Mid-Week Flash Challenge – Week 140
This week’s prompt is from graphic artist Richard Wells.
Nico frowned at the brown bread and butter on his plate. “Mama, why can’t we have roast chicken like they do at the manor?”
Paulette sighed, tousling Nico’s black hair, “You just eat your supper, and don’t worry about such things.” She nibbled on a thin slice of rye, watching her son fiddle with his drink. “You’re going to spill your milk if you’re not careful.”
“Yes, Mama,” Nico pushed the cup away and munched on his food. “Mama?”
“Yes?” Paulette braced herself for another endless barrage of random questions. Nico was too inquisitive for his own good at times.
He took a large bite and chewed thoughtfully, “Are fairies real?”
Stifling a chuckle, Paulette replied, “Well, now, I don’t know. Why? Have you seen one?”
“Well, I saw those white things that look like upside-down umbrellas and figured they must be for the fairies.”
“Nico Phillip Demaray! You’ve been in the woods again, haven’t you?” Paulette was furious. “You know how dangerous it is to wander out there alone. How many times do I have to tell you to stay away?!”
“I’m sorry, Mother,” Nico pouted, “I only wanted to play.”
“Well, there are plenty of places to play on the grounds.” Rising from her seat, Paulette took her empty plate to the sink. “You’re lucky you didn’t get snatched up by one of the Hollow Children.”
“Yes, Mother,” Nico grumbled under his breath.
“Don’t you ‘Yes, Mother’ me. I’ll send you out to the Hollow Children right now, young man. They’ll take you away and eat you up, and then they’ll come for me. You don’t want that to happen, now do you?”
A sulky ‘No’ was her only response. Nico picked at the remnants of his bread and butter.
Paulette looked at her fourteen-year-old and sighed, “Nico, I’m not trying to scare you. I know you laugh off my stories, but there’s truth to them. Those woods have been cursed for as long as anyone knows. Nothing good ever happens to those who roam within. They say the Hollow Children wait in the shadows. They’re hard to see, but every once in awhile you’ll catch a glimpse of a child’s frock or a little bonnet.” She paused for breath and Nico interrupted.
“How do you know all this?” he asked suspiciously.
“My mother saw one, once,” Paulette adopted her most serious expression, “She said they were faceless, and their bodies had no substance – you could see right through them! They prefer a firstborn, too; Grandmother Frances always said, once the Hollow Children take a family’s firstborn, they’ll return for the rest before the next moonrise.” With a pointed look, Paulette frowned at her son.
Nico knew he was in big trouble. Though he wasn’t sure how true his mother’s stories were, he still felt an obligation to protect his sister, Martha. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t use the story to give her a good scare, though.
Finishing the last of his milk, Nico rose and rinsed his plate. Martha was at the manor, cleaning up for the night. They both worked there, with their mother. While he and Paulette occupied a small cottage on the grounds, his sister was given lodgings within the house. Nico went back and forth over his feelings about the situation. Some days, he was jealous of his younger sister. She spent her days and nights surrounded by finery and had a room all to herself. Then, there were the days where he didn’t mind so much. More and more, he was feeling like the man of the house; he liked that feeling.
Nico was stuck in an in-between place – not quite a child anymore, but not yet fully a man. Paulette hoped his silence meant he’d learned his lesson and would not venture into the woods again. His quietude was, in fact, due to his mind whirling with elaborations of his mother’s story. In the morning, he’d do his best to scare his sister with his spookiest rendition.
To be fair, his version of the tale would paint a rather macabre and gruesome scene. Sadly, his fantastical iteration soon became a sordid reality.
Children, listen to your mothers – don’t go into the woods!
Thanks to Miranda Kate for this #MidWeekFlash prompt!
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