Fantasy, Home

Strung Up

There is humming. It is a soft, warm, and welcoming sound. Or it would be if it weren’t coming from within a crumbling and rotting house.

A young man has ventured here in search of his missing friend. His very fragile, very sad friend. He steps onto the deck of the house, wincing at every creak and groan the old wood gives. Praying each wounded groan will not be the last thing he hears.

The humming is still rising out from the house. It is not his friends voice, but the young man continues forward regardless. He will not be returning without his friend. He is more than willing to heave himself into the terrible unknown if it means saving them. Even though he knows the legend of this house all too well, and fears what he might find inside.

His racing mind recalls the story of the witchcraft born woman. The immortal demoness that is supposed to lurk here. He prays she is just a story. But the song he follow is distinctly female, and his friend is not.

He climbs over the fallen door, his flashlight doing little more than lighting where he will step next in the house’s thick darkness. (He tries not think of what might have happened to his friend. He does not want to think of what his friend came here to find. And he definitely does not wonder if his friend found what he was looking for.)

He shines his flashlight into the darkness, but it is only the unilluminated darkness that stares back. Still, he moves on, terrified, his opposite hand shoved deep into his pocket. The cool metal of his hunting knife brings him some comfort.

Deeper and deeper he trudges into the house, nearly tripping over loose floorboards and snatches of wood and fabric that might have once been a part of furniture. Continuing to follow that soft humming.

The further he goes, the less the floor creaks, and the less his feet find things to trip over. The darkness lessons until he can see the walls and faint outlines of dusty pots and furniture with his flashlight. The air grows warmer, but the comfortable warmth of a campfire or cabin fireplace. And louder still grows that siren song.

At the end of the long hall he finds a door, and from the cracks spill light, flickering and bright blue. The young man swallows again, reaching out with a shaking hand towards the door. He turns the nob, and the humming ceases. The man’s heart hammers in his chest. He pulls out his knife, and without hesitation, he throws open the door and leaps inside, a war cry falling from his lips.

He stops and stares. Within the room, lit by lanterns filled with blue fire, is a woman. She sits in the middle of the room, knees tucked under her, dark robe pooling around her. Her back is turned from him, and a hood hides her head. Her attention is turned to her own lap, and all around her lay spools of string and multicolored threads.

The young man opens his mouth, but before he can say a word, the hooded woman turns her head to look at him over her shoulder. The hood obscures most of her face aside from her mouth. Her black-lipped grinning mouth.

“Hello.” She greets, as soft and sweet as the earlier humming. “Are you lost?” She asks.

“No.” The young man says, moving closer. “I’m looking for my friend. I think he may have come –” The man cuts himself off, freezing in place. Closer to the light he sees what he missed when he walked into the room. Closer, trembling, his eyes wide, he stares down at what is occupying the woman’s lap. A pile of fabric the woman seemed to have been in the process of sewing together into a doll.

But that is not what freezes the young man’s heart. No, it is what lies just beyond the woman’s knees. His friends head. His friend’s bug eyed, dead, head.

“Oh.” She says, turning her head back to the corpse. “Was this your friend?” She asks, with the tone of someone simply asking about the weather. As if it was normal to cradle a corpse in your lap.

The young man is no longer listening. No, his mind is filled with the roar of his own pulse, and the stories of her.

The demon woman in the woods who helped end the lives of those who were emptied by the hands of the living world. Those who were found wanting and numb, who desired nothing less than an eternal rest. They would come to her door, and be returned at the doorsteps of those who had loved them, cold and lifeless, but otherwise unmarked. Save for a small hole on their fingers, the size of a needle’s point.

The immortal magic woman who hung men and women alike out on her trees like clothes set out to dry. A punishment to those who tried to disrupt her work. And a woman who made broken marionets out of those who threatened her or her work.

People like him.

His knife clatters to the ground, but the young man does not care. He had been right. His friend was dead, and before him stood the woman who caused it. And yet, the young man could not be angry with her. Cruel as her actions were, if her stories were to be believed, she had not forced his friend to come. The young mans eyes burn, his vision blurred, and disregarding the stories he had been told, he collapses at the woman’s heels, and he cries.

“There, there,” Soothes the woman. She lays her gloved hand on his head, gently ruffing his hair. The man raises his head, and staring into the darkness of her hood, he chokes out an apology.

The woman tilts her head like a curious bird and nods. She pats the young mans head once more, and then retreats her hand.

“I know.” She says, retaking her thread and continuing her work, hidden from the young mans gaze. She resumes her gentle humming as the young man weeps behind her. Trembling in terror as he awaits the demoness’s wrath.

As the young man pulls himself together and gets back to his feet, the woman finishes her work. She takes up a pair of scissors and cuts her final thread. She holds her finished work aloft, and the young man sees his friends likeness stitched into the doll.

“I’m sorry.” He blurts, gaze falling to his dead friend. Shivering despite the warmth of the room.

“He knows.” The woman says, turning to look back. “He wanted you to know it wasn’t your fault. He was just so tired when he came to me.” She offers a gentle smile as she stands, doll cradled gently in her thick sleeves. “You were one of  the few things he will miss.” She says with a nod.

The young man sniffs, knees weak, and he nearly collapses once again. But before he can, something thin curls around his arms, keeping him aloft. The man gasps and shudders. Right, he had trespassed and threatened her work. He wondered if it would hurt much when she strung him up and sowed him shut.

“You are a good friend.” The woman says as she approaches. She reaches out and cradles his cheek with one gloved hand. The man whimpers, tears running down his face. She reaches back and flicks down her hood. She smiles, flashing fangs, and the young man looks upon the source of so many horror stories.

She doesn’t look so frightening. She, for the most part, looks like an awfully pale normal woman. Aside form the fact her eyes hidden beneath a dark cloth tucked behind her pointed ears and under silver hair. Dark lines crawl from beneath where her eyes would be, dry and cracked. He can’t tell what the fluid may have been. He doesn’t want to know.

She steps back, snaps her fingers, and the man drops to the ground, threads gone. The man coughs, whipping his head up to stare into her shadowed face.

“You are also a good man.” She says. “A good man with more to offer with your life than your death.” The woman pulls her hood back over her face and snaps her fingers again. Behind him, the door swings open. He looks back, rises to his feet, then turns back to her.

“Go.” The woman says. “For your friends honor, and your acceptance of the consequences of trespassing in my home, you are free to leave this place.” She turns, more threads descending from the darkness to wrap around the corpse of his friend.

The man hesitates, gaze locked on the body of his friend. He opens his mouth, knowing he’s pushing his luck, knowing he should take the demoness’ blessing and run. But –Before he can say anything, the woman speaks again.

“I will return him to his home with haste.” She says, without looking back. “I am not that much of a monster. He will be returned and properly laid to rest. Be assured of that.” Again, the woman snaps her fingers, and the room plunges into darkness.

The young man scrambles for his flashlight, but when he turns it on — he finds no trace of the woman in the room. He is alone once again. With a heavy heart, the young man traverses the house once more, and steps out into the cold night. With heavy steps, he returns home, unharmed.

The next day, he goes to his old friends house and pays respects to the body, and the memories that come with the sight. His friends corpse is unmarked, as the stories said. The young man mourns, but he shares none of the hate that washes over the utterance of the demoness’ legend.

He tells no one of his encounter, save for his other friends. But years down the line, he gathers his courage and adds his tale to the legend. Though there are few who listen without doubt or scorn.

Miles away, within her rotting house, the demon woman with the silver hair smiles, and adjusts the placement of one of her hundreds of dolls.

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