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Blackberry Seeds

by BlackThorne


Above her there was only blackness, and around her only a dull, ambient light. The blackness was not sky, but layers of leaves so thick they cloaked the forest in eternal night. She looked up at them from her pit.

Would they let her leave?

She dared not move. Petals from the blackberry flowers dropped onto her face.

There was a sound.

crackle crackle

“Hello?”

“Shhh! They’ll hear you!”

The voice lowered. “Are they nearby?” She could see a pair of eyes glinting in the dark, and the black half-outline of someone against pale blossoms.

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I’ve been hiding here for what feels like days. I don’t dare move. They’ve trapped me.”

“They” were the Owls. They hunted the Forest with claws as long as the branches of bushes, and wings as long as the trunks of trees. Skulls were mixed in with their pellets.

“I think they’re gone for now,” he said. “Do you want me to help you out?”

“Yes, thank you.” Her throat was scratchy and dry, and limbs stiff as she took his hands. In the dimness, she could see he had antlers starting to grow from his head.

“What are those?”

“Happens after you’ve been in the Forest for a while. The moss of it grows on you. In my case, instead of moss it’s antlers.”

She rubbed her scalp, as if expecting to feel hard nubs sprouting. Fortunately there were none.

“How’d you get here?”

“The door. Same as everyone else.”

It wasn’t a real question. All their stories started the same way. They found the door. They went through it, they got lost. And then, after the Forest swallowed them up, they got digested by the locals. Deer with sharp teeth. Wolves with two many eyes, crows with two few. Turtles sprouting with mushrooms.

He asked her how long she’d been here.

“Not very long,” she said. “I’ve mostly just been hiding from the Owls.”

A glimmer of hope suddenly flickered in his eyes. “Really? The door must be nearby, then! Do you want me to help you look for it?”

“Sure.” She pointed through the trees. “I think I came from that direction, so we’ll start looking there.”

“Sounds like a plan,” he replied. “You can call me Clove.”

So they both walked for a while. The blackberry flowers were pale in the dimness, and thinned out into a clearing. In the clearing a woodcutter was splitting logs. They said hello, and he said hello back. He’d been in the forest a long time, longer than Clove. his face was half wood, and his fingers cracked like twigs. Other than returning their greeting, he only gave them one piece of cryptic advice.

“Don’t eat the blackberries. The seeds grow in your stomach.”

Thanking him out of politeness, they walked some more, until they decided it was time to sleep. They didn’t know how long they slept, nor when they woke up. You couldn’t tell when the sun set or rose when it was always dark.

The blackberry flowers wilted and dropped their petals, and turned to hard green fruit. They walked even farther, and the green turned to ripe purples and blacks, and their footsteps became slippery with berry rot. Clove picked some. The air buzzed with flies.

“Didn’t the woodcutter say not to eat them?” she asked.

“That’s just stuff people make up to scare little kids,” he said. “He’s probably crazy anyway.”

He was right, they just tasted like normal blackberries--good. And she hadn’t eaten in a while.

“What are you doing?” she asked Clove. He was trying to force his way through a thick part of the bramble. “If you get cut, the wolves can smell blood, if the Owls don’t first.”

“I’m not going to get cut. Anyways, the best berries are in the mid-Oh.”

“What?”

“Look.”

She looked, through the blackberry branches. They were sprouting from something. There was a bad smell…

“Oh,” she echoed.

It was a body, pretty well rotten. The bushes were rooted in the ribcage and curled up like dark claws, in spine-hooked loops and spirals poking from every inch of the skin. It wasn’t pleasant. So far, all she’d seen were stripped bones. This the Owls didn’t even touch.

“Let’s keep walking,” said Clove. “We’ve already gotten most of the good berries anyway.”

They came to a stream. In the blackness it looked like ink, or oil. Tasted minerally. Her throat still felt prickly. Neither knew how long it’d been since last time they slept, so they had to guess.

After waking they rested a bit longer. Clove caught a frog. It had two heads.

They set out again and walked some more. She looked at her wrist. “Are veins supposed to be this dark?”

Clove shrugged. “I dunno.”

“Are we out of the bramble yet? It still feels like thorns are poking me.”

“I dunno,” He said again. “I feel it too. I hope it’s not poison ivy.”

They kept walking for a while.

“There’s a leaf in your hair,” she said.

“Huh? Where?”

“Right th-Hang on, let me-“ Her fingers jumped out and pulled.

“Ouch! You pulled my hair!”

“Did not!”

“Did too! It hurt!”

They kept walking. After a while they glimpsed part of a cabin through the trees, and headed towards it. They pushed into a clearing, and saw it really was only part of a cabin. Only two of the walls were finished, and a third only went up to their shoulders. Inside were two makeshift sleeping mats, and outside, the cold remains of a campfire. The logs were of the same darkish wood of the trees around them, and the mats of the grass under their feet.

“Looks like someone was thinking of staying a while,” she said.

Clove’s look was grim. “Maybe they gave up trying to leave.”

In any case, something permanent-in a place they soon hoped to escape-wasn’t promising.

Suddenly, the low, soft hoot of an owl whistled through the trees. Their blood ran cold. They could see the flash of eyes between leaves, talons dug into dark branches.

It was looking straight at them.

“Don’t...move…” she whispered, even Clove was already stock-still.

The Owl looked at them, for a very, very long ten seconds.

And then, in a whirlwind of feathers, it was gone.

They both unfroze slowly, like candles warming up.

“Why didn’t attack us?” said Clove, confused.

“Maybe it didn’t see us,” she answered, halfheartedly. She didn’t know either.

Even if the cabin wasn’t promising, it was still a place to sleep. Neither slept well though. Their skin still felt prickly.

In the morning it was sprouting with thorns.

She woke up coughing, and it didn’t take long for her to realize why. Vine was sprouting from her throat, pricking at her lips and scratching her teeth. Tendrils were breaking from her skin, and her hair was hanging with leaves. She looked at clove in a panic, to see he shared her fate. The woodcutter’s words echoed through her mind.

“Don’t eat the blackberries.The seeds will grow in your stomach.”

Clove stood up, leaves rustling. “We must find the door. It’s now more important than ever.”

“Why?”

“It’s not us,” he said. “It’s this stupid forest. First antlers and now this. Once we get back to the normal world it’ll go away.”

And so they set off again, their pace quickened. The tendrils sprouting from her skin lengthened into vines and twined around her fingers.

They walked faster.

The began seeing brambles again, the same kind as before-sprouting from a corpse in the middle. At first, just a few here and there. Then more, and then even more, until they found themselves pushing through thorns.

They walked faster.

Their pace was slowing. Foot upon foot of creaking blackberry vine trailed behind them. It was heavy, and kept catching on dead hands and loops of bramble. The sprouting in her throat made it hard to breathe.

They walked, slower and slower.

Was that the door? It was...she tried to run towards it. She couldn’t. Her legs were tangled in leaves, and her mouth was filled with thorns.

They stopped.

Crunch.

They fell.

Owls have good hearing, and they heard where it came from, and what had happened. Usually they would take advantage of a free meal, but them they wouldn’t touch. They knew better. They knew not to eat the blackberries.


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100 Reviews


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Wed Sep 23, 2020 12:42 pm
Valkyria wrote a review...



Hello, BlackThorne,

This gave me chills! It reads like a Grimm Brothers' fairytale or a Neil Gaimon short. I'm not a big fan of horror, but the fantasy pulled me in, and fantasy is my greatest weakness.

The descriptions are great, and I loved the way you described the thorns growing out of them. Ugh, I felt so uncomfortable.

As for the things I would improve, I agree with JacobMoor. The pace goes a little too quickly in the parts they meet the woodcutter and make their own decisions.

“Hello?”

“Shhh! They’ll hear you!”

The voice lowered. “Are they nearby?” She could see a pair of eyes glinting in the dark, and the black half-outline of someone against pale blossoms.


The introduction of Clove is confusing. I didn't know who was speaking until the end of the quote. I suggest adding some sentences to make it known who the main character was.

Overall, this is a great story with lots of chilling scenes!




BlackThorne says...


thanks! :-)



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Sat Aug 15, 2020 12:08 pm
JacobMoor wrote a review...



Hey Blackthorne!

Really liked the story! Dark fantasy's one of my favourite genres, and it's a great way to take a breather from the usual horror tropes. You're descriptions are vivid, and captivating, loved the one with the thorns poking out of the body, the spine-hooked loops... that was great.

As for improvement, I think you could work on the pace of the thing. At points, the action is kind of rushed, like at the end... their deaths were a little jarring, I think you could've slowed that down a bit. Or the meeting with the woodcutter, that was done quite fast. The danger with fantasy-themed short stories is getting caught up in description and concept; you've balanced it quite well, but there are a few points where plot is brushed over.

As for spelling/grammar, I didn't see too many mistakes. "The moss of it grows on you" doesn't make sense, but I can see where you were going with that. Just touch that bit up a little. And with the "crackle crackle" part, it kind of sounds unwieldy, if you know what i mean?

Other than that, a great read. I'm looking forward to reading the other spooky stories you're planning on writing!

Jacob




BlackThorne says...


thanks! :)



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Wed Aug 12, 2020 10:49 pm
Rosewood wrote a review...



Nice, this was a good spooky story! I loved the direction it took and the strange layout. I only have a couple cases of nit-picking and a few suggestions .

“Happens after you’ve been in the Forest for a while. The moss of it grows on you. In my case it’s antlers.”


I was a little confused in the the second sentence. Were you referring to the moss on the antlers? If so, the second sentence didn't make much sense. If you were referring to the moss in the Forest, that part was tricky to get, but the second would be fine. (Hopefully what I said was understandable. Basically, one sentence messes up the other.)

He’d been in the forest longer than Clove-his face was half wood, and his fingers cracked like twigs.


This sentence felt a little rushed due to the hyphen. You might want to incorporate the given as something much more obvious. Or lengthen it and split it into two sentences. For example, "You could tell he'd been in the the forest a long time, even longer than Clove. His face was half flesh, half wood, and his fingers cracked like twigs."

She woke up coughing, and it didn’t take long for her to realize why. Blackberry vine was sprouting from her throat, pricking at her lips and scratching her teeth. Tendrils were breaking from her skin, and her hair was hanging with leaves. She looked at clove in a panic, to see he shared her fate. The woodcutter’s words echoed through her mind.

“Don’t eat the blackberries.The seeds will grow in your stomach.”


Ah, sorry, I hate to nit-pick but it might be better if you had said "vines" rather than "Blackberry vine". It gives your readers a sense of dreaded realization in the next part when they remember what the vines really are and why they're there.

“Didn’t the woodcutter say not to eat them?” she asked.

“That’s just stuff people make up to scare little kids,” he said. “He’s probably crazy anyway.”

He was right, they just tasted like normal blackberries-good. And she hadn’t eaten in a while.


Clove's response was a bit stereotypical in the story world. I'm not sure what I would've put in your case, but that one was a little obvious. I did like the part where the female character mentioned her hunger. That's always a good way to motivate characters to cast away good instructions.

In many instances in your story, you included some form of "They kept walking." Usually, this would make the story boring or flat out repetitive. Usually, it has me clicking off the story. But not so much here. Something about the way you used it really communicated the useless struggle the characters were facing. I would, at a couple times, prefer "going" over "walking", but that was mainly in the conversations. It helps to differ from the actual action. Just my opinion though.

It was a body, pretty well rotten. The bushes were rooted in the ribcage and curled up like dark claws, in spine-hooked loops and spirals poking from every inch of the skin. It wasn’t pleasant. So far, all she’d seen were stripped bones. This the Owls didn’t even touch.


Ooh, I like this foreshadowing! It took me a few seconds after I'd finished reading the last paragraph to really understand what it had meant... definitely my favorite part of the story!

Other than that specific part I really enjoyed, there was tons of other good stuff! Your descriptions were excellent, the story captivating, with just the perfect touch of character expression, (Such as the "leaf in her hair" situation"). I'm a sucker for woodsy and/or spooky stories, so I'm not totally surprised I liked this one, but you exceeded my expectations in every other aspect! I hope my review wasn't too harsh, but I only tend to write longer reviews on stories I'm really passionate about.

Lastly, I have a couple questions. (Just wondering)

I was just wondering, what made the main characters venture through the door if they knew they would become lost in the Forest?

It might not matter, but what was the female character's name?




BlackThorne says...


thanks so much for the review! :) they didn't know they would get lost in the forest, they went through the door out of curiosity. as to the female character's name...there isn't one. Naming characters is the bane of my existence :-P You might've noticed the description said this was spooky story 1/3. In the next one, in fact, none of the characters have names at all, haha. It's only something I can get away with in short stories.



Rosewood says...


Thanks for answering my questions. And 1/3? I hadn't noticed! But, in that case, I'm really looking forward to parts 2 and 3!



BlackThorne says...


No problem! 2 and 3 will be self-contained stories, they're all spooky shorts I wrote in succession :)



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Wed Aug 12, 2020 10:24 pm
silverquill12 wrote a review...



Hey! Silverquill here, with a review!

Wow! I'm a huuuuuge fan of macabre fairy tales like this one. It reminded me a lot of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. (I don't know if you've read it, but it's extremely good.) Your imagery was lovely and dark, and I got exactly what you advertised in the description!

The overall concept of this is so inviting. I love the forest you give the readers as the setting, watched over by the mysterious and deadly Owls. I especially liked the part about how being in the forest makes you more a part of it, displayed by the woodsman and Clove's antlers. It's very good worldbuilding, and especially impressive in such a short piece. So, good job there!

I also loved the ending. It was satisfyingly chilling and overall finished the piece with the same mood it started in, which is great.

A couple suggestions:

In sentences like

He was right, they just tasted like normal blackberries-good.
and
“I’m not going to get cut. Anyways, the best berries are in the mid-Oh.”

You use hyphens, which makes it look like a hyphenated compound, rather than a break in your sentence. To fix this, I'd suggest using two hyphens (or an emdash if you have one) and putting a space after it, just to avoid confusion.

Another thing: at the beginning, the way you introduce Clove by saying
“Shhh! They’ll hear you!”

He lowered his voice. “Are they nearby?”


I found this a little confusing. I wasn't sure who "he" was. I'd suggest showing that the main character sees a humanoid figure, and then Clove says something, just to let the reader know that another person is entering the scene.

Overall: nice job! I love this genre, and I think you've produced a lovely work within it.




BlackThorne says...


Thanks! :D




This looks like a really bad episode of Green Acres.
— David Letterman