This week’s Flashback Friday post is the only fantasy story I’ve ever written. It is not at all in my normal writing repertoire, but I have always liked it. I hope you enjoy it as well, and, if you do, please leave me a comment!
The Story Lighter
The autumn wind swept through the empty village, stirring the dried grasses along the path. The trees, nearly bare of their summer clothes, groaned under the weight of the night sky. Moonlight cast a pale glow on their naked trunks. The air was eerie and ethereal and heavy with the unsung songs of the night.
In the center of the forest, the worn path gradually widened until the hard-packed earth disappeared beneath the discarded dresses of the maples and oaks. The villagers had crowded into the clearing, shoulder to shoulder in the open air. Another year had passed, and tonight was the night they had been waiting for. A low murmur rippled through the crowd, rising and falling with the breath of the wind.
In the middle of the crowd, the elders leaned on their staffs. This age had been difficult, and they tired beneath the burden of their years. They gazed into the faces before them. The harvest was finished, but the weariness remained. This night had not come a moment too soon. The people could not have waited much longer. This was the night they had been longing for.
A young man near the edge of the council called out. “Hush! Everyone…be quiet!”
The chorus of words and whispers melted away as the villagers collectively turned toward the path. Every eye strained to see into the darkness. Every ear was tuned to hear the slightest sound. Gradually, the soft pat’a pat of footfalls on the forest floor came closer and louder.
“She’s coming!” The announcement floated through the crowd. “She’s coming!”
Around the bend hurried a shadowy figure, and suddenly all was quiet. There was no more whispering. No one moved. Even the wind quieted, as the one they had waited for entered the clearing. As if parted by an unseen hand, people stepped out of the way, as the Story Lighter made her way to the center.
The speaker of the harvest council stepped forward. As the most revered of all the elders, Craven wore a golden cord around his waist. From the cord, hung a leather pouch, worn smooth from the many hands which had carried it through the ages. His fingers, withered and bent by time, trembled as he turned the latch, lifted the flap, and reached into the pouch. Craven pulled forth a single, wooden match, and held it high.
Craven briefly scanned the crowd. Every eye was trained on him. Every person, from the strongest workmen to the children in their mothers’ arms, leaned slightly forward, ready to catch every word. “Brothers and sisters,” his voice rang out stark and strong against the silence of this blessed night. “Once again we gather together, in this our first home, to see the story of our tomorrows. We have waited with great anticipation for the Story Lighter to come to us.”
Craven stepped toward the Story Lighter. He bowed his head, and held out the wooden match. “Locket, we owe you a debt of gratitude. Show us our story.”
A small, white hand emerged from inside the robes of the Story Lighter and took the match. Craven stepped back among the other elders, and Locket held up the match. Once again, the wind picked up, and the skirt of her robe danced vigorously against her small frame. She dropped the hood that had hidden her face, and looked closely at the people around her. In their eyes, she saw hope. She knew their energies were spent, and their future was riding on the story she would light tonight. A lesser woman would shrink from the daunting task, but Locket was not a lesser woman.
Locket came from a long line of Story Lighters, and she squared her shoulders to the task ahead. Her onyx eyes shone bright and resolute. Her steps did not waver and her hands did not shake as she approached the rock. The rock stood waist high to Locket, and was twice the length of her arm span. It was black as night and felt cold under Locket’s hand. She brushed aside an errant tendril of coal black hair that had escaped the twine that held it from her eyes. Her pulse began to quicken, and she took a moment to steady her staccato breathing.
Locket raised the wooden match in the air, and, in one smooth motion, she struck the match across the rock and back into the air above her. A flame sprung to life at the end of the match, as Locket placed it in the holder on the rock. The flame grew higher and higher. It was deep purple at the base, and faded into blue and black. Orange and red and white sparks jumped from the flame and seemed to turn to drops of water. They fell from the air, and landed on the rock. As Locket watched, they popped and sizzled and settled into words. She grabbed them quickly, moving them around, sliding the words into place. She closed her eyes and saw their spot.
The electric air crackled as the people strained to see the story take shape. Craven watched in amazement as the words that meant nothing to him became a sentence under Locket’s skilled hands. He had lived long enough to see three different Story Lighters work their craft. Their gift never failed to leave him shaken. He tried to see the words as Locket did, but it was like trying to sing a song with no tune. His eyes instead turned to the smoke that danced above Locket’s flame. In it, Craven could almost see images. Like shadows, their edges blended and blurred so that all Craven could see was an idea. A figure danced in the purple smoke, and then was washed away by a swirling wave. A smoky creature rose from the wave and winged its way around and around the swirl of smoke until it disappeared into a purple river that splashed words onto the rock.
There, Locket saw the spot and pulled the word to it. It goes here. No, that’s not it. Oh! That’s it. Her hands never stopped. Perspiration beaded her furrowed brow as she leaned over her task. Her spirit began to groan under the weight of the story that was unfolding. The words were still falling, but slower now. It was easier now for Locket to find the right space for each word. The story had taken shape, and it was not what she had hoped.
Locket reached for the last word that had fallen, shimmery and fluid, from the air, and slid it into space. The flame was dying, but the last words were missing. The flame snapped and one lone spark flew into the air and flowed onto the rock. Locket put it in place, and waited for the next word. To her dismay, the flame died, and the smoke cleared. The last words had not come.
Craven rose and stepped towards the Story Lighter. It was then that he saw that the story was unfinished. His eyes snapped toward Locket’s, but she could only shake her head.
“I don’t know.” Her voice was tired. Her body was quivering from the exertion, and her mind was racing.
“Locket!” Craven’s voice was urgent. “How does it end?”
“I don’t know.” Locket stepped away from him. “I don’t know.”
As the villagers crowded forward, eager to read their story, Locket plunged into their midst, and pushed her way through. The hand that cleared her way a mere hour before was nowhere to be found. Locket lowered her eyes and pressed through the crowd. Her hands shook as she pulled up the hood of her robe, and hurried into the cool cover of the night. Never had a story been unfinished before! As the bewildered cries of the council began to ring out, Locket knew the people had realized that their future was still unknown. The answers they had waited for had not come, and they did not know how their story ended.
©2015 Rachel Holbrook
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Original watercolor ©2015 Amy Bell