The Forever Ache – Horror Short Story

A young man goes hiking in Southern Europe. He sees something he feels he wasn’t supposed to, and the experience stings.

I remember reading all those scary hiking stories on the internet, and never giving them any credit. 

Besides, we were going to hike in Sicily, and that’s the farthest place away from anything supernatural that can happen. There’s a quality to the island’s summer, a sort of stillness to every moment, as if the sun were to dry up not just water, but time as well. Every leaf, every pine needle and every pebble stands in motionless marble.

It’s a weird thing, but it makes for some amazing moments to capture with a camera, so I had decided to pick up my then-girlfriend and go on a short hike together, maybe even visit Palermo and the Etna volcano on the side.

We packed up lightly, just the two of us, our essential tools, and a few books to pass the time. I didn’t have a huge amount of experience hiking, but after visiting both the Alps, Apennines and Pyrenees, I felt fairly confident.

We landed on a Thursday and would be back next week – it was supposed to just be three days in the middle of nature, away from the overwhelming temperatures of summer in the northern cities. And I stand by that. For the most part, it was just a fun experience, we had some great intimate moments together, and, as far as I know, she only had great memories from those few days. 

That’s because she did not see.

I feel a little silly, to be fair. In the accounts I read on my phone, often too late at night, whipped by some morbid curiosity to find just another nerve-wrecking account of something hungry and gaunt and terrible skittering just behind the trees, or witches in the wood, or man-eating horrors, there’s always some great and terrible thing that you stumble upon. 

I remember mangled deers, standing of their hind legs as they mumbled in devilish tongues. Or pale figures with too-thing limbs and black eyes, escaped from some government facility and now happy to have a snack on passing tourist. 

What I saw was nothing like that. 

It wasn’t scary, or at least the scary part did not come until much, much later. When it was too late to do anything about it, I suppose. 

It happened on our third day. Our last day. 

I woke up on a clear morning, looking down from the valleys onto the sleepy coast, the shimmering sea lighting up in sparkling silver. I had to relieve myself, and even though I was in the company of my girlfriend, I had always been irrationally shy about her watching me take a piss.

So I picked up my phone, checked GPS and battery, and walked to the edge of the woods. 

I smiled at the beauty of the trees – oaks and the occasional pine here, together with short myrtle bushes. The trees grew up thick and straight and nature was in bloom, filling me with a sense of peace and belonging. 

Maybe that was the reason why I felt compelled to take a few steps forward – it was the stark difference in feeling that I perceived from just a few paces away. 

Past a ticket of bushes lay a half-crumbled house, the stones grey and battered, the single archway devoured by vines. 

With my bladder begging me for relief, I decided to emulate dogs and chose the wall as my relief spot. 

And yet, even amidst the peace that the act brought me, I could’t shake a slithering unease. 

As I finished, I took a few steps around the destroyed house, and that was when I noticed the brambles. 

They looked onto the sea, growing amidst the moss on the northern side.

The brambles were strange enough. I had never seen a plant like that: thick, a chalk-white in color, the wood twisted to form small wrinkles, almost looking like skin. And the thorns were a deep crimson, sticking out of the woods like nails out of a mangled finger. 

Fascinated, I walked closer. And closer. The smell, more than the look, hit me. A deep and sickly-sweet floral scent without any blooms. Like overripe peaches. It made me think of some unseen and unnatural life, seeping through the stones and growing slowly but without cease, as silent and as certain as death.

I took another step forward, the scent by now making my head grow dull. As I shifted my position, the pattern of the brambles became clear. It seemed to depict a pair of shoulders, an elegant neck, and the face of a woman, I wouldn’t have been able to say if smiling or frowning. 

My mouth opened in a silent gasp. I took a few step left and right and that face seemed to change, turning her smirk into a scowl, and then back again. 

I stood transfixed, between the smell and the absolute weirdness of the encounter. One could believe something like that could happen by itself, by sheer chance – or maybe it was just me, finding a pattern where none actually was. 

I took another step forward, my hand raising to touch the thorny vines, feel their texture. Would they actually feel like skin?

The smell of peaches beckoned me forward, with its unrelenting vitality, its decaying fertility. 

Then I heard my girlfriend calling me, and the spell, or the daze I had fallen onto, was broken. 

Blinking, I stepped back and did not even look at the brambles. I left the edge of the woods and walked towards my girlfriend, who welcomed me with a smile and a kiss, knowing nothing about what happened. 

I surely did not tell her anything about it. 

I still can’t understand why I was so shaken. It was just a few weird vines, a far cry from the tales of lurking monsters and hungry terrors that had kept me awake during the weary hours of the night. 

At any rate, I decided to leave that place. It just did not sit right with me anymore.

And for a few hours, everything was fine. I even managed to feel relaxed, going back to the greens and golden of the Sicilian summer. 

The weird came back as we sat down to eat. We lay in the middle of a meadow, not a rock or a bramble in sight. But when I touched the grass, I withdrew my hand, yowling. I looked at my fingers, expecting to see blood.

There was none. 

I had to quickly explain my girlfriend that I must have imagined it. 

For a moment, I really felt like I had touched a thick, sharp thorn, tearing through my flesh. 

But then nothing weird from then on. I felt like I could just write it off to nerves.

It did not happen again until three days later, while I was laying in bed alone. I shifted to my right and there it was: something small and sharp, biting into my thigh. I looked down to see no trace and no mark.

But I was sure I had felt it. 

And since then, it happened again. Every time I felt like I could put it behind myself and forget about it, I felt the thorns pierce my skin. Never leaving any mark, not even a patch of red skin. 

And maybe, sometimes, a whiff of a pungent smell, like too-ripe peaches. 

I still don’t understand. 

It’s such a tiny thing. A quick flash of pain, and it’s all over. Nothing to fuss about. It’s probably just nerves.

It’s so different from the stories of encroaching terror. I haven’t seen shadows move outside my window. I haven’t started to see ghosts. I am not throwing up blood. 

It’s just a passing feeling. Something I cannot control. I am almost ashamed to admit it. 

But it doesn’t let go. It never gets worse. It never gets better. 

It’s just… a constant companion, now. Like a companion sitting on my shoulder, reminding me of what I saw that day. Of the brambles like skin and the crimson thorn.

Of the smell of peaches.

And that woman’s face, always shifting between a grin and a scowl. 

I have no idea what all of this means. But sometimes I feel like I stumbled upon something that wasn’t meant for me, for normal people, for human beings.

And I wonder what may lie beyond.

Maybe some day I will look down at the point where those phantom thorns pierce my skin – and see blood at last.

Pic by Darkfang

Author’s Notes: I always wanted to expand on the situation previous to the Fae War and the Faepocalypse. How ordinary humans might have felt and experienced the first telling signs of the Queen of Thorns and the coming change. I do not certainly feel like this is my strongest short story, but it was an interesting experiment to just pen down from this perspective. I hope that, flawed as it is, you may have found some enjoyment out of it. At any rate, it’s interesting to see my writing slowly recede to a 19th-Century style similar to Poe and Blackwood! After all, those are my roots. Thanks for reading.

2 risposte a “The Forever Ache – Horror Short Story”

    1. Hello and thank you for leaving a comment! I am glad you enjoyed the tale! Hope to see you again around here. Take care!

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