I was a child of twelve summers when I first encountered a Gaunt. It crept on terrible, silent limbs through the garden of our house at Umbhalleth, the precursor of the vile army that followed close behind it.

I stood as if paralysed as it crept past. The grass around it withered; its breath made the flowers decompose. I felt certain that it knew I was there, and dreaded the moment that it would turn its featureless face upon me.

Yet it did not.

It passed me by, climbing the ivy over the wall even as the vine rotted beneath it, and it was gone.

It felt as if hours passed before I dared draw breath again. The air rushed into my lungs with a gasp, and I broke from my spot to run into the house and warn my parents. My father and uncle took up weapons and rushed out to chase it down. That was the last that I saw of either of them.

My mother drew me close, and with my sisters we huddled in the cupboard beneath the stairs until morning. When dawn finally rose, we packed hurriedly for our escape.

We were not prepared for the sight that met our eyes when we opened the door.

Every flower, every blade of grass and every shrub in our garden had died overnight; withered and rotted as if many years had passed. Only one thing still grew; only one patch of colour remained, and it was the tree beneath which I had stood as the Gaunt passed me by.

My mother rushed to it, muttering thanks and blessings as she took cuttings from its branches. She tucked them into our buttonholes, wove them into our hair and pressed them into our hands.

The tree still stands, to this day. The creatures pass it by, as if they cannot see it, and it is untouched by their poison. A single tree; red blossom where birds still sing in a desert of silence and death.

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: I am still working on “When Granny Ran Out Of Coal” – I haven’t forgotten, but unfortunately this has been a rather busy week! This story came from the Three Word Wednesday prompt words, Gaunt, Decompose and Vile.)