This is a Finish The Story prompt from Teresa (aka, The Haunted Wordsmith). Teresa started the story. Then she passed it to Michael, who tagged Di, who tagged Fandango, who walked it over to Iain, who sent it flying towards Stuart, at Tale Spinning, who chucked it over the transom to me. When I am done, I shall name the author to carry the tale forward… I do think “Finish the Story” is a bit misleading, since I see no way to do that with the rules being what they are. It reminds me of Shari Lewis and Lambchop singing, “This is the song that never ends…” But now, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…
Part One (Teresa):
Winter had been hard. Harder than anyone in Goosedown had expected. It was six weeks into spring and Emily never felt better. She was finally able to get out into her garden. The spring flowers had fully said hello and color was everywhere, but the one thing she was most happy about was the Goosedown Spring Festival that was taking place today.
With one last check in the mirror, she adjusted her bright pink hat and set out for the park. While walking there she met up with …
Part Two (Michael):
Mary from the Dairy trudging along carrying two pails of fresh milk. The milk was for Miss Turnout’s café and scone emporium.
It was clear Mary was not happy, as everyone in Goosedown knew of the animosity between the two women. Mary had been in love with the handsome Sir Michael, and it was Miss Turnout who spread vile and vicious rumors about Mary such that Sir Michael turned his back on Mary and went off and married the less than gorgeous Phillipa the Needle maiden.
Mary had long held a grudge against Miss Turnout and every now and then she would clear her throat and deposit the said clearance into one of the buckets. Emily, being the sweet and innocent young lady she was and at that moment filled with the expectation of the coming spring, smiled serenely at Mary as she went by.
“There’d be nothing to smile about young Emily,” said the sour Mary as she passed and deposited another into the left bucket, “the rotten old cow destroyed my life, I’m gonna make her rue the day she spread rumors about me, no matter how true they might be. Sorry I should not have said that.”
Emily had no answer to Mary’s statement and was not a girl given easily to gossip so she …
Part Three (Di):
nodded and continued to smile sweetly as she watched Mary trudge away.
With every step, Mary moaned and bitched about Miss Turnout under her breath. Her deposits in the milk seemed to do little to improve her mood, and now she had a nagging toothache.
Maybe a filling had fallen out and was rattling around in the bottom of the bucket. Better still, maybe the old trout would swallow it and choke. That made her laugh, which in turn made her cough and there followed another satisfying splash in the bucket.
More bitching and moaning in rhythm to her footfalls, gradually fading into the distance and out of Emily’s earshot.
Emily was enjoying her walk to the park, taking in the riot of color on the way, the lovely sunshine, and the anticipation of the Spring Festival, especially as it meant passing through …
Part Four (Fandango):
… the field red with poppies. Every time Emily walked through the beautiful poppy field, she would feel a strange sense of euphoria. Everything she was feeling became more intense, the colors of spring brighter, and her mood even happier. She put Mary and her feud with Miss Turnout out of her mind and concentrated on what she would do when she got to the festival grounds.
But Emily was feeling herself growing very, very tired. She was struggling to keep walking through the lovely field of red flowers, which seemed to be glowing and vibrating. Suddenly Emily had to stop. She yawned, stretched out her arms, and slowly fell to her knees. “Why am I so tired?” she wondered. “I have to lie down,” she said aloud.
It was already dark when Emily finally woke up. Had she missed the Spring Festival that she was so looking forward to? She wondered what had happened to her. But then she saw …
Part Five (Iain)
…Mary standing over her. Her face a ghastly white colour. As Emily’s eyes focused she saw that the white was liquid, it was milk, dripping off Mary’s face, reflected in the pale moonlight. There was something else too. Not just white. There were streaks of red too. Red like the blood red of the poppies that surrounded them. Like a mask of Raspberry Ripple ice-cream. She was naked, the liquid mixture dripping down over her pale skin. She held the two metal buckets Emily had seen earlier in the day, but they were battered and bent and covered in smears of red.
‘Mary, are you okay? Is that blood?’
Mary sneered, ‘It is, Emily. Not mine though.’ Her voice was deranged, like a cackle. ‘Bit of a dramatic end to the Spring Festival. Miss Turnout accused me of selling her tainted produce. Said my milk was lumpy and had gone off. Said it had ruined her baking and left a horrible aftertaste. Well, I couldn’t stand for that.’
Emily drew back as the ghastly apparition gave a loud shriek. ‘What have you done, Mary?’
‘She had it coming, that harridan whore.’
‘Mary, you’re not yourself!’ exclaimed Emily.
‘On the contrary, precious innocent Emily, I’ve never been more myself!’
With that, she ran off through the fields. Emily got to her feet as the other villagers from Goosedown appeared. Sir Michael led the way with a shotgun in hand. ‘Where did she go, Emily?’
Emily pointed to the path of crushed poppies left by the madwoman. The crowd charged after her. Emily decided to walk back to Goosedown, still puzzled that she had fallen asleep all day (had she been drugged?) and shaken by what she had seen.
When she got there, she found…
Part Six (Stuart)
Miss Turnout’s Emporium in ruins. The windows were shattered. Smoke was billowing out of the charred doorway and undulating out into the night skies. A crowd of people stood and stared. Crying sobs came from the grouping. Someone wailed.
Because of the bright light echoing off of the full moon, Emily saw something draped on the ground. There was a pool of liquid that glistened over the material, black in the moonlit night. Emily crept closer. Her mind was swirling with everything that she had encountered along the way. She was still a bit fuzzy, and confused, from her passing out in the field.
She took a tentative step towards the Emporium. Then another. Emily forced herself to continue forward, frightened by what she would find. Until a wet hand landed on her shoulder.
Emily screamed, turned, and saw the hand was Miss Turnout’s.
She dropped her hand instantly. “I’m sorry, love. Didn’t mean to scare the wits out of you.”
Emily took all of Miss Turnout in: her hair was wild and free of her usual cap; her festival clothing was in tatters; there were scrapes, bruises, and black drippings flowing from cuts on her face, arms, and hands. Emily froze.
“You..you’re bleeding.” Emily removed her kerchief and started to dab at Miss Turnout’s face. There was a severe gash across her forehead and Emily tried to staunch the ichor from the wound with her headwrap.
“Thank you, love. Thank you.” Miss Turnout paused, staring beyond Emily, focussing on her shop, and the draped figure on the ground. She had to shake her head to take her out of her self-made trance. The shake turned into a full-bodied shiver and quake, her legs giving out as she dropped to the ground. Emily helped her to sit up once MIss Turnout demanded she did.
“It was Mary who did this. That crazy sow. She came in my Emporium, put down her damned buckets, and started yelling and coming at me. I had to defend myself. Chairs went flying, one going through the window, and she got as good as she gave. We both went flying into the display cases. I got my cuts and scrapes from that, as well as her bloody fingernails. Then, Philipa came in. Mary was a banshee, flailing around, attacking the two of us.
I’m not sure how the fire started- we were too close to the cooking kettle, I know that. And then Mary…
Part Seven (Holly)
“…began to claw at Philipa’s face. I–Mary must’ve mistaken her for me. Philipa–she was near the stove–must’ve tipped over the fryer–” Miss Turnout’s expression went from bewilderment to horror, as memory began rearranging itself in an orderly fashion. “Philipa’s sleeve caught on the flame. There–” She pointed towards the ruinous hulk of the great gas stove, a thing of enormous, antiquated proportions. “I tried to put it out just as she reached for Mary’s wrists…two torches, they were, like that giant statue out there in the dark harbor, reading by torchlight–you know the one. My kids used to read like that, under the blanket–”
“Miss Turnout,” said Emily, gently, bringing the other woman back to a painful present she’d rather forget.
“Yes, yes. That horrid girl–Mary–she backed away, tearing at her burning clothes, tossing them willy-nilly around my shop, till she was naked as the day she was born. Oh, the demonic light in those eyes! I’ll never for–you know, now that I think about it, that was probably just a reflection from the shop catching fire behind me, don’t you think? God, I thought for a minute she was literally possessed by the Devil himself. I didn’t want her to burn to death in my shop, anyway, so I took the last of her nasty, curdled, cow-poxed milk and threw it at her. She ran out of her like she was on her way to a witches’ orgy.”
“And Philipa?” Emily hoped that Miss Turnout already knew, and that she was not in for another ghastly, tragic shock.
“Oh, I turned around when Mary ran out, saw Philipa batting at the flames here and there–little embers kept falling on her, on the tablecloths–the store, of course, was a total loss by then, I could see that clearly enough, so I grabbed one of the cloths from that six-top over there and threw the poor woman to the ground like I did back in my wrestling days–oh, dear, you didn’t know about that, did you? Thought I was always priss and prim–well, never mind that. I chucked her to the floor, rolled her up like a mummy to smother the flames, and hauled her outside in a fireman carry. She was still smoldering a tad, so Jeffrey–that handsome young firefighter I tried to fix you up with, last month? He started to spray her down…”
That would explain the dark puddle. But not the fact that the figure under the cloth wasn’t moving. I hoped Miss Turnout hadn’t suffocated the heroic Philipa. The thought of it would crush her under its terrible weight.
Just then, Jeffrey…
Okay. Now it’s my turn to tag someone, and the blogger I’ve picked is the masterful Mitchell Allen, of Morpho Designs.
Here are the rules: