Wednesday Write-In #70

The words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In this week were:

architecture :: low pitched :: uncanny valley :: shot :: falling

Und, here is what I made of them (mit apologies to Herr Freud):

Image: easyhiker.co.uk

Image: easyhiker.co.uk

The Return

Now stumbling, now falling, the runaway crashed through the undergrowth.

He was sure he smelled smoke, and even more sure that he smelled food; nobody has a keener nose for the fragrance of roasting meat than a person who has not eaten in three days. The scent was sharper than his fear.

The downward-sloping ground drew him on, on, on, as though there were weights attached to his chest. He could hear a rushing river – or was that just his pulse, throbbing in his ears? – and a collection of colourful, low-pitched roofs came into view through the clinging trees.

Brambles nipped at his exposed skin and ran their fingers through his clothes, as though they wanted him to linger. Angrily, impatiently, he shook them off and, spurned, they fell aside to let him pass, turning away so they didn’t have to watch.

Then, like the forest had spat him out, he shot out of the scrub and tumbled, head over heels, straight onto a muddy track which wore its stones close to the surface.

‘Whoa!’ came a voice. To the runaway, it sounded like a shout from the bottom of a well, or a call distorted by distance. Familiar, and yet not. It made him think of dust in his drinking water, or dirt sprinkled over his porridge. It made his stomach clench like a fist. I’m delirious, he told himself, trying to clear his mind.

The runaway was vaguely aware of a hot snorting just above his face and the clattering of hooves forced to come to a sudden halt on uncertain ground. The rattling of an empty cart made him flinch, instinctively, fearing the bite of its wheels on his unprotected flesh. He tucked his head into his arms and rolled to one side, bracing himself.

‘Now, Myrtle! Ho, girl!’ came that same voice, thickened and warped but woven of the same threads as one he knew so well. ‘Easy, now.’ The runaway heard a thump of dismount, and then a strong hand on his shoulder. ‘Now, then. Now, lad. Are you hurt?’

The sound of the voice clawed at the runaway’s heart. He couldn’t answer. Trembling fit to shake his body to pieces, he squeezed his eyes tight shut. It’s impossible!

‘I won’t hurt thee, boy,’ said the man, his words making the runaway feel sick despite their gentle tones. ‘Can you not even tell me your name?’ The boy breathed, every inhalation feeling like boiling oil, as his heart thunk-thunked at double speed. It cannot be, he told himself, trying to calm enough to think clearly. But I have to know.

Forcing his eyes open, the boy glanced at the face of his questioner, and it was his dead father’s face in every respect, except – except – it seemed to change and stretch as he looked at it. Its architecture was wrong, the struts supporting the flesh twisting as he watched. The muscles shifted beneath the skin until it was another face entirely, one which looked like his father but wasn’t, and through it all the man smiled, as though this horror was causing him no pain.

‘But, I – I buried you,’ said the boy through clattering teeth. ‘Three months hence, with my last penny. I’ve been running ever since, fleeing your debtors. I’ve been – I’ve been barely surviving…’ His voice trickled away, absorbed by the silent air. No birds sang around them, and the smoke from the chimneys rose straight and strange in the stillness.

The boy’s eyes flicked back to the face of the man who had almost run him over, and those eyes he knew so well gazed back at him in a way he’d never seen before.

‘Welcome to Uncanny Valley, lad,’ smiled the man who was, and was not, his father. ‘Everything comes back here, eventually.’

 

6 thoughts on “Wednesday Write-In #70

  1. Elaine McKay

    Excellent writing. I’m blown away. I love your take on ‘uncanny valley’. I’m not sure whether to be happy for your protagonist or not, and I suspect that’s exactly what you intended. I really enjoyed this. Well done.

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Wow – thanks! The prompt ‘uncanny valley’ got my mind ticking over, and lots of half-remembered college lectures started to plop into my memory… 😀 I’m glad it all came together in a reasonable fashion. Thanks a million, Elaine. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Elaine Peters

    Fabulous, and a bit sinister. I love your descriptions and especially the brambles para. Look forward to your next in the new year. Best wishes.

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thanks a lot! I enjoyed the brambles bit myself. 🙂 Happy Christmas to you and yours, and looking forward to catching up with your work in the New Year, too. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Godefroy D.

    Sounds like it could be a nice setup for a tabletop RPG 😀 Or maybe it’s just my obsessions taking over.

    Good pacing !

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Ha! And would you believe, I’ve never played a tabletop RPG. I’ve *seen* it being done, but I was never allowed to join in.

      Thanks a lot for your comment, and your visit. 🙂

      Reply

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