I hadn’t intended to do any kind of third place. In fact, I’ll quote myself by saying, “there is no third-place!” However, I decided to post an honorable mention in the contest: probably the youngest writer to submit an entry (at least who admitted it) this 15-year-old author did a damn fine job. Short stories can be among the most challenging, for writers of any age, and I can tell you if my writing had been this refined at the age of 15…well let’s just say I probably would have been published earlier. It’s got a lovely twist at the end, too! Enjoy and please leave encouraging comments for Cameron!
Something twisted in the shadow of the trees as she made her way down the woodland path. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but she knew she was being watched. In the far distance, beyond the dusky silhouettes of trees she could see the inky blackness of a pond and beyond that, the castle lights. Suddenly, she felt something grab at her ankle.
She shrieked as she whipped around and saw a man laying on his stomach, his lower half concealed by the forest just off the path. He was clutching her dress and looking up at her, his eyes pleading. Blood poured from his mouth and nose. He opened and closed his mouth, trying to speak, but no words were coming out. Finally, he succeeded. “Help me… it came from the pond…” His short manifesto finished, his head splatted into the mud. He was dead. Behind him, something began to break the delicate surface of the water. Out of fear, the princess stumbled back into a ditch filled with bushes, producing many loud cracks as the thing slowly emerged from the water. Once fully out, it stood about
four-feet tall at the shoulder, and 10-feet long from head to tail. The princess did not move, and tried to hold as still as possible. From her hiding spot, the creature appeared black, silhouetted against the light glinting off of the pond. It’s movements lizardlike, it jerked its head back and forth, scanning the trees for the source of the loud noise. The girl stayed still, hidden from its view. Satisfied that it was alone, the lizard ambled slowly toward the corpse of the man.
Highborn and blind to the difficult side of life, danger was near unknown to the princess. Whatever this new feeling was, she did not like it. As she crouched, hidden, she saw the thing place it’s jaws gently around the torso of the man, and began to carry him in the direction of the castle. As the thing slowly waddled into the dim light of the moon, she could make out tough green skin, and four clawed feet slowly pattering away. It looked like a gigantic lizard, cold, black eyes rotating in their sockets to scan the forest around. Glinting in the light, she saw the long teeth of the lizard, and a golden ring on the man’s finger, with a shining green stone in the center. The lizard continued on into the darkness toward the castle.
The princess waited for hours, just to be sure it was gone. She slowly emerged from her hiding spot and walked cautiously toward the castle. After a long, scary walk through the woods, she arrived at her bedroom window. She would never sneak out to walk through the night again. Her nan was always warning her against it. “There’s bad people out there.” she would say. “Bad things. Bandits who would kidnap and ransom you without a second glance. Inhuman things too. Unholy beasts sent by satan to terrorize good, god fearing children like you. Shapeshifters, evil, satanic beasts who can appear human, but can also transform into godless creatures from hell.” the princess had shrugged her warnings off. That stuff wasn’t real. That kind of thing just happened in stories.
Safe inside her bedroom, she dropped her filthy dress to the floor and crawled into bed. The next morning, her cook brought her breakfast in bed. She sat up and looked at the plate. “What is it?” the cook smiled and answered. “meat pie m’lady.” the princess smiled and scooped up a mouthful with her fork. Delicious. Even in the most difficult famines, her loyal cook was always able to get the most delicious meat. If he ever ran out, he would always have more the next morning. As she chatted with the cook, she decided to tell him about the dream she had that night. As she told her story, the cook’s smile bent downward into a frown. Finishing the tale, she asked him what was wrong. “M’lady. That was no dream. Look.” she followed his gaze and noticed her dress, caked with mud, lying on the ground in front of her window. She was scared, but decided that it didn’t matter much, she had escaped without harm and that was all that mattered. She told the cook as such. He smiled and agreed. He swore he would not tell anybody of what she had seen, because if he did, the princess would surely never be allowed into the woods again. As she neared the bottom of her meat pie, her fork clanged against something metal. She looked down slowly into the pie. Her fork had struck a golden ring. In her pie. She thought back to the lizard carrying the man away. Glinting in the light… a golden ring… with a green stone… “m’lady?” her cook asked. “Something troubling you?” the princess, her hand shaking, turned the ring over with her fork. In the center, partially concealed by bits of flesh, was a shining green stone. What had happened the night before was no dream. And her cook… She looked up slowly at his face, glaring at her darkly. “Didn’t yer nan warn you of ones like us? Not to go meddling in places you don’t belong? You might get hurt.” The princess sprung out of bed and bolted for the door, but the shapeshifter got there first. He grinned, and the princess realized she had never before noticed before how sharp his teeth were. “You’ve seen something you shouldn’t. You know what happens to girls who go out into the woods at night? They have accidents.” his skin began to ripple, and he fell onto his hands and knees, scales sprouting all over his body…
The cook carried her body into the kings chamber and laid her down. Through his sobs, the king managed to ask what had happened. “I found her In the woods while I was going for a walk this morning. I’m terribly sorry for your loss sir, and the kingdom mourns with you. Would you perhaps like a little breakfast to help you feel better before the funeral? I’ve made a delicious meat pie.”
copyright 2017 frog farkle. No republication without express permission of the author.