181 – Which: a Mother Gran Story, Part 1 of 1
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and eighty one.
Tonight we present, Which: a Mother Gran Story, Part 1 of 1.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by Garaaga’s Children.
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight, Mother Gran relates a warning, via a parable of her youth.
Flash Pulp 181 – Which: a Mother Gran Story, Part 1 of 1
When Mother Gran had discovered Briana, one of the youngest of her children’s children’s children, the girl had been busy creating a makeshift ladder so she might throw her legs over one of the farm’s plow horses. Her Pa had warned her away from the barn on several occasions, but, as she was of Gran’s stock, she had no instinct for heeding danger – besides, she argued, she’d ridden the nags many times before, with little harm.
Rather than take the lass over her knobby knee and lay plain the lesson, the ancient woman sat the youngling upon a hay bale, and told this tale:
“One grey May morning, many decades ago, just as the hens had begun to cluck, and the cows to lament their burden, two brothers, and their little sister, moved across the grain fields, and through the cart-paths, with mischief on their minds and bawdy songs on their lips.
“Their hands were heavy with warm plunder – speckled eggs plucked from beneath the nesting chickens of their father’s coop – and they chose their route with care, so as to preserve their bounty till it had reached its intended destination. It was only once they had come to their place of turning, an overgrown lane differentiated from a dozen others along the line by a tear-drop-shaped boulder, the majority of whose surface was etched with white runes, that they broke off their tune.
““‘Tis the road of the witch,” said the eldest.
““A long and shady patch, indeed,” replied the middle brother.
““Naught is accomplished with still feet and open mouths,” noted the youngest sister.
“Paying no heed to the warding stone, they tiptoed into the shadows of the spruce stands that oversaw their passage.
“Beyond the constant drone of insects, all was hushed.
“A quarter-mile’s further creep brought them to the splintered shanty that was their objective.
“They let fly their shelled payloads, painting the listing-shed’s single window in yoke.
““Witch!” cried the eldest.
““Witch!” shouted the middle brother.
““Witch!” repeated the youngest sister.
“With a howl from the interior, the chase began.
“The three bodies knew that the hound, a short-cropped tawny brute with slobbering jowls and paws the size of horse’s hooves, was on a leash of sorts – if they might outrun it to the marked stone at the hovel’s entrance, the beast would bark and bray, but not pass onto the road beyond.
“The eldest brother had discovered the fact one night while lurking beneath the moon, with a lad of his acquaintance, the blacksmith’s boy from town. In an effort to impress the exotic hooligan, he’d crept upon the house, whose reputation as a witch’s burrow was a well whispered tale, and loudly declared that the woods were aflame. As a light had flickered to life behind the poorly glazed pane, the pair of boys had gone laughing down the trail – only to have their merriment cut short by the hammering gallop of the behemoth. The thing ought to have had their throats, as they’d both lost their feet at the change of turf onto the larger path, but it had stopped up short. Pleased at their escape, they’d been uninterested in examining the nature of the restraint, but it was then, after the first authentic terror of his young life, that the eldest had begun his petty vendetta. After a half-dozen further successful outings, he’d enlisted his siblings.
“It was the inaugural excursion for the youngest, and even as the mongrel bore down on her, she found herself giggling at her nervous state. The thing hung perennially at her heels, its breath warming the exposed calves below the hem of her cotton dress. Fear was in her heart, and savagery at her back, and yet she found herself laughing throatily, sure she would die.
“Just as it seemed there could be no further reprieve, the trees gave way, and she tumbled into the muck, upended in the same fashion as her brother’s initial venture. Close behind, with it’s jaws snapping, the dog halted. It snorted once at the heaving-lunged children, then turned its hind-legs to the runners and trotted into the leafy shadows.
““Close!” said the eldest.
““A near thing,” replied the middle brother.
““No more than a Sunday stroll” chided the youngest sister.
“T’was the second last time they tried such a thing.
“At their return home, they discovered their father sitting upon the kitchen stool where he so often spent his evenings drawing at his pipe. He’d heard, while transacting an exchange of sheep, that a number of his offspring were making their way down the lane with faces full of ill intent, and he was not pleased. He had no trouble extracting full truths from the delinquents, and it was a sound thrashing in store for each.
“Their final attempt was made the spring following, not long after the thaw, when the winds are still wild and the air full of damp chill – when freedom from the snows makes a stripling restless to stop telling the same schoolhouse tales, and start creating some new ones.
“The pain of their lesson having long healed, and the memories of the earlier, more successful endeavors, having grown large with verbal repetition, the trio chose to slip out on the first warm eve. Once their exhausted custodians were safely snoring, and well after they might encounter any respectable fellow travelers, they took to the night, collecting up from beneath the ferns the selection of eggs they’d set aside that morning. They’d been hopeful that a day in the sun would do much for the condition of their aroma.
“Elation at their nocturnal liberty set their feet flying over the still brown grasses, and seemed mere instants before they were once again in a strong-throw’s range of the leaning cabin.
““A breakfast for you, witch!” cried the eldest.
““A lunch for you, witch!” shouted the middle brother.
““A dinner as well, witch!” squawked the youngest sister.
“Again came the bellow, and again the chase. They’d nearly made half the distance when they encountered calamity – an old woman upon the path, and, behind her, a hundred cavorting dead, all in various states of decomposition.
“As the siblings halted, the hag spoke.
“”You look not like the opposition I expected, but, whatever the case, the cure is the same.”
“With that, she extracted a dagger from within her billowing sleeves, and bared its blade.
“Sure they’d encountered the witch of the hut upon some late errand, the youths thought their fate’s certain – and, with the column of animated corpses at her heels, it was as if every tale they’d heard of her occult powers must be true.
“Heard, but unseen by the youngest, the hound lept then, hurdling the vandals – but it was a dusky moose that stood under the light of the moon when the girl uncovered her eyes. Without pause, the beast ran its racks into the column of shuddering cadavers.
“It was clear then, to the aghast onlookers, that they had become caught betwixt magics beyond their comprehension.
“She with the dagger also joined the fray, and for a moment the three siblings were held fast. As the tide of the battle appeared to turn, however, a second old woman was suddenly amongst the combatants, even as the spectral antlers vanished. The newcomer’s hair was tawny, and her face haggard – fitting perfectly the murmured accounts of the sorceress.
“”Run!” she shouted to the children from beneath the press of rotting flesh.
““Run!” cried the eldest.
““Run!” shouted the middle brother.
““Run!” repeated the youngest sister.
“The speed, and panic, of their return home, was such that they had no notice of the scratches each accumulated from unregarded obstructing branches. It was these telltales that led to a further thrashing from their father – but it was no longer necessary, their lesson had already been kenned.”
Gran’s audience nodded her head, seeming to take the meaning of the tale.
After a span of consideration, she raised a question.
“I take your meaning, certainly, but what of the witches?”
“So far as I know, the defense of the vandals was the last story to be told of the woman and her cottage,” replied Gran. “No night thereafter was the hound heard, nor seen to roam.”
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