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A Spooky Short Story

A young maiden who grew up in the countryside learned to heal people with the herbs, leafs, and flowers that grew in her family’s humble garden and the wood beyond. She mixed teas and balms of dappled colors and mossy fragrances. The mixtures were remedies that were gentle on the body, but potent against every sort of ailment that arose in the bustling village of friendly, honest working folk.

She visited every achy and tired farmer, every sickly child, and every congested old woman dependent on her handkerchief for miles around. They were always on the mend just days after they called upon the compassionate maiden. The people of the village and many neighboring villages trusted her and no one else except the midwives to help them in their most vulnerable moments of ill-health.

Yet, her work was so well-received and so effective, that soon no one in near proximity needed the maiden anymore. She had prepared and delivered her mixtures in excess and everyone had exactly what they needed if any illness or soreness or weakness of the body occurred.

So the maiden tried to keep herself from becoming idle by cultivating flowers in her garden for beauty alone, and not medicinal use. The garden satisfied her for a time, but soon she fell victim to feelings of listlessness and purposelessness. Beauty alone could only sustain her for so long.

One morning, after cooking a hearty breakfast for her family, the maiden resolved to move to the city to find work and to ascertain her life’s true purpose. With the help of her parents, she began to make arrangements to move to the city and find lodging. Because her mother could read and write the best out of the family, she sent letters into the city seeking shelter for her daughter in exchange for work. A short while later, the only response came in the form of a letter from a small convent of nuns. Their offer of a safe place to rest, warm food, a religious education, and the company of other compassionate women appealed greatly to the maiden. With exuberance she had not felt in ages, the maiden packed her belongings while her mother wrote a final letter to the convent to accept their gracious offer.

A few weeks later, the maiden arrived in the city by carriage which her parents paid for by spending some of their savings from their farm. Over her shoulders she wore a cozy shawl, knitted in dark yarn, by her grandmother, with all the love of her family woven into every stitch. The carriage took her all the way to the convent and the sound of its noon bell tolling signalled to her that she was in her new home. The nuns met her outside and introduced themselves. They were as polite and as kind as she imagined them, with soft rosy cheeks that reminded her of her grandmother. They welcomed her in for a filling midday meal of soup and bread and butter. After the meal, she made her way to her new room and settled in for the night.

It did not take the maiden long to feel at home in the convent. She cooked, cleaned, and cared for the nuns so well that soon word spread through the church of her excellent work. Her teas and balms were viewed favorably by the nuns who believed them to be blessings from God’s natural creations. There was also always meaningful work to be done in the convent that kept the maiden contentedly busy, because everything the maiden did for the nuns or in the maintenance of the convent meant more people could find forgiveness and salvation. People who lived near the convent and who attended the church began to ask the maiden to help them as well. They sought her healing wisdom day and night, eager to pay whatever she would accept.

Most of the city folk loved the natural cures, but a select few people did not. The local pharmacists were losing money because of the maiden’s prolific and highly-praised work. The expensive, and too often fraudulent, cures the pharmacists touted as miracles were losing favor among the people. No one wanted snake oil; they wanted actual results.

Desperation soon crept over a pair of pharmacists who had once been rivals, but who had resorted to working together to try to save their businesses. On an unusually cold night in early October, when the maiden had been in the city for several fulfilling months, the pharmacists met a stranger in bar far away from their pharmacies. The crowded main room was barely lit by dodgy oil lamps and stagnant with pipe smoke and drunken laughter. Unnoticed by the patrons of the bar or the overworked bartender, the pharmacists handed the stranger a sealed envelope without speaking a word. The stranger took the envelope and left, never to be seen by the pharmacists again. In the envelope was a sum of money, that the pharmacists and the stranger had agreed to at a prior engagement. They didn’t need to know his name or his methods, just that the job would be done for the right price.

It was a cruel and tragic morning when one of the nuns found the maiden dead in the graveyard of the convent. The nuns couldn’t stand to see the gruesome scene so the men of the church prepared the maiden for burial as quickly as they could. They laid her to rest near the graveyard’s farthest side, where she had previously planted a quaint row of flowers for the dead interred in that hallowed ground.

No one but the stranger knew the whole truth at the time. The maiden’s old habits and good nature had never left her in that corrupt city. The stranger had encountered her tending her flower bed that evening, wrapped in her shawl. He knew her story and only had to ask for a cup of tea, claiming a sore throat, to gain her trust. Before she could even unlatch the gate, the stranger reached through the spacious iron fence posts and slashed her throat, ending the money troubles for the pharmacists.

When news of her death spread around the city, the pharmacists covered their tracks and stated that they had suspected her of being a witch all along and that her death had been for the best. They assured those in their company that whoever had done the deed must have been following God’s divine will, because her skills were too good to be true and must have come from an unholy relationship with the Devil. The mere thought of the sweet maiden not being what she seemed was enough to turn the city against her. Only the nuns and her parents, who had been notified by hurried letter from the convent, remained steadfast in their loyalty and unconditional love for the departed maiden.

The next living soul to know the truth was an actual witch. A powerful and aging necromancer sought a strong, pure vessel to serve as her dutiful apprentice. Her dark magic and a demonic bond to an unspeakable evil had kept her alive and thriving for hundreds of years. Yet, she felt the need for a companion that she could teach her most cherished magical secrets. The only vessel good enough would be a human, like she once was, whose soul had been hardened by a brutal death and would not fear the inevitably of demise a second time around.

On a midnight ramble to the city, the witch discovered a pleasantly mournful atmosphere seeping its way through the city. The whispered conversations of the people who did not sleep well at night revealed that a maiden precious to many had died in horrific circumstances just days before. The witch found where the young woman was buried, a place sanctified, such that the witch could not traverse it. To raise the corpse would be a challenge unlike any the witch had endured before. If she could not dig her fingers into that freshly dug soil and murmur her incantation to the worms who sought the rotting flesh beneath, the body would never reawaken.

The witch waited through the night, trying to decide what she could do. She returned to her secluded cottage just before sunrise. Each night she travelled to the gravesite and sat in pensive silence surrounded by shadows. After several nights of waiting and debating with herself, the witch was pulled from her thoughts by the sound of whispers and footsteps approaching. It was a group of men making the noise. They snuck their way up to the graveyard’s gate with lamps and shovels in their hands. The witch remained out of sight as a formless, translucent mist in the shadows, but she could hear their every word.

The men planned to dig up the maiden. They were a superstitious bunch and didn’t want to risk the maiden’s violent death having unwanted consequences. The old stories told that a violent death could cause even the most pure soul to rise again as a bloodthirsty vampire, a vengeful spirit, or any other manner of horrible creature that would terrorize the city. If they could just dig her up and turn the body over in the coffin, the maiden would be spared the fate of becoming a revenant. Together the men made quick work of the still-loose soil that covered the maiden’s wooden coffin. When they removed the lid, they began to roll the lifeless body.

Before she was completely turned over, one of the men snatched the shining brooch the maiden had been buried with. If he could sell it, the little cameo would earn him a rowdy night with at least one desperate woman, but maybe more. The other men grimaced at the unscrupulous man, but didn’t stop him. That act of greed was all the witch needed. She reached out and grabbed ahold of that little spark of wickedness and used it to possess the greedy man. With his body under her control, she could raise the maiden without stepping foot on the sacred ground of the church graveyard. With a vicarious wave of the man’s hand, the witch killed the other men. They fell to the ground as fleeting piles of dust, returning to the earth they came from. Reciting her incantation with a gravely voice that wasn’t her own and feeling the dirt through a man’s stubby fingernails were strange sensations, but worth every second she had waited.

A few uneasy moments passed after the witch finished the ritual, but then as if she had been asleep and not deceased, the maiden turned over and sat up in her coffin. Memories came rushing back to the maiden in a torrential flood of sadness and fear like she had never known in life. The maiden crawled out of the six-foot hole dug for her and came face to face with a man whose urine-yellow eyes were blank and staring. An elderly woman’s shaky voice spoke from beyond the graveyard, welcoming the resurrected girl into a world much darker than the one she had left behind.

Comments

This seems more the introduction to a novella than a short story but the attention to detail is goos as is the premise which seems incomplete. But perhaps you did this intentionally in order for the reader to use his/her imagination to complete the story?........stan

The story was a part of a Halloween art prompt series. The prompt for that day was "undead". I made a gory Halloween costume from the prompt and this story is the back story. Here is a link to one of the images of the costume:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6cvyfeLYTmdRWpROWJOVGdpdDg/view?usp=sharing

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