Promptly Penned: The First Line
Use the first line of a nursery rhyme as the first line of a dark narrative.
Side note before I begin this prompt. I was researching nursery rhymes and realized that most of them are plenty dark on their own without my help. Like Goosey, Goosey Gander is apparently about killing Catholic priests who were in hiding when they refused to convert, at Henry VIII’s insistence, to the Church of England. Also, I recognized a vast majority of the nursery rhymes (including Goosey, Goosey Gander) from my own childhood. And my mom wonders why my short fiction tends to be on the darker side. Gee, mom…I can’t imagine why. I wonder why on earth that would be. *gives her the side-eye*
Okay, so here’s the story. (You’re welcome, mom.)
“Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,”
The sounds of children’s voices echoed through the valley–high and sweet, lilting through the chilly autumn air. Girls and boys rose from their beds or left their evening chores, shambling dazedly out into the dusty road, and turned toward the emerald green hill rising in the distance. They dragged hobbyhorses and poppets behind them as their song carried hauntingly across the land.
“To see a fine lady upon a white horse.”
The children plodded forward, eyes fixed unseeingly on some the middle distance, unaware or uncaring as their parents called to them, their cries becoming increasingly more desperate. Pitious. Attempts to tug or carry the young back into the houses failed. Even the smallest of the small were able to pull free of their parents’ frenzied grasp. They stood watching, shivering in the cold, their breath puffs of steam. The children didn’t shiver. Nor did their breath cloud the air.
“With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,”
Every house in the village stood empty of children, save those too young to climb from their cradles. But they sang their own mournful song, longing to join their sisters and brothers as they marched onward toward the green hill in the distance. The hill they’d been warned away from time and time again. The hill where none of the village folk would tread. The hill, it was whispered, would swallow a person whole. Perhaps none in recent memory, but it had happened, and so the warning remained.
“She shall have music wherever she goes.”
Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles followed behind, weeping and helpless beneath the purple dusk that crept across the sky. At the head of the procession, I looked back at my new charges from atop my snow colored steed and smiled. Turning in my saddle, accompanied by the delicate jingling of bells, I led the children forward as twilight cloaked the land drawn toward the hill by the scent of sweetmeats and warm puddings, fruits and ale cakes.
Whispering the spell to lift the glamour, the side of the hill opened, spilling golden light on the ground, forming a pathway to lead the children forward. Raucous music drifted out into the gloaming, the rhythm twining around the procession and urging it closer. As the music took hold, the lethargy that had claimed the children lifted and they began to dance as they made their way into realm beneath the hill, heedless of the cries of their parents. Centuries have passed since we’ve had fresh blood.