Archive | April 2013

Short Story – Dreams

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and a scholar. A computer plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a bathhouse in the future. The story is about dreams.

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Zanter trudged down the street, feeling the weight of the day. The dirt and noise of the city were heavy on his spirit. It seemed to take forever until finally he reached an ancient building and mounted the few stairs to the front portal.

Zanter glided through the opening and greeted the owner briefly before proceeding to the changing area, where he divested himself of clothing and put his belongings into a small pod anchored to the wall. Then he padded barefoot down a narrow passage to the center of the building. As he passed through the ultrasonic shower and into the bathing area, he was awed anew at the sight. The space was glorious and ancient with high pillars, soaring ceilings and sculptures and frescoes of merpeople and sealife. The ceiling could be opened to the stars by a series of louvered panels.

He had once asked about the history of the building and was told that it had been a bathhouse for thousands of years. It was originally built over natural hot springs to take advantage of the minerals and warmth they exuded. The current owner was descended from the last several owners, each taking over in turn. Some things had changed. There were no longer religious rituals required of the bathers. There were showers and saunas in chambers off the large central pool. Computers controlled all the portals, pods, and louvered panels. The processes for regulating the temperature, monitoring bacterial and mineral levels, and filtering and recycling the water were now automated. And yet, the concept of the place remained the same – healing and renewal.

As he slipped into the pool, the humidity and warmth began to work their magic on him. His sinuses and pores opened, his muscles relaxed, and he felt his spirit lift. Given the ubiquitous nature of pools and bathhouses like this one, Zanter thought, “Perhaps we were once sea creatures after all. And the water takes us home.”

As he floated in the water, he closed his eyes, letting his thoughts drift. He reminded himself he did not come here just to wash dirt and sweat from his body. Simple cleansing could be accomplished in the privacy of his domicile. Here he could swim and float and when he left, he would feel completely different than he did after bathing at home.

He had been drifting for awhile with his eyes closed, and when he opened them he was surprised to find that the pool was dark. He stood up in the water and looked around. He listened carefully for the splash or low conversation from other bathers and heard nothing but lapping water in the pool, splashing water from the shower chamber. He spoke quietly, knowing the water would carry the sound, “Hello? Is anyone else here?”

No one answered. He lowered himself back into the water. Briefly he felt panic begin to rise. “What if he was alone in the building? What if he was locked in? What if he could not get out? Where was the owner?”

And then he felt the pull of the water, warmly, gently caressing him, urging him to relax. He succumbed to the motion and started floating again. This time with his eyes open. He allowed the thoughts to tumble and spill away again. As he looked up at the ceiling he noticed that the panels had been retracted and he could see the night sky above with its myriad stars. The view fascinated him and pulled his musings further into the ancient questions that have ever tugged at human minds. The questions of philosophers and religious scholars like him. “Who am I really? How did I get here? Is there something or someone out there that made this world I see? Why?”

And as he pondered these things, he felt himself expand, absorbing everything in his path, until the whole city, the whole continent, then the whole planet were inside him. He continued to move outward, taking in everything until his awareness encompassed all he could imagine. He felt the water surround him and envelop him. And he was water, indistinguishable from everything else. Absorbing it all, encircling it all. He was enjoying the feeling. So incredible. So beautiful…

Then as if a drain had been unplugged he started swirling rapidly, growing smaller and pulling back down to his body that had seemed so far away. He ebbed like the tide away from the shore and too quickly found himself back to his normal state. So small. So insignificant.

Vaguely he heard a voice nearby and opened his eyes. He was in the pool at the bath house. The lights were on. He sat up out of the water. Across the pool two bathers were engaged in low conversation. He must have been dreaming…

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story – The Gardener

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and a gardener. A story plays a significant part in the story. The story is set in a bedroom in ancient times. The story is about movement.

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After it was over, he picked up the pieces of statuary that had fallen, and moved them to a storage shed. He surveyed the damage to the fountains. The largest one was leaking, so he turned the water off and added it to the list of repairs needed. As he passed the ruins of the house, he thought he heard a sound. The house was not his responsibility, still, he had no way of knowing who was left to take care of things. And the sound was small. Like a child. He could not just pass by. So he followed the sound. Up onto the great patio. More smashed statuary and another fountain with chipped cherubs. Past the doors to the great hall that allowed the large parties to flow out into the gardens. The doors were now gaping wide as they did when the great hall was filled with dancers and musicians and food. Only there were no guests, no orchestra.

He paused and then followed the sound along the southern wall until he came to the balustrade that separated the large formal gardens from the private terraces. He worked his way back down to the main garden along the stairs and then back up to the house at the first private patio. The sound lured him on and he found a set of doors that opened onto the terrace. They were broken and stood open with the curtains billowing in the breeze. He paused a moment and then pushed back the curtains and stepped through the doorway.

He had never spent much time in the house, although he wasn’t surprised to find himself in a large bedroom. The house was designed so that all the rooms opened onto a garden. Even the library opened out into an outdoor reading room with little benches and shaded hammocks that called a reader to idle away the hours with a good book.

The bedroom was part of a suite and massive.  Nearly equal in size to the great hall. Ah – this would be the master’s quarters then. Or the mistress’ -she had always liked and commanded a larger space… And the sound was closer now. A whimpering. He started to search the overturned furniture and disarrayed hangings and draperies and tapestries, pulling them aside and peering behind. And finally, he found her. She was curled into a small ball, hiding under the cushions, behind the draperies surrounding the bed. He recognized the youngest daughter, who was called “Mina” by all. She continued to sob softly, her face buried in the silken bedclothes unaware of his presence. Gently, he knelt beside her like he would for the rabbits and deer and swans that populated the garden. Quietly he began to speak to her, reaching out to stroke her hair ever so softly. She was too forlorn to be startled and continued to whimper even as he gathered her into his arms. She smelled of the outdoors and childish sweat and faintly of the soap her mother used to bathe her. Her clothes were rumpled and slightly dirty. He checked her limbs to be sure none were broken. There was no blood on the bedding or pillows where she had lain, only the tear stains from her crying.

“Ssss, quiet now… are you hurt?”

Mina wailed.

He patted her back and held her and waited for her tears to subside again. He sat down on the bed cuddling her and rocking. And then he saw her mother across the room, shattered under an enormous pillar. He pulled Mina tighter to his chest covering her eyes.

“Ssss, quiet now… would you like to hear a story?”

Mina subdued somewhat replied “Thirsty.”

“Certainly, you are. We shall do something to address your thirst presently. For now, I would like to offer you a story, if you wish.”

Mina nodded and he began. “Once upon a time…” as he gently carried her from the room.

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

A Tribute to Thomas

It must be the season of loss… So many of our loved ones seem to die in the spring time. My father in March 2010. Delilah April 2010.  Jezebel May 2011. Penny March 2013.

We lost our “baby” in March 2012.  A beautiful black and white tuxedo with soft velvet fur, named Thomas after the main character in The Aristocats – “Abraham Delacey Giuseppe Casey Thomas O’Malley, O’Malley the Alley Cat.”  We were presented with his mother, Lucy, while she was pregnant, so we were there for Thomas’ birth and held him within moments of his arrival. And we held him until his departure.

Thomas was huge by cat standards – bigger than many small dogs, with a laid-back attitude. He was talkative and affectionate. His favorite perch was the raised portion of the kitchen counter that served as his dining area. From that point he could easily reach out with one large paw to grab a passerby and pull them in for a good nose-licking. Because we held him so much and so often, we could do almost anything to him – clip his claws, rub his belly, put in eye drops, give him medicine. He tolerated everything. As you can see in the photo below, he had panda paws – white paws with black pads that were so cute, we were always messing with them.

Thomas_06Nov2010

Samson, our yellow lab mix, was always around, so Thomas had no fear of him. When he was old enough, he often played with Samson, wrestling on the floor. And Samson was delighted to have a playmate.

Thomas loved to lie down and stretch out in the middle of the floor. He wasn’t worried about being stepped on. He was too big and obvious – we always knew where he was.

At bedtime he stretched out full length along my or my husband’s chest, purring. There was no mistaking that kind of weight on top of you.

In a house with pets, you never do anything alone. There is no point in closing the door, because they will either open it or nag until you open it. Thomas had an unusual trick for anyone using the toilet. While they were seated, with their pants around their lower legs, Thomas would crawl in and make a nest between their ankles, purring loudly. Many times I simply abandoned my trousers when I was done and retrieved them later once he had moved on.

Thomas and his mother, Lucy, remained close throughout their lives although he was easily more than twice her size. They also sparred and one time Lucy nearly killed Thomas when she got a claw deep into his side. I came home late on a Friday night  to find him hot and listless on the downstairs couch. Luckily our veterinarian office had emergency services. We took him to the vet and Thomas got a bolus of subcutaneous fluid and an injection of antibiotics. Within a couple days he was himself again, although it took a bit longer for the huge cyst in his side to go away. We started trimming Lucy’s claws more regularly.

Thomas and Lucy_13Mar2011

As of April 2012, Lucy is still with us, although occasionally we still hear her searching for her son, Thomas. And we understand, because we miss him, too.

Short Story – The World of Plants

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and an interpreter. A story plays a significant part in the story. The story is set on a farm in the future. The story is about pride.

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I talk to plants. It’s true. Actually, they talk to me. I am an interpreter for the plants. I tell their stories. I am the only one I know who does this work. I ply my trade among the planets of the fourth star in the Pleiades. My small interplanetary craft is fast and efficient, so I can cover a lot of territory. The plants pay me in their way, so I am never hungry. I barter some of the produce for my other needs. And the plants are always grateful.

All right, maybe not always. There was a time…

I had traveled farther than usual that day at the request of a local agriculturalist. It seems that a large plant type life form was rebelling and causing some disharmony in the local economy.

My landing was carefully calculated to be within walking distance of the biodome, but still far enough to keep from disturbing the immediate area. Since the vibrations from my ship could add to the chaotic emotions already in play.

The agriculturalist was waiting just outside the biodome. Zefra was obviously agitated when I reached her, so I paused to help soothe her ruffled feelings. She could not introduce me to the belligerent life form if she was not in a good state. She explained that the plant in question had just insulted her intelligence and thrown rotten foliage at her. She had been tempted to kick the plant in its genitalia. Unfortunately, the plant in question was too valuable to sustain that kind of damage so she had managed to restrain herself long enough to leave the biodome before venting her anger. Still pacing, Zefra continued to rant about “Ranc,” which turned out to be short for Ranunculus Vitae, a variation of a plant once found several parsecs from here on a small blue planet circling the star Helios.

“He’s such a self-sanctimonious, self-important, self-aggrandizing, egotistical… did I say self-important?! Well he is! He thinks he’s the most significant lifeform here!”

I allowed Zefra to continue on for several minutes in this vein so that she could gain control of her feelings again. Then I began to massage her aura and bathe it in cooling light. Finally she could speak without spitting. So I asked her what had brought on this latest outburst.

“I offered him some fertilizer,” she replied simply.

“That’s all?”

“Yes.”

“Surely there was more to it than that? It’s not as if he can make his own.”

“Then you will have to ask him. It’s not as if we speak the same language,” she snapped a bit too sharply.

“I plan to do so as soon as you are serene enough to perform an introduction,” I replied gently trying to smooth the latest flare in her temper.

After a few moments working on her, she visibly relaxed. “Very well, I think I can do it now.”

Her aura had traces of pink but no more red. I continued to surround her with serene vibrations until I was sure she was settled enough to enter.

“Then let us proceed,” I said quietly.

Zefra walked beside me to the portal and then opened an airlock to allow me to enter first. As I stepped in, the aromas of damp soil, grass, and a faint smell of rotting vegetation assailed my senses. It was warm and moist and I was still in the airlock. It must be a jungle inside. I pulled a biosuit off one of the hooks and put it on, while she did the same.

The biosuits on this planet completely covered the wearer from head to toe so that there was no chance a stray cell or organism could shed from the wearer and contaminate the ecosystem. A single cell with its strands of DNA could cause incredible changes in the lifeforms in here. And humans are notorious for shedding skin cells and hair constantly. And to think some humans once worried about GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in their food. They would shudder at the rapacity of the lifeforms here, eager to glom onto even the smallest fragments of DNA and RNA and incorporate them into their own.

The newest versions of biosuits were seamless and form-fitting. They were a shimmering silvery pearl color, which stood out against green, red, blue, yellow and most other hues, to make the wearer easier to locate once inside. Although the suits also had a chameleon option that could be activated if necessary to protect the wearer. The air system and filters no longer distort the voice, and the suit can read vibrations from the vocal chords. So everyone sounds “normal” even when they are completely encased in biofiber.

Zefra initiated the decontamination cycle. Luckily, the suits also help maintain body temperature. When we went through the second airlock the temperature was just over 317°Kelvin, which is easily 20 degrees warmer than most humanoids find comfortable. My personal comfort zone is right around 297°K, so I was doubly grateful for the biosuit.

This biodome was small enough that we could walk from one end to the other in 30 minutes. Zefra pointed out the interactive map on the right arm of my biosuit, which handily showed where each biosuit was located, in addition to the other more stationary lifeforms. My biosuit appeared to be indicated in the map by a tiny replica of me. I could watch myself moving about the biodome in a small four-dimensional version that floated just above my forearm. From the noise and Doppler vibrations in the interactive map, I could find my way to Ranc without Zefra’s guidance, but protocol still dictated that she lead the way and introduce me properly.

Much of the vegetation was blue although the flowers they produced were every color of the rainbow and often more than three colors at any given moment. I heard a little heckling from some of the smaller lifeforms, plenty of chatter, and one particularly pretty pink, aqua, and silver plant form wished me well. Zefra did not react to any of their talk so I assumed that she, like most humanoids, could not discern it from rustling foliage. I used to be that way, too. But once I learned the basic plantoid language, I heard gabbing everywhere. The soft rustling of poets became incessant chatter. Eventually, I learned how to turn the babble into a conversation and my opportunities expanded to support my current interstellar reputation. And at that moment, I was sure I was the best and the only way to resolve the conflict here.

We moved slowly as I did not want to add ripples to the pool of vibrations swirling around us. It seemed to take forever until we reached Ranc’s location. Although we could easily follow his distorted wavelengths, I had no desire to increase his agitation.

When we were finally facing each other, the waves of red and black streaming from him were almost violent enough to knock us down. Without meaning to do so, I started trying to still the pulsations flying in our direction. When Ranc felt the pushback he became angrier. I realized what had happened and ceased my efforts immediately, hoping he would back down.

Ranc was not going to be pacified that easily. He turned his focus on me throwing all the vibrations in my direction. Zefra had already put up a shield. She wasn’t taking any more plekth from a non-humanoid.

It was so loud and so bright, I was going to have to put up a shield, or risk losing my senses all together. I dropped to my knees and finally laid down flat on my belly with my arms covering my head and ears. I didn’t know how much more I could take before I would be forced to raise a shield. I tried to send the signal of introduction and then I blacked out.

When I came to awareness again, I was still lying face down on the ground, but the vibrations were calmer and no longer buffeted my senses. I risked uncovering my ears and lifting my head to look in Ranc’s direction. He had assumed a military bearing, unbending and unemotional. So I started to get to my feet. A loud crack dropped me back to my hands and knees and made it clear Ranc did not want me standing upright. This was not going to be as easy as I thought it would be when I first got the call.

I attempted to signal my introduction again, and was rebuffed. Still on my hands and knees, I waited. What did he want me to do? How was I going to get his attention? Wait! I already had his attention, how could I get him to listen to me? As I was considering my options and trying to figure out how to reach him, I missed the change in his aura. Ranc was laughing at me!

Keeping my head down, I signaled, “Service.” Ranc roared with laughter.

Head still bowed, I tried again, and signaled, “Beneficence.” Ranc doubled over with hilarity. Not an easy feat for a plant form twice my height and four times my girth.

When Ranc finally calmed down, I tried a third time and signed, “Honor” and set Ranc to laughing again.

Zefra messaged me through the map to start backing away while Ranc was distracted. Unsure how to proceed and still shaking from the sound and light waves that had originally knocked me off my feet, I went to chameleon mode and did as she suggested. Moving slowly, I crawled backward, still on my hands and knees, I did not look up until I was out of reach of his force field. Then, still camouflaged, I raised myself to a crouch and slowly moved to the airlock and out into the chamber. When Zefra had closed the inner seal and decontaminated the chamber again. I sagged onto the nearest bench with my head in my hands.

“I have failed you,” I told her dejectedly.

“Not at all,” she replied.

I looked up, puzzled at her response.

She explained, “Ranc is now in a fabulous mood.”

“Yes, but, I never found out what he wanted,” I protested.

“Oh yes, you did,” She smiled.

I gave her another quizzical look.

“You are the court jester.”

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story – Concertgoer

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is female and a midwife. A pair of trousers plays a significant part in the story. The story is set at a concert in the present. The story is about balance.

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Riiiiip! Damn! Why now? What was she supposed to do now? Sophia’s trousers had ripped from stem to stern as she took her seat. She had paid a lot for her ticket. By golly! She was going to enjoy this concert. She would worry about her trousers when it was over. The competing scents of expensive perfumes and men’s cologne filled the air.

The orchestra was tuning up. From her front row perch she could see into the pit. A handsome flautist was trilling and running scales. The first chair violoncello was rosining her bow. A bassist with long dark hair was practicing an intricate section. Sophia examined each member in turn trying to glean a portion of each personality from small gestures and how they prepared themselves. A violinist in the middle of the section was so methodical in his preparations she wondered how he was able to cope. Just then a clarinetist sat down next to him and interrupted his ritual by jostling his music stand and scattering the sheets to the floor. Oh my! The violinist looked like he might burst. He said nothing as he put his violin back in the case, carefully placed the bow next to it, closed and locked the case, and then proceeded to gather the music. Then she caught the eye of the clarinetist and saw the mirth. He obviously enjoyed the distress he caused to the violinist. The violinist began his ritual anew. The clarinetist could hardly contain himself, and his shoulders shook with unexpressed laughter as he put together his clarinet and placed a new reed in the mouthpiece.

Suddenly a ripple went through the orchestra and everyone hurriedly moved to be ready. The conductor walked in to the applause of the audience and bowed. Then she turned to the orchestra raised her baton to cue the first violinist. She stood and played a pure “A” which the rest of the players then used to match the tone of their instruments to hers. When the entire group was playing the same note, the conductor cut them off. The violinist took her seat.

The conductor turned to the stage and began to clap. The audience joined her as the world famous mezzo-soprano, Celeste, took the stage.  Dressed in diaphanous robes and a flowing green velvet cape with her long brown hair flowing down her back. She flowed to center stage. The set was minimally dressed with a green velvet chaise longue  and a single green velvet drape tied with a golden tassel that matched her cape. When she reached her mark, she paused and curtsied low. The audience responded enthusiastically and she smiled broadly as she stood and then centered herself.

The conductor raised her baton and cued the introduction. The orchestra began at full volume then withdrew to allow Celeste her due. She began the aria softly, tenderly, then slowly blossomed into the crescendo and softened again. When it was over, tears were streaming down Sophia’s face. It was so beautiful. The audience was on its feet, clapping and shouting “Brava!” Sophia stood with the rest, oblivious to the tear in her trousers.

Celeste curtsied again. Just as she began to rise, she suddenly crumpled to the floor with a scream. The audience slowly changed from exuberant to confused. Everyone was still on their feet and wondering what to do. The conductor ran out of the pit and around to the stairs that took her to the stage. Others converged from the wings of the stage.  Everyone running to Celeste. And suddenly, Sophia realized what had happened. She had noted Celeste’s pregnancy when she had first taken the stage. Something has happened with the baby. She could feel it. She knew it. Her years of experience as a midwife pulled her from her seat and drove her to the stage. She ran toward the fallen diva, pushing her way through the group of people who now surrounded Celeste. “I’m a midwife, let me through.” And they parted to let her approach. She knelt beside Celeste and took her left hand in hers and placed her right hand under her shoulder. In tears, Celeste turned toward the confident calming presence at her side. “My baby!” she sobbed. Sophia murmured, “Ssh, ssh, it’s okay,” as she looked into the beautiful green eyes. Celeste whispered “Help me,” and Sophia assured her that she would. “May I examine you?” Celeste nodded.

Sophia asked several nearby men to grab the drape and hold it up to create a barrier. She called to a woman to find pillows and blankets. Once the famous singer was cushioned and concealed from the crowd, Sophia pushed the cape out of the way and reaching under the multi-layered skirt, moving aside her undergarments (thank goodness the singer was too uncomfortable to wear pantyhose) and felt her way to the cervix while keeping her eyes focused on Celeste. She questioned her in a low voice, pausing to hear the answers. “Are you having pain?” “Has your water broken?” “How far apart are the contractions?” With her experienced hands and nose she knew the answers before Celeste replied. Beneath the singer’s signature perfume, Sophia could smell blood and the unique scent of amniotic fluid. She was hoping the cervix was not fully dilated until her fingers told her the truth.  Oh dear! The baby was crowning! She would have to move quickly.

Looking up into the eyes of the man across from her, Sophia ordered “Get towels, twine or rope, a sharp knife, and a cigarette lighter. This baby is coming now!”

Startled, the small huddle jumped to obey, and the requested items were quickly gathered.

“Sterilize the knife blade in the flame of the lighter and cut two lengths of twine a few inches long. Bring the towels here, we will need them to catch the baby. Is there something soft we can use as a receiving blanket?”

When everything was done to her specifications, she turned her attention back to Celeste and asked, “Are you ready?”

Celeste simply nodded. “Good,” Sophia replied,”Then get ready to push. I think you’re going to have the easiest delivery in the history of opera.”

With practiced hands, Sophia brought the baby into the world, wiped her off as best she could, checked to see that she was healthy and whole, and handed her to her mother. Someone beside Sophia assisted, handing her what she needed. Then Sophia tied off and severed the umbilical cord, and delivered the afterbirth. Someone placed a warm damp rag in her hand and held a small basin of clean warm water at her side.  She sponged everything clean.

With her tasks finished, Sophia looked at Celeste gazing into the eyes of her daughter. “I’m afraid your gown and cape are ruined.” Celeste smiled beatifically, “I’m sure my cleaners can take care of them. You have taken care of the most important part. Please tell me your name.”

“Sophia.”

“That’s perfect. Thank you, Sophia.”

Sophia moved to the side as Celeste’s retinue produced a wheelchair and packed up mother and child. With the stage clearing and the audience gone, Sophia paused to consider her situation.  Gently, a strong pair of arms placed a coat around her shoulders. Sophia turned to see a handsome gentleman with twinkling eyes and realized he was the one who had assisted with the birth.

“Would you please join me for a cup of tea?”

Sophia smiled and nodded. A cup of tea would be perfect right now.

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story – Clean Trousers

Story prompt: The story’s protagonist is male and a historian. A pair of trousers plays a significant part in the story. The story is set at a crossroads  in the medieval age. The story is about movement.

*******

It happened every time! Just as he jumped down from the wagon, someone went by and splashed filth that soaked his trousers and shoes. The smell was particularly odious today or maybe it was just the fact that fresh horse dung now covered him from his toes to mid-thighs. It would have been less of an issue at the end of the day, but his day was just beginning and he was supposed to meet the Abbott this morning. He could hardly go calling at the monastery in his current state. Although Heaven knows the Abbott must have encountered worse things in his work it was hardly the impression Karl wanted to give.

So he stood there with the fecal matter slowly sliding down his legs debating how to handle the situation. And was nearly run over by the next wagon going through the crossroads. He was splashed with more filth, this time reaching his tunic, shoulder bag and even a small dab on his cheek. Startled, he finally had the sense to step back from the intersection. Seeing a tree on one corner, he headed there to consider his predicament.

He pulled his satchel open and dug to see if he had anything with which to wipe himself. Finding nothing useful, he sat down under the tree disheartened. How could he face the Abbott? If he didn’t appear as promised, the Abbott might not grant him an audience. If he didn’t get an audience with the Abbott, Karl would not get access to the monastery library, which held manuscripts going back to the founding of the monastery and older. Karl had looked forward to this day since he was a young lad. He had learned from the priest in his local village that the monastery library held documents older than the priest, older than the oldest person in the village and he had been filled with wonder. What would such documents look like? What languages were they written in? The priest had taught him Greek and Latin, so he hoped that he would be able to read at least some of them. What secrets would they reveal? He had prayed fervently for the day he would be old enough and learned enough that the priest would give him a letter of recommendation. That day had finally arrived and he was covered in horse manure. He was cursed!

As he sat there “bemoaning his outcast state” he failed to notice the appearance of a young woman at his side until she spoke.

“You appear to be in dire need of a new set of trousers,” she remarked.

“You are correct and unless you happen to have one, I would appreciate being left to my misery,” he replied.

“Well, then today Providence appears to have smiled on you.”

At that comment, Karl raised his head to appraise his companion.

A beautiful young woman smiled and held a pair of clean trousers toward him. Astonished he rose to his feet and tentatively reached toward her offering. She did not flinch and relinquished the cloth when he had grasped it firmly. She nodded toward a wagon parked behind the tree. “You can change back there. Then we will see what we can do to clean the rest of your person.”

Still taken aback by her offer, he paused walking toward the wagon, “What can I offer in exchange? I do not have much money, although you are welcome to what I have.”

She smiled again. “I am not asking for your money, although coins are always useful.”

“Then what can I give you?”

“You are going to the monastery, are you not?”

“That is correct… how did you…”

“You will visit the library, will you not?”

“That is my fervent hope, although I haven’t met…”

She interrupted him again, “Then you will bring me knowledge.”

“But I…”

“The library holds many documents. Some are very old. You will ask to view these documents. One of them is the Scroll of Diana. You will not be able to read it. So you will copy the symbols you find. On each visit, you will copy another set of symbols and bring them to me. Be certain to copy them exactly as they appear and in the same order.”

“But how…”

“It is not necessary for you to understand everything. As a woman, you know I am not allowed in the monastery. Yet, that document was written by a woman and intended for women. The information the scroll contains is of no value to you nor to the monks who added it to their collection, except as a trophy of ancient writing.”

“Goddess knows I would give much more than this pair of trousers to see the scroll with my own eyes. Since that is unlikely in the present circumstance, your eyes will have to serve mine.”

“Now move quickly, or you will not catch the Abbott when he is in his best temper.”

She pushed him toward the wagon with the trousers. He obeyed and exchanged his filthy pair for the clean ones she had given him. He tied his belt and headed back toward her. She had a damp rag in her hand with which she wiped his face, his tunic, his bag and finally his shoes.

“There! You are once again presentable. Now hurry! You must catch him while he is holding audience.”

Karl headed down the road toward the monastery and then looked back. “How will I find you?”

“In the same manner which we met today.”

“Will you at least tell me your name?”

“Sylvine,” she smiled. “Now go!”

Karl reached the monastery within the hour and was pleased to find the Abbott still receiving petitions. He presented the letter and voiced his request to be allowed access to the library. The Abbott was in a pleasant mood and seeing a potential candidate, granted Karl’s request. Then, putting his arm out in a gesture of welcome, he announced, “I will escort you there myself.”

Surprised by his offer, Karl almost refused, and then thinking better, accepted the Abbott’s invitation. Karl followed him down a long hallway to a large armored wooden door with heavy locks. In front of the door, the Abbott whispered to a friar perched at a small desk. The friar looked at Karl and nodded to the Abbott, then gestured for Karl to approach.

“Brother Hermann has taken a vow of silence as part of his penance,” the Abbott noted for Karl’s benefit.

The monk slid off his stool and pulled a large keyring from his robes. Starting at the top of the door, he systematically began unlocking all of the locks. When he had finished he stepped aside and pulled the door open. The Abbott bowed slightly and ushered Karl into the most beautiful place he had ever seen. The air was dry and smelled of leather and must. The light was subtle and Karl noted that none of the shelves were in direct sunlight. It reflected into the room from the clerestory windows.

“So, my child, what were you hoping to see here?”

“Father Abbott, if I might beg your indulgence. I would like to see some of the oldest  manuscripts.”

“Ah! My child, you know that they are written in ancient languages. Something recent would be more accessible… “

Karl stopped him with a gesture, “Father Abbott, I have been studying Latin and Greek. And I had hoped that even if I didn’t understand everything, that perhaps I might glean something of value by seeing the old things.”

The Abbott was in a good mood, and assented. “Very well my son. We will go to the section with the  oldest scrolls. You must be careful with them for they are quite delicate and will tear easily.”

“Yes, Father Abbott. I understand.”

When they reached the bins holding the scrolls, Karl could not hide his amazement. “They are indeed old, Father Abbott. Thank you kindly for your generosity.  But I should not keep you from your duties.”

“It is my pleasure, my child. I can remain to assist you.”

“Certainly, you must be very busy and Brother Hermann can assist me.”

“It gives an old man comfort to see one such as yourself expressing an interest in our library. Very well. I am working on a translation and will be just over there,” as he pointed to an alcove with a high desk and stool. “When you want to look at a scroll, carry it carefully to a table before attempting to unroll it.”

“Yes, Father Abbott. Thank you, Father Abbott.”

There were so many scrolls, and Karl was excited to touch them all. Then he remembered the young woman’s request and began to search among the scrolls. He carried one after another to the table, unrolled them slightly and then carefully rerolled them and returned them when he realized they were not what he was seeking.

The Abbott noted his diligence and frequent trips back and forth, so paused in his task. “My child, what is it you seek? You do not seem to be satisfied with any of them.”

Startled, Karl hesitated. Should he ask the Abbott for the Scroll of Diana?

“I was looking for some ancient Roman text to see how well my Latin might fare.”

“Then the Marcellinus you pulled and put back should have been an adequate test.”

“Of course, Father Abbott. My apologies for disturbing you.”

The Abbott returned to his work. Karl continued his search more quietly, spending slightly longer with each scroll so that he did not attract the Abbott’s attention. He had reviewed two dozen when he saw it. Smaller than the others it had fallen to the bottom of the bin. It appeared to be more ornate with gilt handles and neatly trimmed edges. He reached for it gently and cradled it to the table. As he began to unroll it he noted it was more beautiful than anything he had seen. There were delicate engravings in the margins. This must be the scroll Sylvine was describing. He searched through his satchel for his copybook and a  quill. As she had requested, he started to copy the symbols he found, and then realized he did not know whether one would read them across or down, left to right or right to left? So he decided he would copy the symbols as if they were in a table. That way, Sylvine would be able to rearrange them or read them in whichever order was necessary.

Karl became absorbed in his efforts and did not hear the Abbott’s stool scrape on the stone floor. He started when the Abbott’s hand landed on his shoulder.

“I beg your pardon, Father Abbott.”

“My child, you are quite good as an amanuensis. Brother Hermann will be jealous. You have really captured the text well.”

“Thank you, Father Abbott.”

“Would you like to return another day to continue? Perhaps you can copy some things for me.”

Karl did not disguise his pleasure at the invitation. “Oh yes, Father Abbott! I would gladly return and even more gladly provide my services to you.”

“Very well! Please return tomorrow morning and report to Brother Hermann directly.”

“Thank you very kindly for your generosity, Father Abbott.”

Karl left the monastery walking on air and made his way back to the crossroads to share the good news with Sylvine.

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.

Short Story – The Guardian

Story prompt:  The story’s protagonist is female and a guardian. A light plays a significant part in the story. The story is set at a crossroads in ancient times. The story is about illness..

*******

The wait seemed interminable. She had been charged with her burden for centuries. In that time, nothing much had changed, or so it seemed to her. She watched the people come and go. They could not see her, and if they could, they did not see her. A woman was still an invisible thing. A possession at best. A burden most of the time. She was chosen for her inconspicuous nature.

And her innate talents. Invisibility was the most notable of her skills. The rest were less called upon. She could bedazzle and confuse. She could divert and distract. And she could eliminate a threat if needed without calling attention to herself or to the object she guarded.

Day after day, Year after year. Century after century. She waited. She was charged with protection and must remain at her post until she was discharged and replaced by another like herself or it became no longer necessary to protect it. She wondered which would come first. She had been chosen and sent to discharge the previous guardian by taking her place. She did not know what happened to her predecessor. When she appeared at the appointed place, the other acknowledged her presence, saluted and disappeared.

It was a good thing she was patient. And immortal. The object she protected gave off light which provided sustenance to the guardian. She did not age as humans do. She had no need for food. She used the light to create shadows. The object itself could not be moved. It had been placed there so long ago that no one remembered who had made it much less how it came to be there. The crossroad in front of her was much newer although she had diverted it from being square in order to protect her charge. And she regularly had to push away inebriated men who wandered too close. They never knew what happened. They would be stumbling in one direction and next they knew they were stumbling in another. She used the shadows to make the place inhospitable, so no one in their right mind approached it. She could cause shivering and invoke ghost bumps in anyone who even looked in her direction, so most would hurry on after a single glance.

Until today. He was persistent, this one. And he was not under the influence of alcohol or other substances. Which meant it was a little more difficult to push him off. She tried her usual tactics. She lobbed flashes of light in the opposite direction. She resisted him when he attempted to walk straight. Although he did not seem to see her, he seemed to be determined to walk toward the object.

She blew cold wind and made him shiver. He shivered and came forward. She attempted to induce fear. He felt it only for a moment and pushed on.

She put up a wall. He pushed against it. Felt its height. Tried to ascertain its width. Stood back to reassess and pushed again. He was very strong. She could feel his resolution. The force behind him. He wanted to come in and he was aiming for the object she guarded! I

n the millennia she had been there, no one had attempted deliberate entry. This was uncalled for… She did not want to eliminate him. He was young and strong. It would be a waste to take his life force. She did not like waste. And she did not want to use her powers now.

She walked through the wall and appeared beside him as an old woman.

“Young man, will you take a moment to assist your old mother?” She tugged on his sleeve.

He glanced at her, “Not now old woman!” and shook her off.

She morphed into a beautiful young woman in the attire of the harem and tried again.

“Master, please assist me” she pleaded coyly as she stroked his back.

For a moment, he hesitated. “Please return to your master. I do not have time to dally with you.” And he turned back to the wall.

Her resources depleted, she disapparated and returned through the wall. As passersby started to notice him, she thoughtfully disguised him by placing another wall behind him. This was going to take some time.

She reappeared in front of him in her current form. She was taller than him and in the garb of the guardian she was an imposing figure. He stopped probing the wall when he saw her. “Please let me in!”

“No one enters.”

“I must enter.”

“Why do you wish entry?”

“I must enter.”

“That is not sufficient validation to support your request.”

Realizing she would not bend, he dropped to his knees. “I am begging you, please let me in.”

“Again, you have not provided justification for me to disregard my duty. No one enters.”

“But you can let me in…”

“I cannot. To do so would violate my oath and the trust placed in me.”

“He never told me there would be a guardian.”

“That is not my concern.”

“There must be a password or a code” he muttered to himself. Then to her, “There must be some circumstance under which entry is allowed. Surely, you have gone through the portal?”

“That is not part of my duty. I am here to prevent entry until my replacement arrives.”

“That’s it! I could be your replacement. So you need to let me in.”

“Unlikely. All the guardians are emissaries of the Goddess.”

“That’s it! I am here on behalf of the High Priestess of She-lor.”

“State your business.”

“My grandmother has sent me. The Temple has been desecrated. The priestesses are dying. Someone must go through the portal to obtain the wisdom to heal them and return the Temple to the Goddess.”

“And why would they send you? You are not an emissary of the Goddess.”

“Because I am the only one strong enough to go through the portal and return. My grandmother, Hel-es-ia, consulted the ancient texts. The Armageddon is upon us. She told me to find the portal and gave me this location. I have instructions to enter the portal and go to the Pleiades, to Maia. There I will locate the Temple and ask for the wisdom as foretold in the ancient texts.”

“And yet, they did not give you the information necessary to pass by me.”

“My grandmother did not mention any obstacle to entering the portal.”

“She did not read carefully then. Surely she must know that no one enters?”

“She gave me this medallion to exchange when I arrived at my destination.” And from a pouch around his neck he pulled an ancient coin.

At the site of the gold piece, she dropped to her knees and bowed her head. “Holy Mother! I am at your service.”

“You will let me enter?”

“Yes. Come quickly. I must cover your entrance.”

She let down the wall between them, still keeping the wall behind him in place.

“Wait! I must create a diversion.”

“Why?”

“The portal is very loud and bright when it is opened, so I must create a ruse of light and sound to distract any passersby from learning of its existence.”

She raised her arms to the heavens and called forth a thunderstorm from a cloudless sky. The people near the crossroads heard the distant rumble of thunder and hurried to reach their destinations. When the storm was in full effect, she gestured to him to go behind her. As he passed her he saw a bright light and heard the roar of swirling space and time. With a small gesture of thanks, he stepped into the abyss. The portal closed behind him. The storm gradually abated.

The guardian resumed her post.

*******

With thanks for the story prompt to The Speculative Fiction Muse http://www.katfeete.net/writing/specfic.php

And to my writing partners, Mary C Sutton and D Anthony Brown danthonybrown.me for the support and the laughs.

What do you think? Did I honor the spirit or the letter of the writing prompt? Enter your thoughts in comments below.