Chat-your-own-Adventure #33: Pinky Promise

Author’s Note: This story was written live on stream with the audience voting to determine the path of the story.  The underlined phrases in the choice of three were the winning pathways.  Stop by if you’d ever like to participate in our interactive fiction.

King of Horror                                 Nutella Game                    Texan’s Rough Life

Sire, you can’t remain in here all day,” Attendant Syrril said. She walked over to the king’s four poster bed and pulled back the curtain. The king was a young man, but the recent stresses had aged him noticeably. His dark eyes took a moment to focus on his loyal attendant’s face. She couldn’t even guess what he thought he was seeing: a ghost, an otherworldly ectoplasm, or perhaps some kind of giant speaking insect with an odd number of legs.

His skin was pale and greenish, and it looked like there was some fluid trapped in the skin under his chin. Whenever his head moved it bulged on the opposite side, shifting in a way ordinary blood would not. After the painstaking task of focusing his eyes, he lifted himself into a sitting position and cleared some of the phlegm in his throat. Pleechhllk! Peeeeelckk!

What time is it?” he asked, wiping his mouth with a frilly pajama sleeve.

It doesn’t matter, remember my king?” Syrril asked. “They don’t use time, and they said to visit them when they didn’t expect it. That’s the only way to please them.” He nodded his head, though he didn’t seem to find the memory in the flood craft drawer of his mind. She helped him get changed, careful to avoid anything with bright colors. Those upset them. His red and golden robes were growing mold at the bottom of the dresser. All the kingdom’s business was theirs now, all of it tainted.

Where are you taking me?” the king asked as she helped him stand. “Please, not back out to the fields.”

I’m afraid so, sire. They’ve made promises about the pumpkins. We need them to be true for the harvest or we’re doomed come winter. And they can only be true if you’re there to…

…Prove them,” the king finished. “Yes, I know. It’s all me. Everyone’s relying on me. Stay by my side Syrril. Don’t let your hand off mine, even for a moment, yes? I’m afraid I’ll be set adrift out there. I don’t think even they know what would happen after that.”

You’ve asked me this before, sire,” she informed him in a whisper. There were no spies in their kingdom, no rogue ears, but they might have had an influence in his bedroom. Better to speak closely and quietly. “We have a procedure now. Regular as breakfast.” She pulled him back over to the dresser and dug out a pair of silver fingercuffs, forged just for them. She attached one around his middle finger, his grounding finger according to their occultist, and then attached the other end to her own middle finger.

Some people accused her of weaseling her way into his bed in order to become queen, but they’d never slept together. Besides, there wasn’t a woman in the land who wanted to be queen now, under this green moon and gray sky. Still, she held his hand like they were lovers and guided him to the door. The rest of the time in the castle passed in what felt like seconds; breakfast was over with only a few bites kept down. The stains were left on his shirt, for they would not mind such a disheveled appearance.

Bottom-wellers                         Rind-minds                             Creeping Promisers

The walk out to the pumpkin fields was similarly dream-like. Nay, it was only half a dream, the sort of desperate one you have when your mind is clinging to sleep, trying to shut out the morning’s first rays. Syrril and the king did not have any guards or escorts, for concentrations of humans disturbed them, prevented them from fulfilling their promises.

They stepped forward, dry husks and stems crackling underfoot. It didn’t look like a place where anything could ever grow. It didn’t look like a grave either, where things had died. It was more a miniature field built out of paper and resins. It was like the stage of a tragedy, lighted rather poorly.

There were no pumpkins to be seen, though their black and gnarly vines were strewn about. There was chirping, but no cricket would jump out from under your feet if you stormed through the patch. The green moon w as overhead, full, and without the characteristic dark spots. It had been like that, just a jellied algae-covered pupil, in the sky ever since their arrival, ever since the king held them to their first word.

I’m here,” the king told the dead air. It took several minutes for them to respond, but that was rather prompt given their misunderstandings regarding time. Syrril held the king’s hand tighter, made sure he was adequately propped up on his father’s raven-headed cane. Shapes came out of the dim of midday, not so much hovering as crawling on the outlines of the pumpkin vines, though several feet above their actual position.

Syrril called them ‘the promise creepers’, and that was really the best physical description of them. They were not of this world, or any world perhaps. She imagined one of the little spots that floated by in her vision sometimes. If one of those stopped in the middle of her eye, grew to a terrifying size, it would be the rotten scab-colored hole these creatures were spawned from. To think when they first arrived, when the young king first told the story of meeting them, everybody thought they were fairies.

How could they not, when the information was relayed with such excitement, with a voice turned five years younger by its enthusiasm. The king had run in from the gardens, after his break from his lessons, hands waving about, voice as high as a hummingbird.

In the bushes, behind the pond full of swans so proud and fluffy that they seemed to know they paddled in royal waters, he said he’d met an invisible friend. They talked of magic. This friend said that only a child could bring magic into the human world, and that the king was a little too old. His imagination had stiffened and turned to kindling.

The boy insisted it had not. He could do it. He promised. He even held up his pinky, waiting for something in the air to touch it. Syrril had been forced to memorize all the things your hands could do when it came to magic. The occultist had advised her in the purpose of each one: the pinky made promises, the ring kept them, the middle knows the truth of who you are, the index makes accusations, and the thumb thinks things over, sometimes smudging them. The boy shouldn’t have offered his pinky. Something did take it, but it wasn’t the tiny cherubic hand of a garden fairy. It was the wrapping tendril of a promise creeper.

Index Finger                                     Middle Finger                                          Thumb

Though the location changed each time, the ritual was always the same. The king would hold up his pinky, the source of the promise that brought them into this world fully, and offer it as a conduit for their magic. When he honored his first promise, it let them into his mind, and their presence chewed on it a little more everyday.

The occultist tried to remove them, but none of the spells or bloodletting seemed to do anything. The only choice was to put him out of his misery or to help him honor the promise of letting the creepers live in his kingdom. The people didn’t want to give up on the young man, lose him to madness as they had two generations prior, so they made the mistake of trusting the creepers. This was back when they hadn’t revealed their forms, when they still could’ve been little alabaster-skinned fairies with damselfly wings.

They circled around the king and Syrril in the patch, looking like hands mummified and the rearranged into the shape of hunting dogs or dragons. They were bony knobs and taut leathery skin. Their every movement was a collection of cracking sounds, like wooden kitchen utensils tossed down a cliff side. Syrril swallowed her disgust and kept calm. They’d done this before. It was routine, except it wasn’t. A routine was the same, day in and day out. Every promise was a little darker and took a little more from the people.

The creepers ‘pulled their weight’ with displays of their magic. They could produce anything the kingdom needed, but they all realized too late that none of it was quite right. If you asked for a pet cat they would give you a dead one. If they promised your enemies couldn’t pass your borders, they would deliver death to anything that tried be it human, animal, insect, or spore.

With no pollination, they now needed new promises from the creepers in order to have crops. The plants they provided were discolored and foul-tasting, though the food produced from them was nourishing… only to the body of course. To the mind each bite felt like fish scales appearing in your bloodstream.

The creepers had promised pumpkins big enough to hollow into carriages, and they would deliver as soon as long as the king raised his pinky and affirmed the new vow. Syrril took his wrist, helped him lift it, but the chose the finger all on his own. The collected creepers, more than twenty in all, made a terrible grinding sound, coiling up like crushed fingers and backing away in the air.

Syrril raised her head, something she hadn’t done in so long that she nearly pulled a muscle. She looked at her king’s, her friend’s, hand and saw no pinky raised to the sky. Instead he had chosen the thumb in an act of defiance. There was still enough of him left to defy, perhaps only enough for one of ten digits, but it was enough for Syrril. She helped him keep it up as the creepers jittered and skittered in a circle, demanding in wordless voices that he give them his pinky, lest they take everything.

Syrril’s mind spun, and the thin air of the pumpkin patch, thinned by their presence, failed to clear it no matter how deeply she gasped. She had to remember her studies with the occultist. Resistance didn’t seem possible; the occultist had tried and paid with their life, but with their soul first. There had to be something they could do. The king was his own man still, and he had the power to break promises if he wanted to.

Reality Smudge                                  Evil Pumpkin                             Cursed Digits

The Creepers acted before she could think of anything. Their only medium was promises, but their delivery could be as harsh as they wanted. Something bulged under Syrril’s shoe. She pulled the king back a few steps, careful to keep his thumb held aloft. He couldn’t even look away from the digit and see the white warty swelling pushing the black vines out of the way.

It grew and grew, pieces popping outward, but not ripping, every time a creeper cracked a limb. It grew less like a gourd and more like a bag full of hornets getting angry. They had promised pumpkins, so now they grew one just for the king and Syrril. It rose until it towered over the scarecrows, knocking one of them over. Its stitched mouth split and it seemed to cry out, but it was not the source of that sound. It was the pumpkin.

They heard wailing and screaming from under its rind. The sounds seemed to bubble up as purple splotches on the otherwise bone white exterior. Syrril turned around and pulled the king, but the pumpkin was on the other side. She turned back and it was still there. They couldn’t leave. It really was like the field had been turned to paper. The creepers could simply fold it anyway they wished, curl the stage until it was a circle the actors could never escape. They could only control their bodies, like someone treading water in a pitch black sea.

The pumpkin’s stem, now wide as a stump, curled toward them. It grew as fast as the gourd itself, hanging over them in moments. It split form the vine, revealing not fiber but a tunnel of green and white undulating flesh full of a waterfall of screams that forced the king to lower his thumb. Syrril pushed it back up.

We can do this!” she shouted in his ear. “Don’t give up! Break your promise! Make us all see what happens!” They were pulled from the ground by a chilling wind that sent goose-flesh prickling across their bodies, even to places where it was never supposed to form: their eyelids and the soles of their feet. Their very substance, the truths of their skin and its oils, was being poked and prodded by the magic of the promise creepers.

The stem swallowed them like a python, squeezing them tight on all sides. They slid around the curve, wet with something that certainly wasn’t pumpkin juice. They were dropped into the hollow of the gourd, into a greenish pool populated by swimming screams with lidless eyes that darted all around, looking for a world that was too many promises away.

The splash tore most of the senses from Syrril’s mind, but she was able to understand one thing. These screams, the seeds of this evil pumpkin, were the king’s fate. Once he’d made more promises than a person could keep he would have no humanity left. He would be one of these things, transformed into the pain of a broken vow and kept by the creepers as some sort of pet or wriggling necklace charm.

Syrril looked into the king’s eyes, watched them dart this way and that, watched his mouth stretch open, ready to scream that he was sorry and that he would keep his promises. His pinky twitched. The attendant knew that the creepers always did this to people who were alone. They buckled under the pressure of the only other minds and made promises they wouldn’t make otherwise. The king of the cracking horrors was not alone. He had his closest friend, and her mind, which in the wild rampant desperation of the otherworldly fluid, came up with an idea.

Bite                                                        Break                                                              Vow

His hand twitched. His thumb curled in. Perhaps the middle finger, his identity and his rage at its loss, would’ve proved resilient enough, but he’d wanted to think and talk his way out of his promise, smudge it with his thumb as if changing a letter, but it couldn’t withstand the assault on his spirit. His pinky stretched out, ready to honor the promise, to follow behind the giant pumpkin as it rolled itself into town, cut itself into nasty dripping slices, and pushed its way down the throats of his citizens.

There would be no more promises, because there would be no more finger to make them. Syrril pulled his hand down, even as the fluid in the pumpkin rose over their mouths and noses. She opened wide and pulled him inside. She bit down on his pinky, pretending it was one of the skittering creepers. She bit like a rabid animal, every last drop of water in her flesh converted into vengeful saliva.

With three powerful gnaws she ripped his pinky from his hand, blood spewing out in clouds that hid his screaming face. She spat the pinky out… and it landed on the dry ground. She shot to her feet and whirled around. The creepers were gone. The moon was as blue as it should’ve been. The air felt full and peaceful. She wiped the blood from her mouth and helped the king to his feet.

Are you alright, s-sire?” she asked, her wits returning enough to speak, though she stuttered.

I’m… I need…” The king held up his hand. His pinky was gone, but its place was not empty. Instead there was something purple, boneless, and throbbing, like a worm. It didn’t look like it could make promises, but it certainly didn’t belong on a human. It reached toward her. Syrril pulled back, but their hands were still cuffed together. It wrapped around her pinky and tightened.

Promise me,” the king groaned. “Promise me that you’ll still hold my hand.”

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