The Abysmal Biscuit

in #finishthestory2 years ago

This is an entry for Finish the Story Contest - Week #50.

Here is @f3nix's story:

The Abysmal Biscuit


The awareness of the box's contents dripped slowly in Joelle's mind, coagulating like a graceless Rorschach's blot. Bones. Tiny tapered bones, standing out against the mahogany bottom.

The unusual item jolted on the worn chair, reacting to the vibrations of the old diesel-powered train. The convoy, the last of his lineage, still fulfilled its duty along the Brașov-Sighișoara route allowing students to return to their homes every weekend. To the rhythm of joints and sleepers, the whiteness of the remains continued to dance tremulously before the eyes of the young woman as the frames of her glasses slipped slowly from her nose.

In a tinkling clink of bracelets, the student closed the lid of the box and moved away as far as possible from it, crushing herself against the seat's padding. The lazy air of the air conditioner stuck to the bottom of her dry throat an acrid plastic taste.

And then she saw him. The old passenger had returned and was staring at her through the windows that led from the corridor of the car to the cabin. She listened to her own scream erupting and fill the cramped cab.

"I didn't want to scare you, young lady."

"N-not scared. No worries, sir." Somehow, Joelle managed to gather the few polite words her manners demanded. She could not have said how long he had been watching and if he had seen where curiosity had taken her. The glasses, temples up in the air, laid on the seat beside her.

The old man was tall and lanky, his burnished skin resembled the ancient scales of a dragon. Dressed in work trousers and a raw cotton shirt, he gave the impression of being one of those peasants whose families had inhabited the Carpathians for centuries.

Joelle's gaze passed involuntarily from the man to the funeral urn disguised as a biscuit tin: the representation of a merry-go-round in a lacquered colored wood and graceful workmanship. The children were swirling with their bent busts, perhaps because of the speed of the carousel. Their mouths were wide open and their hands clung to the poles skewering the horses. With a lump in her throat, she remembered the fleeting memory of just a few hours before, when a train was huffing at the central station and a gentle old man asked her help because he couldn't open the cabin door. She felt like something ruined down from her lungs to her guts.

"I see that you like my craft." In the silence, she could detect the old man's fingers caressing the box inlays.

"It's adorable. A gift for a grandchild?" Joelle realized only now that the object was his only baggage. In the warm twilight, the colors of lacquered wood seemed even more lively. The conifers thickened on the sides of the train, sliding quickly to the edges of her field of vision.

"Oh. A gift, says the young lady. Like a toy, perhaps?" The old man's eyes were two black bottomless pits. His gaze had slowly become vitreous like that of a deep-water fish, yet at the same time penetrating.

"Yes, a toy. I like how you see it, miss." The passenger continued, his voice getting thinner.

Only then, Joelle realized where they were heading: the train had just passed the old mill and would soon pass through the tunnels beneath the mountain.

"You may have noticed how I depicted all these children. Observe, miss, between a horse and the other: they are not alone." By pronouncing the last vowel, which he abnormally prolonged, his voice tone had become a slow and drawling rattle.

It was still too early for the wagons' lights to turn on and the tunnels were preparing to swallow the convoy.

A sound of nails carving into the wood tore the thoughts of the young student.


And this is my ending:


The train entered the tunnel.

In the loud darkness, Joelle sensed the silhouette of the passenger unfold before her, a man-sized origami reverting to a black sheet of paper. Shuddering, she could feel him spreading outwards, rising from the opposite seat, his presence towering above her...

"Tickets!"

The conductor's flashlight shined from the corridor into the cabin, soon echoed by the wagon's cold neon lights. The old man stumbled into a corner, confused and visibly frightened by the artificial radiance.

Joelle quietly fumbled for her rail pass. The conductor acknowledged her with a polite nod, before addressing the other passenger in a gentler tone of voice.

"Mister..? Please. I need to see your ticket."

The man nodded but produced no such document. "The children are not alone," he murmured. "You can see it in their eyes." A single tear fell from his black eye.

The conductor was not surprised by the stranger's antics. "Sir. Can you tell me your name? Do you recall your destination?"

The old man looked around until he met Joelle's gaze. He absently scratched his face. "Children must be taught," he admonished her. "And they must never forget."

The officer pulled out his cellphone. He turned to Joelle and explained, "We get this sort sometimes. Old people getting lost. I'll drop him with the police, hopefully, they'll find his caretakers. Can I ask you to move to the next cabin?"

Joelle nodded, then daringly collected her luggage, glasses... and the lacquered box. Her heart beat loudly in her chest as she exited. Stopping right outside the cabin, she could hear the passenger's helpless sobs.


In the privacy of an empty corridor, the young student sat with the heavy mahogany box in her lap, her luggage forgotten to the side. Adjusting her glasses, she began her inspection. In the waning light of the day, the children in bas-relief looked hurried and frantic. She studied their eyes, like the old man had suggested, and found they were all looking at something placed in-between the horses.

A native Transylvanian, Joelle had grown up hearing the old tales. She'd also studied history, thank you very much, and knew such folklore was nothing but a tourist attraction. And yet!, on encountering the stranger with the mysterious box... She'd wondered. Now she just wanted, no, needed to make sure.

With bated breath, Joelle opened the box. She noticed the jumble of thin white bones was covering an engraving--she could make out the first letters. Squinting, she pushed the bones aside.

Then she heard a mechanical click, followed by a loud clap as the lid of the box shut itself tight. Joelle stared at the bleeding stumps in her hand. Horrified, she realized the box had contained fingerbones.

Amid the sound of nails grating wood, an ancient vinyl record played a jolly tune from inside the box:

Thank you for the biscuit,
I will keep it for you.
This here is my lesson,
Won't forget it too soon.

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Now this is a wonderful way to take the prompt, reminds me of those monkey paw jars, just considerably harsher!

Very much enjoyed how you played the old man, walking a line between sinister-almost-supernatural and poor old man. I felt bad for him, shedding a tear over the children on his box, and like a chess master, in just a few moves you turn the tables, Joelle taking from the old man in a set up prime for something the other way round.

The moment she took the box, it was like the raising of an axe that had to drop, and oh it fell so beautifully, lopping off her hand. And you tie up so many threads in the first half with this plot, very impressive as always!

Really enjoyed the little moral twist you put in this one <3

I'm agreeing totally with Calluna's analysis. I just wonder who really the old man was and why he cried for the kids if, in the end, he was a sort of a carrier of the hellish box. I loved the supernatural and surreal halo throughout the story.

Apparently the creepy old man has built the booby-trapped box in order to teach something important to curious children... The mutilations are a painful necessity, to ensure the lesson sticks. He might be out of his mind (probably) or actually onto something. We'll never know!

I keep thinking about hellraiser 🤔 We should write a prompt with that taste!

With your fine tale you evoke from us both trepidation of and sympathy for the old man who is crying for the children. We're left with a mystery, is he forced to carry the box or saddened by the action of those who fell for the trap? Joelle had her chance to make it out of the story intact, falling prey to her curiosity and paying such a dear price.

Well done work with the details and build up for this fantastic story, Gwil!

~Bris

Like this story. Creepy not scary.

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