Freebie Mondays: The Mawor (Prompt Novel Chapter 2)

Freebie Mondays: The Mawor (Prompt Novel Chapter 2)

For 2024, I have decided to devote my prompt writing time to a novel. The twist is that the novel plot will be generated entirely by the writing prompts I chose to use for the project – which were rolled randomly using my trusty dice and a few online prompt lists. You can find the Table of Contents here.

For Chapter 2, I used the prompt: “She has been walking for hours. Her feet are bleeding. But she can’t stop; she can’t let him find her again.”

Since I used much of the first chapter to establish the MMC (male main character) and his current circumstances, I decided to use this chapter as establishment for the FMC (female main character). Not only did this grant me an opportunity to create some backstory – not to mention a really cool urban legend for the area where our FMC grew up – it allowed me to establish why the events of the first chapter took place the way they did.

If you’d like to see this chapter come together, you can watch the VoD on Youtube!
. . .

Her feet ached. With each step, it felt as though a fresh shard of glass penetrated her bare soles, sending a tiny electric jolt of pain through her legs. That spark soon became fire, a dull incessant burn that made the edges of each wound feel raw.

Yet she could not stop. If she hesitated for even the barest of moments, he would gain ground. And she couldn’t allow that.

Tree branches choked her path and tree roots littered the ground beneath her. Their bark scraped roughly against her skin, and the undergrowth felt like grasping hands attempting to wind around her ankles and hold her fast. With no tools to clear the way, she had to rely on her hands. Swiping vigorously at each of the gnarled tree limb caused it to give way, but only briefly. Many of the thick, leafless branches slapped against her back or scratched at her shoulders as she shimmied past, until she was certain her body was as bruised as the bases of her feet.

Yet she kept running.

She had been running for hours. Her feet were bloody, and the slow, steady red ooze no doubt left an easy to follow trail behind her.

Yet she could not stop. She couldn’t let him find her again.

“Have you heard the legend of the Mawor?” The voice belonged to her sister, and it echoed in Ira’s head as she gasped to keep her breath and threw her arms wide to keep her footing.

Had she known what misery that tale would bring their family, Ira doubted Constance would have grinned the way she did when she spoke the question, smug with the invincibility of youth, secure in the knowledge that even their small town’s oldest and most brutal legend could never touch them.

“He was a man once,” her sister’s voice went on, heedless of the consequences her words might eventually generate. “Before he went into the woods, that is. Something found him there and changed him.”

No one ever said what the transformative force was. In her youth, Ira imagined every manner of creature from vampires to werewolves to a simple pool of inky black shadow. But if any of those things lurked in the woods out behind the old mill on the edge of town, someone would have found them. Physical dangers left physical signs, and the teenagers she went to school with scoured every inch of those woods by the time they were grown.

No, whatever transformed the mysterious man into the legendary Mawor, it was a supernatural force, impossible to find beneath the bright light of day.

Though perhaps if she ran far and fast enough, she might stumble upon it amidst her mad flight. The last rays of the sun’s light had long since faded, after all, leaving her to flee beneath the thin, sliver-grey light of the moon.

A particularly large root protruded from the hard-packed ground ahead of her. Ira was so focused on the branches attempting to claw her face, she didn’t notice until her foot caught in its loop.

She grasped for the nearest tree trunk as momentum skewed her trajectory, but she couldn’t get enough of a grip to right herself. Luckily, she managed to wrench her foot free of the root before she rolled, otherwise the force of her tumble might have snapped her calf.

For several long, terrible seconds, she rolled through the darkness and the bushes, praying thorns wouldn’t catch in her clothing and hair.

At least it was movement of some kind, a forward momentum she could continue the moment she came to rest. It would put inches between her and the terrible thing she fled, though not nearly enough.

Her heart pounded in her throat and ears when at last her body came to rest, and it took several long seconds to push to her hands and knees. Her arms trembled, and her breath sounded ragged as it struck her ears. She couldn’t possibly go on like this much longer.

But she had to.

She could still remember the long, thick fingers from the first time they closed around her throat. The skin of the Mawor was thick and coarse, not unlike the bark of the trees that surrounded her. Yet there was a slickness to his touch, a clammy chill that sent a shiver tearing down Ira’s spine.

The voice of the Mawor was like the howl of the winter wind scraped against a long gravel walk, but the words that flowed from its lips were impossible to forget.

“You will never truly leave here.”

Ira was tempted to crawl. It would at least distribute the brutal scratching and bruising the forest awarded her for her attempt to traverse it. But she simply could not move fast enough. She could hear him rustling through the underbrush now, disturbing the grass and snapping the dry twigs that had fallen in her wake.

Heedless of the pain it caused her, Ira scrabbled for purchase against the nearest tree trunk and clawed her way back to her feet. They burned in protest, drawing a sharp cry of pained distress from her throat – but she cut it off quickly.

There was no time to despair the revelation of her position. She pushed off the tree, leapt over the root protrusion and began to run again. Her lungs burned as badly as her feet, and each new step sent another sharp stab of pain radiating through the lower half of her body.

But she had to reach the mill without delay. It was the only way she might once again slip through his clutches.

Though once she reached the outskirts of the forest and the grass became soft beneath her blighted feet, she didn’t intend to stop running. She would careen straight onto the street and sprint all the way home.

Whatever it took to avoid being dragged to the Mawor’s lair, from which the innocent were never allowed to escape.

“There is only one,” her sister’s voice informed her with sage wisdom. “Most of us believe there can only ever be one. But there’s nothing quite as terrifying as the half-man, half-tree beast that haunts the edges of our town.”

The most terrifying thing about the Mawor, though, was that his dire claim had been correct. No matter how far Ira ran, no matter how many miles she put between her and her hometown, no matter how many winters she refused to make the journey back to share a meal and an evening among family, some small piece of the damned forest was always with her. It lurked in the back of her memory, hunting and hounding her as certainly as the beast that now stalked her footsteps.

It was the Mawor – she was certain of it. He had been chasing her since that night in the woods. And no matter how many state lines or sleepless nights she put between her and the legend, the only thing that kept him from catching up with her was forward motion.

So even as her lungs burned and her feet throbbed, Ira ignored both her fatigue and trembling of her limbs to put one foot in front of the other while the hot, sticky trail grew long in her wake.

One more branch and she would see the clear, clean line of the meadow and the stark, looming shadow of the defunct mill.

One step beyond the edge of the tree line and she would be safe.

She could see glimmer of moonlight off early morning dew as she extended her hand beyond the final branch.

But that was when she felt her toes dig into damp earth, and her foot slipped out from under her, drawing a light gasp from her throat as she once again fell.

*   *   *

Ira woke with a scream on her lips, but she swallowed it, just as she had in the dream. She had gotten good at stifling her fears and containing the force of her horror so it merely reverberated through her chest instead of disturbing the stillness of her darkened bedroom.

The soft sound of measured breathing filled her ears, slowly driving all other thoughts from her fevered brain. It was not her breath; it did not fill her lungs. But when she gained the ability to pierce the darkness with her vision, she noted the steady rise and fall of her husband’s chest – a perfect match for the sound that restored her sanity.

It took a great deal of effort, but Ira forced her chest to match her husband’s movements, drawing fresh, clean air into her lungs until they felt as though they might burst. It was hardest to resist the urge to release that captured air in a rush, but she exhaled slowly.

Half an hour passed before her breath matched her husband’s, light and steady inward then a single harsh huff of exhalation that faded as her lungs emptied.

Sometimes, this strategy allowed her to drift back into oblivion by removing all other thoughts from her head. But today, Ira’s muscles remained tense. Even forcing them to relax with each breath didn’t ease the anxiety from her limbs or the fevered memory of the dream from her mind.

She forced herself to lay still for half an hour more, her eyes fixed with determination on the slowly shifting blanket that covered her husband. She could not roll over and look at the clock. That would cement the lack of sleep in her brain, forcing her to endure the rest of the long, slow night in her currently agitated state.

Ira clung to the idea of sleep, silently praying it would obliterate the thoughts that swarmed her brain. But at a certain point, she was forced to admit that sleep was not coming. Trying to forget was not going to make any difference, nor were the breathing exercises she still struggled to complete.

With a soft, defeated sigh, Ira rolled out from under the covers, donned her slippers and the robe she kept hanging near the bed and shuffled free of the dark room where her husband slept on oblivious.

She did not turn on a light when she reached the hallway. Instead, she felt her way through the silent corridor until she found a corner. Then she grasped the railing of the stairs and eased down them one at a time.

Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness enough that Ira could discern the outlines of her possessions – the pictures that lined the walls in carefully measured boxes and straight lines, the table that held keys and coins set just inside the entry way, the couches that occupied the cozy living room and the rug that sat beneath them.

But it was to the kitchen that Ira made her way. There, she activated a dim light that hung over the sink and pressed the button that would heat up her coffee machine. Then she sighed again and sank into a chair she pulled away from the dining table.

Her intention was to fold her head into her hands and allow it to rest there until the coffee machine beeped to indicate it had finished its task of producing a batch of the dark, rich liquid that might allow her to survive the day.  But she curled into the relaxed position for only a moment before curiosity overcame her. She lifted her head and reached instead for her slippers.

One by one, the padded slippers bounced off the cold kitchen floor. Then Ira bent each leg gently at the knee so she could gain a clear view of her soles.

Angry patches of purple stood out in stark contrast to the rest of her pale skin. Bright red slashes cut across them, thick with the crust of newly formed scabs.

Ira’s fingers moved gently across the healing cuts, but that didn’t prevent several of the scabs from cracking enough to ooze fresh blood.

For a moment, she was certain it was the dream that caused her feet to bleed anew. The memory of her flight through the forest surely caused her to thrash, making some of the pain she experienced genuine instead of remembered or simulated.

But that was silly. The brain went to great lengths to make certain the body didn’t act upon dreams, and Ira had clearly been nestled beneath the blankets that adorned her bed when she came awake.

The memory of the Mawor could not harm her. She certainly hadn’t ever heard a version of the myth where it could stalk its prey in dreams.

“Though it wouldn’t surprise me,” she murmured.

The harsh beep of the coffee machine startled her, and she jumped. Her instinct was to slam her feet onto the floor and rise to pull the coffee pot free of the burner – but that would leave a trail of red across the floor.

Instead, she cursed softly and shuffled her chair toward one of the kitchen drawers. From it, she pulled a fresh roll of gauze. With a paper towel pulled from the roll by the sink, she cleaned the oozing cuts and applied a thin layer of bandages. Then she slid her feet back into her slippers and at last made her way to the coffee machine.

Ira spent several seconds inhaling the scent of the coffee she poured into her mug, hoping it would finally serve to banish the dream from her memory.

But she could still feel the rasp of the tree branches against her wrists and the sharp stab of each fresh step as she fled through the darkness. She shivered, and drank from the mug, but even the hot liquid couldn’t drive the supernatural chill away.

A soft click reached Ira’s ears moments before a bright light flashed to life in the hallway. She tensed, half-expecting to see the gnarled branches of a tree turn the corner into the kitchen. But it was only her husband, roused by either the beep of the coffee machine or the lack of warmth produced by her presence.

Certainly he hadn’t been driven from sleep by a nightmare. The man slept like a rock. Ira doubted he even dreamed.

“Go back to sleep, Delmar,” she murmured and forced a tired smile to turn her lips upward. “You still have at least three hours before you need to be awake for work.”

A yawn escaped her husband’s lips and he rubbed at his eyes before glancing at the clock that hung over the stove. It was a little before four am. Too early for any sane person to begin the day, but late enough Ira didn’t think it was worth making a second attempt at returning to bed.

“Did Constance call?” Delmar asked sleepily, pointedly ignoring his wife’s instructions.

Dread knotted Ira’s stomach. She reached into the pocket of her robe and pulled out her phone, but she knew the answer before she noted the lack of a text message notification.

If her sister had called, she would have heard the phone ring. She had been waiting for that call for two days.

Ira shook her head and shoved the inert device back into her pocket.

“When I saw you weren’t in bed, I thought maybe there was news,” Delmar admitted softly. He tried to keep his voice warm and free of worry, but Ira appreciated the small hint of disappointment that accompanied his words. It proved that he cared.

“I wish,” she said softly. She sank back into the chair she abandoned and clutched the coffee mug between both hands. Her fingers felt like ice, and she knew it had nothing to do with the ambient temperature of the room. Still, the hot liquid couldn’t penetrate the wintery chill that clung to her skin.

It was the cold of the forest born from dread of the Mawor.

“You didn’t have to come back,” Delmar said softly as he swept across the kitchen and settled his arms around her shoulders. “You could have stayed.”

“Why?” Ira retorted bitterly. “It wasn’t as if I was doing any good. A town – even a small, tight-knit one – can only mount so many search parties.” And she could only traverse those woods so many times before the horror wormed its way deep enough into her soul to drive her mad.

Her sister understood. She had grown up telling the stories, after all.

“Your sister needs you,” Delmar whispered. “You would want her here if your positions were reversed.”

His words sent another pang spiraling through her chest.

There was no way for their positions to be reversed.

“My sister needs her son,” she replied hoarsely and melted into her husband’s embrace.

Delmar’s arms tightened as Ida’s shoulders shook with pent up emotion. A sob bubbled from the depths of her chest, but it came out as a pathetic whimper. She had spent too much time crying over the past few days. She had no tears left in her to shed. Yet her husband held her as if she were lost in tears, murmuring soft nothings in her ear until she managed to draw a fresh, deep breath.

“They will find Wendell,” he asserted softly but sternly. “You know they won’t stop until they do.”

“That doesn’t mean this story will have a happy ending,” Ira insisted, though each word burnt her throat as she spoke it.

Everyone knew the first twenty-four hours were the most critical to kidnapping cases, especially when children were involved. And Ira had been three days in her home town before urgency brought her back to both her home and her office, where she had spent the last two days trying her hardest not to think of anything outside the immediate demands on her attention.

She just barely managed not to tank that critical client meeting after some asshole almost ran her off the road, and she had no idea how she would focus on work in a few hours when she added lack of sleep to the list of burdens she would carry to her office.

“He was not taken by the Mawor,” Delmar asserted as he straightened and removed his arms from Ira’s shoulders. He crossed the table and shot her a stern glance to reinforce the statement.

“How do you know?” Ira retorted before she could swallow the words.

Del grew up in the city. He had no concept of what lurked in the old woods that still skirted many of the half-abandoned towns where people like Ira and her sister grew up.

“Because it’s just an old story,” her husband insisted. “The Mawor isn’t real.”

Ira’s only answer was a shudder that tore through her body before she could suppress it.

“Whatever evil stole your nephew from his home and his family, it’s the work of plain, boring man,” Delmar insisted, though his voice was soft and his tone understanding. “This has nothing to do with what happened when you were in high school.”

Ira closed her eyes and saw with shocking clarity the stark branches of bare trees lit by the first frosty light of a winter sunrise. Her feet ached, and she wasn’t sure if it was because of the dream, because of the memory, or because she had spent three days treading that old ground searching for even the tiniest sign of her missing nephew.

She might have stayed locked in that odd sense of limbo a long time if her husband hadn’t cleared his throat gently to gain her attention.

“I could cancel this meeting, you know. Then you’d be free to go back.”

“No,” Ira insisted and shook her head. “You’ve been looking forward to this for far too long. And besides, it’s not the only reason I came back. Constance and I… We start to rub each other raw if we’re in close proximity for too long. She’ll call when she needs me.”

“And you’ll drop everything,” her husband informed her sternly, “to go where she needs you to go and do what she needs you to do.”

Ira nodded. It went without saying that some things were more important than client meetings and near-miss accidents and reunions with a high school sweetheart.

Her answer satisfied Delmar enough that he sighed softly, spun on his heel and trundled back up the stairs to make another attempt at sleep.

Ira, however, lingered in the kitchen, sipping her rapidly cooling coffee and praying against all hope that when her sister called, the favor she needed wouldn’t be planning sweet, innocent Wendell’s funeral.

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