Part four and the final story in our Winter Horror Flash Fiction series begun here.
Four fairly new authors took part guided by a particular inspiration and produced very different settings and themes for our December 2015 topic of ‘Winter Horror’ and so we wind it up here with this chilling tale by Ana Gabrielli. Stay warm, Addicts!
The blizzard blew in without warning while Frau Bruhls’ twins played outside in the field. Everyone in the village prayed for a quick end for the girls’ sake, but the massive storm tormented them for an entire week. All hope was gone, slowly snuffed out like a candle left to burn at night as the days passed. Instead of bringing back children, the men of the village would carry back two little corpses for the Bruhl family to bury if they found the girls at all.
The entire village grieved in unison when the blizzard finally broke. Herr Ren pulled on his heavy winter furs grimly and strapped his snowshoes on. His wife, pale and haggard, kissed his whiskered cheek and made him promise to come back before nightfall. He patted his own children’s heads tenderly, his touch lingering a little too long. He was sick with grief. To lose such young children so quickly and so tragically was unimaginably painful.
The men of the village gathered silently before the town hall, each one bigger and burlier than the next. Their eyes were dark with grief as if the blizzard had claimed one of their own instead. They were all fathers and every one of them was imagining himself in Herr Bruhl’s shoes.
They set out quickly with their torches and rifles. There was no time to dawdle.
The lull after the storm was unnatural. It was as though the entire world had come to a standstill beneath the layers of snow and ice. All he could see was the empty whiteness that stretched before him for miles upon miles. All he could hear was the crunch of the snow underfoot. It was as though life as ceased to exist.
Tracking the girls was a hopeless endeavor. The wind and snow had already obliterated their footsteps, but they started in the field first. Blizzards were blinding. Maybe the girls had simply hunkered down and fell asleep on the ground? Herr Ren prayed that was that was the case. Daylight was scarce. They couldn’t search all day or else they would run the risk of becoming lost as well.
God didn’t answer his prayers. The field turned up empty and Herr Ren swallowed his bitterness. They left the field in hopes of having better luck in the forest. The fat evergreens blocked the worst of the winds and the surrounding caves offered refuge from the pounding snow. Maybe the girls had wandered into one of them and managed to survive? Harnick was the one who stumbled upon the cave by accident. With a shout he summoned the rest of the men to him. They assembled at the craggy mouth, their torchlight hardly putting a dent in the thick wall of blackness yawning before them like the hungry mouth of a demon.
Herr Ren hesitated at the edge. They all did. He didn’t know why. He had never been afraid of the dark before but now he was itching to flee. He did not want to go inside. He did not like how their firelight sputtered or how the wind whistled eerily inside. The earth breathed low and deep as though something worse than a sleeping bear rested inside the cave.
“Magda! Freda!” Von Essen shouted into the blackness. He possessed a blacksmith’s muscle but his voice trembled inside his throat. Von Essen was afraid. They all were.
The men waited, hardly daring to breathe, as their ears strained for a response. For minutes there was nothing until the smallest sob drifted up from deep inside the darkness. “Help me. It’s so cold, and I’m so hungry.”
The men jumped into actions and rushed inside, suddenly unafraid. Deeper and deeper they marched into the bowls of the earth. The thought of saving the twins and returning them safe and sounds to their parents was unexpected. It had never crossed the men’s minds that the girls could still be alive. Herr Ren’s heart pounded for joy as he shouted to them to stay put, that they were coming for them, that the whole village would be happy to see them again.
Down in the belly of the cave all but one torch was out. The cold down there was thick and impenetrable. It drifted inside their clothes and chilled them to the bone. The men stopped and peered hard into the darkness, shivering beneath their fur. The blonde, chubby faced twins were not there to greet them. Instead a tiny figure stood alone.
“I’m so hungry.”
“You’re safe now,” Herr Ren promised, slowly raising his torch. “You’re coming home with us. Come here Mausi, let us take you home.”
The light traveled across the rocky pit to fall upon the girl’s naked feet. The cold had ravaged the girl’s small toes and turned them into broken, blackened nubs. Herr Ren swallowed hard. He raised his torch higher. The light illuminated her shredded dress and stained apron. Was that blood? Had the girls managed to catch a rabbit in the cave?
“I’m so hungry, Herr Ren.”
“I understand. Where’s your sister?”
The light finally reached her face. He did not know what stood before him. Horror churned his stomach violently. The men behind him reached for their rifles.
The black voids of a demon starred back at him. Her lips were gone as if they had been torn violently away from her skull, or eaten. Her bare teeth gleamed in the firelight; shiny, sharp objects covered in black blood.
Herr Ren trembled. He had never seen such a monster before. Everything inside him screamed to ready his rifle but he didn’t dare drop the torch. He would just have to trust the men to keep him safe. “Where is your sister, Mausi,” he asked again. Its eyes were on him. He needed to keep it that way. If it noticed the rifles pointed in that direction it would either bolt or attack.
“My sister?” Those disgusting claws rose to rest across its abdomen. “Why, she’s here. In my belly, Herr Ren, but I’m still so very hungry. I’ve been hungry for so long. Will you help me?”
Ana Gabrielli enjoys the simpler things in life. Dark libraries, rainy days, and stories that spook her socks off. Her notebook is always within reach in case she needs to jot down what the monster in the window is doing. It looks like he’s hungry. She ought to invite the poor thing in.