Fruit of the Vine, 1878

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She entered the Hollow without fear.

I’d not seen much of Kent Mast since his dandelion bride had emerged from the Hollow some six years prior.

At first, I kept an eye on him, concerned about what the strange creature might do to him. After a year or so, I stopped worrying so much. Whenever I did see them, the couple seemed helplessly and hopelessly in love.

I did my best to leave them be. There was no reason for me to skulk around their home, especially when all of Cross was under my care.

Today was the first day I’d seen Kent Mast’s wife without her holding his arm.

I was walking along North Road, Colts loose and ready in their holsters when I caught sight of Mrs. Mast standing by the stonewall. Worry rippled through me, and I reached for my revolvers. The movement caught her eye, and she turned her head, smiling at me.

“Duncan Blood,” she greeted. “You have no need for your weapons. Kent is at home and quite safe. He is waiting, eagerly, for me to return.”

I didn’t quite believe her, but I let go of the Colts all the same.

“Things are well?” I asked.

She nodded. “Better than well, Duncan.”

She returned her gaze into the Hollow. “Do you see that vine there?”

Mrs. Mast pointed toward a large pine tree whose lower branches were festooned with curiously thick vines.

“I see them.”

“I am here to fetch joy,” she told me, smiling. “I’ll be but a minute.”

As she climbed gracefully over the wall, I reached for my Colts again.

She laughed and shook her head. “Nothing will dare to harm me here, Duncan.”

Mrs. Mast stepped down into the Hollow and walked with confidence toward the pine. In a moment, she was there, pushing past them, and, in a heartbeat, the vines fell back as though they were a curtain.

A sharp cry rang out and my Colts cleared leather as Mrs. Mast stepped back through the vines. In her arms was a small child.

Surprised, I holstered the Colts and took the child from her so Mrs. Mast could climb back onto the road. When the babe was in her arms again, Mrs. Mast smiled.

Gazing down into the child’s eyes, she said, “This is Joy.”

And I suppose the child was.

#horror #fear #paranormal

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Nicholas Efstathiou

Husband, father, and writer.

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