The Horn

#picturefiction #flashfiction

 

Mary ran as fast as she could across the glade; Billy was closing the distance quickly. Her heart pounded so hard she thought it would burst through her chest but she refused to slow; she would not let him catch her.

Mere yards from the vine covered cliff face she felt Billy’s hand touch her shoulder.

“Gotcha.”

Mary dipped her shoulder and charged the last few yards, escaping his grip. She skidded to a halt as she touched the vines and spun to face her pursuer. Whoever said women didn’t sweat had never tried to outrun the star quarterback of the Gunpowder Ridge High School football team. Sweat poured down her face and body, she knew she must look a mess but it was worth it to finally beat Billy at something.

“Tough luck slow poke, you jut got beaten by a girl.”

Billy looked as fresh as when the sprint from his pickup had begun. Being a star athlete made a race like this a mere warm up for him. A look of annoyance crossed his face but he nevertheless bowed deeply like an old fashioned courtier.

“I bow to your grace and speed my lovely. Now how about a kiss?”

He moved chest to breast with Mary. She pushed halfheartedly against his shoulders attempting to move him away.

“I’m sweaty and smelly.”

“Just the way I like my women.”

Billy leaned in and nuzzled Mary’s neck. She gave him another token shove but had to admit that he was turning her on and wrapped her arms around his broad shoulders. She turned her head to the left as he continued nibbling and sucking on the soft flesh of her throat; she was going to have one heck of a hickey to show the other cheerleaders. Her eyes snapped open as he delivered a rather energetic love bite and she noticed a dark hollow behind the hanging ivy.

“Stop. Stop. Damn it Billy stop.”

She pushed his head back from her throat. He looked like a puppy that someone had just spanked without reason.

“There’s something behind the ivy over there.”

She pointed out the hollow to Billy. Curiosity aroused, he abandoned his sexual advances and pulled aside the strands of ivy.

“It’s a cave.”

“I never knew there were caves here.”

“Me neither. I just saw the ivy and never thought of looking behind it. Besides, people don’t come to Mother’s Glade to sight see.”

Mother’s Glade was the place where generations of teens had made out and lost their virginity; spelunking was not something which ever crossed their minds.

“Wait here, I’ll get a light.”

Billy sprinted back across the glade to his rusty pickup truck and was back in a matter of minutes with a large Maglite.

The dazzling beam lit the narrow opening as brightly as the sunlit glade outside. The cave was barely wider than Billy’s shoulders and his head cleared the roof by mere inches.  The cave curved to the right after a dozen yards and opened into a large chamber.

“Wow,” both teens breathed the word into the silence.

The chamber had started as a natural opening but someone had expanded it into a large hexagonal chamber. The walls were the native rock but had been polished until they sparkled in the beam of the Maglite. The floor of the chamber was smooth and level with fine lines etched into it forming a spiral pattern leading from the center out to the walls. In the center was a pedestal upon which stood a large animal horn in a holder. It had a silver band attached to the wide end and carvings etched along its length. Directly behind the horn, the wall of the chamber was incised with a bas relief sculpture of a female shape. It was faceless and rudimentary in form. The image was Rubenesque with pendulous breasts and a huge, clearly pregnant, belly. One arm was raised and held a horn, clearly a representation of the one on the pedestal.

“What the hell is that?”

“It’s the Venus of Laussel.”

Billy looked at Mary as if she had suddenly spoken ancient Greek.

“Dad’s an archaeology nut and I remember that from one of his books because it’s so strange looking. It’s supposed to be some kind of fertility goddess, the Great Mother.  Wait, calling this place Mother’s Glade makes sense now. Wow, I wonder who carved all this?”

“I don’t know but I don’t think anyone’s been here in a long time.”

To counterpoint his words, Billy focused the Maglite beam on a skull. It was yellow with age and covered in dry, dead, vines. The dead vines spread out below the skull as if trying to form its body.

“Where’s the rest of the body?” Mary clutched Billy’s arm, placing him between her and the ancient skull.

Avoiding the skull and brittle vines, Billy urged Mary forward until they stood at the pedestal. The horn was clearly a drinking horn but the symbols and words carved into its surface were unfamiliar to both teens. Billy looked inside the horn and was surprised to see that it was nearly filled to the brim with a dark fluid.

“It’s full of some liquid. I wonder what it is.”

“Whatever it is, it’s got to be bad by now. Leave it alone.”

Billy considered himself a man of action, a risk taker; he took Mary’s warning as a challenge. Before she could object he plunged his left index finger deep into the liquid. It was thick and warm. It reminded him of how motor oil felt when he drained it from his truck.

He pulled his finger from the liquid and saw that it was a dark, amber fluid.

“It’s warm and oily, maybe it’s something you rub on your skin, like suntan oil or something. Here, feel.”

Without waiting for permission he wiped his finger across Mary’s cheek eliciting a shriek and a slap which rocked his head.

“You idiot, what if it’s poison?”

“Oh come off it Mary, it’s—” Billy doubled over as a cramp ripped through his abdomen. He staggered back from Mary and fell to his knees dropping the flashlight.  His entire body felt like he was too close to a heat lamp but the worst pain was centered on his left index finger. The finger felt like it was on fire and the burning pain was spreading up his hand and arm.

Mary screamed as Billy fell to his side. His left hand and arm were covered by the amber oil and it seemed to be spreading to the rest of his body with lightning speed.

Mary grabbed a handkerchief from her pocket to wipe the goo from her face  but she doubled over with cramps and a fire ignited on her cheek.

Both teens rolled on the floor screaming in pain as the amber fluid spread across their entire bodies. After what seemed an eternity the screams ended and both teenagers lay still. In the light of the flashlight tendrils covered in small green leaves burst through the skin of each corpse. The vines grew rapidly and as they grew the bodies shriveled and disappeared, consumed to feed the unnaturally growing vegetation. As the batteries died and the light flickered out the only signs of the two lovers’ existence were their gleaming skulls, wrapped in flowering vines.




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