|Written by Jason Barney / Artwork by Holly Eddy
“It is an ogre…” the witch whispered to the woods.
She crouched atop a large round boulder, gripping one side with a bony claw like hand. Every few
seconds she peered over the edge to spy on the creature lumbering through her swampland. The
familiar smells of rotting logs and sludge greeted her.
It startled her how close he’d gotten to her home. Most creatures, especially the sentient ones,
were frightened away by her moaning wind chimes. Placed around her dwelling, they almost
always warded off unwanted visitors. They attacked nerves the way bad nightmares invade sleep.
The poison bushes were also out there, placed where something was likely to approach.
Sometimes she found dead animals near them.
Gabin first detected its arrival on the winds, heavy feet thumping against the ground like an
elephant passing through a jungle. His body was massive, twice the size of a bear.
The witch tossed a glance behind her and considered the danger that approached. The
underground structure that was her home, the crevice between large rocks covered with old logs
and clumps of earth, would not likely withstand the brute’s weight.
She wondered what had gone wrong. The ogre should have heard the hollow, dead murmurs; the
clunks of hollow bone, and the skin on the back of his neck should have been crawling. It wasn’t
possible he maneuvered the forest without brushing his dinosaur like legs against her scrubs, the
flesh on his ankles should have been boiling.
The monster stepped forward, listening, as though he knew he was being watched. His belly
bulged out from the rest of his body, the oily skin round and flabby. A gnarled old animal hide
covered his lower waist. Muscles covered his arms and shoulders. The top of his head was layered
with boils, lumps, and splotchy patches of hair. A gray and red beard as thick as moss covered his
face. He was barefoot.
Gabin wondered if he were hunting, but banished the idea. She considered that he might be here
to kill her. There were bounties on her head. The villagers to the south were frightened and
stayed away, but maybe one of the Lords…
As she watched him plod closer to her home, it became increasingly clear he had to be stopped.
There was a flicker of hope as his swaying steps took him slightly up a rise to the left. His eyes
kept roaming. That area was above part of her abode where the underground rock sometimes
seeped mud. It was near the bog that helped camouflage her presence. She often used the
dripping water for soup. Spells occasionally.
That would be her chance. She would use the swamp. An image of decomposing ogre carcass
flashed in her mind’s eye.
Gabin propped herself up on the edge of the rock, felt the hardness against her knees. She knew
she would not be able to keep the position long. She was gifted with spells and potions, but her
tired old frame lacked strength and youthful muscle. Over the years her body had curled, her hair
had thinned. She was missing teeth. Her skin sagged.
The ogre stepped again, as she had worried, around the large rocks. He gripped his spear in one
hand like a walking stick, not a weapon.
Another step. Then another. His feet were close to the muck. The brute looked down, then cocked
his head to the right. His eyebrows went up. He uttered a grunt, studied the boulders, and set
about moving closer to them.
Gabin began chanting. Guttural moans escaped her lips. She reached under the ground with her
senses and experienced the rigidity of the roots and the vines. They became hers. She saw the
soil in front of him thin.
The ogre was two or three steps away from her kill zone. Gabin watched three thick vines break
through the mud, slithering along the ground like snakes. The beast lifted his nose to the air, like
an animal attempting to locate the scent of another, and tilted his head. A moment passed, and
his attention dropped to the ground. He noticed the slow winding motion of the plant life, but did
not react. She thought he looked like an infant distracted by a bright toy.
The ogre prodded the vines with his spear and took one step back.
The surface of the earth sprouted more roots and vines. A season’s worth of growth happened in a
few excited seconds. Some reached for his feet. Others rose and struck for his ankles.
The ogre brought its left foot up and brought it down hard, flattening some of the growth. It
pushed another tendril away with the butt of the spear.
Gabin continued to chant.
Vines wrapped around the calf muscle of his right leg.
It grunted as the expanding attack seized his second foot. He yanked up hard, realizing the
danger. The ogre swung the back end of his spear down as hard as he could, like an explorer
clearing a path through a jungle with a machete. There was snapping and ripping, as some of the
roots were torn in half. The spear arched into the sky from the successful swing, bits and chunks
of dark matter thrust into the air.
Gabin lurched over, her concentration momentarily broken. Pain seared her thoughts. She had not
expected such strength. Ogres were fierce creatures, and she didn’t often tangle with them. His
partial deflection of her attack was an unwanted reminder of why.
Seeing his success, he tensed to swing again.
Gabin altered her chant. She focused her being on the roots he had not struck and those still
emerging from the ground. They were leeches on his flesh, a boa constrictor squeezing life out of
its next meal. The roots clamped below its knees, hard. Blood, the color of a deep bruise,
emerged from his ankle.
The next swing came with a yelp of agony. The spear connected again. More bits of her attack
were ripped away, but one of the weeds attached itself to the end of his spear.
She clenched more, compressing around bone.
The monster screamed in agony. He lost the grip on his spear. It fell half submerged into the
There was no escaping now. She had him.
The witch stepped out from behind the trees and boulders.
“Tell me why you are here,” she said.
For the first time it saw her. The ogre became enraged, unleashing a battle cry that would have
made men quiver. He snarled sharp, uneven teeth. Some of them were broken, a few were
missing. The ogre did not respond.
He gripped that which was curling up against his thighs, squeezing his fingers between flesh and
root. She was startled, even scared, by his physical strength, and had to concentrate when sharp
fingernails penetrated her roots.
The pounding in her head flared.
She unleashed her own attack, harder this time. The curling weeds exploded around his midsection
as though he were wading through tall grass. She allowed an image of a cracking eggshell enter
her mind. The beast thrashed wildly.
One vine wrapped itself around a thick forearm and pulled down, another snaked up his chest and
reached for his bicep. A defiant bellow came from his lungs. He looked at her again, burning eyes
wishing her death.
She twisted her hand and he toppled over. For a moment, he resisted, another testament to his
brute strength, but her cords turned and yanked, and he was on the ground. He flogged about like
a fish out of water.
Gabin stepped down from her perch and strode to him. When she looked down, she saw
disturbingly thick muscles. If he had been able to reach her, she would have been ripped apart. An
image of him standing over her, victorious, entered her mind, and she shuddered.
Vines clutched his shoulders, neck, and forehead. Roots corkscrewed around them as his breathing
became heavy. She looked at the tendrils, concentrated, and brought her hands together.
The ogre screamed. Each of his limbs was pulled in separate directions.
She had no desire to torture him, but there would be a few more moments of agony.
He was desperate. Wild coughs and gurgles escaped his mouth. There was a series of snaps and
his right leg sagged below the ankle. Then his left arm went limp. He dipped his chin and tried to
bring his head up. There was one final loud pop, like the sound of a wine bottle being opened, and
the ogre’s head sagged. Its neck was broken.
Her body relaxed, exhausted at the physical exertion during the confrontation. The witch wished
she had more information; why the ogre had visited her lair in the first place. She stood there,
contemplating the question a few moments, then cast another spell.
She gazed at the surface of the swamp and uttered words rarely said. The winds picked up, and
small ripples pushed across the face of the swamp. There was a sucking sound, like a tooth
leaving its gums.
A wave formed in the gray marsh. Murky liquid was pushed forward. The weeds and slime crested
against the ogre’s remains. Gabin saw the lumps within the receding wave. The mud frothed and
bubbled, the slime more red than usual. The smell of burnt flesh and hair filled the air.
Then the shore was empty. There was no evidence a struggle had occurred. The ogre was gone,
swallowed away. Even her vines had melted and dissipated.
Her swamp was as it had been.
She returned to her dwelling, pondering how such a random monster had found her. She entered
her hidden home, closing the moss covered door and contemplating her safety. Fatigued, she took
small, slow steps through her kitchen. A large coal colored cauldron rested in an unlit fire pit. Bats
twitched and rested on her ceiling.
She noticed her candles burned a little less bright. The swamp water seeping through the rocks
above was tainted a shade of brownish red.
Gabin limped to her sleeping chamber. The dry grasses, leaves, and animal skins which made up
her bedding where more inviting than at any point in the last several months. Her mind was foggy,
and her ancient arms swayed back and forth with each step. She settled in, looking at the earth
She thought of the villagers to the south. She considered the Lords, so rich and land wealthy. And
she thought about the ogre, now dead.
Tomorrow she would investigate the reasons for the trespass.
She lay down on the straw. Her old bones fatigued, and worn.
Jason Barney lives in Vermont. He has had 90 short stories published by 20
different small press markets. He is a Social Studies teacher. He tries to write 1000
words per day and send out at least one short story per week.