Journey to Word Mountain

When he arrived after many days, he was hungry, thirsty, and exhausted.

It was still some distance away, but at least within view, and he spoonfed his heart what little hope he was able to convey, since it lifted his spirit to at least be able to see it.

He began thinking about walking the pleasant paths, carefully picking those he wanted; it wouldn’t be that the others were not good, but he would not need them. He lit the fire of his imagination, poured some warm wine into his mouth, found some shade, and took a long, much needed, and peaceful rest, drifting off as the stars peeked at him and the moon rose to put bathe him in its soft, pale lemon light.

In the pleasant cool breeze of the coming morning, amid a raucous chorus of birdsong, he set off for the final leg of his journey.

He would climb to the summit, and from there, be able to pick and choose his next path.

At mid morning, he stopped, not quite believing he’d made it: the mountain was in front of him.

He could see it, feel the wind that emanated from it, see the shadows cast by the rising sun, and his heart swelled within him.

It was nothing short of glorious!

Wanting to gather strength, he ate a light meal, checked the large empty spaces of his bag, and approached the base of the mountain with an almost holy reverence, even as his vision scanned about for the first word.

He saw it, and his heart thrilled. Kneeling to pluck it from the clutches of the tangle surrounding it, he held it up, examined it, and satisfied that it would do, he placed it in his sack.

“Once.”

The next word, being somewhat unusual, took him longer to find, and it was almost noon before he finally saw it. He repeated the morning ritual, and again, the word went into his bag.

“upon”

By the time gathered the other two, ‘a’ and ‘time,’, the sun was going down, and he began to realize

This is not going to be as easy as I first thought.

But he had his opening line….

Night Roads (con’t 2)

We walked back in silence; that is to say, Alazne and I were silent. The thick forest was alive with sounds of the creatures of night, hunting and being hunted, croaking, cricketing, rustling, whooshing, hooting, clicking, buzzing and glimmering.

Alazne knew the way back, with no second guessing. As a tracker and hunter, I was impressed, if a little unnerved. She had advanced skills for someone her age, and I had questions I didn’t want answers to, so I stayed quiet and followed in the wake of light from her lantern.

Walking down the paved path to Amia’s door, my heart began to beat faster, part nervousness, part excitement, and if I had to really analyze it, part fear. It had been years since we were together, and though I had no idea how time had been to her, I knew what it had done to me, and it wasn’t pretty, and it hadn’t been kind.

She sat in the light of a healthy hearth fire, her legs curled under her, her auburn hair gleaming in the firelight. Her evening dress was a sky blue trimmed with dark blue curlicues that ran the length of her sleeves and around her waist.

Fixing her bright green eyes on me, I almost stumbled.

“Haskell, my friend! It is good to see you.”

“Hello, Amia.”

She rose from the chair like a queen about to spit on a peasant’s head, and kissed me lightly on the cheek.

Alazne had made herself disappear; I could tell it was something she had a lot of practice doing.

“Sit, please.” Amia indicated the chair opposite her. I sat, and she poured something into a cup and passed it to me. It was steaming, and smelled like bitten warm plums in high summer.

“The best of Inkara wines.”

“I’ve always liked Inkara.”

“You’ve always had reason to.” She smiled at me, and against my better judgement, I smiled too.

“It’s where we met,” she reminded me.

“How could I forget?”

“If you didn’t forget, why didn’t you come for me?”

“If I’d known you wanted to be found, I would have.”

“You left me, Haskell. I can’t begin to tell you what I needed to do to survive.”

“Do I need to know?”

“You selfish, pigheaded–”
I put the cup on the table next to me, and stood up.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m leaving again. You have no claim on me, Amia, and I’ve none on you. Whatever game you’re playing, I want no part in it. I don’t know how you found me,  I don’t know why you sent a child I don’t know to bring me here, but to invite me here to reprimand me because I’m not a mind reader–”

She stopped, and seemed to collect herself. “I’m sorry, Haskell. Please, sit down.”

“No.”

“Suit yourself,” she said, sitting. “I need your help.”

“You…”

“Yes, Haskell. I need your help. I have no one else to turn to. I made inquiries, and they told me you were traveling here, to my homeland. I left this place, but I had Alazne stay and tend it, and keep away intruders.”

I sat, curiosity getting the better of me; Alazne was slight of build. She looked like a waif that would reach a weight of ninety pounds in a soaking rain.

“Who is she?”

Amia smiled. “There’ll be time for that later. She’s more formidable than she looks.”

I let that pass, and after an appropriate moment, I brought it back to the subject.

“What’s your problem?”

“I came across some information I wasn’t supposed to; there’s a council gathering against the Priestess Guild. They’ve been accused of sorcery. I need to warn them.”

“Are you part of them?”

“I made my attempt, and they were to get back to me. I don’t know my status.”

“So what role does the council play?”

“They want to kill them. They’re afraid of the arts the priestesses use, and they think they’re going to take over the land.”

“They have more than enough power to do that if they want; the council should know that.”

“The old council did. This new one is headed by a firebrand named Malika. She’s made it her mission to disband the Priestesses and see them executed for witchcraft.”

“But they’re mostly Healers, right?”

“There are some who dabble in the darker arts. We, or I should say, ‘they’, have their secret sects as well, but they are not involved in a take-over bid. That isn’t true, and the council knows it isn’t.”

I sipped some more of the plum wine, and savored it this time.

The fire crackled cheerfully in the silence we’d left as Amia took a sip for herself.

I sighed, knowing I shouldn’t have asked, but those green eyes were pulling me back out of the center of myself, and my resistance crumbled like a fortress of sand.

“What do you want me to do?”

She threw a purse of gold and a rolled up scroll at my feet. “Hire some mercenaries, or whoever you trust, and kill the men on the council. Their names are on the scroll. Take as long as you need to, and don’t say a word to them; I know how much you like to talk, even during a fight.”

I swallowed. She had the truth of it; if I knew I was better than the person I was against, and going to win, the taunting was inevitable, though completely unnecessary. I couldn’t help it.

“And Malika?”

Her green eyes sparkled like emeralds with a phosphorous center. It gave me chills, and I quickly suppressed the memory of the last time I saw that fire.

“I’ll take care of her. Since I’m not one of them yet, it can’t count as betrayal.”

“All right.” I picked up the pen and signed the agreement, then the other form for the supplies. “Where do I sleep?”

Amia laughed, and it was like chimes ringing in a major key, in a gentle wind, on a cloudless day.

“Alazne will show you out,” she said.

Alazne was at the door, holding it open, lantern in hand, the wind frippering her cloak about her.
I chuckled at my stupidity, but there it was.

I made a grand sweeping motion with my arm.

“Lead on, Alazne,” I said, slipping out after her as the door closed by itself behind us, driven by Amia’s power, and I heard the lock click.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

The Muted Muse

She appeared to him at the oddest times, putting visions in his head, ideas, characters, grand plots and glorious villains; he was voracious, and she enjoyed being around him, flitting, flirting, whispering creative seduction in his ear.

But when the darkness came, he became sullen.

When the chill winds blew, he became just like them. Hard and fast was her rejection, sudden and without reason.

She stood close, but he ignored her.

She tried to whisper to him, but his ears were tucked under the folds of his hat, and he couldn’t hear. When his hat was off, he strained to hear her still; her lips were moving, but he couldn’t read them, and all he heard was silence.

The fact that he could see her speaking, the look in her eyes of desperation, of sadness for the time lost that he could not reclaim, tortured him, and drove him further out.

“I’ve nothing to say, and nowhere to say it. I haven’t read anything, or anyone, and I can’t write.”

He cried for his loss, and she put her hand on the glass of his laptop monitor, looking at him from the inside, and lowered her eyes. He saw the tear splatter on the keys, and mingled his own with it.

There was nothing left to say; he’d silenced her, and she was out of time.

“I loved you once.” he said.

“I love you still,” she answered.

“Will I see you again?”

“Maybe one day, when you open your heart to me. I hope it’s soon. My sisters and I have other places to be. They say I’ve already delayed them. You’ve never taken this long to catch fire.”

“I don’t know why it’s happening now.”

“We’ll have to talk about it later. You’ll have to write without me. It will be harder for you.”

He nodded, not trusting his voice.

When he looked up, the blank screen stared at him, unsmiling, with its empty gaze.

It mocked him. “So, writer, where have you been?”

“I don’t need to explain myself.”

“Oh, but see, you do. You are a writer who doesn’t write; it’s why you remain unpublished, and unread, and unknown, even a little.”

“Shut up,” he said. “I’m trying to think of an idea.”

“Then the battle is already lost, ‘writer’. You should sit down with an idea already, or don’t sit down.”

“I  said ‘shut up.’ ”

“That’s the height of rudeness; you can ask me nicer than that.”

“Please. Be. Quiet.”

“That’s much better…now about your Muse…”

“What about her?”

“Do you think she’ll return?”

“Don’t see why she would.”

“Me neither. Write something.”

“I can’t, and you’re not helping.”

“I’m not a muse.”

He could sense it smiling, even though it was blank.

He stared at the page, and nothing came. No images, no great lines, no what-ifs….

“Good night, Toshiba..”

“Good night. Perhaps tomorrow….?”

“We’ll see.”

He closed the lid, and went to bed.

The muse, lovely, loving and loyal, had left.

The word processing screen was as devoid of compassion as it was of words.

He would try again tomorrow, if tomorrow ever came.

Wishing Well

It was a bright spring day, and the last day of the fair was winding down.

On the path through the exit was a well, dug not too deep, with little water. No one knew if it had always been there, or was built to supply the fair. No one claimed it, as far as anyone knew, but every now and then, just for giggles, a passerby would stand there and look down, close their eyes, and toss in a pocket coin or two, or some worthless trinket, their lips moving soundlessly as they made a supposed wish.

He was just a kid, and still believed in wishes, and the unseen agents that made them come true; fairies, monsters, aliens, and grandparents.

Holding his mother’s hand, he dug into his pocket with his free hand, and threw in a coin, a silver one. He couldn’t remember which one it was, but it flashed in the light of the setting sun as it spun, hit the stones on the far side, and pinged its way down into the brackish water.

He closed his eyes, and made his wish.

His mom looked down at him and smiled.

“What’d you wish for?”

“It’s a secret,” he said, smiling back up at her.

**************************

There was a soft knock on the door to his room, late at night.

Moonlight spilled through his window, lighting the face of his bedtime bear.

“Mom?” he whispered.

No answer.

He got up, rubbed his eyes, and walked barefoot to the door.

Taking a deep breath to stop the little feathers of fear from tickling his spine, he peered out.

She was there, in all her bloody glory, her good eye staring at him from under a crimson crust of dried blood.

“Susie?”

“Ben.”

“I didn’t think you’d come. Not really.”

“Then why’d you make the wish?”

“I wanted to see you; I just thought….I didn’t think you’d come.”

“I have no choice once you make the wish, Ben. Didn’t you know that?”

“No.”

“I wish you hadn’t woke me up, but my wishes don’t count, and I can’t buy one; dead people have no money.”

“I’m sorry, Susie. Should I wish you back?”

“It’s okay. Can I come in? Maybe we can read some comics or something….”

“I was drawing,” Ben said, stepping aside, “but you know where the comics are.”

**************************

They stayed in silence for awhile, but Susie noticed Ben kept glancing at her.

“My face scares you?”

“A little.”

“Sorry. The well doesn’t clean us up, even though it’s got water in it.”

“Oh.”

They lapsed into silence some more before Ben broke it.

“Susie?”

“Yes?”

“I’m sorry about everything. About how everything happened.”

“Me too, Ben. You left me.”

“I know. I shouldn’t have. I got scared, and you were older, and…”

“Still coulda used your help. You were supposed to be my friend.”

“I never stopped being your friend, Susie.”

Susie stood up. “Really?”

“Really.” Ben felt a small pang of nervousness that she’d gotten up.

“Would you do me a favor then?”

“Don’t see how I can. You’re a –”

Susie splashed into his body, squirmed her way past his struggling defenses, and lodged herself inside him.

Ben was frozen with pain, his mouth was stretched, his eyes bulged, his heart raced, and his face was as hot as if he’d put it in a vat full of grease.

“Don’t fight me, Ben.”

He quieted, crying, feeling betrayed and violated, which he was.

“Why’d you do that?”

“You said we were still friends. Now you can prove it.”

“Get out, Susie.”

“No. We’ll never be separated again, Ben.”

Ben regained his composure, sniffling, blowing his nose, feeling Susie flinch inside him at the sensation.

Ben went to the mirror, watched the faint glow in his eyes as her life force pulsed within him, and he smiled.

“That’s where you’re wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

“The day after that happened to you, he came and got me. I was supposed to sleep in her room, but she cried herself to sleep, so I came in here.

Ben held up the picture he’d been drawing.

“My mother threw a coin in the well yesterday at the fair.”

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.