Welcome! Last May, I participated in a flash fiction challenge where I wrote a 500-1,000 word piece every day for fifteen days. Here are some of my favorites:
Museum Exhibit A43: Subjects Pen Ran Out of Ink
I never thought I’d find myself writing in one of these. It always felt tacky to keep a journal where I pour my thoughts and feelings. But during these past few months, it’s the closest thing I’ve had to a conversation, so here we are, I guess.
I suppose I should begin with an introduction.
Hello, I’m Viridian.
I’ve never known what the earth looked like before civilization was destroyed. Sometimes I like to think my parents named me Viridian to remember the rich greens of a pine forest. I’ve heard they were beautiful.
A nuclear winter has plagued the earth’s surface for two decades now, leaving the world in a permanent gloom. An icy tundra. I know little about the war that caused it.
My parents died three months ago. We’d done well to avoid the plague that was running rampant through the last refugee camps.
But not well enough. I still cry every night. I’ve been strong.
I follow a ‘survive now, cry later’ mentality — and it seems to have worked so far, containing that loneliness beneath the weight of starvation. Huh, that was pretty good. Maybe if the world hadn’t gone to shit, I would have been a poet or something.
I have to go now. Ever since my parents died, I’ve been traveling east — to what used to be New York. Mom and dad said there could be people there and more supplies. I’m almost there.
I miss having people to talk to. I’m glad I found this notebook. Who knows, maybe if the earth ever recovers, it’ll end up in a museum or something.
Until next time,
Today fucking sucked.
Sorry I haven’t written in a while. Each day is similar to the last, but I finally made it to the remnants of the city.
I wish mom and dad were here with me. So here I am, perpetually alone.
I found this old, brick building that had been scribbled all over with messages to loved ones, mindless doodles, directions. “Elizabeth, we love you. If you see this, we went east toward the coast. We’ll wait there as long as we can.” Some were more casual. More conversational. It was strange. My favorite said:
“God, I really hate living like this.”
“Really? Way to step away from the pack.”
Nice seeing that the plague hadn’t killed off all the humor. And get this. Whoever started this left a sealed bucket of chalk, untouched by the elements. There were piles of spray paint scattered throughout the alley, too, but the cans were mostly empty.
I found a blank spot where most of the words had been washed away and decided to bless the wall with some mediocre poetry. My newfound talent. It read:
like pools of vivid viridian,
drown me in oblivion.
I told you I could make it as a poet.
It helps that I’m sad all the time. Poets are always sad. They take every tragic thing that’s ever happened to them, every emotion they’ve ever felt, and turn it into a piece of art. I’ve always admired
I didn’t mean to leave without saying goodbye yesterday. I thought I heard something strange outside and went to check it out. It was a raccoon, I think. I don’t know, I’ve only heard about them. There aren’t too many animals left.
I’ve been staying in an old corner store near the center of the city, not too far from that brick building I was at yesterday. I want to be able to visit it whenever I’m feeling extra alone.
I’ve been guessing on the dates, by the way. I have no idea what month or day it really is. There’s no sun, no seasons, so it’s hard to tell. My parents used to be the ones to keep track of it.
Today’s warmer than usual, though I still need to wear quite a few layers. At least it’s not snowing. I think I’ll take a walk to enjoy it while I can, and see what else I can find in this ghost of a city. Talk later.
Hey, I’m back! I was so excited to tell you that I nearly sprinted two blocks. Someone’s out there, someone replied to my message on the brick wall. Beneath it, they wrote:
“A bit melancholic, don’t you think?”
If I wasn’t so excited to see proof of another living human out there, I would be offended at their remark on my poetry. I couldn’t help but reply:
“Melancholic? I think you misspelled ‘masterful.’”
I hope they come back.
I hope I get to meet them. I hope I don’t need to be alone anymore. It’s safer to be alone.
Until next time,
I was on my way back from finding whatever breakfast I could scrounge together when I stopped by the wall. There was no answer.
Maybe I’m being too hopeful. But it’s alright, growing attached during a time like this isn’t smart. Besides, I have you.
Speaking of having you, remind me to find a new pen. I can barely manage a few sentences before the ink starts to fade. I’ll check in again later.
I have such amazing news and so much to catch you up on! Our mystery friend answered! They wrote:
“That’s exactly what I meant. What’s your name?”
To which I replied:
“Viridian, what’s yours?”
When I went back a few hours later, they’d already answered again. The responses are coming faster. It said:
“Ah, now I understand the creativity behind your poem. I’m Emerson.”
I couldn’t ignore the giddiness that’s been running through me all day. I haven’t answered yet. I have no clue what to say. It’s been so long since I’ve talked to anyone besides you.
Until next time,
I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to find them. I’m not going to be alone anymore.
The Art of Poison
Esme wasn’t a particularly pleasant person when she was woken from her sleep, especially in the middle of the night. But when she saw an acolyte looming over her, draped in lavender robes and a hood pulled down to her brow, she held back any bitter remark. Her initial irritation dispersed into a giddy little thrill. The acolyte said nothing, simply jerked her chin implying for Esme to follow.
This was the final assessment she’d need to complete to become an official member of her coven, a feat she’d been trying to accomplish for two years now during her stay at the Nerium.
Esme hadn’t known when or where or how they would call on her, only that it was the last step she needed to take as an initiate.
And now that time had come.
The acolyte led her down a narrow hall and stopped in front of an anciently ragged tapestry, woven with decorative fabric and muted colors. Esme had never paid much attention to the especially dusty fabric, but when the acolyte swept the material to the side, revealing a half-rotten wooden door, Esme was immediately intrigued.
The secret passageway led down a winding set of stairs, so dark, that she needed to run her fingers along the cool stone to keep from falling.
Eventually, the passageway opened up to a room that reminded Esme very much of a dungeon, though she wouldn’t let the sudden flood of anxiety take hold. The damp walls were lined with acolytes — all here to witness if she would live or die. In the center of the room stood their High Priestess, Cataleya, who Esme both admired and feared. A small table was placed beside her.
Amongst these women in elegant robes and embroidered shawls, Esme felt suddenly quite naked in only her evening wear. The silk slip hardly reached her knees and the draft in this dungeon-like room made her shiver.
“Esme,” Cataleya said by way of greeting. Now Esme was shivering for an entirely different reason.
“High Priestess,” she replied, lacing her fingers together and bowing her head.
“The time has come for you to complete your final assessment,” Cataleya said. “Are you sufficiently prepared?”
“Yes, High Priestess,” Esme said.
Cataleya nodded. “Blindfold her.”
One of the acolytes stepped forward, tying a black cloth over Esme’s eyes and guiding her to the table for her to sit. Esme could see nothing, only heard the soft clatter of plates being set before her.
“There are two dishes before you,” Cataleya said. “Which is poisoned?”
Esme fumbled blindly for the two plates, feeling the leafy texture of mixed greens on both. She brought her nose to each. The left dish smelled exactly as you would expect a salad to smell, earthy and crisp. However, the plate on the right was different, tainted with the aroma of raw parsnips, one so faint it couldn’t be detected unless one knew what to look for.
“This one’s been mixed with cicuta maculata,” Esme said. Water Hemlock.
“Are you certain?” When Esme nodded, Cataleya said, “Then take a bite.”
And so she did.
“Tell me, Esme. What would happen if you had chosen wrong?”
“It would begin with painful convulsions, abdominal cramps, and nausea,” Esme replied. “And then death.”
“But if I didn’t consume a lethal dose, I would be plagued with amnesia once the other symptoms had passed through my system. Forming the perfect poison to make your target forget what they’d witnessed.”
“Excellent,” Cataleya said. “You may remove your blindfold.”
Two glasses of wine were placed in front of Esme, both identical in every way.
“Atropa belladonna,” Esme said immediately, pushing one of the glasses aside. Nightshade was commonly used to poison wines, its delicate scent was difficult to detect over the already overpowering floral or citrus aroma. And when the berries were crushed, it nearly matched the color perfectly.
“Are you certain?” Esme nodded. “Then take a sip.”
And so Esme did. The rich flavor spilled over her tongue, and she couldn’t help the contented smile that slipped across her lips.
“The berries cause paralysis in the involuntary muscles, eventually targeting the heart.”
Cataleya nodded and three vials were placed in front of Esme. She knew immediately what the poison was intended to be, but detecting which was infected was the challenge. This herb held no aroma, no tint.
“Nerium oleander,” Esme said. Knowing she was correct in identifying the deadliest herb used in the coven, the only difficulty now was surviving. “Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, erratic pulse, seizures, coma, and finally death.”
Cataleya said nothing as she studied Esme, waiting for her next move. Uncorking each little vial, Esme gently dabbed a drop of each on her wrist, one of which reacting as water would. But two held a slightly stickier texture.
Esme recorked the three vials and placed one forward.
“Are you certain,” Cataleya asked, and Esme nodded. “Then drink it.”
There was no hesitation, no doubts as Esme downed the little clear vial.
“You have successfully passed your final assessment. Please stand and recite your oath.”
“I swear to fulfill the desires of our goddess, to respect my sisters as they respect me. To not be ashamed of the practices we perform. To remember that there is an art to medicine, yet also an art to death.”
A cruel, satisfied smile curled her lips. “Welcome to The Language of Flowers, Esme.”
Sir Copernicus found himself to be quite extraordinary, but he was just a cat, so what did he know. What he was completely and thoroughly sure of, however, was that during the months when the air formed around his breath and the grass were laced with frost, his human returned. It wasn’t a long reunion, no, but it was certainly remarkable. He didn’t often enjoy the companionship of others, especially humans; and other cats were tolerable, depending on the day. But this human was his favorite.
When Sir Copernicus trotted through the forest, his little white paws leaving a whisper of a trail in the thin layer of snow, he saw his human standing at the treeline, just where the forest thinned and gave way to the grasslands.
“Hello there,” his human said, their cap pulled down to their brows, a scarf dangling down to their waist. Sir Copernicus eyed it suspiciously.
Hello, he would have said. I’ve missed you. His human patted him on the head, offering delectable scratches right behind the ear.
“I hope you’ve been well, my little friend,” his human said.
Of course. Everything is exactly as you left it, Sir Copernicus would have said. But how are you?
“Another year, another winter,” his human said, “Four years now and the pain’s still haunting.”
Don’t be sad, he would have said. I’m glad you’re back.
“I keep thinking about how he would have loved you, ya know,” His human sighed, offering more scratches, which Sir Copernicus happily accepted.
I’ve never doubted that, he would have said. I’m very likable.
“Let’s go, Sir Copernicus. It’s too cold out here for me. There’s already a fire roaring in the cabin,” his human said.
Excellent, he would have said. I can hardly feel my paws. This was entirely a lie, Sir Copernicus could never feel the cold.
While it saddened Sir Copernicus that winter was the only season they could be together, he never argued with the magic in the trees. Whatever magic let him stay in this forest. When the first buds of spring began to grow, Sir Copernicus fell into the deepest, most delightful sleep. And when he awoke, winter had returned. It helped that he often dreamt of his human. Of the times they would visit, of the memories that weren’t quite his. Sir Copernicus had been sharing these winters with his human for four years, though he couldn’t remember a time before that.
His human-made himself comfortable on the plush recliner in front of the fire, and Sir Copernicus curled into their lap.
“God, I hate winters,” his human said.
Don’t say that, he would have said. Winters are when we get to be together again.
“I like to still think he watches over me from time to time.”
Your son has never left you, Sir Copernicus would have said.
“I’m glad I can spend my winters here, in his favorite place. It makes me feel a little closer to him,” his human said. “And I couldn’t ask for better company.”
Naturally, he would have said, but instead, he purred.
Sir Copernicus felt his human’s grief as if it were his own, as with all their emotions. So he simply sat there, between the vale of sleep and consciousness, absorbing all his human’s feelings until a comfortable sort of contentment settled over them both.
A Far Less Orange Future
Cormac detested ignorant people, and these days, he found most people to be as such. Which meant he spent the majority of his days huddled down in his little apartment in D.C., with only the empty jars of marmalade to keep him company.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There was still his chinchilla, Citrus, who he actually found to be quite intelligent. At least, for a chinchilla. And then there was his neighbor, Mrs. Muir, who often cornered him in the hallway, insisting he take up new dietary habits.
Marmalade causes high blood pressure, she would say.
You give me high blood pressure, he would reply.
Cormac didn’t actually believe a thing she said, but he was lonely and so was she, which meant he could tolerate the occasional encounter.
But that’s beside the point.
It was a dreary Tuesday afternoon when he realized, to his dismay, that he was out of marmalade.
The day was made drearier when he remembered the quaint corner store that was his preferred marmalade vendor was closed for some obscure holiday. Usually, Thursday was when he’d stop by and stock up. They had the best marmalade in the city, after all.
He supposed he could try the pastry shop two blocks away. They might have a decent marmalade if he was willing to risk it. He only needed enough to last until Thursday, so he laced his shoes and pulled on his jacket, and went on his way.
When he arrived, his eardrums were immediately violated by raucous pop music, if one could call it music.
“Hi, how can I help you today?” The barista was far too bright, far too cheery for Cormac.
“Hello,” Cormac grumbled, in his usual grumbly tone. “I’d like to buy a jar of marmalade, please.”
“Marmalade. A jar of marmalade,” Cormac groaned, and then added, “please.”
“I’m sorry. We don’t sell mamaleed here,” the barista said. “Is there anything else I can get for you?”
“Marmalade,” Cormac snapped. This was exactly why he didn’t leave his apartment.
“I’m not exactly sure what marmal-ade is, sir. Did you mean marang?”
Marang? In a pastry shop?
“No, no, no,” Cormac was nearly pulling out his hair at this point. “Marmalade, a thick gelatine texture, typically orange flavored.”
The barista stared at him blankly.
A spark of pure joy soared through Cormac’s chest.
“Like jelly,” the barista said.
The spark went out.
“You know,” Cormac shook an angry finger at the barista. “You’re the reason marmalade is dying. People under twenty-eight only account for one percent of marmalade sales. One percent!”
The barista stared back blankly.
“Sir, how can a jam be ‘dying’?”
For a terrifying moment, the future seemed far less bright, far less orange as the reality of the matter settled in. Marmalade was a dying food. It was dying and underappreciated and he simply would not have it.
“You listen and you listen well.” Cormac was again waggling his wrinkled finger at the barista. There was a growing audience in the small cafe, but Cormac didn’t care. The more he could educate, the better.
“Good marmalade, endowed with hefty chunks of peel, is everything that jam isn’t.”
Just imagining the delightful food made his mouth water. The flavor walked a tightrope between bitter and sweet with grace; the texture made his mouth come alive with possibility; the ingredients were simple and natural.
“Marmalade at breakfast is refreshing, invigorating, sharp,” Cormac continued. “Marmalade at tea is comforting, warming, restful; marmalade before bed is thrilling, subversive, transcendent. It is absolutely not a jam or jelly, it is not a spread. It is marmalade, and there is literally nothing in the world like it. You would do well to remember that.”
The barista stared at him blankly.
Cormac tossed his hands in the air with an exasperated sigh and stormed from the pastry shop. It would seem he would need to find his marmalade elsewhere.
It Began With a Stone, a Stick, and a String — and it Would End with a Feather
Minerva was never fond of stories. Each night, when mothers hushed their children and siblings scuttled ever closer, Minerva made a point to sit on the edge of shadows, just out of reach of the fire’s light. It was impolite to miss one of the elder’s tales, so she would attend, but often found her attention shifting between her scattering thoughts and unkempt cuticles. Tonight was no different.
“It began with a stone, a stick, and a string,” the elder began. “And it would end with a feather.”
Minerva thought of the many things she’d rather be doing at this exact moment, one of them included sleeping. The length of today had felt tremendously long already, and the warmth of the fire combined with the elder’s soft voice made her eyelids that much heavier.
“This is the story of Gahiji, the first huntress of Ovyind.”
Minerva perked up, ever so slightly. While she didn’t enjoy stories, history certainly intrigued her. The Ovyind had been their earliest ancestors when their tribe was no larger than a leader and a handful of followers. The air was heavy with anticipation as the children leaned closer. And so the story began.
“Gahiji was not the most cunning, nor the strongest, nor the wisest,” the elder said. “Though she cared for her people very much. The Ovyind lived by gathering, by planting their gardens, and harvesting their crops. For many months, as long as the warmth rose with the sun, the Ovyind thrived. Until they didn’t. It was a day that came suddenly. A day as brisk and biting as the eastern winds. However, the winds did not linger as this new weather did. Now, as the days grew darker and the air more frigid, their crops began to shrivel and die.
It was Gahiji who realized their traditions needed to change, to evolve to the shifting weather if they were to survive these chilling months. Their rations had grown sparse, dwindling down to a pitiful stash of dried fruits and stale bread.
A bundle of rocks gathered in the scoop of Gahiji’s shirt as she ventured into the forest. They needed to eat, so she would sit and wait for hours in the same damp alcove of a fallen log until an unsuspecting creature crossed her path. But any prey she managed to hit staggered off, essentially unharmed save for a bruise.
And so she tried a new approach. But Gahiji was not swift nor nimble enough to keep up with the hares and sparrows of the forest. Her limbs weak with her growing hunger. The unimpressive spear she whittled from a soft birch branch was not quite clever enough to catch her prey. And she was running out of time.
The elders were growing frail, the children sickly, and Gahiji still made little progress. Frost crusted the forest floor, soaking through her boots that had been crafted for a much warmer climate.
Whispers flitted through the camp; talk of what was to become of them and how they were all being punished by some cruel deity. Some were growing sinister, tribesmen suspecting one another of committing treasonous acts against the gods. The tribe was losing faith in themselves and the gods they served. But Gahiji did not yield.
And so it began with a stone, a stick, and a string.
Gahiji unlaced one of her boots and knotted each end of the stick with the end of her lace. She sharpened her dull stones into elegant points and fastened them to another stick with her other lace. When she stood back to admire whatever contraption she had created, she couldn’t help but pray, to whom she wasn’t sure, that this would work.
When she let the stone arrow fly, it landed exactly where she had intended, or perhaps a little to the left, if she was being honest.
Still, it was progress.
Gahiji tried again, sending the arrow towards the trunk in front of her, and watched as it teetered and wobbled through the air.
It wasn’t until the arrow scratched the bark and fell harmlessly to the snowy ground, did she notice a set of eyes settled on her. A hawk was watching from its perch, yellow eyes narrowed and wings arched. Gahiji watched back. She knew better than to take aim at such a magnificent bird, the symbol of the Ovyind. Though maybe it was the desperation or the grumbling of her stomach, once she retrieved her arrow, she took aim. She stared at the hawk with one eye closed. Except, before the arrow could slip from her fingers, she lowered her weapon.
The hawk screeched and dove towards Gahiji.
Only it was no longer a hawk, but a woman, with wings of greys and browns and whites stretching from her back.
Auna, Goddess of the Hunt, plucked three feathers from her elegant wing and placed it before Gahiji.
‘You are driven by desire,’ the goddess had said. ‘Be mindful of your original purpose, young Ovyind. Do not lose sight. Your spirit and your weapon must be in balance with each other.’
And with that, Auna, Goddess of the Hunt, fastened the feathers to the end of the arrow and handed it back to Gahiji with a nod.
As Gahiji notched the arrow and let it fly, it spun perfectly, effortlessly, as it pierced the center of the birch.
And that is how the first huntress of Ovyind came to be.“
Minerva’s eyes were shining. She crept closer, her face illuminated by the flickering fire. The elder met Minerva’s gaze then and spoke, “there are many truths buried beneath the myths and legends of our people. The tales we pass from elder to child are more than entertainment. They keep our traditions, our culture, our histories alive. When there is no one left to tell our stories, we will be forgotten like the forms of yesterday’s clouds.”
The Sail was Ripped!
“What? What is that? What are you doing? Huxley, we do not pull strange things from the ocean! Throw it back. Hi, yes, sorry about that. What were you saying?”
The ship rocked gently against the calm waves as the captain of the Swiftrunner stood with his sail master. From a few feet away, an anxious Huxley inspected the strange specimen in his net.
“Er, there’s a tear in the sail, Captain,” the sail master said.
“A tear? Like a hole? You mean to tell me you ripped the sail? While we’re in the heart of the ocean?”
“Captain! She’s alive! But appears to be injured,” Huxley called.
“Huxley what did I just tell you? Throw it back in the ocean. You don’t know where it came from,” the captain yelled.
“But her blood is blue, does that not strike you as odd?”
“The color of its blood is the least of my worries, Huxley! There’s a tear in the sail!”
“Huxley, I will say this once more. Throw that thing back in the ocean, or so help me, you’ll be sleeping on a bed of barnacles for a month.”
There was a loud splash as Huxley heaved the bundle over the ship.
“Sorry about that.” The captain returned his attention to the sail master. “How do you wish to proceed.”
“I need to mend the sail, Captain.”
“Yes, of course. Absolutely. I’ll -er- lower the sail.”
“Might do well to lower the anchors too, Captain. Slow us down a bit,” the sail master said.
Just as the captain lowered the anchors, removed the sail, and handed it to the sail master, the ship lurched towards the starboard side.
“What in the bloody hell is that,” the captain howled, careening toward the wooden planks.
“It would appear we struck something, Captain,” the sail master said, holding the railing. He looked rather green.
“Struck something? In the middle of the ocean? Unless we’ve found some lost city, there’s nothing here to strike!”
A nervous Huxley stumbled towards the Captain. All the color seemed to have leached from his skin, save for the sunburn marring the bridge of his nose.
“Sir, um, Captain, I believe something is attacking our ship,” Huxley said, tugging at the ends of his sleeves.
“Like a shark?” The Captain managed to stagger to his feet.
“No, not like a shark. More like…”
“Spit it out, Huxley. I don’t have all gods damned day! We need to mend the sail!”
“It’s just that, well, that thing – um – that girl you had me through overboard… I jus-”
“You mean to tell me you threw a girl into the ocean,” the captain sputtered.
“Not a girl, Captain,” Huxley said. “I believe she was a siren.”
The ship suddenly lurched again, this time to the port side.
“What was it you said about that girl’s blood?”
“It was blue, sir.”
“And she was injured?”
“Yes, sir,” Huxley said.
“Well, why didn’t you say something sooner!”
“Because, sir,” Huxley shrugged, “the sail was ripped.”
A Parcel of Utmost Importance
“Excuse me! Excuse me, miss,” Theodore called, hobbling over his luggage and too-long pant legs. The woman halted, glancing skyward before turning her attention to the bumbling fool of a man chasing after her.
“How can I help you, sir?”
“The train is leaving,” he wheezed, clearly not used to the slightest excursion.
“It would appear so, sir,” the stationmaster said, pivoting on her heel to make her escape. The train’s horn blared as it, too, made to flee.
“You don’t understand, I must return this. It is of the utmost importance that it is delivered today,” Theodore said, waving a parcel in the air. The stationmaster stared blankly, apparently not privy to the seriousness of this affair.
“Perhaps you should have arrived on time then,” she said, trying to grasp what little professionalism remained in her demeanor. Theodore huffed.
“I most certainly did! The train leaves every hour on the fifteenth minute and tenth second. I arrived at approximately 5:15:07,” he bellowed.
“Yes, well, the train doors must close five minutes before it leaves. Those five minutes are reserved for passengers to settle and the crew to check tickets. Once the doors are closed they will not be reopened until they reach the next station,” the stationmaster sighed as if she recited these exact words at least twelve times a day.
But then it struck him.
The next station.
Without so much as a goodbye, Theodore dashed up the stairs and out the station, waving for a taxi. If he was quick enough, he’d be able to reach the next station before it departed, and then he’d be back on schedule.
Now, if only he could hail a damn taxi.
When one finally rolled to the curb, it wasn’t Theodore it stopped in front of, no, it was a dashing young couple.
Desperation took over, at least, that’s what Theodore would say. He pushed the man into the woman, sending them both careening towards the ground.
“Pardon me,” he hollered as he threw his luggage into the trunk and launched himself into the back seat, locking it just in time for the young man to bang an angry fist on the window.
“Hello,” Theodore said to the driver. “ Milano Station, please.” The driver merely shrugged and pulled into traffic.
And traffic it was.
Cars inched and stopped, horns blared and people shouted. Apparently, everyone was in a particular hurry today.
“This is a highway, not a damn parking lot!”
When five minutes had passed and still, they hadn’t moved, Theodore tossed a couple of dollars at the driver, grabbed his parcel, and ran down the street.
His luggage was all but forgotten.
At this rate, there was absolutely no way he was going to make it to the next station. While it was only a town and a half over, too many cars crowded the road. Theodore scanned the sidewalks. And that’s when he saw it — a police horse standing tethered to the park fence, two officers standing next to it having a casual conversation.
Now, Theodore had never been the one in his family to partake in Equestrianism, that was his sister Agatha’s specialty, but truly, how hard could it be?
The answer was: quite hard.
The moment Theodore crept up to the horse, swung an ungraceful leg over its saddle, and snapped the reins, the horse reared. The police officers shouted. Everything had erupted into total chaos as the horse bucked and stomped, the officers trying to avoid getting kicked.
Then the horse was galloping down the sidewalk, the cars a blur as Theodore gripped the horse’s neck, fighting to stay atop. Perhaps he would make it to the station after all.
He did not.
As his horse trotted through the station’s parking lot, Theodore could hear the departing horn bellowing. A weary sigh escaped him — he needed to deliver this parcel today. He promised to return it the moment he’d finished, and if Theodore was anything, he was a man of his word.
Theodore dismounted his stolen horse. The sun was beginning to set, painting the stone buildings with a fiery orange glare, and he was running out of time.
“You look rather lost, sir,” a man in a black top hat said, tapping his cane on the bench in which he sat.
“Not lost, late,” Theodore said, an aching discouragement filling his chest — he had run out of options.
“Perhaps I can be of service,” the man said.
“Unless you can summon a train that will take me straight to Winsberg, I don’t believe there’s anything you can do.”
The man in the top hat simply smiled and continued to tap tap tap his cane until the cobble beneath them rippled and warped and disappeared.
It looked as if the man had snatched the sky and all its stars and placed it before them in a spiraling pool. Theodore stared, mouth agape.
“In you go,” the man said.
“You want me to go in that,” Theodore gasped, shaking his head. “Where does it go?”
“Exactly where you need to be,” the man replied.
Theodore thought. And thought and thought. What other options did he have? He was a man of his word, after all. So with one last look at the parcel in his hands, he jumped.
Until he landed rump first on the cobbled streets of Winsberg, right on Maryette’s doorstep.
Theodore cleared his throat, straightened his suit, combed his hair, and then he knocked – an anxious little flutter spreading through his stomach.
Maryette opened the door.
“Hello,” Theodore said, as the woman’s face lit up in utter delight. “I have something to return to you.” Theodore placed the parcel in his hand, which was in fact, a book. “Maryette, you wouldn’t believe the day I had.”
“Please, please, come in,” she said. “Tell me all about it.”
At last, the parcel of utmost importance had been delivered and Theodore and Maryette were quite happy indeed.
A Debt Not Quite His Own
Elric had been twisting his fate between his fingers all morning, quite literally. The golden cord felt like silk beneath his skin as he anxiously fiddled with the thread, waiting waiting waiting for his name to be called.
Only, it never was.
With a breath of relief, he straightened his jacket, donned his flat cap, and followed the crowd ushering out of the theater. In a city ruled by the Fates, times had been difficult. Each week, a new classification of people was ordered to attend the theater.
Each week, sixty-seven names were called.
Each week, sixty-seven threads were snipped in two.
Elric had been tying the cord around his wrist when he suddenly collided with the person in front of him.
“My apologies,” he stammered, adjusting the cap that had fallen lopsided on his head.
“Not to worry,” the woman said. “I’m Emmalynne.”
And with those few words, a friendship brewed.
“This is utter madness,” Emmalynne said one evening, many weeks and many dates later. “I can’t keep living in fear that my name or yours or someone else I love will be called each week. We have to do something.”
“Don’t be rash, Emmalynne,” Elric said gently. “What is there to do against the Three Sisters of Fate? They who can determine whether you live or die with a pair of shears.”
Elric took a sip of his tea. Although he agreed, they held no power, no sway, no money to get them out of this city.
And so they remained.
Emmalynne held the two pieces of thread in her palms, tears dripping down her cheeks. It was the only remembrance they allowed her to keep.
“My father is gone,” she said to herself, though Elric stood behind her, clutching her shoulders. “He was a good man. He followed every law, every demand, and yet those wicked Fates cut his thread and made a spectacle of it, of all of them.”
“Hush, Emmalynne,” Eric soothed. “Not here where you can be heard.”
But Emmalynne didn’t care who heard, didn’t care who saw, not with the burning buzzing blinding need to act flowed through her veins.
And so she plotted.
“Elric,” Emmalynne whispered that night. “I’ve done something tragic.”
The street was vacant, the buildings quiet as the night blanketed the city in its shadows. Elric crept along the brick road, turning corner after corner until the world was no longer shrouded in darkness and the air was no longer quiet. He needed to see for himself, he needed to see what could be done to right this unfathomable, terrible, terrifying mess.
But what could be done when the wooden walls were already charred, when smoke billowed into the sky like clouds, and fire crackled and clawed toward the shingles.
Emmalynne had set the theater aflame.
“Come to see what your little lover has done,” one of the sisters asked.
“Come to see what fool she is,” another said.
“Come to see what debt you can pay on her behalf,” the final one asked.
And so Elric did.
Emmalynne had been pacing the foyer all morning, waiting waiting waiting for Elric to return.
Only, he never did.
The mailslot on her front door clattered as letters and papers fluttered to the floor. With nothing else to occupy her mind, she shuffled through them, until she stopped on one sealed with golden wax.
Emmalynne opened the envelope to find a golden cord cut in two.