I chose to start the writing prompt challenges as a means to explore options outside my normal writing sphere, and in an effort to build a writing community. I’ve taken to writing flash fiction – free writes, done in half an hour or less with little editing and under 200 words, if possible.
I had heard their gentle knocking for some time, but the warmth of my bed continued to lull me into that semi-conscious state of euphoric bliss. There was no knowing if five minutes had passed or five hours. I danced a fine line between the dream world and the waking one, wishing there was something more to be found there. I couldn’t grasp the thread of the pleasant dream that I had been reluctant to leave, but with the sunbeams rippling in strange patterns about my room, I knew I could no longer ignore the beginnings of a new day.
I opened the window to find my friends in a spirited mood, swimming to and fro, talking in excited tones. Something was happening beyond our peaceful shoal, and they were eager for me to join them.
The Long Walk
She had always loved the early morning; the mist that hung heavy in the air, the silence that lingered while the world still slept. Fall was upon them. The leaves had turned their lovely shade of red and had fallen from the trees in pools of rosy splendor. She would purposefully walk amidst them just to hear the soft crunch beneath her feet. She generally awoke before everyone else – it was her time to enjoy her land, her time to enjoy the little things that most people took for granted.
Today was unlike most days. Today she walked with purpose, without paying much attention to those things that usually brought her joy. The mist went unnoticed, the silence, unheard, the crunch of the fallen leaves, ignored. Only the rhythmic beat of her heart, which had a unique sound of its own, was what she heard this morning as she walked the path of the sacrificial lamb.
One Small Step…
“Short? Short?” He exclaimed out of breath.
“I thought so.” The other replied nonchalantly.
“By no means was that a short jump. Look at my legs. You thought I could clear it?”
“C’mon. Just one more.”
“Tell me the truth. What’s it look like?”
The other one looked over the ledge that stood between them and their exit. “It’s just a short jump.” He smirked.
“I hate you.”
In the final days it was said that the horsemen would ride across the earth, bringing with them the scourges that would rid the world of the unworthy. What they didn’t say, or perhaps didn’t know, was that they were already living among us. A delusional state to be in, to be sure. How could one, otherwise, account for the degree of Pestilence, Famine, and War?
The stories had been altered over time, of course – human nature’s vanity changing details to suit their own purposes. It was their way of putting those seen as their subordinates in place, among so many other fallacies declared on the Maker’s behalf. So it was no wonder they were so taken aback when Death finally made her appearance. The unavoidable. The last truth. She stood at the center of her storm, admiring her work, without having placed her hand upon her blade.
I wasn’t certain what had startled me awake – the unsettling sounds coming from the dark, the throbbing of my head, or the deep chill upon my skin. I awoke to find myself in Alistair’s protective embrace, on the cold stone floor of a prison cell, in nothing but my small clothes. Looking up to his face, past the bare expanse of his chest, I said teasingly, “It’s a shame we are unable to take advantage of this privacy, given our situation is so dire.”
He laughed in spite of himself, and responded with a wink, “Yes, unfortunately, this is no time for romance.”
The advert had promised “sights not to be missed,” and the showing had not disappointed, but there was another advert, one meant to be understood only by the one it was intended for. She had read it and arrived early to ensure she would not be taken by surprise. There was nothing about her that would give her away as anything but a proper Victorian lady, but for the one who waited for her across the gallery, she was as deadly as she was well dressed.
After watching the birth of yet another system, they were surprised to find that it still gave them chills. There was nothing quite like the explosion of color and the dazzling display of light. Knowing that life would soon be springing forth made them each excited for different reasons. The demon’s smile was smug with all the temptations waiting to be explored. The angel nudged the other knowing that after countless millennia, nothing had changed.
For some time I thought it was my own heartbeat. It was my first expedition after all, and I was both nervous and excited.
Ba bum. Ba bum.
The sound was faint at first, and no one else seemed to hear it but me, but as we delved further into the unchartered territory, the thumping only increased.
Ba bum. Ba bum. Ba bum.
Weeks traveling in an unknown, desolate land and the incessant heartbeat that I felt belonged to it slowly ate at my nerves. I became obsessed with learning the origins of the sound and would often wander into the depths of the surrounding forest alone in the hopes I would find the source.
Ba bum. Ba bum. Ba bum.
It called to me. I could hear it in my dreams. When I slept. I could feel it drawing me ever closer until the beating of my own heart fell in sync and the sound was just as much a part of me as my own skin.
Ba bum. Ba bum.
The others whispered…in shadows, and offered me sideways glances. When we found the long forgotten ruin and I felt my skin sing, I knew then that this was for me alone.
I stood before the blood red orb, crimson stained hands shaking in anticipation, my heart ready to break from my chest. My reflection…I didn’t recognize what I had become.
“Help, I did something dumb.”
We all stared at her – various parts of her body were bandaged in a makeshift manner, there was a faint smell of burnt hair, and the lights from the room behind her flickered to an indiscriminate beat.
“All you had to do was keep watch.” The captain was flabbergasted.
“I was forced to get creative.”
Water quickly pooled at our feet, and continued to rise. There was a groan of metal and we all looked at one another worried.
“I said it was dumb.”
We lurched sideways.
“Will it at least work?” The captain asked gravely.
“I suppose we’ll soon find out.”
That was not reassuring.
She hadn’t set foot in the temple in a hundred years. It was both strange and familiar. Little had changed over the millennia, although it was beginning to show signs of age. She twirled the gray streak in her hair fondly with one hand as she gingerly let her other hand rest on one of the columns.
They had endured.
She began to hum a haunting melody; the sound filled the empty space. As the song swelled, her body moved in fluid rhythm until she positioned herself under the great rotunda and twinkling golden light shone down upon her. She had come to pay her respects, as she had done countless times before, and they in turn offered her their blessing.
Despite how she had witnessed the outside world change, this ritual allowed her to remember how it all began.
I knew I was dreaming. I always dreamt of him – the faceless man my heart knew.
I wore the same gown, we walked the same path…it was always the same.
I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream.
I found happiness in this place, but always felt a cold bitterness at its loss.
And I know it’s true that visions are seldom all they seem…
We always chased the fading sunlight, but today it seemed to grow brighter.
I shielded my eyes and saw a haloed figure.
That look in your eyes is so familiar…
I suddenly felt a warm breeze upon my face, a warm hand in my own.
A faceless man was helping me up.
You’ll love me at once…
“The way you did once.” He started.
“Upon a dream.” I finished.
He almost felt like a character from a fairytale. Wasn’t there one about kids following breadcrumbs? That’s what he had been doing for days, without even deciding to do it. He had entered the forest for a pleasant day’s walk amidst nature, but became compelled to seek this place out. He neither ate, nor slept. He could only walk.
The tiny house, surrounded by dark, still water and towering trees, despite its quaint nature, seemed oddly out of place. It was the only structure of its kind in the area; he hadn’t come across another in his travels. He was awash with tranquility, and yet, at the back of his mind, in the deepest recesses of his soul, he knew something was wrong, but he continued forward.
The dried leaves crunched under foot, alerting the lady of the house who appeared in the doorway like a shadow. She beckoned him, and he did as she commanded.
Sadie had never been to New York City, but she imagined it must look something like this – buildings that extended to the sky, neon lights so bright it resembled day, and a limited view at what might lie beyond. Sadie enjoyed the mornings here; they were quiet, and the air smelled sweet, which seemed a contradiction all considering. Since this whole journey had begun, this was the only place they had visited that reminded her of Earth, and she found herself oddly comforted with just a hint of longing.
The strange winged creatures that slightly resembled birds were rather friendly and perched themselves upon her balcony. She spoke to them in hushed tones, whispering her secrets, her hopes, and her fears, like she used to with seashells she had found upon the beach. When they returned to her each morning, she found solace in the idea that perhaps they had carried away those thoughts and helped to lighten her burden; although not fighting harder to protect her sister was one she would never be free of, not until she found her.
The hallway was dark. Hannah, barefooted, tip toed toward the daylight that awaited her at the other end. She ran one hand along the wall to feel the old, rough stone bricks while her gown swished at her feet as pace hastened.
Without knowing why, her heart swelled at the thought of what lay beyond.
The hallway had brought her to the rear of an English manor nestled in the country. Stairs led down to a well-kept garden and a sweet surprise she dared not believe. Cautious that the leaves would be sure to give away her presence, she took careful steps until she could nearly reach out and touch him.
Evan turned simultaneously and captured her in his warm embrace. His exhale of relief at holding her in his arms caused his arms to tighten.
Hannah couldn’t recall how she had come to arrive here, or why her heart recognized the man who held her when her mind didn’t, but at the moment, it didn’t matter. She felt like she had just found home.
To the casual observer they appeared as long separated lovers finally reunited. There was an intensity about their demeanor, a longing contained for propriety’s sake that hinted at a level of intimacy that made those a witness to it blush. To set the scene of romanticism and to add another layer of mystery, a fog rolled in as if on cue. They stayed like that for some time, swaying towards one another but not moving even a breath closer.
They waited until the last traveler had exited the station before revealing the truth of their meeting. With a tilt of his hat almost in greeting, she dropped her fur cuff to reveal a wooden stake. He flashed a devestating smile, purposefully sliding his tongue against the point of his exposed fang while a low rumble of laughter echoed across the distance. While he made a spectacle of himself, she slid off her heeled shoes and tucked her skirt to allow her legs more freedom. She had been looking forward to this moment for some time and she was going to enjoy it.
After two weeks of intermittent rain and cold winds, the storms had passed and the night sky finally revealed itself in all its splendor. We had trudged through mud for days, our clothes hadn’t been fully dry in nearly a fortnight, and there was a chill that had lodged itself in our spines and had become a perpetual torment.
Finding the old temple ruin was a welcome sight. There was a mysterious aura that surrounded the area, as if perhaps we were treading upon sacred ground or nearing the gateway to another world. Although the ceiling had collapsed some time ago, the structure did still offer us some protection and a little space from one another after so long huddled together in small tents and around campfires.
We needed a respite from our travels, and so decided we would spend a couple of days recuperating in the majestic, towering relic. It was hard not to be in awe of the temple; the architecture, the grandeur, and the frescos that adorned the walls and what remained of the ceiling. It was breathtaking and a wonder as to what its true purpose once was. And so on that first eerily silent night, I lay awake, staring up to the twinkling sky, wishing upon a thousand stars that we have the Maker’s grace to succeed in our quest.
Three hundred years after its release, and nearly two hundred years of darkness, and they still wanted to call them lightsabers or tools of the Jedi and the Sith. Star Wars not only became a story passed down from the last generation of the sun, but also a cautionary tale which many of the Elders had adopted as part of the rules of our new society. An unintended side effect the creator could never have accounted for. It had been widely believed that we would move to the stars in an age of flying cars and interstellar travel, but humanity never got that chance. Unexpectedly the sky went dark and the science fiction world of a galaxy far far away became just that, fiction, instead of a hope for the future. Our lightsabers, too, offer us protection by harnessing the light as we make our way toward a new rebellion, for no matter the age nor the environment, there will always be those who wish to create a new empire and those that oppose them.
We had made it through a series of trials meant to deter us, meant to challenge us or destroy us. Judging by the size of the lock, whatever might lie beyond it must, in all likelihood, be the final step, the grand prize, victory at last. Treasures beyond imagining, fortunes untold, riches and wonders…how could it not? The mehanism presented a particular challenge as it was submerged, in its entirety, under twenty feet of water. We came prepared for every eventuality, but as some of the tests had proven fatal, we had come to the end shorthanded. Hunreds, if not a thousand years underwater should surely offer us some goodwill, one would hope, and one would risk everything to discover.
When they erected statues of his likeness across the land, telling stories of his heroics in an effort to honor his “good deeds” they failed to mention how many people had been falsely accused and murdered for their supposed crimes. Women were the first to be cast a sideways glance, they always were. Men and their small minds, a deficiency they did their best to overcompensate for with violence, this “saint” among them. A woman in power, a community of women, a woman who still practised the old ways, a woman who could read, a woman with a house cat, a woman with a birth mark, there was no end to the list of potential reasons for her to be found guilty, dragged from her home, questioned without any hope of being found innocent, tortured…they threatened those with inferior intelligence, and their pride would never allow such a slight.
Stairway to Nowhere
It was a marvel. A place of mystery. A place the hopeless traveled to endlessly in anticipation of the blessings it was believed to bestow upon the faithful. It was a deception. A lie.
The stark contrast of the structure against the blue sky was always awe inspiring. It was the first hint, the blur, like a mirage in the distance that caused the heart to swell. They had finally made it. Their prayers would be answered. Their afflictions healed. If only they believed. If only they were worthy. If only they were willing to continue on just a few steps more.
In their delusion, they would walk on, blind to the danger that awaited them at the top. With so few who had endured, if the stories were to be believed, if they were even true, there was no part of the tale that told of the sacrifice required. The reason the pillars ran red.
~ * ~