There Is Another In The Woods

This Week’s Prompt: 41. The Italians call Fear La figlia della Morte—the daughter of Death.

The Relevant Research:Frightful Night Terrors

Elise had been stolen from me. Elise, Elise had been stolen in the middle of the night. Again. I was out in the old forest with my flashlight, searching as best I could. Again.

The first time she was small. Only six. Only six, and out of the house. Well, that doesn’t give the full story. Her door was locked, a nice iron pad lock as well as the normal lock. The windows had been barred, in case some of the more adventurous squirrels or raccons lept in at Elise. It was a secure as secure could be. I even moved her bed, in case someone through something through the window. It was safe and close.

Foggy forest nights where the clouds seem to have come down from the sky and subusmed the moon are not exactly comforting when you’ve lost something. Your feet catch on the roots, and after the first few you times you fall over, you start thinking they are trying to drag you down into the ground. The flashlight can catch the branches, giving me time to duck and weave through the woods. It wasn’t a quite night this time.

Last time, there was almost no noise in the woods but my footsteps and heavy breathing. I knew Elise was in the woods. There hadn’t been any signs in her room, the lock and bars still intact. But I saw her steps going off towards the woods. I grabbed a hand gun, my flashlight, and went running. I didn’t think to call the police. Not yet.

Tonight there was the occasional clinking when my footsteps hit a broken beer bottle. The wind drove the branches against each other, scratching at the sky. There was an occasional howl in the depths, towards the old hills. I ran faster, my flashlight bumping up and down. I called out for her again. Last time, last time it had taken two days to find her out in these woods.

I spent a night running around screaming, last time. I wasn’t even the one who called the cops. Neighbors around the woods called complaining about the noise.

“Now sir, calm down. How long has your daughter been missing.”

“I don’t know, three hours? I noticed she was gone when I went to bring her water for the night, she always gets water at around nine, and then she wasn’t there, so I went out–” I said, my voice beginning to pick up speed as I talked.

“And there was no one else in the house? No one at all? No visitors, babysitters?” the man in blue asked, tilting his head to look inside.

“None, no.” I said flatly.

“Door was locked and everything.” He said, thinking for a moment. “Well, we’ll get a search party together. You mind coming down to the station, so we can a statement on the record?”

“Yeah, yeah, sure, just let me get some things.”

“It’d be better for it to be right now.” the man said, stepping out of the doorway.

The station conversation was much the same. They asked again about the room, why was it so secure, if I heard anything, if I saw anything. I had heard tapping on the top floor I said, but I thought it was a door in the wind or something. They held me there, away from the search party, for about six hours.

It wasn’t hard to piece together what they thought had happened. It was suspicious, it was frustrating. You do everything you can to keep your daughter safe, after her mother vanishes into thin air, and people start to wonder what your hiding her from. What’s out there that warrants bars on the windows, iron locks, and a fence? Then the start asking if it’s something inside instead. And it goes down hill.

Not like I don’t know what did it. I do, I do know. Out here in the woods, there’s only one thing that steals away with children. Mother told me about night like these, and I told Elise. These are old woods, and her mother didn’t understand that either. They’re fairie woods, woods were you better carry a cross even during the day.

They found her in the woods last time, sleeping in the roots of a tree, with a few scratch marks and a sprained ankle. She said she didn’t know how she got there. And maybe she didn’t. I hadn’t put all the stuff up yet. Just the one lock. It’s possible, I guess, she just snuck out. But how did she get so far away, from the second story to the woods with barely any sound? No, it took her there.

I tried telling Elise once, but she was so young. So very young, she had trouble grasping what I meant by faeries.

“But wouldn’t they be scared of you, papa?” she asked. “I mean, Tinkerbell would be frightened off by you. All you have to do is say you don’t believe in faeries.”

And I smiled and said sure with a laugh. Still secretly sewed some iron into her clothes, as a ‘game’. Yeah, it might have looked a little odd if you saw it, and it gave her a bit of a rash as she grew up. But it was the only way to be sure. If she knew what was out here, she’d know that it wasn’t scared of me. Contrary to what Disney says, faeries are rarely kind or small. And the one in the woods…he’s neither.

“He walks on long legs, so that even boys and girls on upstairs rooms aren’t safe from him.” Mother told me, holding her arms over my head like an oak’s branches. “And if you’ve been bad, it comes up from the forest for you with it’s long branch like arms.”

I had scratched my face pretty bad by now, the thorns of bushes and low hanging branchs having left their mark. Especially as I was more focused on moving forward then anything else, and so instead of ducking and weaving in the thickets I walked straight through them.

“And he takes you away, to his house, for as long as it takes for you to learn your lesson. He took my brother once, and he was gone for a whole year.” she said. Uncle Tommy was clear that he’d gone to millitary school, but to be honest when I was little that might as well as been hell.

I didn’t believe in him for a long time, until I was out in the woods myself. I saw him, two long arms out stretched among the branches, and a bright toothy grin. Long pale legs and a glowing face like a barn owls. I saw him, I did , that night Elise went missing. And he’s come again, he’s come again for my daughter.

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Why now though? I can’t help but wonder as I begin to lose the speed in my legs. Why now? It’d been three years, three years since they found her. She’d been well behaved, she’d been doing good in school, I’d been doing the best I could, making recitals, making it to bake sales, buying girl scout cookies, selling girl scout cookies, telling her good night.

What had gone wrong?

I didn’t shout her name this time. I didn’t bother calling the police this time. The bars on her window sealed my fate I think. No one likes them. Home owner’s associations been knocking on my door about them every month.

“It’s ugly” they say.

“New homebuyers think it’s a prison cell.” they say.

“It can’t be good for little Elise.” they say.

What do they know about what’s good for a kid, huh? What do they know, they’ve never had one. Never had one go missing in the middle of the night, and never gone to bed wondering if she’s snuck out again. For a year after, I put a baby monitor in her room, just in case. Maybe that’s where I went wrong, maybe I let my guard down. But hell, the bars. The bars were a must.

I know that’s what got her last time. And hell if I let that thing steal her again.

Not that they did any good it seems. But the iron should have! The iron should have burned him. My grandma, she had iron tied above her when she slept. It’s what kept her safe. My mother, she just put a cross of iron on my neck.

I find my answer, pretty quickly. Its hanging from a tree branch, a small piece of bright blue cloth with the tiny iron thread gleaming in the flash light. My heart stops for a second and I feel my breath become lead in my throat. In a daze, I look around, I look closely and carefully for any sign of her. It had to have come through here.

Someone’s sobbing or…laughing, its that sound that’s between the two. I round the trunk, watching my steps. When I come around, I see a girl Elise’s age. But her mousey brown hair has been cut in weird places, and she’s got bruises on her arms. There are wrinkles beneath her eyes and callouses on her hands that I’ve never seen before.

It can’t be her.

“L-Lizzy?” I say slowly, getting down on one knee. “Lizzy, is that you?”

“Papa!” she shouted, looking up at my light and running into hugging me. “Papa, he said I could go home, papa!”

I patted her on the back as her tears rand down my shoulder. I should have been delighted. I should have. My little girl was back. But something felt wrong.

“Go home? Honey, you’ve only been out here a few hours.” I said cautiously.

“No, no, papa, its a been longer that. Months at least.” she said through tears. Months? No, something in my mind clicked. Not months. Years.

What had been living in my house?

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Frightful Night Terrors

This Weeks Prompt:41. The Italians call Fear La figlia della Morte—the daughter of Death.
The Resulting Story: There Is Another In The Woods

The tie between fear and death is fundamental to the notions of horror as we have them. There is nothing more fundamental to our nature then a fear of death. That fear pressage death, be death’s relative, is not so strange. In the myth of the Greeks, fear and terror are children of Ares, butcher of war. Fear is at the essence of what we do here, fear is at the heart of horror.

But there are very few things that are, well, just fear. Dying of fright is certainly a phenomenon, well documented at that in several anthropological works. But, well, those aren’t situations that lend themselves well to horror. Fear can cause a heart attack, which is existentially terrifying, but lacks a certain amount of drama.

The Tingler

There was a horror movie classic about a creature that fed on fear, delightfully called the Tingler. The eponymous creature causes a tingle in it’s host spine and feeds on it’s fear. Only by screaming can the creature be prevented from curling up and crushing the spine. The concept of something that feeds on fear is continued in Harry Potter to a degree, a creature that resembles a dementor but devours fear instead of misery. Even Power Rangers has had villains that collect fear.

But these are…well, silly. The Tingler might have been frightful for it’s day, but as a scary story it falls very flat to me. No, folklore will have to do. Now, there are few folklore types that deal in fear…but there are many. There is one that is everywhere, one we’ve left off to the side: the Boogeyman.

The Boogeyman is a strange sort of creature. It isn’t really a definite creature usually, rather a fearsome name and behaviors. Often it eats disobedient children, or kidnaps them, or otherwise disposes of them. Its menace is often opaque and childish in logic, a dream like threat that has menace on it’s edges.

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Wewe Gombel

But sometimes, in the course of the world, he is extremely defined. In Hati, he is Master Midnight, his legs are two stories tall. He steals away those who would come out after night, whisking them away. Wewe Gombel in Java kidnaps children…from neglectful households. In Sicily, those who play near wells must beware a water spirit dragging them below.

The Inuit people have a shape-shifting giantess with a hole in her back. Luxemburg’s Kroperman lurks near storm drains like a certain clown, and pulls children in with a hook in their nose. The Zulu Tikoloshe is capable of sending fear and death upon people, with gouged out eyes and a gremlin like appearance. The United State’s Bloody Bones, who sits atop the bones of lying and swearing children, is another gruesome member of the pantheon of frights.

All these are creatures created for fright, and their horrific crimes are often in that fairy tale category. They devour those who won’t sleep, or eat their meals, or are up after hours, or so on. This is at first nothing more than a small scare for children, but the violation of taboos can provide a great deal of horror (as we discussed before regarding sacred spaces) and an adult haunted by a terrifying child form has found some strength these days. Modern horror, such as the Babadook, brings a boogeyman like presence to life in a way that is…terrifying.

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I think that the perspective perhaps ought not be the child. I remember the movie the Labyrinth, with its…well, David Bowie and I think it gets the crux better. The heroine accidentally invoke or invites the goblins in to take the child away and greatly regrets her decision, engaging in the quest to pursue him and returned the lost babe (with the power). The Babadook likewise is the mother’s story, and better for it.

DavidBowie

Seriously he stole a child, why is he so fabulous.

The loss of a child has an innate fear, and as such I think the loss of a child by kidnapping can expand on it more than by a cannibal. There is something more unnerving to the thought that your child is out there, your child is being held by a stranger, growing old without you as opposed to dead. That’s not to say a child’s loss isn’t tragic and horrific, but it is a) a sort of horror and tragedy that outpaces my skill and b) a tension that is hard to communicate in a short period. The kidnapping provides a better, cleaner end and recurring drama that has a material touch. There is something more concrete when a child might still be rescued, the taunting possibility of a happy ending with parent or child reunited.

I’ll observe, strangely, that the three examples I can think of are mothers pursuing their children(specifically sons or son analogs). This…seems odd. There are stories of father-daughter concerns in horror, although specifics escape me. Something to consider when writing this story.

Well, we will proceed next week with a tale of a lost child, a fear of near to death, and loss. What have you unearthed near this particular literary corpse?

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In The Closet

This Week’s Prompt: 37. Peculiar odour of a book of childhood induces repetition of childhood fancy.

The Research: Childhood Dreams

My home was much as I remembered it. The old house was still there, with the same squeaky rickety stair. My brain added the missing hollering at dad to fix it for once in his goddamned life, and the perplexity over how exactly out here in the desert there could be something so moist as to squick. When I was little, used to wonder if it was worm guts or ant insides crushed against the nails.

It’s been several years now since we left the old place. I spent the better part of my childhood years here, and even when it became my dad’s house instead of our house, I’d still visit over the summers. Now that he’s gone, having found a way to drown in the brittle bone wastes of Arizona, it was mine again. It was eerie, how well kept everything was. How meticulously well kept everything was. It was a curiosity over such antiquarian tendencies that led my feet clacking up the stairs towards my room when I was little.

There is something cliché in the parent maintaining perfectly the state of nest once it’s emptied. It was some relief then, that the bed was so broken and beaten. No doubt a raccoon…no, that’s upstate talking. Coyotes then, or javelinas or gila monster or I don’t know. Some sort of small animal. Maybe an imported raccoon.

The place was an absolute wreck, books strewn across the floor and blankets shredded and sheets wrapped into strange bundles. Still, there was one book that seemed mostly intact. The Watsons Go To Birgmingham. Never liked it much, too serious. But as I thumbed through the pages, the smell of rotting cod wafted up and out, and I saw the bones stuffed between the doodles.

When I pushed the bones between the pages, back when I was only approaching the first decade of my life, I didn’t know dead cod would smell like. That came with the move up north. But I knew what it smelled like. It was the nightly creature that would come scuttling into my room and the house, make off with a few things, move a few things, and then go back.

I had three friends back then, Tami, Chris, and George. They didn’t believe me at first when I told them that I had seen four sets of glowing eyes in the night. It’s limbs were like a MR. PLASTIC ™, stretching out to pull its skittering form forward. It was gross and slimy and squirming and ick ick ick.

“Right, but it’s not hurting anyone, so who cares?” Tami asked, tossing a rock at a cactus. “Sounds like a neat pet.”

“Yeah, but what if later, it gets hungry?”

“Then bring it a shaking cactus?” Chris said, letting another rock fly. It hit an adobe wall and a dog barked at us irritably. “I mean, a kid in Phoenix, he goes to my school. Says that a kid he knew had one of them, and after a few days it burst into a bunch of spiders. Had to fumigate the place.”

“Ew, why would I want that?” I said, playing with the stones.

“Well, then it’ll eat the spiders. Problem solved.” Chris said with a shrug.

“But wouldn’t it run out of spiders?”

“Yeah, but see, you’d move already. Because even grown ups don’t like spiders. At least, not that many. And maybe the fumigators would kill it.”

“Guys,” George said with the uptmost childhood sincerity, “I think your missing the obvious here.”

“What?” Tami asked, tilting her head.

“We catch it.” George said, eyes all a glitter. The three of us should have laughed, but now the prospect seemed tangible and real. We could actually catch it. Maybe.

“How would we?” Chris asked, having stopped throwing stones to consider.

“Well, it does crawl about. Maybe we could steal some mouse traps?” I asked, thinking to the scurrying noises on the floor.

“We’ll need more than mouse traps.” George chimed in, waving his stick around. “Monsters fight back, don’t you know? We’ll need some bats or big sticks and a blanket.”

“Why a blanket?” Tami asked, frowning.

“Because, you know, birds fall asleep when covered by a blanket right?” George said. There was a general nod of consensus. “Right, so I bet this things like them. Or like a dog, and it’ll get real confused, and that will mean we can whack it before it rips our eyes out and eat them.”

There was a general hiss of disgust at the mention of disfigurement and anthrophagy, that died down after a bit of nervous laughing. Tami mentioned that she could swipe some of her dad’s golf clubs and George and I agreed that that would do nicely for beating in the things skull. So we began that day to set our fateful trap, for the thing lurking in my house.

It had to be at a sleepover, to get us all over to my house. My parents were surprised and pleased that I was having friends over, having grown used to an almost pathological avoidance to admitting relation to the house. They thought it was because it was old and squeaky. Because they didn’t know that no kid is inviting their friends over to get eaten by monsters.

The next trip was staying up late, with the lights off and all of us ‘asleep’. We figured noise might scare it off, or maybe draw its attention. In a kids mind, the line between ‘thing we’re going to beat up’ and ‘thing that will eat me’ is a flexible, blurry one. So we carefully measured our breathing and tried not to jump with excitement or fear when a coyote howled outside. A coyote walking the streets, you must understand, was quite the event.

But we strained our eyes awake. Well, okay, George and Tami did. Chris fell asleep, despite the efforts, and I was on the verge of dreaming when the scurrying in the living room jolted three of us up. George held a finger to his mouth and Tami slowly handed out supplies from the gym bag she had brought her stuff in. Sadly, they were mostly baseball bats. She said golf clubs were too big.

So we quietly opened the door, Chris having the blanket as punishment for being a little kid sleepy head who couldn’t stay up late for a monster hunt. I had the flashlight, since it was my house and I’d be damned if we were going to hunt a thing blind and groping in the dark. So we went out carefully, a flickering column of light running head of us. Slowly we made our way to the pantry, where there was a scurrying hissing noise of the most awful sort. And sure enough, there we found it.

It was like a newt with a spiders face and the mouth of a gila monster. It’s gaping toothless maw was surrounded by dozens of blank, empty eyes reflecting back my light, a sudden candelabra. It swallowed up our screams like fish rushing into the hungry jaws of a bear, but Chris was quick as a whip and tossed the blanket over it’s face. Fear turned to adrenaline and we shot ahead swinging. Battered and bruised, it belched and groaned and almost roared until we stopped an eternity later.

Newt Cover

Body disposal had been briefly discussed, but temporary storage had been arranged. We dragged the body back, and with careful work propped it up on a close iron in the mouth. A few fish bones fell out and, to hide them, I shoved the bones into whatever book I could find.

And in the room, I wondered if I had ever taken the thing down. Never named it. Bragged about it for years, but when we left I kinda forgot it happened. So, with a dulled curiosity, I opened the door and was struck immediately by the smell of rot. But there it hung, like meet on a hook, its eyes swollen and dried out. There was something glimmering there, some little flash of light as I closed the door again. But I’m not that worried. After all, its dead.

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Childhood Dreams

This Week’s Prompt: 37. Peculiar odour of a book of childhood induces repetition of childhood fancy.

The Resulting Story: In The Closet
This week’s prompt is an interesting trip into the notions of childhood, fancy, and nostalgia. Sense information stimulating memory is a fact so certain it is almost common sense. That a certain sight or sound might bring recollections long forgotten to the fore, but smell strangely enough seems particularly adept. Among writers, it is probably the most neglected sense, far from the favorites of sight and sound. Personally, I blame language, which is read and heard more than it is inhaled through the nostrils.

The place then is what sort of memory is conjured by the childhood book. It is an odd memory, a fancy that is ‘repeated’ not recalled. This indicates a sort of delusion perhaps. Or maybe the fancy is being told to someone?

It’s also of acute intreast that it isn’t the contents of the book, but the smell of the book that recalls the fancy. Again, as a book lover will tell you, there is an old book smell. But what sort of fancy is so tied to the smell of a childhood favorite, rather than the words or pictures? It seems logical to suppose that the book itself must be key, or something in the book. A stain, a flower pressed between the pages, a leave that has in a way become one with the paper.

The childhood fancy is thus more likely an incident that touches on the book as a physical object rather than as a container of ideas and feelings.

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Next is the examining of fancy. What is a fancy? I will brush aside a perfect dictionary definition. A fancy seems, colloquially, to be a notion. Or rather, a brief thought about the world that is not necessarily true. A recurring bit of imaginative practice. I might say that a childhood fancy of mine was that a chicken was lurking in my closet at night, despite our house being miles away from such foul fowl. Another might be that a teacher is a vampire, that an old lady down the street is a witch, and other similar concerns. Concerns that, in retrospect, are probably a tad silly.

What I would consider childhood fancies, then, are sort of in that place we discussed briefly before of magical realism. They are extensions of the child’s mind and conclusions to create a dream like reality the child operates in. They aren’t questioned or even in the realm of questionable things, being unstated and assumed facts of the child’s existence.

One that, presumably, is inaccurate. An adult may find his childhood fancies therefore silly, or he might find himself longing for those more innocent years, where he could believe in such things. Certainly, there is a running theme of longing for the innocence of children by adults, wanting the comfort and presumed simplicity of yesteryear. It is tied deeply with other nostalgia, longing for what memory has obscured into simpler, kindlier days.

Without tipping my own hand on the matter too much, I think such presumptions were made to be overturned. Memory has a tendency to abandon half of what occurred, either the good or the ill. And given that we have been without, well, straight forward horror for a time, I believe the ill be what is missing.

In this case, perhaps the smell restores a fancy that was clear as a child, but the adult dismissed until recollecting it. Fairy stories have provided us endless terrible creatures that prey on children, from ogres to beasts of the woods. Perhaps he or she recalls a nasty encounter with one of these nightly terrors?

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But then, how did they survive?

Leaving that question be, a return home to confront a monster that one believed since childhood to be a mere fable seems a fairly good start for a story. Apart from the ultimate question we mentioned above, there are a few others that will need answering. Why is the person in question back in town? Presumably they left long enough not to encounter the book again. What do they remember the monster as? An imaginary friend? A nightmare? A more mundane horror?

Of course, there is also the question of ‘what the thing is?’ but that is a question to save for later in the cycle. I think, if we are to create a childhood nightmare, it should be something tailored. Folklore creatures are wonderful, but for now simply inventing a new beast might be better. I’ve yet to engage in that for sometime. I might fall back on folklore for inspiration, of course, but the field of frightening children is a…broad one indeed. If you have a favorite, post it below!

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