tips. I look toward the village, straining to hear. Roots spread forth from my feet into the ground and sense the many vibrations caused by retreating footfalls.
The women and children. Green wood bends as my mouth forms a smile. With another piercing shriek, I uproot my feet and step back into the world that rejected me.
They can’t reject me again.
Not if they’re dead.
Fiction © Copyright R.A. Clarke
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from author R.A. Clarke:
Oh, That’s Good…
Plucked from the mind of multi-genre short fiction author R.A. Clarke, these original speculative fiction prompts are sure to inspire and spark your creative flame. From dark to light, quirky to horrifying, there’s a little something here for everybody. You’re cordially invited to sift through the pages; take your time, pick and choose… or, if you’re feeling brave, take the 52-Week Challenge. Just spin, switch, expand, elevate, and transform these concepts into your own, then jot down those shiny new plotlines in the handy note sections provided. Oh, and don’t forget to have fun while you’re at it. So, are you ready to dive in and write that next great story?