COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES
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This is a collection of short stories; horror, mystery, fantasy. Goosebumps will crawl against your skin upon every read, that's a promise. So dive in only if it's what you can handle. DON'T SAY YOU WEREN'T WARNED. Things gets darker, creepier and scarier the more you dive in and once sucked in; there's no coming back out.
"Jack! Pass the ball here!"
One of the other orphans shouts in my direction, over the noise of the market. The rattle and the din. The clomp of horse shoes and the cackle of chickens.
I barely hear him, since the trader with the bulging belly to my left loudly haggles over the price of his bread with a customer.
My eyes fall briefly on the round, soft rolls of bread lining the wooden stall, and I briefly wonder if I can borrow a fat loaf for Aunt back home. The thought distracts me for a second, but that's more than enough time for another kid to attempt to tackle the ragged ball from my foot.
Years of playing kickball in the rowdy kingdom market makes my reflexes sharp, and I easily move away.
"Come on, Jack! Over here!"
I kick the ball, and it barely missed a woman who promptly curses me out. I am grinning when a kid with prominent ribs and dirty skin catches the ball.
However, that grin is immediately wiped off my face when yells erupt from an alley to the right. It can only be trouble.
Instinctively, I begin to run towards the noise, narrowly missing food stalls and expertly weaving through people. I burst out of the throng to see my best friend, Adam, in the clutches of three knights.
I hurry over to hide behind an eroded stone wall, reading the situation. His clothes are dusty, and a nervous expression covers his face. Knowing him, he is putting on a show for the knights, hoping they fall for it.
Usually, Adam can lie his way out of anything. Luck is not on his side today, it seems.
"Where is the trinket you stole, peasant!"
The first knight yells threateningly.
Adam's threadbare shirt rips under the force of his grip. The other two knights are in the middle of catching their breaths, while trying to remain dignified and knightly.
They are still winded out from chasing after Adam and yelling at the same time.
"I stole nothing of that sort!" Adam protested.
"I'm just an orphan going about my business. That woman is wrongly accusing me! I didn't steal her trinket!"
That is my cue to intervene. I scale over the wall and approach the Knights in a jog, trying to sound as frantic as possible while I announce,
"The thief just ran by! He's headed towards the castle gates!" The knights glare at me.
"What the hell are you talking about, street bastard? This vermin is the thief!"
"I saw a boy run out of this alley, trying to hide a trinket in his pockets. He was pretty fast, so I didn't get a good look at it. But it looked expensive. Thieves shouldn't be allowed anywhere near the castle."
The knights pale at my last statement, exchanging quick glances. They decide they could not risk a thief getting near royal grounds, so they quickly lose interest in Adam.
He is shoved back into the dust, while they storm past me, yelling at people to move out of the way. Once they were out of the alleyway, I glance back at Adam with a smirk.
The cunning bastard smiles back, holding up a shiny trinket. The gesture makes me chuckle with pride.
Outsmarting some self-righteous knights is a favorite pastime of mine. Especially since knights are the most cruel to orphans in the kingdom who are just victims of circumstances, trying to survive.
"Thanks for saving my ass, Jack." He says. "This looks like it's sure to earn us a couple of copper pieces at the pawn shop."
I cast a quick glance around to be sure any potential snitches are out of sight and earshot. Adam walks closer, his tall, lanky form swaying with triumph. I am several inches taller than he is, but despite the hunger that is a defining feature of all orphans, I still have a fair amount of flesh on my bones.
Aunt says I have my father's build. Adam has close to no flesh, so he appears lankier.
I take the trinket from him to inspect it, curling my lips down. It turns out to be one of the cheap ones made with fake gold.
"So much noise for a trinket that isn't even made of precious stones." I say, tossing it back to him.
"What would those damn knights have done if it was emerald? But nice find, Adam, you should trade it when the dust settles down. We don't want those knights coming back."
Adam brushed a hand through his sandy blonde hair, as we both begin to walk out of the alley.
"I have enough dust on me to build a damn castle. Let's get out of here."
I laugh, "It was worth it. I didn't get anything today, well, except for curses from a few women while playing kickball with the other kids." He dissolves into laughter as well.
"I saw some really nice looking loaves of bread earlier. I was thinking about borrowing some when you ran into trouble." I add.
Adam groans, rubbing a hand on his flat belly through his ripped shirt.
"Don't talk about food, Jack. I'm hungry enough as it is."
I smile halfheartedly at the joke, but we both know being hungry is torture for we orphans. We adapt, of course, but the sight of the prominent ribs in the younger and helpless kids, makes me feel less remorse for doing what we can to survive.
We leave the marketplace and head down the path leading outside the kingdom gates. Where our small village rests. I absently kick rocks along the path, inhaling the familiar scent of the village.
It was the most neglected village by the royal family, but the most peaceful. Well, as peaceful as a village can get under the iron fist of the royal guards and knights.
"Want to come with me to the pawn shop tomorrow? You are better at haggling with that miserly old crone. He might try to swindle my trinket away."
Adam looks at me expectantly, like he expects me to refuse when we do everything together when we can.
"Of course. I'll see you then!"
We part ways and I head down the snaky path leading to the small cottage I live in with my aunt. The house seems to be falling apart at the seams, as it is way older than aunt herself, yet I always patch up every hole before it poses a bigger problem that might cost of copper pieces we don't have.
"Aunt! I'm back!"
I call out, stepping through the door. I am greeted by a throaty cough, and a violent wheeze. I glanced sideways to see Aunt curled in her shrivelled bed, covered up to the chin by a blanket.
"Is it getting worse, Aunt? Should I get your herbs?" I say worriedly, crossing the small space to kneel beside the bed.
She shakes her head slowly, clearing her throat strongly,
"I just took my herbs, child. I will be fine once I get plenty of rest. Then I will be up and spinning lots of blankets to sell. Then we can pay our taxes. Don't worry about me, Jack."
Of course, she was only saying that for my sake. I knew her health had been getting worse recently.
Aunt is as sickly as always, but even then, she still has enough strength to spin blankets we can sell to earn more copper pieces. Recently, she has lost all of her strength and is now bound to the bed with a nasty cough.
We are behind on paying our taxes, and I have tried to spin the blankets like Aunt does it, but that only ends in waste and despair. I always end up ruining the yarn.
And it costs a lot to buy good yarn. So, I can not help with Aunt's work.
She clears her throat again, and I hurry over to get her a cool mug of spring water. She slightly sits up, and I make her take a few sips, before she lowers herself back into the bed.
"Thank you, Jack." She whispers.
I give her a small smile. I know I could do so much more for Aunt to make her far more comfortable, and even healthy again. After all, she raised me ever since my parents died when they caught the plague.
Their fate was sealed to the claws of death, and I was sent to my aunt in another village so I don't catch the disease.
She had raised me ever since. She filled the void of both mother and father, going strong till she is now too weak to work. Now, she depends on me a lot, even if she does not admit it.
A surge of determination fills me. I brush a strand of her hair away from her face, making her a promise,
"I'll find a way to pay our taxes, Aunt. Please, rest."
The sounds of banging against the wooden door is what rouses me from my slumber. I blink the sleep from my eyes, and uncurl myself from my sleeping corner.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
"Open up in the name of his Majesty, the king!" A male voice yells outside.
I let out a groan and stretch out my limbs, then brush the lint out of my dark hair. I cannot find the strip of cloth I always tie my shoulder-length hair back with, so I let it be and go ahead to yank the door open.
The daylight filters in through the dank wood, and I pull the door open wider. Two guards stand in front of the cottage, menacing and rigid.
"We are the royal guards. Submit your taxes, you are far behind on your payments." One of the guards says stoically.
I resist the urge to grimace at them. They always insist on introducing themselves each time they come for taxes, despite the fact that their attire definitely shows that they work for the king.
I straighten up and tell them
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