The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
by Naching T. Kassa
Nalin Kratides and Detective John Warren stood at the edge of the green field beneath the setting sun, the skeletal body at their feet. Dirt clung to the bones as though unwilling to part with them, and a single, blood-red poppy had grown up through the hole in its skull.
“The owner of the field contacted us,” Warren said. “He found the remains a little over two hours ago.”
“It looks as though he’s been shot. A single gunshot wound to the temple. Am I the first to see this?”
“Why didn’t you bring out the forensics team?”
Warren reached into his pocket and pulled out a wristwatch. He held it out to Nalin. She stared at it, and as realization overcame her, her heart throbbed, and tears blurred her vision.
“The owner found it with him,” John said, his tone gentle. “You’ve described it to me so many times—I wanted you to see it first.”
She took the watch from his hand and brushed the dust from its face. Something flashed across the surface of the glass, something dark and menacing. The metal backing seared her skin, and she cried out in pain. The watch dropped to the ground.
“What happened? What’s the matter?” Warren cried.
Nalin held out her palm. The watch had burned a small, red circle into it.
“It’s still there, John.”
She nodded and stooped to pick up the watch. She thrust it into her pocket. “It still wants to kill me.”
“Ok, forget this. I’ll get the forensic team in, and they’ll take care of your brother until we figure out what to do.”
“No, not yet.”
“Nalin, that thing almost killed you when you were eight. What if…?”
She pressed a finger to his lips. “I’m not eight anymore, John. And back then, I didn’t have you.” She took his hand and squeezed it. “Catch me if I fall.”
Before he could stop her, Nalin knelt and pressed her hand against the bleached bare skull. A tunnel of light appeared before her, and she stepped inside.
The tunnel opened on a mirror version of the field she’d just left. A man, dressed in army fatigues, sat in the tall grass, his back toward her. In the distance, a dark figure stood silhouetted against the crimson sky.
Nalin shivered and kept her eyes on the figure as she crept through the grass.
The man didn’t turn as she approached. He seemed not to hear the soft rustle she made as she stepped through the grass.
Nalin hadn’t known what she would do or say when she saw Kuruk again. She had hoped they would be reunited in the land of the living. She had never wished to see him here. The land of the dead seemed a lonely place for her only brother.
As she grew closer, she realized something was wrong. This man, though as big as her brother, had lighter hair and skin. When he finally turned to face her, her heart sank. He had blue eyes, not brown, and his face was not Kuruk’s. The tag on his tunic read “Sawyer.”
“Keep your eyes on it,” the man said. “Watch it and it can’t hurt you.”
Nalin took a seat beside the soldier and followed his gaze. The figure in the distance had moved closer since she’d entered the field.
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Sawyer. Private. First-class.”
“Do you know Kuruk Kratides?”
The soldier shook his head.
“Then how did you get his watch?”
“I found it in Kabul. In the rubble of an abandoned building. Never should’ve picked it up.” He motioned to the figure. “That thing has haunted me day and night ever since. I thought I might leave it behind in Kabul, but it came home with me. It hates children.”
“I know,” Nalin said. She shivered and clutched at her arm, the one which still bore the scars of teeth and talon.
“I’ve tried to get rid of that watch, but it always comes back. When that…that thing tried to kill my son, I couldn’t take it anymore. I brought the watch to the field and when I could destroy it, I…”
He trailed off.
“You’ve been here, watching it ever since?” Nalin asked.
“Do you want to go home?”
Sawyer bit his lip. His voice broke when he spoke. “More than anything.”
“I can help you. But we need to leave this place.”
“I can’t do that. I have to stay here. If I don’t watch it, it’ll hurt someone else.”
Nalin stood. She reached out to take his hand. “If we back away through the grass, and keep our eyes on it, it won’t be able to follow. It’ll be trapped here, just like you are.”
Sawyer didn’t move. For several tense seconds, Nalin continued to hold out her hand. At last, he took it. He stood, and together they backed away.
The wraith wailed as Sawyer took his first step. The sound chilled Nalin’s blood, and fear coiled within her stomach, but she didn’t run. Sawyer needed her. She gripped his hand and continued on.
When they reached the tunnel, a new one sprang up beside it. Light shone at the end.
“Take that tunnel,” Nalin said. “Take it and go home. I’ll watch it until you’re gone.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be alright. I have someone waiting.”
“I don’t know how to thank you.”
“You don’t have to. Hurry and go.”
She waited what seemed like forever, her eyes still on the creature. The second tunnel still hadn’t vanished, and she turned for a second, just to see how Sawyer had progressed. It was a second, but it was enough. A hand, with skin grave-decayed, grasped hold of her arm and dragged her away.
She screamed as it pulled her through the grass.
She heard John call her name, but his voice was far off, too far to reach her in time. The wraith dropped her, and she looked up into the terror of her childhood, the face which was only teeth—razor-sharp teeth.
It fell upon her and buried those teeth in her shoulder. She screamed.
And then, he was there, not John, but Sawyer. He grasped the creature by the throat and pinned it to the ground.
“Run!” he cried.
Nalin rose and staggered, not away, but forward. She pulled the watch from her pocket and shoved it into the wraith’s mouth.
The creature screamed as blue fire erupted from its maw.
“Now, we run!” Nalin cried. She took off with Sawyer at her heels.
The explosion propelled her through the air. She tumbled forward into the tunnel and landed hard on the grass-covered earth.
Warren helped her to her feet.
“Where is he?” she cried.
“No, it wasn’t Kuruk. It was a man called Sawyer. Where is he?”
“You were the only one who came through.”
“I promised I’d get him out. I promised. I—”
She glanced about. The field had changed since she’d first left it. Blood-red poppies had sprouted and bloomed.
Fiction © Copyright Naching T. Kassa
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from Naching T. Kassa:
Crystal Lake Publishing proudly presents Arterial Bloom, an artful juxtaposition of the magnificence and macabre that exist within mankind. Each tale in this collection is resplendent with beauty, teeth, and heart.
Edited by the Bram Stoker Award-winning writer Mercedes M. Yardley, Arterial Bloom is a literary experience featuring sixteen stories from some of the most compelling dark authors writing today.
With a foreword by HWA Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient Linda D. Addison, you are invited to step inside and let the grim flowers wind themselves comfortably around your bones.