So I read a quote by Ray Bradbury (maybe I tend not to believe online quotes) about writing a short story every week. The point of the quote is that you could not write 52 bad stories in a row, my take away was slightly different. What I got from it was a writing challenge.
As I have mentioned before my writing muscles have been atrophied. I was not writing consistently, and then took a long break from writing. I have a number of WIP that I am not able to make any head way with because I allowed myself to go so long without writing. I thought the idea of doing a story a week (roughly) would help me to get back into writing and help to challenge myself.
As I work through this, I want to share them with you. Most of what I write during this challenge will likely not be my best work, so please do not judge too harshly. It’s, again, mostly to flex my writing muscles and get me back into the flow of writing.
So with that, this is my first piece in the challenge. It is flash fiction:
She sits on her mountain top, biding her time as she looks down on us. No one truly knows where she came from or how long she has been there. No one is certain how she looks. No one can be certain of her intent. We aren’t even certain how long she has been here. Many claim that she must be ageless. Her presence has been recorded in the history of this village for as long as such things have been kept. The first time someone decided to write that they had seen her was more than a century ago. I imagine that even if she’s been with this village since its creation, there must have been another before that, and possibly more before it.
Some nights we feel her. We don’t hear her; she moves silently. No, it’s a presence. It creeps in and presses down on us until one by one we all wake. No one dares to get out of bed or confront her. Instead, we lay there, holding our breath as long as our lungs will allow. No one is bold enough to move, not even blink if we are physically able to prevent it. It doesn’t matter how old or young, strong or weak, we all lay in wait as though we were children trying to chase away nightmares. I suppose in that moment that’s what we are.
The occasional person will be able to glance out of a window and see a shadow pass; a lingering presence, a haunting. Some say they are even more lucky, or unlucky depending on how you consider the situation. They will glance towards the window at the same moment she decides to stop and take in the village. If she pauses long enough, they might see her, or at least some hints of how she might look.
My brother swore that he saw her one time. He said her skin was white. Not pale, not dim, not faint, white. Her eyes were black with trails of red like tears. Both her nails and hair were long and unkempt. He said it was as though he was looking at a demon from a book.
One of the town elders tells another story. He claimed that her skin was black. Once again not dark, but black. Her eyes were white but resembled snow with flecks of blue and colors that exist between those for which we have names. Her hair was light and short. He had no memories of her hands.
A young girl that lives a few houses from mine gave yet another description. She told me once that even defining whatever it is as a “she” is incorrect. That it had no actual skin but rather moved like a shadow with no form, what should be eyes were simply orbs of white, and that both hair and nails would require a more stable form than whatever it projects.
The only thing all three agreed on was the stench. That the closer she came to you the more the overwhelming smell of blood and decay would follow. Being in her presence was nearly impossible to stand due to how much the smell would press down on you and turn your stomach.
I am uncertain if no one has seen her or if they all have. Their accounts could change due to her own desires and powers, or simply due to the fear that comes with an encounter.
Most of the time she sits on the mountain top leaving us be. In my twenty years, she has only come to town three times. The first time we lost our crop. The second our animals. The last many of our children.
I once asked why it was that we didn’t do anything to rid the village of her. I was struck for doing so. Later my mother had calmed and explained she lashed out in fear. Our small village has lived under her watchful eyes for so long. In the past, people had tried many ways to get rid of her.
We called in religious clerics.
We called in pagans.
We even called in those that worshiped the evils of this world.
In the end, all the village got for their trouble was increased visits from her. Any attempt to rid ourselves of her was met with more death and blood.
There is also the horrific knowledge that her presence in our lives has its own benefits. Any that wish to do us harm long since stopped visiting.
Another elder once told me the story of a group of men once stopped and demanded a place to stay. At first, we obliged and were charitable with them. They were given all they needed to rest and be restored. It wasn’t long before their demands turned to desires that our village was unwilling to give. They wanted to drink, and they wanted to lay with our women. When they were told no and asked to leave they turned violent. Eventually, to keep the peace while the elders worked out their plans, a few women consented to entertain the men.
I can’t imagine what they must have felt. I was shocked and outraged to discover that anyone had agreed to allow the women to do this. I had interrupted the story to express my anger only to be informed their suffering was short lived. That night she came back.
In the morning the men were found in the aftermath of what had been the result of torture. Their bodies had been eviscerated, but the extent or purpose of the other wounds were nearly impossible to determine. The town had apparently slept through the whole event, no one questioning it, no one wanted to know.
One of the men was missing, however.
It took the village months to discover that he had been found outside the neighboring city, missing many body parts, but with a note attached. It promised painful retribution for any that might come to our village, that might seek to harm what belonged to her.
I often wonder if the bargain of being protected by something so clearly evil is worth it. Then I hear horror stories of what happened to those outside of this village, and I am not sure that we are worse off. I know that it’s impossible for me to look at the mountain without a feeling of dread seeping into me. I know that when I lost my youngest brother that my heart was broken. I know that I fear her, fear the idea of being confronted with the smell she is said to bring with her.
I know I also don’t want to face the horrors of the outside world. I do not want to be touched by men like those that come to us. I do not want others that would take advantage of our kindness in other ways.
Anyone willing to move to our village comes with humility. They are few in number, but always worthy.
So I am uncertain how to deal with what I am confronted with at nights like this. I look at the cave mouth where I am confident she is waiting. I am afraid, disgusted, and angry. I am also grateful, humbled, and safe.
It’s an odd sort of feeling knowing that I am at the very least complicit in such evil. Most of the people in my village do not dwell on these feelings; they do not attempt to confront them. Most of the people in this village are happier for it.
I can’t help it, especially not on this night. Tomorrow I will turn twenty-one, and I am still unmarried and with no prospects. I am not as skilled as others in the village. I am not as physically able. I do not excel in skills like sewing or others that requires turning raw goods into useful materials. We are also not in need of teachers.
I think about the men from the stories. I think about the fact that I am slowly turning into a burden. I think about the other, darker stories. Stories that tell of those from the village that are unable to contribute being victims to her appetites. Every year that I age, I wonder.
I know that she sits on her mountain and bides her time. I wonder when the time will come that I discover what happens to those like me, that she deems unworthy of her village.