Duck, Duck, Goose – Short Story
Short but wide red mushrooms peak out from under fanning brown leaves, bright spots enlivening the regular, dreary gray mountainside so familiar to those of the small but familial city of Winderscot. Traditionally, dark log cabins dot the valleys clear of the towering dark oak trees that make up most of the mountain, but in these modern times concrete and drywall creations find themselves side by side the classical homes of long-standing families.
Stuck with the caring for and the maintenance of an older home, Kath spends most evenings with a broom in hand. What good is a clean porch when every minute finds a new falling leaf on her doorstep, she often finds herself wondering about the futility of her daily actions. A warm, humid Thursday evening as the sun sets over the mountain, Kath’s hands ache where they grip the iron handle of a heavy wooden pail. Sweat beads over her brow sliding down her face and joining the soapy water held inside. Inside a log cabin with front door and windows open, a slight breeze is being carried throughout the home. A clean scent dances on the wind along with the sound of cackling keys as her homely mother works steadily at her old desktop computer.
Coming outside, she steps carefully along the well-worn gray stones leading from the front of their modest home to the gravel road connecting to the rest of the town. The crunch of white rocks under her feet is satisfying as it signals the end of Kath’s daily workload, white powder dusts the bottoms and edges of her tough black sneakers, the feeling soothing on her weary feet.
Watching the sunlight turn the sky orange, slowly weaning down into the gray of the night, Kath can admit to herself she feels older every day. But somehow seeing her kid cousin repeating the same old mistakes she made makes her feel every bit the young twenty something she really is, Kath doesn’t bother trying to understand her own logic. Thinking of Sam, the late time twinges a lump of worry in her stomach. It had been hours since she last saw his long brown mop head; Actually, she remembers suddenly, it was when Sam helped her hang up both house’s bed sheets to dry around noon. Her heartbeat begins to sound in her ear, steadily increasing with each anxious thought. Where did Sam say he was going? Hobbling along the road with her burden, Kath struggles to remember. He complained about his arms hurting, a common occurrence with how often he was sick, then mentioned something about…sunlight? Her face screws up in concentration before her eyes widen and she exclaims quietly in recognition. He was shaking with the wind and said he was going to warm up in the nearby clearing, soaking in the sunlight while the daylight still reigned. Reaching a starkly more modern toolshed garnished in a gaudy plastic red, Kath drops the bucket outside the door. She doesn’t bother to put thing away cleanly as she usually does in her rising panic, just turning towards the forest and briskly beginning to jog.
The sweat cools her down as she sets a steady pace towards a small clearing just inside the nearby thicket of trees, a place they’d shared since Sam was a toddler. Both being the only children in their family, Kath often was left Sam as a playmate, leading to them declaring the forest clearing their super sick and totally amazing secret base complete with a fungus coated fallen tree bench and modest fire pit sloppily surrounded by white stones. It was only a short minute away from the road leading to both their homes, parent’s anxieties assuaged being within shouting distance. Kath slows down to a steady trot, catching her breath as she enters the dark forest. Dark brown, almost black bark stretches up and out of sight with emerald leaves almost hazy from the height, the yellowing leaves since fallen beginning to rot.
Mushrooms poke out from all corners of the forest, like a trail leading to Sam. White and round, tall and blue, exotic colors warn viewers of the dangers they hide. The familiar view calm Kath as she begins to rationalize Sam’s disappearance. He probably just lost track of time enjoying the sun’s rays. Who wouldn’t fall asleep laying in soft, light green grass? Finally warm, it’s no wonder he would stay so long, Kath chuckles to herself, kid is always looking for a bigger, fluffier jacket. Spying the ring of silver trees that mark the clearing entrance, her heart skips a beat realizing the moon now colors the forest. He left wearing a soft sleeved shirt and shorts, Sam would’ve been cold as ice by now.
Breaking into the circle of trees, the moonlight bewitches Kath’s wide eyes as she spies Sam laying in the center of the clearing, softly sleeping in the grass. She lets out a large sigh of relief seeing him unharmed. Then she notices the ring.
Every part of his body is still, in a deeper sleep than she’s ever known him to take. Pale toadstools with hints of yellow and blue along their caps encircle him, it must be the moon causing their white stalks to glow eerily, Kath thinks. The wind is still here, strangely so even taking into account the trees shielding them. Heady, intoxicating smells of fresh cut grass and moments after rain swarm her, then a fruity scent cuts in, but no matter where she looks Kath can’t find the source.
“Sam?” She slowly stutters out, stepping forwards skittishly until she’s only a few feet from the ring of mushrooms. She raises her hand to cover her nose as the wafting fragrance crescendos, then the wind picks up suddenly. A tinkling sound tickles her ears as she eyes Sam’s peaceful face. She takes the last few steps forward and breaches the circle.
Time stands still. The dim, twilight light goes out and the wind dies as quickly as it started, but the smells continue dancing around Kath’s head.
“Lost, Little One?” A giggle sounds from the darkness, “A long way from home?” Kath sharply turns left and right to try and parse the source of the sounds. She fails to gain any understanding of her surroundings before crouching down in fear, feeling a smooth surface beneath her. The black gives way, returning to a cool gray and as her eyes adjust, the first thing she realizes is she’s standing on brown glass. Unending, seamless, the entirety of the land around her is frosted glass rising into vast mountains and undulating in valleys. In fact, she almost recognizes the shapes around her. Is that..? She questions reality, then shakes herself as steel lines her stomach.
“Not too far at all, hmm?” A second voice, scratchier compared to the soft tinkling melodies of the last grunts out from behind her. With a start Kath swings herself backwards, but once she sees the two forms behind her she freezes. Her throat closes, saliva fills her mouth, and her eyes begin to sting. Two green tinted figures a few heads shorter than her are perched on rocks, a few feet off the ground against the rough surface of the rising glass mountain. She would blink if she could, but every second passes like an eternity. Heart rising, she attempts to clear her throat, but her voice only catches in her throat. The softer voice she identifies as the bare figure on the right lets out another laugh, cruelty painting her words.
“Who sends a duckling after the first lost goose?” Green, stringy hair just barely darker than her skin and down to her pointed chin is flicked out of her marred face before she leers, “Good luck, I’ve already tasted dessert.” Both figures burst in cackles, the deeper and larger figure on his left takes his long fingered claws and slaps his palms down on his knees where they press into his dull green chest. Kath’s breath catches and she sharply turns back towards where the circle of mushrooms once was, a faery circle how could she think it was anything else with all the superstitious warnings of her aging but cautious mother, before her gut releases all air and she drops to her knees.
Sam’s soft, tangled brown hair swims gently around his peaceful face. Blue tinted lips are still, his long eyelashes rest where they kiss his white cheeks, no soft red blush to match the crimson blood pooled around his entire figure. Kath’s breaths come out in strangled gasp. She crawls with her hands and knees pressed against the stained brown glass; each inch forward brings forth a welling of tears. They spill over as she reaches forward towards his body, closing the gap between them.
“Oh Sammy,” Kath’s voice cracks on his name, “No, please,” her first few fingers on her right hand brush the ridge of his nose, his soft skin clammy under hers. Franticly, she begins to search his body until spotting the deep red staining the front of his thin shirt. Shaking hands struggle to hold pressure on his stomach, feeling wet, torn skin gush below. Both hands placed one over another, Kath shift her weight from her knees to her hands attempting to staunch the wound. Laughter plays behind her back, but through her tears and panic she find no mind left to care.
“Silly duck!” The soft voice sings.
“Oh please, no god,” she stutters, heart beat frantic as she sobs above him. She lays her head against his chest and struggles to quiet her grief, find any sign of life. “Sam please” she whispers hoarsely, all sound fades as she focuses intently, and all hope begins to follow until-
“Katie?” A weak voice croons, Sam’s chest is rising.
“Sammy!” She scrambles to sits up, reapplying pressure. Snot and tears cover her shaking face where she hovers above his. With one eye lid opened wearily, his lips crack he struggles to breathe. “I’ve got you Sam, I got you stay with me now.” Adrenaline floods her body, mind narrowing until all she can think of is helping Sam, saving Sam, rescuing Sammy.
“Don’t…I’m,” He struggles to force the soft sounds out, but Kath barrels over his pitiful attempts with bumbling reassurances.
“No, no I’m going to fix this, I promise it’ll be okay,” she sobs over him, but the final words cut through her voice and mind.
“Already dead.” His high pitched, childlike voice merges with both the faeries crouched behind her, the high tinkling and deep gruffy voices clash mockingly.
Time moves again. The moonlit clearing reveals itself, the soft wind resumes blowing. Kath’s foot finally falls, just before the circle of white mushrooms highlighted with iridescent blues and vivid yellows. Sam’s body is still, no blood surrounds him and for a second Kath feels her breath return to her shaking body. Keeping one foot outside the ring and crouching close she slowly raises a trembling hand to his cold face; no breath leaves him.
Dragging his body forward, mushroom caps are ripped from their stalks beneath him. Spongy, colorless flesh surround where she sits holding him. Not an inch of his body moves, no wound scars his skin, and no time had even passed.