The Feast

Hey everyone,

I wrote a short story a couple months ago called The Feast.

It’s about a family that gets trapped in a cave by a host of demons, and must tell it stories in order to escape. The story is told in an old-timey fairy-tale sort of voice, and I think it worked out pretty well!

I’ve embedded the story below the fold. Hope you enjoy it!

~Mike

THE FEAST
by Mike Stout

Text copyright © 2012 Michael Stout

All Rights Reserved

Once upon a time The Man, The Mother, and The Child were riding through the forest on their way home when their carriage wheel struck a rock and was shattered into pieces.

The three took up shelter in a nearby cave, for outside the night sky rained, howled, and thundered — and The Child was afraid.

They had scarce had time to start a fire when they were set upon by a host of demons. The unholy fiends scampered and played near the cave’s mouth, blocking any kind of retreat. The Child cried.

The Mother picked her up and said “Hush. It will be okay.”

For a time, the three sat in silence. Before long they felt the shaking of the ground and the demon horde grew quiet. Eventually the horde parted, and a great Demon strode forth from the multitude.

The Demon crouched and made its way into the mouth of the cavern. For a few moments, it sniffed the air and its head moved back and forth like a cobra. Its eyeless face looked around the cave, settled on the family, and its many mouths grinned, slavered, howled, and spoke at the same time.

“Three souls have entered my home.” Said one of the mouths with a voice that sounded like rain and tide.

The Man stepped forward and put himself between the creature and his family. “If we have trespassed, oh Demon, we are sorry. Let us go now and we shall have no trouble.”

“Trouble you have,” spat a second mouth with a voice that sounded like rot and ruin. “And trouble you shall have until I am given what I am owed.”

A third mouth sang in a flawless soprano. “Three souls have trespassed. Three must pay the price if three wish to leave this place.”

All of its mouths smiled widely. The effect was not comforting.

The Demon’s biggest mouth, which sat square in the center of The Demon’s chest, spoke next. Its voice was dark and soft, with a grating and screeching semitone — like velvet running over a bed of rusty nails.

“Man, Mother, and Child — you are trapped. If you leave this cave without my command, my daughters outside will rend you and feed upon you, bone and bile.”

The Man never blinked. “Yet you do not rend us and feed upon us, Demon. Why?”

The Demon spun and danced and its many mouths sang short songs of despair and rejoicing. “Give to me your stories. Your dearest, most important stories. My children and I shall feast upon them and spare your flesh.”

The Mother stood and moved beside The Man. “And what guarantee do we have, then, creature? We have fire and silver, and your family would pay dearly if we fought.” She looked towards the fire, which already dimmed. “Why should we waste our fire and our breath on your twisted games?”

The Demon, which had no eyes, blinked and spoke in a beautiful voice, clear and commanding. “Fairly asked, Mother. Upon my body and upon my ten thousand children and upon the gods that cast us down, I swear that I will consume the story you give me, and only that story, if it is your dearest. Your most important. The one that shouts from within you to be told. And then I will give you your freedom.”

The next voice sounded cavernous and empty. “This I swear, Mother, Child, and Man. May the gods strike me from this Plane if I lie.”

The Man stepped forward and spat at The Demon’s feet. “I will give you my story, beast. May you choke on it.”

* * *

One day, as I traveled down the road, I came across a carriage stuck in the mud. Alone in the carriage was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I fell instantly in love.

At that moment, we were beset by bandits. As neither of us had any weapons to speak of, we surrendered and we were taken.

The bandits took us back to their lair in the woods and locked us in an earthen hut, where we languished for many months. During this time, I got to know my fellow captive. She was smart, witty, and beautiful — everything a man could ever want. And she loved me back. Our time in that hut was monstrous and painful, but we survived and we thrived.

We tried again and again to escape, but the bandits always discovered us before we succeeded. Each time we were punished, and the punishments became harsher and harsher. Each of us felt every lash twice — once for ourselves, and once for our beloved.

One day we saw them building a gallows. The guards came to get us and take us to our deaths, but we attacked them and clawed their eyes. We took their weapons and fought our way out of the camp. Many men died that day.

It wasn’t until later that I found out she was a princess. And it wasn’t until later that we were married. And it wasn’t until much later that we had a child, the old king died, and I took his place.

Since then I have fought countless wars, destroyed countless monsters, and ruled the kingdom with a kind and just hand. And all that time my queen was by my side, fighting wars, destroying monsters, and ruling our kingdom.

So know this, Demon. Quake in your boots. We have gone through Hell together. There is nothing, now, that we fear. And if you trifle with us you will reap your share of death.

* * *

The Man stopped talking and his head snapped back, mouth open. The Demon began to pull at the air in front of him, like a spider spinning silk. Slowly a wispy stream of milky grey cascaded from The Man’s mouth and flew through the air in a thousand strands towards The Demon. As they did, The Demon chanted.

“A bargain made, a bargain held. You have given me your most important story, manling. For my part, I must eat your tale and set you free.”

The large central mouth cackled — a sound like gargled glass.

“Foolish manling. To give us your life’s story. Foolish. Foolish. Foolish.” The voice trailed off slowly.

The Man sat down roughly and stared at the floor. He seemed dizzy and distant, and it took a few minutes for him to respond to The Mother’s desperate cries. When he did, though, he seemed lucid enough — though his energy was definitely sapped.

The Demon sat still, spinning and weaving the strands of The Man’s story into a complex pattern in the air with its many spider legs. Occasionally, some of its mouths would bite at the strands and consume them, but the strands themselves never seemed to shrink.

As it spun, The Demon’s mouths spoke in turn, each mouth spitting out a single word in a sing-song tone.

“Speak. Now. Child. We. Would. Hear. Your. Tale.”

“This. One’s. Story. Will. Satisfy. Me.”

“Yours. Will. Feed. My. Ten. Thousand. Children.”

The Child looked over to her mother, then nodded slowly.

* * *

My fondest memories are of my mother. The first thing I can remember is her smile, looking down on me as I lay in my bed.

Nothing could be wrong when my mother was around. She loved me, she protected me, she was everything to me.

One day, we went walking in the woods — just the two of us. We had just passed the old mill when a huge shadow passed over us. We heard a roar and felt the blast of an intense heat.

Within moments, an enormous dragon had landed in front of us.

* * *

The Child stopped for a moment. The Man was hacking and coughing.

“What are you doing to him, Demon?” The Mother stood before The Demon defiantly, steel in her eyes.

“My end of the bargain,” said The Demon in a voice of sand and wind. “He gave me his life story. I must consume it. I must eat it and excrete it and feed my ten thousand children.”

The Demon’s eyeless head turned towards The Child and shrieked. “Child. Continue your tale!”

The Child continued.

* * *

I looked at the dragon, and I was surprised that I didn’t feel fear. I was with my mother. Nothing could hurt me as long as I was with her.

The stillness was split by a scream as my mother picked up a heavy stick and launched herself at the dragon. Her scream was so loud and so intense that even I couldn’t bear it. I hunkered down and covered my ears.

I heard something in that scream. There was fear there, yes, and anger. But most of it seemed to say that nothing — no thing — would get near me without first having to make it through her. It was rage, cold as ice and hot as the sun. It was love, clean and clear like a running brook. I heard something in that scream.

And so did the dragon.

With a startled roar, the dragon launched itself into the sky. Quaking and shaking it fled.

From my mother.

* * *

The Mother was screaming. The Man was growing pale. Though his size did not change, he seemed to shrink — to become somehow less. The Child ran to her mother and grabbed onto her skirts.

The Demon laughed.

“A bargain made, a bargain held. You have given me your most important story, Child. For my part, I must eat your tale and set you free.”

The large central mouth grumbled — a sound like gargled glass.

“Not so foolish, this Child. We will not enjoy the taste of this story.”

The Man continued to fade, his body shimmered and moved – like silk reflecting firelight.

The Mother stood before The Demon. “Speak to me, creature, what have you done to my husband?”

The voice sounded dead, flat. A corpse speaking with borrowed air. “The Man gave me the story of his life. I am consuming it, and in the process the story is unmade. It becomes a non-story as we feast upon it. Foolish manling, to give us his life story. Foolish, to give away his life.”

The Demon pulled hard on the threads of The Man’s story. The Man began to scream. Pain wracked his frame, and though his voice faded in volume, it managed to increase in intensity. The Child and The Mother ran to The Man’s side just in time to see him disappear entirely.

The Child sat down roughly and stared at the floor. She seemed dizzy and distant. The Mother put her head near the little girl’s ear and whispered comfort.

The Demon sat still, once again spinning and weaving the strands of The Child’s story into a complex pattern in the air. As it pulled the strands, The Child would occasionally shriek, and tears would run down her face.

The Mother sat paralyzed, her gaze distant.

“She will live, you know.” One of The Demon’s mouths whispered. “She was not so foolish as your manling. All she gave up was memory. But such a memory!”

A hundred mouths laughed in synchrony.

The fire popped and dimmed, and The Mother spoke softly.

“Please.” Her voice was thick with emotion. “Please don’t take my little girl from me.”

It reached out a long spindly claw and lightly grazed The Mother’s stomach. “But you have another, Mother. Why must you be so selfish?” The voice sounded childlike, and sang the words like a nursery rhyme.

The Mother pulled back into the fire ring and whispered.

“Damn you.”

“Too late.”

“And now you’ll take my story, is that it?”

The Demon nodded.

“My most important story.” The Mother touched her belly.

The Demon chuckled.

“If I tell you about my memories, or about my baby, then you take them from me?”

The Demon laughed.

“If I tell you my life story, you take my life and therefore my baby and my memories as well.”

The Demon pulled hard on the threads of The Child’s story. The Child began to scream. Pain wracked her frame and though her voice faded in volume, it managed to increase in intensity.

“Indeed, Mother. Thus was our bargain. I must eat your most important story. Your most dear. The one that means more to you than anything else.” All of The Demon’s mouths licked their lips.

“Choose.” The central mouth barked, and The Demon devoured the last wisp of The Child’s story. The Child’s head whipped forward again and she stiffened.

The Child looked up at The Demon, then at The Mother, and its look was one of fear.

The Child stood and began to run. The Mother reached to grab her cloak, but to no avail. The Child ran beyond the range of the fire and out of the cave. The sea of demon spawn parted and let her through. Before too long, The Child was lost to her mother’s sight.

The Mother stood, and wiped the tears from her eyes. “All right, Demon. I will tell you a story.”

“Yes, you will.” The Demon was gleeful.

“And you will tear it from me.”

“I must.” The Demon’s non-eyes were dancing.

She put her hand on her stomach and looked down. “Then so you shall.” At once, The Mother was calm.

She sat on the ground and crossed her legs. Speaking in a dry, emotionless tone, she began to recite her story.

* * *

Once upon a time The Man, The Mother, and The Child were riding through the forest on their way home when their carriage wheel struck a rock and was shattered into pieces.

The three took up shelter in a nearby cave, for outside the night sky rained, howled, and thundered — and The Child was afraid.

They had scarce had time to start a fire when they were set upon by a host of demons. The unholy fiends scampered and played near the cave’s mouth, blocking any kind of retreat. The Child cried.

The Mother picked her up and said “Hush. It will be okay.”

* * *

A thousand mouths began to scream.

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