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Indulgences

A Gothic Tale

By D.K. ShepardPublished 3 days ago Updated about 12 hours ago 6 min read
Top Story - June 2024
33
Indulgences
Photo by Avi Agarwal on Unsplash

Wump.

“Ouch!”

Wump.

“Ah!”

Wump.

“Stop!”

“You may stand now, Young Mister Coyle,” said Cedric, the butler, as he lowered the wooden paddle.

Andrew Coyle stood straight and rubbed his stinging buttocks. He hated the paddle. He hated Cedric for paddling him. He hated his stepfather for ordering Cedric to paddle him. He hated his mother for marrying his stepfather. He hated his father for dying and leaving them alone.

“Master Millbrook has given instructions that you are to go directly to your chamber and remain there until supper,” Cedric declared.

Andrew tugged on his vest and scowled

He hated his chamber in Millbrook Manor. He hated everything about the monstrous estate. It was cold and dark. Everything smelled old and musty. There were no toys, only rooms full of delicate ugly things he was not allowed to touch.

But he did as he was told and marched grumpily through the dim halls and up the creaking stairs to his chamber. He’d had enough of the paddle for the afternoon.

Sitting on his bed he stared out the window so as to avoid looking at the heinous flowery wallpaper and the portraits of dead relatives. His stepfather, Master Millbrook, was his father’s cousin. Andrew’s father had never shared fond feelings for his Millbrook relations and Andrew felt no fondness for their hideous pictures. Unfortunately, the view out the window was of no great comfort. Everything was always cloaked in mist and there were no good climbing trees, just pointy pines and spiny shrubs. The lamppost down below stood imposingly with its lanterns and cast iron arms.

The painting beside his bed was the worst of them all. It was the reason this chamber had been designated as his. Master Millbrook’s aged mother had declared immediately upon seeing Andrew that he was the spitting image of one of her sons who had died in his youth. The old hag had insisted that Andrew take the son’s old room which featured a portrait of the deceased boy. Andrew hated Master Millbrook’s mother and he hated the dead boy’s painting. In his opinion they did not look similar at all.

Andrew reached into the pocket of his trousers and retrieved a cloth napkin. He unfolded it and stared hungrily at the treasure he had obtained from the kitchen. Two strawberry tarts.

He greedily stuffed one of the tarts into his mouth. He considered eating the second but decided he would save it for after supper since he could expect with some certainty he would not be allowed dessert that evening. He wrapped the remaining tart carefully in the napkin and set it on the table beside his bed.

***

Dinner had been a grueling affair. Andrew had been forced to listen to Master Millbrook lecture him on his lack of responsibility and maturity. Then he’d endured the old woman’s pestering questions and endless stories about people who were mostly dead. All the while his mother sat quietly, looking sullen as always.

Andrew breathed a sigh of relief as he closed the door to his chamber. At last he was alone again. As anticipated he had not been served any pudding and had therefore been eagerly awaiting his tart. He hurried to his bedside only to have his excitement turned to disappointment. The napkin was unwrapped, the tart gone, and only a sprinkling of crumbs remained.

He looked around the room in bewilderment. Could it have been a rat? He’d heard them scurry about on the lower level at times. But there were no dropping or other signs of a rodent.

Still mourning the loss of his sweet and considering the mystery of its disappearance, Andrew readied himself for bed. Just as he was about to extinguish his lamp he glanced up at the painting of the dead boy and something caught his eye. There was a stroke of red outside the boy’s mouth that he could have sworn had never been there before.

***

After a nearly sleepless night spent fixating on the painting beside his bed swathed in the pale glow of the exterior lanterns, Andrew was determined to discover the truth. He crept down to the kitchen at first light and filched another tart as well as a serving of last night’s pudding. He set the tart on his bedside table and the pudding on top of the trunk at the foot of his bed. Then he hid himself behind a chair.

Nearly two hours ticked by without any developments. Andrew was feeling drowsy and was beginning to nod off. But then he heard a ripping sound that startled him into alertness. With wide eyes he watched as a hand extended from the painting to gingerly lift the tart from the bedside table. To Andrew’s horror a chin and face emerged from the painting. A face that he had to admit resembled his own. The hovering hand lifted the tart to the face’s mouth and the sound of chewing filled the once quiet room. When the tart had disappeared the face’s nose took in a great sniff. The ripping sound rang out again and the rest of the body detached from the canvas. The figure of a human boy scurried over to the trunk and began to consume the pudding.

Andrew had been craning his neck to witness the impossible sight, but he’d gotten off balance. He fell into the chair causing it to slide forward. The screeching sound caused the boy from the painting to drop the pudding and peer unblinkingly at Andrew.

As he stood, Andrew’s knees quaked with terror. Should he call out for help? What if the boy from the painting was dangerous? What if he attacked Andrew?

Seconds passed, the painting boy did not speak or move, only stared.

Andrew wondered if this was a dream. Maybe he would blink and the boy would be gone. He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again. The boy was still there. Maybe he should speak to him? Maybe the boy could explain what was happening?

“H-hello,” Andrew managed. “My name is Andrew. What’s yours?”

No reply.

“Are you real?” Andrew asked. He swallowed nervously. “Are you a ghost?”

Still no response.

Andrew glanced behind his shoulder toward the door. And in that moment the boy darted forward. Andrew whipped his head back to see the boy disappearing back into the painting.

***

For the next week Andrew continued to steal sweets and leave them in his room. Some days the boy would emerge in Andrew’s presence and some days Andrew wouldn't be able to wait, but would come back to empty napkins or dishes. He continued to ask the boy questions, but never received any answers. The more he looked at the boy the clearer it became to him that it was almost like looking into a mirror, for the resemblance was striking.

Then one afternoon as he watched the boy eat some petit fours Andrew heard loud footsteps approaching his chamber.

“Someone’s coming,” he hissed at the boy.

The boy didn’t move.

Andrew acted fast and dove under the bed.

His chamber door was found open.

“Young Mister Coyle, the cook reported you had been stealing from the kitchen again. And clearly she was correct.” It was Cedric.

Andrew saw the edge of the paddle dangling just above the floor.

“Bend over,” Cedric ordered the painting boy.

The boy just stared in silence.

“I told you to bend,” said Cedric. “Master Millbrook will be told of your stealing and defiance.”

When the boy remained still, Cedric grabbed his neck and forced him into a bent position. Andrew heard the thumps of the paddle. The boy did not cry out.

“Stay in your chamber until supper,” Cedric commanded before departing the chamber.

Andrew crept out from under the bed. The boy was turned away from him.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t intend for you to take a paddling for me, I swear.”

Andrew jolted as a terrible sound came from the boy. Suddenly the boy turned to face him. There was a wicked grin on his face and Andrew realized the sound was laughter. The boy lunged and grabbed Andrew’s shoulders, shoving him against the bedside table.

There was a terrible sucking sound and Andrew felt himself being pulled back and up. The boy seemed far away now and Andrew’s vision was distorted as though the room was made of shifting threads.

A terrible fear rose inside of him and he tried to scream but couldn’t. He was bound within the painting’s canvas.

The boy from the painting sneered at him. Then said in a voice that sounded like Andrew’s own, “Goodbye, Andrew. If stealing sweets deserves a paddling, I wonder what I’ll get for this?” The boy knocked the lamp to the floor and laughed as little flames caught the rug, then the blankets, then the bedside table, then the wallpaper, and then the painting.

Author’s Note: This was written for Kenny Penn’s Gothic Stories Challenge.

HorrorShort Story
33

About the Creator

D.K. Shepard

Character Crafter, Witty Banter Enthusiast, World Builder, Unpublished novelist...for now

Fantasy is where I thrive, but I like to experiment with genres for my short stories. Currently employed as a teacher in Louisville.

dkshepard.com

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

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Comments (21)

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  • Matthew Frommabout 4 hours ago

    Ohh what a horrific ending! It fit the gothic theme perfectly. Well deserved placement for an excellent challenge. The way you describe how Andrew hated everything at the beginning was also perfectly poignant. The prose there was tonally perfect.

  • Kenny Pennabout 14 hours ago

    Excellent story, D.K.! Poor Andrew, who hated everyone and everything. I felt there was a significance to the painting changing over time to look more and more like Andrew. I wondered if what happened at the end was really just Andrew as if he'd finally cracked. Either way wonderfully told!

  • Hannah Moorea day ago

    Oh, very good, this was engaging and horrific.

  • Ameer Bibi2 days ago

    Wow, it was a very good read Really enjoyed the suspense Keep up the great work Congratulations

  • Rachel Deeming2 days ago

    Crikey! That was bloody brilliant! I was gripped. I'm sorry it's taken me a day or two to get here but I started reading it, haven't been able to return in any great measure and have just devoured it completely, loving every second. This is a great Gothic story, D.K.

  • wow that was intense and I didn't expect the ending at all! Congrats for top story! Well-deserved!

  • Paul Stewart2 days ago

    Oh wowser...there are so many things I need to...want to say...A) loved the setting, the characterisation...and we both took terrible parent backstory approaches lol. Also...loved the concept. While trying to figure out what my story was going to be...the original premise was a Dorian Grey riff...different from your beautifully told, savagely macabre tale, but a take nonetheless, before I decided on my chair thing. I loved everything about this - such a strong entry. It was easy to read and be taken along by it all. Congrats on an excellent entry and brilliant Top Story!

  • Great take on the challenge and a great nod to Dorian Grey

  • Your ability to evoke a sense of dread and intrigue kept me hooked from start to finish. I particularly enjoyed the blend of supernatural elements with psychological tension. Thank you for sharing such a hauntingly beautiful tale.

  • Lamar Wiggins2 days ago

    You have quite the imagination, D.K. I could easily picture the details of everything going on in this world you created. I especially liked this line: - Everything smelled old and musty. There were no toys, only rooms full of delicate ugly things he was not allowed to touch. - Congrats on your TS!

  • John Cox2 days ago

    Wow! The Picture of Dorian Gray as a naughty little boy. Really well done, DK!

  • Well joke's on the painting boy because I think Andrew would rather be trapped in that painting than live his life where he can't even get desert or get paddled when he steals them. But I wonder why the painting boy is able to get out and what's his motive. So intriguing. Congratulations on your Top Story! 🎉💖🎊🎉💖🎊

  • Babs Iverson2 days ago

    Horrific and terrifically written!!!❤️❤️💕 Congratulations on Top Story too!!!

  • Khan2 days ago

    I loved it❤️ congratulations on the top story

  • JBaz2 days ago

    That was a bloody good read. I had hopes of a different ending yet this sufficed quite nicely Well done and congratulations

  • D. J. Reddall2 days ago

    This is superb! Worthy of Poe!

  • Cathy holmes2 days ago

    Wow. That was fabulous. Well done and congrats on the TS.

  • Kendall Defoe 2 days ago

    Beautiful and disturbing...!

  • Wooow DK. It was an amazing story telling. Every line was well crafted. Liked the idea.

  • Christy Munson3 days ago

    D.K., I love this story! You created a wonder with this one. Not only is this piece an exceptional entry in Kenny's challenge, it's a tremendous read that should be highlighted in a collection of short stories. The boy in a painting aspect reminds me of Dorian Gray, but your take goes in a completely different direction. So very well done!

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