No NaNoWriMo, but some Flash Fiction

Hooboy, have I been slacking in the writing department. I haven’t written anything new in three months. And I’m feeling like I want to get back on that horse and do some regular writing. Maybe finish the novel I started last year, even though, when I stopped writing it, I hated in and thought it sucked. But, I’m learning (again, forever) that stepping away and giving something time makes me hate it a bit less. And, in the spirit of sucking less, I’m posting a flash fiction story I wrote more than four months ago but never published on here. Partly because, by the time wrote it and edited it, it was late for the challenge and over by at least 200 words, and partly by the time I finished editing it, I hated it and thought it was terrible. On a re-read now, I actually like it, so I’m throwing it up here in the hopes that you might like it too.

The challenge was to go to the Twitter account of the Magical Realism Bot, choose a  tweet, and write a story. I chose “A dutchess owns a stained-glass window which depicts every act of violence in human history.” Let me know what you think.

The Dutchess

As I approach the lake, I look around and then across the water, hoping to find a clue about what to do, but I don’t see anything to help me. The lake isn’t particularly large; I could easily walk around it to the other side, but I can’t see a path. Just tall grass.

I take a few steps around it, but I’m stopped by some sort of invisible barrier. Tentatively, I reach out my hands out and I can feel it, just like the resistance when two magnets with the same polarity are pressed together. I sidestep a couple of times, but I can’t get around it; the barrier is still there. I have the same problem when I walk in the other direction.

“Guess I’m going for a swim,” I say to nobody as I pull off my jeans and hoodie. I stuff them and my boots into my backpack, then I hoist the backpack over my head and begin to wade into the water, hoping it’s shallow enough that I can make it across without getting my stuff wet. As I go, I look around, half-expecting something to emerge from the water. This is supposed to be a trial, after all. But I walk across the entire lake without incident, the water never getting higher than neck-level.

Once I reach the other side, I dress as quickly as I can, sling my backpack over my shoulders and move on. At first, I’m not sure where to go, but as soon as I take a step, a path just…appears. I follow it.

I’m not sure exactly how long I’ve been walking before I reach what looks like an abandoned cabin. The roof is half-gone and the rest is covered in moss. A couple of the wooden planks near the door have fallen–or been torn off. And, the steps leading to the front porch are rotten through.

“Hello?” I call, taking a half-hearted step forward. The path I’ve been following leads right to the front door.

“Please! Please help me!” A voice, coming from inside the cabin. It sounds like a child, maybe a little boy. I sigh, throwing my backpack down and taking another step towards the cabin. This must be the second trial. Sure enough, as soon as I reach the steps, the entire cabin is engulfed in flames.

“Rescuing a kid from a burning cabin. How original.” I say the words out loud without thinking. Then I look more closely. The wood isn’t burning. I can’t hear any crackle; I don’t smell any smoke. I lean forward, my right hand outstretched. The air is warm, but not hot. I lean further forward, stepping on the rise beside the rotting stairs without placing my full body weight on it. My palm should be blistering, but still, just pleasantly warm.

I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and step up onto the porch, right into the flames. It feels like walking into a sunbeam, warm and bright beneath my eyelids. I let the breath out in a whoosh as I take another step forward and snap my eyes open. I walk through the open door and look around. There’s nobody there. The fire is gone too, as suddenly as it appeared.

I glance around the cabin, looking for any clue about where to go next. The only item inside is a giant, ornate desk against the back wall: obviously an antique, in pristine condition. It couldn’t be more out of place against the moldy, weathered wood of the walls. As I approach, I notice a single sheet of paper on the gleaming surface.

It’s a crudely-drawn map: a misshapen circle at the bottom of the page, then a line going up to a rectangle with a triangle on top, then another line extending up and off the top of the page. So, I guess there must be a path behind the cabin, leading away from the lake, to…where? I spin around, stride back out the door, and circle the cabin, stopping to scoop up my backpack on the way.

I follow this path, which also just appears, through a darkening forest. When the woods abruptly end, I’m blinded by the moonlight as I emerge. Once my eyes adjust, I can see that I’m about five feet away from a cliff. I take a couple of steps forward and look down but I can’t see the bottom; a grey mist covers the entire chasm. I can barely make out the other side, and there is no way across. The path I’ve taken just…ends.

Take a leap.

A leap? I think for a moment, then roll my eyes. Of course. A leap of faith. I step up to the edge, wrap my hands around my backpack straps, close my eyes, and jump. I land only a moment later, as if I just stepped off a curb rather than plunging into the unknown.

The path now leads to a large stone mansion; it looks like a castle from a postcard. There are bright lights shining out of the windows, and the large, arched doorway is open. I take a deep breath and head inside.

The doors close behind me and I gaze around the atrium in awe. Rich tapestries, still in mint condition, line the walls. The embroidered rugs under my dusty shoes look new, and the wooden stairs leading to the second floor gleam as if freshly polished. I run my fingers along the equally shining bannisters as I go up. The door at the very end of the left hallway is open, its light spilling into the darkened corridor.

The first thing I notice when I reach the room is the enormous stained glass window that takes up the entire rear wall. But it’s no ordinary window. The picture on the wall constantly changes, like flipping through a picture book, but much faster. The colourful panes of glass are a kaleidoscope of whirling colour, moving so quickly I can’t tell what each image is. I watch it, fascinated, for several moments, but it starts to make me dizzy.

When I look away, I notice a large, four-poster bed to the left. The burgundy velvet curtains twitch, and a woman emerges from the bed, dressed in a matching robe. She looks young, but her dark hair is pulled back severely from her face, and her eyes—they’re gone. There are just two dark pits in their place. I shiver and take a step back.

“Don’t be afraid. This is where you are meant to be.”

“But…” I stammer, wanting to flee, but my feet won’t move. “Who…who are you?”

“The Dutchess.” She takes another step towards me, and I recoil. The air around the dutchess feels icy cold, stealing my breath and causing my heart to pound. With a shaky hand, I point at the stained glass window, then realize she can’t see me. She answers me anyway.

“It’s my window. And my prison. It shows every act of violence in human history.” She turns abruptly and glides towards it. I reluctantly follow. “In the beginning, the images moved slowly, so slowly. Sometimes one would remain for seconds at a time. But now—” She points at the blur of colours. “And the images themselves! I could scarcely believe the monstrosity of the human race. Such violence! Such disregard for human life! Eventually, I could not take any more,” she says, indicating her empty eye sockets.

“But why am I here?” I whisper. The stained glass window has not slowed, but I can now see parts of images before they change. Rape. Murder. War. It’s all here, the vibrant glass giving each image unreal beauty before moving on to the next. It mesmerizing, and I take an involuntary step forward.

“Why, to replace me, of course. My time is complete. It is time for the next dutchess to step forward.”

“What makes you think I’m the next dutchess?”

“The trials. Nobody but my heir could possibly pass through all three of them.” She turns back towards me, hand outstretched. The temperature around me plummets again. I take a step back, then another. “Did you not feel the bones beneath your feet in the lake? Of those who tried, and failed, before you?”

“Those were rocks—” I shake my head, feeling suddenly queasy. The dutchess steps towards me again, and I back away.

“What about the ashes of those who were unable to pass through the living flame?”

“I thought that was just dirt,” I whisper. She continues her advance. I retreat further, but my backpack smacks the wall behind me.

“And what about the mist? Could you not sense the spirits of those who jumped, and perished, all around you?” She is now only inches away from me, the air so cold I can see my shuddering breath.

“No,” I protest, but it is like the squeak of a mouse at the mercy of a jungle cat.

“Oh, yes. This is your destiny. To watch. To witness. To know,” she hisses, grabbing my numb hands with her icy ones. The moment her skin touches mine, my entire body seizes, then all is dark.

It feels like I was out for only a few moments, when I open my eyes, sunlight is pouring through the window. I sit up and notice that I’m no longer wearing jeans and a hoodie. Instead, I’m wearing a velvet gown, only mine is turquoise. My hair is pulled back into a tight knot behind my head. I stand up and spin my head around, looking for the dutchess. But all I see is her own gown, in a heap at the foot of the window. I dash over to the door, but it is locked. I pound on it a few times in frustration, before falling against it, tears pricking my eyes.

After a few moments, I stand back up and look at the window. It is still, the glass depicting one image. It’s the moment when the dutchess grabbed my hands, turning me into her. It stays that way for what seems like a long time, then resumes its motion, rapidly spinning through image after image of violence. Only this time, I can clearly see every single one before it moves on to the next.

I am The Dutchess now.


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