Monday, August 24, 2020

Kind Girls by Alexander Richardson

Ethel and Elizabeth take diabolical action to avoid a visit from their abusive uncle; by Alexander Richardson. 

Elizabeth clutched the book under one arm and held the wicker basket in the other as she took the steps down two at a time. She reached the front hall, and was about to run out the door when he spoke.

"Lizzie? Just where is it you're goin' to, girl?"

She turned to her father. He wore soiled overalls, and was rubbing an oil-spotted rag between his hands.

"Up to the hills, Pa," she said. "Me and Ethel gonna have a picnic."

He nodded, moving the rag from one hand to the other. "Y'all finish cleanin' your room?"

"Yes, Pa, and I'll dust again 'fore bed."

He smiled. "Good girl, Lizzie. I want ever'thing lookin' nice for your uncle."

She felt a knot in her stomach, and swallowed. "Yes, Pa."

He squinted. "What's that book you got?"

Elizabeth clenched it against her chest. "It's from the library, Pa. It's about... birds."

His brow furrowed. "You best be careful with a library book outside, hear?"

She nodded. "I hear, Pa."

"Go on and have fun, then. Don't be playin' too late. After supper, I wanna fix up the guest room."

The knot tightened. Elizabeth's knuckles whitened as she gripped the book. "Yes, Pa."

He smiled, and she hurried outside to her sister.



She found Ethel by the apple tree, up on the hill overlooking their home. From here, they could see all of it; the house, the barn, the old scarecrow and his crops, the horses, and the dirt road leading into their farm. The area provided a clear view of anyone coming.

Ethel watched as Elizabeth opened the basket and took out four thick candles, matches, a copper pot, and a letter opener. Elizabeth dropped to her knees and began rifling through the book.

"Here it is," she said, pointing to the page. Ethel looked over. "From the top of Gram's shelf. Told you she was a witch. I read up good on it last night while you was sleepin'."

Ethel swallowed. "What we gotta do?"

"Lay out them candles in a square. Make it big enough to fit us both."

Ethel did. Elizabeth placed the pot in the center. They both stared at the letter opener for a moment, and Elizabeth picked it up.

"Lizzie, you sure this'll work?"

"Yes." She shivered. "I won't let him touch us no more."

Elizabeth laid out the book before them.

"Okay," she said, handing the letter opener to Ethel. "Hold this a sec. I gotta read."

Elizabeth took a breath and began reading from the book.

"Azazel, come forth,
take what is yours
Azazel, come forth,
cleanse with your sword.
Slay this beast, Azazel,
free us from his spell.
Azazel, come forth,
and drag his soul to Hell."

"It ain't 'xactly a spell," Ethel said, "is it, Lizzie?"

"The book didn't have no pages dedicated to creepy uncles."

Elizabeth raised the letter opener, swallowed, and stuck it into her hand. She gasped, and handed it to her sister. Ethel looked at her, eyes watering.

"Lizzie, I don't wanna. I can't.

Elizabeth grabbed her arm. "Uncle Ernie ain't been as rough as he coulda, Ethel, but it only starts with touchin'. There's things worse than little cuts. C'mere."

Ethel tried to pull away. "Can't we just tell Pa? You ain't never explained why we can't tell Pa. I wanna tell Pa."

Elizabeth took her hand off Ethel's arm just long enough to slap her across the mouth. Ethel yelped, and Elizabeth pulled her close by the collar.

"Hush that bawlin' and listen good. Pa loves Uncle Ernie like a pig loves mud, and there ain't no way this side o' Heaven he gonna hear about his beloved brother gettin' touchy with his little girls. No way, no how."

"B-b-but last time he took his pants off!"

"And Pa won't hear it, Ethel. He won't be able to wrap his head round it at all. This is the only way."

She pressed the hilt of the letter opener against Ethel.

"Now get cuttin'."

Ethel choked back one more sob. "Lizzie, please."

Elizabeth glared at Ethel for a long moment; in a quick motion, she pulled on Ethel's wrist and brought the letter opener down against her forearm. Ethel gasped, and Elizabeth pressed both their wounds against the inside of the pot, staining it with their blood.

A gust blew through, putting out the candles. Ethel opened her mouth, and a sharp voice made them both jump:

"Why, kind girls, have I been summoned?"

Ethel turned towards the house. Elizabeth grabbed her again.

"If you leave the square," she said, whispering, "the book says you'll break the ritual. Be brave."

Ethel nodded, her eyes wide. Elizabeth took a deep breath.

"We're here," she said, looking around for the source of the voice, "to ask that you please kill someone."

The voice laughed, chilling and sharp, and Elizabeth's heart pounded. She wrapped an arm around her sister, careful not to smear blood on her.

"And what," said the voice, "shall be your payment?"

Elizabeth released her trembling sister. She reached into the basket, pulling out a string of pearls and a plate wrapped in aluminum foil.

"We got Ma's old jewelry and two dozen raisin cookies, with another two dozen coming after."

The laughter returned, sharper and louder, and it was all Elizabeth could do to not run from the spot. Ethel threw herself around her sister, and they dropped to their knees.

"You bring bauble and sweets, children? Trinkets and treats, to end a life? Kind girls, do you think me a whore?

Elizabeth didn't know what a whore was, but she shook her head. Tears streamed from Ethel's eyes.

"What... what you want, then?" Elizabeth asked.

There was silence for a moment. Then: "Something of worth. When your uncle is dead, be ready with a proper payment."

Elizabeth gulped. She hadn't told this dark spirit anything about her uncle.

"Okay," she said. "I agree."

"And you, child?"

Ethel didn't look up. "Yes," she said, her voice small.

The laughter returned, louder and louder, until Elizabeth was sure Pa would hear it. On and on and on, and when it stopped, the girls ran; their belongings forgotten, they nearly rolled down the hill in their rush, stopping only when they were inside the house. They shook and shook, and Elizabeth thought she would scream.

Pa walked into the room. "Say, you girls look like you seen a ghost." His eyes lingered on Elizabeth. "You been sure to bring in that book?"



The following morning, Elizabeth and Ethel were back under the apple tree, watching the road. Elizabeth could hardly sit still; she'd spent the night trying to think of a proper payment for the creature they had summoned and was at a loss. They didn't have money, outside of whatever the house and land were worth. On top of that, she had expected to hear something by now ("Uncle Ernie's been in a car accident; Uncle Ernie's heart gave out; Uncle Ernie's taken ill and it don't look good"). She continued to wonder, until she saw the familiar green jalopy puttering towards the farm.

"No," she said.

The car pulled up past the scarecrow and out stepped Uncle Ernie, suitcase in hand. He wore that darn flannel shirt she and Ethel had seen him unbutton so many times. She shuddered, and Ethel started to cry.

Pa stepped out of the house, and the two men embraced. They chatted a moment. Elizabeth could picture the conversation, even if she couldn't hear it. Where them girls at, Ed? Brought 'em their favorite treat. They both went inside, and Elizabeth slapped her cut hand against the grass.

"What was the point of all that, if we're still stuck in the same dang -"

She was interrupted by Ethel pulling on her arm and pointing. "Lizzie, look!"

Elizabeth did, and flung a hand to her mouth.

The old scarecrow had stepped down from its cross and was strutting quite freely toward the house. It stopped at the stump where Pa chopped wood and pulled the axe free. Swinging it over its shoulder, it opened the door and went inside.

Elizabeth stared at the house, transfixed, and jumped when she heard a man scream. The scream turned to a shriek, reaching higher and higher, and abruptly stopped. Ethel grabbed Elizabeth.

"What we done? What in God's green garden we done?"

The door opened again, and out walked the scarecrow, still carrying Pa's axe. Blood covered its chest and head and the axe's blade. It turned to the apple tree, to the girls, and started walking.

The screen door slammed open as Pa rushed out, his double-barreled shotgun in hand. He pulled back the hammers and aimed.

"You done killed my brother, you dirty sonofabitch!"

Both barrels erupted into the scarecrow's back, rocking it forward. Hay filling exploded out of its sides, like a watermelon under an anvil. Elizabeth squeezed Ethel's hand. They'd brought forth evil, but Pa had killed it. Pa had saved them.

Laughter filled Elizabeth's ears, same as the day before. Her eyes widened as the scarecrow turned, its sides stitching together to repair the shotgun's damage. Elizabeth watched her father stumble and yell as the scarecrow brought its axe down on him.

"No!"

Elizabeth and her sister began screaming. The scarecrow swung again and again and again, until their father was little more than pieces of meat. It dropped the axe, and the girls rushed forward.

"This wasn't our deal!" Elizabeth yelled. Ethel dropped next to their mutilated father, wailing. "Only Uncle Ernie was 'sposed to die!"

The scarecrow turned to her. "I assured Uncle Ernie's death, child." Its voice was the same as the one they'd heard yesterday. "No other guarantees were made."

Elizabeth stared at him, open-mouthed, speechless.

"My end of the bargain is complete. I will claim my payment."

Ethel continued sobbing. Elizabeth tried to choke back tears.

"What you want?"

The scarecrow folded its arms. "You were to be ready."

Elizabeth gulped. "Take Uncle Ernie's jalopy, then. Or our house. Don't need no house without Pa."

Ethel held her late father's head against her chest, rocking and moaning.

"Mortal acquisitions do little to sway my dark heart." The scarecrow stepped forward, axe raised, and a stain spread across the lower half of Elizabeth's dress.

"Pay now, kind girls. I'll wait no longer."

Ethel, her father's head still pressed against her chest, looked up and pointed a trembling finger at Elizabeth.

"You done this!"

Elizabeth glared. "Hush, Ethel."

Ethel stomped her foot on the ground.

"Take her, demon! This was her idea! Just take her away!"

Elizabeth's jaw dropped, and a gloved hand closed around her hair.

"That's a fine idea."

Elizabeth reached back, prying at the fingers. "You can't do this! It was me done made a deal with you! Me!"

"Child," the scarecrow said, laughter hanging around its words, "you both gave of your blood."

Elizabeth's heart caught in her throat. She reached for her sister.

"Ethel! Ethel, stop him!"

But Ethel was back to staring at the remains of her father, fresh tears flowing. That cackling laughter returned, and the scarecrow dragged Elizabeth away from the house and out of sight as she screamed for her sister.

22 comments:

  1. Loved the story and the reminder of the consequences of dark deals

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  2. Really enjoyed this story! Kept your attention with the little unexpected twists and conveys the underlying message well.

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  3. A fantastic piece of short fiction. Well worth the read!!

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  4. Dark and twisty...the image of that scarecrow is going to stick in my head for a good while I suspect. Well written and entertaining.

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  5. Wow! Had me on the edge of my seat the whole time. This piece was so entertaining with its twists. Great job.

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  6. They should have summoned Charles Bronson. I found the theme twisted in more ways than one.

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  7. Good story. Be careful what you wish for....

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  8. Dark and gut wrenching. I had a pit in my stomach during the whole read which certainly credits the writer’s technique and style. Great story!

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  9. Creepy and gripping -- a powerfully-written horror story. This one is not easily forgotten.;)

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  10. I loved every minute of this. From the accents, to the creepy witchcraft, and even the axe wielding scarecrow. 5/5 stars, another amazing short story from the author.

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  11. Well done! A good, not too scary, horror story. I quite enjoyed it.

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  12. Great job of setting the tone. I loved the dialogue. A common tale, but very well presented.

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  13. Wow! Great set up, well written dialogue, tackles a tough/ uncomfortable topic, and puts an edge-of-your-seat spin on a classic theme. Can’t wait to read the next one!

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  14. Good page turner. The ending was a bit unexplained. But the rest was great.

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  15. Loved the story! Dialogue was great, twists were well done, and I liked the ending. Looking forward to more!

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  16. Great story, Alex. Reminds me of “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.” Very well written with great imagery! 👍🏽

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  17. Great story. I loved the language in the dialogues. It made it so real. I read it with great interest in how it would end.

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  18. I love the mix of dark themes that are both real and occult, and I enjoyed the twist and immersive storytelling.

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  19. Love the story! Very well written and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout my read.

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  20. Can't believe anyone could develop characters so we'll, so fast, thanks to a stupendous mix of character naiveté, grammer and vocab, and their idea of value. Can't wait for a sequel or prequal where we meet gram gram!

    A story reminiscent of "A Monkey's Paw" (1902). Nice!

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  21. It was a very gripping and eerie story. It kept me on the edge of my seat and had some unexpected turns in the story. The characters were very well developed and the dialogue was great. Very well written!

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