This is the 1,000-word flash fiction story I entered for challenge #2 of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge.
I had 48 hours to craft a story in the “fantasy” genre, at least part of the story had to take place on a cotton plantation, and I had to include an “object” at least once in the piece. My assigned object was mustard. Yes, those were really my prompts.
I struggled mightily with this one, but here’s what I came up with. I would just like to say, for the record, that I am not a fan of writing fantasy stories. Reading? Yes. Writing? Not so much.
In any case, here it is!
Synopsis: 12-year old Coralee is excited to learn some new magic spells from her grandmother. When a dark force threatens them, Coralee must dig deep to access powers she never knew she had.
The Schlimmster came on my 12th birthday. I had been begging Memaw to teach me some new spells for months; she finally relented, giving me a measured look after lunch.
“I reckon yer old ‘nuff now to learn more than jest how to do chores without liftin’ a finger,” she said with a knowing smile. “But, ya best go change that dress ‘fore we start. Looks like yer wearing half o’ your sandwich, girl. Too bad ya dunno the spell to get that stain out!”
I glanced down and sighed. Sure enough, there were breadcrumbs and a bright yellow mustard blotch on my skirt.
As far as I knew, Memaw and I were the only living people who could make magic happen with just our minds and some words. Memaw said her Memaw had the power too; she said our home held the key.
We lived on the same piece of land in Virginia that our family had lived on ever since colonial times. Once a thriving cotton plantation, the fields had long since gone fallow. Memaw said there was still old magic, powerful magic, in the soil. The way Memaw told the story, the magic started with one of our ancestors – Henny – a slave who’d led an uprising here during the Civil War. She’d cast some sort of spell and had vowed that her daughter, her daughter’s daughter, and all the daughters that followed, would be able to protect themselves forever.
Excited that I was finally old enough to learn more spells and anxious to begin, I had just jumped up to go change my dress when Memaw gasped.
I turned and saw her staring into in the distance. She muttered an incantation, one I’d never heard. The moment the last word was said, the air around us shimmered and thickened.
I craned my neck to see around the porch column, but still couldn’t see what had grabbed Memaw’s attention.
“By the old overseer’s house. See it? Looks like a man, but t’ain’t no ord’nary man.”
I saw it then and shivered. There, in front of the dilapidated building, stood a tall, skeletal figure dressed in black from head to toe.
“That’s a Schlimmster, child, looking like death warmed o’er. I seen one once b’fore, years ago, when I was jest a child. I dunno where their dark power comes from, but I guess it don’t matter much. They wanna stop our kind o’ magic, and they’ll do near ‘bout anything to make that happen. Ya understanding me, Coralee? They’re dang’rous. Now, they caint get to you while I’m still breathin’, girl, the spell I jest cast’ll make sure o’ that.”
The Schlimmster was closer now, halfway to the porch. When it spoke, the sound was grating and shrill.
“Your protection no longer works, old woman. You’re weak. The girl’s powers are strong. Give her to me and you can live out your days.”
Memaw laughed humorlessly. “Go on, git, ya demon. Ya caint hurt us, and ya sure as hell ain’t touchin’ my grandbaby.”
The Schlimmster, even closer now, raised a bony finger, and uttered something incomprehensible; an incantation of its own. As it spoke, the air around us flashed, as if struck by lightning over and over. When the flashes stopped, the thickness in the air was gone, leaving just an acrid odor.
Memaw fell to her knees. “No, ya caint do this! Not here, not today!”
“Memaw, what about the spell? Say the spell again!” I screamed.
As it reached the bottom of the porch steps, the Schlimmster turned its full attention on Memaw. She looked at me then through watery eyes.
“Run, Coralee! The spell dun failed us; I musta said it wrong. Ya run now…” She shrieked and fell onto her back, writhing in pain.
“Memaw!” I leaned down to help her but I felt the Schlimmster’s cold arms around my waist. I struggled, kicking behind me, but my feet found only empty air.
Crying now, I looked to Memaw for help. Fear coursed through me anew when I saw that she lay motionless on the floor.
Strong arms pulled me down the steps; the wooden stairs scraped my back and legs. Instead of heading toward the road, the Schlimmster dragged me across the rough ground in the other direction, toward where the old slave quarters had once stood. Beyond those ruins were the fields and then the river. There’s nobody around for miles, especially in that direction, my panicked brain thought.
“Let me go! Letmegoletmegoletmego!” I screamed, still kicking, but the Schlimmster gave no notice that it heard or felt anything.
Then, Memaw’s voice was in my head:
Coralee, child, ya listen now and ya listen good. That demon’s right – the power is strong in ya; yer much stronger’n me. Fight it. But hurry, girl, time’s short! If it takes ya off the plantation land, yer powers’ll weaken. There’ll be time for cryin’ later; now ya gotta focus.
Was Memaw right? There was still so much I didn’t know about magic. I relaxed, letting my body go limp. I closed my eyes.
Memaw said to focus, so I did. I focused on the cold hands that gripped me. In my mind’s eye, I saw fire – big flames that leapt and seared and conquered. I opened my eyes as I fell to the ground unharmed. In front of me, orange flames licked and danced across the Schlimmster’s skin.
I stood and backed away, keeping my eyes on the demon as it shrieked and writhed in agony. I watched as the flames consumed it. When it was no more than a pile of ash, I turned and ran to the porch, where Memaw sat rubbing the back of her head.
I ran into her arms, and found the comfort I sought as she wiped away tears I didn’t realize were still falling. “There, there, child. Ya done good. Real good. Now, I reckon it’s time to go change that dress. Ya got some new spells to learn, ain’tcha?”