It’s a good thing I can’t get disqualified from Flash Fiction Friday for not following instructions. It turns out I’m quite bad at it! I’ve gone 250 words over the word limit again and failed to use two of the required words in my story. My writing always takes me where it will, though, and when it decides the rules are too confining and breaks loose, all I can do is hang on for dear life.
This story is actually part of a much larger story that I am currently working on for NaNoWriMo. It was rather fortuitous that this week’s prompt asked for a creepy story involving a castle when that’s exactly the genre and setting of the novel I’m working on.
There is quite a bit of back-story involved as this scene doesn’t happen until at least 2/3rds of the way into the story. Hopefully whatever isn’t clear will be intuitive enough not to hamper your understanding of the scene (and, with luck, give the story a nice air of mystery!). I have once again loosely interpreted the prompt to include the Outer Ward of the castle instead of the castle proper; the image above of Harlech Castle has an example of where the Outer Ward is located.
I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!Prompt: Write a spooky story about a night spent in a castle.
Use These Words: Drip, creak, shudder, ancestor, tapestry
Genre: Ghost Story/Suspense
Word Limit: 1,500 words
Runes and Shadows
The forest loomed before them, full of gnarled trees and shadows. The girls advanced on it, not bothering to hide as they walked across the grassy expanse that led to the forest's edge. The Cauchemars wouldn't return for another day, maybe more if Ron could drag out the journey like he promised. He'd tried to dissuade them at first, but when he saw that Katta and Lizbeth were set on entering the forest, he finally relented. He would delay the Cauchemars' return as long as possible, if only so he wouldn't have to be the one to find the girls' bodies.
As they walked, Lizbeth tried to make conversation with Katta. Despite the secrets the two now shared and the danger they faced together, it was difficult for Lizbeth to break through Katta's stand-offish exterior.
“What's a forest doing inside the castle walls? Aren't castles supposed to have stables and buildings inside its Outer Ward to house the villagers during times of war?”
“How many castles have you seen?” Katta snapped at Lizbeth.
Looking away, Lizbeth mumbled her answer.
Katta prodded the girl. “What? I didn't hear you. Speak up.”
“None, o.k.? This is my first.”
“Then stop acting like you know everything just because you read a lot.”
Lizbeth finished the rest of the walk in silence, wondering what she needed to do for Katta to like her better. For all she knew, this was how Katta treated her best friends.
As they reached the forest's edge, Lizbeth's foot caught on something and she fell hard. Leaning down, she saw that it was a stone. After she brushed off the dirt, she could see that there were markings on it that glinted in the midday sun.
“Hey, Katta, wait up! I found something.”
“Oh, you actually tripped on something? I just thought you were being clumsy again.”
Ignoring Katta's verbal jab, Lizbeth cleared off as much of the stone as she could for Katta to see. “Look, there are markings. What do you think they mean?”
“What makes you think I know? Just copy it into your notebook and we'll find out later when we check the library.”
Lizbeth pulled out her journal and copied the markings as accurately as she could. There were only three symbols on the stone, so she gave each its own page.
Katta wandered as she waited, kicking at the grass with impatience. It wasn't long before her foot hit more than just grass.
“Hey, I found another one. And I can see another stone even farther.”
Rosaline perked up, interested. “Do they have the same markings?”
“Well, this one does. I don't know about the one farther down.”
As they brushed off each stone, they found the same set of three markings. Each stone led them to another one and another one until they'd followed the line of stones all the way to where it joined with the outer wall.
“Look, Katta. More of these stones are embedded into the outer wall.”
“That's peachy, but how about we get back to doing what we came here to do? I want to meet them while the sun is still high in the sky.”
Lizbeth forced herself to push aside her curiosity about the stones and to follow Katta back to where she first tripped. The thought that somehow the markings on the stones were important nagged at the back of her mind, but she knew Katta wouldn't stop for more delays. Facing the trees, the two girls paused. To Lizbeth's surprise, Katta reached out and grabbed her hand. Without looking at her, she stepped forward and into the forest. Lizbeth followed a second later and gasped as she was swallowed by darkness.
Katta let go of her hand and Lizbeth was alone with the blackness. Just when she started to think Katta had abandoned her, she saw a flicker of light appear beside her. As her eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness, she saw that Katta had lit a candle and was holding it before her.
“I'm so glad you always have those on you,” she told Katta. “I didn't think it would be so dark this time of day.”
Shrugging, Katta walked deeper into the forest. “The trees are just dense here. Come on, there's a clearing up ahead where the Cauchemars leave the children. We can wait for the Shadow People there.”
Lizbeth struggled to keep from tripping over tree roots and fallen branches as she followed closely behind Katta. “How do you know about the clearing if you've never been in the forest before?”
Katta looked back at Lizbeth, the candle light framing her face in shadows. “When did I say I'd never been here before?”
Lizbeth shuddered and tore her eyes away from Katta's glare. Katta snorted and got back to finding a path through the forest. They walked together in silence for several minutes, the only sound the creaking of the trees as the girls pushed aside branches. When Katta started talking, she did so without stopping to look at Lizbeth.
“I followed Them in when they took Nora in here last year. I'd long since figured out what was happening - I mean, it's hard not to when you're told you have to write parents in their children's place because they're 'indisposed.' I just wanted to see it for myself.”
Silence followed Katta's words as Lizbeth waited for her to continue. Interrupting her now might break whatever mood had taken hold of Katta and Lizbeth desperately wanted to hear the rest of the story. Minutes passed this way before Katta picked up the thread of her story again.
“They led Nora to a clearing and waited. I didn't know what They were waiting for until I saw shadows start to separate from the trees and move into the clearing. The Cauchemars left her, then, and stood back, watching. There was something wrong with Nora, though. It wasn't like her not to put up a fight. The Nora of then just stood there and waited while the Shadow People fought over who got to eat her first.”
Lizbeth looked at Katta's back and wished she could see the expression on her face as she talked. Swallowing hard, Lizbeth ventured a question.
“Did they... was she...”
“Yes.” Katta said nothing more after that. The feeling that they were missing something obvious came back to Lizbeth and she pressed Katta for more answers.
“Why weren't you killed too? It was night time when you went in, wasn't it?”
“It was night, but I think the Shadow People feared the Cauchemars. I didn't stay much longer after they started... you know... so I was never here without Them.” Katta started to say something else but decided better of it, lapsing back into silence.
Lizbeth, emboldened by how voluble Katta had been so far, pushed for more. “What is it? It might be important.”
Katta sighed. Fighting her reticent nature, she said, “That's when I found Chicky.”
“What, here? By the edge?” asked Lizbeth.
“No... in the clearing.”
It took a moment for the implications of what Katta said to sink in, and when they did Lizbeth pulled back, aghast. “Oh my word! Chicky ate Nora?!”
“Not exactly. I mean, he tried. But he was attacked and knocked aside when he approached her body. I found him by the clearing's edge as I left. He was hurt badly and I just couldn't leave him.”
Lizbeth stopped walking and tugged on Katta's arm to get her to stop. “I don't know if we should be doing this anymore. I mean, we know Chicky and he still tried eat Nora. How can we trust the others not to kill us?”
Katta stopped and looked calmly at Lizbeth. “Even though the Shadow People are beasts, they still took turns with Nora's body. That means there must be a hierarchy they respect. We just have to find the leader and we'll be fine. Chicky forgot his place and got in trouble for it. Besides, he didn't know us back then.”
When Lizbeth continued to look unsure about proceeding, Katta snorted derisively at her. “This was your idea, remember? Didn't you say we needed to communicate with the Shadow People?”
“They're called the Darkin,” Lizbeth whispered.
“The Darkin. You keep calling them the Shadow People but in the legends they're called the Darkin.”
Taking that to mean Lizbeth was back on track, Katta resumed her trek to the clearing. They didn't have far to go. Within minutes the two were standing in a circular clearing several acres wide. Light streamed down from the gap in the trees and dripped off leaves into darkness as it met the clearing's edge. Katta blew out her candle and she and Lizbeth walked to the center of the clearing, blinking furiously to help their eyes adjust to the brightness more quickly.
“How long do you think we'll have to wait?” asked Lizbeth.
In answer, Katta tilted her head towards the trees to the left side of the clearing. A cloaked figure was stepping into the light. As it approached them, it moved its head up, sniffing the air. Its hood fell back a little, letting the girls see the lower part of its face. It had thin lips that stretched taut over long, sharp teeth that angled out, barely contained by the thing's jaw.
Lizbeth screamed and stepped backwards. Whirling on her, Katta's rebuke died unspoken on her lips when she saw that other shadows were emergjng from the trees to stand around the clearing's edge. They were all shapes and sizes, human and animal forms, some more bestial than others. She turned back to the cloaked figure, now flanked by two smaller, no less grotesque, figures. Squaring her shoulders, Katta called out in as steady a voice as she could manage, “You can't do anything to us during the day. That's why we picked this time to come.”
The cloaked figure's shoulders started to shake, slowly at first, then more violently. Throwing its head back, it erupted into gravely, hoarse laughter. In barely intelligible English, it said “Silly girls. It's always night in here.”
While Katta stared at the Darkin, dumbfounded, Lizbeth started to groan beside her. “Oh no, the markings... Katta, the last one is a moon in all its phases. It means eternal night.”