The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
The Unkept One
by Michelle Joy Gallagher
Brena stoked the fire again reflexively. She’d been the tender for as long as she could recall, taking the mantel from her mother at age 7 as was tradition. She scanned the horizon for movement, breathing shallowly. The shadows cast by the fire danced around her in an almost sentient way. She made herself very still and focused on the mountains to the east. There, in a small hollow, was a cave that was home to the Unkept One.
The Unkept one was a myth they’d all learned from the time they were very small, to ward them off of traveling past the dry riverbed. They’d been warned it was dangerous. The Unkept One had supernatural abilities, could sense movement, and harvested the blood of the young.
Even now as a grown woman the myth stuck with her, which is why her gaze kept landing on the place where the Unkept One was said to be.
She’d watched the place a thousand times, maybe more, first as a wary young girl collecting clay from the riverbed. Never had she seen any signs of life at all.
Warmed by the fire, she felt a bit silly, suddenly laughing at herself under her breath. When she leveled her sight at the cave again, a momentary flash reminded her of a distant campfire. One perhaps obscured by trees and rocks. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes hard. The smoke and the light from her own fire must be playing tricks on her. She stood from her post and walked around the fire, the light and heat now behind her, and focused on the cave again.
There was an unmistakable flickering, faint but definitely real, almost a pinpoint from this distance. It was then she made a choice. It was practically unheard of to leave the night watch post, but wasn’t she also duty bound to investigate what could be a threat? She gathered her sack and her flint knife and headed toward the distant light at a jog. If she kept a good pace she could get there quickly and get back before sunrise.
As she approached the dry riverbed, she found the same fear in the pit of her stomach that she had as a young girl, making her feel slightly dizzy. She’d never been beyond the far bank. The myth had done it’s job well.
In spite of the fear, she crossed that invisible line without much hesitation at all, focused instead on the strange flickering light, now much closer and more intense.
As she neared the opening to the cave, she could see the walls inside lit up with a supernatural light. It was a quality and color she had never seen. And shadows stirring. More than one being was inside, there had to be dozens. The Unkept One must be manifesting ghosts from the blood it had taken.
She tip-toed nearer and could hear voices in a language she couldn’t understand and strange intonations. It was almost musical. It drew her closer and closer. She finally peered inside the cave not knowing what to expect and witnessed a dozen or so men in stark white cloth hustling between great metal stones with strange lights embedded inside them. Suddenly she was grasped from behind by something strong that smelled acrid and sharp, and a long needle bit deeply into her neck. Her vision started to fade and she tried to cry out but couldn’t. She lamented not heeding the warnings about the Unkept One. Too late had she learned the dark magic it possessed was real.
Brena went limp in the Lab tech’s arms. He held her, slumped over, looking sorry. He cast a knowing look to another lab tech near the bank of computers and recording equipment at the far wall. This one spoke into a microphone that jutted out from all the buttons and blinking lights.
“Simulation 237-43D fail. Begin at 0.”
Fiction © Copyright Michelle Joy Gallagher
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from author Michelle Joy Gallagher:
Welcome to Blackhawk, Colorado. Blackhawk has always been strange. Natural disasters. Disappearances. Murders. High strangeness is a part of daily life. We can’t hope to explain it, but we can chronicle its past. Learn from it. Fear it. Blackhawk is an experimental fiction series set in a shared universe, written by a variety of talented authors. It is the brainchild of David M Brown (Plague Doctor, Modern Animals) and Carl D Smith (Moleb the Giant, Darkness Out of Carthage). Each story will contribute to an organic, evolving mythology as diverse as the voices behind its tales. For fans of True Detective, Lost Highway, Twilight Zone, and The Terror. This is Volume Two of the series and contains five stories by five different authors, each in tune with the specific strangeness Blackhawk has to offer. NOTE: For fans of Lake Lord Publishing’s prior horror titles, be warned that Blackhawk will contain content that is perhaps more disturbing and mature.