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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Horror/Scary · #1914553
A short story in the vein of the the Brothers Grimm, or Poe: simply suspense and terror.

He had not gone far down the quiet rural road before he heard the cawing cry that grabbed his attention so forcefully and seemed to reach his very bones. A discordant rasp grating on the ears sounding as if two hand saws were sawing each other.  Having lived in the remote area his whole life Colin was familiar with the local wildlife. He knew no bird that would cause either the shrieking, or the bone shivering reaction, though it was reminiscent of the raven. Again came the raucous sound from the trees lining the edge of Glower’s Swamp. Leaving his thoughts and the road, he felt impelled to follow.

Treading cautiously, ever watchful of water moccasins, as snakes being the only beast that caused fear to incite his blood to course faster, he placed his feet firmly in the dank enclosure of the forest. The first step, he reminded himself, was always the most difficult and he boldly accomplished that without a hint of fear. And why was he telling himself that, as there was no sign of danger? He had simply acted rationally to satisfy his curiosity after hearing a bird cawing from the trees. As doubt began to form in his mind, the cawing began again, and close-by it seemed.

Pushing the brush aside he began to creep toward the sounds, and just as suddenly stillness quieted everything, except the gentle wind whooshing in and out between the thick cypress. Yet, he could feel no breeze on his skin. Slowly the air weighed heavily as a wet quilt across his shoulders. Still plodding through the muck he realized his labored breathing was the only sound reaching his ears! He paused and scanned his surroundings. Why? Why is there no sound, no life here? As quickly as the words tumbled from his lips he realized that again he was talking to himself. Out loud!

As if in answer, the cawing stirred up once more and he forced himself to follow. He stumbled, falling into the trunk of a giant cypress. Pushing himself upright he saw that he would also need to be aware of the cypress knees that emerged from the soil at the foot of the great trees. He snickered to himself at the thought of trees with knees! Buck up! he told himself as he stiffened his back.

Close now, he thought, as the stillness seemed to shroud him in heavy dampness. Foreboding. The word just popped into his thoughts. He began to realize now the meaning of the tales, almost forgotten, from his childhood. It slowly dawned on him that they were no longer fairy tales to keep children safe in their beds at night. They were warnings, cautions to be fearful throughout life. For danger is always lurking in the dark places we encounter as we move unsuspecting, clueless, unaware of our surroundings. And he was walking right into his own tale!

Maybe he was letting his mind turn to nightmares. He knew he must control his actions. He could turn around and walk back to the road if there was any reason, any real danger. After all there was only a bird cawing and some “feelings”. He recalled how he felt as he left the village. Tired of being bullied for most of his life.  And even worse, when he reached adulthood, ignored. Fed up with not being accepted in his very birthplace. Getting away from it all for a while would do him some good.


The Village of Dundaga had been his birthplace and never had he set foot outside the territory other than visiting his mother's family once, when he was six. Isolation clothed him with a degree of naive optimism that the world promised security and prosperity. The seed of impending doom was planted at that juncture in his short existence, though he had no idea at the time. 

On first meeting his mother's sister he mumbled a haphazard greeting and received a quick cuffing on the ear from her scarred 3 fingered stump of a right hand. "Watch your tongue, spawn," she spit at him. Then turning to her sister, "Best learn the kid manners, Sissa.” His mother rubbed his throbbing ear.  Looking at her sister she replied, "He was just saying "hey" in greeting." She eased her hand under his chin and turned his head up and told him to go play in the field. As he turned he heard his aunt Harra say "Children shun't talk until the adult bid them speak. The boy will be his father, mark my words." 

Later on the road home his mother asked him how his ear was. He didn't answer.  He struggled for the right words. Finally, he asked what did she mean "the boy will be his father." They walked in silence and he thought it was just another thing adults would not talk about. 

Near a creek she pulled him to sit and she took a small cloth from her neck, dipped it in the the water and pressed it to his ear. It didn't really hurt anymore but the coolness calmed his thoughts and that, for him, was the love his mother had for him.  And it was enough.

Finally, she spoke. "My sister is bitter because when we were young she loved your father. But he chose me." She paused for a long time, then continued. "He was a good man, a hard worker.  One day he was in the field gathering grain and a viper bit him on the foot. He was sick for a long time. Pa got better but he lost most of his foot to the poison. He tried to provide for us, but it was difficult. The drink was the only way he could escape the pain. Men in the village don't value a man who can't work and support his family." She fought to hold back the tears, and he tried not to notice so she wouldn't feel worse. “Some days he couldn't walk," she continued, "but most days, using a crutch, he dragged his gimp leg behind him and went to clear weeds. One day he didn't come back for lunch. We found him near the bog with his scythe beside him. He had an accident and the bleeding caused his death." What she didn't tell him was that there was an empty jug nearby and it appeared he had had enough pain in his life. He had attempted to amputate his foot to rid himself of the evil. Though they never spoke of it again she never knew the extent to which Colin was teased by village kids. She never learned how truth could be used to torment kids who were clueless to their past.

His mother stood and turned to the road. "It will be dark soon, Colin. We must go." After a few steps she paused, "I never told you about your father because you were only 3 years at the time.  You will not remember much from today, so we'll talk again when you are older." They never had that talk. The man that moved into their hutch that next summer would not allow talk of his father. But he never forgot that day.


Sweat, thick on his body, hung there, reluctant to drop. It had begun to slow him down and he realized he had been deep in thought. Visions of his father had entered his pensive state as he had adjusted to his environs. It began again: “Caw! Caw!” His feet moved on. He shook himself of the goosebumps, trying to loosen the bindings enshrouding his spirit.  It was drawing him in and he edged forward, toward the cry. “Caw! Cawf! Cawf!” Again he froze in mid-step, the grating coughing sound was closer. The sound caused his eyes to bulge exposing the terror that was within. Cough? Coughing? Many animals cough, though not birds! Urgently, he realized, his mind was telling him to face the road and go home, his life was there. There among the others.

The others. Why go back to them? There among the chattering, selfish, gossipy villagers. The petty, vain, cruel people he grew up with. He understood clearly now what life had been like, back there. Colin no longer had a home, a life, a future. That was why he took to the road, wasn't it?  To be part of a different world?

Again the dark quieted his thoughts. He stood stoic, listening. A muffled thumping rose from the darkness among the branches and vines and, reaching his throbbing temples, which he now understood, was the beating of his heart. He was now feeling the lifeblood of the swamp. He felt more alive than ever. Yet, also, somehow the thump-thumping of his heart was rising to a crescendo in his being, now welling out, pouring to the dark spaces between trees. His body had accepted the heart of the swamp. Louder now was the beating, the pounding, as his soul, deep-hidden in the self, joined the heart and the dark woods into one.

Returning to his thoughts, he was slowly cognizant of the pleasant feelings now coursing his veins. He welcomed the comfort stemming from his feet which were now rooted in the dark, rich soil.

And once again all was quiet. The peace restored as the balance returned to his surroundings, and within himself. The caw-cry now was faint, muted as if from peace. Or sadness. He paused leaning against a tree to rest a moment and once again his thoughts drifted back to his mother.


His mother died when he was no longer a teen. He had still lived with his mother all those years in the hovel, that his father had built for his bride. His mother struggled for a year after his father died, trying to provide for them both. Then a man moved in and a short time later Colin was moved out. The man had hammered together a rough rabbit hutch to the side of the main structure, and his nights were confined to this cell. He found solace in the nearby woods and, in later years, would even sleep in low branches of trees. He soon developed a harmony with trees that eased the hostility heaped on him from life. That was the first inclination he had to escape. But how could he abandon his mother to that brutish oaf that shared her bed?

Colin had not understood why Gortus was allowed to live with them when he first arrived. The words his mother used, "he will provide for us," never comforted him as a youth, and in fact he grew to despise the man. Over the years he watched his mother cower from the abuse, scurry to his demands, and strain to hide the tears. But the tears fell as she held him in her arms countless nights after the ox, Colin's unspoken name for him, had left for lord knows where. 

If he'd heard the nature of the abuse from his mother's lips he'd maybe found the courage to stand up to the ogre, Colin often thought when he reached his teen years. He found that the cruelty of children often carries more pain than the same truth spoken from loved ones. His mother's love shielded him and would have tempered any attempt at retribution, and most probably saved him from severe beatings when he was too young to fulfill his desire of ridding the beast from their lives. 

As it was, the taunts and beatings from his peers caused him to grow through survival instincts.  His defensive posturings at first  consisted of cower and retreat. Over the years he was able to understand the meanings of the verbal assault; wench, vamp, whore now attained meaning, even if the words were wrongly corrupted by the villagers and their offspring. He grew to understand that people have no concern for the underpinning motives for survival, which his mother had subjected herself to. Their perverted sense of virtue dictates that women have husbands. And if nature, or events conspire to thwart this outcome women have no option but to accept destiny, and thus are relegated to whatever man, or beast, imparts his will on the hapless female. 

The village beatings diminished as Colin grew in muscle, guile and gumption. As children grew into teens the village youth found other pastimes, most involved gambling or sex. At home, Gortus himself had begun to show restraint and Colin eventually sensed fear in the oaf as he had begun to protect his mother.  Subtle ways of standing when Gortus approached, or simply "eyeing" him, cowered the hulking man, and this brought peace, if not joy, to his existence. What galled him most was the destitute life forced on his mother in order to survive and protect her child. She died in her thirty-fourth year. 

The lessons he learned were powerful and lasting, though lugubrious and all-consuming. Never had he felt any semblance of kinship with another person than his mother. His mind never released him from the demons he grew up with as he pondered what kind of people punish innocent women and children. Even to the precipice of death that would prove to be a remedy.


Realizing his eyes had been closed for a few moments he slowly eyed the area. Beauty was everywhere. Never had a place seemed so enchanting, and the solace was welcome. He had never felt so alive, so connected with his surroundings.

Again, the cry, though now less discordant. He viewed the scene before his eyes. There it was, the raven, perched on a thick cypress branch. Shimmering blackness in the twilight. The raven-cry reached him again, yet the raven had not moved! It’s beak never opened. Ever so slowly he lowered his eyes just as a faint cry, more of a gasp, revealed the source. Almost embedded in the tree trunk were the eyes and mouth, all that was visible of what appeared to be someone. Someone whose last breath was a warning. A warning, or maybe an invitation, for the weak of spirit. The vacant eyes pleading; the dark pupils, crow-like.

He didn’t know what to say that could offer comfort. Once again, the cry was heard. Yet this time the caw so near. He realized with increasing terror, so near that it had spewed from his own lips! He looked down, as if he could view his own mouth. He blinked his eyes, cocked his head, puzzled. He was, well, everywhere, and nowhere. At least he felt everywhere. What he saw looking down through beady eyes was mostly tree trunk. Yet his form was still visible, in the trunk! Struggling against his bonds, he began to see in the cypress knees his own toes twitching. His arms the branches reaching outward now pulsating with flowing sap. An uncontrollable cry rushed from deep within and was heard throughout the swamp. A flash of thought crossed his mind: the cry could be heard even on the road he left behind! The road he left a lifetime ago.

Colin cried out a desperate CAW! His cry could be a warning to others. But as for himself, his only thought was, nevermore.


Revised 7.28.2014
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