Twisted Fairy Tale: The Juniper Tree by Chantel Pereira
Welcome to the 8th annual #SpookyShowcase! The Spooky Showcase celebrates the dark minds of creatives around the world through short stories and artistic creations that are dark in nature, macabre, or horror themed.
This year’s theme is Twisted Fairy Tales. Expect twisted legends, creepy creations, and dark fairy tales that will keep you up at night. Visit each day in the month of October for a scare. The master schedule is here.
The Juniper Tree
By Chantel Pereira
Beneath the juniper trees, his mother buried him—his blood wet and slick beneath her fingertips. Night swallowed color like poison from a wound. Sweeps of dusted violet fought to stay as the Wolf Moon hunted them out of the sky.
His eyelids fluttered. His purpled fingers quivered.
Still, his mother thrust him into the bitter earth, snow leeching onto her knobbed knees. He sunk like a stone, needle-leaf boughs spilling over him like a crown.
The junipers turned as his heart trembled with their roots. Every beat stuttered like a storm crawling off in the distance—weak, but nevertheless still there.
It had pulsed beneath his mother’s shivering grasp. Once, twice, and thrice until it was all she had felt.
Her lip twitched. She gathered a fistful of dirt, bone-white worms wriggling between her numb, vein-laced fingers. The young man’s heart could have beat another five-thousand suns, and she still would have ignored it.
After all, he was not her son.
He belonged to the ground more than her womb; to the snowy woods and the bellies of the foxes who’d pick his bones dry. And like tossing coins into a well, she cast the dirt down, pebbles raining upon him like lidless eyes. Pearls of poison hung on his paling lips, a crooked gash carved upon his head for good measure.
She’d birthed him years ago beneath the crying Wolf Moon, silver packs howling as milk-white snow stole the earth. He’d glowed as precious as a moonstone, sobbed as delicately as the amber leaves fell in autumn. And when he’d opened his moss-green eyes, Orion sparkled for him…but his mother could not.
This was not the son she’d been promised.
The prophecy had come to her in a dream—spoken by the wind’s tongue on a vernal eve.
Beneath the Cold Moon, a king will be born, who’s reign will compel trees to bow.
He, who will helm the lushest of lands, will fill his mother’s belly with winter-fresh sapphires, and gild her with emeralds, gossamer, and a crown more eternal than gold.
His mother will never want, and she will never need.
And he will be of the woods, as will she—for the forest protects what is theirs.
However, when the Cold Moon had shivered itself into the sky, the baby boy had clung onto her womb, for he’d loved her dearly and never wanted to part. And much to his mother’s pleas, he stayed until the howling moon snarled him out.
She’d named him Brone, a repulsive name for the sadness he’d brought her.
This boy, she thought as she dropped another handful. This crownless, kingdom-less boy had taken everything from her. Her beauty, her dreams, her entire life. And after fourteen years too many, he’d ruin her days no longer.
She glared up at the Wolf Moon: the light that had wronged her from the beginning. She stared down the woods, as if her wrathful gaze could uproot the entire forest. The junipers shivered in response, their trunks reeling from this woman who bit colder than winter.
Her hands became ravenous as she tore the frozen earth apart. Her rusted red nails shattered, her dull eyes were unblinking as she hurled heap after heap upon him.
His porcelain face vanished inch by inch until there was nothing left. Nothing, but his parted lips and the desperate fogged breaths they stole.
The trees lowered their tops and bowed their boughs. Splintered strands of rippled bark peeled itself from their trunks, shedding a river of their grief all upon the forest floor. With a gasp, a great wind exhaled from the forest. It rustled the trees and spiraled phantoms of powdered snow into the air.
A single berry, as blue as midnight, tumbled from a juniper’s leafless limb. As silent as a thought, it dropped from the highest branch, plunging further and further until it fell into his mother’s mouth. She was too ensnared in her fury to notice the berry tumble down her throat and into her belly.
She rose to her feet, turning over the final heap of dirt in her palm. Every stone, every grain—jewels to adorn his empty brow.
The grave, she regarded, looked almost too worthy for him.
“Your kingdom, my lord,” she said with a sneer and raised her hand high.
The mother then stopped. A strange sight upon her finger had caught her eye.
Her skin. It moved.
Something bubbled beneath it, boiling like the poison she’d plucked from the fire early that morning.
A shadow jabbed beneath her skin, reaching to break forth like spring through snow.
Her eyes grew wide. The earth slipped from her palm, scattered and forgotten at her feet. She pressed upon the shadow and smothered what fought beneath, but once she did, another three sprouted—stretching and stabbing from inside her skin.
“Wh-…What is this?” she asked, more to the trees than herself.
With the vicious splitting of her skin, they answered.
Verdant needles, lusher than emeralds, ripped through her skin like crooked, jagged bones. One after the other, they tore through her, piercing every pore; every tear duct; wrenching back every nail.
Crimson poured from her, glistening upon the pure white snow like rubies. Screams pulled her lips apart, though the voice that spilled out was not her own.
Like bark bending in the wind, her lungs creaked. Her cries rustled like branches.
The forest groaned with her, a scratching crawling up her throat.
She sank to her knees and coughed, her bleeding fingers clawing desperately at her neck. Needles spilled like teeth from her mouth, slicing apart her tongue. Blood spilled—thicker and thicker before it dribbled down her chin. Though like her tears, it ran amber and trickled too long down her punctured face.
With trembling fingers, she touched their trail. It stuck to her fingertips like honey.
By the time she realized what was happening to her, it was already too late. Delicate gossamer swept through the air and wound around her fingers and arms. The shimmering silver strands threaded themselves from needle to needle. As if invisible hands readied to sew a magnificent moonlit quilt. With a whirling of an unwinding spool, they pulled.
The mother’s fingers snapped. Her arms split and cracked into dozens of limbs, the gossamer stretching her apart—further and further until her bones shattered in their sockets.
Her spine stiffened, the grave shrinking below her.
She tried to wail, but the amber still spilling from her eyes and mouth glued her lips shut. What remained of her skin slivered and dried.
She felt the prodding again. This time, behind her eyes.
She tried to run, but her legs were too rooted to the ground. All she could do was bend as her vision hazed; nothing but treetops fogging her sight. Below, before the needles pierced through, she saw what she had become.
Brone breathed. With a sharp cry, he opened his eyes.
He twisted his tired arms out from the dirt, and the roots brushed him free.
Orion sparkled down upon him and lit the entire night with crystals. Brone had never seen anything like it as he climbed his way out of the ground, the low hanging boughs like hands pulling him up. Whispering soft needles and plump sapphire berries wove into his dark curls, settling upon him like a crown. Gossamer strands spilled off his shoulders into a silver mantle.
His eyes sparkled as he turned.
The branches parted a path for him, one that led deep into the dark woods; into the home that was always his.
At its entrance, a single juniper tree, with rotted bark and sap oozing from its cracks, was bent into an eternal bow before him. And as Brone parted from the tree, the forest stood tall.
It had protected what was theirs:
Their Juniper King.
About the Author
Chantel Pereira is a writer of middle grade and young adult fiction about magical girls, soft boys, and the cursed choices and places that haunt them. A former tea shop manager born and raised on the Lake of the Woods, she earned her H.B.A. from Lakehead University and now spends her days and creating the worlds she’d always hoped to find.