The Skulls: Microfiction

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Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The princess was awakened in the night by rough hands and gruff voices.  Her attendants were killed, and she was thrust into deep hole, a dungeon known only to few, while her captors decided if she was more valuable to them alive or dead. She was a pawn in dynastic feuds.

She lay there in the dark, too stunned and fearful to think or do anything. A rustling in the fetid space around her, finally got her attention. Somehow she knew the sound came from beings, not only rats–though they probably would come looking for a piece of her to chew on soon.

“Don’t be frightened,” she said. “Someone will help us.

My mother used to tell me stories. Shall I tell you one?”

More than a little frightened herself, she began speaking, telling a tale of magic and light, of music and sunshine, of finding a way home from the darkness. Gradually, figures appeared, glowing spirits. They hovered around her, listening to the tale and illuminating the dungeon with their light. She was now able to see that all around here were piles of bones and skulls, the remains of men, women, and children who had been left here to die alone. The princess told these lost souls story after story, until she, too, was near death.

But the princess did not die. One of her attendants had hidden under the bed and survived the slaughter in the bedchamber. This loyal attendant had run for help, the kidnappers were captured, and the princess was rescued–but she did not forget the lost souls in the dungeon.

Eventually she became queen. Shortly after her coronation, she returned to the dungeon. Ordering her guards to remain at the entrance, she walked down the dark steps alone. She sat there in the dirt and told a story of magic and light, of music and sunshine, and of finding a way home from the darkness. She rose then and told the spirits she would build them a new home.

Before long a section was added to her palace. It was called Hope’s Annex, named for the Queen, who had taken the name Hope. The bones from the dungeon were gathered, sorted, and placed there. The building was filled with light from large windows and glass doors, which were opened to the flower gardens in fine weather. It was furnished with comfortable seats, tables, and bookcases crowded with books. People visited, day and night. They read the books, had concerts, and told stories. And the spirits were happy, at last.

 

This is for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange Microfiction Challenge.

The prompt is the illustration above, which is certainly strange. I have no idea what the original fairy tale was about.

 

 

Light in the Darkness (The Rescue): Microfiction

 

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By Virginia Frances Sterret, Old French Fairy Tales, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Esmeena knelt on the cobalt blue tiles in her long, azure gown and gave the small deer a hug. He had just come from patrolling the castle’s grounds.

Then she stood, and said to the cat meowing plaintively at her feet, “Honestly, Reggie, I am working on it.”

He was her brother, and she had accidentally turned him into a cat while trying to cast a spell. “I’ve had a lot of responsibility since Mother’s been gone.”

Their mother was at a Council Meeting of Orwan chiefs. The Council was trying to decide if they should intervene here on Earth, now that humans seemed bent on destroying it. Wars, demagogues, fracking—the list of horrors and craziness seemed to grow daily. Thousands of years ago, the Orwan had come to Earth from the Planet of the Blue Ponies, (which was why they loved blue so much). They generally kept to their own realm, invisible to humans.

“I’m sure it’s not all that terrible,” Esmeena continued, “there is that female cat who seems to like you. And after all, you do still have all your. . .um. . .parts.”

At that, Reggie tried to spring at her, but he miscalculated the width of the table between them. With all four legs stretched out wide, he slid right over the table and crashed onto the floor on the other side.

“You are the least graceful cat I’ve ever seen,” said Esmeena.

Just then the massive castle door was flung open. Their mother entered, wearing a midnight blue cape and a frown.

She looked at Reggie, muttered some words, snapped her fingers, and he returned to his normal form. He rose from the floor, all gangly arms and legs.

“Esmeena, what has been going on here?”

“I was trying to reinforce the barrier,” Esmeena said.

“Didn’t you think I would check on it before I left? But why did you think a sparkling rainbow-colored barrier would make the castle invisible to humans?”

“Everything is so dark now. I just wanted to make something light and cheerful.”

“Child,” said her mother, “I can see I still have much to teach you. Don’t you know the light is within you? We carry it in our hearts.” She touched her chest, then picked up a candle that now glowed brightly in the darkness of winter night.

“Come,” she said to her children, “the moon is humming. It’s time. Let’s go celebrate the solstice.”

This story is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge.

The prompt was the painting above.

 

 

 

 

 

The Journey: Microfiction

 

 

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Ailise hugged and kissed her children goodnight, knowing she might never perform this bedtime ritual again. She sat watching them through the night and thinking of their dire situation. Her husband had vanished, one of the many who had disappeared. She had no idea if he was still alive. Since The Leader had taken control of their country, life had become ever more difficult for them and other Jantos. They were disparaged as tree worshipers. The Leader had made them scapegoats, arguing that they were the cause of all the nation’s problems, real and imagined. His pronouncements made those who were disenchanted with their current way of life feel better. The Tree Worshippers were taking their jobs, the Leader said, and polluting their pure Mountain Worshipping country with foreign ideas and dissolute practices.

Now, all Jantos were being forced to register. There were rumors of work camps where they would be sent. When news came—carried secretly, told in hushed whispers—that the famous flutist, Raoul Sendler, was saving Janot children, Ailise felt both fear and joy. Could her babies be saved? Could she let them go?

Raoul Sendler, known for multi-colored costumes, as well as his musical ability, was so popular that his concerts were usually sold-out months in advance. His skill was legendary; his playing mesmerizing. It was said that people would follow the sound of his flute anywhere. Even The Leader had attended his performances.

Through a network, Sendler had obtained fake papers for Janot children showing they were citizens of his country, Bragnaw. Some children, he would claim, were his students or performers in his show. Other children would appear to be the offspring of those who worked with him. After he performed his final concert at the Grand Academy, Sendler would take the children to Bragnaw, where they would be away from danger. They’d be placed in foster homes until they could return home safely.

In the morning, Ailes gathered the papers that had been given to her. She hugged and kissed her daughter and son one last time—and then she let them go.

 

This story is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. The prompt was the painting above. I’ve copied it from Jane’s post, so I’m not sure where it came from.  When I saw it, I thought, the Pied Piper and the Kindertransport.  Yeah, that’s the way my mind works.  My pied piper is named for Raoul Wallenberg And Irene Sendler , but I think of all the heroes who have fought against injustice.

I may have to write a second tale that does justice to this lovely illustration.

 

The Red Tree: Microfiction

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Virginia Sterrett (Old French Fairy Tales (1920)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Dove was tired of rules telling her how to dress, how to behave, how to think. She tore off the black cloak that covered her from head to ankle and threw it to the ground. She took the pins from her hair and let the breeze toss about her long, golden brown curls. She removed her shoes to feel the grass, slightly damp, on her bare feet. Then she walked to the red tree with its fruit of many colors, and defying the laws of her people, she picked a purple one and took a bite. She didn’t die; she didn’t feel any ill effects at all. In fact, the forbidden fruit was delicious. She continued to munch on it as she strolled home, ignoring the gasps and murmured prayers of the people she encountered.

Within an hour, the council summoned her. Though her parents begged for leniency, Dove was unrepentant, and the council banished her from the village. She hugged her parents and left her homeland.

She walked for days and nights until her food was gone. Wrapping herself in the hated cloak, she cried herself to sleep. In the morning, she woke to see the bright, rosy-pink dawn, and she was filled with hope that something good would happen that day.

She brushed the dirt from her clothing and continued her journey. Before long, she came to a town. As she approached it, she heard the most glorious sound.  She stopped a woman and asked her what the sound was.

“It’s the town choir,” the woman said. “Come, I’ll show you.”

The woman took Dove to the town hall. There Dove saw that the sound—music—came from a group of men, women, and children dressed in colorful garments.

That is how a rainbow must sound, thought Dove.

In time, Dove discovered that she had a voice, too. All she had to do, was open her mouth and let it out.

This was the first of many discoveries Dove made. She soon realized that the people of her homeland were not protected, they were trapped there by their ignorance and fear. She took a new name, Violette, for the purple fruit she plucked from the red tree, the fruit that set her on her journey of discovery and knowledge. Eventually, she fell in love and gave birth to a daughter. They named her Aurora as a reminder that dawn always comes, even after the darkest night.

 

Although I went way above the word count, this fairy tale is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge.  The prompt was the painting above. I have no idea what old French fairy tale it is actually illustrating.

 

 

 

Thoughts in the Moonlight: Microfiction

 

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Ilya Repin, “Moonlight Night,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

The river shimmered in the moonlight, but for the moment, Jo was immune to its charms. She was pondering the telegram she had received:

“J.  Mission on. Pack your bags.  Love, T.”

Her brother Tommy was an excellent surgeon, but not such a great communicator. As she bent down to rub her setter Dottie’s spotted back, Jo thought about this “mission” and wondered how long she would be gone.

Tommy had told Jo that Mr. Roentgen’s discovery could change medicine and medical care. The new apparatus that the commission planned to ship abroad used these invisible rays–X rays– to photograph bones right through the skin. The X ray devices could also be used to see bullets or shrapnel within a body.

We keep improving ways to kill one another, Jo thought, I suppose it’s only natural that we find new ways to treat those that survive.

She pictured all the politicians she had seen shouting slogans, ignoring facts. She admired scientists who checked and re-checked and shared their knowledge. A German scientist discovered X rays, and now English doctors were using the discovery to help Greek soldiers.

Perhaps, she thought, with these new-fangled X ray machines, the young men, pawns in squabbles between nations, might have a better chance of surviving the carnage of the battlefield. Tommy and the other surgeons, and she and the other nurses would do their best, however inadequate it might be.

Calling to Dottie, Jo turned to take one last look at the river. Then she squared her shoulders and strode back to the house to pack her bags for Greece.

 

This story is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. The prompt is the painting above, “Moonlight Night” by Ilya Repin. Even though the painter was Russian, I thought the woman was English, and she seemed to be pondering something. I found out that X rays were discovered the same year the painting was completed, 1896. Soon after, X rays were used in field hospitals, and a group in England financed the transportation of a X ray machines with surgeons and nurses and sent them to Greece during the Greco-Turkish War of 1897.

You can read more about the early use of X rays here.

 

The Golden Egg: Microfiction

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Journal Entry, 4773

Ambassador Armstrong and I traded stories after dinner. I enjoyed hers about the boy who flew too close to the sun. She admired our language, saying it reminded her of the birdsongs of her planet. In response, I told her this tale:

Eons ago, great, winged creatures inhabited our planet. The Mianthx were massive, lumbering creatures, powerful of body, but dull of mind, and without our grace and beauty. Unlike us, with our shimmering, varigated feathers, they were covered in dull, grey-green scales.

There was Mianthx prophecy that foretold the appearance of a golden egg—from which a great leader would be born. And one day, an ordinary Mianthx produced such an egg and showed it to her mate. The couple was overjoyed. It was their first egg. They shared in its care, keeping it warm in their birth pouches. When the birth-time came, their family members and officials (alerted to the news of the golden egg) gathered around to witness the event. The midwife helped the Mianthx couple with the hatching process, but all fell silent when a small being with soft, downy, multi-colored feathers appeared.

“It’s so strange-looking,” some onlookers whispered, “and what are those odd sounds it’s making?”

However, her parents loved her and called her Dulcka, or “Dear One.” As Dulcka grew older, she became a being of wondrous beauty, with feathers glowing and iridescent in the light. Her appearance was matched by the kindness of her soul, and by her mellifluous voice, like a chorus of flutes—so unlike the raspy voices of those around her. She became beloved by all.

One day the world was threatened by a vast, dark cloud that was starting to block the sun. Without light and heat, all life would perish. Dulcka flew high in the air, higher than any of the Mianthx had ever flown. There she sang to the wind, telling it to blow the cloud away. So powerful was her voice, that the wind obeyed her, and the cloud was dispersed, letting the sun shine down once again on our planet. Dulcka was lauded for her deed and re-named Melasios, or silver-voiced leader.

In time, Melasios mated with one of the Mianthx, and they had a baby, who was born with soft, downy variegated feathers. It is said we are all descended from Melasios.

 

This story is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge, using the sculpture pictured above. And once again, I’m way over the word count.

This story is a sequel to this story.

 

 

 

We Will Talk Amidst the Clouds: Microfiction

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By Makis E. Warlamis (Own work, Daskunstmuseum, 2007-01-05) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Journal Entry, 4772: I woke up early, too excited to sleep. Today I begin my new position as chief consul. Thousands of years have passed since my ancestors made first contact with the world of our guests. We miscalculated then; the inhabitants of that planet were not ready, and we backed off, observing only from a distance. We were surprised that the beings we’ll be welcoming here today finally dominated their planet, and even more surprised that they survived. They were fond of wars, those bipeds.

It’s too bad that we’ll have to transport them from our planet’s surface to our capital. I love how it hovers amidst the clouds, a beacon of serenity, and a perfect place to hold our discussions. Too bad they cannot experience the joy of flight, as we do. There’s the beauty–the glow of light on feathered wing, the iridescent colors, and the glorious feel of the air, as it rushes by, carrying the scents from below and above. Oh well.

It’s time now to go. To meet the Earth ambassador. Apparently she is named for an ancestor who was famous for—what was it? A walk? Oh yes, I remember now, on their moon. Ambassador Neila Armstrong. End log.

I spread my wings and fly out to meet her.

 

This story is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge. This week I’m close to the word count! The prompt is the painting above.

The story is related to this earlier one I wrote.

 

 

Chosen: Microfiction

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Ilya Repin. “Choosing a Bride for the Grand Duke” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Once long ago, as the full moon glowed in the sky, a line of maidens stood in brilliantly colored gowns and feathered headdresses. They chattered and peeped like exotic birds, as they waited for the king to arrive to choose one of them to be his bride.

Katerina alone was silent; she comforted herself with the thought that she was unlikely to be chosen. She had nothing against the king in particular—he seemed pleasant enough. But marriage to him meant a life of seclusion in the women’s quarters, a gilded cage, a life spent producing babies and little else.

Katerina’s mother had convinced her father that reading was a skill that would allow Katerina to assist her future husband. So as she stood waiting in the Great Hall, Katerina read. When the trumpets sounded, announcing the King’s arrival, she quickly tucked her book inside one of her wide sleeves.

As the king strode down the line, each maiden curtsied before him. When he stood in front of Katerina, she bent low, and as the king took her hand, the book slipped from her sleeve and dropped to the ground. The onlookers gasped, but the king merely bent and picked up the book. Glancing at its title, he smiled, commenting that philosophy was an unusual choice for a woman. He handed the book back to Katerina and walked on. Throughout the night, the king talked to all of the women, but he kept returning to Katerina.

At dawn, the King announced he had chosen Katerina to be his queen. As a result, carrying books—even if they were not read–became a fad among unmarried women. Over time, Katerina adjusted to her role as queen and to life in a “gilded cage”—though she had to admit that it was a luxurious, gilded cage that many would envy. Using her position, she convinced the king to let her teach all the women at court to read. A generation later, all of girls in their country, as well as the boys, were permitted to go to school. Finally, after many decades, on another moonlit night, a woman became the leader of the nation. She was also named Katerina, after her distant ancestor, the queen who made books and reading fashionable.

 

This fairy tale was written when I was feeling hopeful. It is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge—though I am again stretching the meaning of the term “micro.”  There were two possible painting prompts, I chose the one above.

 

 

 

 

Kingdom of the Sea: Microfiction

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John Bauer, “Agneta and the Sea King,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Kingdom of the Sea? Yes, I know of it. It lies beneath the wine-dark water. You can’t see it from the surface, though perhaps you might sense its presence. Perhaps you think you see something, a figure there under the shimmering waves. But then you’ll blink or shake your head. Oh, I imagined it, you’ll say. Still, you will shiver. Because you know there is something there.

I’m an old man now; perhaps you think my mind wanders. Perhaps it does. But I’ve seen The Kingdom and lived to tell the tale. Come, pull your chair closer to the fire, and I’ll tell you about it.

You see, it was because of Jenny with her long, amber curls and blue-grey eyes. I was in love with her. All the boys in the village were. But she said her heart belonged to the sea. Foolish poetic ramblings, I thought.

She had come out on my father’s boat with me. It was a warm day, and the water shimmered with light and possibility. I kissed her there—the first and only time–and I swear, she kissed me back for a moment, before gently pushing me away. We dozed then in the warm sunlight, rocked by the waves. I woke to see her hanging over the boat. I heard her whisper, “Come for me, Love.”

I saw him then–the Sea King, glorious and terrible. He reached up and pulled Jenny down beneath the ocean’s surface. I dove into the water, frantic to save her.

But I know now, she did not want to be saved. I watched Jenny enter the Kingdom of the Sea with the king, and as she did, she turned and waved farewell to me. The castle glimmered beneath the waves; like a vision, it was there and gone. Then there was a sudden darkness inside my head.

I awakened on the shore, soaked and exhausted, but Jenny was never found.

Of course no one believed my story. They said she must have fallen out of the boat and drowned, while I was washed ashore by the waves as I tried to save her. But I know what I saw.

 

This is for Jane Dougherty’s microfiction challenge–though since I’ve gone way over the word count, I guess it’s not really microfiction.  The prompt was the illustration above by Swedish artist, John Bauer, for a book of fairy tales.

 

 

The Lake: Microfiction

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Olav Johan Andreassen, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Stefan Danielsen prided himself on his investigative skills and objectivity, and those skills had won him acclaim as a journalist. So here he was, huddled behind a rock– because he had been intrigued by the rumors he’d heard about this remote Norwegian lake. Now he wondered why he was wasting his time. Of course, there was nothing here.

God, it was cold. Winter came early this far north. He wondered if he could risk lighting a cigarette.

An icy touch on the back of his neck. Get a grip, Danielsen, he thought to himself. It’s the wind.

He thought he heard music, a tune in a minor key. It seemed both familiar and unknown. Don’t be ridiculous, he told himself. It’s just the wind.

Wait till I tell Ove about this. He imagined how Ove, his little brother, would tease him for being frightened by shadows and wind.

It was close to midnight. He rubbed his eyes, blinked, as silhouetted figures appeared on the shore; men and women dancing slowly to that minor tune. Yes, the same music he thought he had heard earlier.

Who were they? He fumbled for his camera, as the tempo of the music increased, and the dancers twirled faster and faster. They called to him, their siren voices somehow inside his head, drawing him in.

Spellbound, powerless, his body floated toward the circle. The Cimmerian figures held him, crooning, as they gyrated for seconds, minutes, hours. Time no longer had any meaning. His body was an empty shell. It would be found on the beach in the morning. His spirit, however, it would dance on that shore every night, in a circle, forever.

 

This story is for Jane Dougherty’s Writing Challenge.  The prompt was the painting above.