‘Fiction in A Flash Challenge 2021.’ Week #32 Entry Part 8) by Mark Bierman @mbiermanauthor #IARTG #WritingCommunity #FlashFiction

Hello everyone and welcome to Author SuzannE Burke’s “Fiction in A Flash Challenge!” Each week She features an image and invites Everyone to write a Flash Fiction, or Non-Fiction, piece inspired by that image in any format and genre of their choosing.  Maximum word count: 750 words. In Addition to running a wonderful Blog, Suzanne has written many exciting books. Please a have a look at her site: Wecome to the world of Suzanne Burke

Here is my contribution to this week’s prompt. Enjoy!

Here is the image prompt 

Sophie hated these woods at night. During the day, they were cheerful. Cicadas played their endless rattle songs in the trees, while black-capped chickadees fed from your hand.

This trail was usually lit by sunlight, its rays marked the path ahead with the promise of a refreshing dip in Potters Lake, or, if you went the other way, the back door of Nanny and Pappy’s cottage. On most afternoons, the smell of fresh baked cookies would reach your nose before the brown walls of the cottage could be seen.

Yes, the daytime was safe time, but not now, out here, in the dark, and with only an old lantern that Pappy had used as a kid . . . now that was old.  

Her teacher, Mr. Palmer, had said darkness was just the absence of light, that everything was the same. She’d love to have that man here, now. If only he could here the thumps, the rustle of branches as they were parted by the claws of who knows what. Sophie tried to ignore them, to keep the lantern pointed only at the path ahead. She was weirdly mad at the lantern for lighting up the edges of path. It showed a pair of glowing eyes that stared at her very soul, before disappearing back into the woods.

Every ounce of her wanted to run back to the cottage. Her desire was increased when she heard the crazy call of something on the lake to her right, just beyond the bushes. Sophie had jumped then . . . had almost dropped the lantern, and then what? Complete darkness!

She felt the gross things squirm at her side; disgusting, slimy, and terrifying. She tried to imagine they were not there. But they were, and the sooner she got to the lake, the sooner she’d be rid of them. Sophie shuddered at the thought of what was to come.

Something grabbed her right sneaker, and she was pulled towards the bush.  A scream was caught in her throat, it wouldn’t do her terror justice, anyways, and who knows what blood thirsty monsters it would attract.

Claws tore at her jacket and snatched her hair. In her panic, she dropped the lantern and it smashed as she fought for her life.

Trees are good for the environment. Not these ones, Palmer, not all trees were good! Some were evil and would grab you . . . these trees kill you! Find that in your stupid Life Science book, Palmer.

Then she was free of them. She raced towards the lake. Scared to death, running like a crazy person down a trail that was almost as dark as her closet. But there was a weird satisfaction that she’d at least ripped off some of their spiny fingers They were still freakishly stuck in her hair, though.

Their angry brothers and sisters tried to stop her, by grabbing at her feet, but she was ready for them, this time. She was an expert dodgeball player. Nimble as a mountain goat, her gym teacher had said. Well, all those games had certainly paid off.

She didn’t have the nerve to get the broken lantern, but the slimy things were still with her. She hated her luck.

A monster screeched in the trees and her feet seemed to float over the path. Up ahead, was the last corner before the lake. Another screech, this time directly overhead, was answered by a bone chilling yodel!

There was nothing for it, no turning back for Sophie. She had a job to do and no self-respecting girl would let it go undone.  

Sophie put her head down, to avoid it being torn off by the screechy thing and raced to the lake. The slimy creatures bounced off her right side, and it felt like every monster from all the horror films she’d ever heard about were after her.

The lake appeared. The job was finished!

“Sophie! What on earth happened to your hair? Are you alright?” Pappy’s worried face looked at her from his boat, that was still tied to the dock.

Sophie ran onto the dock, nearly of breath. It was difficult to speak, but she managed, “I-I’m okay, now.”

She reached into her coat pocket and cringed. Her hand grabbed the carton of those slimy devils. “Here’s the worms we forgot.”  

 “Thanks, Sweetie, that was brave of you to go back in the dark. Especially with all of those roots on the trail. Now, let’s get those twigs out of your hair.”  

Welcome to the WATCH “#RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour! #RRBC #RRBCWRW

Welcome! Today I have the privilege of hosting RWISA Author, Laura Libricz ! She is a talented writer and supportive member of Rave Reviews Book Club, or RRBC.

 

Laura Libricz

Please enjoy this short story written by Laura. Please feel free to comment on, and share this post.

The Protective Plague

Laura Libricz

From the Overlord’s house came a quiet but vicious argument. I walked past the stately, tiered structure, decorated with wooden carvings. The other houses circling the town square stood quietly: the midwife’s red wooden house built up on stilts; the ironworkers’ blue housing complex and their adjoining workshop also built on stilts; the dark-brown community building, windows tightly shuttered.

I set my basket down in the middle of the square. The fountain marking the village center bubbled behind me as a mouse scurried around its stone base. The door of the Overlord’s house slammed open and he appeared on the top step. A woman’s sobs came from inside the house. He raised his nose to the sky and sniffed at the air, his black, wiry hair standing on end. He approached the fountain, his black woolen cape fluttering behind him.

“The weather has changed,” the Overlord said.

“You notice such things, Master?” I asked. “Today is the Turn of the Season; coupled with the full moon.”

“Yes, that is why you tie those wreaths of herbs,” he said. “Silly old traditions.”

“We will burn them at sunset on the Field of Fruition. These old traditions give the people comfort.”

“Your traditions have no power,” he said. “This year we initiate my new ritual. The One True Deity is not appeased with burning herbs.”

“What will appease your Deity then, Master? Burning flesh?”

The door of the red house squeaked open. The midwife flurried towards the fountain carrying a spray of reeds. Two red-haired daughters followed behind her. They carried baskets overloaded with sage and wormwood.

“Good day, Master,” she said, dropping her reeds at my feet.

Her black hair, not colored carefully enough, showed red roots at her scalp. I moved between her and the master, hoping he had not seen her hair, and gathered three reeds in my hands. I braided their stalks. Her daughters set the baskets down on the stone steps of the fountain and the midwife pulled both girls to her side.

“The workshop is quiet this morning,” I mentioned.

“The men have crossed the ford to the settlement beyond the Never-Dying Forest. They’ve taken our surplus of food and hope to trade. Years ago, the forest villagers made fabrics.”

The Overlord chuckled. “Foolish men. No one lives beyond the water and the forest but barbarians. They don’t trade, they take.”

I held my braided reeds aloft. “Our petition tonight at the bonfire is to ask for the safety of all villagers involved, whether they come from Forest Village or Field Village.”

“There will be no bonfire tonight,” he said.

As if by the Master’s silent command, the double doors on the community building slid open. Five leather-clad men, adorned with weapons of glinting steel, took two steps forward. Five young women draped with dirty white shifts, hands and mouths bound, knelt behind their ranks. I recognized the midwife’s eldest daughter and the barrel maker’s granddaughter.

“My new Turn of the Season tradition starts today.” The Overlord nodded to the troop. The men grabbed each of the young women under the arms and dragged them into the square. They were forced to kneel on the stone steps by the fountain. The overlord’s daughter was also among them.

“These women will be taken against their will on the Field of Fruition. The One True Deity will come to accept the eggs as soon as they are fertilized. I will summon him. The women and their fruits belong to him. He will exalt them and admit them into his glorious mountain realm.”

I threw my reeds aside. “Our traditions and petitions are based on protecting our villagers, not sacrificing them.”

“These women are ripe. We have prodded them all. The One True Deity will have this offering.”

“Men cannot enter the Field of Fruition at the Turn of the Season. It will bring us harm so close to the coming winter.”

“Your foolish traditions cannot keep the furies of winter at bay. Harm will only come if one of these women becomes pregnant. That would prove her self-seeking nature, her desire to retain the fruits for herself. She will be executed.”

The midwife let out a shriek. The overlord stroked his daughter’s matted hair.

“If she becomes pregnant,” he said, “we will also know she enjoyed the act. She will have defied The One True Deity. Women cannot become pregnant when taken against their will.”

He took two steps forward, his face a breath away from mine. “These women can be saved. Here they are. Save them. Save them now but know this: four others will take their places. You shall be the fifth.”

He turned with a swish of his cape and, followed by his armed mob, disappeared into the community house.

The midwife and I unbound the women. Together we gathered the wreaths, all our herbs and reeds, and walked out of the square towards the Field of Fruition. The sky was overcast. Rains threatened. Two women and their children stood at the edge of the green field, bundling straw. They piled it neatly on a cart. Two other women whacked the lazy ox and the cart jerked into movement.

In the middle of the Field of Fruition, wooden planks stood in support of one another, forming an inverted cone. Mice scurried under my feet and under the cone. The planks were once an old barn. In its place, we built a new one. Since the great flood, our village had prospered. We had practiced our Traditions of Gratitude ever since. I gave silent thanks for the abundance of grain that allowed even the mice to multiply.

“The moon is coming up over the trees,” I said. “We will start the fire now.”

The midwife scraped her knife on her stone and sparks flew into a pile of straw. She convinced the fire to burn and we fed the flames until the dried planks ignited. I raised my wreath of braided reeds over my head as mice scurried out from under the burning planks.

Our peaceful but preventive petition resonated between our practiced voices. We’d recited the verses many times and shuddered with the energy they held. I threw the wreath on the fire; sparks flew into the low storm clouds. More mice scurried over my feet. I looked down and the Field of Fruition was no longer autumn-green, but mouse-grey. A layer of mice had gathered, completely covering the Field–a protective plague ensuring the fulfillment of our petitions of peace and gratitude. Well, this was not what I had in mind, but it would do. No ill-wisher would enter this field tonight.

Thank you for supporting this member along the WATCH “RWISA” WRITE Showcase Tour today!  We ask that if you have enjoyed this member’s writing, please visit their Author Page on the RWISA site, where you can find more of their writing, along with their contact and social media links, if they’ve turned you into a fan.

We ask that you also check out their books in the RWISA or RRBC catalogs.  Thanks, again for your support and we hope that you will follow each member along this amazing tour of talent!  Don’t forget to click the link below to learn more about this author:

RWISA Author, Laura Libricz

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“If I step on this crack, will the cat come back?”

Bad things happen. It’s an unfortunate part of life and being a citizen on this spinning orb that we call, earth.

But do our fears sometimes get in the way of progress? Of the ‘good things’ in life? Do we shy away from opportunities because they could spell F-A-I-L-U-R-E?

If you’re one who laughs at superstitions, perhaps even labelling them as ‘foolish’, remember, superstition takes on many forms.

Is the car going to breakdown just because you say it won’t? Will you be rejected for the position because you’ve told a few people that you’re a ‘shoe-in’?

That’s the way I often think. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve made sure to say the opposite of what I wished to occur, just to promote a favourable outcome. As if I could use mind control on the uncontrollable. Crazy! I know!

The truth is, like superstitions, most of the things that terrify us are nothing more than ‘Paper Tigers’.

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Most are purely benign.

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If you look beneath the surface of some, you might even discover something sweet!

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There are many circumstances beyond our control, but with perseverance we can learn to master our fear.

What superstitions haunt you? Free yourself with logic and optimism!

I’m certainly going to try.