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A Fanny Full of Wasps

My sixth entry to the Whispering Woods challenge. All my entries for this challenge are interconnected, but should still work as stand alone stories. I will put my author's note in the comments to avoid messing up the word count. I will link all the stories there, and include a content warning for anyone who feels they need it.

By L.C. SchäferPublished 3 months ago 10 min read
Runner-Up in Whispering Woods Challenge
A Fanny Full of Wasps
Photo by Eric Muhr on Unsplash

I never thought my sister would die. Oh, I know her death was natural, expected. She, of all people, had been firmly rooted in such things, in the give and take of nature. Tender protection of it, and respect for its savage edge. If I'd thought of her end at all, it was the back of her, dwindling from view and swallowed by summer trees. Her stumping off to the woods in her big boots and enormous overcoat with that ancient loyal mutt at her side... and simply never coming back.

We shouldn't have locked her up in a chapel and poured dying flowers on her empty shell. We should have taken her to the forest, and helped her Through. Left her to bask in the softest of sunbeams. The Nevertrees dancing for her, and the green tucking her in, gently, to sleep.

Her dog had the right of it. The folks at the Humane Shelter came to collect him, and he was nowhere to be found. Some said they saw him loping off into the woods, as quick as ever, the grey years falling off him. Gone to meet his mistress. Mind you, people will say any old rot to avoid thinking of death, let alone speaking of it. It would be comforting to think she ended up there, after all. And there is this: no one ever did find that dog.

I kept a sharp eye on her old cottage at the edge of the forest. I visited now and again, mostly just to sit out front and feel her presence. Tend the herb garden a little. Water the hanging baskets, and ask them the questions I should have spoken aloud to her many years before. Imagine my surprise, then, to find a sign stuck to her door.

IF YOU REQUIRE MY SERVICES, PLEASE LEAVE YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS IN THE MAILBOX.

I looked round, and sure enough, the little flag was up. Heart thudding, and ice tingling in my bones, I took out the little notebook and flipped it open. It looked new; chunky and white. Blank. I sighed with relief. And then my fingers picked up what my aging eyes had missed: indentations on the top page. I looked closer: there were scraps left behind in the binding where a page had been torn away.

It's not for me to pry and judge, I told myself, putting the pad away and folding the little flag down.

Oh, but if only I had.

I looked the other way, I tried to be glad that someone had stepped forward to do it now that my sister was gone. If not for the sake of women and girls who found themselves in a tricky spot, then for the rest of us. For what might happen if someone didn't... It didn't bear thinking about.

So why did this dread gnaw at my insides?

The Watkins girl disappeared, and I considered going to the police with the paltry bit of information I had. But if I was right, if Maddison Watkins had sought help to end a pregnancy, and never returned... if those messages at the old cottage were evidence relating to her disappearance... Then it was sure and certain that she'd never be found, now.

The next time I went there, the sign was gone, and so was the notebook. Someone is covering their tracks.

I was sure I was right, but what good was that? I itched and burned to know who it was, to know whether they were malicious or just incompetent.

Children started going missing, a spate of disappearances in this tiny village where nothing much ever happened. It even made the national news.

I hiked up into the woods, and though I wandered there for hours, long after my aching joints begged me to to go home, rest, and have a long hot, bath... It was no good. The Way didn't open. I couldn't get Through. I had the sneaking suspicion that the Nevertrees knew I was there, circling, looking... and they were keeping me out.

I could only think of one other thing to do. I neglected the hanging baskets and the herb garden, I let the front of the little house slip into a state of disuse. No sign appeared on the front door. The little flag on the mailbox stayed down. I packed a bag, and went the cottage late at night, letting myself in with the spare key. I tiptoed inside like a thief, and set up camp in the bedroom.

For many days I sat there, peering through the gap in the curtains. Occasionally I munched on a sandwich or a biscuit, and when my flask of hot tea was gone, I had bottles of water to sip on.

At last, at long last... it happened. Two women met outside, had a brief conversation, and started up the track to the woods. I didn't have much time. I hurried to the door, every joint creaking fit to give me away, and eased myself out.

I strode up the track after them as quick as I dared. Trying to get close enough to see, and stay far enough back to stay unseen. It was a pickle. Sitting for days and left me stiff and aching, and my whole body complained at the sudden change of pace. It wasn't long before I was panting like a bullmastiff.

They were climbing over the stile, the last manmade object before the woods swallow you, and make you believe that the only human things in the whole world are the ones you bring with you. I quickened my step, I mustn't lose them!

Following them into the Forest was my only chance of getting into the Neverwood. It didn't even occur to me until right now, telling the tale, that it was really the following the part that was important. To make sure no other girls went missing. To help if I could.

No, in those moments, getting Through was my only goal. Maybe I wanted to see proof, with my own eyes, that there was something special up there, that my sister hadn't spent a life of solitude and an eye for nothing. Or maybe I just longed to see the beautiful dancing trees, and whisper to them, and hear them whisper right back.

I followed, as close as I dared.

It doesn't matter if they see me, I tried to tell myself. Just be honest and offer to help.

Some bit of me was unconvinced. Some deep gut instinct urged me to stay out of sight until absolutely necessary.

Although I was watching for it, waiting and hoping for it... I couldn't tell you, not if you offered me a million English pounds, exactly when the Way opened.

The Neverwood folds you into herself so subtly, with such practised skill, that you are hardly aware you've been scooped out of the normal world. Then you look around and realise that you don't know this place, and also, that you know it in your bones. Of course you were here a thousand years before you were born, and you've been here a hundred times since, this same springy moss under your feet every time.

The moment I realised where I was, I might have softened into tears except that at that same moment, the Neverwood started trying to turn me back and push me out. Wherever I tried to follow, in the exact footsteps the women ahead had used, a tree was planted in my way. Roots appeared to trip me, and I could swear the path itself shifted course. I shook my head, trying to clear it of the green fuzz, and pressed on.

The Neverwood doesn't like being disobeyed. An echo down the years of my sister leaning close and telling me the secrets of the Trees when we were both children. "You gotta have respeck," she said.

"Please," I whisper, as the two figures get further and further away from me, "Please let me through."

The Trees whispered back.

~youshouldntbehere.itsnotsafe.notforyou.

They weren't angry, then, that my sister stole me away all those years ago.

"I've got to help them. Please."

~shewantedyousafe.

"She would want me to help," I hissed back. "Please! Too many have disappeared!"

No answer, only a resigned sigh like wind in the branches. The pathway ahead was clear. No trees blocking me. They danced right on the edge of my vision, and kept whispering. I couldn't make out the words.

"Thank you," I murmured, and then lengthened my stride again to catch up with the two women.

With every step, my knot in my belly tightened, and felt heavier. Maybe the message from the Trees had just spooked me, but now all I wanted to do was turn tail and run home. I disciplined my feet and kept going.

When the trees thinned out, and green gave way to black, I slowed, watching them. They stood at the edge of a clearing, and I strained my ears to hear what they were saying.

I'm only staying out of sight, that's all, I told myself. It was hardly like I'd remember the place, with it's unctuous black earth and stark black trees. I hadn't been here since I was a baby. My sister's description of it had been vivid, that was surely the only reason this place felt so familiar and full of dread. Every cell in me was screaming to run. I was stubborn. I've come this far.

I inched closer. One of the women had drawn herself up tall and was lecturing the other about the Lord's will.

You will go into the ground, into Hades, and leave your baby there, she intoned in a voice like black ice. And if the Lord wills it, you'll come back.

The girl was crying, but she seemed determined to do this thing. She undressed when she was told to, and started across the clearing, as naked and vulnerable as the day she was born.

Just like that, the image assaulted me, of a tiny baby - me - stranded there, completely alone, and swaddled only in reaching black fingers of earth.

The girl cupped her hands over her face and lay on the ground, sinking slowly out of sight. Her companion stood, ramrod straight, watching the glade swallow her, until she was completely out of sight. Then she turned as smartly as if on parade, and marched away.

Horrorstruck, I bolted across the clearing, dropped to my knees and started scooping at the dirt with my hands. The black trees hissed and clattered their displeasure at me the moment I set foot there, sounding like a tangle of furious wooden snakes. The sound rose and rose. I didn't want to be there for the crescendo. I clawed wildly at the soil.

"You let her her go!" I yelled, "You take what she offers and LET HER GO!"

~itsours!

Her fingers were clammy and slack. I grasped them tight, and hope soared in my chest to feel them twitch weakly. I pulled and pulled and dug and pulled some more, and all the while those snakes were bending closer, stabbing and swiping.

I heaved her out of the ground just as one dark and spiteful talon reachied out of the dark to gouge a red line on my face. I ducked and twisted away, pulling her with me. Together, we stumbled out of the glade.

"She said I was going to Hell," the woman sobbed.

"Oh, don't mind her," I said. "She's got a wasp's nest where her fanny ought to be. You just get warm, and let's get you home."

"But my clothes," she said, confused. "Where are my clothes?"

My blood boiled. Evidence! She took the evidence. Murderer! I gave her my coat, and we hurried through the Neverwood, back to the Ordinary. I'd have liked to have slowed down, and spoken to the trees, see if they'd talk to me about my sister. But blood was already trickling down the woman's legs, and she could hardly stay up straight. I knew, somehow, that I'd not be able to come back. Regret stabbed at me, and I shoved it aside.

We made a stop at the cottage so she could get cleaned up and I found her some clothes. I considered, again, going to the police, but the woman would hear none of it. I walked her home.

I spent time at the church. I liked the hush, it reminded me of softness, and green whispers. I knew I'd see her there, eventually, and I was right. I didn't let on that the Way was closed to me, then, only that I'd seen her in the clearing. Suggested what might happen if she took anyone else up there and came back alone.

The girls whisper to each other, now. The last one to come back from the forest takes the next one when the time comes. It works.

It doesn't matter if you believe me, really. I just want you to help me go back to those woods. If I'm just a mad old lady, as you suspect, it will just be fresh air and memories and no harm done. It's been so long since I've been outside, seen proper trees.

If the Way opens for me, as I think it might...then I'll go Through. And if I disappear into moss and green trees... then, still, no harm done. Better than a chapel and dying flowers. A summer moment, spun out forever, with the sun shining on my face. And maybe there will be a dog, grown young again, and my sister not far behind him. Maybe.

Short StoryFantasy

About the Creator

L.C. Schäfer

Book-baby is available on Kindle Unlimited

Flexing the writing muscle

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Sometimes writes under S.E.Holz

"I've read books. Well. Chewed books."

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Comments (23)

  • Novel Allenabout 15 hours ago

    A powerful story, such evil and lies told to appease the horror of some souls. Each one helping one...and so the story goes on.

  • Zayn 5 days ago

    Amazing story keep uploading

  • The passage skillfully explores themes of grief, the cycle of life and death, and the difficult choices individuals face when confronted with ethical ambiguities. We are very happy to read this work and deeply moved, , “liked" it, and hope to read more of your works, thank you very much for sharing this wonderful journey of the soul, subscribed.

  • jameel Nawaz22 days ago

    "Beautiful content! I support you and appreciate your support for me. Together, we can achieve great things! 🌟😊"

  • Kenny Penn2 months ago

    This was a fantastic read, L.C. Really immersive and a beautiful telling. The ending was sad but satisfying and magical, congrats on the runner up

  • Joe O’Connor2 months ago

    This was a tense and taut read L.C., and things from the first half began to be revealed more in the second. You created a menacing wood, and I liked the bit where the narrator fights to get her way through. Spooky concept, but human too.

  • Congratulations on the win!! I enjoyed all the entries of yours I read for this contest

  • Anna 2 months ago

    Congrats on the win!!🥳

  • Wooohooooo congratulations on your win! 🎉💖🎊🎉💖🎊

  • I never did put all the links here did I! Here they are: The Nevergreens: https://vocal.media/fiction/the-nevergreens Deep in the Neverwood: https://vocal.media/fiction/deep-in-the-neverwood The Speaking of the Trees: https://vocal.media/fiction/the-speaking-of-trees That Infernal Clock: https://vocal.media/fiction/that-infernal-clock God is Empty, Just Like Me: https://vocal.media/fiction/god-is-empty-just-like-me

  • John Cox2 months ago

    Returning to say congrats on placing in the Whispering Woods challenge!

  • Christy Munson2 months ago

    Congratulations 🍾

  • Raymond G. Taylor2 months ago

    Congratulation on your win. Truly magical

  • Babs Iverson2 months ago

    Congratulations on the runner up win!!!🥰🥰🥰

  • Cathy holmes3 months ago

    This is such a wonderful series. I previously read a couple of them, and now am caught up. The whole thing is truly outstanding. Good luck in the challenge.

  • Caroline Craven3 months ago

    I’ve enjoyed all of your challenge entries but this was so good. If this isn’t on the list of winners I’ll be surprised.

  • Another spellbinding piece to this collection!

  • Blake Booth3 months ago

    Best of luck to you in this! This was a really well done piece.

  • Blake Booth3 months ago

    Wow. You did so much in this. I read it twice and I am glad I did. The uncertainty and the not knowing, but being at peace with whatever comes—it was powerful. Your final paragraph was splendid.

  • Alex H Mittelman 3 months ago

    Great story’! Probably going to win. Question though, did the main character find a cult? And was “the way” that opened a portal or like a portal? Were they tree demons that ate people… just making sure I got it right! Great story, enjoyed a lot! This should be a movie! This is either getting top story or winning or placing! 😀

  • John Cox3 months ago

    Absolutely wonderful, magic storytelling, LC. You are a master!

  • Esala Gunathilake3 months ago

    Well written. Congratulations!

  • Kendall Defoe 3 months ago

    As someone who seriously misread the title of this piece, I was damn impressed by where you took this story! 🌳

L.C. SchäferWritten by L.C. Schäfer

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