By Lindsey Gruden No comments

The boat came to a stop with a soft crunch. The sand on the dark sanded beach jolted the boat to a stop. Darkness surrounded them and pushed down on their shoulders. Aledia breathed in and shivered. This was nothing like the dark of the tunnels above. She was starting to wish for those winding tunnels. At least they felt somewhat welcoming.

She turned back to Jacob and Rafe. They sat closest to her on the boat but through the pitch black, she couldn’t see them. Even the lanterns on the boat refused to cut through the darkness.

“We’re here,” Destrain said. His voice did not hold any laughter as it did earlier. “You all don’t have to do this. We can turn around and the devil would be none the wiser.”

“That would damn you to this fate,” Wilhelm said. He stepped out of the boat and onto the sand.

Jacob followed suit. He reached back and helped Aledia and Rafe from the boat. The wet sand packed on their boots as the water did not quite reach them. He squinted and tried to peer through the darkness.

“Lads, this is my fate. I tried to defy nature and bring back the dead. You all haven’t done anything to warrant such a confrontation,” Destrain said as his voice strained.

“We cannot leave you here,” Aledia said. She turned and scoured the darkness. “Which way do we go?” she asked.

Destrain heaved a sigh and looked over the girl. She trembled but determination shined in her eyes. He looked back to the darkness. His sons and the princess would not be able to see the twists and turns of the path. He could only see it because of his curse. He said a silent prayer they would not get lost among the black sand. “Go straight. You will find the devil within.”

They started to walk and after a few minutes Aledia paused. She moved her hands around her. One moment the Grimm brothers were beside her. The next, she stood alone. She stamped her foot.

“This is lunacy. We are walking away from each other. Rafe where are you?” Aledia called out. She turned around looking through the darkness for any sign of her companions.

“I’m over here!” Rafe yelled and waved. Aledia started to make her way to his side.

“Open your bag a little. The light from the apple should guide us some,” she called back. A moment passed and a small beam of light illuminated the area. She breathed a sigh of relief and crossed the sand back towards Rafe.

They had not traveled far beyond the boat. Destrain blinked from his place on the boat. “Never have I seen any light penetrate this darkness. Use it sparingly. You do not want to attract the attention of the lost souls in this place. Not every soul here is kind,” he said as his hands shook.

Jacob arched his eyes at his father. “What are you not telling us?”

Destrain’s hands continued to shake. “I cannot stay. I can only drop off a soul and then I am forced to leave,” he said.

Rafe thrust his pack to Aledia and ran to the boat. Sand kicked up as he tumbled into the boat.

“I have no coins to return back with. Aledia has them all. That should work right?” Rafe asked. He glanced at Destrain’s hands. They still quaked.

“Once the soul leaves the boat, I must leave…” he said. His arms shook with the effort.

Aledia counted out coins and passed two to Rafe. “Take the boat back and then come back here. I apologize for the extra work, Destrain,” she said.

Destrain shook his head as his arms started to still. “Take care of yourselves. It will be a few hours before I return. Use your wits,” he warned.

The oar pushed against the beach and the boat slipped into the nothingness. Aledia turned to the brothers. “Shall we?”

With a small crack of light from Rafe’s pack, she looked over the beach. The sand was black and ate the light. In the dimness, they saw eerie gray, human-like figures along the beach. They wandered aimlessly and muttered to themselves. Aledia frowned as she started moving towards the figures.

Two hands gripped her arms and pulled her back. Her heart jumped to her throat as she spun around and faced the brothers. They weren’t looking at her, they were looking at the figures. A figure turned towards them. It’s empty black eyes turning a bright gold.

“Close the bag,” Jacob whispered.

Aledia fumbled and closed the bag as the figure began to walk towards them. The aimless wandering now given purpose. Its feet moved from a shuffle to a run. Aledia’s blood froze and horror gripped her heart.

Jacob grabbed and pulled Aledia and Wilhelm and started running. He saw a path. One that led off the beach and deeper into this realm. Terror rippled through him as he heard snarls coming after them. He gripped Aledia’s and Whilhem’s arms and hauled them forward. The snarls behind them surged at them.

Aledia and Jacob still focused on the figures, did not need persuading. Their boots kicked up sand as they ran. Their lungs were tight, and their calves burned. Running on the beach was proving difficult. The first creature alerted a nearby group. The horde barreled after them.

Wilhelm stumbled over a set of rocks. He righted himself and Aledia lifted the lid of the pack. A small beam of light showed their path forward. They were on the path. But they needed to shake these things. She snapped the pack shut and pulled the brothers into the set of rocks. Jacob tumbled on top of Aledia. Wilhelm fell to the side, narrowly missing a ragged set of rocks.

The figures snarled and snapped as they ran past. Aledia held the pack close to her. She ensured the pack covered the apple and not even a hint of light showed through the top. Her chest heaved as she tried to catch her breath.

Jacob looked her over and then his brother. They were fine. He glanced over his shoulder, but only darkness stared back. He sighed and looked back to Aledia and Wilhelm. “We can either wait here until father returns or go forward. What do you want to do?”

Wilhelm and Aledia looked at each other. They would have to wait regardless. Destrain was right, there were not kind souls here. Those souls had been down here for so long that they craved the light. If they waited, they could have a chance to get back and leave Destrain to his fate.

Aledia squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. “We have to keep going. Your father doesn’t deserve this,” she said. Her voice was low to avoid attracting the wandering souls beyond the rocks.

“You are brave, lass,” Wilhelm said and stood. He crept out from around the rocks. The snarls and snapping of the figures carried on in the distance. Wilhelm reached down to Aledia.

She took a breath to steady her nerves and accepted Wilhelm’s hand. As she stood, Aledia lifted the top of the pack. A small beam of light shined on the path. She snapped it shut.

Together, the three shuffled along and continued to shuffle along. When necessary, Aledia opened the pack for a brief second of light to find their way. They used the apple’s light as little as possible. They dragged their feet across the path and up the sloping hill. After what felt like hours, a red glow crept over the horizon.

A castle on the hill broke the darkness. The spires and towers twisted upward into the dark. Repulsive creatures made of black stone decorated the balconies. They stared down at the trio. Spiked gates surrounded the grounds. The roaming figures did not venture towards the castle. If anything, they stayed away. Aledia held the bag shut as the castle gave off a glow that allowed them to see the path. This was it, the devil’s castle.

Wilhelm pulled on the gates. They opened without a sound. As soon as the three of them stepped onto the grounds, they could hear a feminine hum. It was a haunting tune that rose and fell at unnatural intervals. It caused their hair to stand on end as if lightning had struck them.

Jacob stopped walking and gazed around the courtyard. Hedges grew around the castle. It was difficult to tell if they were green. The red light tainted everything and caused vicious shadows. The hum continued to lace through the air like poison through wine. He covered his ears and looked to his brother and Aledia. They had covered their ears. The hum was growing louder. It split through his mind. Jacob’s knees felt weak.

Aledia fell to the ground. Her knees hit the cobbled walkway. The humming was driving her to madness. It made her blood freeze. She was going to die in the devil’s courtyard. She was going to die trying to strike a deal with the devil.

Wilhelm reached down for her but instantly slapped his hands back to his ears. No mortal could stand such a sound. It was piercing. The persistent high-pitch felt like it burst every cell in his body. Wilhelm tasted the salty blood pushing through his lips. At least that’s what his mind told him happened. He could taste it on his lips. This dark magic left the dead breeze with a sour taste. It gripped at his heart and squeezed. His knees buckled and he fell to the ground beside Aledia. What witchcraft was this?

The humming came to an abrupt stop. A woman twice the height of each of them looked down at them. She wore a red dress and the skirts caught on a phantom breeze. She looked at each of the intruders with a dark expression.

“So, the boy sent more mortals into this realm. One would think that the lucky child would have learned a lesson.” Her voice boomed across the courtyard and reverberated back to them.

Aledia stared at the woman. She couldn’t look away. The woman glowered down at them with empty eye sockets. Crooked teeth grinned and creaked as the woman knelt to their eye level.

“What to do with three foolish mortals?” the woman asked.

Her breath hit Aledia and she felt her world spin. It smelt of sulfur and caused her eyes to water. She looked at Wilhelm and noticed he was blinking away tears as well. He looked stunned into silence.

“We are here to make a deal with the devil,” Jacob said stepping up between the two.

Aledia watched, shocked. Jacob stood tall. His voice did not shake or quiver. She wanted to crawl away and curl in on herself. He stood without a trace of fear.

The woman stood and threw her head back. Laughter shook the courtyard and nearly knocked Jacob off his feet. She looked back to the three and smiled with her rotting yellow teeth.

“It would seem that there are still plenty of foolish men left in the mortal realm. Very well, you have intrigued me. Keep my interest or I will betray you to my son, mortal,” she laughed.

“Who is your son?” Jacob asked.

This only caused the woman to laugh louder. “Foolish mortal. You are daft to come here without arming yourself with knowledge. The devil is my son. If he catches wind that you are here, you will meet a brutal end. Yet, you amuse me. Come,” she said. She turned and walked into the castle.

Jacob walked past Aledia and Wilhelm. They both pulled themselves up and followed behind the scholar. Together, the three walked into the red-lit halls of the devil’s castle.

Featured Photo by ID 12019 via Pixabay. Altered by Lindsey Gruden.

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