The Bramble Hedge
rating: +16+x

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Once upon a time, a woman sat still beneath the narrow shade of a cypress tree. She waited on the edge of the wood in silence with a bloodied hatchet at rest by her side. Before the plague of consumption spread across the land she had dreamt of becoming a doctor. Of doing any little good in this world. But that vision had escaped her grasp and now this was all she would ever be. The thought did not bother her as much as she felt it should.

The fresh bite wound soaked through the shoulder of her denim coat. It spread and melded with the old blood of those things that used to be human. The ones she had skillfully picked off long ago to protect her home. It was hard to tell what belonged to her and what to them now.

She did not mind the jacket anyways. She only hoped it would not take too long. To her, the wait was the most detestable part.

The sound of a twig snapping pulled her back to herself; eyes frantically hunted for the sound.

“Who’s that!?”

“Calm down! It’s all- This isn’t- You’re okay! It’s okay!” A voice, alert and deep, called from behind the tree. “I’m not one of them. Fredrick.”

The woman’s neck craned as her eyes caught him. His hands were held high to ease her worry. The man was a tad malnourished. His face was adorned with a shaggy beard. Not much taller than she. He was of no danger to her.

The woman let out her worries in an exasperated sigh. He stepped closer, cocking his head to the side in suspicion.

“I mean- I’m… Fredrick. You’re not from the shelter, are you? You know there’s a…”

The sight of the woman's blood gives him pause, earning a tentative step away from her. “Are you- Jesus Christ, did you get bit?” Panic welled in the woman as she reached in a desperate struggle to reel him back to her.

“Wait! It’s fresh! I still have a few hours!” The woman whined and begged with a pained expression that in itself compelled him to stay. “Don’t leave me here.”

Fredrick’s eyes softened but still, he took another cautious step of retreat and delicately pulled the bow from his back in a slow fluid motion. She appeared of sound mind. Only… shaken. But he would not be too careful.

"Show me." He nodded towards her as he plucked one of the few arrows that remained from its quiver and nocked it.


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“Please, put that away! I’m just dizzy!” The woman pulled the fabric of her sleeve down from her shoulder just enough to reveal the wound and nothing more. It was still bleeding. It could not have been older than a quarter of an hour. Human, as assumed…

but tilted downward from her shoulder at a strange angle.

The woman tugged her coat's sleeve back up and gripped stain through the fabric.

“Please help me. I tried to get home on my own but everything’s spinning. It’s not far, 10 minutes or so! I just want to be there when it…” Tears beaded in the woman’s eyes and she shook her head as if to stave off grief. “I’ll give you everything I have. I’m not going to…” She lifted a shaky hand to hide her face from view. “I’m not going to need it anymore.”

Fredrick looked down at her with nervous pity in his eyes as she sobbed. The woman brought to mind painful memories long suppressed. Each had their own idea of how this would end. They differed but still lined up when twisted at just the right angle. Both knew he would not forget his humanity before she.

The man sighed and with great hesitation replaced the bow to his back.

“C’mon. Tell me which way.” He knelt by her side and wrapped her shoulder around his. She retrieved her hatchet before he swept her upright.

“That way.” The woman nodded deeper into the wood. The thin layer of fog in the air made Fredrick strain to see far enough. “It’s a small cottage. We have a well and-”

“We?” Fredrick withdrew at this statement, startled, but did not cease their journey entirely. Some queasy feeling bubbled up in the pit of his stomach.

“I…” The woman let out a defeated sigh. “Briar. She’s been living with me since this whole thing started. She’s…” The woman's sentence trailed off and she stared into the distance with unfocused eyes. When focused again, she looked at him and began again with an abrupt change of subject. “God, my eyes are so blurry… When was the last time I ate?”

Fredrick felt his chest tighten and the speed of his gait returned to a timely stroll. The woman sounded peculiar. As if she were drunk. Memories of his mother's final moments flooded back to him. She had been so hungry… He would worry about Briar later. He thought better of catechizing a dying woman anyways.

“Still… it doesn’t feel like an ending. It feels more like… waiting to fall asleep. But I guess I wouldn't wake up, huh?” The woman dramatically stumbled over her feet and Fredrick caught her before she pulled the both of them down. She delivered a slurred but profuse apology. “I'm so sorry. Sorry. God. This sucks.”

Fredrick adjusted her position on his shoulder to one where her face was further away from the exposed flesh of his neck then croaked out a brief reply. “Yeah.

Only the occasional query and response to confirm the direction they were headed broke the silence. Each of the woman's labored breaths was a nightmare. Fredrick knew she had time but even still, he was not released from his fear of her silently imagining the taste of him. At the least, that would mean she still had it in her to imagine.

“There.” Fredrick was startled at the sound of her voice. The woman gestured her hatchet towards the silhouette of an old stone cottage overgrown with bramble and thorn. It seemed the strength had not yet left her arms.


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“You can take whatever you’d like once I'm dead."

“…Jeez that's kinda morbid, don't you think? I’ll- wait…” He furrows his brow. The thought of something still missing graced him. "What about Briar? Is she coming with me or-"

"Briar is…" The woman's voice regains its previous sober tone. "She's one of them."

"You were both bitten?"

"No! I- I mean… Yes. But she's been like this for years." The woman takes a moment to collect her thoughts before delivering the information as delicately as she could. "I've been taking care of her"

"That's insane are-"

"The plague, it makes them so hungry. That's why they're like that! But she's never hungry because I feed her!"

"But she still bit-"

"SHE DIDN'T BITE ME!"

Silence fell as they reached the half-buried stepping stones.

"It wasn't her… I know I sound insane and you're never going to believe me but she has never, NEVER, done anything to make me feel unsafe." Fredrick thought her right in one thing; He did not believe her. The woman released his shoulder, turned, and stepped backward, placing herself as a barrier between him and the home she shared with Briar. "I need you to promise me something."

The rational part of his mind was begging to flee, but they were at the door and curiosity was a malady that burdened him greatly.

"…Okay?"

"Don't point the bow at her until it's time… and when you do, make it quick. I don't want her to suffer."

Fredrick's mother returned to his thoughts. Her terrified screams as she begged God to deliver her from the ceaseless hunger. The three people it took to hold her down even after the blood loss had weakened her. Her complexion, clammy and dull from an amputation that did nothing to prevent the consumption from whisking her away from him. His wistful soul could not help but ponder; perhaps had they fed her something other than lead might she still be here?

The man bit down hard on the inside of his cheek and nodded a silent agreement for fear of his voice betraying his emotion. The woman returned the gesture, turned the knob to discover it locked, then knocked thrice.

"Briar? Can you get the door? Sorry, I don't know why she does that…"

Movement from within announced the presence. Shuffling, then a familiar groan that sent ice through Fredrick's veins. Regret overtook him but his troublesome curiosity kept him transfixed.

A deadbolt clicked, the door creaked, and Fredrick looked on in a gnawing horror.


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There she was, standing in the frame of the door. Horror soon shifted to confusion.

He did not believe it at first. She appeared as if she were sleepwalking; merely a woman in comfortable rose-patterned pajamas. She took a step backward and ungracefully lowered herself to the carpet. The longer he studied, the more he noticed.

The dark veins that ran up and down her neck, the blue of her fingertips, the jaundice of her skin and eyes; all were unmistakable signs of the consumption.

Yet her hair was combed and recently cut, her figure was plump, and her form was clean and manicured. She was beautiful. Far from any unfortunate creature Fredrick had seen prior.

Her eyes remained fixed on him, though there was no curiosity behind them; it felt as though she were staring past him. Fredrick stared too, blindsided by her even temperament. She did not approach or make any move that could be construed as aggressive.

"…Holy shit." The woman's bite had slipped his mind now, a fantastical wonder and sorrow for what had been needlessly lost took its place. He approached Briar and the woman moved aside for him, clearing the way to the cottage door.

"I told you."

"I can't- She's- All… All this took was food?"

"Meat. She'll nibble on some of the other stuff I forage after she's already eaten. She's more lucid then. But… she'll only eat enough if it's meat." The woman's stern expression was replaced with a fond melancholic smile. "It's… difficult at times. She eats her own weight in it every other week. But I've kept her healthy."

"Healthy is an understatement. You must be a pretty good hunter to bag enough game for this." Fredrick found his thoughts drifting to what could have been as he placed his hand on Briar's shoulder. Of what could be now.

A pretty good hunter… The descriptor filled the woman with guilt but she knew it to be true.

"This is too… incredible to end here. Shit, my dad is in charge of the shelter. I could convince him the risk is worth it."

The woman stepped through the door and tossed her denim coat onto a box nearby. The frail state she had been in released her as she settled into her home. She truly considered it for a moment, but Briar was discriminating in taste and she could not explain herself now. Had Fredrick only turned around he could have seen the myriad of long healed bite wounds up and down the woman's arms; all in places far too easy for her own teeth to reach.

It was a difficult game.

Appealing to pity with words once spoken to her by the very woman she was doing it all for felt significant, and yet she could not put meaning to it. Briar used to be so good at that. Never mind. Briar was still here now, one day a cure would be discovered, and then she would wake up and return to the world of the living. Briar would teach her what it meant then. That was all that mattered.

Briar truly was staring past Fredrick now. The light glimmered off the axe above his head in a way most attractive.

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