Old Strittie

Something fed off the child. It came at night, from out of the closet. It fed on her, whether she was awake or asleep, for it did not care if the young saw. It knew that if the children — there had been many — said something, their elders would mock them. Punish them, even, for none have the potential to be as cruel or nonsensical as those who care for young minds.

It fed on her as she slept, her heavy breaths pained and laboured. It slurped and sucked and gulped its feast in the silence of the twilight, where only the crickets chirped, where only the owls hooted, where only the shadows lurked. It fed on her as she lay wide awake and her body trembled, her eyes open and oh so white. It fed on her as she gazed at the ceiling and tried to not look. It fed on her as she repeated the mantra, over and over and over within her mind: Eat and then go. Eat and then go. Eat and then go.

And, as was the case every night, once Old Strittie had her fill, she retreated to the place from which she’d emerged. A creaking, twitching backwards walk. A walk that seemed to hiccup and jolt every few steps, like a scratched CD or a damaged VHS tape. In reverse she walked, head down, face obscured by a cascade of long black hair, movements jerky. Backwards she crept, into the shades and silhouettes she called home.

The child could not say why, but she got the distinct impression that to look at her was the most dangerous thing to do. Yes, it depleted Sasha and — despite her young age — she knew this was bad. But so far, Old Strittie had always left.

And so far, she’d always survived the night.

So far.

But Old Strittie sapped the child of her energy, stripped her of her youth, drained her of her vibrance. A life that had once been an explosion of rainbows and colour had begun to yellow and fade; the corners curled like an old photograph.

“She used to be such an energetic child, so bubbly and vibrant!” remarked Miss Elson. “Vivacious, even! What’s happened? Is there something I need to know about?” A note of concern crept into the teacher’s voice. It had an accusatory aftertaste.

Sasha’s parents frowned and shook their heads. “No,” they said in unison. “Nothing’s changed.” And, as far as they were concerned, nothing had. As ignorant to the affairs of small children as most adults are, they knew nothing of Old Strittie. If you told them some of their old school chums had encountered the feeder from the shadows, they would have laughed and poo-pooed you. But it would be true. Oh yes, it would be true.

But the ones who encounter her in youth never make it to maturity.

The night was black, except for the purple glow from the lava lamp, which bubbled its wax, up and down, up and down, up and down. The house was deathly silent. It felt as if the very walls themselves held their breath. The carpet seemed to shrink. It cringed away into the boards, away from the gloom.

Sasha gripped her duvet, her face covered. She could hardly breathe. She focused her eyes on the closet door. The child could feel her pulse — it thundered in her temples, boomed in her eardrums. The seconds tick-tick-tocked at a snail’s pace; the cleansing rays of dawn an eternity away.

The brass knob of the door jittered, a faint metallic rattle. The little girl gasped, the air caught in her throat. She turned onto her back and locked her eyes on the ceiling as the blood in her veins turned to ice. Time stretched out before Sasha, suspended between the present and what was to come.

Creeee. The closet door started to squeak open. Creeee. A chasm of nothingness yawned open in the wake of the door. Creeee! The door stood open, swaying. The shadows seemed to bleed from out of the closet. They stained the world with their inky blackness.

And then: footsteps whispered across the carpet. A blackened silhouette lurched out of the dark. The outline of a woman with her head down, a dangle of lank hair; Old Strittie walked backwards out of the gloom.

Joints clicked and tendons creaked. The woman of shadows closed in on the child. With the crawling approach of a predatory spider, Old Strittie scuttled towards her meal. Her lurches from the closet to bed were awkward — the spectre moved in fits and spurts. She accelerated in spots, froze up and halted in others. Old Strittie moved with the air of a woman who has fought rigor mortis for a very long time.

All this Sasha watched from the periphery of her vision until Old Strittie stood by her bedside. She lingered there, swayed there, for a minute. The colour and light of the world seemed to dim — as if the hag were a black hole and pulled all into oblivion. If Sasha pricked her ears, she swore she could hear the ragged breaths that escaped those rotted lips.

Slowly, ever so slowly, Old Strittie turned around. Her naked feet padded against the carpet, her long toenails scratched at the material like thorns against the cloth. As the crone’s eyes fell upon the child, Sasha couldn’t help but utter a whimper. The sound was tiny and pathetic in the hush of the house.

And then, all was blackness. Old Strittie bent her haggard form over the child and the greasy curtain of hair fell across her face. For one awful moment, the woman hovered above her. Sasha could smell the rot and decay from her mouth, could hear her wheeze and gasp as she respired.

Next came the wet, slurping, suckling sounds.

Old Strittie began to feed.

Written for the #BlogBattle prompt: “Vivacious” — 10th February 2020

22 thoughts on “Old Strittie

  1. aebranson

    Wow! Or should I say, Ew, gross! I think part of what got my imagination rolling is the poetic cadence that saturates this story. I figured Sasha was somewhere in her preschool years, but that did make me wonder at what age Strittie stops when selecting her victims. Before you described her, I did envision her as a spider-like creature, so when you used that metaphor it rang so true. I found it intriguing that she always move backwards, which made my imagination crawl with all kinds of theories why. Your description of her did put me in mind of the demon Lilith who preys upon the young, or even some kind of incubus. Good use of the prompt word, especially since I figured your monster would be vivacious and its victims … not such much. Another nice job!

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Hey, thanks so much! I’m really happy that you think this piece has a poetic cadence! 😀 I may dive into her character again, sometime — I had a lot of fun writing her, even if it took me a while to figure out how to work the prompt in. Thanks again! 🙂

  2. Gary

    Ok that answers my question! You did use your abstract artwork Joshua. Mind you, moving into the new generation…do they know what a VHS or CD is? Old relics that are us…moving back to vinyl of yore which sounded like the band was eating crisps as needles scratched through the grooves.

    Nice use of the closet monster too. It’s why nightlights come in handy. I have it in mind Old Strittie only operates in the darkness where fear breeds at the unknown. Could the hag still function if light fell upon the closet? Brings to mind a certain Freddie that came to life in dreams.

    Loved the way you dropped the word prompt too. Definitely not an easy one for horror writing… I managed to wrangle mine in by the cunning use of antonyms. It gave me a reverse angle into using vivacious 😂

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Yes, although it wasn’t as wild as some of my other pieces. I tried to give it a real world basis, so that it actually connected to the story. It’s not my favourite piece I’ve done, but I’ve also made worse, haha.

      I think (hope!) they know what a CD is. As for a VHS… they might not, now that I think about it. Quite a scary thought! Even though I was born after the era of vinyl, I’ve found myself gravitating towards listening to albums through that particular medium. There’s a warm and a crackle that I really love! Proper character, just like all music (and art, and writing etc.) should have.

      Thanks! Yes, I suspect you’re right. Perhaps I’ll revisit Old Strittie at some point in the future, and explore more about her — I really enjoyed writing her, and her odd movements… Also, I adore those old Elm Street movies — they were cheesy, but so much fun!

      I struggled to think how to use the prompt at first, but once I got the idea it all fell into place quite nicely! Ooh, I look forward to checking your story out, then! I’ll have a read ASAP!

      • Gary

        The real connection here with a reader is the closet monster and most peoples childhood. It’s why doors are left ajar with a landing light on or nightlights to dispel shadow. Using that premise you hit a story that casts people back to being a child.

        I noticed vinyl has been making quite a comeback too, although I suspect deck technology is somewhat better now. That said if things become too “sterile” then I think character starts to dwindle. Some things demand aberrations from ideality to lets minds connect otherwise it’s just a zombie world that doesn’t require a virus.

        Maybe next time you could search who Old Strittie is. What’s her history, why doe she do this, what were her nightmares. Is she ubiquitous among closets or cherry picking one at a time. The lonely hag feeding the cycle never to escape…parallels with depression and escaping it…

        A tip wry prompts that are a bit odd. Go through the antonyms. This is what I did and twisting lively happy into not so was much easier lol

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        Thanks, Gary! I did try to capture that childlike fear of the unknown. The nightmares we have as children can be some of the scariest things we endure (although I’ve had a fair few bad ones as an adult, so maybe we never really grow out of them?).

        I agree completely. I love character in music — it needs to feel human. Even if it’s electronic or synth-y music, I like to know that there’s a person behind it all! I’m not a fan of autotuning voices to the point of utter perfection — I much rather the natural slight imperfection of reality.

        I’ll have to have a think about this Old Strittie… And I’ll have to see what the prompt word is, of course! I have been thinking that I’d like to revisit some of my older short stories, as I feel there’s plenty of worlds I’d like to revisit and explore more in-depth. We’ll see what the prompt inspires, eh?

        I did think of the antonyms, but I still found myself a little bit stuck… I had the mental image of the purple lava lamp in the darkness (the one I drew for the pic), and tried to pull a story from that. Got there in the end! 😀

      • Gary

        I think childhood ones are probably more intense simply because as young kids experience many things for the first time. There’s an excitement many adults lose as the get older. Other “horrors” occur yes, but the intensity of feeling is numbed. If you could bottle the elixir of youth then life would be brilliant! It might be older people dwell more on issues rather than fire and forget. Maybe less mindful?

        Revisiting older stories is often fun too. Seeing what happens next if the story suggests more. Of course that can create infinite procrastination on WIP’s. Or… create new book ideas.

        I intended on antonym use right from the get go. You and pushing darker writing on me had no avenues for lively and upbeat! Still, whatever draws out inspiration is no bad thing!

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, Gary! I think that’s why kids are natural scientists — they’re excited and curious about everything. Somehow, along the way, that passion can sometimes get beaten out of us. If I may return to King for a moment (again, ha!) — I think that’s why he’s just so good, he writes children perfectly. And women. And men. And everyone, really. But he manages to capture that childlike innocence, curiosity and terror in a way that’s utterly real. Something to aspire to, eh?

        Haha, yes, an infinite loop of procrastination. There are some pieces I definitely want to come back to at some point — either as full-length explorations, or short stories. But, ultimately, if it’s fun and it makes for a good read, then it’s all good. As long as our “main” stories don’t stall in the process, that is! *Slaps own wrist*

        Speaking of lively and upbeat, the last three stories I’ve written (not for BB) have all been quite, dare I say it, happy. I think Doug liked the change of pace!
        😂 Not sure where they came from, but they’ve been a change of pace! Rest assured, it won’t be a permanent change. 😉 I think I wanted to practice making the reader at ease and to make them fall in love with the world and characters, before ripping it all apart. We touched on this in one of our many other threads!

      • Gary

        Something that always bemuses me people watching is parents of kids forgetting how their parents reacted to them when they were kids. In effect the parent become their parent. The ones enjoying it tend to remember what it’s like to be the child and roll with it. I often wonder which one has the better connection through teen years and beyond. I say wonder, but I’ll wager it’s the parent that has refused to grow up themselves.

        Capturing people as characters relies on observation of things like that too in my humble opinion. Seeing what lies behind the facade. Hearing what is said between the lines. If you have to keep adjusting a character to fit your story arc then you’ve got the wrong character or are trying to influence your view into the plot. I think you see that aspect if the dialogue seems the same between each player. Maybe why I prefer pantsing as opposed to character sheets before I start. That was also referred to in On Writing. You know both characters and story better after the first draft so know exactly what they are when going back to editing.

        Good point too. My WIPS are pretty much in limbo. Short stories are about all I’m getting down at present. Once a month too. Terrible stuff really. I’d like to say I’m way of the pace, but that implies actually having a pace to be way off!

        Nothing wrong with a change of pace either. I think it serves to test different genres too. Just to help main WIPS and develop good writing styles. Get the reader actively interested in the characters… before, well….yes…we have touched on that one before 👻

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        I agree completely, Gary. There’s a great Neil deGrasse Tyson clip on YouTube regarding this very thing. All about nurturing a child’s innate curiosity with the world, encouraging their questions — which are often very thoughtful. Why *is* the sky blue? Why *is* the grass green? Great questions with great answers.

        That dialogue thing was an issue of mine quite a while back! I found that my characters sounded just like me… I’ve been really trying to inject wholly separate personalities into my characters (and hopefully I’m succeeding and getting better!). I think D&D has been really helpful in this regard. As opposed to moving chess pieces around on a board, I’m trying to really “live” as each character, seeing the world through their eyes and emotions. I’ve said it a thousand times, but I really should check out On Writing. Before the end of the year, I aim to have read it! (Although, given the pace of the year so far, December will be here in a week…)

        I wrote a chapter on my main WIP last week. It wasn’t much, but it was something — I’m happy with that. Bring on the camps, eh? Looking forward to that NaNo mindset once more!

        Yes, agreed! That whole fiction is food idea. I want to have a few different flavours in there, even if the base dish is horror. 😀

      • Gary

        I must check that out. It’s funny really as parents end up dreading those questions. Mostly because either they don’t know the answer or know the answer is hard to put into simple terms that won’t create more “Why” questions lol.

        Dialogue can be tricky that way. I’ve beta read a few books where the real issue is everyone sounds the same. Often that’s because the discourse is how the writer speaks rather than the character. My head has an alternate reality I think. They argue the toss with me about that every time my words invade their turf. So many imaginary conversations with them it’s quite surreal trying to explain the concept to a non-writer. They tend to just nod and think men in white coats…or should that now be people in white coats! D&D is good for developing that skill too. It forces you to separate in character from out of character knowledge. Using only what the character knows in game. It’s the same with writing. If you try and impart information they haven’t encountered it stands out. Often it becomes a deliberate pop up answer to satisfy a situation rather than entering it with the skill set the character actually has. I think you’ll find that book interesting too. Different angle on conventional novel writing and also a story on his own life leading to his first accepted novel. It’s a sort of career reflection with loads of good tips.

        Good effort on the WIP too. Next NaNo camp is looming now too as I said on the other reply… somewhere! I am fearful now of blinking and finding I’ve missed it though 😱

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        I think the answer, “I don’t know, why don’t we look it up?” is perfect. It teaches them that it’s okay to not know everything — nobody does! And if you don’t know, the search of the answer can be incredibly rewarding.

        I understand exactly what you mean. I think this is where people watching comes in to help. Rather than trying to completely manufacture a character from out of nowhere, it’s easier to “base” your characters on someone you’ve met (or observed) in real life. Or at least, that’s how I’m starting to think. Take actual traits you’ve seen, blend them together, and play out the scenario as if it were a simulation — how would that person react? Reminds me a bit of the computer software I used in uni for simulating protein-protein interactions!

        I’m worried about missing it too! Halfway through March already! Ah! Still, much more left to do on that WIP. Precisely why I don’t want to miss the camp!

      • Gary

        Too right, although more than a few folk seem to think they know everything…I tend just to let them talk mind. Little point engaging when you already know they won’t be listening!

        I’m of the opinion, even if you do manufacture a new character the subconscious has pulled it from some past encounter and merged it with others. In a strange way the current crisis gives another angle on people too. From panic buying through volunteering. We’re actually seeing normal folk put into adversity that didn’t exist previously.

        As for camps… I’m definitely miles behind now. Hoping to bash out Castle tomorrow, but Corvid has shifted my priority re a month of writing. It’s the first camp of three I think. If I “felt” more organised I’d go after this one though.

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        Yeah, I know the type you’re referring to! Sometimes it’s better to save your energy for something else. Some of the smartest people I know aren’t afraid to openly reveal gaps in their knowledge. It’s that old adage that the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. There’s things you know, things you know you don’t know, and then things you don’t know that you don’t know… Quite twisty in nature, knowledge, isn’t it?

        I think you’re absolutely right. I’ve also commented a bit on the general population. I’ve seen this current crisis bring out both the best and the worst in people, as you’ve mentioned. Those buying up all resources and hoarding them, whilst others are working overtime in hospitals, people with 3D printers are working nonstop to produce face shields, and so on. There are also those who go into a blind panic at the news, and others who completely disregard it, contrasted with those who keep their cool but stay sensible and safe. Very interesting times, if nothing else!

        Yes, I’d completely forgotten about the camp. Has it started this month already? I have a feeling I’ll be catching back up all weekend now that my laptop is (knock on wood) working. I think you’ve already written your Castle entry, as I recall seeing — so slow, Joshua! Catch up, catch up! 😀

      • Gary

        I recall that being an epiphany I made when entering post graduate study. First degrees lead too many to think they know it all. Later study moves away from taught knowledge to application of the basics into new arenas. That’s where I was hit by a wall riddled with graffiti saying the unknown stretches this way to infinity grasshopper.

        In an odd way, what’s happening now has really backed up what I knew would happen wrt vector spread and how society would act. What chance does the common chap have if the persons telling you what YOU must do, promptly do the opposite? Lead by example has always been my way to earn respect. Still, people watching now is really fascinating as a writer!

        I think we’ve both agreed the camp is right out this month. Hopefully next time I’ll be better adjusted even if this lockdown still persists.

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        Yes, it’s quite humbling to realise you don’t know it all. 😂 If only I could reclaim the confidence I had as an 18 y.o. kid! The more I’ve learnt, the more I’ve come to realise I am but a tiny ant. It’s scary and relieving in equal measures, I think!

        Trust in governing bodies is at an all-time low, right when it’s direly needed. Can’t exactly go back in time and re-earn that trust, when we’re here now! On a similar thread, I’ve read a few conspiracy theories regarding the authenticity of Boris Johnson’s illness. It’s at the point where I couldn’t say for absolute certain whether it’s all a PR stunt or not, and that worries me. When there are mistruths everywhere, it gets harder to properly evaluate evidence without bias. Quite concerning, but it makes for a great story, and excellent character studies!

      • Gary

        The source of you can’t put an old head on young shoulders methinks. For me 18 was packed out with…oh yes, no internet so no choice but to do!! Have to admit confidence was much higher then too. Not quite sure when that got zapped. Maybe it was just down to bring more mindful and in the present. A process I think many lose as they grow older. Obviously less life pressure back then too.

        For me trust loss in politicos runs back many years. Right back to when spin became more important than fact and phrases like “Just to be clear” emerged just before a diatribe not anything but. The media is about the same too. Fact checking rather poor with large doses of rush to the next disaster rather than adding a few positive stories. It’s become win an ejection at all costs rather than on merit. Opposition is supposed to be a critical friend rather than disagreeing with everything just to score some vague point. Then you wake up to find bleach is your antiviral utopia, followed by a pretence it was satirical. Like really?

        Then manufacturer disclaimers because they know some people might be stupid enough to actually try it. Madness rules 😕

      • Joshua G. J. Insole

        Perhaps we are but rocks, slowly becoming weathered by the world. I certainly feel that way sometimes! Not so much losing the edge, per se, but maybe that sharpness gets dulled, even if only slightly. But, then again, that youthful vigour is being replaced with a smooth, not quite peace, but calmness. Less restlessness, or something. I’m not sure, I’m just rambling now, lol!

        You’re spot on about politics, too, especially the “win election no matter what” notion — feels like lies and mistruths are okay, as long as it’s in order to gain power. Seems like honesty and telling the truth set those particular individuals at a disadvantage, when all words get eagerly lapped up, regardless of content. It’s hard to stay up-to-date with the news these days — I like to know worldy goings ons, yet it all seems so bleak, at times. I try to think of Mr Rogers: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

  3. Chris Hewitt

    Well, I won’t be sleeping tonight. Especially when the dog inevitably rattles his claws against the wardrobe. It reminded me of the worst (or best) parts of the original Ring/Grudge especially the movement description. I was holding my breath for the last few paragraphs hoping that there would be a happy ever after. Just like I used to do as a kid under the blanket … didn’t work then either 😉 Brilliantly done.

    • Joshua G. J. Insole

      Ha, thanks Chris! Sorry for the sleepless night (although not *too* sorry, as it’s quite a compliment!). I definitely had those sort of Japanese horrors in mind, when writing this! Well-spotted — I was aiming for that vibe! Thanks again, Chris, it means a lot, as always! 🙂

      P.S. Sorry for not having read yours yet! I’ve been insanely busy — I hope to dive into this month’s BB entries soon — maybe on the weekend. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s