A free-writing practice.
No One Knows
Someone Else's Wedding
An Acient Word
No One Knows
“Can you see it yet?” the captain of the galley looked out over the rail but she depended on the eyes of her second mate to tell her what lay on the horizon. Her own eyes weren’t sharp enough anymore. Maybe never were. And maybe her mind wasn’t so sharp anymore, given the assignment she’d accepted.
“Nothing yet, Captain,’ answered Eldex, his gaze fastened on the horizon. “Not so much as a smudge.” He cast a sidelong look at their passenger, a tall, dark-skinned man wrapped in the livery of the royal mage corps.
“It’s there,” he said. His name was Forcaii Mor and, like most mages, he didn’t care that the people around him thought he was a prick.
Captain Selden pursed her lips. “Tell me again what happens when we go through.”
The mage elevated one eyebrow just a tick and looked at her. “No one knows. The best guesses of the corps are that we’ll end up someplace else, or we’ll end up dead. Of course, nothing might happen at all and we’ll just keep sailing, on towards the open sea.”
“Fucking mages,” Eldex muttered under his breath. Forcaii Mor only smiled.
Someone Else's Wedding
The flowers were beautiful, at least. That was something of a surprise to Mitch because Shelby had never shown much interest in natural beauties. She was all about minimalism. Slick surfaces and sharp edges .The rustic natural beauty of the garlands and bouquets didn’t seem to match his mental image of her. Perhaps it was her mother’s doing. Or a wedding planner.
He chose his seat carefully: right side, towards the back, but not all the way back, which seem to lurky. He wanted to escape notice without looking like he was trying to escape notice. Dark blue suit, white button-down shirt, a tie pattern not at all eye catching, his hair combed back and tied in a subtle knot at the nape of his neck. “No one notice me!” his appearance practically shouted.
He hadn’t decided yet about the reception.
The groomsmen were starting to gather at the back of the church, the wedding planner pairing them off with the older family members for the long preliminary march down the hall. Scott, Shelby‘s little brother, who looked sharp in his gray-tailed tuxedo, glanced his way once but if he noticed or recognized Mitch in the crowd, he gave no sign of it. He exhaled quietly under his breath.
“Can you believe this circus?” A woman had slid into the pew from the side aisle. As she plopped her substantial girth onto the vinyl covered seat, it exhaled with the resigned sigh. “This is so Shelby.”
Mitch smiled politely because he wasn’t sure what else to do. “It looks nice,” he said. The woman, who was wearing a bold flower hat, snorted. “Are you a friend of the bride?” he asked.
“God, no,” said the woman, and a wicked grin crossed her face. “I’m her arch enemy. I’m here to make sure this day is a disaster. Wanna help?”
I do not like this prompt, wrote the author. She was sitting in a coffee shop, one of the chains that were so ubiquitous nowadays. She didn’t even like coffee. She had a cup of tea sitting next to her on the table, slowly growing cold as she scribbled words onto the page.
She could remember when coffee shops like this had not been a thing, and she remembered when they had become a thing. Only less plastic. A welcome enhancement to the community, not a necessary fixture.
That’s why she didn’t like the prompt. Because she could remember that stuff. That shift. That double shift, really. She could remember too many changes.
I’m not even 50, she wrote, but that number felt huge even as she wrote it down. Tried to downplay it in the immensity
When did I stop being 25?
She had tried in her late 30s to stop the progression of years. “I’m 36 again,” she said, and then, “I’m 36 again for the second time” and “for the third time.” After that, she started losing track of how old she really was. And maybe 40 wasn’t such a bad number, anyway. Plus it confused her kids.
The baristas behind the counter probably didn’t remember a time when coffee didn’t come in tall, grande, and venti sizes, or blended with ice and sugar, and topped with whipped cream and more sugar. When the author had been that age, coffee had come in small, white cups with a container of sweeteners on the side. Pink, blue, yellow, white — pick your poison. Only then, no one really knew they were all poison.
It’s not that she wants to go back. The knowledge she has now, the experience, she doesn’t want lose. It’s that she just wishes she had more time to make use of it.
The building looked abandoned. Not in the traditional way, with boarded windows, overgrown lawn, and paint peeling from the eaves. The place looked quite trim, really. The work of some real estate agent hoping to make a commission on its sale, no doubt.
But what no amount of paint or lawn care could obscure was the deadness of it. The the cold emptiness that lurked behind the dark windows. Charles had the feeling that if he knocked on the door, the whole place would crumble into dust. It might be vacant of human inhabitants, but it had been abandoned by God.
“You don’t even believe in God,” Dale said, when Charles said as much to him as he groped for the key in his backpack.
“I don’t not believe in God,” Charles objected. He wrapped his arms around himself, trying to ward off a non-existent chill. “I mean, I don’t know.”
“Whatever.” Dale found the key dangling from an ancient Pikachu key fob. “You don’t have to come in.” He held his breath as he slid it into the lock of the front door, not quite sure it would work. The key had been in the bottom of his backpack a long time, after all. But it fit, the tumblers turned, and the door creaked open. Dale let out a sigh that was part relief, part anticipation. “I gotta go, though.”
“I’m coming.” Charles brushed his fingers on Dale’s arm. “I promised for better or worse, and if that means breaking into souless houses to recover ancient treasures then so be it.”
“It’s not really breaking and entry if I have a key, right?” Dale put his hand on the door, ready to push it open, but hesitating all the same. “I mean, technically this is my house, now that they’re…”
“Sure, Dale. It’s yours. And everything in it.”
“I don’t care about everything. I just want one thing.”
An Acient Word
“It means ‘dawn’,” said Talla, flipping back-and-forth between the heavy tomes lying open on her desk. They circled the splayed parchment like a halo and threatened to topple the inkwell in their midst. “Or maybe ‘dusk’,”
“How predictable,” drawled Lias. He was ensconced in an armchair on the other side of the room, a brandy snifter in one hand (empty now) and the smoke of a hanna leaf cigar circling around his head. “Why can’t these things ever be done at a respectable hour? Like two in the afternoon. The ancients had no imagination, I tell you.”
Talla rolled her eyes but didn’t say anything. It would be pointless to explain to her brother the mystical importance of the liminal hours of the day. The moments between light and dark were the moments most open to change in the world. It wasn’t fair that Lias had so much natural talent for magic and so little interest in learning how it worked.
“Which is it, though,” he asked. “Dawn or dusk? I’ll have to change my dinner plans if it’s the latter. Lady Porlenti objects if I show up smelling like aether smoke.”
Talla stood to look for another book on the case. “I’m not sure. I’m still working on it. I’ve never actually seen the word used anywhere before. The best I can piece together, based on similar words in Exoldus and Latori, is that it means ‘half light’ but there’s not enough context to know which it means.”
“Can’t you just guess? I’d like to get this over with.”
“Certainly, I can guess, if you don’t care about getting the whole thing wrong and end up destroying the whole world, instead of just obliterating the House of Government.”
The steps rose up in the middle of the meadow, leading from nothing, to nothing. Made of dark basalt, they had somehow managed to resist the slow encroachment of nature, the destructive fingers of grass unable to find a hold on the smooth-carved rock.
“Who would build a staircase in the middle of a field?” Durana wanted to know. She eyed the rise of steps with an expression that was more judgmental than curious.
Cort climbed halfway up the ten, high steps. “I don’t think it was the field, then,” he said. He stopped halfway up. He always stopped halfway. “I think there was a palace here. Or maybe a temple.”
Durana looked skeptically around the field. A little ways distant, she could see a bit of fence, a tilted pole, a length of barbed wire. Over the hill, there was smoke from the fire where her father and Cort’s prepared for branding foals. Other than that, there wasn’t anything to see except sky and grass.
“There might even have been a whole city,” Cort said. He swept the wide field with his gaze. “A king’s city. An emperor’s.” He could almost see it, sometimes, when he stood on the stair and looked over the plain. The light would shape itself into something else. Structures rising over roads, and parks, and people.
Not today, though. Today he saw only grass and sky.
Durana rolled her eyes. Cort was a strange boy. But he was handsome, and his family was wealthy, and that made it worthwhile to spend time in his company.
And if he wanted to play pretend city, what would it hurt?
So she charged up the steps after him. “If this is a castle,” she laughed, “then I’m the queen!” She passed him on the steps, a mischievous glint in her eyes.
“Durana, wait,” Cort said, making a futile attempt to catch her. But it was no good.
When Durana reached the top step, she disappeared.
I gnaw on the bars of my cage but it does no good. The bars are not made of wood, or of anything else that a person, given time enough and teeth, enough could reasonably chew through.
The bars are made of love and the lock is my own desire.
I’m happy to be here, don’t get me wrong. I’m safe, protected from the yearning hunger that drove me into the streets when I was young. I didn’t know the danger I would fall into. How close I would come to death.
But she found me before it was too late. She found me, and she called me “treasure” and she carried me into this velvet and brocade-covered room where I am safe.
I know I am safe and when she is with me I am happy, at peace. But when she is not here, I hunger.
“How are you this morning?” she asks, carrying in a tray that is crowded with my favorites. I know they are my favorites because she brings them every morning.
I tell her about my dreams as I down the too-strong coffee. Bitter. Black.
“The dog was covered in white fur,” I say, “like lamb’s wool or cotton. I was petting it, and then I pulled on the fur and it came off. I started eating it like cotton candy.”
She laughs. “Imagine if we could grow cotton candy on our dogs! Our teeth would all fall out from the sugar.”
I laugh, too. Make a joke about shedding not being a problem anymore. I don’t tell her that when I finished eating the dog’s cotton candy, there was nothing but bones beneath.
“What are you going to do today?” she wants to know as I chew on the dry toast, no butter, no jam, that is my favorite. I don’t answer right away. Not because I don’t know, but because the longer it takes to answer, the longer she’ll be here with me.
Gabe was running late. That was nothing unusual. In his line of work, there were always things coming up that required his attention, and he was not in a position where he could put things off or ask someone else to take care of it.
Not even on his wedding day.
He hoped Marigold would understand. Generally she was very supportive of his career, even with it’s odd hours and unexpected consequences, like injuries and wrecked cars.
At least I don’t have any bruises showing, he thought to himself as he hurried down the walk to the chapel. And his suit was neat and clean. It’d been hanging in the car while he dealt with the latest of Dr. Force's minions — a seven-foot cyborg with a laser beam cannon in place of his left eye. Fortunately, Laz-Ac had also been dumb as a post and he’d managed to defeat him after a fairly low-key battle. Only half a city block had suffered any real damage.
He saw a small knot of people gathered on the chapel’s front porch. One detached and came hurrying towards him with a look of relief on her face. Marigold, always a non-traditionalist, had dyed her hair a brighter red than usual for the wedding and her dress was a short fluffy thing in gold and orange. Her feet were bare. He wondered if that were deliberate or if she had kicked off her shoes when she got tired of standing around waiting.
“Isn’t it bad luck to see the bride before the wedding?” he asked as she threw her arms around her his neck.
“Shut up, idiot. Why didn’t you call?”
He pulled his cracked phone out of his pocket to show her the damage. “Do you think my insurance covers acts of crazed super villains?” She made her face of sympathy. “I’m sorry,” he said then, meaning it.
“It’s all right,” she said, and she truly meant it, too. “I told my dad you were meeting clients. He thinks you sell drugs.”