W is for writing. This post is for Jenny Matlock’s Aphabe-Thursday. (Go check out all the other cool entries, I’ll wait here for you.) This time I wanted to share with you a short story I wrote last year for a contest on NPR. It was for their three-minute fiction contest. It had to be under 600 words, and it had to start with the phrase “Some people swore that the house was haunted”, and end with the phrase “Nothing was ever the same again after that.” Those phrases were part of the word-count as well. It was tricky trying to fit the 600 word limit. I didn’t win, but I had a lot of fun doing the story. I think I may want to revisit this story and expand it in the future. We will see.
Some people swore that the house was haunted. Konor was one of the few people who knew what truly stalked the halls of his home. Brenn, his younger brother, knew but he was arguably still a child and living in the ashes of a lost lifetime. If there were ghosts, then there was a chance their father knew and still watched over the place he had been forced to leave. Perhaps the villagers recognized what they had done for a brief slice of time before they met their personal oblivion. Oh, and the thing that was formerly their mother knew.
Konor still relived that pivotal day every time he closed his eyes. His kind aged slowly, even with his blood diluted by his human father’s, and as such it had been many years of nightmares. He settled into bed, bracing himself for what would come. Brenn slept soundly in the bedroom’s other small bed; his nightmares took different forms. The heavy, gurgling breathing in the hall assured Konor they were still not alone. The memories came quickly; the colors more vibrant than they could have been, the smells sharper than he remembered.
The house had been perfect for their family. It was tucked into the edge of the forest their mother wouldn’t leave; unassuming, well-cared for, and full of love. Their mother came from the forest. She was a shape-stealer; a terrible creature of myth and legend. But, the love she carried for them had added a measure of humanity to her; enough that she restrained herself and resisted the lure of the forest.
Konor and Brenn played outside in the mud that day. Konor was first to hear the approaching voices. They seemed to grow angrier as they approached. Konor stood and pulled Brenn behind him as his father stepped out of the door. With a glance in their direction, their father smiled reassuringly.
“Hold tight boys. Don’t draw attention to yourselves.” He walked out from the house to meet the approaching mob. The men were clustered tightly, like frightened sheep. There were ten villagers, holding various farming implements as weapons. “Now Jacob,” their father addressed the man in front with a soft, jovial voice, “What seems to be the problem?”
“That thing can’t stay here Dilon.” Jacob pointed toward the house where their mother stood in the doorway. The large man’s brow glistened with sweat and his eyes kept shifting back to the men behind him. Konor could smell him from where he was, stale and sour. “It killed my chickens.”
Dilon had stiffened at the word ‘thing’ and his voice was now lowered, dangerous. “She is my wife and the mother of my boys. You know that Enid didn’t do that. You saw the fox tracks yourself.”
“How do we know it was a real fox and not that monster you took up with?” The men behind were jeering and pushing Jacob on. “How do we know that our families won’t be next?”
“That’s enough!” Dilon roared and stepped towards Jacob. There was a startled flurry of movement by Jacob. In the panicked flail, the hoe he carried connected with Dilon’s head. Konor hid Brenn’s eyes when he saw, as his father fell, the angle of his neck was wrong. In an instant their mother was there, crouched over him. The light in Dilon’s eyes faded and a scream tore from Enid. The scream started out human, but it swiftly changed into something . . . else, older and darker. Then there was blood. So much blood.
Nothing was ever the same again after that.