Welcome to the sixth week of Short Fiction Wednesday, in which I feature the first 1.5-2k of a story from my ebook collection Night Bird Soaring and Other Stories, which features 17 different reprint selections ranging from fantasy to horror to alternate history. If you enjoy what you read here, you can purchase the full collection at Amazon or B&N for $2.99.
Today’s selection is a flash fiction horror piece, so you get the full story below! It originally appeared in Dark Recesses, and rather than go into much about it, we’ll just move onto the story. Be warned that this is a horror story, so the usually content cautions apply.
Someday, someone will find her and he’ll love her, that much is certain. She can be difficult to love, but there must be someone strong enough.
Today a cowboy on a chestnut mare finds her. Or maybe he’s a cattle rancher. She’s not sure. He’s rugged, handsome in his sweat-stained brown Stetson, and he wears a ratty yellow bandana around his neck, hanging slightly askew. She loves how he stares at her with his stubbly jaw hanging open. Certainly he doesn’t see such lovely creatures poking out of the barren desert floor everyday. She’s been here for a while; her once long, blonde hair is red from years of sweeping it through the dust, and her skin’s a little leathery from the sun. I’m still beautiful though, she muses. Many have told her so.
The cowboy’s shadow gives her a welcome respite from the afternoon heat. “Mighty hot today, don’t you think?” she asks with a bright smile. Polite small talk is always a nice opening into real conversation.
“What in God’s name happened to you? Someone bury you up to your neck or somethin’?” he asks.
“I deserved it.” She sighs. “I was a bad girl.”
He spits tobacco. “I don’t know what anyone does to deserve something like this. Whoever did this to you is the bad one, dear, but don’t fret. I’m going to dig you out of there.” He’s like a prince—her prince—here to rescue her from her dungeon. He jumps down from his horse and comes closer. “What’s your name?”
“Ivy,” she answered. That’s what the other women had called her, because she always found her way into places she shouldn’t, slowly and without anyone noticing. They had other names for her too; painted cat, soiled dove, whore, tramp, home-wrecker. None of them understood. She was just a girl looking for someone to love, looking for her prince, like in the stories her mother used to tell her before bed.
Then one evening she rode out to the mill to meet her new lover but found all the townswomen waiting for her instead. The hardened farm wives dragged her off her horse and into the loop of rope they’d brought to hang her from the rafters. But the genteel society ladies in their silk and lace dresses—moved by her pleas for mercy—insisted on a more humane course of action. After a half hour of heated discussion, everyone agreed someone should take her to Tucson and place her with a madam at one of the parlor houses. Kate—the newly widowed wife of a young cattle farmer—volunteered to escort the wayward girl across the desert.
“You’re a trap for men’s desires; especially for my poor John, rest his passionate soul,” Kate told Ivy as they wove their way on horseback around the rabbit brush and rocks, deep into the desert. Ivy wouldn’t dignify her with an answer. She’d heard rumors that the woman collected scorpions and frogs, and drank whiskey and smoked cigars. One boy even reported having seen Kate harvesting strange plants in her garden by the full moon, completely naked. “She’s a woman possessed of unholy powers,” her husband John had confided to Ivy one night as they shared a hot bath in a tin basin under the stars. Kate had been away to see her mother in Lincoln. A week after she returned, John died in a cattle stampede, triggered by a freak lightning strike on a perfectly clear day.
Kate stopped at a ravine, but when Ivy looked closer, it was in fact a hole. She turned back to Kate to see her pointing a nickel-plated Peacemaker at her. “Down, into the hole,” Kate told her, waving Ivy down off her horse. Ivy obeyed, blubbering. “A proper lady no more shoots a hussy than she’d bed another woman’s man,” Kate assured her. “But I won’t send you off to profit on the heartbreak of others. I have a more fitting punishment in mind for you, ivy girl.”
Ivy shrieked as her limbs began splitting apart, like cloth tattering in tornado winds. The ground rumbled and filled in around her, swallowing her from the neck down. She tried to wriggle free but she felt like a tree with deep, strong roots. “You may think yourself a princess, but not even a real princess can have all the princes. That’s not a princess; that’s a whore,” Kate said, returning the Peacemaker to a burlap bag hanging from the saddle. “Maybe out here you’ll finally find that fairy tale you’ve been looking for.” She then rode off into the dark.
Years passed, perhaps even decades. Time moves strangely in the desert, especially when one is waiting. But he’s finally here! Ivy rejoices. The thought is like a refreshing cup of cold water from a mountain spring, water upon parched lips that haven’t drank anything in years.
He’s carefully digging the hard dirt away from her neck with a stag-handled Bowie knife and muttering about how much easier this would be if only he had shovel. She’s amazed he hasn’t asked for anything in exchange for freeing her. The others who’d happened upon her in the past had all demanded something for their efforts, payment in the only currency a lone girl trapped out in the desert had. Some actually tried to dig her out before collecting their reward. Others demanded she pay up immediately, before they’d even consider helping her. She resents it, but never refuses; it’s the price for survival.
But this one is different. He’s a gentleman, her knight in dusty denim, here to rescue her. The joy builds so fast…. “Kiss me,” she whispers. For that’s what the prince does when he rescues his princess.
He pauses to stare at her. “Pardon?”
“Will you kiss me? Please. It’s been so long….”
He thinks about it for a moment then says, “Well, I guess it couldn’t hurt….” He stabs the knife into the ground next to him then leans forward.
He kisses her gently on the lips, but like the others, he can’t help but linger there longer. Her kisses are special; they command desire and banish rational thought. His sudden insistence doesn’t bother her; she relishes how he knots her hair around his fingers as she seeks out his tongue with her own. She wishes to wrap her limbs tightly around him, to feel his blood-heated skin against hers. Oh, to feel like her old self again!
Stirred to life by her swelling passion, her hidden parts slither toward the surface. They shift and turn over the earth below her. I should stop, she thinks, but she wants him so much. She loves him so much.
She finally breaks the surface; bleached-white roots wind around his legs, creeping up to his waist. He hasn’t notice yet; her kisses make men completely forget the world around them. The roots form a thick web across his back and more inch up to his shoulders. She should stop kissing him before it’s too late. But her hunger overpowers everything. She loves him so much. She needs him. She’ll die without him.
Only her roots dragging him away finally break their star-crossed moment. He shakes off his love-sick daze to see the ground consuming his booted feet and he screams for help.
“I’m so sorry, my prince!” she sobs. “I do love you!”
He twists his fist tighter in her hair, trying to hold himself back, but the roots pull harder. Ivy’s hair rips free of her head and she wails. He grabs his knife and slashes at the roots, sending shocks of agony coursing through her body. More roots snake up out of the ground and grab his wrist, squeezing tight until his useless fingers lose their grip on the stag-horn handle. He tries to grab it up again but other roots have dragged it away, out of his reach. He makes one final escape attempt, clawing into the hard dirt until his fingers bleed. He begs and pleads for God’s mercy even as the ground swallows him up, the sharp rocks shredding both his clothes and his skin. For a moment the loose dirt writhes like maggots but soon it grows still. Not even birdsong interrupts the painful silence.
Blood drizzles like tears down the side of Ivy’s face. He wasn’t my prince after all, she thinks. This time she was so sure everything would happen differently. Even after all these years, love lost still devastates her.
In a few days, the ground will turn hard and impenetrable, but he’ll nourish her for months. Especially the memory of her love. Perhaps someday someone who will find her and he will love her. She can be difficult to love, but there must be someone strong enough.
If you enjoyed this story and want more, consider picking up a copy of the collection at Amazon or B&N. (for non-US editions, please visit the Novel and Collections page for links)