Second Place: Nicole Williams
This beautiful story came in early on in the contest and stood out right away as one of my favorites, even after reading so many amazing entries. Although the first paragraph was part of the contest entry, I believe that Ms. Williams could easily out-write my intro any day. When I read these words, “With hellhounds and red caps beneath, they rode upon the night” I knew I had found a beautiful writer and a kindred spirit! Enjoy her gorgeous fairy tale, dear reader, with the light on.
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.
Startled, she turned and saw that it was only dry bramble. She giggled and began tugging upon the clothing that was caught by the fingers of the underbrush. Stubbornly refusing to release despite her efforts, she reached to untangle her skirt and gouged her arm upon a thorn. Beads of blood welled from her torn flesh and trickled down her hand to the ground below.
Suffering from an intense drought, the ground drank the life giving force as quickly as it landed. Above her, the trees began to rage as if a storm has suddenly come, yet the sky was clear. She laughed anxiously at the turbulent canopy above and was surprised to hear an echo from behind her. She turned quickly to glimpse a menacing figure watching her from the shadows. Paralyzed with dread she could not move however her heart raced, beating like a trap bird within her chest. The creature only stared, slowing inhaling through his gaping mouth as if tasting the air, or her fear. Upon its head sat a jaunty cap, soaked in blood. A rivulet of the viscous fluid dribbled into its open mouth and the creature smacked its lips, its grotesque flesh trembling with delight. Its voice was like rocks grinding upon themselves as it pointed to her and growled, “We…Hunger.”
Snatching her gown from the clutches of the greedy brambles, she ran faster than she had ever before, leaving the creature’s laughter to reverberate through frightening forest. As she approached the pond, she looked behind her to find the creature scuttling along beside a hoard of black hounds. Their teeth gleamed in the moonlight as saliva rained into the dry grass beneath their immense claws. She stumbled upon loose debris and caught her palm against a sharp stone as she fell. It bled into the earth. Holding her hand to her chest, she picked herself up, and ran towards her salvation while the beasts gnashing at her heels. She would be safe within the illuminated protection of the castle, if she could make it there.
With labored breath and tired limbs, she struggled around the curve of the dark pond. As she passed, a ripple disturbed the surface and from its stagnate depths, a dark horse materialized. Upon its back a man of shadows rode. She struggled in vain, as he took her into his fatal embrace. Unable to speak, she mewled in terror.
“What beautiful sounds you make.” He stroked her hair. “But regrettable, you are not for me to keep.”
With hellhounds and red caps beneath, they rode upon the night mare to the heart of the land. His breath was warm upon her face as he smirked. “The woods my dear, they must eat.”
Mistaken for the wind whistling through trees, the locals welcomed her shrieks. They dance and sang throughout the dark, celebrating the end of the terrible drought. And the laughing girl who wandered into the hungry woods, she laughed no more that night while the forest feed- feasted by ancient rite.
—copyright 2017 by Nicole Williams. Re-publication requires express permission of the author.