Twisted Fairy Tale: Out of the Witch’s Wood by Julie Hill
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.
Out of the Witch’s Wood
By Julie Hill
A sound reached her ears from the very edge of her forest. The sound the witch most loved to hear; footsteps. About time, too. She stared around her little house, where everything had become drab and broken, and really quite sad. It was past time for things to be refreshed.
She listened closer and the steps came again. Two sets, both small. No adults. She gasped in delight. It was so rare these days that children roamed alone. Perhaps a dozen years since last she’d had such a chance and she wouldn’t waste it. No, not her.
Bustling around her kitchen, she put more wood in the oven. Summer had long since draped her arms around the forest, but this deep in, it was still cool enough that the oven’s heat was almost necessary. Besides, this was worth any bother it might have been.
She tied her shoulder length silver hair back and rolled up her sleeves. Closing her eyes, the witch envisioned her desire: a home that was an inviting refuge from the darkness. She rubbed her hands together and relaxed her hold on her magic, letting it flow out through her hands and feet and face. It went, but slowly, sluggishly, in drips and drops that painted over the age and wear of centuries with her chosen illusion, but grudgingly. It took far too long but there was no help for it. Her magic was flagging badly after going so long unreplenished.
Another listen confirmed they drew closer still, though their steps were slow. She whispered into the air, “Go, my pretties. Shepherd my guests here. Ensure they’re ready before they reach the door.”
The crows that perched in her eaves and covered the branches of the trees surrounding her home cawed once, twice, then departed in a hurricane of glossy black feathers. They might be waiting to pick her bones clean, but they knew too well that if they did her bidding, they too would feast this night.
Working as quickly as her aging body could, she prepared the pitcher of drink. A little magic added to the mix ensured it would be pleasing to whoever drank the liquid; they would taste only their favourite flavour, rather than the base mix of herbs and water that it was. Next the mash, again laced with magic.
A single crow let out a raucous call at the window. She listened again. Still moving slower than she’d have liked but coming nonetheless. There was something off about their gait, but children these days were spoiled; they probably weren’t used to walking this long or this far. That was all.
All was prepared inside, so she went out to her woodshed. With two children, she’d need more firewood, and besides, she wanted the children to go inside unasked. The sound they always let out when they realized they’d been caught entering a home uninvited was delicious. Though that too was fading with time. Why, the last child had actually tried to bully his way out of her home. Not that it had helped. There had still been enough fear for her to latch on to, hiding behind the bravado.
Their cries at last reached her ears, punctuated by those of the crows. It was time to begin.
“Shoo,” she whispered, though the birds would hear every word. “Your turn will come later.”
All but a last few determined buggers fled at her command. She understood the recalcitrance, but would brook no refusal. Again she whispered, this time to the wind and an errant gust threw the last of the crows back among the trees just as the boy and girl crossed her threshold of her clearing.
And now they were hers.
Her mouth began to water. Her magic thrummed with a desire never entirely slaked.
Closing her eyes, she listened and the footsteps halted. Voices murmured softly, too low for her to make out their words. There was a calm in them though, and it caused her a moment’s pause. But she needed the sustenance in many ways, and she wasn’t about to risk being found here and having to flee again. Never again would she be driven from her home, that was the vow she’d made when she arrived here centuries earlier. Life and magic everlasting, but always on her terms now.
At last the door creaked, first to open, then shut. She loved the way that hinge was her spy and none of the children thought twice about it. Not even when they saw a home well cared for and full of warmth. And with them inside, it was time to begin. The witch followed the children inside.
Except something wasn’t right. The boy and girl weren’t pawing through her things, nor did they show any interest in the illusions of food and comfort she’d cast for them. They stood, stiller than any child she’d ever met. After the centuries, that numbered in the hundreds, perhaps thousands. Worse was their eyes. Their gazes were slack and yet fixed on her at the same time. They’d been waiting for her, she was sure of it.
“And what are you doing in my house,” she said, picking up the script for these encounters and finding some small comfort in it. She was the one in control here. She was the witch of the deep woods, powerful and allied with the forest itself. “Do you just go into any home you see, uninvited and do whatever you like?”
They didn’t answer. Didn’t move. Not so much as a glance between them. A small trill of unease went through her again.
“If you don’t want me to go to your parents-“
“We don’t have any parents,” the girl said, her voice unnervingly flat.
“What? Orphans, then?” That would certainly make her life easier when all was said and done.
“Our parents are long gone,” the boy said, his voice little more than a sigh.
The girl swayed slightly. “Gone to the grave.”
“Well, that’s how being an orphan works.”
“They died of sorrow,” the boy said, louder now.
“They died of loss.”
“They grieved until there was nothing left of them.”
The witch looked from one to the other as the words pattered from one to the other. “What is wrong with you two? Did you take something? Drink something off?”
Still they didn’t move, only watched her with those dull eyes that didn’t seem to be quite looking at her. “Have you been into some mushrooms? Or some of those strange drugs I’ve heard about recently? Acid, I think it was?”
They made no response to this either. Perhaps it would be best to give them the sleeping draught now, then wait to prepare them until after a second dose tomorrow. Give whatever they had taken a chance to clear their bodies. There was no telling how these new drugs would interact with the spell to extract their life force, nor what it might do to the meat.
When she took a step toward her kitchen though, the boy spoke. “Meal after meal, you’ve taken lives.”
The skin on the back of her neck and on her arms crawled with shock and something she hadn’t felt in a long time: a frisson of fear.
“Without a care for those who lose,” the girl said.
“Those left behind.”
“Those in pain.”
“What are you two babbling about,” she said, louder than she’d intended.
“No thought for your victims either,” the boy said, and took a small step closer. Yet his eyes remained nearly vacant.
The girl matched him. “Their pain.”
“All to feed your hunger.”
“All to keep you living.”
“Now see here. I don’t understand what you’re accusing me of, but I want you out of my house this minute.” And she did. Her pulse raced. The game had gone wrong. Everything about these strange children was wrong and all she wanted now was them gone. Nothing was worth this.
But they didn’t. Any of the other children she’d lured into her home across the centuries would have run away from her house by now, though she’d never given them the chance. Not these ones. They each took another step forward.
“Did you think we’d never find a way to fight back,” they said in unison.
Their eyes flashed with a burning white glow. Spirits. They were spirits.
“But I felt you. You’re real. Your feet on the path… The crows would have…” She stumbled back as her mind raced. Her mouth was a desert, parched of anything resembling moisture. “You can’t be here! I have wards!”
“Left the door open though. Let in the little children,” the girl snarled.
The boy laughed. “Greed is your undoing. More. You always hungered for more than what you have.”
“And damn anyone who gets in your way. Damn anyone who tries to stop you from taking what you want.”
She reached out to her nearby herb work table. Something there would help. Only she couldn’t take her eyes from the children. No, the spirits. They must be inhabiting those bodies. That must be it.
“Not even your husband could stop you. Did you really love him?” the boy asked.
Vainar’s handsome face filled her mind’s eye, as it hadn’t done in centuries. His smile, followed by his stricken face when he’d realized the truth of her powers. She moaned, “No, you can’t. You cannot do this to me.”
And yet she was crumpling to her knees, unable to get the flickering images of him out of her mind. Alive. Dying. Dead. Alive. Dying. Dead.
“I had to,” she roared, shaking her head to focusing her thoughts. She scrambled for her magic, trying to close down the wards and activate defences she hadn’t even thought of for decades.
“Oh, my love, you can’t now.”
Her heart stopped. Not that voice. Not his voice.
“The children have waited long for this day. As have I. You stole my life, fed on it to fuel your sick magic. As you did all the others after. Now it’s time to pay.”
The witch didn’t refute the charge. Instead she tried to active the wards, but her magic was faded. Too long unreplenished. Too weak to activate the spells she’d worked so hard to array around her home. But it couldn’t end like this. She would not end like this. Pulling herself up by the work table with one hand, she grabbed for the knives she kept hanging on the wall.
“You think it’ll be that easy?”
She turned to face her dead husband’s mocking voice. Except he wasn’t there. She looked around the little house. There was nowhere for such a large man to hide, yet she saw only the two children. They’d backed away from her.
“Where is he?” The room had cooled enough that she could see her breath now. It was oppressive, weighing on her until her knees started to buckle again.
“Such limited thinking for someone who can perform magic,” the girl said, her face too slack for the grin in her voice.
“But then she could only ever see what she wanted to.”
The witch stared at the boy. Her husband’s voice. The boy’s mouth. There was no universe where those things should go together. But she couldn’t deny what she’d seen.
“You’re making a mistake to mess with me,” she said, pushing for her voice to at least sound strong.
Before either could react, she lunged at the boy, who was closer, driving the knife out ahead of her. She just needed to spill his blood. That would give her the power she needed. Short-lived and limited power, true, but she just needed it long enough to regain the upper hand.
A force drove her back to her workbench hard and she crumpled to the floor. The knife clattered from her grip, leaving a shallow cut on her thigh.
“You never had the upper hand,” her husband said through the boy’s mouth. She shuddered and struggled to rise again. The world faded for a split second as her now-overtaxed body and mind threatened to give up. “Your arrogance has been your undoing.”
A shudder rocked her entire body. Nearly the same words he’d spoken to her before she’d sacrificed him. She struggled back to her feet though. “You’ve always underestimated me.”
“Not this time, wife.”
She let a grin spread across her face as she completed the symbol on the floor in her own blood. It hummed to life, then detonated in a ripple of force and air that rushed through the cottage. Every loose item on every surface was blown to the walls, much of it breaking on impact, but she didn’t care. The ghosts would be driven away too and for now, that was what mattered.
Then, before her horrified eyes, the two children crumpled to the ground, puppets with their strings cut. For a moment, she thought them dead, the life force she needed to revitalize her magic and aging body a cruel illusion. Then she caught the faint pulse of their hearts and she praised every deity and dark spirit that had ever been. Alive still.
The chill remained though and she waited, searching for any sign of the ghosts. One minute. Two. After five, she took a limping step forward.
The trap slammed shut around her.
The last of the candles she’d set out in along the inside of the cottage wall, the circle she’d kept lit and unbroken for all these years, abruptly went out. In the dim moonlight, the cottage was filled with shadows for a moment, then eyes, dark and glowing at the same time. Faces formed around them as they all stepped closer to her. Grins formed out of the darkness, teeth pointed at gleaming.
“Can there truly be so many,” she whispered. “Have I really done this so much?”
Row upon row of ghost children, and one ghost man, nodded briefly before pouncing.
Crows took to the sky, screaming with her.
About the Author
Born in Toronto, Ontario, Julie Elizabeth Hill exported herself to Vancouver, British Columbia after many years of staring longingly at the map following every snowfall. For as long as she can remember, she’s been making up stories, but it wasn’t until high school that someone suggested writing them down. Since then, she’s been hopelessly in love with story crafting, often forgetting about everything else in the process. She is the author of the Mirrors of Bershan Series (Bound, Possession, and The Nine).