A Fine Barmbrack

📅 Published on October 8, 2021

“A Fine Barmbrack”

Written by Seth Paul
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 17 minutes

Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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Nicholas Grime looked at the window at the neighbor’s house, watching the twitching form dangling from the rope in the tree, the smiling figure holding the axe, and the bloodstained plastic sheet covering the front door.

He sighed and looked at his own front yard, where a couple of jack-o-lanterns sat, and imagined that his own yard had more decorations in it.  He loved Halloween, but between work, his son, and a host of other issues, he never had time to put up a display he was proud of.  Christmas was always an all-month affair, with everyone pitching in to make things look nice, but only he really cared about Halloween, so, unfortunately, he always waited until the last minute to put it together, and it never turned out how he would have wanted it.

Not that he had managed to spend as much time with Michael as he would have liked, either; work didn’t understand he needed to get home sooner, to spend more time with him, especially with everything that had been going on lately.  Work didn’t understand what was going on, didn’t understand that Michael really needed him now, more than ever.  But in the end, when they told him to stay late, he did.  They could use the extra money, after all, he told himself.  But it all felt like a different form of cowardice, just shoved away from where anyone could see.

But he decided this year would be a little different.  No, it wasn’t decorations, but it was an attempt to bring something new, something that would get him back to being closer with Tricia and Michael.  And since nobody else in the household liked spooky stuff as much as he did, maybe this would be something to…

“Honey?  You got something in the oven?  When did you learn to bake?”

Nick pulled himself away from the grisly display in the neighbor’s front yard and walked into the kitchen, where Tricia was leaning over the oven, holding the door open.  “What possessed you to make bread on Halloween?”

He closed the door, and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek.  “It’s a tradition I’m trying to start…based on your grandmother’s recipe, I might add.”

“Oh, it is, is it?  You went through that dusty old box of stuff?  I thought you told me after I made that shepherd’s pie to never touch it again.”

“No more Irish dinners.  But dessert should be fine.”

“So, what is it?”

He checked the timer to see how much time was left.  “It’s the barmbrack.  You’re supposed to bake it with all these little things in the middle as prizes.”

“I hope you didn’t make too many substitutions.  Grandma was always picky about making sure everything was just right.”

“Don’t worry, I followed the recipe…even the grapes.”  Nick didn’t hate grapes, but he preferred not to eat them if he could.  Seeing it had both grapes and raisins was a bit of a turn-off, but he followed Grandma’s instructions.

All except the prizes.  With the year they were having, especially with Michael’s sleep issues and staying indoors, they didn’t need the traditional things that meant bad luck.  Plus, he didn’t really want to bake a stick in a loaf of bread.  That would’ve just been horrible to bite into.

Trick-or-treating went well.  Michael, still young enough at 10 to enjoy everything but just old enough to start wondering if it was worth going anymore, came home with his pillowcase overflowing with candies of all kinds.  Even Mr. Renfro down the street had been more generous than usual and gave big-sized bars to everyone.

Nick had had a wonderful time walking with him.  Michael wore a Captain Nitro costume, but Nick didn’t have one at all…yet another casualty of the season, like everything else.  He would love to have something really spectacular, really wow everyone, but his technical skill was severely lacking, and he couldn’t bear to just buy something from a store.  Michael didn’t have that kind of perfectionist attitude, so the store-bought Nitro costume was just fine.  And at least somebody could feel like a hero…from the scant amount of the show he saw, Nitro delivered on his promise of courage and fortitude.

They came to their door just in time to see Tricia send two more trick-or-treaters on their way.  Pushing their way into the warm house after being out in the cool, slightly rainy Indiana night gave a wonderfully cozy feeling, despite all the ghoulish figures walking the streets.

Two cups of coffee and a mug of cocoa with marshmallows later, they dig through the treat bag, talking about all the decorations they’d seen and who they’d recognized from school walking around the neighborhood.  A quick glance at the clock, and Nick realized he would have to hurry, what with tomorrow being school and all.

“Hang on, Michael.  I made something special for tonight.”

He went into the kitchen, where the bread he’d made earlier was under a blanket.  He returned to the family room where everyone was sitting, and pulled the blanket away.

Michael looked at, slightly excited, but mostly puzzled.  “What is it, Dad?”

“It’s called barmbrack.  It’s an old tradition I wanted to try and bring back.  Your mom’s grandmother used to have this as a child before she came over from Ireland.”  He picked up a knife and cut a piece.  “Basically, each piece has something special inside of it, a little prize.  Go ahead and see.”  Nick gave a slice to himself, Tricia, and Michael, then reclined on the couch as they ate.

Tricia was the first.  She bit into a piece and there, sticking out of the bread in her hand, was a shiny little ball.  She grabbed it and it popped open, and inside was a little slip of paper.  She read it.  “’I will see new sights before the end of the year.’  Oh, thank you, honey!”  She gave him a kiss.

Nick got his next.  His was inside a piece he bit into, and he spit out the ball and read the fortune inside.  “‘You will discover hidden talents to do great things.’  Cute.”

Tricia looked at the writing.  “These look handwritten.  You didn’t make these yourself, did you?”

“No, I found a shop that did it online.  Took a little doing, but there’s a place that specializes in little Halloween knickknacks like this.  What’s yours say, Michael?  Michael?”

Michael sat by the coffee table, holding the little piece of paper from the ball in his hand.  He stared at it, wide-eyed.  Then he got up and went off to his room, leaving the paper behind.

Tricia looked at it, gasped, and ran after him.  “Michael!  Michael!  It’s okay, sweetie, it’s just a piece of paper!  It’s just in good fun!”

Nick, confused, grabbed the little slip from the coffee table and looked it over.

“‘Your dreams will come true.’”

* * * * * *

“Is he all right?”

Tricia sighed and climbed into the bed.  “I think he will be.  He just was talking about the man in the castle again.”

Nick bit his lip.  He thought the castle was over and done with now.  Michael hadn’t mentioned it in weeks.  It was the most prevalent of his nightmares, and the one he had talked most about in therapy.  Nobody really could provide an explanation, other than maybe he was concerned about progress in school and that’s how his mind rationalized it.  But Michael was a straight-A student, and enjoyed his classes and his teachers.  His friends were all good kids; well, Brian was a bit of a troublemaker, but that was it.

“What did you say to him?”

Tricia rolled over and looked at the alarm clock on her side of the bed.  “I told him it was just a toy, and all it meant was that good things would come to him.  Dreams coming true isn’t meant to be a bad thing.”

“True.  I only want the best for him.”

“You could tell him that yourself, you know.  I think he’d love to hear it from you.”

He sighed.  “Sometimes I just wish I knew what to say.  I want to make sure he knows I love him, but I just can’t make it sound right.”

“It doesn’t have to be perfect, Nick.  It just has to come from you.”

“When I can find it, I’ll let you know.”

“Stop beating yourself up.  Just…if he needs you, go see him, okay?”

“I’ll try.  Well, good night, and happy Halloween.”  She repeated it back to him, kissed him, and after he got his CPAP mask adjusted, they went to sleep.

* * * * * *

Normally wearing the CPAP made Nick almost ignore every noise imaginable, but something made him wake up.  He looked over at the clock.

1:30.

He was about to roll over and go back to sleep when he had a feeling something was wrong.  It wasn’t a noise or something he saw; it was just a feeling that he should go and check on Michael.  If it was nothing, it was nothing.  If it was something, it would be a chance to talk.

He unhooked his machine and went down the hall to Michael’s room, knocking lightly on the closed door.  “Michael?”

There was no response, other than the blankets rustling.  He could see the desk lamp was on from the light coming from underneath.

Nick pushed the door open, and saw Michael curled up under his blanket, wide awake, looking at the ceiling.  He was holding something in his hand.

“Hey, bud.  What’s up?”  Nick sat down on the edge of the bed, and saw that the object Michael had in his hand was the little crumpled paper from the barmbrack.  “Still upset about the note?”

Michael kept his eyes focused on the ceiling.  “What time is it, Dad?”

Nick looked at the Captain Nitro alarm clock next to the bed.  “1:35.  Why?”

“The clock always says 1:36 when he comes.  In my dreams.”

“When who comes?”

“The thing at the window.  I never want to look, but in my dreams, I look anyway.  I can’t help it.  It just happens.”

Just try something, Nick.  Anything.  “Hey, hey.  It’s just nightmares, buddy.  I know it’s Halloween, but it’s all for fun.  We’ll figure out these nightmares of yours, okay?  Your mother and I love you very much, and we’ll get to the bottom of it.  Right, ‘Captain Nitro?’”

Nick enjoyed seeing the genuine smile on Michael’s face, and the two hugged.  “All right, good night.  You want me to leave the light on, or…”

He’d glanced to see that the alarm clock read 1:36, and would have thought nothing of it had he not glanced at the window, and stopped talking.

For a fleeting moment, something made of claws, and spikes, and staring white eyes, pupil-less, at least seven or eight, was staring in through the window, before vanishing into the night beyond.

“Dad?”

Nick looked down, realizing he’d been staring, speechless, and saw Michael looking worried.  “You saw him, didn’t you?”

“I…I thought I saw something, but it was just…”

“He’s real now.  Just like the fortune said it would be.”

Now, Michael hugged him close, and Nick could hear the tears before he felt them wetting his shirt.

“It’s…it’ll be all right, Michael.  Really…”

But Nick didn’t really know if it would be.  He wanted to say it was all an illusion, a trick of the light.  But he knew what he saw.  There had been something outside that window, something that knew he had seen it.

He knew because deep within those folds of nightmarish flesh, it had smiled at him.

It couldn’t be real.  But it was.  And right now, he realized all of his words of encouragement would mean nothing if he broke down into hysterics in front of his son, despite everything in his mind screaming that of all times to panic, now was one of them.

“Michael, can you look at me for a moment?”  Michael shook his head.  “It’s okay, it’s me, it’s not…”  He stopped.  He hadn’t wanted to look at the monster out the window, with good reason.  Of course some monster from a dream would say that and try to trick him into looking.  “You don’t have to look.  It’s fine.  But let’s…let’s go to the other bedroom, and Mommy and Daddy will come up with something.  Just follow me.”

Michael shook his head again.  “We can’t go into the bedroom.  They’re already there.  They only let us go into the basement, because they know I don’t want to.”

Nick nodded, even though Michael couldn’t see, but he couldn’t just abandon Tricia.  He would have to see for himself.  “All right.  Stay with me.  I want to make sure Mommy is okay, but I won’t leave you.”

With Michael clinging to him, head buried in his shirt, Nick went over to the door, opening it, and peering out into the hall.

As he did so, he noticed the light in Michael’s room getting dimmer, the world changing from normal to a hazy, purplish tint, growing dimmer by the moment.

Michael seemed to notice, even with hiding his face.  “When the light goes, they can come in.”

In the hallway, the nightlight that led the way to the bathroom was doing the same, dimming to a strange, hollow purplish tint, leaving the house almost too dim to see.  Nick looked over at the master bedroom door, the door he had left open on the way to Michael’s, now closed, with a sinister greenish-red light pouring around the edges.

Wait, greenish-red?  That color can’t exist.

The way to the basement lay on the way, but despite his son’s protests, Nick had to know.  He couldn’t leave Tricia behind.

He opened the master bedroom door.

What remained of their bedroom now resembled some cave from some other world, the strange light flickering along its surface.  What remained of their bed was a gelatinous pool, where more liquid flowed from some source above, gurgling out of a tube that resembled a lamprey’s mouth.

What remained of Tricia was slowly being pulled into the pool, two skeletal figures pushing her down, glaring at Nick as their task was being interrupted.  She reached for Nick with arms twisted and destroyed, her jaw hanging to the side as if the hinges were melting, her beautiful face bubbling and receding into a similar skeletal shape.

“Nick, please…they want to show me things.  I didn’t want to see…help me…”

Before he could move, the door slammed shut, and Nick became aware of how dim the hallway was getting.  He turned to see shadows beginning to extend out from all the doorways but the basement door, forming into shapes that were more or less humanoid.

Wasting no more time, he opened the basement door and pulled himself and Michael through it.

The basement was no better lit than anywhere else, and the normally solid wood steps had been replaced with rickety boards, gaps in between where hands could easily reach through and grab an unsuspecting pair of feet.

Even as the world and all its rules seemed to vanish around him, the sight of Tricia being pulled into the pull made his eyes water, and a lump formed in his throat.  “Michael, I’m sorry…I couldn’t save Mommy.”

For the first time since this all began, Michael removed his face from Nick’s pajama shirt, and looked up.  “I know.  But in my dreams, you’re pulled into that pool, too.  I’m glad you’re here, so I don’t have to be alone for this part.”

Nick held his son’s hand tightly, and they descended.  Nothing grabbed at their ankles, but below, he could hear the sound of something large growling and moaning, sliding around on the concrete floor.  But he held himself together as best he could.  Michael couldn’t know just how close he was to despair.

It should have been him instead of her.  She would have known how to keep things going.

At the bottom, the basement did not resemble the finished structure he knew all too well.  Instead, it opened into a yawning series of concrete brick hallways, all leading off into darkness.

“This the labyrinth.  We have a little bit to try and find the exit, and get to the castle.  But we only have a few minutes before the guardian starts to chase us.”

Nick knelt down and held Michael’s face in his hands, and looked him right in the eyes.  “We’re going to be fine, Michael.”  The alarms in his own head were saying otherwise, but he couldn’t help but repeat that to him.  “You’ve been here before, right?  Do you know the way through?”

Michael shook his head.  “I’ve gotten close, but I’ve never made it.  The guardian always gets me right before the end.  That’s usually the last thing I remember before I wake up.”

Nick smiled, though he didn’t feel it inside.  “Do your best, champ.  We’ll get through this time.  We’ve got to.”  He wasn’t kidding himself, either, as the staircase they had come down was now gone, replaced only with a torchlit tunnel lighting the vaguest edges of something large, slimy, and hungry.  Why it didn’t attack them now, Nick didn’t know, but as long as they were alive, he didn’t care, either.

“Let’s go, Michael.  Run.”

Michael took a path, Nick following close behind.  Occasionally there was a twist, a turn, a three-way intersection, staircases up and down, and he trusted his son to remember as much as he could from countless nights of terror, endlessly racing down these hallways of stone.

With no watch, no clock, just the sounds of them twisting and turning through the maze, there was no way to tell how long they had been in there…had it been just a few minutes, or closer to half an hour?

Whatever it was, it didn’t matter once they heard a rumble, and a horrible noise from behind them.

“It’s coming, Dad.”

How could it fit through these hallways?  The space was barely big enough for them to walk through single-file, and whatever was behind them was far larger than that.

But then, this was a dream coming true.  Anything was possible, Nick was sure.

More dead ends.  More intersections.  The only thing that changed was the ceiling opening up, revealing a dark, storm-addled sky, lightning and thunder crashing over a ruined, blank landscape.  Some distance away, just as Michael had said, was a castle, a looming monstrosity with towers supported by nothing in particular, mish-mashed into something that more or less existed just to terrify.

Another guttural roar, followed by the sounds of brick being smashed as something raged behind them.  Was it bursting through the walls?  Ripping them apart as it pulled itself along?  There was no visible sign of it, but he knew it was getting closer, and if they didn’t get through, it would catch them.  It probably knew these hallways quite well, one way or another.

Around the next corner, Michael stopped.

“Michael?  What’s wrong?”

“This is as far as I got before.  I don’t know how to get past him.”

The maze opened up slightly into a boxy room, where a thin man sat on the ground, cross-legged, on an old tattered rug.  The room was a dead-end, but there were strange symbols on the walls where ways out would reasonably be.

“Who is this, Michael?”

“I don’t know.  But all I know is he always lies.”

The man looked at Nick, dry, waterless eyes staring out from under a bowler hat.  “He’s quite wrong about me.”

The roaring was getting louder.  The castle itself seemed so close from here, that this had to be the final step to leaving the maze.  If what Michael said was true, and he had no reason to doubt him, then Nick just had to get the answer for them to find the right exit.

“Which exit here will lead to something that will kill us?”

The man didn’t raise a hand or say anything.  It was worse than the answer would have been.

“Which way will lead us to the castle?”

The man, in turn, pointed to each of the symbols on the wall, as well as straight up and down.

That didn’t make sense.  By process of elimination, knowing these were all dead ends, what other way could there be…

“Michael.”

Michael, who was pushing on wall bricks like they would lead to a secret passage, turned to Nick.  “What is it, Dad?”

Nick spun to face the way they had come in.  The corridor looked different…there had been a turn there before, but now it looked as if it went straight on into darkness.  The roaring and bellowing were still coming from that direction.  “This way.”

“But we can’t go that way.  It’s the way back to…”

“I know.  But trust me.  I think it’s the way to go.  Come here.”

Nick picked up Michael and held him like he used to when he was still a little boy, arms clutched tight around his neck.  The weight was heavier, but he didn’t mind…not right now, at least.  “Keep your eyes shut.  I’m going to run.  Don’t look until I say so, all right?  I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I don’t want you to have to see.”

Michael nodded, and with that, Nick began to run.

The corridor stayed narrow, but it remained a straight line, but he noticed the horizon blurring, and a moment later, a road appeared, leading up to the castle, which now appeared above them.  He looked back himself, and saw the room with the thin man in it, but something large had appeared behind him, shrouded in the growing darkness.

“Thank you, sir!  I’ve been looking forward to this for some time!”  Even Nick had to briefly close his eyes as he charged forward, hearing the screams from behind him.

That turned out to be a mistake.

The road ahead was a winding path, and he felt his right foot slip on the edge.  He opened his eyes to see a yawning gulf of nothing below.

Unfortunately, nothing could stop his momentum from falling, but at least he could twist himself so he wouldn’t fall off completely.  He turned his body so he hit on his back.

He felt a sharp pain in his shoulder and along his spine, but it faded as he lay there, breathing heavily, with Michael still clutching him tight.

“It’s okay, Michael.  You can open your eyes now.”

Michael did so, and for a brief moment, he saw his son’s eyes, and wished he could take away all the fear from them, even if it was tempered with relief.

That ended when talons gripped his son on the shoulder, pulling him off and away.  Michael screamed as the creature, from here looking all the world like a gryphon from which most of its flesh had been seared away, placed Michael on its back, at which point five skeletal hands emerged to hold onto him, like a hellish seat belt.  It charged off toward the castle.

Nick sat up.  He watched, in a daze, as his son vanished up toward the gates, and felt a hollow hole at the pit of his stomach.

First Tricia.  Now Michael.  He had nothing left.  He couldn’t stop any of this.

He slumped back, feeling the terror and the fear bubble to the surface, shoving him to the ground in a fetal position.  He felt his grip on sanity slipping.

Something fluttered in the dust in front of him.  It was the piece of paper that Michael held, from the barmbrack.

“All your dreams will come true.”

What was it Michael had said?  “I’m glad I don’t have to be alone for this part.”

No.  There was still a chance.  Michael didn’t have to be alone.

He got up out of the dust and felt the strength returning to his legs.

The walk to the castle didn’t seem as long as it should have taken, but the gate was open, and he went inside.

Nothing about it made sense.  Walls were ceilings, chains hanging from them stretching tight across the room, with floors that wobbled and flowed.  The surfaces all seemed to be made from faces on torment, but they sometimes repeated, or perhaps were shifted as needed.  Gravity didn’t seem to be an issue as Nick picked his way through hallways and more staircases, finally arriving at a large chamber.

The gryphon-thing was there, bristling and stepping back at his approach.  On the floor, Michael lay unmoving, surrounded by a green circle of light on the ground.  And beyond that…

A massive figure, at least nine feet tall, sat on a throne that seemed to consist of brain tissue, turned black, pulsing slightly.  He stood, neon red eyes staring from a blackened skull, the body itself that of a body-builder covered in used motor oil.  It held a spear.

Nick looked at it, and knew, somehow, that Michael’s long-running night terrors were the result of this monstrosity.  Something primal emanated from it, primal, noble, and beyond comprehension.

“What do you want with him?  Why my son?  Why now?”

The king, or whatever it was, just stared at him briefly, before going over to the circle and conducting whatever business it was planning.

Nick fell to his knees, feeling his recently renewed strength leave him.  Whatever it was, it had no desire to explain anything to him.  He was a mere animal, an insect, something to disregard, because he was not important to it.

He’d never felt more insignificant in his life.

It leaned in close to Michael’s motionless form on the ground, and began drawing symbols on his head.

Nick could do nothing in the face of something so powerful.  What could he do?  He was just a man, against something that had all the power in this place at its disposal.

For a moment, as it continued to draw symbols on his son, he had a vision of the thing replaced with the people at his office, asking him once more to stay a few hours to finish some paperwork.  His family would be fine without him, certainly.

He felt a surge.

No.  Not today.  Nothing would keep him from his son.

He didn’t quite know what happened next.  He just felt threads in the air, a feeling that if this were a place of dreams, that he could do something himself.  He just knew in the next moment, he charged the king of this place, knocking him over.

He felt searing pain as the creature tore at his arms, trying to remove his grip as he began to pull at its throat, but in his rage he did not care.  Under his fingers, Nick could feel the throat pulling away, tendon and slime coming free in his hand.  He didn’t understand where the strength came from, or the speed, but he continued to rake, to pull at its jawbone, pulling it free in one massive stroke.  He punched straight into its chest and felt its diseased heart.

Now those red eyes, once filled with disdain, filled with fear.

Good.  Let it know what he had felt tonight, and what Michael had felt for who knows how long.

He saw his fists come down again and again, sending pieces of it flying everywhere, screams of rage bellowing from his own throat, until nothing remained beneath him but blackened scraps, that bubbled and hissed.

He got off of the corpse and returned to Michael, scooping him up in his arms.  The runes and shapes faded, and the boy’s eyes opened.  He looked at Nick.

“Captain Nitro…?”

“No, Michael.  It’s me.”

Michael blinked, then hugged his father again, no longer in fear, but in joy.

But Michael’s words got Nick thinking…maybe, just maybe, there was something of Captain Nitro in him, now.

But there was something not right.  Whatever was happening, the world didn’t vanish, didn’t fade, didn’t put them back into their house, with everything safe and sound.  They were still here.

Was that it, then?  Was this world of dreams real?  Was this what existed now?

Nick looked around.  The gryphon was gone, having flown away during the fight.  He then looked down at his arms, and realized how deep the wounds were, and wondered how he was still standing.

But he would have to be strong.  Here, there was only Michael now.

Or maybe Tricia was out there, somewhere.  If she was, he’d find her.  He had nothing left to do but try.

He still held Michael’s slip of paper from the barmbrack, and even though he didn’t remember putting it there, he could feel his own in his pajama pocket.  He wondered who made those slips, but only briefly, because he had work to do.

Still carrying Michael, he stumbled forward, not knowing where he was going, but heading forward into this world nevertheless.

And for all his doubts, all his worries, all his concerns, he did know one thing.

It was certainly the most memorable Halloween night he’d ever had.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Seth Paul
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Seth Paul


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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