Submitted by Theeaglestrikes t3_11thvn7 in nosleep

Whenever this time of year comes around, my night terrors resurge. Quaking in my blackened bedroom, I eye the ceiling and reflect on my youth. One particular memory. A revolting recollection of a trauma I cannot repress.

Mothering Sunday.

What does that day mean to you? For most, it’s a day of celebration. I suppose my village also celebrated that annual holiday, but we did so differently.

I abandoned my hometown long ago, but my freedom came at a cost. The village had no real name, but we called it The Valley. It was severed from the rest of the world by lush hills and an unholy force that deterred visitors.

“See the hills at the border, Marlene?” My brother asked, pointing.

I nodded. “I wanna know what’s past ‘em, Harry.”

My older brother tussled my unkempt, curly, blonde locks of hair. “Something better than this, kid. Come on. Mum’s waiting.”

“Which one?” I timidly queried.

Harry frowned. “Our mother, Marlene.”

Mother’s Day, 2004. The day I try to forget. I was only nine years old. Harry was either eighteen or nineteen at the time, and he assumed the role of a father figure — that responsibility must’ve weighed heavily on his shoulders. I never met my real dad, but Harry told me that he wasn’t a good man.

As the midday sun beat against the tarmac, scorching my shoeless feet, my brother and I sprinted through our idyllic town. We passed townsfolk in white garbs, dressed for the Mothering Sunday Festival. They smiled pleasantly at us, but it was false pleasantry. Every year, on that day, a shadow hung over the town. Friends and families were bewitched by Mother.

The Mother.

Priest Hanson told me that ‘Mother’ was simply The Valley’s symbol for nature itself, but I knew he was only saying that to still my anxious thoughts. Mother was real. Not human, but real. She lived in the rocky cliffside at one edge of town. Children would dare each other to enter the mouth of her cave, but nobody could. An unseen force stopped us.

“Make sure you tend to Lucy,” Harry said.

I sighed and walked around the side of our house, heading to the stable to feed Lucy. She was our ploughing horse on the farm, but we sometimes used her as town transport. We didn’t have modern technology in The Valley. Our village was trapped in a bubble of time. There was a rusty husk of a car on my neighbour’s driveway that had belonged to his grandfather — from the days before Mother, when townsfolk could travel beyond the hills. She must’ve arrived at some point in the twentieth century.

Mum — my real one — emerged from the back door of our house and smiled at me. She looked as crooked as every other villager on Mothering Sunday, but there was a shimmering tear in the corner of her eye, as if her lips were being paranormally puppeteered into that ghastly grin. It was as if my real mother were hiding behind that horrible face.

“Are you excited for the parade, sweetheart?” Mum asked.

I buried my head in Lucy’s neck. “Can’t we just celebrate with you at home, Mum?”

She tutted, striding over to me. “Shame, Marlene! All in The Valley must honour Mother on this sacred day.”

“But you’re my mother,” I said.

Without a moment’s hesitation, she slapped me across the cheek. I shrieked and looked into my mum’s eyes. They had widened, and her lips were quivering. She wasn’t in control of her body. Not on that cursed day. I knew that.

“Help your brother with the food,” She ordered.

Massaging my stinging cheek, I scurried past my mum and only allowed myself the luxury of crying once I’d entered the house. I called for Harry.

“What’s wrong?” My brother asked, appearing at the top of the stairs.

“Mum hit me,” I whimpered.

Harry smiled for a second, then he shook his head, as if to ward off the demon that possessed him. He had finally come of age, and I think Mother’s spell only worked on the adults in town. Children seemed to hate the festival. No, it was worse than hate.

We feared it.

“You’re not wearing your dress,” Harry said. “Quickly! We have to bring the food to the market by one o’clock.”

I begrudgingly rushed upstairs, choosing to ignore the sinister expression I’d glimpsed on my brother’s face. Hanging on my bedroom door was a ghastly white dress — something a ghoul in a haunted house would wear. But I wore it, as I was frightened of incurring Mum’s wrath, and I helped my brother carry boxes of fruit and vegetables out of the house.

We joined a procession of excitably chattering people. Everybody moved towards the heart of the village, gathering in the grassy town square. Bunting hung from all six corners of the centric gazebo, stretching out towards Victorian lampposts.

“Mother knows best,” The crowd sang in unison.

I walked over to some of my school friends, and we meekly joined the choral chanting. It wasn’t much of a song. Just those same three words, repeatedly tirelessly in a dissonant, disjointed melody. As I talked to Brandon, one of my closest friends, about the weirdness of the festival, his mum rushed over to us.

“Happy Mother’s Day, Marlene!” She jubilantly cried.

I feigned a smile. “Happy Mother’s Day, Mrs May.”

“You and Brandon would be a heavenly coupling. Have you considered my proposal?” She gleefully asked.

I gulped. “Erm…”

“Not now, Mum,” Brandon grumbled.

“Nothing godly about pickiness, Brandon,” His mum scorned. “The next seven years will fly by. Sixteen is an important age. Do you want another boy to marry sweet little Marlene Smith? Hmm? We all serve the circle of life. Mother’s circle.”

Thankfully, Priest Hanson scooted Mrs May away. Brandon instantly shot a mortified look at me.

“Marlene, I-” He began.

“It’s fine,” I awkwardly giggled. “My mum’s worse.”

“All of our parents are terrible on this day,” Tia, our other friend, sighed. “Maybe it has something to do with The Choosing.”

“Shhh!” Brandon sharply warned. “They chose Zach’s mum last year, and he’s coming over now.”

Zach, bleakly hanging his head, was shooed over to us by his eerily chipper father. The boy hadn’t spoken much at school over the past year.

“Hello, everyone,” He mumbled.

“Hi, Zach,” I said. “How are you?”

He sniffled, wiping away a tear with the sleeve of his jacket. “Dad wouldn’t let me stay at home.”

“To heck with this day!” Brandon whispered.

We all quietly snickered at Brandon’s comment — outrageous in our childish minds. We felt like outsiders, free of the hive mind. Free of Mother.

Mayor Finley suddenly interrupted our conversation. “Put your hands together for the mothers of The Valley!”

He welcomed a procession of mothers — a hundred, I’d say — onto a large wooden platform beside the gazebo. The villagers applauded the mothers, clapping so loudly that I thought their palms might blister. Harry walked over and put his arm around me.

“It’s going to be okay,” He promised.

We watched Mum, donning the same white dress as every woman on the stage, join the line-up of mothers.

“Congratulations to those of you who gave birth this year. You have the immense privilege of being nominated for The Choosing. Old and new, all mothers are honoured on this sacred day,” The mayor stated. “But we are all children of the Mother.”

“Mother knows best,” The grownups chanted.

“Yes. She gives, and we take,” The mayor sighed. “We are not worthy, which is why, every year, we must honour her on this holy day. We must feed her maternalism, so her boundless love does not wane. A mother must be sacrificed to Mother.”

“Y’know, I heard that little Johnny tried to run away last week,” Tia whispered to me. “He passed out before the hills, of course.”

“Nobody ever makes it past the hills,” Brandon gulped.

Mr Johnson, a local shopkeeper, shushed us, and he wore the same sickening look of unwavering adoration as every other adult.

The Choosing is a fair process,” The mayor said. “I will draw a name, and Mother shall have her offering.”

The villagers waited in complete silence for Mayor Finley to pluck a name from a worn hat. He produced a small slip of paper, unfolded it, and nodded his head.

“Juliet Smith,” He announced.

As a roar of joy erupted in the crowd, my friends looked at my blood-drained face. Harry clutched me tightly as I started to wail inconsolably.

“Not Mum!” I cried. “Harry, don’t let them take her!”

But when I looked up at my brother, he was smiling. There were tears in his eyes, revealing his true emotions, but his face told a different story — the demented look of joy filled me with horror, as did his absent-minded eyes, which locked onto mine.

“Mother knows best,” Harry said, grinning.

Brandon restrained me as I tried to run towards my mum, but I never would’ve reached her. The crowd of celebrating villagers lifted her into the air. Harry joined them. Seeing him robotically merge with the herd instilled me with sorrow and terror in equal measure.

Only my childhood friends retained their humanity. Only we were spared the influence of Mother’s captivating spell. We followed the crowd along a series of streets, over the ravine, and towards the cliff side — stopping before the lightless hovel in which Mother was said to live.

“The witch’s cave,” Tia whispered.

Brandon thumped her on the arm. “Stop it!”

Zach, the only one who understood my pain, placed a sympathising hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, Marlene. I’m… I’m so sorry.”

I didn’t utter a word. I simply watched as my mother was delicately lowered by the crowd at the mouth of the cave. She didn’t say goodbye to Harry or me. She simply joined the chanting of the hypnotised townsfolk as she vanished into the darkness.

“Mother knows best.”

The crowd quickly dissipated. An hour or so later, my friends also left. Brandon stayed with me until the sun started to set.

“I can’t stay any later,” He apologised. “My mum would kill me. If you want to stay at my house-”

“- I’ll be fine,” I coldly interrupted.

As night blanketed me, I watched the cave with teary eyes. And then the most terrible thing happened. I heard my mother’s voice. Her scream echoed from the depths of the cavernous pit, but it was the following noises which would haunt my dreams for years to come.

Crunching. Squelching. Snapping.

And something else.

“I see you.”

I screeched. The ghastly whisper seeped directly into my ear, but I twisted my head to find nobody there. It had been a woman’s hoarse voice, but it didn’t sound human — or earthly, for that matter. It was Mother. I knew it. And when I turned back to the cave entrance, I saw something which horrified me.

A pair of eyes in the black void. Two white spheres with faded, yellowing pupils. I screamed again, but Mother quickly shushed me.

“Run along now,” She whispered. “Mother’s eating.”

I screeched most of the way home, stopping only when my voice box finally failed me. And when I entered our home, I found my brother sitting at the kitchen table in the darkness. I lit a candle, illuminating his horribly-smiling face. But there were tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Harry…” I cried. “Mum’s gone.”

He quietly looked up at me, smile painting his shivering face, and tapped his finger on a piece of paper. He was wrestling with Mother’s control, striving to tell me something. I walked over to the table and read the words he had written.

Take Lucy beyond the hills. Tie yourself to her reins. She won’t faint.

“I won’t go without you,” I cried.

My brother tapped more furiously on the paper. His grin seemed to grow more sinisterly jaunty by the second, proving the point he was trying to make — he belonged to Mother. It was too late for him, but it wasn’t too late for me.

I ran to each of my friend’s houses, telling them my plan. One by one, horrifyingly, they refused me. Even Brandon. And he said something I’ll never forget.

“Oh, Marlene. The grass isn’t greener beyond the hills. Mother knows best.”

And when he seized my wrist, I realised something. None of us were safe from Mother’s spell. Not really. Age meant nothing. I wrenched myself free of my friend’s grip, darted home, and hurriedly strapped myself to Lucy’s back.

“Right, girl,” I said. “I’m going to black out when we reach the hills, but I need you to keep trotting, okay? Just take me away from here. I hope Harry’s right about this. Don’t faint. Please.”

And as Lucy trotted along the road out of the village, I felt my eyesight falter. The colours of my surroundings seemed to merge together. The moon swirled, dividing into two beaming orbs that reminded me of Mother’s eyes. She was watching me, and I attempted to scream as the world faded to black.

When I woke, I was lying on Lucy’s back, and we were somewhere unrecognisable. Somewhere foreign and futuristic. Shiny cars sat on driveways, and the dawning sun illuminated modern shopfronts. Police officers were keen to question the girl who had entered their quiet, country village on the back of a horse, but I never spoke about what happened.

I ended up in an orphanage, enduring years of counselling, and I eventually adapted to the modern world. I understand why The Valley has been forgotten by outsiders. Mother keeps people away. She plays mind games. But she doesn’t need to use spells to keep me away.

I hope she’s forgotten about me. Still, sometimes, when the moon is particularly bright, I truly believe that I catch glimpses of her eyes.




You must log in or register to comment.

JenGosling t1_jcj6s02 wrote

Please tell me that Lucy is being cared for! What s good horsey! ❤️


BathshebaDarkstone1 t1_jcjfa5r wrote

I kind of want to go to The Valley and see Mother. She can't be that scary.


melodyomania t1_jcjjrwd wrote

glad your brother loved you enough to get you out. sorry about your mom.


Ashwington t1_jckm306 wrote

Mothering Sunday is this upcoming Sunday right? I subscribed to some new international google calendars and that popped up for one of them, can’t remember which tho.

Hopefully she’s not as hungry this year….


gregklumb t1_jcl3h3s wrote

Too bad you can't feed Mother some dynamite.


t-fortrash t1_jclrxag wrote

I’m a little curious what Mother would do if you ever had a child of your own… would she take you back?


Empres_Of_Darkness t1_jclvvsr wrote

Shouldn't you go back with a car, (and another trusty horse just in case) and some dynamite, blow up mothers cave and save any unaffected ones back with you? Or if you fear to be captured in her hold, and she doesn't like outsiders, let someone else do that for you. Who will run her mind games if she's gone?


johnsonbrianna1 t1_jcngbg8 wrote

But what if the mother chosen to die has only just had a baby? What happens to the baby? Can you choose not to have kids? I guess not since she can control you after 18…