This writing prompt is courtesy of Carol J Forrester’s new October Speculative Fiction Prompt. The challenge is to write a piece of speculative fiction on the intriguing photo. No word length or style limits. I’ve gone with yet another dark tale, in keeping with Halloween theme (~980 words).
It was a steep climb under the hot Tuscan sun. He’d been journeying for a little over a fortnight now, through countless towns and villages and he was eager to finally reach his destination. Reaching the top of the hill, he looked out across the valley. In the distance, he could just make out the stone church of the abbey, surrounded by lush vineyards. The abbey was renowned across the region as much for its vows of silence as for its fine wine. With a little luck and a steady pace, he’d taste the wine himself before evening. Crossing himself, he looked to the heavens and thanked God.
The sun was setting as he approached his destination. He was thankful for the respite from the scorching heat. As the sun had set the terrain had gradually changed from a rich green to an insipid yellow. The ripe heavy grapevines replaced by wilted dying plants and there in the centre of this sickly vista the abbey, now a ruin. Stone walls crumbled, glass panes shattered, it stood roofless, a burnt-out husk of its previous glory.
His first thought was that he was lost; it wouldn’t be the first time. The inscription above the church entrance had left him in no doubt, he had indeed reached his destination. This was the abbey or what was left of it. Stepping inside he called out. “Hello!”
His voice echoed in the silence, the church a tomb. Carefully he picked his way down the aisle, avoiding blackened scorched debris. He climbed the handful of stairs up to the cracked alter. The church walls gone, he looked out over what was left of the abbey, at utter devastation. The chapel, storerooms, cloisters, all rubble. It was difficult to comprehend what could have caused such destruction.
“Are you lost, father?”
The voice startled him. He spun around, as a young girl emerged from the shadows. “My child, you scared me.” He could see her clearly now, a poor wretch of a girl. She was barefoot, dressed in rags, her long black hair badly matted. She looked up at him with a grimy face, cracked lips and piercing blue eyes. “Pray tell what happened here?”
“There was a fire,” she said, climbing the altar stairs.
“Where are the monks?”
Standing on tiptoe, she pointed across the rubble. “I’m afraid they won’t be able to tell you anything.”
He couldn’t believe his eyes, several fresh graves ran alongside the boundary, a crude wooden cross planted in each. He fell against the alter and crossed himself. “My God!”
“I’m sorry, father,” she said, sympathetically.
His mind was racing, what had happened here? It was a minute before the girl broke the silence. “You look thirsty, father,” she said, twisting a waterskin from around her waist and offering it up. “It’s wine.”
He was indeed parched and greedily drank the refreshing cool wine. Its reputation was well deserved. Wiping his mouth, he enquired. “Someone must have survived. Who buried them?”
“I did,” she shot back.
He lowered the waterskin of wine and stared at her. There was no sign of mirth in those striking blue eyes. “You! You buried them?”
She nodded and walked around the altar and stared off into the last of the setting sun.
“Come now, you’re just a child.”
“They made the same mistake,” she said, half under her breath.
The poor girl had clearly been through hell. “Child, enough of this nonsense. Where are your parents?”
She raised her arm and without turning, extended a dirty finger towards a burnt patch of ground. “My mother is there.”
He was stunned, the monks were not the only victims of this tragedy. He crossed himself again. “My child, I’m so sorry.”
She lowered her arm.
“What of your father?”
She just shrugged.
“Please, tell me, what happened here?”
There was a long pause before she answered. “They broke their vows, father.”
She shook her head and hissed. “Of celibacy.”
His mouth went dry. He’d heard the rumours in the villages he’d passed through but there were always rumours, just idle gossip. “Did they-” he started. Hesitated, he couldn’t say the words.
She turned and glared at him, tears welling. “My mother.”
He couldn’t hold her gaze, his heart thumped. The wine tasted bitter in his mouth. If the rumours were right, the villagers must have taken matters into their own hands. Instinctively, he crossed himself. “The villagers killed them?”
“No father, I killed them!” she said. Her bright blue eyes flashed with anger.
“Child!” he bellowed. The poor girl was delusional and who wouldn’t be. “Do not lie to me. You are in the house of God!”
“They were trying to hide what they did,” she continued, calmly walking along the alter steps.
“You killed them all?” he mocked.
“They were all guilty, father,” she said, adding under her breath. “One way or another.”
It didn’t make any sense. How could this waif be responsible for such destruction? He raised his arms in the air. “Are you saying you did all this?”
“I burnt it all down, just as they’d burnt my mother.”
What madness. He was tired and hungry. His stomach rumbled. He’d had enough of this poor crazy creature and her tall tale. “You are joking with a weary traveller. How could you have killed them all?”
She grinned at him. “The grapes are my wrath, father!”
Through his fogged mind, he didn’t quite understand what she meant. The waterskin slipped from his shaking hands. He felt dizzy. The wine tasted metallic. He coughed, spluttered. There were dark red drops on the back of his hand. She tried to grab him as his legs gave out and he slumped to the floor. “Don’t worry father. I made sure they didn’t break their vow of silence.”
Kneeling down next to him, she cradled his head. “I’ve got a quiet spot picked out for you too.”