I saw the prompt for this week and knew I had to find the time to take part. After missing last week’s prompt, I wasn’t about to let another fantasy prompt slip through my fingers without at least a token effort. I decided to tell the story of Chicky, the shadowkin creature featured in a previous story. Enjoy!
Prompt: Take your typical fairy tale villain or monster and make them the protagonist. Must use “something wicked this way comes” as a line in the story.
Word Limit: 1,200 words
Deadline: 4/19 by 9:00 AM ET
The Shadows That Bind
Dozens of the creatures waited outside the clearing, blending seamlessly with the shadows. If they wished, they could melt into the darkness and hide their grotesque forms, two glowing embers the only sign of their presence. But here in this forest there was no need for subterfuge; ensnared by their own kind, they waited, trapped here, for their yearly feeding.
Quiet as a whisper on a breeze, they fidgeted in anticipation, watching as the group drew nearer to the forest’s edge. They sensed the presence of kin and another mortal darkness, maddeningly delectable. Once the trio entered the clearing, snarls erupted from the forest as the creatures recognized their captors.
Lord Cauchemar threw back his head and laughed with glee. Turning to Lady Cauchemar , he said loudly enough to be heard over the commotion their arrival had caused, “Look at the thanks we get, my dear. We house these things without ever asking for a coin in rent and this is how they treat us. Why, we’ve even brought food, a veritable feast, for them!”
A gravelly voice rang out across the clearing, laughing humorlessly. “You throw your scraps to us and call it a banquet. That girl is nothing more than a shell; she would not satisfy the smallest of us.”
Lady Cauchemar coughed politely and began to straighten the ruffles on Nora’s dress. Her soprano was softer, but resonated as easily as her husband’s voice had across the field. “I see you still speak for the others, Muddathir.”
A cloaked figure stepped forward to the clearing’s edge and spat into the clearing. “You have not the power to name me.”
Lady Cauchemar smiled good humoredly in reply. “Be careful of your choice of raiment or you will name yourself.”
Muddathir responded with silence, a silence that was taken up by the rest of the forest’s denizens. The silence was so deep and so dark that tendrils of it reached out towards the Cauchemars with killing intent. Lord Cauchemar chuckled, brushing the group’s power away as though it were dust on his lapel.
“I didn’t realize you were all so picky. If you don’t want our gift, then we’ll take her away.”
Lord Cauchemar waited a moment for a response, his grin widening when he saw looks of fear spread through the assembled crowd. When the silence continued, he shrugged and motioned to his wife to lead Nora away. The sight of Nora’s back was too much for the creatures to bear and tormented wails filled the night.
“Stop…. You would not leave us here to starve. Why keep us here if only to watch us die?”
Madduthir’s hoarse voice was the cry that halted theCauchemars’ departure. Spinning around, Lord Cauchemar chortled. “You exist to entertain us, of course. Honestly, you, Madduthir, are the most entertaining of all. Tell me, have you found another among these brutes who can speak, who can reason? Or are you still alone, surrounded by animals?”
“They are my kin. Voiceless though they may be, they are not as mindless as you believe.”
Madduthir’s response seemed to amuse the Cauchemars because they laughed hard, gasping for air they did not need to breathe. “What sentiment coming from a monster!” Wiping tears, Lady Cauchemar pushed Nora towards the forest, saying “I will be laughing for months. Here, you’ve earned your meal.”
Gaunt with hunger, the shadow creatures barely managed to restrain themselves when the girl stepped towards them. Some creatures were so starved, they were mere shadows of themselves, gray where they should have been a deep onyx.
The crunch of leaves under her boots was the only sound in the clearing as Nora walked mechanically towards the clearing’s edge. The closer she came to the forest’s edge, the more animated the shadows became, shoving one another and reaching out desperately with their clawed fingers towards the approaching girl. One smaller shadow pushed its way across the edge and into the clearing. Flapping paper thin wings, it launched itself at Nora, beak outstretched.
When it was mere inches away from tearing into the girl, a clawed appendage swatted it out of the air with enough force to send it sailing across the field and into a tree. “ENOUGH!”
Madduthir’s shout cut through the cacophony as easily as it had cut through the shadow a moment before. “Form a line. Everyone will partake of her.”
“Isn’t that sweet? You did not tell us you were their mother, Madduthir,” Lord Cauchemar called out.
Madduthir glared at the Cauchemars, as she knew they expected. Their resulting laughter kept them from noticing a figure slip into the woods.
Katta was frantic to find the baby bird she’d seen heartlessly flung in this direction. After working for them for 5 years, she knew the Cauchemars were evil, but she’d had no idea they were actually monsters. The things in the forest were terrifying. To think they were the same type of creature…
“Where are you?” she whispered as quietly as she could in the darkness. She’d never seen a bird even come near the Outer Ward and now she knew why. It was just a baby and that thing hit it. She couldn’t save Nora, but was damned if she couldn’t at least save this chick.
Leaves rustled near her feet and she sighed in relief. “Thank goodness you’re not dead.” Leaning down, she reached towards the bird when it suddenly attacked her hands. Swallowing a cry of pain, she snatched her hands back, swatting at the bird to dislodge its beak from her fingers. It fell on its back and chirped mournfully. Her eyes adjusting to the forest’s darkness, Katta could see that it was severely injured, one wing barely attached as it writhed on the ground. Looking at the blood dripping from her fingers, she suddenly realized what the bird was.
“You’re one of those shadow things.” Glancing back at the clearing, Katta was alarmed to see the Cauchemars walking away. With their protection gone, there was nothing to keep the creatures from attacking her. Looking at the injured creature, Katta took less than a minute to make up her mind. Scooping him up, she started to run back towards the castle.
“I found you and I’m going to take care of you, little one, no matter what you are.”
Back in the darkness of the forest, a cloaked shadow began to laugh a low, raspy laugh.Photo credit: Ruben Bo