As part of the Funk-N-Fiction Halloween Flash Fiction Event, we’re showcasing a few of the participating authors who are also 2021 Coastal Magic Convention Featured Authors! I’ve come to really look forward to Eric R Asher’s contributions to our event every year, and this year certainly didn’t disappoint. Eric’s short story had this image for inspiration…
Don’t forget to check the info for the Rafflecopter giveaway below the story!! Print books, ebooks, and giftcards are all parts of SEVEN different prize packs!
Of Shadows and Water by Eric R. Asher
The dock at the old lake was a strange thing. Holly remembered the stories the kids used to tell about the lost. Legends had twisted their way through decades like the curved timbers and aged bench near the lake’s center. Though lake was too grand a term, pond wasn’t grand enough.
Standing at the edge of the smoky, motionless water brought back memories of things she’d prefer not to remember. But a promise was a promise, and Holly was true to her word. Wind rustled pines and falling leaves around her, but the water did not move.
The first time she’d heard the voices, she’d run. She’d run as fast as her ten-year-old legs could carry her. It would be five years before she returned to the lake with her friends. And another five before the shadows took the first of them.
Holly’s boots clicked against the wood, each step sending tiny ripples into the water, the only sign the entire lake wasn’t glass. She settled onto the bench, running her fingers over an arrow-pierced heart carved into the wood. Inside were the letters H and R.
They’d been kids when they’d carved it. It was a secret, one for her and Ricky, and one she’d never spoken of to anyone else. Hidden away deep in the woods of Missouri, they assumed they’d be safe. But there were always eyes. And the love shared between a human child and a lake dweller did not go unnoticed.
Oh, and what a revelation that had been. She’d thought Ricky had drowned in the neighbor’s pool, only for him to be confounded by the fact she was sobbing on the deck when he’d resurfaced minutes later. It was the first time Ricky realized he might be something else, something other, but Holly only grew to love him more for his oddities.
It had been five years since the darkness took Ricky. She was the only one left now. The last of them at thirty-five years old. The kids may have told scary stories about the lake, but they did not understand what waited outside it.
She flinched when the song started. It was the same melody she’d heard twenty-five years before. The delicate music was so piercing she would have given everything she was to listen for another moment.
But songs of lake dwellers called other things. Darker things that chased away any who threatened the water. Guardians who had turned on their allies and stolen more than human children.
Ricky had called them fairies. But they were nothing like the stories Holly remembered from her childhood. The first shadow moved in the tree line, and Holly stood, reaching into her pocket as the shadow smiled, nothing but darkness and fangs.
The water surged, rising around her until another shadow stood at her side. But this figure, lithe and graceful, was something else.
“Child, I did not believe you would return.”
“I told you I loved him, Mildred.” Her voice turned to stone as anger chased away the fear shaking her body. “And they stole him.”
The old lake dweller leaned down until she was eye to eye with Holly. “To leave this world is to leave everything behind. You cannot return.”
The shadow had reached the dock, its presence alone enough to sprout mushrooms and rot with every step on the wood. Holly had never seen one so clearly. A hulking beast, knuckles dragging across the wood as its fur moved in the opposite direction of the winds.
“For his passage,” Holly whispered, flipping the coin she’d taken from her pocket.
Mildred snatched it out of the air and studied the silver octagon. “I accept your tithe. May the fates find it worthy.”
The shadow swelled as it closed on them, too many eyes opening in its hellish face. A tongue that leaked shadows, braided like a rope as it ran across gleaming fangs. Even at that distance, the edges of the thing were blurred, like it didn’t belong in their world.
Mildred closed her hand around the coin, and when she opened it again, the metal was gone.
The shadow howled and charged. Holly shut her eyes. If this was the end, she didn’t need to see it when it came. She didn’t want to feel the impact when that thing reached her. The song of the lake dwellers changed. Its light notes fracturing into a dissonant screech until there was only pain, and then, nothing.
But if she knew there was nothing, she couldn’t be dead, could she?
Holly cracked open an eye, trying to understand what stood in front of her. Blue eyes peered out beneath matted black hair and dark skin.
And the shade spoke. “You remembered the coin.”
Holly threw her arms around Ricky, trying to bury herself in his embrace as her voice cracked. “I thought you were dead.”
“The shadows are gone.”
It was only then Holly realized they no longer stood on the wooden dock, but a slender boat, steered by a shade who looked like Mildred.
“To our next life, my love. Ever onward.”
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