Because all of life is stories.
What follows is my entry in last week’s Friday Flash Fiction challenge courtesy Chuck Wendig over at Terrible Minds. The challenge last week was to create a seasonal or holiday themed horror story of under 200 words. I hope you enjoy it and that you participate in this week’s challenge as well, which has already been posted on his site. I’ll have my assignment posted here next friday. The title I’ve been assigned for then? “A Song for Nebula”. I look forward to writing it and reading your entries.
It was night, and the Mari Lywd was picking bones.
And she was late.
She moved through the wooded cemetery lightly, her bare feet leaving no marks on the freshly powdered snow. Over her shoulder she slung her companion of many years, a horse’s skull on the end of a long wooden rod. Every few steps she would stop and consider a spot on the ground. The markers of each site had long since been weathered by time and by apathy. The humans that lived nearby no longer even remembered that this site existed.
She knelt down and felt through the snow. When she stood, she was holding the bleached remains of a finger. She placed it in her pocket. It joined three other fingers and parts of an arm and a leg, along with a fully intact rib she had been lucky to find that night.
The Mari Lywd looked up through the wood at the moon. Yes, she was late. She had best move along.
It was dark. And it was cold. And she was incomplete.
And still, Greensleeves waited.
The Mari Lywd skipped gaily through the forest. Other than the horse skull she carried she looked for all the world like a happy child of nine or ten years. In reality, she was by far older. For hundreds of years she had roamed the Earth, begging favor and making friends with humans who still kept the old ways. But now she made fewer friends. Fewer and fewer people believed or cared enough to dress up for her traditions. Still, there were people that took notice of her. She had picked a bouquet for one such person in fact.
The crypt was hidden in a dark part of London, down cold cobblestones in dark alleys. Through a rotted and wet wooden door the Mari Lywd walked. The skull chattered nervously and looked from side to side of its own volition.
“Don’t be nervous.” said the Mari Lywd. “She’s lonely and lost. I happen to be very good company and at finding things.” she jingled the bones in her pocket triumphantly. The skull was less than convinced. “You’re just nervous. I’m sure she’s very lovely.” The Mari Lywd moved through the green and slimy door and down the step, dank as it was. Though the stone was wet and the ceiling dripped the Mari Lywd felt only warmth and was only dry. Unwanted things did not touch the Mari Lywd.
Some things simply were not done.
Greensleeves heard the creak of the door. Years of silence had made her hearing sharp like the edge of shattered glass. Years of silence had honed her, made her aware of so many things. Thinking, alone, for an aeon. More it felt like. Yes, the silence had taught her oh so much. The footsteps grew closer. Greensleeves ran her fingers, long and sinuous, over her stone bed.
And she continued to wait.
The Mari Lywd surveyed the basement of the building. Nobody had been down here in a very long time. Even the spiders had long since abandoned this room for better corners, better killing grounds. The air was stale, old. The room however did not hold an air of disuse and abandonment as the Mari Lywd imagined it would. The air was tense. She felt if she reached out to touch any certain part of it the air in the room would slice and cut itself and her to ribbons and shreds. It didn’t like what was here.
It wanted to be rid of it.
“Don’t worry.” she said to the room. “I’m here to help her.”
She turned and walked to a great iron door. To look at the door and at the young slip of a girl in front of it would be to think that there would be no heavenly way for her to open the door. To think she would not see or gain entrance into the terrible room beyond whose master held this place on the edge of a cliff. She was no ordinary slip of a girl though. She was the Mari Lywd, and by right of tradition and of her power and of her name, she was to be let in. It was ill health and consequence to anyone who refused the Mari Lywd entrance.
Some things simply were not done.
The door opened to her slightest touch.
A scant amount of light entered the room. Even a scant amount was enough. It was the most light Greensleeves had seen in several centuries. The Mari Lywd walked into the room, unafraid. Her companion chattered in terror. It was only by the greatest of efforts that she was able to keep it under control, holding it in her arms like a newborn babe.
“Apologies.” said the Mari Lywd. “He gets nervous around strangers. And this place is strange to him.”
“No apology needed my dear.” Once Greensleeves’ voice had been warm. But after so many years of silence it was raspy and weak. “I hope you found no trouble on your way?”
“None. I have a way with paths and doors. Simplest things in the world.” said the Mari Lywd.
“You opened mine easily enough. I’ve been locked here longer than I care to admit. Come, sit.”
The Mari Lywd entered the room and took in what there was to see. It wasn’t much. The room dripped. The stones were covered with a sweaty layer of moss and mildew. Hardy stuff that found grip in the dark. The middle of the small room, barely several wingspans wide, held a stone table on which Greensleeves sat. Even seated, she was a monster of a creature. Nearly eight feet tall, and pale. She wore the remains of a formal gown, hanging in tatters over her shoulder. But perhaps most distinctive were her arms. From her hands to her forearms great green veins ran amok against her skin. The pulsed and overran one another creating great pitted scars of forest green against her skin. Though she was once very beautiful, the dark, the silence, and the poison had done their work on her.
“I’ve brought you a present.” The Mari Lywd said. She reached into her pocket and brought out the bones, which she had tied with a length of red ribbon. “Something you were missing if I’m right.”
Greensleeves reached out greedily and took the bones. She held them like sparrow with a broken wing, cupping them gently to her breast. “Thank you dear. Come. Sit.” The Mari Lywd sat upon the stone table with Greensleeves, looking all the world like a calm and innocent girl sitting next to a monster with pale skin, ratty black hair, and sunken eyes with pupils so dilated nearly the whole of them was black.
Greensleeves took the rib from the bouquet and placed it in her mouth. She savored the taste for a moment before swallowing it whole. As she did this with each and every bone something about her changed. She became smaller in stature and less pale in the light. Her eyes flared the deep and turbulent green of the sea. When she had swallowed the last finger whole she almost resembled a beautiful woman, perhaps someones lover or a duchess or a queen. Almost. He violent green scars remained.
“Thank you again dearie. That was very kind of you to come. To open my door and bring me what was lacking. Even creatures like me miss the light from time to time. I suppose you’ll find that out soon enough.” said Greensleeves.
“What do you mean?” asked the Mari Lywd. Her horse was whinnying and chattering again. It bucked and threw itself against its friend and master’s grasp. With a great lunge it broke free of her hold and fell to the floor. The Mari Lywd stood to reclaim it, cooing and comforting as a mother would a child. Quick as blinking, quicker even, Greensleeves made a swipe at the child. Her hands had grown long nails of sickly green, and they penetrated the Mari Lywd from front to back. There was no blood.
The Mari Lywd staggered and fell, but Greensleeves held her up with her one hand almost entirely impaling the slight girl.
“How?” said the Mari Lywd.
“Several hundred years ago there was a young boy. A young boy in love. In love with the most beautiful girl in the kingdom. Me. He was in love with me. But so were many other boys, other men. The young lover grew jealous. He begged entreaty and wrote poems and songs and lyrics, but these did not move the beautiful woman. Did not move me. Who was he to claim anyone? Who was he, to claim me? So I left him. But oh no, that was not good enough for him.” She traced the fingers of her other hand along the Mari Lywd’s neck, gently. “So he went to the isles to the North. He found someone who could hold me, bind me to him forever. He poured the wizard’s concoction into a drink and forced it into me. It gave me these.” she gestured to her arms and the green scars that ran along them. “It made me a monster in his eyes. So he locked me away. Behind a door no one could open. He even wrote that damn song to make it sound like the whole affair was my fault. Men.” Her light laugh was like cobwebs and tinkling crystal.
“But…I came here. You couldn’t leave until…”
“Until you opened the door. That was all I said I needed wasn’t it dearie? The Mari Lywd is always granted her entrance and her leave. And she’d always be safe. Nothing touches her.”
The Mari Lywd looked at her, horror mixing with grim fascination. She looked at her horse. She should have listened. But how was she to know?
“But just what do you think I am?” Greensleeves smiled too wide a smile. “People think that damn song was written by a king about a different woman. They think the song refers to her clothing. Her clothing! No dearie, if you wish to find the inspiration for the damned half-shade shit of a song look down at me and my gift. My gift from a lover who fancied himself my master. I will have no more masters. And when I leave here, I will be nothing no more.”
She hurled the Mari Lywd into the wall of her chamber. She left her sitting there, gasping for breath, huddled in the corner. It had been many many years since anything had been able to hurt the Mari Lywd. The horse skull shook and jumped on the end of its staff, but could not make its way to its friend.
“To some people, we are everything Mari. To others we are nothing. That is all well and good, when you can ignore the latter. When you can banish them from your mind. But I have had centuries to think on my captor. Perhaps you will not wait so long. But someone must be in this cage. Someone must be bound.” She stepped out of the room and took a breath. The air here was still stale, it repulsed from her. But it was new.
“I do apologize for leaving you here after the kindness you have shown me Mari. But someone put me in a cage.” She began to close the door on the Mari and her companion. It shut tight as ever it had held her, and she made her way toward the exit.
“Some things simply are not done.”