THE CHALLENGE: must be under 1,000 words, with the genre, setting, and an object given at the start of a 48hr period – the finished story must be submitted within that 48hrs. I got:
– Genre | Suspense
– Setting | A Farmhouse
– Object | A Corkscrew
I tread step by slow step; sluggish; oh so hesitant. Inexorable.
The Auld Farmhouse has me on tenterhooks.
It reels me in with a barb through my heart, and as a fish out of water I gasp, mind paralysed with shock and fear.
All I know is to walk.
Just to move.
I have someone to meet – somewhere to be – and that is all that there is to me in this moment in time.
Likely the last that will ever be of me now.
Our small town huddles greyly in its terror, Red Mount looming obscenely in the distance, The Auld Farmhouse at its peak.
The town will be empty now, with nary a soul to be seen. An unknowing traveler would believe himself in a ghost town should he happen upon our silent streets.
Not a curtain will twitch, drawn tight against my isolated journey.
Though no one is present to witness my ascent, I know that each and every soul in the town will have naught but this in mind – fixated – horrified and thankful and bitter all in one.
The fathers, clutching their wives and children tight as they whisper their Amens: for now, they and theirs are safe and whole.
The elderly, quiet in their rockers, ears pricked and focused as The Calling occurs again; another soul lost to the horror on the hill.
My own family.
Mother, clawing to come to my rescue with pain sharp in her heart.
Father, silently clutching her tight, his rough palm smothering her mewling sorrow.
My younger siblings, wide-eyed and weeping.
The air is thick up here – imposing; a violation – breathing heavy upon my neck.
My feet boom like doldrums upon the gravel. Red Mount holds its breath and watches me with a million eyes; sentient; focused solely on my progress.
All is hushed.
All is waiting.
I hear a voice upon the wind.
I am younger, and have not known many to walk this path before me.
There was wee Sally Blackley, merry and curious and bright.
She walked this path and now is pale and silent: a waking nightmare, staring at horrors we cannot see. There in body but absent in mind.
There was Jakob Ashton, a teen with so much promise, who kept his mind but lost his life.
The Auld Farmhouse showed him something that he could not live with, and though he heard his family’s words and even interacted in a stilted fashion – furtive-eyed and not to be touched – he was gone within the month.
He jumped down an old mine shaft to escape the horror in his head.
And then there are those who were not Called themselves, but are ruined all the same.
Wee Sally’s Mother, Ginny Blackley, devastated by the loss of her wee girl and maddened by her own misplaced guilt. They keep her under constant watch least she harm herself or another, but she still finds weapons all the same: a carelessly misplaced knitting needle, clutched in her unkempt fist; a piece of kindling snatched from the flames, her knuckles raw and blistering; a rusty corkscrew gathering dust, found behind the sofa – now the shank of a woman obliterated by grief.
Old Rupert Hubbard, who followed his brother up Red Mount when he was only a young lad, not wanting Ralf to have all the fun alone. Now he is an old man with snow-white hair and misty eyes, addled of mind and prone to fits of terror and insanity. They say he didn’t enter the Farmhouse itself but was found just before the trail’s summit, curled and sobbing and inconsolable, brought home in the arms of The Scarecrow himself.
My body rocks with each pound of my heart – shall I faint before I make it to the top? What terrible consequence would there be then?
Likely the townsfolk would then slaughter me themselves, with sorrow in their hearts but above all with a crushing fear of repercussion on their heads.
Likely that wouldn’t be enough.
There is no possibility of appeasement: when one is Called, one goes.
Suddenly the voice upon the wind swirls into a ringing clarity – imminent – and I see a fall-down hut just off the beaten path.
It is the Scarecrow.
And he is singing.
If the Farmhouse is the stuff of nightmares, then the Scarecrow is our bogeyman.
If it be hell here on earth, then he is some prowling Cerberus – or at least he is our Charon; our herald at the gates.
No one is quite sure who he is, though of course the theories fly.
The Farmhouse appears to accept him and for us that is enough: enough to know that he is something rotten; something depraved and sinly.
He is very rarely seen in the town itself but often wanders the wild woods, or is seen standing in a farmer’s paddock – impossibly still – the crows flocking to him as if he were their maker.
He has never been known to utter a sound – but now he smiles into my eyes, and he is singing.
Tears splash upon his cheeks and he is seemingly overwhelmed with joy; overcome with some tender emotion.
He raises his hands to me, palms outstretched, and suddenly I trip upon my path.
I stumble, and my gaze is wrenched from his.
He had me mesmerised, and now I have reached my destination unawares, trying to climb higher when my path is now flat.
I stand at the Auld Farmhouse’s gates.
They are ajar, and I am just inside them.
The silence is so thick as to be painful to my person.
A harsh breath falls from my lips – unbidden – wrenched and wrung from deep within.
From before me there is a rushing.
The air shifts.
Such abject malice.
Unseen, I thrash.
I shed my sanity like so much loose skin.
No longer am I anyone.