About This Tale
A horrifying tale of monsters and moonlight, and the girl within their midst.
This is a horror story, presented in two parts, but very much intended as one entity. Please do read it in one sitting, should your situation allow…. See Part One here: https://tinyurl.com/h6snnk2
FOUR: AT LAST
Joe looks away. And back again. He can’t comprehend what he has just witnessed.
He heard Matt’s screams from far away, and it felt like an eternity to move towards them. He thought he had lost the scent until that final scream rang out. He had looked up to see Matt’s outstretched body above the maze, and then the rabble of hungry snakes that reached out for him.
He thought they were snakes anyway. That was until Matt’s own arms were enveloped into the maze, and he realised those shapes that pulled at him were also the silhouettes of arms. He wondered who the arms belonged to.? He didn’t care to find out.
He runs. Rounding a corner, then a long straight, past some fallen branches in the path, turning right and there up ahead – was it? It couldn’t be.
He screams out, delight filling his face and his lungs and the air in turn. The End. Up ahead. It had to be.
A large opening stands out ahead of him; a red fiery glow behind an unmistakable parting of the maze walls. He sees the ends of several pathways, all converging. This was it. He wondered how big this maze was. So many paths, his friends all lost, and yet here he was at the finish line. All he had done was walk. Nothing to it.
As he approaches the exit, a vision appears before his very eyes. The girl – he remembered her from before… From something? The party! That seems so long ago now.
“Joseph. You have pleased me so much!” she says to him, and he can’t help but smile.
“Come, cross the line, take your prize, wave goodbye to all that nonsense”, she says as she takes his hand and leads him forwards.
“Wait!” she stops herself. “I didn’t expect you to be finished quite so soon – you have done so well, Joseph,” she says whilst almost swooning over him. Joe could get used to this, if this was his prize.
“Stay here a moment. Let me run ahead, I’ll make it a glorious celebration on the other side!”
Joe doesn’t speak. He can’t. He is in awe of her, and at the whole situation. His friends are forgotten.
“Oh, but you can have this,” she smiles, and leans closer. She kisses him passionately and presses herself close to his body. She slips a non-descript white pill from her own mouth to his and he is so enthralled in the moment he doesn’t notice a thing. She backs off and tells him to lie down.
“Take a weight off. Close your eyes. Joe wins the day,” she speaks in a lullaby voice and he finds himself drifting, slowly. His body floats to the floor and rests, his eyes open and taking in everything around him, but he is paralysed from head to toe.
He sees her return above him, holding balloons. How sweet.
He sees her come by with a banner. Confetti floats down over him. She’s a star.
She rears over him now holding a chainsaw. That beautiful girl, he thinks to himself.
I can’t move my arms, he realises. I can’t move at all, he remembers. Fear and panic run through his bones, his mind racing. His body doesn’t move a muscle. His screams don’t come, they only ring in his head; circling his brain and making his head spin as they try to find their way out. Imprisoned in his own consciousness.
His body doesn’t even so much as twitch while she slowly and carefully uses the electric saw to carve him up. She removes his fingers and toes, one by one. Then the legs, in two easy sweeps of the blade. He almost felt that one, he thought. Almost.
She takes his left arm at last, and he feels that. It starts as a growing numbness, then the vibration sinks in, followed by the searing pain, as flesh and bone and cartilage are rent asunder.
She leans over him once more. That beautiful girl. She kisses him on the lips one last time, then he feels her walk away. Effortless. He is able to move his head just enough to watch her disappear into the darkness.
The walls reappear all around him, the exit now just a dream. His pain is a reality, the numbness now gone and any effects of the pill she slipped him wearing off. He wonders how he is still conscious? He wonders why he is still alive?
He knows what he has to do. With his right arm, his last remaining limb, he pulls himself towards the wall. Inch by inch it comes closer, but he swears just as it gets within reach it moves away again. The walls themselves are mocking him.
Finally he pleads and screams and claws and claws and reaches a handful of branches. He pulls himself closer, and forces himself inside. He piles into the dank, cold underbrush and allows the snake-like arms to take him. Take my pain away.
FIVE: DEAD END
Loser Boy and John have been walking for an age now. They are exhausted and are beginning to feel like the walls are closing in. The sticky hot atmosphere makes everything close and claustrophobic. A crow squawks overhead and John follows it with his eyes. He is transfixed for a moment.
“Come on,” Loser Boy shouts at him as he approaches another turn.
“There’s no birds round here,” John replies, walking towards his friend but keeping his eyes on the crow which has now landed on the hedge wall. Loser Boy is losing patience with him, dawdling along. He is about to say something when a scream rebounds off the walls at their sides. A horrifying cackle follows it, the kind that if they heard it in a film they would laugh at its overtly evil styling.
Round the corner, the bird follows. It swoops now, over their heads. John ducks at the last second and feels the wings brush past his shoulder. It stops again, staring at the pair of them. They begin to walk and in comes the crow once again; flying strafing runs like a World War Two bomber.
Loser Boy is growing more anxious now, while John is obsessed with the crow. Finally, it swings low over their heads and turns off down a fork in the path.
“Come on, before it follows back around,” Loser Boy says.
John looks down the path after the bird. He wants to follow. In fact, he thinks it wants him to follow.
“Come on!” shouts Loser Boy, already striding into the gloom in the opposite direction.
John follows him reluctantly, catching his pal up as they come into a large opening in the maze. At first his heart races, thinking maybe they have made it. Is this the end?
“What the fuck is this?” the Loser asks. He is right to do so.
A giant section of hedge wall, maybe thirty foot tall stands in front of them. It dwarfs the rest of the maze so much that they can’t understand how they didn’t see it earlier. They approach it just to witness the sheer size, but knowing this is the dead end of all dead ends.
After a few moments they agree that it is senseless wasting more time staring at a wall, and turn to leave, resigned to more walking ahead. A rustling draws their attention to the opening they arrived through. The crow. There it sits, head almost cocked, watching them leave. Except as they approach, the crow takes to the air again and angles directly for the boys.
They hit the ground hard, throwing themselves out of its way. They turn quickly to watch for its next move and see it hasn’t slowed at all. It flies, beak first, into the wall in front and feathers are thrown in all directions. It squawks and an answering call comes. The rustling from earlier is multiplied by a hundred; a thousand. Unseen wings unfold and excitable beaks snap together. The wall comes alive, all thirty feet of it, bristling and preening. It shakes and rumblings as the sound grows louder and louder, until Loser Boy has to cover his ears.
John is standing in a daze, eyes locked to the wall. He barely reacts when Loser Boy shouts at him to run. He is too busy watching thousands of crows take flight and head in his direction.
He has never witnessed anything like it – beautiful and disturbing and coming right at him. A dirty black cloud forming before his very eyes. The majesty of it all roots him to the spot. Loser Boy grabs him by the shoulders and tries to shake sense into him. He locks eyes with him for a split second, but he knows it’s too late; the birds are coming.
They are circling even now. Loser Boy looks ahead and sees a swarm of black heading his way, and does the first thing that comes naturally to him – he pushes John forward with all of his might, sacrificing his friend to the birds. He turns and runs for his life.
Within seconds he is out of the open clearing and back on his way through the pathways. He doesn’t look back.
If he did, he would have run even harder. For in the middle of the clearing, John is set upon by each and every bird from the wall. Thousands of beaks tear at his skin, pecking and scratching and noisily devouring his very flesh. A voice comes to him from the dark. He knows not where it lives.
“Eat. Feed,” it says, and John understands.
“Eat. Feed,” he repeats, as a crow calmly lands in his outstretched hand. He raises it to his mouth and bites into its soft underbelly, even as its brothers continue to peck away at him.
The squawking dies down. The birds all swirl around, flying a circular pattern around their victim. He stands up tall, feeling something surge within him, a power he has never felt before. His skin rises in bumps and pockmarks and feathers protrude from the cuts and scrapes. His hair thickens and his nails grow into talons and he feels his face shift.
It’s subtle at first, as if he had just violently sneezed. Then as if he had banged his head against a brick wall. Then, with overwhelming agony, and a teeth-clenching, awful rip his nose split open and a bone sprouted forth, beak-like in shape and horrific to view. He doesn’t feel the pain. He doesn’t feel upset at what has become of John.
He feels anger and vengeance. He smells blood and fear. He smells prey.
Lucas has stepped through his door.
His parents’ door. Here in the middle of a maze. In the middle of who-knows-where. But sure enough, he stepped inside the door and there it was – his parents’ front room, TV blissfully jabbering away with some cookery programme or other.
“Hello, son,” his father’s voice broke the silence. He was sitting on the sofa, just a perfectly normal day.
Lucas can’t fight back the tears. He breaks down, right there and then. His mother rushes in and tries to console him, but it’s no use. He has already forgotten how he got here, and why he had been so relieved to see the door. He only remembers the gnawing, terrifying, gut-crunching fear in the pit of his stomach, which just doesn’t want to shift.
It takes him a little while to settle. He isn’t really sure why he is living with his folks again – didn’t he have his own place once? His past is hazy at best, and his parents gloss over it if he ever asks them for details. He learns to ignore that gnawing sensation in his gut.
Two weeks fly by. Then a month. He doesn’t leave the house. His social skills are non-existent. He grows to believe that he has suffered a serious psychotic lapse and he is on the long, slow road to recovery. But still he has no job, no money, no life.
Fear seems to determine his every move. He is forced into counselling by his parents; they even bring the woman here, to his own bedroom, when he won’t leave the house. She is nice. She understands plenty of things. He thinks therapy would be a great idea in the real world. However, when forced to confront it so directly, he is painfully aware that this is not the real world.
Somewhere inside he is aware of this, and yet on the outside he sees the world passing him by. The gnawing returns to the pit of his stomach, and he tries to fix it. He tries to grow, to make himself useful. To integrate into society.
After a year or two, he enrols on a course to become an electrician. He signs up and braves the outside world. He meets new people, he learns the skills. He has very little interest is becoming an electrician, but it’s not long before he is qualified and is offered a job right there and then. Everything is going to plan and he wonders why he doesn’t feel happy.
On day one of his new job he makes a fatal mistake during a routine check of an old ladies house. It’s a rural place, quite a historic house. Ruined. Burnt to a crisp after the electrical fire is finished with it. A shell.
The old lady is fine but her cats and dog don’t escape. He feels terrible. Within a fortnight he hears that the lady died too. Heartbroken and homeless, she lost the will to go on. He feels achingly bad for his mistakes, but legally he is cleared. The company still let him go though, and that hurts too.
And deep in his soul, that little something gnaws at him some more. In the dead of night he wakes in cold sweats, dreaming of dark, wet soil and thick green foliage, where crows and snakes haunt him, and arms grab at him from all angles.
He finds he has a knack for writing about his experiences. He tells the story of his grief at the old ladies’ death, and how he felt for her pets. He puts his dreams down to this loss of life, that he must take the blame for. He makes a modest income writing for a local paper and donates a large amount to a cat and dog shelter nearby. The gnawing is subdued for a while, but it’s never gone, not completely. It is never far from his thoughts.
He meets a girl through his charitable efforts, and he falls in love. It’s a bumpy affair, and he suffers the indignity of having the love of his life fall for another man. They work through it, and he allows himself to be happy, only to find she has slept with two other men. No falling for them this time; just out-right wanted to have sex with people who weren’t him.
He is miserable, depressed and broken. And the pain in his soul gnaws worse than ever before.
He marries the girl, thinking it might tie her down. It’s a last resort more than anything, and he feels himself in freefall, looking for answers to something he doesn’t understand. On their honeymoon, his new wife tells him that she is in love with someone else and, worse still, she’s pregnant. She doesn’t know if it is his.
On the flight back home he murders his wife in cold blood, with the pain in his soul gnawing so much that he can’t ignore it. He hates himself for losing control. He contemplates seizing the aircraft with intentions to crash it into some mountain in the middle of nowhere, to put an end to it all for good. He is thwarted and arrested with ease, and trialled for murder among many other things.
He attempts suicide in his cell, and only manages to lose an ear. He is made someone’s bitch in the showers every day when word gets out that he was a wannabe terrorist.
The cat and dog shelter is seized by the government for fraudulent payments. His payments. His banking activities are investigated and he is found to have committed so many different types of fraud he can’t even comprehend. He doesn’t remember committing fraud.
As payback, they take his parent’s home which he bought for them. They end up with nothing. His own parents; ostracized for raising the murderer. Kicked out of their home for aiding a fraudster. Living on the streets with not a penny to their name.
The officer tells him the news while he sits on his bunk in his cold grey cell. The pain in his soul gnawing away. He is told of his parents’ undignified demise, and he weeps uncontrollably. What had he done to deserve this life?
In fact, he sat and he thought, and he wrote and he slept, for the most part of three decades, and he wondered about his luck, and what could be worse than everything that has happened to him in his long and painful life so far?
“They’re letting you walk,” this young man is telling him. “You’ll be a free man before you die.”
He hears the words but doesn’t understand them. They said he would never see the outside word again. He knows he doesn’t deserve to. He knows he doesn’t want to. Given the choice he would happily die in this very moment.
Freedom looms. And the pain gnaws at his soul worse than it ever has before.
He stands now with his meagre belongings in hand, and he raps on the door to be let out into the world. The glow around the door frame looks familiar. It looks out of place for a prison, he thinks.
And his memory returns, dawning on him like a crushing hammer blow to the cranium, if such a thing could ever be said to have dawned.
Loser Boy is careening through the maze, stumbling, falling and back-tracking constantly. The cackle and rabble of the crows is never far from his back. He considers giving up, but he has never given up. He was blindly competitive all of his life before now, and that is enough to keep him going when death is the easiest option.
He thinks he has it figured out now. He has sobered up fully, thinking clearly for the first time. He maps the maze out in his head as he moves, and soon knows every wrong road, every stray path, every dead end. No more blindly running down the same route four or five times. He breezes through and feels the fog lifting around him.
But the swarm is always behind him. Always just far enough behind him to let him know they are coming, but never seeming to gain any ground. It’s a form of torture he does not appreciate, and can’t quite comprehend. He guesses they are playing with him, believing he would never find the way out.
But they are wrong. His smile is impossible to hide. There – directly up ahead- he can see it. The finish line. The grand opening in the maze wall, and he is heading for it swiftly. He sees the fire and the smoke beyond the opening, and supposes they are for his benefit when he reaches the end.
He looks back. They are gaining.
The hedge wall runs along his right-hand side, while the left opens ever wider as the end approaches up ahead. But they are gaining.
The storm of crows gathers pace and swoops closer now; one nipping at his shoulder, one clinging to his leg and attempting to take a chunk out of him. A guttural roar snatches his attention away from that welcoming fire – looking back he sees its source.
John is running, no, flying – John was flying? – towards him… Or something… Some thing in John’s tattered and torn skin, is chasing him down and screaming like a bird of prey from hell.
He can’t take his eyes from the creature, this thing that used to be his friend. He stumbles, and he falls hard. His face scrapes along the dirt floor and he eats a pile of dust and mud. He is done for. He knows it.
The birds swoop and circle. They sense the end is here at last.
Loser Boy rolls over to face his doom on the floor of a maze in the middle of nowhere, and sees a sight he doesn’t understand.
There, in the side of the wall, right in front of his eyes, is a door.
The bright white light spilling from the door frame fills him with delight, and he lunges for the door knob… And in that split second he hears it…
He falls short of the door but watches it open wide anyway. The warm light spills through and the crows squeal in anguish, reeling back, retreating to the safety of their new master. A shadow blocks the light briefly, and Loser Boy sees the cause.
An old man steps through the door, a battered old suitcase in hand. He looks down at Loser Boy and smiles, nodding in recognition. Tears stream from his eyes. He reaches back to shut the door.
“Don’t shut the fucking door!” Loser Boy screams at him, but it is too late.
The birds, riled up into a frenzy by the light, swarm immediately and envelop the old man before he has a chance to react. Loser Boy doesn’t stick around to watch this – he scrambles to his feet and heads for the exit again, sure he recognises the old man but not able to place his face.
The Birdman arrives in a hail of feathers and noise. Without a second glance he brutally snaps his beak-nose towards Lucas’ neck. Blood gushes from the wound and the crows feverously lap it up. Lucas falls and dies an ignominious death in the dirt. The Birdman watches Loser Boy stumble across the finish line, out into the open space outside of the maze and now outside of his influence.
Loser Boy staggers to his feet, a winner. He has escaped the confines of the maze, and he looks back to see his former friend, the birds encircling him once again.
Birdman looks to the sky and erupts with an ungodly, agonising sound. As he does so two bony, jagged-edged wings tear out from his back, his skin splitting and bleeding ever more. He takes off, flying high up into the pitch black sky, and the crows follow in a filthy cloud.
Just as they fly out of sight, Loser Boy notices the hedge wall moving, growing longer and searching out great sickly-looking arms. It connects with itself, arms turning to branches, and sealing the opening which was the finish line only moments ago.
He breathes heavily. He turns, dragging himself to his feet, and looks ahead. Standing in front of him is Eloise, watching him. She stands in an ornate and beautifully sculpted water fountain, made of elegant stone and currently showering its water over her. The water is pouring from a ten foot tall serpent, the body of which winds its way around a central column, climbing from the large basin of the fountain.
At the top of the fountain, and at various points around the base, fires flicker and burn and lick and hiss as the spray from the fountain catches them.
He looks up at Eloise and tries to say ‘thank you’ or ‘fuck you’. He tries to ask how or why or what or, yes, why? Why why why?
He can’t speak. He tries again. Throat dry, chest heaving.
Did he win? Didn’t she say there would be a winner? Does winning mean survival? He guessed that meant death for all of his friends. He was the only one stood here at the end.
As his mouth moves, and no words come out, his eyes take in the sight of this girl. This sweet, sexy but unassuming young woman, who now stands looking down on him from the fountain. She’s towering over him in fact. She’s growing larger still, higher and higher – and the sky around is dying, any remains of light drawing into her as her skin turns a sickly green and her hair curls and her voice cracks and she screams, “Return to me”.
Awake. He is under water.
He panics, looking around, knowing he is back in the hot tub, and for a moment he is relieved. His brain tells him that the impossible is not possible, that the impossible did not happen. That he is safe again.
The water around him slowly thickens, turning dark, turning black… or is it red….?
He jumps up out of the thick bubbling pool; his hair flattened by the bloody water, his stupid hat long since lost. He spins around, reeling and takes in the sight. Around the edges of the pool are his friends. Or at least, the gruesome remains of his friends.
They have limbs pulled out and eyeballs missing. Blood and viscera seep into the hot tub from every wound. He screams, spinning around, taking in each and every one of them, and sound comes to his lungs at last. Feathers float on the surface, and he is violently sick at the sight.
In the middle of the tub, right where we left her is Eloise. Except she is no longer the Eloise we left here. She has transformed into a green-skinned, crazy-haired beauty/horror show. She cackles like an insane witch, and her voice is as deep and as poisonous as you could ever imagine.
“You have won, boy. You will now receive the prize you wished to take”.
She removes her bikini top, still sensual and seductive in her movements. In fact, more so than Eloise ever was. She closes in on him, pushing him back, back, back. He feels the warmth of a friends dismembered, bloody corpse press up against him. He screams again, and steps forward reflexively… into her waiting arms.
He frantically tries to fight back, arms flailing, punching, grabbing. He bites and wrestles. She holds his arms, pins them down, unnaturally strong. What else did he expect? She pushes him back once again, pinning him against his dead friend. Reaching below, she pulls hard at his shorts and whips them out of the water, tossing them away.
Her claw-like hand pushes into his chest, nails gouging his skin. She pins him back and mounts him. Forcefully, and horrifically, she has her way with the Loser Boy, the winner of her game.
As her wild roaring and moaning and trashing dies down, she leans in, tenderly close to his ear. He has given up now, in a state of absolute shock verging on catatonia. His screams are as dead as his friends.
She whispers to him, “I hope you got what you came for…..”
With that she pulls back her head and her face appears to slither, her features moving and sliding and rearranging themselves. She grows again, a foot taller, now two. Her jaw slackens and unlocks until, serpent-like, she opens wide and lunges for him – taking off his head with a sickening snap of her teeth, in one clean bite.
Her whole body expands now, as she stands upright and swallows. His head slides down her neck with a gulp and the oily scales which have become her skin glisten under the pale moonlight.