Tales Behind the Tombstones

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 5 (v.1) - Deadly Shire of Moll Dyer

Submitted: November 09, 2017

Reads: 170

Comments: 3

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Submitted: November 09, 2017

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5.Deadly Shire of Moll Dyer

 

 

 

In the dead of Winter

Amidst frost covered pine trees

Frozen needles clawed at her face

As she trudged barefoot through inches of snow

Flames on torches flickered in the distance

Carried by men with loud voices

She clutched her cloak;

Persistent against the falling snow

The scent of burning timber filled her nostrils

As her cottage yielded to the fire

Her lungs burnt;

Two parts exertion, two parts smoke.

She rested upon a flat rock

Her body groaned in protest

Fear urged her to continue

But she could not

With an outstretched hand

Toward the white sky

She turned to pale blue ice

A macabre statue of a woman

Another victim to the era of superstition.

 

 

 

It was the twenty-eighth of February and a warm evening. Winter was almost over and soon spring would bring life back to flora and fauna alike. 

Amelia helped her daughter brush her teeth, put on her pyjamas and climb into bed. She opened the window slightly and retrieved a book from the nearby shelf.

“Read me my favourite story, Mommy,” Ella said, clapping excitedly. She smiled, and her blue eyes sparkled with childlike innocence under a crop of tight blonde curls. 

“Hansel and Gretel, it is then.” Her mother said happily as she sat beside Ella and read an adaptation of the classic Grimm Brothers tale.

Ella was an only child; Amelia and Cormac had stopped trying after they lost their second child, Tristan suddenly at six months old. Amelia read through the story as Ella listened intently even though she had heard the story many times before. 

When the story had ended, she kissed her daughter goodnight, tucked her in and returned to the lounge room to fold the laundry. While her partner was away on business, she and her daughter stayed behind in their two-story Leonardtown home. They bought it and moved in just months before Ella was born. 

The phone rang. Amelia had just finished folding the last sheet; she sprang up and grabbed the receiver.

“Hi, honey. Is Ella still awake?”

“No. I put her to bed twenty minutes ago.”

“Aw, bummer. Give her a kiss and a hug for me?”

It was ten minutes to eight o’clock. Amelia opened the bedroom door a fraction to look in on Ella; she was sound asleep, cuddling her stuffed panda, named Phineas. It was her first soft toy, and she carried it with her everywhere from the time she was nine months old. Amelia smiled, tucked wisps of Ella’s blonde, curly hair behind her little ear, and kissed her softly on the forehead. Ella smiled and hugged her panda a little tighter.

Amelia headed to the kitchen to make a cup of hot chocolate while she and Cormac talked about their respective days. After a conversation that lasted ten minutes, Amelia grabbed her beverage and headed upstairs to her room. On the way, she stopped by Ella’s room and checked in on her once more before settling in for the night.

***

Ella woke to strange whispers and scratches. Her pink curtains were fluttering in the breeze; the noises seemed to come from somewhere on the other side. She huddled further under her doona, gripping Phineas tightly. She wanted to run to her mother’s bedroom but sat frozen in fear. A long, bony hand with sharp, talon-like fingernails suddenly gripped the windowsill.

“Mommy…” Ella’s voice trembled.

 A dark, cloaked figure climbed through the opening. 

“Mommy!” She shrieked.

A large, dark hood concealed most of the figures face, but it seemed to grin at her. It turned on Ella and extended its long, skinny arms toward her.

Ella screamed…

***

Amelia found herself the thick of the woods. Thousands of stars blanketed the night sky; the moon was full, yet the canopy of trees blocked out most of the natural light source.

She was jogging barefoot through the forest, zigzagging through the trees and strangling vines. Anxiety swept over her, but she couldn’t pinpoint what had put her on edge. Suddenly, Amelia stood near a broken-down car against a tree. She looked around the vehicle for any signs of life. 

“Hello?” Amelia called out, hesitantly.

There were footsteps leading off in several directions but no sign of life. She studied the landscape for a moment, looking for any clues about the vehicle and where its occupants had gone. She flung open a door and searched the glove box. Her eyes scanned the backseat; a patchwork doll and an avenger’s toy lay abandoned. Amelia fumbled along the dashboard and around the steering column. The keys still hung from the ignition. 

“Odd…” Amelia mumbled to herself. She took the keys and exited the vehicle; she did not seem to realise the blood on the steering wheel and driver’s seat.

Sliding the key into the locked boot, she turned it clockwise; it opened with a creak. Several bags and suitcases were in there, full of clothes, a few towels, some kid’s toys and toiletries. Whoever owned the vehicle was taking a vacation with their kids, but who would leave their car and all their belongings behind in the dead of night?

“What the hell...” Amelia said out loud. 

A rustling sound came from behind her. The hair stood up on the back on her neck; she was suddenly reluctant to turn around. She launched into a sprint, weaving through the trees as though something was suddenly after her. As she ran further into the forest, surrounding branches reached toward her with wooden claws, scratching her and tearing at her clothing as she ran past. A tree root rose from the earth without warning; Amelia’s foot caught the hook and sent her crashing towards the ground. She narrowly avoided broken bones as the leaf litter and soft dirt caught her fall.

She rubbed the dirt from her face and looked up. Her jaw dropped.

Two children stood holding hands in front of her; a boy and a girl, roughly about the same age and height. Amelia blinked several times and rubbed her eyes. The strange children were still there. They pointed in direction Amelia had come from before fading into a strange, dark mist. Amelia rose to her feet slowly and hesitantly turned around.

An intimidating cloaked figure loomed over her, ghastly and emaciated; its hands bony, the fingers freakishly long. She could not see the face as a dark hood shrouded it. The figure pulled the hood back to reveal a wrinkled face, aged spots and chapped lips. Dark hollow pits occupied the space of the eyes but the way it stared at Amelia shook her to the core.  

“You will suffer as I did.” 

Its face twisted into an unnatural grimace and threw back its head, laughing maniacally through blood-stained razor-sharp teeth. Amelia raised her hands to her head as the pain shot through her brain. She bled from every orifice as the figure’s shrill laughter perforated her eardrums. Amelia suddenly lost consciousness and fell limply to the floor.

***

Amelia sat upright in bed, flinging back her perspiration-soaked sheets. Her heart hammered against her chest. The nightmare was so vivid. She turned towards the alarm clock; the LED display read 3:33 am.

She slipped out of bed and padded toward the bathroom. Grabbing the glass on the basin, she filled it with cold water and sipped at it slowly. The dryness in her throat eased up a little. The nightmare fresh in her mind, she remembered every detail. Tossing down the remaining contents, she put the glass upside down on the basin and headed towards Ella’s room to check on her. 

Ella was not in her bed. 

“Ella?!” Amelia called, frantic. “Ella?! Where are you?!”

She threw back the covers, checked under the bed and in the closet; she turned the room upside down. 

Frantically searching the whole house and coming up with nothing, she rang the police to report her daughter missing.

***

Locals had reported several missing children that same night, which left the small-town reeling. It didn’t take long for word to spread throughout the small, tight-knit community of St Mary’s County; a search party went out later that morning.

Darkness had already set in as the sun disappeared behind the mountains to the west. A few parents wanted to continue searching but the emergency services advised against it. Most of Leonardtown was a thick forest and at night it would be near impossible to find anything. Everyone reluctantly returned to their homes, with the promise that the search would resume at first light.

***

Moll Dyer sat comfortably in her wooden rocking chair crocheting, overlooking the bountiful landscape of willow trees and the nearby burbling river. It was summer, 1696, and she had lived in the same wooden cottage in Leonardtown, Maryland for most of her life. She was an excellent alchemist and well-known for treating many ill within the small county using her homemade tonics, ointments and other herbal remedies. 

Mostly, it was a quaint, quiet little town; everybody knew everybody. That was until religious settlers had stumbled upon the small village and called it their home. Shortly after moving in, they set up a church in the town centre and took it upon themselves to create a small-town council which consisted entirely of other believers. Moll had always been a homebody, but as more religious people flocked to the town, she became a target for gossip. The gossip eventually turned to fear and hatred. Since she was an unknown quantity, did not concern herself with the church lifestyle and unorthodox healing methods, the community feared her. The religious folk gained control over the town gradually and imposed their ignorant, self-righteous and sanctimonious views on the villagers. 

Rumour had it, Moll was an Irish woman who fled to Leonardtown and moved into a secluded cottage in the woods to escape a shadowed past.Some even accused her of being a tool for the devil’s work; the religious members of the community had much to say about the woman they knew nothing about. The mystery surrounding the old woman only added to their growing suspicion of her.

It was around the time of the late harvest; strange events took place within the small county of St Mary’s. Food had become scarce; crops had all withered and died. An influenza epidemic swept through the town killing scores of people. With so many falling ill and dying to strange disease and townsfolk starving the believers needed someone to blame. Moll Dyer became the sole target of their rampant paranoia and eventually their cruel form of justice. They accused her of witchcraft; the community held a town meeting and considered her guilty without offering a fair trial. They believed Moll Dyer was unquestionably guilty. In the winter of 1697, a large group of pious townspeople grabbed torches and whatever weapons they could find, surrounded her cottage on all sides, and set fire to it.

Moll had no choice but to retreat into the ice-cold woods or succumb to a fiery death. They drove her out of her own home in the dead of night during the coldest winter in history with only the clothes on her back. Later, they found her frozen solid on a large rock in the forest's centre; a handprint, the proof of her cruel demise forever imprinted in the stone.

People who lived locally still told the legend of Miss Dyer; much like Chinese whispers, the stories changed slightly from person to person. The consensus was always the same; she haunted the land surrounding her house and much of the forest. For many years no one dared to set foot at the edge of the forest. Superstitious people spread rumours and eventually, hundreds of years later, even those that were not local to the area bypassed Leonardtown entirely out of fear.

***

Several days passed.

There were dozens of missing children cases that remained without answers. Parents grieved as they handed out flyers to passing drivers hoping someone might come across their absent children; most drivers didn’t even slow down to glance at them.

Noticeboards in the centre of town were overlapping with pictures of children of various ages. No one seemed to know where they had disappeared to, but everyone who knew the story of Moll Dyer blamed her. They believed she had cursed the whole town before she died to the chill.

Amelia was hysterical by the time Cormac got home. He got held back at work, and then his flight got delayed he got home much later than she expected.

Amelia launched out of the car and threw her arms around Cormac before he put his bags down. They stood in the parking lot holding each other as days’ worth of stress and anxiety threatened to burst out of Amelia. She fought to hold back the tears, but her emotions overwhelmed her as she remembered her precious little girl's face and bouncing blonde curls.

“Honey, it will be all right,” Cormac said. “We will find her. I promise.”

“How can you be so calm?” Amelia sobbed. “They have been searching for days from dawn until dusk and nothing… not a trace of the missing children.”

“The children?” Cormac asked, puzzled.

“Cormac,” Amelia started. “Ella wasn’t the only one taken.”

***

Cormac sat in the living room with his hands loosely at his sides. 

“There were several children taken? When were you going to tell me that?”

“I don’t know… I’m s…”

“It is an important piece of information, Amelia.”

Amelia who had been sobbing most of the ride home burst into tears. “I’m sorry!” She croaked, “I was so worried about Ella, I…”

“Where the fuck are the emergency services?” He said as he rose to his feet. He stormed towards the window overlooking the woods beyond their quiet cul-de-sac. He threw the curtains back and let out an agitated grunt when he saw that the forest looked utterly quiet. “No one is out there looking right now!” 

“They have been looking all day and most of the night until it was too dark to continue…”

“They should never have stopped. Our Ella is out there… alone…”

Amelia approached Cormac and put her hand on his shoulder; Cormac flinched and shrugged her off.

“There are several children missing?” He continued. “How the fuck does that happen in a small town like this? Why aren’t they taking this more seriously?”

He grabbed his jacket off the coat rack and shrugged it on.

“Where are you going?” Amelia rushed towards him, worry etched across her tear-stained face.

“I can’t sit around here and play the waiting game.” He said, glancing at her. Cormac was normally a level-headed guy. “Someone has to find her.”

Amelia watched helplessly as Cormac exited the house and slammed the door behind him.

***

It was the fourth day since someone had snatched Ella out of her bed.

The moon hung high in the night sky. Amelia still could not bring herself to eat. The mere thought of Cormac being in the woods alone set her teeth on edge. She paced back and forth for hours by the lounge room window, glancing out towards the woods for any sign of him.

She wondered if there was any truth to this “Witch-in-the-woods” story. News always travelled fast in a small town. The whole community and even a good portion of outsiders believed in the tale of Moll Dyer; the threat she placed on the town and surrounding forest had been a concern for many generations. Creepy noises kept Amelia awake at night, but Cormac always put it down to local wildlife, the house settling, or some other logical explanation.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Amelia.” She muttered to herself, repeating something Cormac would say to her. “Everything sounds creepy at night, especially when you’re home alone.”

***

He stopped dead in the middle of the woods after running for what seemed like twenty minutes. He wasn’t especially familiar with the area; doubts crept into his mind as he realised, he had no torch, no water and no equipment should he need to rest for the night. He was out of breath, cold and was unsure just how far into the woods he had travelled.

“Idiot.” He said as the weight of his knee-jerk decision hit him like a tonne of bricks. 

Cormac turned on his heels and headed back the way he came. Amelia would be pacing the length of the room, worried sick; he knew his wife all too well.

Trees adorned with strangler figs, willows and old oaks stood tall all around him. Every tree seemed to reach out toward him with their branches. He was probably just tired. He hadn’t slept since his short nap at the airport last night. One foot in front of the other cautiously, he kept on in the same direction, hoping to spot a clearing through the trees that would show his home sitting on the other side.

It was so dark he could barely see an inch in front of him. Fog covered the mossy ground; he gingerly placed one foot in front of the other.

Cormac suddenly remembered his cell phone in his back, left pocket and retrieved it. “Great, no reception.” He muttered as he glanced at the small LCD screen. “At least it has a flashlight…”

He enabled the flashlight app on his phone; it provided little light but enough to see where he was placing his feet. He headed in the same direction for several miles. The woods seemed to get thicker. Hours had passed since he left the house; panic had set in.

Cormac scanned the forest, questioning himself. Had he gone back in the right direction? He appeared to be heading further into the woods.

“This can’t be right…” he muttered to himself. “I should have been home by now…” 

A chilly breeze cut right into his clothing and he shivered. Eerie noises and strange whispers surrounded him. Cormac spun in a circle, pointing the light from his phone outwards. There was nothing. Just trees, a vast number of trees. Hair pricked the back of his neck; something was in the woods watching him, he could feel it.

He lurched into a full sprint, weaving in and out of the trees. He ran until he was out of breath. Halting, he hunched over; with his hands on his knees, he wheezed until his breathing returned to normal. The voices became clearer; more distinct. Children spoke in hushed tones and giggled.

“Cormac…” A child’s voice carried through the trees.

“Ella!” He called. “Is that you?” 

More whispers and giggling.

“Daddy…” The familiar sing-song voice of his little girl cut through the other whispers. “Daddy, get out of here…”

“Where are you, Ella?”

“Daddy…” The voice went up several octaves. “Daddy get out! She is coming!”

“Ella! Where are you?” Cormac yelled louder. “I won’t leave without you!”

“She… is… here…” Ella squeaked. Suddenly the whispering children went dead silent. An ear-piercing, maniacal cackle filled his ears.

***

Amelia felt utterly helpless. Cormac had still not returned, and it was well past midnight. She called everyone in the neighbourhood she could think of, but no one had heard from him. The police informed her that unless he was missing for over 48 hours, local police did not yet consider him to be a missing person. She lay down on the sofa, clutching at the afghan and wept herself to sleep.

***

She fumbled around in the darkness. Salty tears ran down her cheeks. Children speaking in hushed tones filled her ears.

“H–Hello?” She called out.

They responded in a collective giggle. 

“Ella!” Amelia cried. “Is that you, Ella?”

The wind picked up suddenly and cut through her cotton robe. She shivered violently and clutched the front together to fight off the chill.

“Mommy…” A familiar voice came from the distance, beyond the darkness. “Help me, mommy…”

“Ella!” Amelia broke into a run, blindly bounding forward. She felt wooden talons claw at her legs and scratch her skin as she hurtled through the night. She halted, then spun three-hundred and sixty degrees on the balls of her feet, frantically scanning the forest. “Where are you, Ella?”

“Over here…” The voice sounded far away. “Help me, Mommy.”

“I’m coming, Ella!” Amelia changed direction and headed towards her child’s voice. Whispers still echoed all around her. The hauntingly sweet giggles of children came and went in irregular waves. 

“Mommy… it’s so cold… and dark… where are you, Mommy?”

“I’m coming baby! Stay there!”

No matter which direction Amelia took the voice sounded more and more distant.

She became increasingly frustrated. It was cold. The darkness, suffocating.

“Ella!” She croaked as helplessness and trepidation overwhelmed her. “W–Where are you?”

“This way, mommy…” 

Amelia resumed running aimlessly through the dark woods clinging to the hope she might come upon her daughter soon. She continued to cry out, desperately seeking her little girl’s voice. She barrelled headlong into the forest; branches like bark-covered fingers reached out towards her tearing at her cotton gown as she ran. Cuts and scrapes covered most of her legs. She sprinted until the breath in her lungs could not carry her any further. She stalled; doubled over, every shallow breath she took felt like fire in her lungs. Her heart threatened to burst through her ribcage.

“Mommy…” Her daughter’s voice said. Amelia looked up. Ella was standing before her; still in her pyjamas from the night she went missing. Not a scratch, nor bruise. She was clean and tidy, with not a hair out of place.

“E–Ella?” Tears filled Amelia’s eyes as she took in the sight of her precious daughter. “Ella!” Amelia stood and rushed forward with arms outstretched. She sobbed as she clung to her daughter, relief set in having finally found her little girl.

“We have to get you home, sweetheart,” Amelia said to Ella. The little girl looked up at her mother, smiling sweetly. Her face morphed; lips cracked and dry, weathered wrinkly skin and dark, hollow pits for eyes.

“Foolish.” The frightening figure smiled; her lips pulled back in an evil grin to reveal sharp, yellow teeth. Amelia leapt back in horror as the thing that was once Ella rose to a height much taller than that of her daughter.

“You will all suffer…” said the strange woman. “Just like we did…”

She raised a hand and struck Amelia with talon-like fingernails. It stung as she felt the skin on her cheek open and blood trickle out. Her face flushed with heat; she buckled as her legs went weak and fell slowly to the ground.

***

Amelia's own screams woke her. 

Sweat soaked the afghan. Her long, wavy brown hair hung in matted clumps. Perspiration had stuck her damp fringe against her moistened face. She felt her chest; her heart was beating so hard and fast it hurt. She gasped, desperately trying to fill her lungs; the cold air stung with every breath she took.

She squinted at the clock on the far wall, blinking several times until her vision came into sharp focus. Was it already morning? She jumped up off the sofa, grabbed her car keys and flew out the front door. 

It was the third of March; A warm spring day.

She kept her eyes peeled as she drove into town for any sign of her missing husband and child. Her hope for them to return was diminishing with each passing day but she refused to give up. Her husband was stubborn, but she was certain he would have returned home long before now. The empty house and the fact she woke on the sofa suggested that he had not returned. 

Details of the nightmare were blurry, but she could not shake the feeling of dread. She pulled the car up across the street and locked it. Her first stop was the police station. She was hoping they would take her concerns seriously in person. The moment she walked in the front double glass doors she noticed something wasn’t right. Leonardtown was a small community, yes, but the station looked ridiculously understaffed. Phones were ringing off the hook with no people to answer them. Yvette was the only receptionist there; a police officer sat at the desk opposite her to help screen the incoming calls.

“D–Did I come at a bad time, constable?” She said to the officer on the other side of the Perspex safety window.

“Aw, hell. The town has gone mad.” He responded. “All but one of our receptionists called in sick today and three of my best officers didn’t show up. It’s a shit storm in here.”

“Another dead reported, Constable,” Yvette announced as she cupped the receiver with her hand.

“Shit. That makes four this morning.”

“Deaths?” Amelia asked, voice trembling. People had become sick and died overnight? Or had she become so consumed with her daughter’s disappearance she hadn’t noticed? She shook her head. 

“People have been coming down with a strange illness. By the time symptoms show the disease has already ravaged the body. According to our information, the four people who died today all had the same symptoms.”

Fear set in. It suddenly dawned on her that there was no one available to search for her husband, or the missing children. She left the police station without voicing her concerns and as she ran out the door, she heard the officer call out, “I’ve called in help from two nearby Counties.”

Tears pooled in Amelia’s eyes as she sat helplessly in her car. She balled up her fists and pounded the steering wheel, exasperated. As she drove through the empty streets of Leonardtown something unusual caught her eye. On the front door of several homes, someone had painted a red cross, the paint still wet on some. The markings hadn’t been there on the way into town, had they? She thought. In her momentary distraction, she narrowly missed a woman walking along the road. She was shuffling her bare feet against the asphalt.

“Oh, my gosh.” Amelia pulled over just past the woman and called to her. “Are you okay, Ma’am?”

The woman, who looked to be about in her seventies didn’t seem to notice Amelia at first. She stopped the car and approached the woman cautiously.

“M–Ma’am?” She stammered. “Are you okay?”

The woman turned around, almost in slow-motion and looked up at Amelia with confused, desperate eyes. She slowly moved towards her, back hunched over slightly. Violent coughs shook her frail body. Her aged, sun-spot covered thin arms reached out toward Amelia as she coughed up chunks of blood and clots. The sticky internal fluids covered much of her tattered floral dress. Amelia backed away slowly. “I–I’ll get help.”

She raced back to her car and dialled 911 from her cell phone. Dispatch said the ambulance would be on its way soon, but there were a lot of calls coming in about similar incidents. 

“What should I do with her?” Amelia asked.

“Do not approach the woman, under any circumstances. Whatever it is, is highly contagious and seems to be airborne.” 

“So, am I to leave her there?”

“Just stay in your vehicle until the ambulance arrives.”

Amelia hopped in her car and shut the door. She activated the power windows and turned on the air con. Looking in her rear-view and side mirror she could not see any sign of the frail old woman. She turned her head this way and that, frantically searching for her. Suddenly a tap came from her side window. She jumped. The woman was pressed close to her window. Sticky, crimson fluid and coagulated chunks dripped from her lips and chin. Bloody handprints streaked down the window as the woman desperately tried to get into the car; her face contorted in utter panic and fear. 

Terrified, Amelia turned the key in the ignition and sped off down the main road. By the time she got to her house, her hands were still shaking. She stepped out of the car, almost collapsing in a heap on the driveway. She caught hold of the door handle to steady herself and regain a semblance of composure. Dark clouds loomed overhead; lighting streaked across the darkened sky in the distance. Amelia glanced at her watch. It looked much darker than it should be for the early afternoon. She locked her car and headed inside.

Tossing her handbag and keys on the granite countertop, she sighed. Her stomach felt like it was tying itself in knots. A feeling of guilt crept in; it was usually against her nature to abandon someone that needed help; her acute stress response urged her to get away from there, fast. 

No one was looking for the missing children or her husband. A strange illness swept through the small community; police, search and rescue and ambulance staff were flat out dealing with the epidemic. She would have to search for her family on her own.

Taking two steps at a time she raced upstairs, retrieved a backpack from the top shelf of her built-in wardrobe and returned downstairs. She filled it with two bottles of water, some fruit and dry crackers, a first aid kit, a torch with spare batteries, a compass and a map of the area. She left a note on the off-chance that her husband would return home. She hesitantly opened the door, scanned her home as though she might never see it again and stepped out into the cold air, locking the door behind her.

The sun hid behind the horizon to the west she crossed her front lawn. She crossed Moll Dyer Road and stepped bravely into the woods. Trembling, she recalled the stories she had heard about Moll and her cabin in the woods. Rumour had it that the same cabin still existed, weathered yet untouched for many centuries.

Amelia paused for a moment. The many myths and local legends of the woods flooded her mind; the stories of people who had entered the woods but never returned. Terrified as she was, the memories of her sweet Ella and husband Cormac urged her to push forward. The town was too preoccupied, or ill to search for the missing children. She stepped into the woods.

***

The storm was fleeting but left darkness and humidity in its wake. Amelia took off her long-sleeved shirt and tied it around her waist, revealing a white tank top. Perspiration took to her skin like tiny, moist bubbles. Her skin broke out into goosebumps as an icy cold wind suddenly picked up. She shuddered.

Eerie murmurs echoed through-out the woods over the sound of crunching leaves and forest debris as she walked. 

“Ella! Cormac!” She yelled, with every second or third step. She paused for a moment and listened carefully for any response. Other than the eerie murmurs it was dead quiet. The sounds did not appear to have formed words, just unintelligible whispers. She started forward again. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Winds whistling through the trees added to the sound of her footsteps. She called out again. “Ella! Cormac!” 

Suddenly she caught something about waist high darting between trees to the left. It was a brief glimpse, but it appeared to be a small child with curly blonde hair.

“Ella?” Amelia squeaked. “Is that you?” She heaved her backpack higher onto her shoulder and as all rational thought left her, she took off running after the short figure. Child-like giggles and whispers echoed around her. 

“Stop!” She puffed as she gave chase. “Wait!”

She propelled herself through the woods, weaving in and out of trees and jumping over nature’s hurdles. Suddenly she came upon an abandoned wooden cabin. Smoke rose from the chimney. As she cautiously opened the door and stepped past the threshold, she found herself enveloped in complete darkness. She retrieved the torch from her backpack and switched it on. Panning around the room, she saw aged wooden furniture and a stone fireplace against the far wall that looked like it hadn’t housed a fire in years; dusty and weathered but still very much intact.

She heard footsteps accompanied by children’s laughter; following the sound she descended the rickety wooden steps to the basement. The door to the level below creaked as she crept past it. She jumped. Every sense was on high alert. The hair on the back of her neck pricked up. Her skin erupted in goosebumps. An owl hooted in a nearby tree and somewhere in the distance, a wild animal howled. The wind was picking up outside adding to the din. 

Each step creaked under her weight. A horrible smell greeted her nostrils as she hit the stone floor. Her torch flickered for a few seconds then went out, swallowing her in darkness. She hit the torch against her hand to bring it back to life. Nothing. 

“Mommy…” A childlike voice whispered.

“Is that you, Ella?”

“Over here, Mommy. Help me.” 

“I’m coming, Ella. Mommy is coming.”

Amelia rushed towards where she thought the voice was coming from. Her foot caught something uneven; it sent her off-balance, and she fell hard against the stone floor. The torch flung out of her hand and it collided with the floor; the light came on. It spun several times in quick circles, casting cones of light around the dank room before it came to rest. The dust settled; Amelia blinked several times as her eyes slowly adjusted to the sudden light source.

With hands shaking, she steadied herself and picked up her torch. She scanned the room with it slowly. The walls were dark, dirty and weathered. It smelt of decay and mould. The torch in her hand shook as she noticed strange markings along the first wall in what appeared to be dark red smears. Broken pieces of wooden furniture lay here and there, covered in dirt and strangling roots that had broken through cracks in the wall. 

“Ella. Where are you?” Amelia asked as she nervously scanned the room. The torch lit up the far corner of the room; a dark figure was there, not moving.

“Ella is that you?”

The room had gone deathly silent. Amelia crept closer to the figure, shaking with each step.

“Ella?”

Amelia’s heart raced. Sweat erupted on her forehead and her jaw hurt. She suddenly realised that she had been clenching it. The dark shape in the corner took on more detail. It had no arms or legs; a torso bound to a creepy structure in the shape of a stick figure made from branches, twigs and vines. The amputations looked fresh although not profusely bleeding. She scanned the torch upwards and instantly wished she hadn’t. Someone had sewn Cormac’s eyes and lips shut with black thread and on his forehead, a bloody red cross engraved into the flesh. 

Amelia screamed and fled the cabin.

***

The moment she reached the front landing of the cabin she doubled over and vomited. 

“Cormac!” She wept loudly, a large knot rising in her throat. “No!”

“Not my Cormac.” Amelia’s knees buckled under the emotional strain. She collapsed onto the wooden landing and sobbed noisily, calling out for her beloved husband. She clutched at her chest; the pain was almost unbearable.

“Mommy…” Ella’s voice carried eerily over the wind.

Amelia sniffed, steadied herself as best she could and rose to her unsteady feet. “Ella?”

“We are behind the cottage, Mother.”

Amelia took a shaky step forward; after two or three steps, she felt her knees buckle again. Steadying herself, she cautiously and wearily headed toward her daughter’s disembodied voice. The wind was still icy cold, which was unusual for that time of year. Amelia shivered. She paused for a moment to put her shirt back on, but it was no longer tied around her waist.Her backpack had also disappeared since entering the cabin.

It was eerily quiet as she rounded the corner. Six structures, like the one in the basement, positioned evenly on the open patch of dirt behind the cabin; one smaller one at each point of a star and a large one in the middle.

“Ella?” There was no sign of her. Amelia was sure that was where the voice was coming from. She paused and felt the hair on the back of her neck prickle. She caught sight of something moving in her peripheral vision. Suddenly, five children appeared all dressed in white cotton gowns. They moved in unison, their eyes fixated forward neither blinking nor shifting their gaze. Amelia recognised several of the missing children from her community from the pictures desperate parents had placed on the noticeboard in the town centre.A sixth child appeared behind them.

“Ella!” Amelia rushed toward her daughter. 

“No, Mommy,” Ella said with a wave of her hand. Amelia’s feet suddenly became heavy and immovable, almost setting her off-balance. 

“What?” Amelia whimpered. “Ella?”

Ella motioned at Amelia to be silent with a wave of her hand. Suddenly, Amelia’s lips pursed together through no control of her own. Her eyes widened as she watched Ella walk toward the five children. As she walked, in a strange tongue she chanted loudly. The children, who had stopped during Amelia and Ella’s brief exchange, moved again. They each stood in front of a wooden effigy. Ella’s chanting got louder and gradually increased in intensity. She extended her arms toward the night sky. All five children levitated slowly; they seemed oblivious to what was happening to them.They hovered for a moment, and as Ella flicked her arms out to the sides, she sent the children hurtling backwards against the structures. Creeping vines lashed their limbs securely as Ella continued chanting. 

“Ella!” Amelia blubbered. “What are you doing, Ella?”

Ella continued unphased by her mother’s interference. 

One by one, the children suddenly sprang to life. Confused and panic-stricken, they cried out for their mothers and fathers. Struggling against the restraints was of no use. Suddenly they screamed; their lips were being sewn shut by an unseen force. When their cries became muffled, she sewed their eyes shut too. Amelia cried helplessly as Ella bent the children to her will, unphased by their trauma and pleas.

Ella pointed at her mother without looking at her and said, “You’re next.”

Flames erupted from the base of each effigy, moving rapidly up the combustible material. The Fire danced and licked at the children’s ankles. Their muffled cries screamed loud inside Amelia’s head. She shut her eyes and tried to cover her ears to block it out but the sounds of five terrified children were loud and clear. As the fire grew more intense and climbed further up their vulnerable bodies, the screams became louder. Skin melted and bubbled under the heat of the flames; Amelia heard the children’s frantic screams long after their tiny bodies had yielded to the fire.

“Stop it!” Amelia shrieked. 

Piles of ash and bone lay in front of each effigy, a cruel reminder of the children’s fate, though it looked as though the fire had never touched the wood. Ella smiled and walked towards her mother. 

“Ella...” Amelia fought back the tears. “Stop this…”

“Ella cannot answer you.” 

With a quick snap of the wrist, Amelia went hurtling toward the large effigy. 

“No!” She screamed, “Plea–”

A needle threaded with thick, black cotton weaved swiftly in and out of her lips, muffling her cries. Screaming, she clutched at the thread in vain; vines lashed her limbs firmly to the wooden fixture, burning her wrists and ankles. One by one, Ella meticulously sewed her mother’s eyes shut. Flames erupted from the base of the effigy.Amelia couldn’t scream as the fire caressed her flesh with burning fingers. Her skin bubbled and blistered as the flames rose toward her face. The smell of charred flesh and hair filled her nostrils. Vomit seeped through the stitches at the corners of her mouth as she retched.

Ella turned on her heels and disappeared between the trees.


© Copyright 2019 H D Cooper. All rights reserved.

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