A young boy hurtles through a thick forest, pursued by a pack of angry boys.

“Tongue” is a chilling short story about blindly following rituals and traditions, about the secrets that bind us together. About the sacrifices we make.

What will happen when they catch the young boy?

What terrible fate awaits him? 

1,000 words / 4 minutes of unnerving reading pleasure

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‘Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.’ Rainer Maria Rilke 



Copyright 2024 Stefano Boscutti
All Rights Reserved

Flying across the tree tops of a cruel forest in the late afternoon.

Ruffling of feathers as a black carrion crow flies and swoops underneath, heading down towards the tangle of spruces and pines. Sounds of children running, screeching.

Dropping lower between the branches and green-tinged light, behind a pack of boys rushing along worn trails.

Moving through the hurtling boys to the back of a young boy they’re chasing. Dark hair, sweet face, crying. Gnarled, broken branches catch on his clothes, rip at his hands. Sounds of one boy calling out behind him, gasping.

‘Stop! Stop running!!’

The young boy glances back over his shoulder, terrified. Crashes over a fallen branch, arms outstretched as he tumbles face down into the damp soil.

Two boys leap on him to hold him down. One boy with dirty blonde hair straddles his back, pushing his face into the dank earth to muffle his screams. The other boy with light hair grabs at his flailing arms.

An older boy, a teenager, rough good looks with black hair and a harelip approaches, panting. He motions the two boys to turn him over.

The young boy writhes and screams as they roll him onto his back. One of the boys claps his hand over his mouth to gag his screams as he writhes and kicks in the dirt. A smear of loamy soil is smudged across his face. His eyes wide in fear.

The young boy had moved to the hamlet with his mother the year before after her husband had died, after his father had passed. He was a handful for a widow who was not made to be a mother. An only child with no brothers or sisters, no cousins.

He squirms and thrashes to free himself, but it’s no use. The two boys are too big, too strong. Tears spill from his eyes. He struggles to breathe. The older boy tugs at the arm of the boy covering his mouth, pries it loose.

‘Why are you doing this to me? I’ve never hurt any of you. I’ve never said anything bad, shared any secrets. I haven’t done anything to you.’

What he had done was speak too much. Everyone in the hamlet held their tongue. Nods of acknowledgement, an occasional hand raised in support, a few softly spoken words. 

The hamlet elders still believed that children should only speak when spoken to. The young boy never understood why. He was easily excitable, quick to cheer and full of life. His mother thought there was something wrong with him. She thought moving to the hamlet would calm him, give her some reprieve.

The young boy thought he was friendly and well-liked. He could make any of the boys and girls at the hamlet school quietly snigger, even when the teacher frowned.

The older boy peers down at him. The young boy had never heard him speak. Not once since he and his mother had arrived. He thought he must be mute like so many other boys and young men in the hamlet.

There’s no sound except a faint breeze through the tall trees and spreading shadows. No birds call, not even the crow. 

The older boy crouches down and gently brushes the soil away from the young boy’s face. Tenderly, lovingly with the back of his fingers. Smiling at the young boy to reassure him.

An old man’s thin voice splinters the unnatural hush.

‘Takes off his sweater.’

The older boy turns to where the voice is coming from amongst the trees.

‘There is no need to soil it.’

One of the boys drags the young boy’s woollen sweater over his head and pulls it away. The young boy is left in his beige singlet, hugging himself, shivering. He starts crying.

‘Now, now, child. There is no need for tears.’

The old man steps out from behind a tree. He is one of the hamlet elders, draped in a dark cloak. Two other elders step forward to join him. One retrieves a long braided cord from his garment. The other draws out a narrow prayer box, the lid held shut by a small steel clasp.

Other mothers and fathers from the hamlet step out from behind the trees. They’re here to bear witness. Even the young boy’s mother is here.

‘Rope him to the tree.’

One of the boys takes the braided cord as the other boy drags the young boy along the ground to the nearest tree, shoving him so he’s seated against the rough bark at the base of the trunk and tied in place.

The elder unclasps the lid of the prayer box and opens it to reveal a gleaming, razor-sharp hunting knife atop a blood-stained velvet pouch. He passes the open prayer box to the old man who moves towards the boys.

‘Hold his head.’

Both boys scramble to either side of the young boy, pressing the back of his head hard against the trunk so he cannot move.

The old man offers the open prayer box to the older boy who looks at the young boy then looks inside and lifts out the hunting knife.

The young boy stares at him, horrified. His mother looks away. He starts screaming uncontrollably. But this far into the forest no one can hear his desperate shrieks except the black crow.

The older boy drops to his knees in front of the young boy, the hunting knife by his side. He feels the ragged handle carved from wild reindeer antler bone, the cold steel blade with its blood groove. He slides the tip of his thumb along the tip of the knife, drawing a fine line of fresh blood no one sees except the young boy.

Then he plunges his hand into the young boy’s mouth, pulls out his tongue and slices it off across the lingual frenulum. Blood erupts from the young boy’s mouth as he silently screams.

The older boy lowers his head, places the bloodied tongue in the prayer box held out by the old man.

As the elders and other boys step back, the older boy thrusts a white cloth into the young boy’s mouth to stem the bleeding. Unties him, holds him to stop him fainting. Holds him tight.

The elders and parents and other boys start their long walk back to the hamlet. The crow flits its head, stares at the older boy and young boy in each other’s arms by the tree.

The older boy holds the young boy tighter still, his open palm on the back of his head. They look into each other for a moment before the older boy looks down.

The young boy follows his gaze as the older boy reaches for a piece of bark and scrawls out a single word in the solemn ground.

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Copyright 2024 Stefano Boscutti

All Rights Reserved

The moral rights of the author are asserted.

No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or copying and pasting, recording or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing.

Stefano Boscutti acknowledges the trademark owners of various products referenced in this work. The publication or use of these trademarks is not authorised or sponsored by the trademark owner.

This is a work of fiction. While many of the characters portrayed here have counterparts in the life and times of various hamlets, the characterisations and incidents presented are totally the products of the author’s slippery imagination. This work is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It should not be resold or given away. Thank you for your support. (Couldn’t do it without you.)

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