Cupcakes and Fingernails – Finale
Horror Fiction Stories
Senses dimmed, she only took notice of the gravel digging into the back of her head and the clear evening sky above. Whoever had decided to build a tiny park in the middle of a factory complex was Jennifer’s favorite idiot. Even past the throbbing of her muscles, she could still feel the pleasantly cool air and the grass tickling her elbows.
The voice snapped her back to reality. Jennifer sat up straight like a vampire to find Wendy staring at her from the middle of an emptied fountain and a spray-painted pentagram. She sat flat on the ground, her hands bound together by thick rope and Paracord that looped around her feet. While not as injured and beaten as Jennifer, Wendy was just as dirty, still wearing her Gateau shirt from days ago. Even at her worst, Wendy appeared only annoyed at the circumstances.
Jennifer dropped back down onto her back, her head still facing Wendy.
“Hi,” she gasped. She began to close her eyes to pass out before she snapped them open again. “Wait. Fuck. I’m here to save you.” Jennifer groaned as she got to her sore feet and limped across the grass to the fountain. She dropped in front of Wendy and used her one good arm to fumble with the knots tied to stakes hammered into the ground.
“I can’t believe you came to help,” said Wendy.
“Well, I couldn’t really let you die, could I?” said Jennifer. She wiped sweat off her forehead with the back of her arm, but instead left a bloody smear.
“No, I mean I can’t believe you came to help.”
Jennifer dropped the bundle of knots and shot a world-weary look into Wendy’s eyes.
“I fucking hate you, Wendy.”
Wendy was about to respond before her eyes locked over Jennifer’s shoulder and her face blanched.
“What is that?”
Jennifer snapped her head around. Across the park stood the lich, but far worse for wear than he had been in Alex’s room. His weight was shifted heavily onto one side, as if one of his legs was broken. His robes had been nearly charred to cinders by the black fire that burned from underneath. Even through the thick smoke, the lich was visibly twitching and convulsing with the effort to stay upright. Only his mask, standing in contrast to the black mass, remained composed.
He blinked forward across the grass, leaving burned and dead stalks in his wake. The smell of burning meat wafted toward them. Jennifer buried her nose into her arm, but Wendy was in no such position. She held her breath for short jumps of time, but would begin to cough violently with every inhale. Jennifer had to wrench her attention away from the lich to focus on Wendy’s binds. The knots were either a childishly tangled mess or a masterful technique, but she couldn’t unwind the rope in either case. Jennifer chanced a glance over her shoulder.
Whatever energy it took for the lich to jump distances had apparently become too exhausting, as he had started to ponderously walk toward the fountain. His heavy steps kicked up tails of ash from the plant life his feet killed. He even stumbled once, a misshapen, blackened object falling from his sleeve to smolder and crack on the ground. As he regained footing, the lich raised his blue eye to peer into Jennifer’s. The black atrocity had once been human, but had given that up even long before that night.
At the very end, at least his hate was still human.
The lich made one last effort to jump between the last few feet between he and Jennifer. She jumped to her feet, about to run, but heard Wendy’s panicked struggles at her feet. Instead, Jennifer took a step back, planted her right foot in front of Wendy, bent her knees, and stood her ground as she glared up at his white face.
Its hand shot out of the smoke and wrapped its fingers around her forearm. Jennifer instantly screamed in pain and fell to her knees. Her dislocated shoulder a distant memory, agony ripped her brain to pieces as she pulled and thrashed and kicked at the lich’s immobile grip. Her fingers ripped at the air and even tried to claw for his hanging robes. She watched through watering eyes as sharp bones split through the lich’s fingers and slid into her arm like pale needles. Her skin around his grip began to turn grey and shrivel into a leathery texture. Her blood began to literally run cold as her movements became harder and harder to make.
Jennifer’s strength bled away as the pain stripped her to the bone. A thin line of drool fell from her mouth to her shirt as her eyelids grew heavier and heavier. Bile worked into the back of her throat as the cold from her arm crept ever faster underneath her flesh. Her legs had gone completely dead as her body began to give in. The lich calmly reached his right arm to grasp Jennifer’s left, sliding his necrotic fingers to her wrist.
With a hot sizzle, the lich shrieked and dropped her arm, pulling his hand away.
Blinking, Jennifer dimly turned her eyes toward her arm. Her tattoo, her father’s signature, glowed faintly with an orange light. It pulsed silently like a second heartbeat and warmed her from the inside. As it spread, her mind snapped open with a gasp.
Magic is based around symbols.
Symbols have power.
Trembling, Jennifer clambered to her feet and rose to meet the lich face-to-face. His shock at the unexpected resistance only fueled his fury, which was the only thing sustaining him. He raised his right arm to wrap its fingers around her face.
Jennifer was faster. In little more than a second, she reached into her shirt, snapped the small ankh from her necklace, and plunged it into the lich’s glowing eye.
Black flames erupted into new life as the lich bellowed with deep anguish and clutched his face. It withdrew the tendril bones from Jennifer’s arm and stumbled backward into the grass howling and thrashing like a wild animal. He clawed at his face, trying to pick the ankh from his eye. He angrily tore aside the mask and threw it to the ground, where it shattered like glass and left no residue. The black robe and flames fell away into nothingness as well.
In place of the lich was a skeleton, covered in a thin layer of opalescent skin. It pulled at its face, lipless teeth gnashing at the air. A thin smoke began to issue from its eye socket as it renewed its cries. In an instant, the skeleton’s head caved inward, orange flames and sparks spilling out. It stopped its frantic writhing and collapsed to the ground. The fire spread through its bones, cracking them from the inside.
By the end, all that remained of Alex was a thin coat of ash tipped on blades of grass.
Jennifer watched carefully that there were no other tricks. As she did, she could feel the warmth spreading back into her right arm and could even begin to sense a light tingling in her fingers. She turned to face Wendy, immobile in shock. Working her stiff fingers, Jennifer squatted down and began to work leisurely on the rope.
“Y’know what I want?” she said. “I want a god damn cupcake.”
more by WILL HEMLEPP
photograph from unsplash.com