Archive for: May, 2016

The Monarch’s Madness by Patrick Doerksen

May 29 2016 Published by under The WiFiles

 

            After being scooped off the beach—drooling and twitching next to the child who, in captivity, had inexplicably disappeared—the Monarch was weeks later still confined to his bed. He had taken to describing, spontaneously and with gestures that made him ache for days afterwards, grandiose schemes for the recovery of his kingdom. Interrupting their lunch, he called his advisors in and told them hurriedly about his plan for a series of  state-funded apothecaries in all the villages and cities. They took notes as they always did and left the chambers when the Monarch’s energy was spent. Outside they shook their heads in sadness. “So excitable,” they would mutter; “It’s a pity, what’s happened.” It was difficult to watch the disintegration of a mind, still more difficult carrying on the deception. However, what else could they do? Apothecaries? This could not be what the Monarch really wanted.

            When the Monarch died a few days later and his final will was read out to the advisors and the chancellors, there was no laughter at his utopian dream, only the sad down-turning of gazes onto the marble palace floor. There were certainly the resources in the treasury to fund such a dream, and indeed great need of it in the desolated kingdom. But how could they be expected to understand, or believe, such a change of heart? True, there was one among them inclined to think the Monarch’s madness was no madness—a final clarity in the end of life, perhaps, or something more—but his is another story. And for the moment even he, with all the rest leaving the ceremonial hall, was forced to wonder without satisfaction what it was that had happened, what it was the Monarch had seen.

#

It was noon. The Monarch lounged on the balcony, which looked out on the final destruction of the Capper sea-folk, and sighed. Five  feet back a servant girl began to sweat. Was he not satisfied with his tray of exotic juices? But she was lucky. His sigh was directed at life itself, which was far more insipid.

The scarred priest had called it ennui.

When after ten years of struggle the Monarch subdued the last of the Seven Princes and assimilated his army and assets, there was nothing he could not do—only, he had grown so used to conquest that he could not desire nor think of anything else. And so he went after this spice trade and that gold mine, sequestering so much wealth at the center of his kingdom that he caused the whole world to slope towards him, like a stone at the center of a map. Now he had control of the pearl trade, but the truth was the royal coffers could get no fuller. He was only playing a lackluster game with himself, waiting for something to happen and all the while creating the very conditions that ensured nothing would.

For years it had been this way—anything he desired plucked from reality and brought before him: oysters, silks, concubines, empires. He had learned too late how much savor in life comes from resistance. Even the pleasures of killing were quickly exhausted for him, and now to raze a village wasn’t enough—he had to have the sons kill the fathers, the daughters kill the mothers. He did worse things, too, unspeakable things, so that he might feel something, even pain. But of course it was never enough, and daily he wondered where those golden years of his youth had gone: when the kingdom was in ruins and strangers were stoned at village gates, when the fickle and slipshod ways of the vigilantes were the meager substitute for justice and it was anyone’s guess whose home would burn next—when, in other words, the ascending monarchy was useful and welcome. And so each day the frustration grew until every slave, every advisor, every ambassador, trembled to be near him. He would lash out with his knife-edged sceptre, as though he could release the passion hidden in the chests of men and have it flow into himself. He would stab at citizens in the street. Now his subjects knew him as the Mad Monarch. He hated it, and hated more that he could not stop it and could only command torture and death for whoever spoke the words.

Once, when the scarred priest was yet without his scars, he told  the Monarch that Elyon, the High God, was displeased by his impersonations of Her; indeed the priest went further, saying not only was the Monarch not Elyon but something worse, perhaps the worst condemnation theologically possible—Elyon’s Shadow. The Monarch looked at himself that night and found, without horror, without pain, that it was true. He had the priest tortured and locked in the dungeon anyway; the rest he killed, knowing now the opinion of the religious. There were rebellions, naturally, but he paid his army well. When it was over he hid the fact that there was one priest yet alive; he hid also that, on occasion, the Monarch found himself descending the dungeon ladders and facing the scarred priest, whose gaze fascinated and angered him.

“Turtle soup,” muttered the Monarch, and it was brought. Soon, bored, he made the gesture for one of his concubines to approach. The servant girls averted their eyes. I might end it all tonight, he thought as he undressed. Then again, I might not. But then he paused, with his robe at his feet, thinking he might weep, and sent the concubine away. But tears did not come, and he grew tired of waiting.

#

That evening, the Monarch again felt something coming. Not tears, something else. His military advisor was speaking hurriedly to him about a growing insurrection in the North; the Monarch ordered him away. He ordered his servants away with their trays of oyster and crab. Alone, he could feel it coming stronger and went to the high, arched window. The night pulsed with energy and against it he felt old. There were places on his face the starlight could not enter, behind the wrinkles.

That was when Elyon said to him, “There were two foxes crouching in meadow. One looks at the flower, the other eats it.”

The Monarch did not believe in Elyon. He did not believe in anything more powerful than himself—he had forgotten how. And so he neglected to respond.

“However inadequate your Scriptures are,” Elyon went on, “there is at least that passage. It’s something you might pay attention to.”

“I do not read the Scriptures,” the Monarch found himself saying.

There was silence. A waiting silence.

The Monarch said, “Who are you?”

“I am Elyon.”

Goosebumps rose. The darkness of his chamber shimmered, alive with intention. Still, the Monarch said, “How do I know you are not a voice in my head?”

“I am voice in your head,” said Elyon. “But I could just as well be a glowing orb hovering in front of you. Would you like me to  be a glowing orb?”

The Monarch said nothing.

“You are right. It does  not matter how I appear to you. I am Elyon, Maker of the World. I made the Seas of Fortune and the thousand spices of the Southern Reach; I made flame and I made the breeze and I made the space between the stars. I made the stretch of time, the distension of space, the inner dimensions you call Mind. I made you, tyrant.”

Silence again. The Monarch went across the room and listened at the door. On the other side one of the sentry shifted. The Monarch went back to the window. Already the encounter was irking him. He was not used to being addressed without permission.

He said, “They say you created the world from chaos. Some also say you created it from nothing. Which is it?” When Elyon did not answer immediately he waved his hand in annoyance. “No, I don’t care. What do you want with me, Elyon?”

“I was like you, long ago,” said Elyon. “And so I have sympathy on all tyrants, on all who eat what should not be eaten. I have heard your heart’s cry. I can feel your bitterness. So I have come.”

The Monarch said—for in his interrogations of the scarred priest he had become familiar enough with the Scriptures—“But you call yourself the God of the widow, the orphan, the stranger. That is why I do not worship you.”

“But that is not so,” said Elyon. “I am all things to all people. I am also the God of the tyrants, the rulers, the powerful.”

The Monarch looked around the dark room, his eyes like spearheads. “You said you were like me. How? I have burned the seven Nations to the ground in the fire of my hate, and made the world so hot that I melted my own heart in my chest—”

“—and you are nothing now but a pillar of ashes, angry at your own existence, angry at everything that reminds you of your existence—Yes, I know.”

The Monarch froze, then spat. “Well, so you know.” He was breathing heavily, casting about the room with his eyes, frustrated to find no purchase. At length he said, “Be gone then, Elyon, for I have no use for your taunting.”

But Elyon did not go.

“I know what you crave, tyrant, and I did not come to taunt you. You shall have what you desire. You shall know what it is to care for life again. But first, you must do something for me. You must, not a servant.  There are none of your shortcuts here, tyrant. No one can do your soul’s work but you.”

The Monarch said, “Do not patronize me, Elyon.”

“You will build me a place of worship, a humble temple without gilding as bright as the sun and without spires higher than the flight of the raptor. You will not fill the temple with a thousand chimes and a thousand candles, and you will not place cushions where you kneel. Without these things you will worship me, every morning and every evening. You will worship me for five years, and when you have done this, I will show you something that will make you young again and fill your heart with care.”

The Monarch’s face, ever stony and resigned, seemed to fall now, betraying a disappointment so unfamiliar to its muscles that it became a distorted and half-formed thing.

“Five years? This, Elyon, I cannot do.”

Silence. The Monarch sat on his bed, his eyes looking sadly out at the night. He knew that given so long a time he would surely despair and end up with his own sword through his chest.

At last Elyon said, “If it is too long for you, tyrant, then I will make it shorter. Worship morning and evening for one year, and I will give you what you desire.”

Still the sadness did not leave the Monarch’s eyes. He knew—he, a man who found himself restless even an hour into a game of chess, a man who threw a fit when the servants were seconds late with his wine—that it was too long.

And so Elyon said, “A month, tyrant. Only a month.”

If there was ever a moment in all this and what was to come for the Monarch to grow suspicious of Elyon, it was this moment. But the Monarch said, “One month,” and felt the presence leave the room.

#

The Monarch’s architects, used to designing impossible wonders that took decades to build, were confused by the project, but relieved. And so the Monarch was within days beginning his month-long trial.

It was strange for him, spending so much time outside the flash of gold and silver, breathing un-incensed air, kneeling on prayer mats made of peasant’s twine. Strangest of all was doing something he did not feel like doing. Still, he knelt there every morning and every evening.

He felt nothing at first but that annoyance, and then just nothing. He began to grow worried that he was not doing it right, that he was missing something, botching some formula, and had soon convinced himself that he did not know how to worship.

So he had the scarred priest instruct him.

At first the priest—nervous, distrustful—gave him a mantra, “Thy beauty forever,” which he was to say over and over, moving the words from his lips to his head to his heart. But, on trying this, the Monarch knew there had to be more; indeed he suspected the priest of hiding something. On torturing him, the Monarch learned the truth. The mantra of highest worship for Elyon was this: “Creator God, I beg clemency for being only a man.” This, however, the Monarch found not only distasteful but contradictory, for was it not the fault of the Creator that he was made a man? And, moreover, if this were some great evil, why should it be himself begging clemency and not the one who had the power to act otherwise?

He questioned the priest further, who trembled on the rack as he spoke: “Contradiction is the heart of faith; nothing makes a man so humble.” But the Monarch could not understand the worth of humility and said as much.

It was at this moment that the priest, so near death, decided to rebel in the last, small way available to him, and spat at the Monarch. “Elyon is the God of slaves, not of Monarchs!” he hissed. “It’s demons that say otherwise. You are damned, you tyrant—damned.”

Within minutes he had expired.

Despite his doubts the Monarch tried the mantra and felt something in him stir. It was unpleasant, but it was something—And perhaps, he thought, true religion is meant to be unpleasant. So it was that the Monarch worshiped a whole month, and when it was over Elyon came to him.

#

The girl was kneeling near the lapping waves and building a castle of sand; when the Monarch strode near, she did not flee as all children do but stayed and watched his approach. He saw that she had a crooked back and a distorted face. The monarch did not like sickness and usually killed the sick when he came across them, because he preferred not to flee and did not know what else to do. So the Monarch might have had her killed if she had not spoken.

“You have worshiped me a whole month, and you do not recognize me? Ah, but it is hard for a tyrant to worship something greater than himself, and I do not blame you for missing your aim.”

“I have done what you asked,” said the Monarch, annoyed at having been surprised this way. He gestured for his guard to disperse. “I’m entitled to the vision you promised me.”

Elyon blinked and stood. She wiped her hands on her thighs. “You are right, tyrant. You have suffered much. But before I show you my vision, first you must suffer still more while I lecture you.”

“Go on,” said the Monarch, impatient.

“There are two ways that a tyrant can fight the ennui which is the inevitable result of omnipotence,” said Elyon. “First, the tyrant can try the way of destruction.” Elyon kicked down the sandcastle with her tiny feet. “This is least effective and yet the most practiced. At the very height of opulence the tyrant languishes, ordering heads brought to him on platters and the desolation of whole empires.

“Second,” said Elyon, kneeling now and shaping the sand back into turrets with her tiny hands, “the tyrant can try the way of creation. At the height of his ennui, if the tyrant but dares lower taxes, dares plant orchards in villages and design aqueducts for the cities, dares build a palace for the worship of someone not himself, he will feel the very thing he craves.”

The girl stood then, awkwardly because of her back, and looked directly at the Monarch. A sea breeze swept past her, making fire of her blond hair. For the first time the Monarch saw the sadness in the eyes, and seeing this, he remembered what Elyon had said—“I was like you, long ago.” And he knew what was to come.

#

There is a way in which a poorly crafted goblet, or shoddily constructed chair, feels like a thing “made” by someone, as perfect goblets or chairs do not. The Monarch had never felt this way about existence itself, experiencing it as we all do as a perfect thing, always there, unmade and irreducible. Now he could hardly believe he had called the world real.

It was but a distant memory now, horded deep in the mind of Elyon the Creator, but it was enough. It began as an unbearable sadness, and it was mixed with such horrible regret and anger that the Monarch choked with his very being. And then he began to see it—though “see” was an infinity away from the right word. What mad wonders had been standing before Elyon had destroyed them stood again, and the Monarch’s eyes were stabbed through with their beauty. Light here was more than light; darkness more than darkness. The living quality we feel in the plants of our world was there even in its stones and rivers, and the intentionality we feel in other people was there in its plants. There were people, too, but he knew this only by their shadows, as it were, for if even the stones and metals were alive here then the people were something more; their very presence betrayed some super-intentionality which gave his heart pangs. Perhaps the Monarch lasted a second here, perhaps a year; but he felt a million things, and each pulsed with more hurt and joy and wonder than the whole of existence. He could see deeper patterns, too, vast edifices taken in at a glance, complexities and immensities all shimmering with an extra-physical glow, a radiance that came not from within but from without, as though significance itself caused them to shine. These were things only suggested by the grandest spires and mountains and oceans of the Monarch’s world, and just seeing them was too much—he was a ghost in this world-before-the-world, not made to see it, and as he collapsed on the beach and the royal guard came running, the Monarch had on his face an expression that none of them could fathom.

END

Bio: I am a social worker armed with a B.A. in Literature and a M.A. in Theology. My fiction and poetry have featured in Presence, (parenthetical), Frogpond, Lyrical Passion, Ancient Paths Online and Contemporary Haibun Online, among others.

No responses yet

Heat By D. A. D’Amico

May 25 2016 Published by under The WiFiles

 

“Why are the dead doing that, Rachael?”

A dozen bodies crowded the front lot and nearby street, arms splayed and flailing. They lay in deep drifts, sliding last night’s accumulation into pink-tinged snow angels.

“They’re hot. Decaying things generate heat.” The reenactment of this innocent childhood pastime made me feel sick, so I turned away to stare into the cold dawn.

“It looks like they’re having fun.” Jake Marshall gazed at the floundering bodies, a confused smile on his ruggedly handsome face as he joined me on the porch.

Gary Wilson, my self-appointed protector, grumbled and shuffled aside. The two men had been vying for my attention since Gary and I had stumbled into Jake at the local gym early the previous day. Gary, being true to his nature, already felt like the loser.

Several blocks to the east, a plume of green smoke billowed over the town square. According to a voice on the radio, it meant salvation. The National Guard had finally arrived to extract survivors.

#

We’d spent a restless night hopping from building to building, working our way towards the safe zone one sad empty home at a time. The gruff military voice on the radio had warned us. We had twenty-four hours before they gave the town up as hopeless, abandoning us to the creeping mercy of the infected.

I closed the door behind me, locking up for residents who’d never return home.

“I can’t go any further, Rachael.” Beside me, Gary appeared bloated and waxy inside his red nylon parka, his troubled expression lost on the pale expanse of his face. Sweat trickled along the edges of his thinning brown hair, freezing to his face in long icy teardrops.

“Rest a little. We only have a few more blocks to go.” I tugged my fur collar higher, rubbing my frozen fingers together as I tried to cheer him up. “The army’s in the park. They’re here to rescue us, and I’m sure they’ve got an antidote by now.”

Gary and I had been friends before the catastrophe. He’d asked me out a couple of times, but I’d always declined. He was a pale dumpy guy, the kind you complained to about your no good boyfriend after a bad Saturday night. He was far from the hero type, but he meant well. He’d come looking for me after the world went crazy.

I’d tried my best to keep him alive in spite of his clumsiness. He’d been more of a liability than an asset, but I felt I owed him since he’d gotten infected because of me.

“It’s no use.” He wiped his forehead with a trembling hand, drawing back a moist snowball of sweat. “I’m getting too warm.”

One of the prone figures rose at the sound of his voice. It staggered to its feet like a drunk at an ice skating rink, and headed in our direction. I thought I recognized the face, but I’d trained myself to glance at an imaginary spot above and to the left when lurchers attacked. Knowing who they’d once been was just too painful.

“Leave him.” Jake leaned against the front porch like a Greek statue, his breath hissing like cigarette smoke in the frigid air.

Jake was exactly the kind of guy I’d have complained about to Gary. Misogynistic, selfish, and self-centered, Jake had the chiseled body and sculpted good looks that made you wonder if you could change all the other stuff. I didn’t want to admit it, but my heart beat a little faster when he stared at me with those big blue eyes.

“Jake, don’t…” I let my arms fall, the heavy rifle dropping onto the straps of the duffle at my feet. My body ached, unaccustomed to climbing, and running, and fighting for my life. I’d give anything to go back to my normal world. I’d gladly settle for juggling things like work and school again, instead of dodging the sluggish corpses of people I used to know.

“What?” Jake’s rough tone held tension. He nodded at the larger man. “It’s what he wants, right?”

Then he struck his best pose, one boot up on the railing, and his big hands clinging to the open hem of his leather bomber jacket. Jake had been preening like one of those shirtless catalog models since we’d run into him the morning before. He casually stroked his chest, making sure I noticed the ripple of his six-pack through his tight tee shirt. He must be freezing to look that cool.

We’d met before, of course. Everyone knew everybody in a small town like this. Jake was the jock type, all flash and no substance. I tended to be bookish, a little on the socially awkward side, so I never really fell within his radar. All that had changed with the rising dead. Suddenly, I’d become hot enough to be his girlfriend, whether I was interested or not. Who knows, I might even be the last woman on Earth. I could have my pick of Jakes.

#

“He’s right. Leave me, Rachael.” Gary hugged his ample middle, his parka squelching like a rotten orange. A trickle of blood slid along his left cuff as he pulled on his fur-lined hood. His bloodshot eyes held an accusing look, like a beaten puppy. He’d tried so hard to impress me, but it’d all been for nothing. “It’s so hot.”

“See, he knows he’s only holding us back. He knows what he’s turning into.” Jake moved a little closer, draping his arm protectively around my shoulders like I was a helpless girl. I wanted to point out I’d done as much to keep us alive as he had, but he’d just give me that smug look of his and wink like it was our little joke. If I could only put Gary’s brain in Jake’s body…

I couldn’t believe I was falling for him. He wasn’t anything like the type of man I ended up with, but I’d been lonely since before the world ended. The rules were different now. Why shouldn’t I be different as well?

“Don’t listen to him, Gary.” We were near. Just a few more blocks and we’d make it to the safe zone. Then Gary could get treatment. Jake could do whatever it was frat boys did after the end of the world, and I could get out of these frozen bloody clothes, have some food, and take a nap.

Jake slammed his boot down. The shotgun at his feet flipped up, and he leveled and fired with one smooth motion. I covered my ears against the roar. The nearest of the moving dead jerked back, collapsing like a marionette cut from its strings before the acrid scent of gunpowder had even reached my nostrils.

“He’s a liability, Rachael. When will you see it? He’s as good as dead already.”

“Not dead, dying. Always at the edge without ever going over… flesh rotting, but still not dead.” Gary’s voice dribbled from his lips in a mumble. His face started to sag, gummy features sliding to the left and bunching up around his ear.

“You’re going to be fine.” My reassuring laugh came out as a nervous chuckle. He looked as bad as Jake looked good. “We’ll get you the help you need.”

Gary unzipped his parka. He shed his thick woolen shirt, staggering bare-chested across the porch. Where Jake was trim and muscular, Gary’s physique appeared blocky and gelatinous. Thick reddish veins traced spiky patterns across his moist skin, throbbing with a hideous pulsation.

“It’s so hot.” His fingers slid over his belly, sinking into his thick flesh. “And it hurts all over. You can’t believe how it burns, the heat of decay. The dead are cold. I wish I were dead.”

Jake swung his gun around.

“No!” I pushed the barrel away and stepped between them.

Gary whimpered. His eyes rolled back, and he grasped his head with both hands. “I’d always wanted you, hoped that we’d…”

Gary’s hands were around my neck, pulling me into his sultry grip. I screamed. He tugged me closer. His hot breath washed over me like steam. I could smell the cloying stench of death as his fevered lips burned across my neck.

“She’s mine!” Jake tore me from Gary’s grip, slamming the shotgun into the fat man’s face. He fired.

The recoil knocked us off balance. I fell on top of Jake, landing against his solid chest, his strong arms around me. My whole body tingled. Mt heart hammered, beating as fast as my frenzied breathing.

“He didn’t hurt you, did he?” Jake’s breath, so near to me, smelled faintly of liquorish. Comforting warmth surrounded me as he hugged me closer.

“No… I don’t think so.” My skin itched. I couldn’t tell if I’d been infected.

“Good.” He smiled. His bright blue eyes seemed so deep I felt I could fall into them. His soft lips brushed mine as he spoke, and a hot blush oozed through my body. It grew, curling my toes.

A chill ran down my spine as I realized the warmth continued to spread. It did nothing to quell the blossoming fire, and I prayed it was just the heat of passion.

 

Bio
My writing credits include:

Daily Science Fiction
L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future, Volume 27
Crossed Genres
Shock Totem

Member: SFWA, HWA

http://www.dadamico.com/

 

No responses yet

Heirloom By Freya Pickard

May 22 2016 Published by under The WiFiles

 

Her mother’s worn hands took hold of hers in the quiet dimness of her parents’ bedroom. The air smelt of lavender and thyme.

“You must never say anything to anyone regarding this. Do you understand?”

Tari nodded dumbly.

“Sit down.” Tari dropped onto the goose feather quilt.

She watched her mother’s greying head as the woman knelt on the wooden floorboards and reached under the bed. Withdrawing a metal box, her mother rose to her feet and fixed Tari with stern, green eyes.

“This is a family heirloom,” her mother said, unlocking the metal box with a small key. “It has always been passed from mother to daughter. The promise on receiving it is to never speak of it to anyone except the person you pass it on to.”

Tari could not imagine what this secret was but said, “I promise.”

“Good. Here.” Her mother took out a thin leather sheath with a pointed end. “This, is the silver dagger. For countless generations it has stayed within our family, always going to the daughter.”

Tari briefly wondered where her mother’s family was, but knew talk of that kind was not encouraged by her father.

“This is our secret and our trust,” her mother continued, laying the sheathed knife in her daughter’s open palms. “There is a legend in our family that in the First Age this dagger was made by the elves and will always throw true to protect the bearer from harm. The legend also says that the dagger was lent to a woman of the south in one of the great wars but such was the devastation, she was unable to return the dagger to its rightful owner. That is our secret. One day a descendant of the elves will return and one of us will give it back to them.”

Tari stared at her mother with wide eyes. This was a story such as her father read out from his vast store of books. Things like this didn’t happen to ordinary folk.

“Do you accept the conditions Tari?”

“Yes,” she stammered, not really comprehending what she was doing.

“Then take this dagger and keep it safe. I will find you a cord so you can wear it around your neck and hide it in the front of your dress. Speak to no one about this, not even your brothers. I do not know what the rules are at the Temple regarding weapons but your father seems to think they are banned. Therefore, do not declare it but find a safe place to hide it once you are given a room.”

Tari nodded again, thinking that the dagger weighed heavy in her hands.

The dream dissipated and Tari woke briefly to hear Sidra muttering in her native language. The girl moved restlessly on her pallet and then fell silent. The chamber was still dark and Tari pulled the blankets over her head. Sleep dragged her down into warm depths again.

There was something wrong. She could feel it. The sense of unease that had crept upon her when the kaerlings entered the Temple had stayed with her. Now, in the midst of sleep the feeling grew out of proportion. Sidra was in danger. And Tari was helpless, completely powerless to do anything. She started to sweat, lunging out at blank shadows, not sure where to attack first. 

She came awake with a start, heart pounding. Foremost in her mind was that Sidra was somehow under threat and that only the silver dagger could save her. The sleeping room was lighter than it had been earlier and Tari could feel that it was not long before sunrise. Swiftly she slipped out of bed and knelt on the floor, finding her small chest of belongings by touch. Moving quietly, she drew the chest towards her and opened the lid. Faded flowers from summer expeditions collecting herbs from the lower mountain pastures filled the box. At the bottom, hidden beneath the brittle stalks and dead petals lay the dagger. As she touched the leather sheath, Sidra stirred.

At once all her mother’s warnings, reinforced by the recent dream, came back to her. No one should know about this dagger. The feeling that Sidra was in danger came more strongly and Tari shook her head indecisively. The Temple rules were clear; no weapons were allowed in the precincts, except for those the guards wore. If she gave the dagger to Sidra, the girl might get into trouble.

“What are you doing, Tari?” Sidra asked sleepily.

Tari hid the dagger beneath the dried flowers and closed the lid. “Just looking for something,” she replied brightly. “Come on. It’s time to get up. Yule Greetings to you!”

*

Tari sighed quietly as she sat with Undine and Sidra on one of the raised benches at the edge of the Main Shrine. The chamber was vast and could hold the entire population of the Temple as well as a large number of guests. The floor and walls were made of white marble shot with amber streaks and the supporting pillars were draped with ivy and mistletoe. Pine branches scented the air with resin and lay on the altar stones at each of the eight chapels around the edges of the room. In front of these sat the eldest priest or priestess for each deity, looking down at the multitudes below.

The priest of Taur stood in the centre of the room on the raised octagonal Dias. He was in mid-flow, praying to each of the gods in turn, beseeching them to drive back Winter and bring the rich Summer months to Aura Vere. Tari found prayers tedious. Sidra’s eyes were closing. Only Undine seemed unaffected, sitting bolt upright with a look of polite interest on her face. The priestess of Aqua was so remote; why she bothered to keep Tari and Sidra on as acolytes, Tari did not know. She was, however, grateful to be allowed to continue to serve the goddess.

A nagging thought dragged Tari’s attention away from the ceremony. She thought of the silver dagger, hidden in the chest beneath her bed. The sense of danger surrounding Sidra threw long, invisible shadows between them. Blinking rapidly, Tari focused her eyes on the priest of Taur and put the thoughts from her mind. The man irritated her, so Tari turned her attention to the guests seated on the benches before Taur’s priest.

There was the High Priestess. She wasn’t really a guest but she spent more time intriguing in the palace than she did in the Temple. She was dressed in a shimmering gold robe that accentuated her broad hips and flat chest. Tari’s gaze moved on to the king and queen of Falna, resplendent in their purple robes and silver crowns. The queen was pretty with golden hair and big blue eyes. The king was reasonable to look at but there was something about his jaw that lacked strength.

Undine nudged her and Tari realised that Taur’s priest had reached the end of his prayer and was starting the section that needed responses from the gathered masses. Dutifully she murmured the ritual words, hearing Sidra stumble over the archaic phrasing. Lowering their heads they waited for the moment when Taur’s priest proclaimed the lightening of the world. Tari had never felt any different and wasn’t sure how the priests could really know the exact moment when the sun started to dance nearer the earth. She knew she wouldn’t notice for a few weeks yet. Then the singing began and she joined in the traditional Yuletide song.

*

“I’m so hungry!” Sidra whispered as they made their way to the antechambers where the feasts were being held.

“Me too!” They had eaten nothing since they had risen in the traditional Yuletide fast. Now they could feast until they were ill. “Let’s find somewhere to sit down.”

Tari guided Sidra into the first of the antechambers.

“Tari!” shouted a girl. “Over here!”

Tari turned her head to see a table full of Suryanese girls some of whom she recognised. One of the girls waved at her.

“Lally!” She waved back and led Sidra over to the table. “How are you?”

“Very pleased we don’t have to eat in the same room as those dreadful kaerling men! Here, Karu, move up.”

The girls shifted along the bench allowing Tari and Sidra to sit opposite Lally.

“This is Sidra,” Tari introduced her friend. “She’s new. This is Lally and this is Karu.”

The other girls introduced themselves and handed them platters of meats and vegetables. They ate hungrily, conversing noisily.

“Those kaerling men are quite handsome,” Karu was saying.

“I can’t stand them!” Lally shuddered. “They ask you so many questions that just don’t make sense.”

“I liked the man who questioned me,” Karu smiled. “He kept touching my hand.”

“Didn’t you have a priestess with you?” Tari asked, shocked.

“Yes, but she had a headache as soon as the kaerling started talking to me, so she wasn’t paying much attention.”

“I can’t believe you let him touch you.” Lally pulled a face.

“It was nice. He sort of stroked my hand. And he stroked the back of my head as well and asked me to let down my hair. The priestess didn’t notice a thing!”

“Are you going to be a priestess of Lyra?” Tari asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Well, you’re certainly acting like one!”

Karu looked hurt. “I think he was really good looking and he made me feel special.”

Sidra snorted rudely.

“You don’t like them either?” Lally shook back her luxuriant black locks. “Why?”

Sidra shivered. “We met one of them at Port Olin in the Autumn.” She wrinkled her nose. “He disappeared into the hills and forests a lot of the time looking for a woman he claimed was his sister.”

“Which one was this?” Lally stopped eating.

“Gar, I think. I only met him once but he beat up some of my kin.”

“Why?”

“He raped and murdered one of the clan leader’s wives. So her relatives sought revenge.”

Tari felt a cold shiver tiptoe down her spine. The urge to fetch the dagger now was so strong, she nearly left the table.

“How many did he beat up?” asked Lally.

“About ten.”

“Ten?” Tari was amazed. “One man beat ten? How is that possible?”

Sidra sighed. “I don’t know. They said he moved like lightning and used no weapon.”

“Magic?” whispered Karu.

Sidra shrugged. “All I know is that they’re evil and give me the shivers.”

“You never told me this before,” Tari stared at the girl.

“I don’t like to think about it.”

“So, you’ve travelled, have you?” Lally resumed eating, turning her attention to the fish pastries.

“That’s what Suryanese do!” Sidra laughed and helped herself to mashed tubers.

“We’re Suryan,” said Karu. “But we’ve never travelled.”

“What do you mean?”

“We were left here as babies or small children because our parents were poor.”

“Or because our mothers didn’t know who our father was!” Lally grinned.

“Well, I’m here because my family is too large,” Sidra admitted.

“Where have you travelled?” Lally asked.

“All over Falna.”

“Really? Where’s the most amazing place you’ve been?”

Sidra thought for a while as she ate the mash. “I think the most amazing place I’ve been is somewhere in the forest to the west of Aura Vere. I’ve only been there once but it was an anniversary so we made a special pilgrimage.”

“What, to a shrine?”

“Not exactly. It’s a waterfall, a huge roaring monster in the middle of the forest.”

“What’s special about it?” Karu wanted to know.

“Our stories say that Hakim heard the gods there. They met him between the earth and sky at night in fire and water.” Sidra sounded dreamy. “It’s true, the waterfall does reach to the sky. You cannot climb up to the top, though there are large steps carved in the rock, as if made for a giant. You have to leave the wagons just off the King’s Highway and go by foot along a ravine. It’s several days journey and we camped there by the cauldron pool; lit fires at night to see if the gods spoke to us. But no one has heard their voice since Hakim came.”

“That’s really poetic,” Lally breathed. “Why couldn’t your family keep you?”

“We have no money. We make ends meet by shoeing horses and breeding goats but there is never enough to go round. I really wanted to marry into Mahesa’s clan because he is rich and his people never go without food.”

“Why didn’t you?” asked Tari.

“I have no dowry,” Sidra looked wistful. “I am not pretty, so father said I had to come to the Temple.”

“You are pretty!” said Lally, outraged. “Besides, it’s not prettiness that counts. It’s who you are as a person.”

When they had eaten their fill they made their way to another antechamber where there was singing and dancing. After watching the antics of the drunken priests for a while, the Suryan girls decided to show everyone how to really dance. Tari watched from the side, knowing only simple, ritual dances. Even though Karu and Lally had been brought up in the Temple they seemed to know instinctively how to move. It was a sensuous dance that went well with their rounded, lush bodies. Even Sidra, who had not yet come into the fullness of her curves, looked enticing and extremely feminine. Tari was standing near the door watching the dancing progress, debating whether or not to break the rules and fetch the silver dagger, when two men entered.

She shivered when she saw the black leather garb of the kaerlings. Get the dagger! Get the dagger! The thought pulsed through her mind insistently. The two men were smiling at the dancers, enjoying the performance. One had blond hair, so pale it was almost white. His brown eyes were warm with pleasure but his pale, chiselled face made Tari cringe. The other man was sandy-haired with sad, blue eyes. His whole demeanour was that of sorrow. When the dance ended, the two kaerlings joined in the applause. The musicians at the back of the room struck up a rustic tune and the Suryan girls found partners from among the priests and acolytes. As the dance began, Tari shivered and turned to see a third kaerling in the chamber. They were standing just behind her now and she could hear what they were saying over the sound of the music.

“She’s interesting.” The newcomer nodded towards Sidra as her partner swung her around.

“A bit flat-chested for me,” said the blond man. “Quite pretty when she smiles though.”

“Don’t suppose either of you have interviewed her yet?”

The sandy-haired man shook his head. “Never seen her before, Gar.”

Tari stared at the third kaerling. Had she heard correctly? Was this the same Gar that had raped and killed one of Sidra’s clan? She looked at him intently. He was stockier than the two younger men but still tall and muscular. His sculptured features were marred by jagged scars that ran from cheekbone to jaw. Brown hair fell across his forehead and his eyes were grey-blue. Tari did not like the way he was staring at Sidra. All three looked like predators, but there was something about Gar’s stance that made her skin crawl. She felt torn between returning to Aqua’s Shrine to retrieve the dagger and silence the voice in her head, and staying here to make sure Sidra was safe from the kaerlings.

Undine entered the room and Tari caught her eye.

“Where is Sidra?” the priestess mouthed.

Tari pointed to the dance floor as the music swirled to an end.

Undine glided between the dancers who were applauding the musicians and spoke to Sidra. The girl nodded, thanked her partner and followed Undine out of the room.

“Where’s Sidra gone?” asked Karu as the Suryan girls gathered round Tari.

“Undine, my priestess needs her. Shall we find drinks? You look thirsty.”

They trooped into the other chamber now set out with puddings and sweetmeats. The girls drank diluted wine and helped themselves to jellies and stewed fruits. Tari ate little, noticing that Gar walked through the room, leaving the other two kaerlings in the dancing chamber. Once again, she nearly ran out after the kaerling, risked being noticed by him, just so she could fetch the dagger that somehow, would protect Sidra. But the Suryan wanted to talk, so she stayed and gossiped.

*

Tari’s feet ached in the soft suede boots as she made her way up the rock steps to Aqua’s shrine. Pulling the fur cloak tightly about her shoulders, she shivered in the frigid air. Snow had fallen earlier, making the stone steps slippery. She stepped carefully, feeling cold after the warmth of the feasting chambers. Clouds hung low in the sky, threatening more snow before morning. The wind tugged at her robes and teased her hair. The sense of danger had subsided and she wondered now, if she had imagined it. At last she reached the shrine and opened the door. A light showed in Undine’s room but her own chamber, which she shared with Sidra, was dark. Hastily, Tari stepped across and peered in. It was silent and empty. Even without a candle, Tari could sense there was no one there.

“Tari? Sidra?” Undine called.

Panic shot through Tari’s stomach.

“It’s Tari.” She pushed Undine’s door open.

The priestess was sitting at her desk, writing.

“Is Sidra with you?” Undine asked, laying aside the quill and turning to face her acolyte.

“No, I thought she was with you!” Tari’s throat closed up.

Undine blinked her almond shaped eyes in surprise. “I took her with me as Mother Kalare was taken ill. The Infirmary were short of staff due to the celebrations, so Sidra was my runner. She helped me make Mother Kalare comfortable and then I sent her back to you.”

Tari thought of Gar and the look on his face.

“What’s wrong, Tari?”

“She never came back to us. One of the kaerling men was looking at her…” Tari felt tears fill her eyes. “She hates the kaerlings. Gar raped and killed one of her relatives and beat up the men sent to avenge the death…”

Undine’s pale face turned white. She rose to her feet and wrapped herself in a cloak. “Come with me,” she said tightly. “We must find out where she is.”

Snow flakes fell erratically as they descended the slippery steps. Tari felt as though she was in a nightmare from which she could not escape. She found herself sitting in Mother Kalare’s reception room with a fire burning that did not warm her. Undine assembled the sober priests and priestesses and had Tari tell them of  Sidra’s disappearance. Without a word they vanished to search the Temple. Outside the wind howled and Tari was left to sit behind Mother Kalare’s desk and receive negative reports one after another. It was still dark when Undine returned with Illan in tow. Tari realised that with Mother Kalare sick, Illan was responsible for the administration staff.

“I’m sorry, Tari,” Illan brushed the snow from his cloak. “We’ve searched the Temple and she’s nowhere to be found.”

“We must look outside then,” said Tari heading for the door. “He may have taken her out into the city.”

“Tari,” Undine’s voice halted her. “There is a blizzard out there. We will have to wait until morning.”

“That’ll be too late!” Tari found she was crying.

Undine and Illan looked at each other and Tari knew they feared the worst too. She spent the rest of the night on a pallet on the floor in Mother Kalare’s sleeping quarters. Tossing and turning she listened to the sound of Undine’s regular breathing. Towards morning she finally slept. When she woke, it was broad daylight and Undine had gone.

Tari hurriedly washed and smoothed her feasting robes as best she could. She made her way to Mother Kalare’s study which was full of hung-over priests and pale priestesses. Undine sat behind the desk with Illan standing beside her. Several of the priestesses were weeping.

“I’m sorry, Tari,” Undine had tears in her eyes. “Illan and his search party found Sidra first thing this morning.”

Illan advanced towards her as Tari stopped dead, feeling ice take up residence inside her.

“I want to see her,” the girl said firmly.

Illan shook his head, touching Tari’s shoulders. “You don’t need to see her,” he said gently.

“But I want to!” Tari shouted.

“Tari, she was raped and then had her throat slit. You need to remember her as she was when she was alive.”

Tari hated Illan then, hated the mute priests and weeping priestesses. She wrenched herself free of Illan’s grasp and ran. Gasping for breath in the cold morning air and fighting her way through snow drifts, she attained Aqua’s shrine. She fell to her knees by her bed and pulled out the metal box. Without hesitation she drew forth the sheathed dagger.

She paused, wanting to make her oath binding. She could not shed blood here in her sleeping chamber. Aqua did not always require blood sacrifices as did many of the gods; an oath or a gift of produce was usually enough to bring about an answer to a supplicant’s prayer. Tari stepped out into the main room and stood before the bare altar. It didn’t seem right to take the oath here either.

Heart hammering, hands shaking, she pushed through the curtains behind the altar and stepped into the shrine. The dampness chilled her skin and lungs, bringing tears to her eyes. The stillness of the inner shrine was broken by the ceaseless murmur of running water. Not even in the severest of winter storms did Aqua’s shrine freeze. Tari stared at the motionless statue of the goddess, feeling the blank, almond shaped eyes of Aqua pierce her soul. In the gloom, the pale stone of the image glowed, the smooth skin of her sculpted face shimmering in the moist air. Again, the girl was struck by the similarity of Aqua to the obsidian carved guardians of the gates with their high cheek bones and almond shaped eyes. The common belief was that the guardians were carved images of the elves who built the Temple.

Tari sank to her knees, searching for the right prayer but nothing came to mind. The liquid song of water filled her thoughts and the desire for revenge eased.

“No!” Tari knelt upright and raised the dagger. “I will avenge you Sidra!” She vowed, unsheathing the slender blade and drawing it across her right palm. “I will avenge your murder!” She gasped as hot, burning pain seared her hand and blood dripped onto her dress and the slick stone beneath her knees. “I ignored the dream that gave me warning. Now Sidra is dead and it was my fault. I will find her murderer and I will kill him. I will not be without this knife again.”

Aqua stared down impassively. Tari almost hoped to hear the goddess’ voice but at the same time felt terrified at the binding oath she had just taken. The blood flow increased and she lowered her hand into the pool at Aqua’s feet. The ice cold water made her whimper and she bit her lip, forcing herself to endure the pain. Her hand lost its feeling and the blood flow eased.

She pulled her hand out of the pool and patted it dry on her skirt. Next she washed the dagger blade and dried it carefully on her cloak. As she sheathed the knife,  the silver-grey curtains whispered and Undine entered the inner shrine.

Tari jumped. Why hadn’t she heard Undine’s footsteps in the outer shrine?

“What are you doing in here?” The priestess pushed her hood back, letting her long, dark hair spill out.

Tari thought quickly. She could not lie to Undine, but she could not tell her the truth.

“Well?” Undine’s face was expressionless and Tari wondered if the woman was angry. “Are you going to tell me?”

“I wanted to pray…” Tari muttered, trying to hide the dagger.

“What is that?” Undine approached, her movements as fluid as water.

Reluctantly Tari held the dagger out to the priestess.

Undine stared intently at the plain, leather sheath. Without a word, the woman withdrew the blade. Her eyes opened wide and she turned her gaze to Tari.

“Do you know what this is?”

Tari could not lie, not to Undine who had allowed her to remain in Aqua’s shrine. Feeling guilty at breaking the promise to her mother, she started to explain. “My mother told me a story when she gave it to me. I can only tell the secret to the person I pass the blade on to.”

Undine sheathed the dagger,  and pulled Tari to her feet.

“Go to your sleeping chamber, you will catch a chill in here.”

Tari thankfully returned to the warm dryness of her room and slipped out of her wet clothes, putting on a clean sleeping robe. She bound her hand in a strip of fresh linen to absorb the slow blood flow from her palm. Undine lit a brazier and heated water in the pot, finding a blanket to place around Tari’s shoulders. When the water had boiled the priestess poured it into two mugs onto dried herbs. The tea steeped and the fragrance of the herbs filled the air. Undine sat on the only chair in the room and looked at Tari.

“I understand you are upset because of the dreadful way Sidra died. But why have you bound yourself with an oath to Aqua?”

“It was my fault Sidra died.” Tari struggled to get the words out, her throat felt constricted. “I had a dream – I should have given the dagger to Sidra, at least she would have had a chance to defend herself…”

Undine’s eyebrows shot up and then she smiled. Tari felt confused at the priestess’ reaction.

“At last,” Undine seemed pleased. “I knew Aqua would speak to you. She always speaks to water diviners.”

“You mean, my dream, that was Aqua speaking to me?” Tari felt a rush of relief. If Undine was convinced Tari could hear the goddess speaking, then no one could remove her from the shrine.

“The gods and goddesses have many different ways of speaking to us, Tari. Some speak through omens, some through the fall of stones, some through dreams but only a few allow their voices to be heard by the human ear.”

“But I failed her,” Tari’s momentary relief was washed away by guilt. “I didn’t obey the dream.”

“Aqua will understand why you did not heed her dream. The rules of the Temple are clear. That you chose to obey them, rather than her dream, does not anger her.”

“But isn’t she angry over the death of an acolyte?”

“She is grieved. But she does not hold you responsible.”

Tari did not question that the priestess understood Aqua’s thoughts.

“She will not hold you to your oath.”

Privately Tari was relieved, but was determined to try and keep her side of the promise.

“Now, this dagger.” Undine unsheathed the knife and held it in her hands. “How did you come by this?”

Tari swayed between confession and lying. She stared at Undine’s almond shaped eyes and high cheek bones. Why hadn’t she seen it before? The priestess was the image of the goddess. That meant Undine was an elf. Maybe the very elf she should return the dagger to. Relieved of having to break the promise made to her mother, Tari exhaled.

“Any secret of yours is safe with me. Trust me, Tari.”

Tari recounted everything her mother had said and at the end, Undine was silent. They sipped the herbal tea. Tari relaxed as the hot water filled her belly. She felt a great sense of a burden lifting. She had carried this secret too long.

“Are you the person the knife belongs to?” Tari asked at last.

Undine shook her head. “No. Although my people are related to the elves, I am not from the tribe that made this dagger.”

“But you look like the statue of Aqua and there is a resemblance in your face to the guardians at the gate. They were all carved by the elves, weren’t they?”

Undine smiled. “It is true I have a similar bone structure to those ancient statues, but I cannot claim ownership to this dagger. You need to look after it,. I will help you find the rightful owner of this blade.” Undine returned it to her. “Wear it around your neck, you never know when you might need it.”

“But that’s against the Temple rules!”

Undine raised her eyebrows. “I know. You know. No one else knows.”

“Aqua knows.” Tari’s fingers felt stiff as she tied the cord around her neck.

“I don’t think Aqua minds. She would rather have a live acolyte than a dead one.”

The End

Biography

Freya doesn’t write about imaginary worlds; she writes about imaginative ones. These are worlds that could be real in a parallel universe or another time dimension. She does not promote escapism; instead she takes her readers into a refreshing place so that they return to their normal lives feeling strengthened and refreshed.

Freya’s first novel, Dragonscale Leggings, is a parody of the genre she loves best; fantasy. In it, she gently pokes fun at the Arthurian legends, the common concepts of dragon slayers and dragons and how they should (or shouldn’t) behave.

 

No responses yet

A Weaver’s Tale By Tara Campbell

May 01 2016 Published by under The WiFiles

 

I miss Ava. I know you do too, although you won’t admit it.

Yes, you say she was a rabble-rouser, the cause of all of our troubles. Many Weavers agree with you, but not me. As far as I’m concerned, she’s what kept us going through all the years of war.

And life in the Follicles hasn’t been the same since she left.

Sometimes when I’m supposed to be weaving I find myself almost coming to, like I’ve been asleep, strands slack in my hands, just thinking about something she said or the little tunes she used to hum while teaching us a new technique. It was Ava who taught us about texture, how to weave subtly and gradually. She showed us how, over time, the tiniest curve would grow into a wave as long as we were patient—and once our Person grew patient enough to understand our work.

Of course, you needn’t remind me: we have endured many a grim year, with daily battles and loss. But in our current, fragile peace, Evictions are rare, despite our preference for silver and white.

Do you remember the first time you saw silver and white? I’ll never forget. I was in my follicle, choosing between various shades of brown for my next section of weaving, when Ava dropped down from Topside. I don’t know how she ever got any work done, always running from follicle to follicle. Anyway, from the little tune she was humming, I knew who it was even before I looked. But this time there was something more: my follicle was suddenly vibrating with color!

I turned to face her and was dumbstruck. Her cinnamon-brown skin was richer than ever before, her blue stripes more vibrant. The pink of her eyes sparkled with a new light! The walls of my follicle glinted a rich, warm red, and when I looked down at myself and saw my own skin—I’d never realized how buttery yellow I am.

And look at you! Sometimes I’m still shocked at how green you are. You have to admit, before Ava brought us silver and white, everything was pretty pallid.

That first day with the new colors felt electric, like illumination from another world. The only other light I’d known was the harsh, overpowering brightness of Outside.

Come now, don’t act innocent. We’ve all poked our heads out of our follicles for a daytime peek Topside. I was just going to take a quick look around the day I went up, but once I saw how different it was during the day than at night, I just had to keep going…

No, this was before I met Ava; you can’t blame everything on her.

I got out of my follicle that morning, thinking I was going to stick close. But I kept wandering, drawn by the different qualities of light filtering through the strands of weaving as I moved through them. I’d never seen so much light before! Little by little, I had to admit that I was dying to see what lay beyond Hairline—but of course by the time I got there, it was so was achingly bright I couldn’t see anything at all. Which, of course, is why you’re not supposed to wander around during the day. You never know when your Person is going to try a new hairstyle, and bam, there you are, smack in the middle of a Part, blind and sizzling.

But back to silver and white: that day, when Ava held the new strands out to me for the first time, I was so afraid! The colors were so dazzling I thought they would overwhelm me! But as a Weaver, my fingers itched to touch them.

Ava held them even closer, and I couldn’t resist.

The texture! Smooth but strong, substantive. It was a revelation, even you have to admit that. Think back to when every strand was silky and brown, perfectly malleable in our hands: boring. Look at all the things Ava has taught us since, all the unruly curves and twists with shining silver highlights. Magic!

Yes, as you rightly remind me, we paid a dear price for that magic in the early days. Searches and Evictions: the constant upheaval was a horror. A Weaver would be sitting at home, innocently twining, when suddenly the work of months—years—would be yanked right out of their hands. Or worse yet: all those poor Weavers who were so absorbed in their creations they got pulled out of their follicles along with their strands. I still shudder to think of those times, climbing up Topside at night, finding out how many of us had been lost. We didn’t think it could get any worse—until the Great Brown Floods.

All those times I accused you of being overly cautious… I admit now, we didn’t think things through. Too many of us were using the new colors and methods at once. We all thought our Person would have to come to terms with it. We were too numerous, we thought; there was no way to Evict all us all!

But the Floods…

First came the sifting and rifling: the Parting. Our strands gathered up and stretched tight, and then…

The first Flood started in one small section, remember? We didn’t know what it was then; we only knew that something terrible was about to happen. No one could go out with all those new Parts crisscrossing Topside, not to mention the noxious, acidic winds blowing through the forest. All we could do was cower in our follicles.

I heard yelling from above, and Ollu dropped into my follicle, coughing and shivering, covered with pungent brown sludge. He couldn’t see. He didn’t even know where he was. I heard the screams of the other Weavers running past my follicle, and I wanted to jump out and find you.

But Ollu pulled me down and covered me just as the slick, dark liquid started running down the walls of my follicle. I tried to pull away and climb out, terrified of drowning in that stinking deluge, but Ollu held me. He said it was better to wait. He told me he’d made the mistake of trying to run, and found out that conditions Topside were much worse. And as I saw later, he was right. The forest has never been the same since.

I can’t bear to think how many Weavers we lost that day. It took the displaced weeks to find their follicles again and set them in order. While they were away, we weaved for our absent neighbors, keeping their strands flowing until they returned.

Who could have known this would be the first of several Floods, and every time another one struck, more of our neighbors—like dearest Nim two follicles over—never returned.

What could we do but weave, for ourselves and for our missing friends? Our designs became bolder, more defiant, gleaming silver and white, curls corkscrewing from tip to base. But again and again, our artistry was doused and corroded by the next Great Brown Flood.

It was Ava who showed us a new way to fight back: she told us to stop weaving for our neighbors. It was a shocking plan. It seemed so selfish and unnatural, and as much as I admired Ava, it took several weeks before I could bring myself to follow her advice. Staying in my follicle, just letting Nim’s weaving fall apart nearby—it physically hurt to think of her beautiful strands unknitting themselves and slipping away while I continued to work on my own. It was agonizing, but in the end, it was the right thing to do. How else would our Person discover the true impact of the Floods?

Topside became desolate. Every time we surfaced, we saw that another Weavers’ work had fallen away. This was way worse than any Eviction. I will never forget when Nim’s work finally slid out of her follicle. You had to hold me back from ripping my own weaving to shreds.

Little by little, our Person came to understand. Over time, the Floods came less frequently, and then stopped completely. Although, one can never say “stopped” with certainty. A Weaver never knows what a Person will do next.

The forest is thinner now, but what we’ve lost in strands, we’ve gained in texture. I believe our Person now relies on us to fill in the lost volume with grander designs. It’s almost enough to make one feel optimistic, to try out some of the crazier techniques Ava taught us, the ones we would watch but never dare do for fear of being Evicted.

I’ve been wanting to ask Ava about one of those designs—I’ve forgotten the middle steps—but I can’t seem to find her. I’ve asked around, but nobody has seen her for months. No Floods, no Evictions, no Searching or Parting, and yet she’s disappeared.

And don’t try to pretend you’re glad to see her go. I’ve known you too long for that.

She could be anywhere right now. Sometimes I imagine her wandering around Topside during the day, humming one of her little tunes. Or striking out of the forest into a new Part. Or venturing past Hairline into the unknown.

Sometimes I picture her wandering down to the end of a strand and pondering which Split End to traverse. She never turns back. Sometimes she chooses the left fork, sometimes the right. And every time, because she’s Ava, she runs and jumps off the end into a whole new universe.

 

Bio: Tara Campbell [www.taracampbell.com] is a Washington, D.C.-based writer of crossover sci-fi. With a BA in English and an MA in German Language and Literature, she has a demonstrated aversion to money and power.

Originally from Anchorage, Alaska, Tara has also lived in Oregon, Ohio, New York, Germany and Austria. Her fiction has appeared in the Hogglepot Journal, Lorelei Signal, Punchnel’s, GlassFire Magazine, the WiFiles, Silverthought Online, Toasted Cake Podcast, Litro Magazine, Luna Station Quarterly, Up Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers, T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Blog, Master’s Review, Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly, Latchkey Tales, Elementals: Children of Water, and Magical: An Anthology of Fantasy, Fairy Tales, and Other Fiction for Adults

No responses yet