No Life Here – Short Story Turtlewriters Prompt 61

Mariajauthor/ February 1, 2021/ Short Stories and Fiction/ 0 comments

This short story was originally published this blog post in September 2018. It was in response to the #TurtleWriters image prompt below, but it didn’t transfer to my new site. I thought I would edit it and re-post it. Thanks again to @RosettaYorke and @HillBillyHorror for the prompt! Warning that this short story is a horror. There’s nothing gory about it but it might not make for the ‘nicest’ reading!

I stared at the ruins of the church, eerily stood in the middle of nowhere. When did the last person walk around it? Had it been entirely forgotten in recent times? I imagined the people who worshipped here together were long since dead. Still, as I walked around the cemetery, there were not many graves here. What happened to the ancient congregation? Where were they?

I sniffed the cold air as I took uncertain steps to the church. The tread of my boos crunched into the the hardened ground, lingering in winter mist. The noise pierced the otherwise still air and startled me, though I was the only one who made the sounds.

Why was it so silent? The world was still, apart from the slight breeze rifling past my hair. Why were there no birds? It was dawn, but there was no cheery chorus. The strange quietness was almost deafening, seeming far louder than had there been a whole flock sweeping above me.

I looked at the church again. Gaps in the arched windows let in the vast sky beyond. Dark, dramatic patches of cloud stretched over the canopy of endless blue, that turned to lilac and golden hue behind the lower mountains. Dawn had recently broken, with the early morning sunshine kissing all it touched. This place could have been so peaceful, but the stark uneasiness of it troubled my soul.

The serenity was also obscured by the sole dead tree. It towered and twisted, tall and dark, as if the sunlight would never reach it. One of the branches seemed abnormally long, reaching to touch the corner of the church. Almost as if it were holding the crumbled building in its sinister embrace.

The tree cast a lengthy shadow, crawling insidiously across the cold ground as if beckoning me closer. I felt helpless to do anything but take another step forward. I had a sudden ridiculous wonder that somehow this dead, inanimate tree had a mind of its own.

The hairs on the back of my neck prickled. There were still no birds, no sounds, no other people in sight. I had the urge to look behind me, but I was powerless to tear myself away from the dreary, haunted scene before me.

My gaze shifted to the mountains beyond, doused blue with mist. I found some solace in their stoic presence. These giant imposing hills had stood there long before the church was built and would remain long after there was nothing here but rubble and dust. The mountains looked strangely familiar, but I couldn’t place it.

I tried desperately to keep my breathing steady. The silence was growing louder, if that was even possible. I had lived all my life in this city, so the quiet was deafening. The tree was still beckoning me. Before I knew it, I’d taken another few faltering steps. What was it about this place that was pulling me in? Where were any other signs of life? How had I even got here?

I stopped short, my steps paralysed by a fresh bout of horror. How had I got here? Why had it taken me so long to ask myself this question? I remembered walking with friends. Where were they? My brain was scrambled; I tried to remember where I had seen them last. Perhaps I was lost.

I frowned, struggling to even remember their faces, plagued into obscurity. The lives of my friends paled into comparison with the prominent reality of the church and that tree. I longed to turn around again, but the pull of those gnarling branches was far too powerful.

My attention turned briefly to the small arch, just to the left of the tree. The small golden circle of light comforted me. I swallowed, forcing myself to breathe calmly. Surely, it was just an old spooky church, next to an old, spooky tree.

I repeated this to myself, almost like a mantra. Relief washed over me as I took a few more steps, more confident this time. The mantra seemed to trigger my mind into working again.

                “Steve!” I called out, my first word since I had arrived in this place. The names of my friends had thrust themselves back into my consciousness. “Beth! Where are you? Sarah? Michael?” Again and again, their names tore from my throat, but there was nothing but silence. The prickling of hairs began, twitching my upper arms.

Was this some kind of prank? I wondered somehow. I latched onto the theory, for it seemed to fit all the facts. Perhaps I had been drugged, came another idea. That would certainly explain my lack of memories. My brain was as foggy as the mist I was walking through and I had no idea where I was. I frowned. I trusted my friends that they would never do something like this. They would never have left me behind, either. Was someone else involved?

I stopped short again. In all my wondering, my feet had wandered. I was almost at the church now. My calm disappeared at the sight of the tree, more sinister and imposing than ever. I had reached the gravestones and on impulse reached out a hand.

I sighed with relief. The stone was dull and cold, reassuring me in its perfectly ordinary state. I strolled among the gravestones, hands in my pockets. All the graves were at least a hundred years old, confirming my initial theory that any worshippers here were long since gone. I relaxed further as I scanned the rest of them. I noticed the one at the end, with the biggest cross above it, was dated far more recently.

My eyes widened in horror. Any pretence of calm was long gone. The date… surely it was a mistake. Swiftly I walked to the grave, barely noticing the noise of my boots anymore. Surely, I had misread it. I was imagining things, that was all. My breath hitched as I neared the largest gravestone. I had never been so desperate to be wrong.

I stopped abruptly in front of the grave. My eyes were filled with the date, as if I had never seen anything else. Despair swept over me and I sank to my knees. Terror gripped me too much to push aside the shrubbery concealing the name, but I was helpless to do anything else. My hand reached out to move it aside, almost of its own volition.

                “No…” I murmured. There was no mistaking it. The date was today. The name was mine. The time for other explanations was past. I slumped to sit in front of the grave, horror weakening me. Moments ticked by in endless silence.

Then, I raised my head. Slowly, I shifted round, to do what I had been unable to do all this time. I looked in the direction where I had come from. Shall I tell you what I saw?

I saw nothing. The misty plain continued as far as the eye could see. In my heart, I knew it would go on forever. In my heart… did I even still have one? Abruptly I placed my hand inside my t-shirt pressing it against my chest until I felt the faint beating. I was still breathing, too. Shaky, shallow, fearful gasps, as if each one could be my last. Was my breathing an illusion too?

I remembered it now. I turned back around, gazing at the mountains beyond the ruined church. Their familiarity was suddenly clear. I had been walking on them, climbing with friends. Clarity struck me – that sudden trip of my feet. The stumble I could not control, boots sliding on gravel under me. Scrambling with my hands now, trying to grab hold of anything. Powerless to the pull of gravity that would send me plummeting to my doom.

I gazed down at my hands, but they were free of grazes, of the tiny stones that had cut into my skin. I was totally uninjured. My hands trailed now across the cold, hard earth. It felt real enough. If I punched the ground, would I bleed?

Surely, I would never bleed again. I knew beyond all certainty now that I was dead. I glanced up to the sky, seeking solace in that golden light. Though the heavenly patch was still there, no reassurance could be found. Could the dead be comforted, or was I beyond all hope?

Abruptly, most of the golden light disappeared. Dark clouds transformed across the horizon in its wake. There was a loud rumbling sound. The breeze quickened. Dimly, I thought I heard my friends. I strained to hear it. Yes, it was definitely them. They were calling to me.

I leapt to my feet, my heart exploding in relief. Perhaps I was wrong. Maybe I hadn’t died. Perhaps I was in a coma and this was me waking up. The rumbling continued as the sky darkened. I almost smiled. I was about to wake up from whatever this nightmare was.

Wait. Some instinct called to me. The wind was stronger now. Something’s wrong. Dread overtook joy and hope. My friends called to me again, reaching me despite the rumbling sky. I could not make out their words, but their voices sounded horrified, sad. What was going on?

Instinct slammed into me again. I glanced slowly to my grave as the terrible truth prevented itself. I wasn’t waking up, but I also wasn’t dead. Yet.

I jerked my head up. The ruins of the church began to turn to rubble. The sky was almost black. The rumbling was deafening. The whipping of the wind grew stronger still. Almost enough to make me lose my footing.

The truth was plain, now. I wasn’t waking up. I was still falling. Death was coming to claim me. I turned back to the church. The tree was looming closer than ever before. Its branches had changed direction, limbs twisting to face me. No wonder I had been afraid of it. This tree was death itself, inviting me into its cruel embrace. It was coming to get me and I was utterly helpless to stop it.

That one elongated branch had changed direction too. It was no longer touching the church but also stretching out towards me. I glanced to the other graves. What other lost souls had come here, on their way to oblivion? The church was all but rubble now, the sky and the mountains turning to bleak darkness.

Only one patch of golden light remained. I would never see another dawn. I kept my gaze upon it, trying to ignore the tree as it loomed closer. For those final few moments, I was bathed in glorious light, the last warmth of life.

Then the darkness stretched over the remaining light. The hard winter ground beneath me tore away, fading into nothingness. Just enough light remained to see the tree was upon me, its branches inches way from my body, which was not really here. I parted my mouth in a final silent scream. Blackness overcame me as the ground disappeared, the wind blowing me off my feet. I fell through the vast nothingness as the branches entangled themselves around my corpse. I was swept away to oblivion. There was no life here.

P.S. Hope you enjoyed my short story! Why not check out my books? I have two Celtic historical fiction novels published, The Boy from the Snow and The Veiled Wolf. I also have a fantasy/mystery novel, Lottie’s Locket, for older children and adults. Head here for other links and ways to check out my books! 🙂

Also, why not subscribe to my newsletter? You’ll get a free preview of Lottie’s Locket for singing up. Hoping to include a freebie with this month’s edition but not sure what this will look like yet!

Till next time,

Maria 🙂

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