Friday, January 8, 2010

Papa Szorny - #fridayflash

The brace on Rosa's crippled leg clattered and dragged across the cobbles as her mother tugged her along in her wake.

“Hurry, Rosa!” her mother pleaded. “Please hurry, dearest, or Papa Szorny will catch you and gobble you up.”

"My legs ache, mama," Rosa said, though in truth only one of them did.

"Please, baby." Her mother hunkered down so their eyes were level. She primped the old shirt sleeve that was wrapped around her child's neck as a makeshift scarf and pulled Rosa's cap down tight over her bubbling, blonde hair. It had been madness to attend the midnight Mass when the city was so dangerous. "We're nearly home, Rosa. Don't dawdle or Papa Szorny will snatch you away for his supper."

Rosa giggled nervously. She was only six, but her mind was bright and agile, even if her body was lame. She didn’t truly believe there was such a thing as Papa Szorny, the horrible, creeping monster that visited the city every hundred years to take a life, but why was her mother acting so very afraid? Her mother's head jerked to stare back down the street. Rosa strained but could not see what had alerted her.

"Hush, baby," her mother whispered, taking Rosa's hand and hurrying away in the direction of the house where they shared a room. They had only gone a few yards when both heard a hard, raucous laugh. Her mother gathered Rosa up, so the child was left clinging to her as she ran for all she was worth.

Head bouncing off her mother's shoulder, Rosa saw the shadowy figure easily jog past and pull in front of them. Desperate to evade, her mother twisted away, and away again as the shadow reared before her each time. Fruitlessly turning and dodging, eventually her mother's legs collapsed under her and she sank to the ground, arms wrapped tight about her child. Her mother screamed as Rosa was pulled from her fierce embrace.

The child was sent skidding across the street, bumping off a wall where she lay motionless until her head had cleared. There were three of them set upon her mother. Soldiers. Most likely from a German mercenary band, judging by their ragged, once gawdy uniforms. One was huge about the middle, the other two lean. They spoke in guttural German, a language Rosa did not speak.

"Get it off, just pull it."
"No, use your knife!"
"You've cut her. Look at her squirm... do it again."

Rosa got to her feet, awkwardly patted her head. Her hand came away bloody, and there was salt in her mouth where she had bitten her tongue.

"Mama!" she cried, and ran to the men swarming over her mother.

"Run! Run Rosa!" Her mother screamed the words, interspersed with grunts and hollow gasps as her body was assaulted. "Run home!"

A foot lashed out and sent Rosa sprawling to the cobbles again. She buried her fists in her eyes and screamed to drown out the sound of her mother's torture.

An unknown age passed before she was jerked back to reality by a fist wrapped in her hair.

"What about her?" The words were nothing but ugly noise to the child.

"Spill her guts, or stir her guts, vermin. I'm going to have another go on the mother." The fat one prodded the corpse with the toe of his boot. Rosa's fingers clenched on the other's hand in her hair, knuckles white as her face. She gasped noises under the harsh gaze of the soldier, articulating her terror perfectly.

"That is mine." The voice spoke in cultured German, nonsense to the child, but the big mercenary's hand went to his sabre.

"Which?" the big man asked. "The child, or the body? Whichever, you'll only have my blade up your arse. Get away. This is- dear god..."

The stranger had stepped from the shadows into the dim moonlight where they could see his face. The huge bully's hand was glued to the hilt of his sabre. Likewise one of his companions did nothing but gape, while the other fumbled for his pistol while attempting to make the sign of the cross about his chest.

"This is my night," the stranger said. "And you have stolen the fear that is rightfully mine. I will take what you owe me."

The thunderclap peal and the rushing pressure of air slamming into her closed Rosa's eyes for an instant. When she opened them again, the stranger had the big man by the heel and was dragging his motionless body into the shadows. To one side of her was a groaning mercenary, snot bubbling through the holes where his eyes had been. On her other side the spasming of the other mercenary's limbs sent his lower jaw and whiskers skipping across the cobbles when his heel caught them just right.

Papa Szorny only ever claimed a single soul.

"Sweet dreams, little Rosa..." The voice trailed away to nothing even as the child fainted.


She was there waiting for him in that exact spot, sat in a fine old wooden chair at the side of the street. At some time in the intervening hundred years they had removed the crippled leg. Her head was high, her back straight, though she struggled with the pain she felt in her every bone and joint.

"I knew you would come back, Papa," she said.

"Have you waited for me all this time?" Papa Szorny asked, grotesque head cocked to one side.

"No, Papa. I have lived my life. I have raised a family. I have honoured the memory of my mother and of the deed you did that night. I have honoured you, Papa Szorny."

"So?" Papa Szorny stroked his chin. "And now you are here to.. thank me?"

"No, Papa. I know you must take a soul this night. I offer you mine, willingly."

Papa Szorny barked a laugh. "Are you ready for death, after so long a struggle against it?"

"Oh, Papa," Rosa said. "Every day is agony. Only the thought of sacrificing myself to you has kept me alive this past hundred years."

"Rosa, my beautiful child." He stroked the old woman's wrinkled face. "I will honour your promise. I will take you."

She clasped his hand. "Thank you, master!"

Papa Szorny brushed her hands away. "I will take you when the fear is strong."

"Fear?" Rosa's old face screwed up into a jumble of folded skin.

"Whenever you most fear that I will not grant your wish, that is when I will take you. Perhaps next century. Perhaps the century after that. Until then, sweet Rosa, relish your agony." Then Papa Szorny slipped away to the city, admiring the changes that time had brought to his old hunting ground.

Rosa would have cried, had she tears left to fall.


  1. So this began as a poem in anapestic tetrameter from the monster's point of view. Now I'm never entirely sure if I've taken the right direction with my writing but this time I think I made the right choice by using Rosa as my POV.

    This was hard. I think it could polish up nicely, if I ever did such a thing.

  2. You are a master of this story!

    Unfortunately, I can't think of telling you something that I don't like as per your mission statement *points to upper right hand corner*

    Wait. Maybe that you expected to to dislike something. Yes. I don't like that.

    Thumbs up on this work!

  3. Okay, I think I need a bottle and a half of wine to recover from this story. Wow. Shiver. Not sure why this hit me so hard, I must be feeling vulnerable today...I feel devastated for the little girl. Seriously powerful.

  4. A bogeyman with a moral compass? Now here's something a bit different!

    For the piece of required criticism, here goes. I thought this line, which was one of the most important in this piece, was a little muffled: "Whenever you most fear I will not grant your wish, that is when I will take you." I had to re-read it to get the clear meaning. Otherwise, it was very clear, chilling and macabre, with some fantastically gory descriptions!

  5. Thanks folks, and particularly thanks CL!

    Should have spoken it out and I would have, hopefully, caught that. Hmmm. All it needs is an extra "that"...

  6. I totally have to post the bits of the poem I originally wrote. It was jaunty.

  7. Really, I mean really fantastic story.

    I'd be interested in a jaunty poem, too!

  8. Now I'm interesting in the poem. Over a thousand words, but I'll let it slide if you'll do the same for me :)

    Much happening here and runs along good. I like the only taking one in fear putting the poor woman on the spot at the end. Great concept.

    From Rosa's POV-She doesn't understand the language, but the soldiers' comments are quoted. A break in the POV where summarized speech--or description--might be stronger at the point giving us a better feel for Rosa's state.

  9. this is different - you've written it really well

  10. DT - shhh about the word count... I don't think they've noticed...

    I did wonder about the language and I was going to italicise it to make it at least stylistically apart from the rest of the words but I was getting pretty drunk by then so I let it slide.

    You've really made me think about the way it breaks the POV. I'm going to have to study on it, because I don't have the writing chops to turn that around without adding another couple of hundred words. You know, I could break away from Rosa's POV when she hits the wall and is stunned, and similarly when she is drowning out the sounds but I'd probably make it read like the equivalent to an 80s fast cut music video.

    I could have had Rosa and the Germans both understand Papa Szorny. That would have just needed an extra line, eight or nine words tops.

  11. Oooh, good. It would have also worked without the second part, but I like that the second part was there. Like a bonus.

    What I didn't like: "spastic spasming"

  12. Great story with an audacious time shift. Like Mazz, I wasn't keen on the spastic spasming. Spasming would be enough, without the adverb.

  13. It's GONE. Never let it be said I don't bow to mob pressure.

  14. Oh man, I am getting a little wine after this story. Those brutes! But that was interesting storytelling.

    I like the POV with the child - adds tenderness to the torture.

  15. Papa is indeed an evil demon. I really dislike him. But he's so deliciously evil.

    Straight From Hel

  16. Huh. It was an uncomfortable read in the beginning. Then Papa Szorny comes along and salvages what's left for Rosa. A hundred years later, he disses her. I'm not sure whether I admire him or despise him. I'm... I'm torn.

  17. Very good call. They fuck you up, your mum and dad

  18. Wonderfully dark tale is this. Papa is such an elegant character, for a demon.

  19. Wonderful and cruel, I really enjoyed it.

  20. I saw Sam's RT "A bit grimmer than usual" and I thought oh good he's done a grimm's fairy tale.... [wrong!]

    You know I hate to critique in public, but I'm out of grass, and um...the other... ahem...

    so here this line I think you need a much stronger word instead of "bully"
    "The huge bully's hand was glued to the hilt of his sabre."

    tah dah....johhny...tell her what she wins for playing our game....


  21. I know its not mentioned in the story, but I could feel the fog, as I imagine this tale to be taking place in the back streets of a city which is very foggy.

    One line did Jar us a little bit

    "Rosa, my beautiful child." He stroked the old woman's wrinkled face. "I will honour your promise. I will take you."

    it feels a bit detatched him refering to his daughter as an old woman, rather than

    He stroked his daughters old and wrinkled face

  22. Thanks Karen! Stronger than bully.... hmmm... here I come.

    Probably not that dissimilar to one of the original fairy tales the Grimms collected. They are dark...

  23. Chance, you're entirely right that I had the scene playing in my head in a foggy back street, not that I ever remember to pass any of those little details into the story.

    Never really thought that Papa Szorny was actually a papa.

  24. Not to argue with Chance [cuz he's armed] but I loved that "Papa" Szorny still saw her as a beautiful child. [never thought they were related] People are often frozen in time at a certain place in our lives and that's how we remember them. For her, she had lived and grown to adulthood, for him, she was still a child...and I think for him that was what made making her fear him even as an adult more fun. Playing to the child still in her. He's a sick bastard. What can I say?

  25. Well everyone, see how easily Karen slips inside the mind of a monstrous serial killer? Huh? Did ya see that?

  26. I read it and liked it. I read the comments, went back to the top and saw that I was supposed to look for critique. I re-read the story.

    I enjoyed the story just the way it is. If I were an editor and about to pay you, I may then say, yes, change the quotes to italics to make it clearer it's another language than Rosa's. I agree, "bully" doesn't convey the monstrosity.

    I love that Rosa's selfless act of offering herself to the monster meant nothing, but the monster could be feared more. We see the soldiers reactions to him; we see the result of the monster's actions on the soldiers; but as a reader, I don't fear Papa Szorny. BUT, he made me uneasy, and the beginning of the story presented him more as a boogie-man type character: real or childhood fear? For that reason, you presented Papa well.

    This is solid writing, regardless.

  27. I don't like that you assume only the negative connotation of "critical." A critic judges, evaluates, or analyzes and should find good as easily as bad.

    Oh, in this story then, although you stated that she could not understand Papa that got lost for me as he spoke to the soldiers and then to her. I didn't understand then why she didn't know he would not take her when she was unafraid. I had to re-read for that to be clear. [But that all may be more my fault than yours.]

    On the whole though, this was very well written because I was totally repulsed by it.

  28. This story is well written . . . I could not find any flaws that jumped out at me. I liked the maiming of the two companions . . . it was so justified under the circumstances. The ending was very well thought out -- to me anyway -- The torture of NOT taking her provided unexpected awareness . . . which makes it more horrible. Good read!

  29. I will wantonly ignore your instructions and tell you it was a grim, thrilling piece that I enjoyed immensely. So there...

  30. Great story! The ending of having the monster not kill her when she requested showed how evil it really was.

    As for your want of criticism, my only thought is about the speech of the German soldiers. Since neither Rosa nor her mother could understand them, maybe their speech should be nothing but gibberish to the reader, too. Knowing they're enemy soldiers should be enough for the story.

  31. This piece had a World War one feel to it. The mercenaries killing her mother and the beating Rosa endured before the monster appeared were riveting. I also took a smirking joy as the monster left her to suffer. Well done, well done.