SPOOKY SHORT STORIES: The Learning Season by Suzy G

October 31, 2018

Suzy G is a writer of dark, lyrical things, and I know that any time I am lucky enough to read something she has written, I'm going to be both in love with and envious of her talent. I'm so happy she sent me something to share here–she's one of those writers whose work I constantly want other people to read. (She's also one of the most amazing people you'll ever meet, and I'm lucky to count her among my friends.) Find her on twitter at @itsmesuzyg.

THE LEARNING SEASON

It is 5o’clock in the evening on the Autumnal equinox and the kitchen smells like cinnamon and coriander. Mother is in a long white linen shift and bare feet and her hair hangs in golden ringlets in the stream of early evening sunshine slicing through the kitchen window.

She is so beautiful, I think for the thousandth time in my 12 years. She looks so ethereal and delicate. In truth, she is neither of those things. One day, she says, I will look like her. I almost believe it. I can almost see it. She swears I will outgrow my plainness, grow into the magic that will make me inherently powerful and beautiful and desirable to men and women alike. She tells me this in a way that gives me the understanding: this desire from others will be either unwanted or disingenuous. People both desire my mother and fear her, all for reasons they don’t understand.

At the stove, her one hand stirs the bone broth stew brewing in the cast iron pot and the other hand holds a delicate wine glass with what appears to be red wine.

Some of it is red wine. But it is also other things. Magic things. Murmured things. She sips it and slyly licks her lips clean, knowing he is watching her mouth. The buttons on her dress are undone one too many and her pale breast is almost in view when her stirring arm moves just the right way…

“Can I help?” Guy asks, ogling her from the barstool next to me. “I feel lazy just sitting here, watching you be beautiful all the way across the room.” He swigs his beer and stares at her and I roll my eyes at the wall. I am quiet, like always, blending into the wallpaper on the walls.

“No, no, baby,” my mother coos. “You are the guest. Just relax and let me cook for you.”

She has a way of making everyone feel darling and special. They feel seen and validated. It is a preternatural kind of intoxication. Mother hosts four dinners like this each year—equinox and solstice dinners. They are attended by me, my mother, and a gentleman of her choosing. The men are always attractive and younger than she (though men would be shocked to learn her true age), and because these dinners are short-lived and transient, I’ve taken to calling each of the men “Guy”. There is no sense in learning their true names.

The autumn equinox dinner carries a mood not unlike other others thrown by other people, the last bbq of the summer, a wave goodbye to the last vestiges of warm weather and long days and the pregnant growing season. But my mother prefers the stove to the grill. It’s the stove. Always the stove. There are treasured, long-held recipes to adhere to.

“Sephie, bring me that ladle. The dark one,” Mother says, gesturing to a drawer next to me. I know which one she wants. It’s the one made of blessed wood, prayed over by a fevered shaman woman, with prayers whispered into the swirling grain. I pull it from the drawer (it looks like a regular ladle—magic hides in plain sight) and cross the tile floor to hand it to her.

“Oh, she gets to help?” Guy pouts, downing the rest of his beer and lazily clanging the bottle on the counter.

Mother takes the ladle and begins stirring, widdershins. She leans and whispers a heavy-tongued spell into the curling steam. She then turns to Guy and smiles sweetly. “Sephie is my helper,” she says. “Right, Sephie?”

I shrug. “This is how I learn,” I say, both to Mother and to Guy. Mother has taught me to learn by doing, my whole life. Learn by doing. It is effective.

“Sephie has to learn to prepare equinox and solstice dinners for the men in her life when she is older. It’s our heritage and tradition.”

Guy grunts in reply. “I guess, yeah. Hell, if she can learn to cook half as good as her momma.

And she’s gonna be pretty just like her momma, too.” I glance at him and he winks at me. He lazy, tarnished silver tongue doesn’t fool me.

My mother smiles at him, masking the low anger I feel roiling inside her. These men. These men with their half-hearted appreciation of who we are. Interested only in what they can take and what we can give and repaying in too-bright smiles and shallow compliments.

It is a false currency that feels sticky and dirty as it passes through our hands. I have learned that lesson already.

He beams at her and cracks another beer. His voice and his smell and his insides bother me. Not his words, but the movement behind his words, trouble me. He smiles and talks to me fine, but he doesn’t like me. He is annoyed by my mere presence.

He wants to be alone with my mother—they all do. He is thinking of a way, after dinner, to get rid of me for a half hour or so, so he can have his quick, sweaty way with her.

He thinks. I hear him thinking. Smell the thoughts and his imagination turning.

This dinner will not be hard.

Mother sips more from the glass and hums into the steam from the stove. “Sephie, set the table, will you, dear?”

I go to the cabinet with the special dishes—the dishes of ivory and the good silverware. I pull out the one very sharp knife of obsidian and slide it gently into my back pocket. I put two place settings on the table, knowing only two people will be dining when the meal is ready. Guy looks over at the table and smiles, happy to see I will not be dining with them. Happy knowing he no longer has to try to figure out how to get rid of me so they can be alone.

He crosses the room while my back is turned and I hear him kissing on Mother’s neck as she tends the pot. He is hungry, physically and carnally. I feel his want coming off of him in waves and know Mother is absorbing them, too. I know she is offering him drink from her glass and I know that he is accepting it, lapping from it deeply. Drinking from her glass, he is tied to her now.

“The harvest dinner is perhaps my favorite of the equinox dinners,” my mother says, and I glance over my shoulder to see her cooing into his ear as he smiles stupidly and drinks. “It is the time to reap what we have sown, a time to celebrate all the work of the summer. And it has been a magical summer for us, hasn’t it?”

He nods and kisses her cheek, thoroughly drunk on her now. He does not know what is coming for him until it hits him. The iron skillet with simmering herbs. Mother takes the glass from him, emptied of the wine and her blood, and sets it on the counter. She takes one step back, and deftly lifts the skillet. She swings and hits Guy cleanly over the back of the head as he dumbly bends to kiss her again.

A startled, confused look crosses his face before he drops to his knees, maroon blood rivulets running down the back of his neck, staining the collar of his white t-shirt. He opens his mouth as if to speak, but nothing comes out.

“Sephie, come move the rug,” Mother says flatly, and I cross to the center of the kitchen. He turns his head to look at me, an almost questioning look on his face. I feel no remorse this time. Mother swings the pan and hits him again. He clutches dumbly at her dress before falling to the tiled floor.

“Quickly now, before it stains,” Mother says, and I pull the marled wool rug from the center of the room, uncovering a drain in the tile floor.

“Did you put the bowl in?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“Good girl.”

Mother stoops and pulls him by the back of his shirt to angle him toward the drain. Her arms are wiry and deceptively strong. The same tender hand that patted his cheek a few minutes ago now drags him so his blood will run and pool into the bowl waiting in the drain.

This is the summer’s bounty. The time invested with this man.

“The knife, Sephie,” she says low, pulling the metal cover from the drain. Guy’s blood runs in slow, straight, crimson streams along the grout between the floors tiles and into the waiting chalice-like bowl. He weakly groans but doesn’t move, his limbs lay limp and lifeless.

I pull it from my pocket and hold it out for her and looks me in the eye, her face beautiful and strong. I want to weep because I am suddenly struck with the sad fear that I will never be as beautiful and strong as my mother.

“Do you want to help with this part this time?” she asks. “Do you remember the words?”

I nod.

She smiles and it almost illuminates the kitchen. “My sweet girl. You are learning. You are growing. In exactly the right time. Do not fear, love.”

And with those words I am imbued with all the courage and hope I need, and my heart swells, and I slide the knife, drawing true. Blood spills.

Later, at the table, we sit by candle light, eating bone broth stew and drinking from tall goblets. There is more to come after dark—sacred things done well into the night. But for now my mother and I sit in beautiful silence, partaking—together—as women.

This is the summer’s bounty. This is the reaping.

This is how I learn.
           

**GIVEAWAY**


Tragic Tales of Strange Girls is Suz's collection of six short horror stories.

Her whole world is restricted to an underground bunker-- a place she now shares with the corpse of her mother...
Stuck in a utility closet with a boyfriend and a bite wound, a teenage girl fights to stay alive while a horde of zombies do their best to claw their way in...
Tragic Tales of Strange Girls is a collection of six horror short stories. Each girl is a bit strange, each story a bit creepy, and each ending--almost assuredly--a bit tragic.



To enter the giveaway: 

1. Go to Instagram.
2. Follow me @megan_whitmer.
3. Find my post about the giveaway and follow the instructions!

This giveaway will close on Friday, Nov 2 at 12pm EST.

SPOOKY SHORT STORIES: Darkness Creeping by Sarah Blair

October 26, 2018
Sarah Blair is an author, podcaster, mommy, teacher, and all around outstanding human. She's been one of my favorite people from the moment we met. You know how some people are just calming to your soul? Sarah is that for me. You can learn more about her at www.sarahlblair.com, and listen to her on the The X-Cast: An X-Files Podcast. Check out the giveaway at the end of this post for a chance to win a copy of her book! (This one is open to international readers, too!)


DARKNESS CREEPING


Ulric the Lesser liked the smell of blood. Blood meant defeat, and he took joy in defeating his enemies. As he lay on the ground staring up into the clear, cool night, he realized this was the second full moon he’d seen since the last time he’d smashed a skull, or hacked off a limb.

The fire popped and cracked its way through the damp wood, as sparks fluttered up into the black sky overhead. The men were quiet tonight. They languished.

“The men are hungry, Father,” said Ulric the Lesser.

Ulric the Greater grunted in response.

“Hungry for food. Hungry for women. Hungry for blood.” Ulric the Lesser sat up, picking his teeth with a twig. “We must go south.”

“We cannot go south.” His father gnawed on the end of a stick. “For who would remain to watch over the lands we have already conquered?”

“I would.”

His father snorted. 

“Then I shall lead the men south while you remain.”

“You thirst for blood.” Ulric the Greater tossed the stick into the fire and wrapped his bear skins tighter. “There is more to being a good leader. You have not proven yourself worthy of taking my place.”

“You are old and I am patient.”

“So eager to see me gone, you bastard child?” Ulric the Greater showed his missing teeth with a hearty laugh and opened his arms wide. “By all means, I am ready!”

Ulric the Lesser curled his lip at the dare.

“Coward.” Ulric the Greater spat at his son’s feet.

Ulric the Lesser stood. “I have to piss.”

“Do us all a favor and lose yourself on the way back,” his father suggested. 

Head swimming from ale, Ulric traipsed into the thick brush and found a solid tree. He shut his eyes and rested his forehead against the rough bark as he let loose his stream. Shivering in the cold, he turned back toward the encampment anxious for a blaze, wishing he had a woman to sink into. 

A low growl rumbled from the darkness. 

Ulric froze.

Glowing red eyes appeared. A long snout filled with dagger-sharp teeth glinted white in the moonlight. The wolf crept forward on four paws, withers as tall as Ulric’s chest, head the size of a bear.

It was a good thing he’d just emptied himself or he would have been soaked in an instant. The growl grew louder and puffs of air escaped the snout in the frigid night air.

Ulric considered running, but he wouldn’t dare put his back to the thing. He glanced at the tree, but there were no branches low enough to pull himself up. It was just an animal. A dog. His father had killed bears before. Surely he could kill a damned dog, even if it was the size of a pony.

The thing eased forward. Its growl grew in volume until Ulric’s blood hummed through his veins in harmony with the monster.

Ulric drew his short axe from his belt.

The creature lunged.

Its teeth sank into his shoulder, making Ulric shout in horror, but there was no pain—only tight pressure crushed down on his thick animal skins. He swung his arm and the axe sliced through the animal’s pelt into its side.

It writhed against him, twisting his arm in its mighty jaws. He shoved it off and struck again, this time making contact with its skull. The crack of the bone and the scent of fresh blood on the crisp air sent a pleasant tingle through his body. He hacked again and again until the thing stopped moving, its tongue lolling out of its mouth. His hand was wet and warm with blood dripping down from the head of the axe.

Grabbing the enormous paw, Ulric hefted his quarry through the trees into the orange light of the fire where his father sat snoring.

“Call me a coward again, old man.” Ulric kicked his father awake and dumped the beast at his feet. He shouted at the drowsing men,“Awake you filthy lot! For tonight, we feast!”

Ulric the Greater sat up and studied the monstrous creature. He lifted his bright blue gaze up to his son and gave him a single nod.

***

Ulric the Lesser awoke to a shout.

For a moment he wondered if he’d rolled into the fire; his entire body burned. He threw off his pelts and sat up, gulping in the cold air. The sun was low in the sky and he had no idea if it was sunset or sunrise. 

Another shout cut through the air.

His vision blurred as a sharp pain sliced through his skull like a lightning strike. He climbed to his feet and fell immediately as his gut seized.

There was more movement in the camp. Other men rolled on the ground. More shouts rose intermittently through the clearing.

Ulric the Greater groaned deeply.

“Father?” 

Ulric the Lesser crawled toward the old man. A cramp shot through his spine, drawing him into an arch on the ground.

The pain stole his breath away and he screamed in silence.

His father clawed at the dirt.

Roars of pain throughout the campsite morphed into deep growls. 

All around him there was sound. Screaming. Shouting. The deep pop of dislocating bones. The stretch of skin. Cries more desperate than any he’d ever heard in the midst of battle.

The hands of Ulric the Greater changed. His fingernails grew long and curved into the black earth. The hair on his arms thickened and sprouted into a deep gray fur. 

“What have you done?” His father groaned. Dry, cracked lips pulled back in a grimace of pain, revealing teeth like daggers. His jaw cracked as it jutted forward into a snout. He tried to speak again but his voice came out as a rough growl.

Ulric the Lesser tried to escape the horror of the creature before him, but his body refused to obey. His teeth crunched down on dirt as he writhed. Scorching pain consumed him, his skin stretched to splitting. 

Blood-soaked faces flooded his vision. One after another, the atrocities he’d inflicted on all manner of living things came back to him as he screamed in terror, wondering if they had all returned to tear him limb from limb.

Just as suddenly as the pain overtook him, it eased.

Cautious breaths huffed in and out of his body, soft puffs in the cold air—but he no longer felt the chill of winter. His pupils dilated as he took in this new and different world. Everything was crisp and clear. More breaths brought in scents he’d never smelled before. Heaving breaths pulled in the perfume of dead leaves and earth. The tinge of sweat came next, slightly different for each of the hundred men in the camp. A squirrel skittered in a tree above, and he jerked with an urge to hunt.

Ulric the Lesser laughed, but instead he only heard a bark.

He tried again.

A low growl vibrated through his jaws. He licked his tongue over sharp new teeth.

Large paws pressed into the earth where his hands should be.

He looked out over the camp. Instead of lumps of sleeping men, he found a crowd of furry beasts staring back at him.

The blue eyes of his father watched him, and the creature in his father’s place let out a low huff.

Ulric the Lesser lunged. Teeth clamped down on fur and skin. Warm blood gushed into his powerful new jaws. He ripped and tore until there was nothing but a mess of flesh and fur spread across the ground before him. It was fast and easy. Simple.

He threw his snout toward the sky and let out a long howl. The others echoed in turn. 

Ulric the Lesser tasted blood and he liked it.




**GIVEAWAY!**


Darkness Shifting is book one of Sarah's Tides of Darkness series. The story you just read is the origin story for the army of werewolves that are mentioned in the book. Here's a little more info:

Paranormal Investigator, Sidney Lake doesn’t jump at shadows. The weird stuff is her jurisdiction. When the mangled body of a supposedly extinct creature turns up in New York City’s subway system, she’s number one on the Medical Examiner’s speed dial. But this case hits too close to home when clues point her toward the truth about her parents’ brutal murder twelve years ago. Her boss Mitchell Harris, questions whether she should continue to investigate. However, Sidney insists on facing her greatest fears and putting her parents’ memory to rest once and for all. What she uncovers sheds a light on secrets that reach further into the darkness than she ever wanted to go… and leads her to a future she never imagined.

To enter:

1. Log into to instagram.
2. Follow me @megan_whitmer and Sarah at @authorsarahblair.
3. Find my post about this giveaway and follow the instructions there!


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