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Nothing was brighter.

That had never been explicitly promised. But, somehow, I had expected it anyway.

And I was alone. I knew everyone was waiting for me, at the other end of the valley. We would celebrate. All I wanted to do was sleep but I couldn’t. I had to get to them before night fell. At least then I might have help building the fire and making dinner. It wouldn’t all be on me.

I began to unbuckle my armour and let it slide off, clattering to the ground. My clothes were stiff with dried sweat and I noticed how bad I smelled. There were scratches and blisters on my skin, a couple of burns. They would heal, I hoped. I gently stretched. I felt heavy even without the armour.

My mother would have salve with her I was sure of it. My father would give me an appraisal and a pat on my aching shoulder. He’d probably laugh when I winced. I wanted him there to do that now.

I looked back over my shoulder at the huge maze I had just completed, the top of the ladder reaching up from the trench, my last climb to freedom. I could feel the dirt under my finger nails and the built-up grime from the…how long had I been in there?

Running my tongue over my teeth I felt the build-up of fuzz. A long time then. I closed my eyes and I breathed in deep. The air out here, on a gentle breeze, was fresher than the loamy, still air I had just left. It filled my lungs and I felt my chest expand almost painfully as I stretched myself out to take in as much as I could.

When I opened my eyes, nothing had changed. The sky wasn’t bluer nor the grass greener. The sun was shining but there were grey clouds rolling over head.

Hmm. It might even rain later.

I remembered the lead up to the maze. It had been the only choice I could make at the time, but it still felt as if there must have been another choice, somewhere, that I could have made. I just needed to find it.

Having suffered through it I was standing here on the other side and I suddenly realised how the world didn’t look any different. Why should it though, I had been fighting to get back here after all. It was the world I wanted to get to. Wasn’t it?

I looked at where I had just been and then in the direction I was headed. I glanced down at my armour. I still had to carry that with me. I didn’t want to lose it, I had fought hard to earn it. Surely it would be good for something in the future. Nothing hard won was ever a waste.

Piece by piece with stiff, cracked fingers I put the armour back on. It covered the bruises and cuts and kept some of the smell encased. That would be good as I travelled. I tested how fast I could walk. Not too fast.

Once it was all back on I set my gaze on my destination. Once I was there, with my family and friends, I would be able to rest. Possibly.

Well, maybe not right away.

But it would happen. I just had to get there first.

I had survived the maze. But I still had a way to go. I put one foot in front of the other and started walking.

I still couldn’t believe the world didn’t seem brighter. It was the same world I had left when I went into the maze. I was just on the other side.

 

Image from pixabay.com and used under Creative Commons

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Wolves of Sorrow

 

The chalice rested on the stone plinth between them. She took a sip first. Once she’d placed it back down he picked it up and sipped. Some of it dribbled down his chin. As he caught the droplets on his newly smooth skin she caught the drop rolling down the side of the hammered pewter.

“Thanks,” he said, watching her check none had been spilled. She only nodded. She hadn’t spoken since they had entered. He wasn’t sure if it was some sort of reverence. There was no rule saying they couldn’t speak, he had asked. That had raised, well, it couldn’t raise eyebrows. The monks had none to raise. As supplicants neither did they anymore. His legs felt strange without any hair. Like his wife’s on their wedding night. Sweat beaded on his head. He knew it was going to roll into his eyes. He looked down at the long muslin tunic he had on.

“If you want to wipe your head with it you can.” He flinched when she spoke. “I’m sure the monks have seen much worse than sweat stains.” He pushed aside where that comment took his imagination and used the hem.

“I was more concerned with how you would feel.” She shrugged. He glanced at the entrance to their cavern. The byre was just inside, keeping them warm and able to see. He wondered if it was replenished during their vigil or if it was left to burn out. He checked the ceiling to see if any small creatures lived up there. She stood up and began to stroll around, stretching her arms out and rolling her shoulders. He sucked in a breath and glanced at the entrance again.

“Shouldn’t you sit down?”

“Hmmm?” She placed her hands on the wall, sliding them with fingers splayed, across the surface. She moved along the wall around the front of the cavern then came back towards him, her eyes closed.

“You’re going to trip over something. What if you hurt yourself? Will you have to start again? I don’t know the way out of here to get you help.” She smiled but continued back and forth.

“The only thing I could trip over is you.” He crossed his arms and shifted on his seat. A painful tingling began in his toes then moved to his heels, up to his ankle. Looking down he couldn’t see anything but would have sworn that it felt like insects biting him. He brushed his hands over his bare feet and winced as the pain was momentarily stronger. She opened her eyes at some noise he must have made and came to him, hands outstretched.

“Come over here.” He shook his head, hands holding the stone plinth rigidly.

“It’s better over here, I promise.” She prised the fingers of one hand off, then the other, slowly pulling him to his feet. He hissed at the pain in his legs and wondered if there were tiny insects they hadn’t been warned about. She pulled him closer to the byre. She twirled around like when she had danced as a young girl. The hem of her tunic swept closer to the byre. He reached for the hem, grabbing her to hold her still as he looked for flames catching the material. When he found no sparks, he checked for smoke marks.

“You shouldn’t dance so close to the fire.” He knelt, still checking. She stopped trying to dance and laid herself across his back.

“You always look out for me.”

“I have to,” he grunted. She was heavy on his back, he could feel the strain on his knees.

“That’s not true.” She sighed and it felt like she became heavier. “You didn’t have a very good example either.” As he tried to push her up movement from the entrance caught his attention. He was half grateful for some help and half expecting a reprimand, but it wasn’t one of the monks. It was a large grey wolf. It looked between the two of them. He couldn’t breathe. She whispered a soft “oh” and the wolf looked at her.

“Don’t move,” he replied but she was shifting and suddenly sliding off his back. As she landed she didn’t appear to try and break her fall. One hand was stretching out towards the wolf. The wolf dipped its head and stepped closer.

“No, no.” He grabbed her arm and dragged her up off the floor. She ended up kneeling but sank into a sitting position. He went to grab her under her arms and stumbled. He couldn’t feel his legs. The wolf was stepping closer. Another had entered the cavern behind the first. He put his arms around her, pulling her back and flipping them over. He realised as he did so that he couldn’t feel his fingers anymore. She was limp in his arms. He tried to drag his legs over hers and covered as much of her body with his own as possible.

The soft scuff of paws on the sandy floor came up on either side of them. He watched as the lead wolf snuffled at his face. It licked him with a tongue that was more rough and dry than he had expected. He felt pressure on his back. One had climbed on top of them. It kneaded his back, testing its weight. He sensed another behind his head, investigating them. The one at his face crouched down and shuffled closer to his sister. A noise erupted from his lips. It was meant to be a shout but he couldn’t move his mouth. The wolf pricked up its ears and flicked a glance at him. But it showed no more concern and its attention was soon back on her. The wolf on his back clambered down to join the lead wolf. Then he felt something on his waist. A nudging, then a scrape of something sharp. The belt around his tunic tightened. The last wolf was pulling him off his sister. He tried and failed to move, another noise coming from his throat. A fourth wolf had joined the group and was laying down along his sister’s side. Once he was several feet away the wolf who had removed him stepped over him, returning to the others. He screamed as best he could, a breathy noise that soon died as he lost control of himself. The wolves all glanced at him. The lead wolf snorted and as one they reached for her with their mouths open. His sight was dim, purple around the edges, getting tighter every second until nothing. The last sound he heard was a wet noise.

 

The next thing he heard was the rustle of material and soft murmuring. His body felt tired but his mind was suddenly clear. He tried to listen for his sister’s morning singing. She usually did it when she thought no-one was listening, so he always stayed in bed a little longer, so he wouldn’t disturb her. But this morning she wasn’t singing. The wolves!

He shot up in bed, gasping. He was in a white tent, the sides billowing gently in and out. He was on a cot high up off the ground. His sister was sitting on a similar cot next to him, feet hanging over the edge, a mug in her hand.

“Hello,” she said brightly. He leapt off his cot and aimed to embrace her but his knees couldn’t support him so instead he grabbed her upper arms and looked her all over. Then he shook her gently.

“Are you hurt?”

“Only from where you dropped me. The sand was only thin on the ground so now I have a bruise the size of a house on my hip.” She held up the mug. “Sweet tea. You need to drink.” Slowly he took it, continually glancing at her trying to see if there were any cuts or nicks on her skin. She was back in her travel clothes. They had been cleaned. “Sorry the tea’s cold. You didn’t wake up as soon as I thought you would.” He barely tasted the tea. Giving her back the empty mug he moved to sit back on his cot. She grabbed his hand and guided him to sit next to her. He realised he was still in his tunic. At his neck was a leather tie with a small remembrance on it of a polished stone wolf. He looked at her. She had a leather tie with two remembrances, one a polished stone wolf too. “They were a gift. I didn’t buy them.”

“Did you know about the wolves?” She shook her head.

“They aren’t what usually appear to help those grieving. The monks said they came for something else.” She gave a small smile. “We’re very lucky to have seen them.” He made a noise that disagreed but weighed the remembrance in his hand. He went to ruffle her hair but patted her instead. His arm draped around her shoulders.

“Would you have come if you had known?” She was playing with the other remembrance. It was some grey fur tied with a thin piece of leather. After a moment, he nodded.

“Yes. Did you get what you needed?” She gazed up at him.

“Yes.” They smiled at each other and it was like seeing her after a long absence. He had missed his older sister. He took her hand and pressed it to his heart.

“Good. Can we please go home now?”

 

 

This was written for the Flash Fiction chllenge Ten More Titles Round Two over on terribleminds.com. The picture is by Sandra Petersen and from Pixabay.com, used under Creative Commons Licence.

The Priceless Cabin Beyond The Water (part 2)

The provost marshal on duty checked the two women out of the Registration building and opened the private entrance. Despite the warning bell getting louder now they were outside, Alessia smiled when she saw Mas waiting. His yellow Lightmans cloak was blackened on one sleeve.

“Set yourself on fire?” He patted the smudge.

“Put one out.” He gave a warm smile for Bailey but Alessia had to take a moment to gather herself. The bells had only started a few minutes before she left. The damage to his sleeve was from something that hadn’t reached the main authorities. Mas caught her staring and shook his head almost imperceptibly over Baileys head. He kept up light amusing conversation for the girl as he and Alessia escorted her home. Bailey lived on the outskirts of town and it was almost dark by the time they watched her enter her home. Even in the twilight Alessia could see plumes of smoke dissipating.

The bell finally stopped. It didn’t relieve her because she knew it would ring again tomorrow or even tonight. It was the fifteenth bell this week and they were becoming more frequent. Mas held out his hand to steady her on a loose rock but didn’t let go once she took it. Alessia squeezed so hard she was convinced it must hurt. He made no comment.

As they reached her house she heard raised voices inside. She stopped at the gate and took a moment to look at the sky.

“I’ll say goodnight here,” Mas murmured. Giving him a tired smile she leant into him, his arms wrapping around her. Glass shattered inside. She turned her face into his chest and sighed. Mas rubbed her shoulder.

“I’ll see you in the morning,” she said. He opened his mouth to speak but a shout from inside drew her attention. Letting go she walked to the door. Just before she opened it she watched Mas walk to the end of her street. At the corner he stopped, turning to make sure she had gone in. She still remembered the way her face had heated when she noticed he did that. Now, as well as making sure she went in, he blew her a kiss. She waved and entered the house just as another door in the house slammed. Her Father was at the table holding himself up.

“Is he still here?” she asked. Her Father jumped at her voice and spun away but it was too late to hide the wetness on his face. Moving to him she held his arms to steady him. His bowed spine meant he was now shorter than her. His hand covered hers and tried to push her away.

“You haven’t forgotten what today is?” he asked.

“No, Father.”

“I don’t understand why it must be dragged out so. The boat arrives the same time every day. Why could I not have gone-”

“It’s for your own safety, Father. Once it’s past curfew…” she guided him to a chair by the fire. She heard a sniffle and pushed a handkerchief into his clenched fist.

“I know my darling.” He sighed. “It’s just so hard on you and Isaac.”

“No, Father. It’s not hard on me.” She made him a cup of tea and tried not to linger while she made it. “I can’t speak for Isaac. But don’t travel beyond the water thinking I struggled with it.” She sat at his feet with her own tea as he blew on his. After a moment, she put a hand on his knee.

“Tell me a story of Mother.” With a weak smile, and a sigh, he did. She leant her head on him and listened to his voice.

A soft knock on the door eventually interrupted them. The Lightmen she let in were wearing dark cloaks over their ochre ceremonial robes. She helped get her Father ready for the cold as their lead man ran through the order of events. They asked him some questions to make sure he understood as Alessia checked the house for Isaac. When she returned alone her Father nodded.

Past curfew they had to walk in silence so they attracted less attention. Alessia saw lit candles in darkened windows of some of the houses, the only well wishes that could be made. Her Fathers hand clutched her arm. His grip was weak, his pace slow but steady. She covered his hand with her own and felt the slight tremble of thin muscle under his papery skin. She caught him looking at her from under his hood and tried to give him a reassuring smile. The closer they got to the dock the stronger the smell of smoke. They heard voices and one of their escort motioned them to wait. He went ahead to investigate. She looked around. All the houses were dark here. One had thick black smoke marks rising from empty doors and windows.

Soon they were moving onto the shore and the docks came into view. A line of Lightmen guarded it, their robes bleached white by the moon. The gentle lapping of the water was matched by the sound of wood bumping against wood. The boat was moored. Her Father stumbled on the uneven ground. She went to catch him but one of their Lightmen held him up. The sleeve of his ceremonial robe peeked out from his cloak and she saw a familiar smoke mark on it.

“Mas?”

“You didn’t think I’d miss your Fathers departure.”

She tried to smile but her face was so cold it barely moved so squeezed his arm too. Mas took her Fathers weight allowing her to hold his hand. The sound of a wave rushing towards them had her looking over the water. A warning cry came from a Lightman as she realised it was the sound of people running down the beach. The line of Lightmen raised their arms, bows in hand and pointed over her head. She and Mas dragged her Father forward as he cried out in alarm. She stumbled on the sand and pitched towards the line. Hands grabbed her and forced her the rest of the way. Behind the line, she turned to see a crowd closing on the dock, some carrying torches.

“Alessia!” she recognized her Fathers voice and moved. She felt slow and useless, like running through water. Mas was heading onto the pier but her Fathers hand was outstretched towards her. She reached for him. His grip was so tight it was like he was a younger man again. She soothed him and whispered in his ear, reminding him of the cabin and that she would meet him there one day. With Mas helping to carry him, they headed along the pier.

She could hear orders being shouted, the thrum of bow strings releasing. Another Lightman ahead of them held the boat steady and they helped her Father in. Alessia lay herself down on the pier so she could keep hold of his hands. The warning bell rang out drowning out everything else. Her Father looked up at her, not out to the water as she would have expected. His face looked ghostly in the moonlight.

“What if your brother is right?” he cried.

“He’s not,” she replied and gripped his hand harder. His was just as strong. She felt his fear through their hands and knew it was up to her to let go. She clambered forward with her elbows so her Father could hear over the noise.

“Do you remember when Isaac was little? He asked you to write us a letter telling us what the cabin is like when you get there?” He nodded. “You will need both hands to write.” His smile quivered but he nodded again. They let go at the same time and she was sure he mouthed that he loved her. She watched until he turned to look into the fog.

The same moment the sounds on the beach broke through to her. Yelling had turned to screaming and acrid smoke smothered her. Mas dragged her up. The pier was on fire, their exit blocked. The other choice was deep black water. Mas took her hand and with a nod from her they jumped.

Her skin stung everywhere the water touched and her lungs felt like they were burning. For a moment, she thought she was on fire anyway. The current was strong and dragged her. Terrified she would be carried away from shore she thrashed. It took her a few moments to realise it was Mas pulling her through the water. He was heading further out and away from the riot. She needed air and tried to swim to the surface. He pulled her down again but she yanked her hand out of his and broke free. She could see muted light and headed for it. Her face broke the surface and she gasped in air. Water landed in her open mouth and she choked. She tried to cough it out but couldn’t find the surface again. Her sight was blurring and she knew it was tears as well. Kicking hard she breached the surface and swiped at her face. She was out of the water and sucked carefully through her lips but this time it was only air. Hands grabbed her from behind. She shrieked and beat her fists against her attacker. Her hands became tangled in clothing and they wrapped their arms around her. Their heads pressed together as she struggled Alessia finally heard Mas’ voice.

“It’s me! It’s me.” It was his cloak she was battling with. Balling her hands around what material she could find she pulled him closer. He pulled her back until she was lying on his chest, her face uplifted to the sky. It was easier to breath without the water crushing her chest. There was a flickering light. Turning to look she could see the entire dock was on fire. She knew Mas was watching too. She could see people running away and black clad bodies lying on the gold sand.

“Do you think the current will take us to the cabin?” she asked,

“It’s not that strong,” Mas answered and began to swim them to the shore.

 

 

Alessia dried her hair in front of the fire as Mas made tea. She had given him some of her Fathers clothes to change into and she couldn’t watch him like she usually did. Isaac was still not home. Despite being out of the water for a while her hands were still cold. She held them closer to the fire. She was startled when Mas covered her hands with his own and drew them back.

“You’ll get chilblains.”

“I know,” she sighed and took a cup from him. He settled on the floor next to her and took the blanket she offered. “I just can’t get warm.” Putting his cup down, Mas put her free hand between his and rubbed gently. There were occasional shouts in the distance. She tensed at every one. A board creaked outside and her head went up, looking at the front door expectantly. When it didn’t open, she turned back to the fire.

“I’m sure Isaac is safe.” Mas leaned loser with a smile of encouragement. She didn’t look up. “He’s a smart boy.” Alessia drew her hand back and wrapped the blanket closer.

“He’s not a boy. And he is smart. Which is why I’m so worried.”

“It’s a fad. Many of the youngest ones go through it.”

“In Botown’s history there has never been so much violence. And it’s not like there are missing records. I know. I checked. There’s no cover up, no conspiracy…” She sighed and slumped over. “I just wanted my Father safe.” Mas placed an arm round her shoulders and pulled her closer. She turned her face into his chest and let herself breath him in. The clothes smelled of her Father and of Mas. She had never felt so comforted.

A creak of a board and a stern knock had the pair of them leaping away from each other. When Mas opened the door for her several Lightmen were outside. They were carrying a stretcher, a cloak covering the head and shoulders. As a Lightman read her the charges against Isaac, and the punishment they had meted out, she stepped closer to the body. Her Fathers ring was on his finger. She removed it and looked at the blood speckled hand. The Lightman finished. In the silence the stretcher bearers swayed from foot to foot. Pale grey light was moving across them as dawn broke.

“Are there any charges being brought against myself? As his sister?”

“No, milady. It was clear that you were not mixed up with him and his…cohorts.”

“Then you can take him away and bury him with the other criminals.”

“Alessia-” Mas stepped forward and reached for her. She moved away from his outstretched hand and went inside. She returned with his still damp cloak and uniform, handing it over without meeting his gaze.

“I want all of you gone before my neighbour’s wake. I have no family now.” With that she turned and closed the door.

 

 

Picture used under Creative Commons Licence from Pixabay.com.

https://pixabay.com/en/inferno-bonfire-burn-flames-light-423408/

 

Door Ways

brown-20831_1280Every time Dee heard the kitchen door crack against its frame she looked up expectantly. It was loose in it’s frame,  the draft pulling it back and forth. It was years since a Door had appeared to her but this morning….she shook her head. She must have dreamt about it and the leftover tension was wearing. Turning back to the fruit on her board she continued chopping. Laughter from the play area  across the road came through the open window. It sounded like her girl. A glance instead showed her Cosima was sitting on a swing leaning forward, watching the other children with a furrowed brow. She had been quiet all morning and repeated attempts to engage her had led to an abrupt announcement that she was going out to play. Dee had been so surprised she let her go with no more questions. Now she was finding reasons to stand at the kitchen window and watch. Looking down at all of the fruit and vegetables she had now chopped up Dee put the knife down. Cosima was probably just reacting to her. She’d been jumpy all day. Despite knowing it wasn’t going to happen she still had this…she could only describe it as somewhere between an itch and a headache. Every time she had touched a door handle today she had held her breath. Looking at the kitchen door a final time she turned back to the chopping board. She would make a fruit salad for dessert. That would use up all this fruit.

The chicken she put in an oven dish with the vegetables looked as pale as the chicken Cosimas father, Dorian, had been served in hospital. It was like it had been boiled. It fell apart easily enough but smelled like plastic. He had joked that he didn’t have a sense of taste anymore so what did it matter. She had laughed for his sake. Cosima had slept silently on her lap, the beeping machines lulling Dee to sleep as well. She had dreamed that Dorian had forgiven her. When she had asked what for he had shown her the first wedding ring she had ever worn. With the feeling of falling she had woken to find he had passed in his sleep. Instead of just grieving she had felt angry. She had no reason to feel guilty or be forgiven but on the day he was buried and Cosima had gripped her hand painfully she thought maybe there was.

Feeling tears coming she clamped her eyes shut until it passed. The counsellor had told her to think of happier times, good memories. The problem was all the good memories led to the final thought that he was dead. That didn’t bring her any comfort. Instead she had begun to think about life before him. When the Doors had appeared to her.

Her friends had been so jealous. But they couldn’t pass through. Adults couldn’t either. She remembered being so scared. There were stories of some never returning, being eaten by monsters or kidnapped by mercenaries on the other side. But her mother had dismissed those stories. Why would people make up such fibs, she would ask. And who exactly is bringing the stories back if they never return? With a Traveller’s survival pack her parents had purchased off the internet she had ventured alone through her first Door. Like many other people who went through the Doors, she didn’t tell much of what happened to her parents. It starts to fade for some after a while, especially the ones who went when very young. Too many memories for the brain to handle, doctors thought. And as you grow up again they get replaced with memories from your Stationary life.

There was a support group but Dee had stopped going. They spent so much time trying to keep hold of the memories. She hadn’t wanted to forget, precisely, but she didn’t fear it. Some memories she would be happy to  live without, just dumb luck which ones stayed.

She thought of the house she and Marl had lived in. She had chosen the wallpaper for the front room. And Marl had painted a mural on one wall. It had reminded her of the field near her parents house, when summer turned to autumn. The humidity changing to crisp decay and cool breezes. That had been the only time she had felt homesick. Marl had held her then, warm and safe. They continued to travel together, always returning to their house. Doors had stopped appearing. They got married.  She knew then why people made up awful stories about children who never returned. It hurt those left behind to think their children didn’t want to come back.

That was the real reason she couldn’t go to the support group anymore. Those Traveller’s had searched for a way home. Trying every door in every building in the hope one led back, sometimes years of searching. Dee had been happy in both worlds but deep inside her she had made the decision to stay. Marl had been her reason. He touched her as if she was actually alive. True she was only a child with her parents and first love is powerful, but the life they had built still felt like it was more real than the dream she had returned to.  She still wasn’t sure why. So while the others tried to remember their time away, feeling guilty for spending most of it trying to return, Dee felt guilty for wishing to stay and hoped to forget.

The front door slamming shut made her jump.

“Cosima?” she called.

“I’m going to the garden, Mum!” The back door slammed.

She thought of other children, her and Marl’s, slamming doors and running around the house. Marl would yell at them because he was more worried about the floor getting dirty than she was. It annoyed him when she laughed at their unruliness. But it reminded her of him when they first met. She had never told him but, after making the decision to remain, every door she opened she hesitated before going through. Even when Doors stopped, as she must have grown too old for it, still she would pause. That last day was sunny and hot. Her hair was wet and water droplets ran down the back of her shirt, Marl was yelling at the kids as they ran through the house still revved up from swimming outside. She was laughing, turning to look at him as she walked into the bedroom. The air felt cold and dry. Marls face changed. She looked around to find herself in her parents kitchen and realised she was back to the same height as when she left.  Looking up through the Doorway as Marl realised what was happening she reached her hand for him but the Door slammed closed.

Her mother heard her scream and found her crying on the floor. Her parents mistook her distress for some horrific event on the other side. They took her to the hospital to make sure she wasn’t injured. For years she saw psychologists and eventually ended up in group support. To her parents it had been merely days. It never occurred that the horror was seeing them.

Stationary life continued. Education, work, marriage and a child. Sickness and grief. This time she had something other than memories to live with. She heard the back door open.

“Mum?”

“In the kitchen.”

“Mum!”

A thrill of panic went through her. Clutching the knife she dashed into the hallway, Cosima stood at the other end and in between them were several Doorways that had not been there before. Dee held her hand up indicating for her daughter to wait. Trying hard not to let her hand tremble she opened the first Door. A damp heat rolled out and a cacophony of tropical birdsong. Eyeing her little girl who seemed on the verge of tears she shook her head. Closing the first Door, she continued down the hall, dripping knife in hand. A gust of frigid wind and the blast of salt water from the second had Dee slamming the Door before it was fully open. The third and last was nearest to Cosima.

“Third time lucky,” she reassured her. Cosima tried and failed to smile. Taking a deep breath Dee turned the handle. A warm golden glow emanated from it. Peeking inside Dee saw a study and heard the murmur of voices. As she opened the Door wider Cosima came closer, holding onto her mother’s leg like she had when she was younger. They waited. The voices stopped. Two men stepped into view. One was elderly with snowy, clean cut hair and a sprightly gait. The other was middle aged but slim. The twin looks of shock upon their faces were nothing she was sure to the look on hers.

“Ma?” the younger man said. Dee kept looking at the older man. Marls eyes were still that amazing pale blue but they had the same regret she saw in the mirror each day.

“Is that…you?” Looking at her eldest son she smiled.

“Yes, my darling. I’m so sorry I’ve been away for so long.”

“We’re…the same age?”

“I know.” She looked at Marl again. “This is Cosima. She’s my daughter.” He nodded in understanding and she wished she could explain further. His hand twitched and she saw a different wedding ring on his hand. She hiccoughed as laughter bubbled out along with her tears. Dee cleared her throat and knelt down to Cosima.

“This is Marl and his son. They are very, very special friends of mine. They’ll help you.”

“Ok.”

“And I want you to know something very important. They’ll remind you if you forget.” She looked at them and the men nodded. “If you need to stay, that’s alright, my darling. You be happy. Just be careful and always look before you step through. You understand?” Cosima nodded. Dee pulled her in and gave her a hard hug as she looked up at her other family. In that exchange of glances she realised how different their lives could have been. With a kiss to Cosima’s temple she smiled brightly at her daughter and let her step through. She watched as her children held hands. Cosima waved goodbye, a genuine smile creeping onto her face. Then she and Marl were left. He put his hand out but it was held back as if a pane of glass separated them. She placed her palm to his and imagined his warmth. He cried too. A creaking broke the silence and the Door began to close on her. Reluctantly she stepped away. She held his gaze as long as possible. Then the Door was gone.

Her ears rang in the silence. Then the sound of children playing filtered through the window. She looked down at the knife in her hand.

 

 

This story was part of the Pick Three Sentences challenge set by Chuck Wendig over at his blog terribleminds.com. Last week everyone had to write one sentence. This week we had to pick three that suggested a story to us. I chose the following:

1) He touched her as if she was actually alive. By Jezebel.

2) In that exchange of glances she realised how different their lives could have been. By Ita.

3) Closing the first door, she continued down the hall, dripping knife in hand. By Ila Turner.

The picture is used under Creative Commons, taken from pixabay.com

And I hope you enjoy the story.

The Priceless Cabin Beyond The Water (part 1)

The peeling paint on the wooden sign told them this was the registration office. Alessa’s father steered her inside, hand on her shoulder. There were other people waiting so they joined the end of the line. She stroked her baby brother Isaac’s head when he stirred in the papoose she wore. The floor was dusty and the windows dim. An old crone with stringy hair was behind the tall desk. Everyone talked in whispers except her. She loudly proclaimed when someone was registered, that the departure date she had given them was not for sale, for swapping and absolutely under no circumstances were they to miss it.
When Alessa and her father reached the desk the crone looked them over and sighed.
“All departees need to be present at registration.” Her father sagged slightly.
“We are.” He gave their names. She presented wooden tokens. Each had a date scratched into it and their names freshly added. They got the same speech about the dates.
“Excuse me?” Alessa stuttered. The crone had to lean forward to see her properly. “What if we die before our date?”
“Then you don’t have to worry about missing it do you? A blacksmith can make it into a metal token if you prefer.”
“For free?”
“No. Next!”
Thoroughly dismissed they made their way back out onto the dirt street. The buildings were nicer here, stone and clay. She had hoped the people would all be nicer too. At the outskirts of town an old man had spat on them and shambled back inside a lean to when asked for directions. They’d carried on in silence. The proprietor of the hostel they’d found had encouraged them to go straight to registration to get earlier dates. Aware the children were tired and hungry, Father had seen to them first.
“Back to the hostel?” She asked.
“No, there is daylight left. We can explore. And if we find anyone hiring a carpenter, all the better.”
“Because carpenters are always useful. That’s why you trained as one.”
“Correct, my darling.” He bestowed a rare smile on her and she felt like she was glowing. “Shall I take Isaac?”
“No, Father. If you need to speak business it will be better without the baby on your front.” He stopped and turned her to face him.
“Was that something your mother told you?” She shook her head. He continued to look at her.
“Yes.” He smiled again but it wasn’t a real one.
“You’re a good girl, Alessa.”
They carried on walking. Mist began to block out the bright sun. He took Alessa’s hand and began walking in the direction the it floated from. He was getting excited and picked up the pace as the mist turned to fog. She could hear voices and a metallic smell hit her nose.
They arrived at the back of some tall buildings. More people were gathering so her Father hoisted her onto his shoulders. Isaac gurgled but other than that was still. She was thankful or Father would have to bring them down again. She could now see a pier jutting out over grey choppy water, a small boat docked at the far end. A woman was being helped in by a broad shouldered man. A cheer went up from the audience.
“It’s a departure!” She yelled.
“I see it, my love!” She felt Father chuckle and he pushed into the throng. A group at the base of the pier were chanting led by a man in robes.
“…be at peace and see her family across the water.
The Gods carry her from toil, her struggle is over.”
A rope barrier prevented the crowd going further. As they got closer and the first roar of the crowd settled, Alessa could hear crying and screaming. A boy was holding the side of the boat. The woman removed his hands as two men picked the child up and held him out of reach. He clawed at the air, trying to reach for the small vessel as it moved away from the dock. The woman blew a final kiss and turned away, facing into the thick fog.
“Look Alessa, it moves without a sail. Or oars.” Her Father’s whisper seemed loud in the sudden quiet. The chanting had stopped. Even the child was silent. Alessa felt her Father’s grip on her legs making them numb. The woman disappeared into the fog. Quicker than it had arrived the fog rolled back into the distance, leaving the water calm and no sign of the boat. A collective sigh rippled through the crowd followed by applause.
As the audience dispersed her Father kept moving forward. When they were no longer surrounded by people he swung her down. She stamped her feet as pins and needles racked her legs. The two men from the dock were unhooking the rope.
“Afternoon,” her Father greeted. They nodded but didn’t speak.
“While waiting I saw there was some wear on the pier. I’d happily fix it for a fair price or is there a master carpenter I could be recommended to?” The men looked at each other and smiled.
“For every citizen who takes the journey…” one said reverently.
“A priceless gift.” The other said with a grin on his face. He clapped her Father on the shoulder.
“The local carpenter departed three days ago. The next day we saw the damage. You have come at a fortuitous moment.” They began to guide him down the pier. He glanced at Alessa who indicated she would stay. With a real smile he carried on. They passed the boy, his feet now dangling over the edge as he stared across the water. Keeping one hand on Isaac she lowered herself next to him. His eyes were red and the streaks down his face were drying.
“They say the land across the water only has one building. A beautiful cabin. But inside is big enough to house everyone and we will all live together with the Gods. But they build it a day at a time which is why only one person can go. Is that true?”
“How should I know?”
“Well, I’m new. We arrived today. You must have lived here a lot longer if your mother has departed. That was your Mother? I thought maybe you’d know.”
He sat up straighter, staring at her and she felt so sad. “The dates they gave to my family are all close together. You’ll be with her soon.” She patted his hand. He got up. He was very tall, probably older than her.
“My mother never registered me. I don’t have a departure date.”

To be continued…

This story is for Toni. She chose the title out of a list I created using the random title generator at http://www.mcoorlim.com/random I first became familiar with this site through Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction challenge at terribleminds.com and led to my first story on here, ‘Two Skulls’. Header image used under Creative Commons, taken from pixabay.com.

I hope you enjoy this story and I’ll post the next part soon.