Bellemorte Bog

            Anya didn’t know how she found herself here. In the Bellemorte witch’s domain. This place was supposed to be a myth to keep little girls in their beds at night. This place, however, was as real as her flesh.

            She awoke on a grassy island, barely large enough to fit her petite body. Her heart raced, and a chill crept across her bare skin, as she wore nothing but a flimsy nightgown. Thick blankets of fog hung in the air. Below, murky water muddled with lily pads stretched as far as she could see – which wasn’t far. Anya listened for the sound of a frog, fish or the wind, but none came. This place was morbidly still.

            The only noises in the whole world were her ragged breathing and the fierce pounding in her chest. Where should she go? She had three hundred and sixty degrees of options. Anya cringed and slid into the water. She prepared to tread, expecting the bog to be bottomless. Instead, her bare feet sank into thick mud and twisted clumsily around lily pad stems. She shivered from cold and trembled with fear, yet she waded forward.

            How did those stories go? Anya wondered, hoping desperately that they were not true and that she was not a victim. According to storytellers, Bellemorte stole away the loveliest girls when they strayed from their beds during the witching hour. What happened next was a mystery. Anya didn’t want to find out, but a frigid pang of despondency shot thought her heart, telling her she would.

            The lily pads parted in her wake, and the sound of the water’s gentle displacement rippled through the silence, offering comfort to Anya against the deafening quiet. As she ventured farther into the bog, the smell of decay stung her nostrils. She closed her watering eyes and shook her head, trying dispel the stench.

            Something heavy bumped her leg.

            Anya froze and opened her eyes very slowly, preparing for the worst. When the object came into focus, she bit her cheek. The scream halted at her lips. The pale and wrinkled corpse of a woman floated in the water before her. Anya reeled backwards. Her foot caught on a stem, and she fell into the water on top of another stiff cadaver. Its dead, cold limbs wrapped around Anya as she splashed and scrambled back to her feet. When she looked around, her shiver escalated to violent tremors.

            Hundreds of dead bodies hung just below the surface of the water. They were saggy and emaciated as if the life had been sucked out of them. When she wrapped her arms around herself, she noticed they, too, had somehow turned ghastly pale and shriveled. Anya’s knees threatened to give out. She touched a shaking hand to her droopy flesh. It looked like a puddle when the mud dries up. Cracked and old.

            Despite the surrounding grotesque horror, Anya set her mind to escaping the bog. She pushed past the spongy bodies, moving forward as fast as she could. It had to end somewhere. The carcasses grew increasingly more copious farther on. Anya could feel her strength draining, but she pushed forward.

            As she climbed over a body, Anya saw the shore. Relief washed over her. The grey, dead landscape became clearer as she rushed toward it. It felt as if her heart were racing ahead of her, yanking her along. When the shore was only a few strides away, the fog condensed, and a harsh cackle filled the air.

            “Congratulations, beautiful girl. You’re the first to make it ashore.”

            Anya searched frenetically for the source of the voice, but didn’t stop moving forward. To her dismay, solid ground evaded her. She should have reached the shoreline already, but was still waist-deep in the swamp.

            “Let me go!” Anya screamed and smacked the surface of the water.

            The screeching laugh came again, closer. A dark form took shape, emerging from the mist. Anya began to make out the details of the woman’s figure: tall, slender and adorned in black. Long black hair fell elegantly over her shoulders. Her red lips parted in a gorgeous, seductive smile. She offered no attention to the mass of bodies. She locked eyes on Anya and moved silently forward. Bellemorte was the most beautiful woman Anya had ever seen.

            “I’m afraid I can’t do that, dear. Well, I could.” The woman smirked. “But, I won’t.” She let out another cackle, as if this were the funniest thing she’d ever seen.

            Anya fell to her knees, weak and crestfallen. Several lilies toppled off their pads from the wave. Only Anya’s face was above the water. Tears leaked from her eyes, and her hands floated aimlessly under the water. One brushed the leg of a woman. Anya flinched .Then, her fingers felt a sheath on the corpse’s hip. Bellemorte strode forward and cupped Anya’s face.

            “You see, exquisite creature, as this miasma steals your youth and beauty, mine is restored. Even if I let you go now, it’s too late. You’re a decrepit old woman with just a few breaths left to breathe. See?” The pulled a small mirror from her cloak in which Anya could see her reflection. Indeed, she appeared identical to the bodies around her.

            Anya coughed and shuddered. “You’ll never be beautiful.”

            Bellemorte swung her nails across Anya’s face, opening a gash on her cheek. “You won’t leave this bog,” she snarled and lifted her nose to the veiled sky, inhaling what could only be the smell of victory.

             “Neither will you.” Anya burst from the water with every ounce of strength she still had and jammed the rusty knife into Bellemorte’s heart. The witch’s laughter turned to a shriek of agony. Bellemorte gasped for breath and clawed at Anya in vain.

            When Anya retracted the knife, a torrent of black ichor flooded from the wound, swallowing up the sky and every corner of the realm until Bellemorte, her world and everything in it ceased to exist.


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