The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
The Legacy of Toadstool House
by Naching T. Kassa
The room smelled of antiseptic and the fluorescents tortured my eyes. I stared at the figure on the hospital bed, squeezed his good hand, and bit my lip to hold back the tears. I could barely recognize him.
Chris’ left eye had swollen shut. The right looked as though it were swimming in blood. He’d lost all of his front teeth and his face appeared red and raw. Most of his bones were broken. They said Chris had been attacked the moment he walked into his house. That the intent had been to kill him, and the assailant had succeeded. He had moments to live.
Somehow, he’d hung on long enough for Jack and me to arrive.
Jack, Chris’ brother, sat on the other side of the bed. He stared at Chris, then whispered, “Who would do this? Why would they do this?”
“The crown,” Chris said. The words came out in a frog-like croak. “He…wanted…the crown.”
Jack and I looked up at one another. As children, the three of us had discovered another world, a place full of magic and wondrous creatures. We had reached it through a bridge in the woods, one which led us to the toadstool house and the single inhabitant inside, the Troll King. Chris had defeated the Troll King in battle, and they had become good friends. When Chris returned to our world, the Troll King had given him the crown and named him successor. He was the chosen one, the future King.
Chris gripped my hand and pulled me closer. He stared at me with his blood-red eye.
“Lisa,” he gasped. “The darker…part of me. It’s…waiting in…Toadstool House. You…I name you…Quee—”
Though his lips continued to move, his words ceased. Death crept in, robbing him of the last message he so needed to impart. The heart monitor whined.
Hospital personnel forced us out of the room as they struggled to resurrect him. Jack pulled me into the hall and onto a bench. I sat there in a state of detachment until the doctor pronounced him dead. Then, the dam broke within me. Jack held me as I sobbed.
Memories assailed me. I remembered how Chris had been before our trip into the woods, the troubled child with the will to burn. How Jack and I had feared him, and how the battle with the Troll King had changed him. The king had separated him from the darker side of his self and trapped it in the house.
“His dark half killed him,” I cried. “He said as much himself. Somehow, it escaped Toadstool House and came back here. It took the crown. It wants to be king.”
“It’s probably headed there now,” Jack said.
I jumped to my feet. “Then we have to stop it.”
“How do we do that?”
“We go to Toadstool House and confront it before the Troll King.”
We arrived at Chris’ home a half hour later. The house stood silent before us. We hurried into the woods, avoiding the scent of blood and the sight of spatter.
The bridge, once so short, seemed to go on forever. At last, I glimpsed the red light beside the door, and moments later, Toadstool House stood before us. The place seemed in disrepair. Abandoned. As we approached, a horrid stench rose like a wall before us. Flies buzzed over the corpse of the Troll King.
“He’s been dead three days—at the most,” Jack said, his tone grim.
Grief overwhelmed me as I fell to my knees before the body. “Then…it must’ve killed him before it came to our world. Before it killed Chris for the crown.”
I saw it then. The single word scrawled in the Troll King’s own blood. My eyes shifted to the key around his neck, then the small door nearby. The door stood shut tight, the padlock unused and dust covered. I reached out to cover the key with my hand.
“Shit,” Jack said behind me. I turned to face him. He’d gone pale, his gaze riveted to the single word written on the floor.
“Why?” I cried. “For the crown? To be king?”
“Why not?” he said, sullen as a petulant child. “Chris didn’t even want to be king. He just didn’t want me to have it. He didn’t want me to have anything. Even on his deathbed, he didn’t name me successor. He named you. You are all that stands between me and the crown.”
Rage glittered in his eyes. I could almost feel his hatred.
I snatched the key from the Troll King’s throat and scrambled over the bloated body. I slipped the key into the small door’s lock and turned.
The door flew open.
The beast leaped from within, quicker than any creature I had ever seen. The wolf-like features darkled shadow black, while its teeth gleamed white. Until, that is, they were covered in Jack’s blood.
He screamed and thrashed beneath the onslaught, then lay still.
The crown had slipped from a pocket within Jack’s coat. It lay on the floor between the beast and me. He seized the crown from off the floor.
Chris’ eyes stared at me from the thing’s face.
He placed the crown atop my head.
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.