#SpookyShowcase: Playtime Disturbed by Brenna Cunningham
Welcome to the 9th annual #SpookyShowcase, a Halloween artist and author showcase. A full schedule of submissions can be found here so you don’t miss a single entry for THESE DEADLY CURSES. Now, on to today’s submission!
Playtime Disturbed by Brenna Cunningham
The grass and sticks crunched under Vega’s feet as he followed his brother to their favorite spring. It was a sunny day but a few sparse fluffy clouds took turns blocking it every once in a while, ensuring the boys wouldn’t get too hot. Mama had sent them out to play after they’d got into her banana brûlée pudding again. So, hyped up on sugar and the need to leave their mother in silence, they’d set off.
A stray blue strand of hair fell into Axel’s face as he kicked at the knee length grass and oblong stone he’d fixated on to keep himself busy as he walked. He didn’t want to play in the water today. Vega had insisted on it instead of their hideout in the woods. It was his turn to pick, so Axel reluctantly followed along. But he wasn’t going to be happy about it. Raising the heel of his boot again, he kicked the rock, sending it scattering across the ground and into the edge of the stream.
Sun glinting off of the turquoise water caught Vega’s attention, warming him from the inside out. He kicked off his shoes, bolting for the spring and jumping in, the splash soaked him from head to toe. Dark curls stayed matted to his face as he whipped his head to fling cool droplets in every direction. Wrapping himself in that moment, he wished he could feel that first jump over and over again. Vega filled his cupped hands with the liquid and tilted his head towards the sun before letting the water drain through his fingers. Droplets spilled down his forehead and settled in beads on his eyelashes. They sparkled as he gazed towards his brother who knelt in the dirt.
Mud, rocks, and bits of seashells lodged underneath Axel’s fingernails as he dug a shallow well in the bank. It wasn’t large, barely bigger than his foot in both directions and only as deep as his ankle. A movement danced in the grass beside him. Axel ignored it, assuming it to be one of the wild rabbits often burrowing in the fields nearby. He looks back at his hole in the ground. It sits empty with the same space that does nothing to cushion the burden of his boredom. Finally rising to his feet, Axel goes in search of items to put in it.
Plucked flowers, shredded cat tails, and several handfuls of water later and the hole was filled halfway. “It’s nature soup.” He thought, using a finger to slosh around the contents. Yellow and white petals float half wilted, the main pop of color amongst all the brown and green. It needed something else. Something with more pizazz. And a spoon. Soup should always be stirred with a big spoon. Axel looks around, searching for the ultimate addition to bring his concoction to the next level.
“Hey Vega,” he called to his brother who was bent over in the middle of the spring. When he straightened, there was something metallic in his hands, but Axel couldn’t make it out until Vega held it up further into the sunlight.
“It’s a mirror! Just like the ones we used to see in the vintage stores in town,” he said with a smile. “I bet mom would love it.”
“Bring it over here! I want to see but I don’t want to get wet.”
“Arghhhhhh,” Vega pulled his feet through the water in slow motion, pretending he was walking through goo. The river of slime was the only thing standing between him and his brother, the most powerful wizard on Earth. Axel would be waiting for the secret item to present to the queen in exchange for great rewards.
“I have arrived victorious!” The brave conqueror yelled as he made it onto the bank, kneeling down on the sand. He raised the sacred mirror into the sunlight, allowing it to catch a reflection of the sun. “For you, sire.”
Axel gingerly took the mirror, assessing the weight of it in the palm of his hand. It was ornate and made of the same metal as the perfume bottles still on papa’s nightstand. It even smelled of the same musky, flowery aroma of the aftershave he used to wear. His hand was shaky as he balanced it.
“Yes. It’ll make a lovely spoon for my newest culinary masterpiece,” he said, lowering it towards his soup. Remembering the small patch of bluebonnets just barely down the spring, he stopped. “I’ll be right back!” He dropped the mirror in the sand and took off running for the flowers that would complete his creation.
Vega quickly leapt up, scrambling to pick up the mirror and inspect it for damage. It was mostly still intact, save for a tiny fracture at the top right edge. He placed it back down gently. A weird slosh of water and earthy bits took up residence on the hole his brother had dug. He made faces on the surface of the water as bits of grass formed a pseudo mustache. He wasn’t paying attention enough to notice he wasn’t alone on the bank. A large fat toad jumped in the water, sending water splashing in every which way before it continued on through the cat tails and tall grass.
He quickly went to work replacing the strewn about contents of whatever it was his brother was working on, then ceased as he felt a small tug on his wrist. Cold fingers wrapped around him, locking in place and yanking downwards. He struggled, sweat dripping down his forehead as he prayed he wouldn’t lose his footing. Bits of sharp seashell and buried driftwood poked into the skin of shins. The sand all at once seemed like concrete grinding against his knees. Vega pushed against it as hard as he could with his free hand. Blood pulsed through his palms as he forced himself backwards.
For a slight moment the tug eased and allowed him a reprieve. Vega rotated his arm, jerking and pulling to free himself. No sooner had he pulled than the unknown force got stronger. His ribs burned and his knees were weak, shaking in the last shreds of an attempt to keep him there on the bank.
“Help! Axel!” He lost his breath as his legs gave out, buckling to the side and sliding sideways into the dirt. The heel of his shoe kicked over the mound of mud he’d placed. The heel lodged deep inside, sucking him further in as it stuck, his beat up boot quickly giving way. Axel was nowhere to be seen as Vega struggled, sinking further still. His mouth filled with rocks, dirt, and wriggling bodies of worms as they too struggled to escape their awaiting fate. Squeezing his eyes shut, Vega silently prayed his mama wouldn’t be too upset.
“Vega!” Axel called, searching for his younger brother. He didn’t see Vega’s dark purple swim trunks walking around in the grass anymore. His heart beat hard against his chest as he ran to where he’d left him just moments before. It was there he saw the legs sticking up through the sand and sinking more with each breath.
“Vega! Vega! Vega!” He screamed as he rushed to his brother’s side. He’d disappeared into the sand halfway, his legs kicking and flinging sand in every direction. Tiny rocks and bits of the beach stuck to his lip but it didn’t matter. Axel tried to grab onto his brother’s ankles. Grasping, he missed Vega’s leg as his shoe caught Axel’s eye. Staggering backward, he put a quick hand to his face. Blood. It must have torn the skin. “Please stop! I’m here, I’m here!”
His arms wrapped around his brother’s legs. Gathering every ounce of strength that he could, Axel pulled. Vega jerked about in his arms as he sunk even further into the ground, yanking Axel along with him. His chest burned and his eyes stung. Pulling had only made things worse and now they both were going down.
The earth roared around them and the ground split, sucking the boys into a pit of pitch black. Dirt and sand came off their clothes as they fell down, losing any sense of sight save for the opening they’d fallen through. It had already started to close up around them. Axel shivered as the air grew gradually colder. Vega however, panted as if he had been tossed into the baker’s oven with the bread. The tiny sliver of light illuminated the red stain on his brother’s cheeks then disappeared as the hole closed up completely.
“Accept that you are the darkness, my boys.” A thunderous voice called out and echoed. There was nothing to feel around them. As Vega finally managed to slow his breathing, he looked around. His body no longer ached but there was the feeling that something wasn’t right, maybe even something missing. But he couldn’t name it.
It was then Axel noticed they’d stopped falling. There wasn’t anything to help see, though he couldn’t be sure that there wasn’t anything to be seen. His brother grew still in his clenched hand. He couldn’t even hear Vega’s breathing anymore. The only way he knew his brother was there at all was because he hadn’t let him go the entire time.
“Hello?” He called, each hair standing up on his arm. His voice didn’t echo like the other one had. The sound felt minuscule, barely a whisper against the breath of whatever silence cocooned them. From somewhere he couldn’t see, a force crashed into him. His chest ached and a burning ball pinballed throughout his rib cage, causing every inch to ache even after it dissipated.
Vega’s breathing was shallow. Whatever had briefly gripped him had taken something, though he wasn’t sure what it could be. His body hurt, but felt whole enough he could wiggle every part still. Then the nausea came on. Everything bubbled and he felt as though he might lose his stomach.
“I don’t feel so good.” He held onto his side, keeling closer to Axel.
“Me either,” Axel said. As the two brothers leaned into each other a gentle breeze began to blow, drawing their attention to the crisp, rectangular outline of a door. Axel and Vega clung to each other, fumbling to straighten themselves. Footsteps sounded throughout the darkness and grew gradually louder, though no face came to join them.
“You are hovering in the in-between,” the voice said. “The space in which nothing exists, except you.”
Vega looked in every direction, verifying the truth to those words. It seemed as though there was nothing, but there has to be something behind this. They’d just been playing. An afternoon in the spring had never once ended this way before. Hairs raised on his arms as a low whistle descended like a drop of cool water splashing around them.
“Let us out!” Axel yelled, his fists shaking in defiance of the thing, whatever it was that wanted to play with them today. This thing had visited his nightmares and hung in the darkened corners of his room as he struggled to fall asleep at night. It haunted every moment of his being awake.
“You got yourself stuck in the void. Get yourself out.” The voice laughed. As it cackled, the echoes of it’s sneer crept into Vega’s ears and bore through to his brain. The sounds pounded mercilessly like a drum beat until his temples throbbed and ached the rhythm. He squeezed his eyes shut. The image of a faceless figure grew behind his eyelids. Cheer up kid, I’ll be back again. The man turned away, easing the door shut as he left.
Vega covered his ears but he couldn’t drown out the powerlessness he felt with every repetition of the voices, so similar, familiar, the voice that tucked him in and left him alone. It couldn’t be the same. His thoughts refused to organize, the equations wouldn’t compute, and the conclusion sat on the precipice of uncertainty.
A whispering voice spoke words throughout the darkness. The words were intelligible but they crept up on Axel’s skin like a spider or an autumn chill, perhaps both as an eerie shadow grew from inside of him and laid over his skin like a shroud. He wanted to shake it off but he watched it with cruel fascination. It spread across his body, every fold of his clothes, and the bare skin on his legs. So cold. His limbs felt frozen over and immobile, as they didn’t move when he wanted them to. His face was last. Vega was watching it too, his mouth moving as if to speak but not relinquishing sound. Or maybe Axel just couldn’t hear it as a shrill metallic ringing reverberated throughout the shroud as it gave way.
It was then that Axel disappeared completely.
“No!” Vega screamed into the black, seemingly alone now. Again. Not even the voice had lingered as he now faced the nothingness. No sound. No smell. Not even his own body odor. He turned in every direction, walked several paces in every direction, he thought. There was no telling which way was which, no landmarks. Just nothing.
About the Author
Brenna is a mother of two, painter, avid tea drinker, and the wearer of multiple hats around her home, which she shares with her husband Roy. When she’s not writing or listening to a true crime podcast, Brenna is spending time on her skateboard and traveling with her family to various skateparks around their hometown in Missouri.