If you hadn’t noticed, it’s Halloween tomorrow. But if you’re in Australia it might be Halloween already, so I’m giving you a quick link at the bottom to my Halloween Trick or Treat Earlybirds posts. For everyone else, the main event is tomorrow!
For my flash fiction today, I’m using a prompt of a picture I saved a while ago. Chuck came up with a challenge of an X meets Y at 3-5000 words, and I thought I’d rather do 3-500 and follow it with the early part of the Halloween Giveaway. Then I got carried away with The Muppets meets The Rocky Horror Show, and it turned out around 3330 words. It might be worthwhile knowing that Dylan, Dougall, Oscar, Midge and Kevin are my current clan of guinea pigs. They had a story last November, I think.
Out of the Frying Pan
The rustling of the leaves was the only explainable noise as the group made their way along the path in the woods. A nervous silence covered them; not even an apology for bumping into the one in front escaped their lips. They paused, huddling together, trying to disguise their trembles of fear with shivers of cold. With the rustling stopped, the dripping, whispering and occasional creaking continued.
“How do we know we’re on the right path?” breathed Dougall to his brother Dylan.
“It’s the only one,” he whispered back. “If it’s not the right one, it’s just tough.”
“What if we took the wrong turning somewhere?” Oscar’s high-pitched voice was squeakier than usual.
“Did you see any turnings?” was Dylan’s acerbic reply. It wasn’t easy being leader of this lot. Midge came up alongside him.
“I think there’s a gap in the trees ahead,” he said. “The fog seems lighter there.”
Dylan brushed his sopping wet fringe out of his eyes and looked where Midge pointed. ‘Lighter’ was an optimistic term that did not imply any actual light. But yes, maybe there was a gap between the trees, wider than the track they’d been on ever since their wagon had lost a wheel. That had been about ten minutes after Oscar had said he didn’t like the feel of the forest and Midge said it was probably haunted. Midge was helpful that way. Dylan moved forward again, and the rustling of the leaves as they kicked them along the track accompanied them. Dylan couldn’t help feeling that the timing was a microsecond out of synch, but he couldn’t prove it, since when he moved, his companions moved. Apart from that, he felt he was being watched. And not by his four companions.
To his side, Kevin trotted along, placing his feet carefully and making little sound. Every time he paused, he raised his nose to the air, sniffing. Dylan sniffed too, but couldn’t smell anything but wet hair and their fear. They approached the gap, slowing in case of danger, looking into the mirk and seeing nothing…
.. except tall iron bars high above them, falling towards them to trap them…
It was just a gate. The falling was an illusion of the fog. They were straight vertical bars, with crossbars top and bottom, and a nice ornate curl in the middle, making a sort of arch effect. There was a metal boss in the centre of each, but if it was inscribed, or had a coat of arms, they couldn’t read it in the gloom.
Dylan looked at Kevin, who shrugged. Dylan pushed his way through the part-open barriers, and Dougall, Midge and Oscar crowded after him, pushing against the gates, which creaked like a banshee riding the wind. “Stop pushing!” Dylan hissed at them, but it was to no avail. Safety in numbers and all that. Kevin stopped as the others went forward, looking intently at the track behind them. Was that something moving? He couldn’t tell. He sniffed again, sure of alien scents, but unable to distinguish anything in the water-laden air, since everything smelled of mushrooms, moss and decaying leaves. As long as it was only leaves that were decaying, Kevin thought, and pulled the gates to.
He had not gone far when he realised what troubled him about that simple action.
As inevitably as an owl hooting in the near vicinity, or a black cat crossing their path, they reached a large, dilapidated mansion, crossed the stone step and reached up to yank the doorpull. A treble bell tinkled somewhere in the distance, echoing along corridors that must lead to the ends of the earth, judging by the duration of the echo. Like throwing a stone into a bottomless well, thought Dylan, and shuddered.
“What’s up, bro?” asked Dougall, pressed to his hip.
“Nothing; don’t worry, Dougall, we’ll be fine. Just get a coach, or maybe stay till dawn to find our way home again.” Dylan crossed his fingers as he said the words, hoping they’d get out alive. “Ah, someone’s home.”
The pitter-patter of feet arriving at the door was punctuated by the sound of bolts being drawn back, one by one. After five, Dylan wondered whether this was some sort of institution, but the sixth was the last, and the door opened silently, revealing a dim light shining from a candle held by a white faced man dressed in black. His hooked nose cast strange shadows on his face, and his eyes glittered, reflecting the candlelight, but subtracting all the warmth from it.
“Enter,” he said, pulling the door wider after he had inspected the party.
“Very generous of you,” Dylan said brightly, trying to boost his spirits. “Is your master at home?”
“Indeed, come this way.” The door closed behind them with an ominous creak. Dougall looked at it suspiciously. Why had it opened silently?
Dylan and Dougall followed the strange figure with the candle, but Oscar and Midge,as usual, scattered to either side to explore. Midge found a large, elegant staircase, and ran up it, all care forgotten now they were inside, away from the terror of the open forest. Oscar disappeared in the other direction, along a corridor which, despite the cobwebs, led into a large and airy space that had once been a ballroom.
Although Dylan was concentrating, he soon lost his sense of direction as they twisted and turned, round corners, up little steps, under arches and through small doorways. At last they arrived at a plain wooden door. Their guide knocked, slowly and deliberately.
Bang…. bang…. bang…
The door was thrown open, and light flooded into the corridor.
“A-maz-ing!” exclaimed a large, colourfully clad character who stood there staring at them, holding a glass of wine in one hand, and the door in his other. His hair was either slicked back on his head or he hadn’t got any; well, not that Dylan could see looking up at him. A large nose, ears with rings sticking out of them, bright red lips, and his eyes – they danced around looking here, there, and back down the corridor behind them, seeming to take in everything and nothing. The twinkle in them was emphasised by black lines bordering his eyelids, accentuating the lashes. Dylan had never seen anyone like him.
“Well, DAHLINGS, I’m so glad you made it. I thought we’d have to start WITHOUT you! Come over here and sit down. You must be SO tired.”
“Er, yes, we are, but, I’m so sorry, I don’t know your name, and we broke down and were just hoping…”
“Oh, NEVER mind about that NOW! You’ve only just ARRIVED! You must rest and recover and not worry about your DREADFUL journey.” The stranger patted a large red cushion, with gold tassels at each corner and gold piping around the edge. “Sit, sit! Aloysius, more wine, darling. Can’t you see they’re PARCHED poor things.”
“Um, I’m afraid…” began Dylan.
“No wine, thanks,” said Dougall, unusually abruptly for him, since he had impeccable manners.
It made no difference, since they were surrounded by a huge array of glasses, goblets, cups and chalices, with all manner of drinks, and platters of fruit and food.
“Eat, eat, drink, drink… it’s all for you!” Their host sat with them and picked some grapes which he held above his mouth and sucked off their stems with exaggerated noises. “Yum,yum,” he said, chewing with his mouth open.
Dougall sniffed the grapes but they didn’t smell like the ones at home. He nosed round the rest of the fruit, but there was nothing he liked. Dylan spotted a blueberry and nosed under the strawberry and the peach for it, which sent the whole lot tumbling to the floor, all over his back. The blueberry remained stubbornly out of reach.
Dylan sniffed the drinks. He didn’t like any of those, either. Dougall found an ice-cube and popped it in his mouth. “Mmmmmm, mmmm,’ he said, rolling his eyes to show his host his appreciation, even though he was really moving it to stop it freezing his tongue.
Their host’s attention was diverted from them by the arrival of Oscar, escorted by a very large man in a white coat, apron and tall white hat. “Foun’ this ‘ere lurkin’ in my kitchin’,” he said, pushing Oscar over to their host.
“Oh, MY, have you been a NAUGHTY boy? Well, a little bit of enterprise never hurt ANYONE did it? Here, have some of these LOVELY peaches.” Oscar’s eyes went as wide as saucers as he saw all the food and he jumped in and dug out a peach. He slobbered as the juice ran everywhere, and half-closed his eyes in his delight.
Dylan exchanged glances with Dougall. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t trust these people, or this food. He hoped Oscar knew what he was doing, but he doubted it. Oscar was as greedy as, well, as greedy as Dylan had been when he was a lad.
Somewhere above them, a clock began to chime midnight. The lights began to fade, and strange noises filled the air. Clanking and groaning and squeaking and creaking, and the sound of chains dragging along the floor or the room above them. Then with a CLANG, Dylan, Dougall and Oscar found themselves pinned into a cage, and the ground beneath them fell away as they were lifted to the ceiling – then through the ceiling into a narrow hallway.
They watched, helplessly, as their host transformed from his brightly clothed form. His arms and legs extended, the red silk shrivelling into nothing as it exposed thin, hairy legs. The rotund body became even rounder, and smaller, and hairy; the round face with black-rimmed eyes grew several other eyes in a huge cluster on his forehead. Two more pairs of legs sprouted from his waist. He became an enormous spider, and scampered up the chain holding their cage into the room above.
“He-hee, got you NOW, you little darlings! Came right to me, didn’t you, EH? So nice and juicy and sweet, too. Hmmm?” and he reached in and pinched Oscar’s round behind, which should have made Oscar squeal, but when Dylan looked closer, he realised Oscar’s half-shut eyes were due to the enchanted peach. He was out cold. Dylan wondered where Midge was, and whether he’d rescue them.
The trapdoor the cage had come through was secured, and while their cage was manoeuvred alongside some others, cages which held strange dried-up clothes in them, the door at the end swung open.
“Ow, no, let me go, you…” Midge used some very naughty words to tell his captor to let go of his ear, and he tried very hard to bite and kick to make him, but the weird eight-legged creature that held him, not a spider, nor anything else Dylan had ever seen, just transferred his hold to another appendage, and threw Midge in a cage next to Dylan. The cage door clanged shut, the spider and the other arachnid looked at them, laughed horrible, hollow laughs, then turned and left through the door at the end. The three watched them and heard the sound of a key turning in the lock. They were alone, in the dark, in cages.
“Well, at least we’re not out in the fog,” said Dougall, making himself as comfortable as possible. “I’m going to have a nap.”
“No, you can’t do that, we’ve got to get out. They might come back,” said Dylan.
“Well, if you’ve got a better plan, fine. But we’re not going to be able to do anything unless we get out, so I’m going to rest and recover my strength.”
“Good idea, Dougall,” said Midge. “Oscar’s asleep already, look.”
“I think he’s drugged,” said Dylan. “If we get out we may have to carry him.”
“Uh-oh,” said Midge, and settled down like Dougall for a nap.
Dylan watched them, shaking his head sadly. This lot could sleep through anything except food. It was down to him to come up with a plan to save them, as usual. He put his head on his front feet and looked at the cage opposite. The latch looked simple, but was too high up to reach. The bars were too strong to bend, although they were quite far apart. He wondered if he could squeeze through them. His hair made him look much, much bigger than he actually was. Oscar and Midge had short, curly coats, but even they weren’t as big as they looked. This was a very promising idea. Then he looked at the contents of the other cages. It looked very much like the husks of flies that were left in their house when the spiders had had them. The more he looked at them, the more they looked like dried up people…. He had a very nasty feeling about this. They had to get out! He wondered where Kevin had got to.
Kevin’s concern about the strange silence of the closing gates meant that he’d steered off the path when the others went on. He watched as a stream of slivery spiders climbed down the gates and scattered off into the fog in two lines, like a perimeter guard. He considered his options, and headed after the spiders nearest him.
He went as quietly as he could, but he had no illusions; the spiders surely knew he was there. Jumping once or twice as another creature swooped low over him – the first was an owl; the second… wasn’t – he concentrated on following despite his fear. If the others had found shelter, he suspected it wasn’t of a safe or healthy kind. Who were these people, and how could they get away?
The spiders came to a tall building and started shimmying up the drainpipe. Kevin saw the grey pipework disappearing up into the mist which sent tendrils around the upper windows, writhing like fingers seeking an entry between the crumbling stonework. He saw a dark patch by the wall, and found an old coal-chute covered by a broken wooden lid. Should he go in?
A blood-curdling shriek split the air above him. A shriek with Midge’s voice. He went in.
Dylan nearly fell off the bars he was climbing as Midge’s scream rang out below him.
“Shhh!” he called down. “Don’t give them anything to investigate. I’m trying to get us out!”
“But, but…” Midge’s customary stoicism was replaced with a quivering jelly-like creature as he pointed at a shape slithering along the floor towards him, its head already winding itself round the bars of his cage.
“Well, try squeezing through the bars into the corridor, then!” Dylan had already tried, and got through as far as his waist. He suspected Midge would have the same problem, but he had younger bones, maybe his hips would squeeze through okay. Dylan’s focus was on the ornate curve of the top of the cage; where the bars bent they would surely be wider.
Midge gulped, and backed away from the snake, to scream again as he reached the bars and something prodded him.
“No way out that way, mate, no way at all. They’ll be back and pierce you and wrap you and suck you dry, they will. No way out, not at all.”
Midge turned to find himself looking in to the mad green eyes of a large black animal. Not as large as the giant spider, true, but more than four times his own size. It reached out to prod him again, and Midge saw a huge yellow claw extend from its round, furry foot. Looking from one captive back to the snake on the other side, he followed his instincts and dashed straight into the bars, crashing against them and winding himself.
“Oh, Midge, for heaven’s sake. Just wiggle through them, all right?” Dylan watched as the caged cat prowled on the other side of Midge’s cage, walking round and round its own. All Midge had to do was escape. Which was also his task…. as he focused back on the job in hand.
Yes! He got his head, ribcage and most of his haunches through the wider gap at the top. Now to pull… and push… and pull… and he was through! He sat on top of the cage and smoothed his coat down a bit, then slid down the outside as far as the fastening. Just a simple case of lifting the latch, and the door swung free. He hissed at Dougall and went to sort Midge out. He was nearly through, just needed someone to help him twist in a certain way. Just as he popped out, the door at the end creaked open once more. Dylan made a swift decision and shinned up the bars of Midge’s cage over to his neighbour’s latch.
“Hey, pussy! Here you go! Now, help us out, will you?”
A light flooded the room, catching Dylan full in its beam. He froze, wondering what next. He flipped the latch on the cat’s cage, and dropped down onto all fours, searching for a hiding place.
“Was that you, Dylan?” came Kevin’s voice. “We need to get out of here, there are all sorts of horrible things living here.”
“I know,” Dylan replied, “I’ve seen most of them, I hope.”
“You seen the big bat-thing?”
“Er, maybe not that one.”
“It’s… well, the big spider’s almost as bad.”
“We’ve met the big spider… help me with Oscar.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
Dylan updated him. The cat sat watching them.
“Do you want to come with us?” Dylan asked him.
“You bet, mate, right impressed I am, good climber and all that. Where now?”
Dylan assessed the situation while Kevin moved into the cage to grab hold of Oscar. “Need help here,” Kevin puffed as he pulled.
“How are you at carrying things in your mouth?” he asked the cat.
“Oh, champion, especially if they stay still.”
“I don’t know how long he’ll be out… oh, give it a go. We need to get away. Come on, all.”
He led the way to the only exit, and paused at the door. “How do we get out?” he asked Kevin.
So they followed Kevin out, Dylan second, then the cat holding Oscar in its mouth, then Dougall and finally Midge, who seemed to be limping. “I’m okay,” he kept saying to Dougall, although Dougall ignored him. “Really, I’m quite alright.”
They had reached the coal cellar when they heard screams of rage echoing through the building above them.
“Qvig,” said the cat, his mouth full of Oscar. “Dev bist us.”
“Reckon you’re right,” said Kevin, pushing his way out and turning to haul the others up onto the cold dank grass. “Quick, now!”
They ran as fast as they could to the edge of the mansion’s grounds; finding a fence, they lost no time in slithering between the bars. The cat just jumped, overtaking them with a “Fobbow Be!” which they interpreted as a request to follow him. Since he still had Oscar, they did.
Some ten minutes later, the cat arrived at a tower at the edge of the forest, where the land dropped away to a valley clothed in fog. He put Oscar down on the floor of the tower and shut the door behind them.
“You’re safe from the spiders now,” he said. “I’m going to take a nap, I suggest you do too.”
“Well, I really think we should be going. Thanks so much for helping us get away,” said Dylan, some sixth sense kicking in as he said it.
“Oh, I really think you should sleep,” said the cat, his earlier accent gone, and speaking impeccable English. “I have such plans for you, my new friends.”
And Dylan’s heart sank as he watch the cat grin at him, a grin which revealed large, long, ferocious fangs.
(c) J M Pett 2015
For the Trick or Treat Book Blog Hop, I’m giving away all of my ebooks for ONE DAY ONLY, and if you’re in Australia (or anywhere else in the easternmost part of the world), you can still get them on your Halloween!
If you go to my Smashwords page, you’ll find them all there listed – and some of them are permafree:
- The Princelings of the East (book 1 of the Princelings series)
- BookElves Anthology Volume 1
- Dylan’s Yuletide Journey ( a short story)
For the rest, you need to go to the series website to find the code for the free ebooks.
For The Princelings of the East Books 2 to 6 (older kids and adults feudal scifi): to http://princelings.co.uk
For the Viridian System Sampler (adult scifi), to the Viridian Series website: http://viridianseries.uk
And if you’d much prefer to have a memoir of 1930s air travel in Africa with the Imperial Airways flying boat service, got to White Water Landings to get the link and code: http://whitewaterlandings.co.uk
These links are probably not live till around 10 am UK time today, by which time it’ll be 31st October in Tuvalu.
It’s a Blog Hop…. but I’ll do that on the main post tomorrow.