The final challenge for this version of Spookymilk Survivor is my winning entry to the Create-a-Challenge round.
Tell a story in six parts from six points of view. Once a character’s point of view is used they do not appear in the remainder of the story.
I – The Hired Help
The sun was almost completely blocked out by the trees surrounding her. She had been walking for what seemed like miles while the forest darkened around her. Stopping, she pulled out the map her employer’s wife had given her, but it was too dark to read. She wasn’t lost, just stalling. Everyone knew where the Eater’s cottage was from when they were young and dared each other to get as close as they could before their courage failed. Having never gotten particularly close as a youth, she cursed her employer for dying at such a creepy hour, forcing her to have to enlist the Eater’s assistance in almost complete darkness.
The cottage was just ahead. She steeled her nerve and approached slowly. No evidence of habitation was visible, the door hung open, but the interior was so dark that nothing was revealed. She tried not to think of all the stories of black magic that swirled around in whispers whenever the Eater came up in conversation, and reached out to rap on the doorframe.
“Why are you here?” The rattling whisper almost sent her sprinting back into the forest, but she held her ground.
“My employer has died, we require your services.”
Silence from the house. Until, suddenly, the Eater appeared out of the darkness, and, without a word, strode off into the forest toward her employer’s home.
II – The Wife
A crash from behind startled her. She turned to find her son had attempted to sneak in and run off with the mixing bowl that contained the remainder of the sweet cake batter. He had tried to catch the bowl with his damaged left hand, the one burned to unrecognizability three years ago, and now he stared at the betraying hand with a look of hatred and disappointment. Before she could say anything, he hid those feelings and put on his best innocent face. “What are you making, mother?”
“It’s not for you, it’s your father’s funeral cake.” She took the pan from the oven and set the single small human-shaped cake aside to cool for a moment. “You need to be watching the front walk to let me know when the Eater gets here.”
Fear flashed across her son’s face. “Why is the Eater coming?”
A question she had been wrestling with all day, truth be told. For what seemed like the eighteenth time, she convinced herself that she had done the right thing. It was going against her husband’s wishes, but there were larger things at stake here. Her husband had been insistent that the Eater not be called, but without that ritual, he would never be absolved of his sins. She looked at her son’s shriveled, useless arm and reminded herself that her husband needed all the help he could get.
Trying to sound convincing, for both her sake and her son’s, she answered, “The Eater is coming to forgive.”
III – The Killer
I told him his kid should be the Eater. That was the decision of the town, and he only got around it because people were afraid of what he would do if they persisted. He already set his own son on fire to keep him from being named the Eater. His exact words were “If I can’t have him, no one can.”
No one could believe he would do such a thing, but everyone was scared of what he would do next. So, instead it’s my son out there in the forest. I can’t even say that anymore. My son is gone, destroyed by the sins of everyone in this town. Because of that man. So I saw him alone this evening and I told him all of that, gave piece of my mind. He took a swing at me. I didn’t stop swinging until he stopped moving.
I wish I felt worse about it, but I think he still hurt me more three years ago than I hurt him tonight.
IV – The Dead Man
The hot cake burns my chest. I wish that I could feel it, but even though I can’t, knowing that it does is some comfort.
The Eater enters the room, he is impossibly tall, with a smooth, expressionless face. I know that he has waited a long time for this moment, but it doesn’t show anywhere on his face. He closes the door, and stands over me. Quietly he murmurs words that I can’t make out. I can feel myself detaching from my body, With each sentence he utters, a plume of black comes out of me and is absorbed into the cake. I can feel the sins leaving me, the lies, the lustful thoughts, the lustful actions, the moments of weakness, each one lifts a small weight off my spirit, but all of these are insignificant compared to the one that I cannot let go.
His murmurs have turned to firmly spoken words.
I give easement and rest now to thee dear man…
He lies. I know there is no intention of providing either of those things. I hold to this last sin as tightly as I can. It has defined my life, the moment that I rained down violence of the worst kind upon my own flesh and blood. How can the Eater take this sin to be his own? The cake is putrescent and bloated to my eyes from what it has absorbed to this point. An image of that final sin exploding the pastry and splattering the walls with the foul black sin of my life crosses my mind. I have already visited my sins upon too many of those I love, this last one is mine and mine alone.
V – The Eater
I have never had a fight quite like that during a ritual, but at last the final sin has been expelled in a plume of black that dwarfed anything I had ever seen. Taking a second to compose myself, I prepare to undertake the final step.
I spit on the cake.
I never considered Eating this atrocity of a confection. After I was exiled, I waited only for the day that I would be called to this house and could deny that final absolution. Things won’t go back to before, there is no fixing that. Once you Eat, things change. People can sense the sin you have taken on, they don’t want to be around you for any reason. Why they can stand it on the person who actually committed the sin, I haven’t been able to figure out.
Leaving the room, I see the son sitting quietly across the hall. Still boiling from the ritual and the revenge, I want to rub his face in what I have done. I grab him out of the chair. He fights against me, but his deformed arm is useless and he cannot break my grasp. I carry him to the door of the room I just left.
I stop before re-entering the room. There’s no point. This kid won’t do anything. Unforgivable things were done to me, but something worse had been done to him. I put him down and turn away. As soon as I’m out of sight of that house with all its rotting sin I begin to run back to the forest.
VI – The Son
Tears are streaming down my face. The cake is bitter from the start. I must finish Eating, to complete the ritual. Each bite overwhelms me with the awful taste of that night I was disfigured. It doesn’t matter. Tonight, I’m the Eater, and the Eater has come to forgive.
I give easement and rest now to thee dear man.
Come not down the lanes or in our meadows.
And for thy peace I pawn my own soul. Amen.
I’m writing this note before judging: I really like this entry as it is now. Considering this season had quite a few last-second entries that weren’t exactly as I envisioned them, it was satisfying to go out knowing that I had an entry I felt good about. Both of the other contestants are more than capable of topping this, so I’m not counting my prize money yet, but I think this will be a strong entry that can hang with anything they come up with.
I’ll be back to post judges comments and results later. Wish me luck!
K: Originality: 5. At times it reads like verything from Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” to Red Riding Hood, but this one does a good job of creating a myth all its own.
Use of Each Character: 4. There is nothing particularly wrong with the use of the characters, but each section reads in a very similar tone, which didn’t allow the emotions and psyches of each character to shine through. The characters themselves are very interesting; I just wanted a touch more of a voice for each.
Effectiveness of the prose: 5. I wanted more from the character standpoint, but the plot worked, I quickly understood the new world I was thrust into, and I was engaged. I read it a couple of times to get the full effect (I read all of these twice, in the end), and understanding this world and watching the story unfold was equally powerful the second time.
B: It never ceases to amaze me the originality that can come from this competition. Not sure I’ve seen anything like this (though it vaguely reminds me of Stephen King’s Thinner). Despite this world being unknown to me, I learned its rituals and rules very quickly. I am also a sucker for (short) stories where there is no hero, as I have fewer expectations as to where the story might lead. Beautiful story.
Originality (1-5) 5
Effective use of each character (1-5) 5
Overall effectiveness of the prose (1-5) 4
28 out of 30 – First Place!
I won! Holy crap. This was a crazy good final challenge, go over and read the other entries, they were all awesome, and the scores were really close. I’m psyched that I won this thing, probably more so than my first win. Thanks again to Spooky for putting this thing together, and to Beau for judging and all the competitors for being so incredibly challenging.
I’ll probably sit the next round out, but you never know, I may return to seek that elusive third championship ring in some future version. Stay tuned.