Over the past few weeks, I’ve written a lot of short stories, most of them in response to various writing competitions or open calls for anthologies or magazines. However, most of these stipulate that the work must be unpublished, which includes posting it on a blog like this one, so I haven’t been able to share my work on this page. Reedsy.com is a website for writers which posts free writing prompts every Friday and encourages aspiring authors to produce a piece of writing between 1000 and 3000 words based on one of these prompts. They’ve just started publishing all the entries each week on their website, and I have to admit some of the entries are pretty good.
Of course, there will be weeks when none of the prompts inspire, but I had an idea straightaway for an entry based on their Week 2 set of prompts, so the link to the page is here – https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/2/ – and my story is below. If you like my story, please go on the reedsy website and like it there too; if you don’t like it, why not leave a comment, suggesting ways in which it could be improved.
I’m not quite sure how to define this one: is it a Gothic fairy tale, or steampunk, or magic realism? Does it actually matter? The story is below:
The Fairest Of Them All
It was evening when I
first saw her, but her beauty lit up the cottage like a blazing lantern. The
seven of us were dirty and sweaty from toiling all day in the mine – tired too:
it takes it out of you after a while – but our fatigue vanished when we beheld
this lovely creature, curled up across several of our beds, dark hair fanned
out over the pillow.
Jon was the first to
say anything. “A fairy – in our ‘ouse!” he breathed. Poor soul – he was dropped
when he was a baby and he’s been a bit simple ever since.
“Don’t ‘ee talk daft!”
Gort chided, cuffing him round the head as he usually did. “Whoever ‘eard of a
fairy goin’ ter sleep on a ‘uman bed?”
It must have been our
voices that woke her, for the next moment, she sat bolt upright, looking for
all the world like a frightened fawn. A pretty little thing she was – not much
more than fifteen summers, I would say – and my heart was lost from the moment
she turned those big brown eyes on me.
“Who are you?” She
sounded scared, but she still had her manners because she added politely, “I’m
so sorry to have intruded. I knocked, but there was no reply.”
“Don’t ‘ee fret.” That
was Gort again. Because he’s the oldest, he always thinks he’s in charge.
“You’m ‘aven’t done no ‘arm, from what I can see. But where ‘ave ‘ee come from?
There ain’t another cottage for miles about.”
She lowered her gaze
then, looking out at us all from under downcast lashes. Finally, “The Castle,”
That was when I knew we
couldn’t keep her. If she was from The Castle, they’d no doubt be out looking
for her by now. I studied her clothes – ragged and dirty they were, and torn as
if she’d run through brambles; but her face wasn’t that of a serving girl and
her bearing was – well, regal somehow.
“Will they be lookin’
for ‘ee?” Marn broke in. I wondered if he was thinking of a reward.
Her face clouded. “They
will if the Huntsman returns and tells them I escaped. He was supposed to kill
me, but …” Her lip trembled and she buried her face in her hands. “He tried
to do something worse, and that’s when I managed to escape – while he was
unbuttoning his breeches –“
I think at that moment
that everyone of us felt an anger so strong we would have torn that huntsman
limb from limb if he’d stood before us. How could anyone hurt such an innocent
child? I thought in wonder.
She looked up once
more, her eyes brimming with tears. “Can I stay here? I’d feel safe with all of
you looking after me.”
Not a brother among us
could have denied her. She was bewitchingly beautiful, you see – all snow white
skin and ruby red lips and coal black hair. She wasn’t much more than a child,
but at that moment I wanted nothing more than to put my arms about her and hold
her safe for the rest of her life. Love – if that’s what love is – but nothing
sinful. My feelings for her were as chaste as the lily flowers that grew
outside the window, and as pure as the mountain stream that flowed through our
garden. My love was true – but alas! that’s more than could be said of my
It was but a day or two
later when the first disaster occurred. Marn and Besil were working a seam
together – we thought there might be diamonds buried deep within its veins –
when Besil’s pick slipped and went clean through our brother’s skull. That was
the story Besil told, but I was uneasy. I’d seen the way he looked at Marn that
morning when the girl smiled at him: venom in his eyes that put me in mind of
one of those snakes in the forest; and a part of me couldn’t help wondering if
it really had been an accident. Besil was pale and shaken, as well he ought to
be – but I detected something else in his face: a sort of slyness that had no
right to be there.
And after that, it
seemed like our family was cursed. Gort went to fetch water from the stream and
never came back. We found him hours later, face downward in the water. Ruan
thought he must have caught his foot on something and fallen, catching his head
on a rock so that he died quickly and painlessly, but …
Poor Lily – that’s what
I called her in my mind, on account of how pure and beautiful she was, although
she never did tell us her given name – was inconsolable over both the deaths.
The tears she shed – more precious than any of the diamonds we’d discovered
over the years – showed her gentle heart. She could have been our sister, the way
That’s what made the
next incident so terrible. After Gort’s drowning, Lily had begged us never to
venture out on our own again – couldn’t bear to lose another one of us, she
said. There were five of us left now, so Besil and Ruan went to fetch water
whilst Hult and I gathered mushrooms, leaving Jon with Lily lest she feel
afeared by herself. We had a basketful of mushrooms when we heard the shouting.
Running in the direction of the noise, I saw Besil and Ruan in the stream,
struggling with each other. “She be mine, I tell ‘ee!” Besil was hollering,
and, “She don’t love ‘ee like she do me. I be going to marry ‘er, I tell ‘ee!”
And then the world
stood still as I saw my own beloved brother, Ruan, grab a rock and hit Besil
over the head so that he fell into the water and didn’t move again. Ruan looked
up and saw us, and a queer look crossed his face. “She be mine!” he muttered,
unwittingly repeating Besil’s words.
For a moment, I just
stood there, staring in shock, unable to comprehend what had happened. What
madness had driven Ruan to act in this way? Hult started to run towards the
stream and I nearly went after him, not wanting Ruan to attack him too, but
something held me back.
I saw Hult moving
towards Ruan, as determined as a wolf stalking its prey. Then he was on him,
grappling with him. I thought at first that he was trying to knock some sense
into him: it was only as I approached that I realised my brothers were fighting
to the death.
I began to run myself,
calling out to both of them to stop this insanity. We were all brothers and
Lily was as a sister to us, but they heeded me not. As I neared the stream, I
saw that Hult had Ruan in his grip, twisting his head and neck with such force
that something suddenly popped. Ruan’s head lolled back lifelessly, his dead
eyes wide and staring. I felt the bile rise in my throat and tried to
understand what could have driven gentle Hult to act in such a way.
He watched me now, wary
like a bird caught in a trap. “Step away, Tom.” His voice escaped in a hoarse
croak. “She be mine.”
I was silent then,
remembering how Lily had kissed me goodbye as I left the cottage – not a
sisterly kiss, but one that spoke of other things, igniting longing and desire
within me so that the thoughts I now had of my sweet innocent Lily were
anything but pure.
“No,” I told him. “She
And then, like Ruan
before me, I grabbed a rock and dashed my brother’s brains out.
How long I sat there, I
do not know, only that the sky darkened and the stream ran red with blood.
Eventually, I stood up and walked back to the cottage, a strange excitement
buzzing in my ears. Tonight, I would take my angel to my bed and lie with her as
if she were already my wife. My loins burned as I thought of her – my sweet
little Lily, my love.
The cottage door stood
slightly ajar. I pushed it open and peered inside. Lily sat by the hearth,
sobbing as if her heart would break. I was at her side instantly, my lust
dissipated by her distress.
“What be the matter,
child?” I asked her gently.
She turned her
tear-stained face to mine, and only now did I notice that her bodice was torn
and her shoulder bare.
“Jon …” She struggled
to get the words out. “I … I don’t think he wanted to hurt me. He asked for a
kiss, and then …”
“Where be he now?” I
surprised myself with the roughness of my voice.
“Asleep. He fell asleep
after he’d taken what he wanted.”
Anger grew in me then.
He had deflowered my Lily, my pure, innocent bride to be, and he would have to
Ignoring the girl’s pleas, I strode from the
room, making my way towards the sleeping chamber at the back of the house. Jon
lay asleep on his bed, looking as guileless as a new-born babe, but I knew what
he had done. He slept on as I held a pillow over his face. I held it there
until his chest ceased to rise and fall, all the while my heartbeat hammering
with exultation. My brothers were gone, but I had something far more precious
in this fairy creature who would fill our cottage with love and laughter and
A noise at the back of
me made me turn around. She stood there, trembling – so helpless and pitiful
that I could no longer contain myself. Drawing her to me, I kissed her long and
hard on the mouth. She looked up at me, eyes wide with uncertainty, and I
thought of Jon and what he had done to her, and I made myself pull away from
her lest she thought I would hurt her.
She was breathing
heavily, her breast swelling against the torn blouse. Lust flamed within me
again, and then I noticed the pure white stone that hung in the hollow of her
neck and shame washed over me. How could I contemplate despoiling something so innocent?
Her fingers slipped
into mine. “Let’s get away from this place,” she said simply. “It reeks of
I followed her into the forest and it seemed fitting somehow that we would lie amongst the bracken and listen to the song of birds as we came together.
But before we had found
a fit place to stop, my foot caught against something hidden under a pile of
leaves and a disembodied voice crackled out of nowhere: “I repeat: the
prisoner is dangerous. If seen, do not approach, but call for backup.”
My mind whirled. What
fell magic was this? Hastily, I kicked away the leaves to discover the source
of the invisible stranger. The body that lay there was stiff and cold, his face
blue. Bits of him were already beginning to rot. I stared again, noting his
strange black clothing with The Castle insignia, the metal box at his belt
still spewing out meaningless words.
“It now seems that
Jenkins was able to escape by using a homemade variation of a glamour-stone, by
which he convinced officers on duty that they wanted to help him. He was
accompanied by one of the Huntsmen on duty at the time, who is now regarded as
an accomplice. If you see either of these men, I repeat: do not approach, but
call for backup.”
The voice faded away.
Lily looked at me and shrugged. “Oops,” she murmured.
I still did not understand as she came towards me, brandishing a blade that had appeared out of nowhere. “I thought you worked at The Castle,” I said stupidly. We never ventured as far as the village, but we knew The Castle was a bad place, full of cells containing crazy people. I wasn’t surprised she’d decided to run away, but I wanted to know why the Huntsman she’d claimed had attacked her was lying under the leaves.
She was approaching
slowly, her eyes more luminous than ever. I stood transfixed, mesmerised by her
haunting beauty; but as she reached towards me, for a second something flickered
and the merest impression of something twisted and cruel contorted her face.
Startled, I stepped
back, throwing up my hands to defend myself from the knife she was jabbing at
me. My fingers caught in the stone at her throat, and as the chain snapped, the
glamour around her melted away and I saw my precious Lily for what she really
was: a misshapen, hunchback of a man with features sharp as those of a ferret.
I was still struggling
to make sense of it all as the blade slit my throat …