Thursday, January 30, 2014

[Flash Fiction] Rapunzel

Written in response to Chuck Wendig's latest Flash Fiction Challenge - I picked Rapunzel because the boy had been watching Tangled a lot, and rolled a 17. Been a while since I read any Lovecraft, not convinced I got the tone right, but this is the first story I've finish in a long long time, so I'm counting this as a win.

I recount my experience here as a bitter warning to all – do not enter the Richardsons' garden!

Since a young boy I was intrigued by what lay beyond those tall, imposing brick walls, and what secret wonders may be hidden in that tower that peeked over the top. My parents warned me to stay away and the one time I was caught trying to scale the wall I was beaten brutally for my troubles. But other than knowing that the widow Richardson was a recluse, and a bad-tempered one at that, I had no inkling of why that estate was so forbidden.

As I grew, though, I pieced together rumours and local legends: some stories had hints of truth about them while others were clearly the product of fevered or inebriated imaginations. The facts, as I was able to gather were few: Mrs Richardson was widowed young and had lived alone for many years; while I was still a babe-in-arms a neighbour of the Richardsons was caught stealing Valerianella locusta from the garden to feed his pregnant wife's cravings; the child was sadly stillborn and the mother committed to an asylum, mad from grief and claiming the widow had stolen her baby as punishment for her husband's theft. The more fanciful elements to the tale, however, were those that kept my interest going: the elderly woman was a witch or demon-worshipper; the lush plants that grew in her garden were fed with the blood of newborn goats; the neighbours' baby was given over as payment for not having the thief hanged; terrible cries could be heard from the tower where the baby girl had been imprisoned all these years. The last especially struck me as I had often awakened in the middle of the night sure I had heard something – but not sure what.

On the eve of my twenty-fifth birthday, after a night of too much brandy and too much careless talk with my friends, I made my fateful mistake and bragged that I would steal away into the walled garden of the Richardsons' estate and find out what lay within that tower. My friends initially laughed, and joked I'd be turned into a toad by the witch who lived there, but then grew concerned when they realised I was serious. They tried to persuade me not to: that I would be caught and imprisoned or that I'd surely fall and break my neck as the walls were so tall. But I could not be dissuaded and, arming myself only with a lantern, I went straight to the place that had haunted my dreams my whole life.

The climb was straightforward, despite struggling to carry the light, as the bricks were weathered enough for plentiful hand- and footholds. As I reached the top, I stood and surveyed the forbidden land. It was not a disappointment. The gardens were vast, overgrown and verdant; as I gazed down in wonder at a greater variety of plants than I had known existed, I could not make out the far side (and indeed, I realised, I had no idea how far away the boundary of the estate might be). But as I looked closer a strange dread crept over me: the exotic foliage below seemed somehow too alien, almost unreal, and unsettled me when I looked too close. Still, triumphant in my success I turned my attention to that other edifice that had caught my imagination from afar – the thin tower that arose out of the garden.

It was further than I'd anticipated, but the way was mostly clear and I judged I could get there easily enough, despite the lack of obvious paths. I used a nearby tree to get down from the top of wall and set out, walking quickly and avoiding the denser patches of foliage. The lantern cast bizarrely shaped shadows as it swung and even the more familiar looking vegetation struck me as somewhat sinister. Yet I strode on, determined now to reach my goal.

Just as I was beginning to fear I had lost my way, I broke out of a group of trees, and there before me was the tower. It was even smaller in circumference than it appeared from afar, barely fifteen foot across. I walked right around the base, pushing past rose bushes and brambles, and discovered there was no door at all, nor any means of gaining access at this level, although I could just make out the familiar window near the top. Undaunted, I tested the strength of the almost rope-like vines that twisted up the tower, and, satisfied, started to haul myself up. I made a surprising distance in a short space of time, and although the vine I was climbing seemed to weaken and split into a fine stringy substance, I was soon within a few feet of the window's ledge.

I swung the lantern up onto the windowsill, and as I hauled myself up I got my first good look at what I had been climbing: far from the “plant” I presumed, it was golden, tangled, and dirty, and unmistakably human hair. And rather than growing from the ground upwards, I realised, it was falling out from the window, down in matted plaits stuck to the wall with rain and that had come undone in places.

With equal horror and awe, I looked up into the room and followed the trail of golden hair to its origin – and beheld such a monstrous and impossible creature that I fear words alone can never describe it. It seemed to be composed entirely of hair: although the shape underneath was at least partly human. Two thick tendrils reached out towards me as a low moaning noise emanated from it. As the hair beneath me undulated, I recoiled quickly in terror, sick in the stomach and crazed in my mind, forgetting that I was perched perilously on such a high and narrow ledge.

I fell, screaming, and passed out. I remember nothing from then until the next morning, when I woke at home with the permanent scars I now bear. How I managed to make my way back out of the garden, scratched and blinded by the thorns of the bushes that presumably broke my fall, I will never know.

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