Writing

Rest in Peace

This is the first of the Flash Horror Friday stories from 13 November 2020.

Content Warning
violence, death, hanging, attack in home, children threatened, mother defending children

The first one came not long after night had fallen. The sky beforehand had turned from a brilliant blazing orange to an ominous blood red. It was hard not to see it as a sign.

Or a signal to something that it was time.

Inside the cabin, a Mother worked frantically against the clock. There was only so much she could do, but she had to do whatever that was. Keeping her hands busy kept her calm, and a steady head was a powerful weapon in a situation such as this.

Even so, her hands did not want to tie the knots that were needed, because they knew what they were for.

Her will was stronger than her fear. For now, anyway.

She sensed it before she heard it, and was not surprised that it remained outside, waiting. There was strength in numbers, after all. She felt the second one arrive soon afterwards, but still they waited. A third came shortly before midnight, when the moon was full in the sky overhead.

Of course, the Mother thought, as she tested the knots she had tied earlier. Even darkness needed something to see by. She crept through the cabin to where her children slept. Not wanting to disturb them, she watched their tiny chests rise and fall from the bedroom doorway. She did not pray, but wished for one thing: that they would continue to sleep, and never know what happened here this night.

After watching a while longer, she silently closed the door. She had sealed the window shutters earlier, knowing full well who those outside had come for. Not for her. For her precious children, who slept so soundly. Her fear faded into rage.

She crossed back to the kitchen and checked the knots one last time. She could feel the trio outside – how they radiated hate – and that gave her strength. A headache began to brew behind her eyes that ordinarily, she would shake off, but not this night. Tonight she closed her eyes and gave in to it. When the pain passed, she held up a spoon to see her reflection. It was as she thought it would be.

The Mother smiled, looped the knotted ropes over an arm, cast any misgivings aside, and walked purposely for the front door.

Whatever those outside had expected, it wasn’t this. When the demon appeared in the doorway, as calm as if she were going to invite them in for a cup of tea, they froze. In that instant, she knew they had not really believed what they had been told until this moment, and now it was too late.

She took advantage of their shock and raced past them to the steps at the side of the cabin. It took only a few bounds to reach the roof, and they swore as they scrambled up after her. She had a couple of seconds to rest before the three men burst onto the roof, brandishing shotguns and chanting, in faltering voices, something she could tell they had no confidence in.

Even so, it enraged her. How dare they? How dare they come here to kill her children for the crime of merely existing? She hissed as much at them, then pretended to back away. Emboldened, one of the men followed her, and the other two followed him.

Come closer, she whispered in her tongue, which was impossible for them to understand.

Foolishly, they did.

The Mother gave them a moment more to live because in truth, she needed a moment too. Killing was not in her nature, and it grieved her to know these men were giving their lives for something so stupid. It would give her no joy to annihilate them, but she had to protect her children. She knew her Gods would understand. She did not care if theirs did.

A blink later, their time was up. In a single fluid movement, she flung the ropes around their necks, pulled them taut, and sent all three men tumbling from the roof.

She was stronger than she looked. Strong enough to hold on as they jerked and gasped until they stopped. Only when she was sure they were dead did she lower them gently to the ground and descend the stairs to where their bodies now lay in a heap. She thought of her children sleeping peacefully inside and cut all three throats, just to be even surer.

Finally she prayed, and an answer came immediately. It was a whisper in the trees and a rumble beneath her feet. The ground opened and ancient roots sprung up into the moonlight, coiled around the bodies like the ropes around their necks, and pulled them down into the dirt. In less than a minute, all trace of the men had vanished.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, wasn’t that what they said?

The Mother turned her face to the moon and said a silent thanks. As her blood calmed, her horns retreated back into her skull. When she caught her reflection in a mirror on her way to check on the children, she looked like any ordinary human woman. She pushed the bedroom door open gently and was relieved to see her babies were still sound asleep. One by one she kissed their beloved faces, feeling their budding horns beneath their hair as she soothed them.

One day she would explain evil to them. But tonight, they could rest in peace.

© Copyright 2020, Grace Penney

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