Festival

The shore is packed with people: young, old, native-born and off-planet transplants, human and non. The din ought to be overwhelming, but I stand in a small oasis of stillness, imposed by my nearly-invisible security personnel or possibly by my own Name. My Family is respected here.

It was not originally a custom on Vinde, this Festival of Lanterns. I had brought it with me from Loess, and the locals embraced it fully and wholeheartedly. They are sailors, the Vindeans. These rituals bring them comfort. Three days to mark the solstice; three days to lighten one’s heart. A slip of paper, a handful of words, a lantern to carry them up and away: regrets, promises, wishes.

The first night of Festival is for regrets, that we might start the year fresh. When I was small, we stayed in on the first night. Regrets should never be public, my mother used to say, and we so we marked the evening in our little house with wine and bread and stories of what might have been. We wrote out our sorrows, our apologies, and let them go.

I keep the same custom here. The sky had been overcast two nights ago, but nevertheless we had climbed up to the rooftop garden with our lanterns and buried our regrets in the clouds.

The second night is for promises and pledges, when marriage contracts are brokered, vows renewed, treaties signed. We write names and dates, sometimes filling entire translucent sheets with the details, weighing our lanterns down until they hang low over the waves.

My own marriage had been contracted elsewhere, of course, but yesterday, like every year, my husband and I had celebrated the second night of Festival with dancing and speeches, and later, more privately, with gifts and carefully delivered compliments.

And only in the deepest well of night, when my husband was fast asleep, had I let my mind drift, lamp-like, to the time and a place where one double-edged line of poetry had been tempered in the heat of desire.

I
promise
if you stay
I will make you
cry

It was the only promise she had ever made to me, knowing it was the only one she would never break.

A camdrone whirs overhead. The Festival would be all over the newsvids, of course. This is the third night, the most raucous, the most joyful, when all of Tokovina spills out onto the beaches with their lanterns. It is a beautiful sight: hundreds of paper ships spiraling upwards into a sea of stars.

The last lantern, tonight’s lantern, is for wishes. For hopes, for dreams. I could fill a book with my wishes over the years, I think. My wish, for truly I have only ever had one. It is written on into my bones. It is inscribed on my skin, invisible etchings like the memory of a touch. If I close my eyes, I can still taste her name on my tongue.

It is a childish thing, perhaps, to believe regrets could be so easily shed, wishes granted or promises kept.

“Mama, mama!” My daughter, auburn-haired and green-eyed, dances just out of the ocean’s reach. The lantern in her hands is misshapen, the paper balloon splotched with watercolors. Even so, it rises steadily enough when she lets it go.

“Mama, I wished for a boat of my very own,” she confides in a whisper, eyes darting left and right as though she feared to be overheard. “A real boat, not a toy.”

I do not tell her that there is a little skiff waiting for her at the pier. She is no great keeper of secrets, especially where her own dreams are concerned, and her father and I have known for months what our daughter would write.

“What did you wish for, Mama?”

“Ah,” I say, laughing a little. “I cannot tell you that. It is a secret.”

I do not tell her, either, that my little slip of paper is blank, that I could not bring myself to write upon it. That all my little ships have carried no cargo, not since my daughter was born. I cannot afford regrets; I have nothing left to promise. Like an automaton, my arm lifts, my fingers unclench, and I release my lantern into the night, one of the hundreds that race toward the stars, never to reach them.


Witch

They call me ugly because I am different. They call me dangerous because I am wise.

You begged me for fire. How could I refuse, you with your mother’s blessing and a woman’s smile? I gave what I could.

I would have loved you, my beauty, had you stayed.


The Dragon and the Owl

Each night, deep in the mountains, a Dragon counted his treasure; each morning he wanted more.

One evening he flew over a lake. Looking down, he spotted diamonds, but his greedy talons caught only water.

An Owl watched him all night, swooping and diving among the stars. “How beautiful,” she thought.

Not all treasures can be held in the hands.


This week we were asked to write an original fable in exactly 51 words, excluding the moral at the end. Check out the rest of the stories on the YeahWrite microprose grid!

Castaway

The things I forget are simple. Not your face,
Or the color of your eyes (blue, with hints
Of grey and gold, like the sea at dawn.)

I forget the sound of birds marking the dawn,
the taste of salt, the touch of sun on my face.
I forget the shape of us. You left me only hints:

The tree outside my window that hints
of tangled limbs; the deep shadows at dawn;
the clouds that hide the moon’s face.

I face the sea, scour it for hints of you. Dawn is just a simple thing.


A gauntlet was thrown among the YeahWrite editors: it’s a tritina slam this week! Check out the other entries on the fiction|poetry grid. (Click the badge below.)

Finna

Finna closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. This was hard. Centering herself, she expelled her thoughts with a rush of air and opened her eyes.

The room was the same, down to the pattern on the pillowcases and the spray of flowers in the vase under the window.

“Dammit!” She thumped a fist on the mattress. The pillows jumped, just a little. She threw herself down on top of them.

It wasn’t real. She knew it wasn’t real. She had seen the nearly-bare cell with its white, featureless walls and diffuse light, just before they had shut her in. That had been six days ago, as near as she could tell. Her sense of time was guided only by the brightening and darkening of the room – simulated sunrises and sunsets.

“That was good, Finna.” A voice echoed across the room. “Very good.”

Finna rolled over on the bed and stared up at the ceiling. She had never been able to figure out where the voice came from.

“I couldn’t do it,” she said. She scrubbed her hands over her face, ran her fingers through her hair.
“You were closer this time. Did you see the pillows bounce?” The voice was soothing, and despite herself, Finna felt some of the tension drain away.

“I did that?”

“You did. The first step to breaking through the illusion is manipulating it.”

It was one of the core maxims. Only, Finna wasn’t very good at it.

***

When the thin man had approached her, Finna had run. She had been certain he’d seen how she used glamours and cantrips to pick pockets and swipe small edibles from the market stalls. The last thing her little sister needed was for Finna to be brought in on larceny charges. She had dropped one last orange in her pocket and strolled toward the alley, tossing a tangle of thread behind her. A thicket of brambles and thorns had grown up in the mouth of the alley, blocking the entrance, and that, she’d thought smugly, was that.

Until the thin man strode through her illusory barrier, dismissing it with a wave of his hand.

For a split second, Finna had frozen. Nobody had ever seen through her illusions so easily, let alone dismissed one. Then she ran – straight into the arms of another man.

“What would you say, little one,” the thin man had asked in that reedy voice, “if I told you I had a place for you, and your sister too?”

***

Finna could create a river from a trickle of water, darkness from a strand of her own black hair. She could turn a pebble into a stone wall. All illusions, of course, woven through with a ribbon of touch-me-not. The thin man was much better: his illusions had weight, texture, solidity. He had promised to train her; more, he had promised her a home. If she could break out.

“You don’t lack skill, little one, or determination. What you need, I think, is proper motivation.” One of the walls of her cell faded away, and she saw a room that was mirror image to hers. Her sister sat on the bed with a doll. Chandir, whom she hadn’t seen since they were brought here. Finna put one hand against the transparent wall.

The door to Chandir’s cell opened, and a woman walked in. She was dressed entirely in red. The girl looked up in alarm and scrambled to the far side of the bed. The woman barked a command, gestured, and Chandir started to cry. Placing the doll carefully on her pillow, the girl wiped her nose on her sleeve and took the woman’s hand.

“Stop!” Finna slammed her hand against the wall, but neither child nor woman heard. They disappeared into the dark corridor.

The first step is to manipulate the illusion. She had nothing to work with: no jewelry, no bits of stone. Pressing her face to the illusory wall, Finna exhaled, fogging the glass with her breath. The glass wavered and evaporated, just like mist over the river.

She stepped through–and nothing changed. The bed still had its flowered coverlet. The doll still slept on Chandir’s pillow.

Is this just another layer of illusion, then? Finna concentrated, sweeping her hand before her like dusting away cobwebs. The room was empty. Her sister – if she had ever been there – was gone.