A work in progress…

“You sure that’s it?” Ritley asked as he picked at his rotting teeth with a splinter of wood, looking towards the little cottage that sat alone in the forest, a thin spiral of smoke coming from the chimney.

“Yeah, that’s it. No other cottage for miles,” Flick nodded towards a tree that seemed to have a face carved into it, “And that’s the marker there ain’t it? Ain’t that what Pogey said? A tree with a face.”

Ritley grimaced and flicked something nasty off the tip of his finger, “Yeah, but if all that loot is really in there, then why’d Pogey give it to us in the first place? That’s what I want to know. Somethin’s not right.” He leaned against a tree as if he’d decided against the robbery after all. “I got a bad feelin’, That’s all.”

“No, no you got him all wrong. Pogey’s just a lazy ol’ bugger. He’ll be expectin’ us to share, that’s what. But we’ll just disappear, ya see?” Flick wiggled his fingers to illustrate their ‘magical’ disappearance after the robbery, keeping all the loot for themselves and skipping town. Ritley shook his head, still unconvinced, so Flick pressed on. “Just think, Rit, more gold than you’ve seen in all our business together, and rubies– Pogey said there’d be rubies too.”

“You never said nothin’ to me about no rubies!”  He turned to face his accomplice, scowling.

“Oh, I forgot. That’s all!” Flick shrugged innocently, taking a step back, but Ritley saw his grubby little nose twitch like it always did when he lied.

“You filthy dog! You were gonna filch the rubies for yourself!” He took a step towards the other man. His tall lanky frame, towering over the other who was short and thick and cowering beneath hairy arms. “I should wring your fat neck! I didn’t even–” he stopped. The cottage door had swung against the house with a loud bang, having been kicked open by one bare foot of a smallish crone whose hands were filled with a bucket and a sack full of something that altogether seemed bigger than she herself was.

Both thieves watched quietly as the little old woman hobbled down toward the stream beneath her burden. They looked at each other, two filthy smiles spreading over their faces. “This might be easier than we thought.” Flick whispered, having expected to be slipping in at night with the greater chance of getting caught, “looks like she’s gone to do her wash.  That should be enough–” He gasped as Ritley elbowed him in the chest.

Shut up and let’s go.” He growled, still sore about the rubies. He slunk out of the shadows like a wraith, his lumpy friend walking close behind, clutching at his chest with a frown. He wanted to complain, but kept his mouth shut, thinking maybe he deserved that one for the lie.

The door to the cottage was half opened when they reached it and Ritley slipped inside, quickly turning to stop Flick dead in his tracks. “You stand watch,” he gestured with two fingers from his own eyes and then toward the path the crone had taken.

“Wha–” Flick started to argue but then snapped his mouth shut once again in a tight line, knowing he’d not win this argument. Someone did have to keep watch after all and he supposed this was his punishment. He crossed his arms over his chest when a harrumph and turned to face the forest trail, looking over his shoulder every now and then to take inventory of what his friend lifted. He grumbled under his breath, hardly paying attention to the task he had been set for.

Ritley was loud in his doings, throwing every gold object he found into an old sack he’d brought along. All good thieves carried a good sack on them. Flick eyed him diligently as he tossed one thing after another inside the bag, gold clanging on gold; a statue of a goddess, a gold pan, gold jewelry. “What’s one old woman doing with this much gold, ya think?” Ritley picked up a golden flask from the mantle over the little fireplace, turning it this way and that in the light. “Such strange markings,” he wondered.

“Pogey said she was a witch. She takes payment for her services only in gold. She really likes gold. Like a dragon she is, with all this treasure hoarded away.” Flick had turned more towards Ritley now, captivated by the odd flask as well. “That’s a nice piece,” he breathed in awe.

“Keep watch!” Ritley hissed, but it was too late.

“Who are you?!” Came a sharp little voice in the distance, “And what are ye doing in my home?!” Flick turned around wide-eyed to see the little crone drop her sack and bucket, hobbling faster towards them. She brandished a solid wood walking stick in the air that he had not seen before.

“Times up, Rit!” Flick slapped the door framed in warning and scurried off into the woods as quick as his fat little legs could take him.

“But the rubies! I didn’t– oh blast!” Ritley tossed the flask into his sack and hurried out the door just barely dodging the old crone’s cane as she swatted at him.

“Come back here, you thieves! You rotten thieves!” She threw the cane as far as she could, two feet, and growled like an angry little animal. “Curse ya then,” she grumbled, “all thieves be cursed for yer cowardice– and lazy!” She stood in the door a minute longer, watching her precious gold disappear into the woods. She shook her head, brows furrowed, and pulled the door shut behind her.

Moving around the little cottage, she saw her goddess was missing, and some jewelry and then she looked at the mantle where the flask had been. “Ooh,” she touched the spot on the mantle where the dust lay in the shape of the flask and tutted, “you aught not have taken that, you unlucky fools.”

Later that evening, under the full moonlight and many miles away, Ritley and Flick sat around a small fire trying on the many gold rings, chains and gloating over their loot. “That old bitty,” Flick laughed, “we lifted out right under her nose, didn’t we?” He laughed and dug around in the sack for more of the plunder to fondle.

“Right under,” Ritley agreed with a chuckle. He watched as Flick pulled cups and a platter, then the flask from the bag, “Oh yeah, the flask. Pass me that.” He reached for it but Flick jerked away smiling.

“Not before I have a nip,” he laughed, easily dodging Ritley’s attempts as he was weighed down in gold necklaces and a lap full of treasure. Flick took a long sip and corked the flask, tossing it to his friend. Ritley caught it, uncorked and took a long swallow for himself.

“Eck!” They both tried to spit the mucky taste from their mouths, “Tastes like straight mud,” Ritley eyed the bottle suspiciously.

“Straight mud,” Flick agreed, wiping his tongue on his shirt in disgust. “That’s not proper drink at all.” He spat again.

Ritley turned the flask upside down and what looked like water poured out. They booth looked at the puddle on the ground, still spitting and gagging. Then they both gasped, “Flick?” Ritley pointed at the little pool. What once had been clear water, now turned red as blood and then black, the nearby flames reflected in the tarry substance. “What in the bloody hell–” he had started to speak but was cut off, his voice gurgling and then gasping for air, Flick did the same.

Their eyes both bulged, their blood feeling afire. The pain was exquisite, beyond all measure of human endurance. Bones broke and reformed over and over, every hair follicle like shards of glass as new, coarse hair pushed through. Nail beds and gums were pierced as thick,  razor sharp claws and teeth erupted. Both thieves screamed in horror and pain, the forest spinning in shades of fur and fangs, until their screams became one unified howl between two newly born werewolves.

They looked to one another, fearful and confused in their new forms. A small whimper came from the werewolf that had been Flick, a growl came from the werewolf that had been Ritley. He felt the raw and wild inpulse to attack his accomplice for getting him into this mess, but something else distracted him… distracted both of them. In each of their mouths, a thirst raged like they had never felt in their life. Every taste bud was on fire and built uncomfortably to a boiling point of animalistic hunger. Ritley growled in fury and then howled, giving into his new, feral nature. He ran off into the night and the werewolf Flick followed.

The next morning, both thieves awoke naked and bloody on the forest floor, leaves and dirt pasted to them by the gore. They looked to one another bewildered as the memories trickled in. Flick shivered at the thought of the deer he’d felled, ripping its throat out in a shower of red. Ritley pulled a piece of raw flesh out from between his front teeth and spat, then pushed himself up on his feet. “What happened?” Flick asked, his throat hoarse and raw.

They both thought on the question for a moment and then….”The witch!” They said in unison.

“We’ve got to take everything back! She must have cursed us for taking her treasure.” Ritley looked around for something familiar, not knowing how far they wandered from camp.

“You smell that?” Flick sniffed the air again.

“Campfire,” Ritley smelled it too.”Hurry!” Flick nodded in agreement and they both ran.

In the camp, the thieves put on what was left of their torn clothes. Filthy, shredded rags. Then they collected all of the gold and chucked it back into the bag without a moments hesitation and headed straight for the little cottage.

Flick and Ritley stood outside the witch’s door for a moment, working up the nerve to knock. But before they could, the small voice of the cone crooned, “Come in, if you must.” The men looked at one another, a little shaken by the calmness in her voice.

It was Ritley then, that decided to open the door and step inside. “Madam,” he bowed with wobbly knees, “We’ve come to return your treasure and to humbly ask your forgiveness.” He lowered his eyes in fear and shame. Flick nodded mutely at his side, made dumb by his terror.

“Forgiveness you say?” She smiled and then chuckled, slapping her knee. “Look at the pair of ye! What a sight! And forgiveness you say?”

“Yes, please ma’am. We didn’t mean it, really,” Flick sobbed.

“We really didn’t,” agreed Ritley.

“Oh, but you did mean it,” she snarled.

“Please!” The men begged, falling to their knees, “we don’t want to be monsters, to… to eat…” Flick gagged at the thought and Ritley jabbed him with an elbow.

“What he means to say is,” Ritley pushed the bag of gold forward, “is that we brought every bit of your gold back. And now, if you please, could you take your curse back. Please ma’am.” He pushed the bag further towards her.

She looked at the bag for a moment and then bent to look inside, always keeping one eye on the men. When she straightened back up, she had the Golden flask in her hands. She ran one bony finger over the markings and then shook it, hearing nothing inside. “Oh, I see now,” she laughed darkly, “it’s not my forgiveness that ye want, it’s this?”

“No, no we don’t want none of that treasure. Not even that… Especially not that!” Ritley assured her, remembering the vile liquid inside.

“You don’t want the flask, I can see that well enough, but you want to be freed from what’s inside of it.” She smiled wickedly at the confused men. They looked at her dumbly. “You have no idea of what you’ve drunk, do you?” She laughed mirthlessly, turning to place the flask back on the mantle, her fingers lingering on the warm metal a moment.

“Twas mud in that flask, madam,” Flick grumbled.

She laughed at this as she turned to face them once more. “Did you not read the writing etched into it?” She asked patronizingly.

“Was just gibberish,” Ritley stammered, “wasn’t any language that I know.”

“Ah, I suppose it wouldn’t be. You’re too young to read a language that’s as old as time itself and long dead, except for with my kind,” she smiled and lowered herself stiffly into the chair by the fire, the two men still kneeling at her feet. “Well, if you could read this language, then you would have known that this was water collected from the hoofprint of a hellbeast, or a werewolf as you might call it.” She looked up to the flask now, the light of the fire flickering in the gold. Then she looked back at the men, looked them dead in the eye, “This is no curse to be lifted. There is no cure. To drink from the hoofprint of the hellbeast is to ASK for his form to become one with your own. It is binding. It is eternal. The only ‘cure’,” she spat the word, “is death.”

The men were speechless, though inside they were screaming. They felt the truth of it in their bones, their fate sealed. The old woman smiled mischievously, “Don’t worry, my pets, he only takes you for the midnight ride on the full of the moon… each and every month, so long as ye shall be suffered to live.” She watched as their eyes bulged in disbelief and the old crone laughed and laughed until she was nearly breathless, reaching to pet the fat one on his scruffy head like a dog.

**I hope you’ve enjoyed this short story. It’s still a work in progress, only a quick first draft that I wrote this morning and needs a bit of tailoring. Check back for updates. **

Copyright © 2019 Davina Rush

All rights reserved. This work may not be copied or duplicated in any way without written and notarized permission from the author. All work here is dated and searchable in the plagiarism databases thanks to the lovely magic of the internet.