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The castle had been wiped from memory. There were some old legends, of course, but I’d never have known it had actually existed if I hadn’t indulged a love of old maps while waiting out the rain in the library one day. This’d be the cursed castle, then: the place no one who’d set foot in ever returned from. It’d be a ruin now.

I didn’t think there’d be much left of it – maybe a few buried foundations – but I’m a sucker for creepy folklore and I can always use an excuse to go for a walk, so I went to check it out as soon as the weather was decent. Finding it was another problem. I’d copied down the map as well as I could, but they weren’t great at drawing to scale in those days: not to mention that most of the roads would’ve changed course by now. Once I’d gotten kind of close I pretty much couldn’t do anything but wander around a bit and keep my eyes on the ground.

Then I found the rose thicket, and the castle evaporated from my mind.

It was a warm day in June, and the roses were in full bloom. They climbed trees and clung to branches, so thick I couldn’t see more than a hand’s-length in, so wide I couldn’t see how to get around them. And caught between the brambles, tangled in thorns, were hundreds – thousands – of corpses.

Birds. Squirrels. A deer, antlers caught in the thicket, neck twisted in long-gone terror. Some of them still boasted furry red bits of skin: others were nothing more than naked bone.

Like I said, I’m a sucker for the creepy stuff. I took a few photos, liberated a rat skull, and went to see how far the thicket went.

Thirty metres or so farther on the thicket thinned. It was almost like a doorway, a passage through the wall of thorns, though there were still enough of them that a machete would’ve helped. I didn’t have a machete. I did have large stick, after a cursory search of the area, and that would have to do.

By the time I’d beaten my way through a metre or two of the stuff I was wishing I hadn’t worn a binder, or at least that I’d thought to bring water with me. I wasn’t just sweating but dizzy, desperately wanting a place to lie down that wasn’t covered in thorns. The bones were older back here, some of them crumbling – and then I saw that one of the skeletons was human.

More than one.

I should have called the police. The death obviously wasn’t recent, but you’re supposed to report it when you find human skeletons in the woods. Instead – whether because I was too low on oxygen to think straight at that point or because, having started to hack my way through the thicket, I was determined to see it through – I allowed a brief moment for the grinning face of the dead person to spur me on and then redoubled my efforts.

When I finally burst through to clear skies, it felt like a victory. I sprawled down on the ground just past the thicket, assured myself that I was absolutely, definitely alone, and pulled off my shirt and my binder so I could breathe again.

By the time I felt well enough to put them back on, I’d managed to have a look at this side of the roses. Human skeletons had nothing on this: I’d found my castle. I’d found it, and it was more than a foundation, more than a single ruined wall. There was barely a stone out of place.

Castles don’t just vanish. They don’t just fall from history’s memories, not when they still look like this.

I went to explore it – of course I did – but every step I took felt like walking towards the brink of an abyss. This was the Unknown. This was a place so wrong, so impossible, that rules didn’t apply to it. A walking shadow with glowing eyes could have stepped through a wall and swung a sword at my head, and I’d have pissed myself, but I wouldn’t have been surprised.

There were corpses inside, too. Skeletons, strewn across the floor of almost every room – some still clutching knives, plates, things that couldn’t rot away – this was an archaeological miracle. Just by being here, I was contaminating the site: I should go back, go home, call the police, forget this ever happened. But I couldn’t. The police were a world away, and I’d never have a chance to see anything like this again.

I thought of the stories, of course. You know the one: cursèd princess pricks her finger on a spindle, castle falls asleep, roses hide it away from the rest of the world. But she woke up again after a hundred years. The people in the castle never died. They weren’t even really sleeping: it was more like stasis, a bubble of space in which time stood still. It wasn’t like this.

It wasn’t like this, unless something had gone wrong.

I climbed the tower with my heart in my throat, terrified of what I’d find, unwilling or unable to turn back. The door at the end was old, but undamaged: I pushed it open and ducked into the room.

She was there, my princess, still clutching the whorl of a spindle whose shaft had rotted away. A thumb and a finger fell from her hand as I lifted it, twined my fingers between her bones, kissed the jewel of her ring.

My tears couldn’t bring her back. I’d come hundreds of years too late to save her.
Written for Flash Fiction Month 2018, day 11. This year I'm also fulfilling a challenge by an anonymous contributor - every character must be queer - as well as one by Teague-Drydan: At least half of the month needs to be fairy tale re-writes. Bonus if they aren't well known fairy tales. Fairy tale count: 6/16.

I've also been manoeuvered into taking on another challenge by joe-wright:
The All-Star challenge.
Over the course of FFM, your oeuvre must address the following items:
  • -Something somebody once told you
  • -The sharpest tool
  • -A finger and a thumb
  • -The shape of an L
  • -What does it mean to be 'fed to the rules'?
  • -A smart brain and a dumb head
  • -"You'll never shine if you don't glow"
  • -Definitive proof that all that glitters is in fact gold
  • -A shooting star that breaks the mold
  • -The meteor men, and the hole in the satellite picture
  • -Skating on thin ice
  • -The world on fire
  • -"Can you spare some change for gas?"
  • -An all-star, getting their game on, and going to play, or alternatively and perhaps easier, a rock star, getting the show on, and getting paid.
  • -Shrek

The rest of today's stories can be found here.

Edit 15.08.2018: put them on again -> put them back on

Wordcount: 953.

If you've enjoyed this story, you may be interested in the collection of all my FFM stories this year: Beyond Dreams. You may also enjoy my FFM collections from the previous four years: Borrowed Strength, Ephemeron, Palalgia, and Changeling.
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:iconblackmanaburning:
BlackManaBurning Featured By Owner Aug 16, 2018  Professional General Artist
Fascinating, to think that an overgrown rosebush in modern times might yet be concealing an ancient and magical mystery... :idea:
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Sep 2, 2018   Writer
You never know what that sort of overgrowth might be hiding!
Reply
:iconakrasiel:
akrasiel Featured By Owner Aug 5, 2018  Professional Writer
This is pretty cool :thumbsup:
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Aug 6, 2018   Writer
Thanks! :D
Reply
:iconteague-drydan:
Teague-Drydan Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2018  Student Writer
Nice.  I was half thinking that maybe the magic had saved the princess, but nope.  Nice use of "finger and a thumb", by the way.

Hope you're feeling better!
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Edited Jul 17, 2018   Writer
Nope, no happy endings here. Thank you!
Reply
:iconteague-drydan:
Teague-Drydan Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2018  Student Writer
welcome :D
Reply
:iconsikivic:
SiKiViC Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2018
Creepy, romantic, and tragic. My favorite combination ;) (Wink) 
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2018   Writer
One of my favourites too. ;) Thank you!
Reply
:iconmemnalar:
Memnalar Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2018  Hobbyist Writer
Wonderful. Misty and mythic.
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2018   Writer
Thank you. This is one of my favourites so far.
Reply
:iconthesmileydinosaur:
TheSmileyDinosaur Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2018  Hobbyist Writer
This was so creepy - loved it!
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2018   Writer
Thank you! :D
Reply
:iconxlntwtch:
xlntwtch Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2018   Writer
Good story! I meant to just wish you well, but couldn't avoid the story, of course, and so glad I read it. Great take on the fairy tale, really.
I can't read everyone's work for FFM, I'm following too many, but always enjoy yours, whether I say so, or not. (:
(Btw: I have many similar symptoms to what you describe. Dizzy and a bit more - feverish sometimes, etc. Let's get well!)
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 13, 2018   Writer
Thank you so much, and I hope we both feel better soon. :heart:
Reply
:iconxlntwtch:
xlntwtch Featured By Owner Jul 13, 2018   Writer
yes! and thank you - i've been writing through my ickyness too. lol - and i like how symptoms found their way into your story.
Reply
:iconscfrankles:
SCFrankles Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2018  Hobbyist Writer
This is just wonderful. The fact the narrator is so firmly a part of our contemporary world just seems to make the strangeness of the castle all the more vivid and real. And the ending is heartbreaking. 

Adding to all the good wishes - hope you feel better soon. 
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2018   Writer
Thank you so much - on both counts. I'm glad to hear that worked! It's weird to me that this may be the creepiest thing I've ever written, but I really think it might be.
Reply
:iconlemonclarinet63:
Lemonclarinet63 Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2018  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Fantastic job!
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2018   Writer
Thank you!
Reply
:iconsquanpie:
squanpie Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2018  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Aww, that ending :(

I like how distinct the voice of this one is for the modern setting. Hope your own illness passes quickly. :heart:
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2018   Writer
Yeah, the one problem with this fairy tale challenge is that a lot of these stories are turning out very similar in terms of style. I'm trying to keep it interesting!

Thank you. :heart:
Reply
:iconsquanpie:
squanpie Featured By Owner Jul 16, 2018  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Yeah, I can imagine that would be a thing after a while. You seem to be managing though from the ones I've read - as far as is reasonably possible!
Reply
:iconcamelopardalisinblue:
camelopardalisinblue Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2018  Hobbyist General Artist
Feel better soon! :heart:

I can't believe you wrote this while ill. It's amazing.
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2018   Writer
Thank you! Thirteen hours of sleep gave me enough energy to see this one through, but I have to admit I kind of wish I'd gone for a 55er. (Maybe I will today. Hopefully.)
Reply
:iconilyilaice:
ilyilaice Featured By Owner Jul 11, 2018
I echo the sentiments of the others - I do hope you feel better soon.

I very much liked the premise of this. I also appreciated the contemporary language you employed, which makes it all the more obvious that the protagonist is far too late to save the ancient characters of this ancient story.
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2018   Writer
Thank you, on both counts. :heart:
Reply
:iconnamelessshe:
NamelessShe Featured By Owner Jul 11, 2018
The imagery and tragedy is fantastic.  That ending. Yeeessss. It hurts but I love it.

I’m sorry you’re not feeling well, i hope you feel better soon! 
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2018   Writer
Thank you so much, on both counts. It can't all be happy endings!
Reply
:iconjoe-wright:
joe-wright Featured By Owner Jul 11, 2018   General Artist
For being ill, this is incredible. Weird failed fairy tales is a super rich vein, you should mine it some more, I love it
Reply
:icongdeyke:
GDeyke Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2018   Writer
The good thing about lying in bed all day is that it gave me a chance to think about this some before I started writing. ;) I'm definitely hoping to do more weird failed fairy tales, but we'll see what comes of it!
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