I am going to try something new here. I recently got back into participating in the Flash Fiction challenges over at Liberty Hall Writers (a writing group that I first joined years ago while I was in grad school). Activity has died down in many of the forums at Liberty Hall compared to six years ago, but I was pleased to find that there is still a dedicated core group who participate in the weekly flash fiction challenges. I’ve decided that I am going to participate in the challenges when I can, and then post the results here on the blog. In theory, it messes up any chances of actually publishing the stories to post them here for free, but since I seem to be incapable of actually following through and polishing my flash pieces and submitting them anywhere, it seems to me that I might as well share them in some form. I think it may be good for me to post some of my writing here for all to see so I can get over the tendency to over-think and over-edit which so often causes me to bog down and lose my forward momentum.
Here’s how the flash challenges work: each week two “triggers” are provided. One is an image and one is a short bit of text. From the moment a writer sees the triggers, they have 90 minutes to come up with a story inspired by one or both of the triggers and submit it to the Liberty Hall site. Then, everyone who participated in the challenge goes through and critiques the other stories and votes on which was best.
The stories I post here are going to be “hot off the presses” meaning I’ll post them here exactly as they are submitted to the challenge. 90 minutes worth of writing and editing and nothing more. I will not be posting the triggers, since I’m interested in how the stories work without knowledge of what inspired them.
Without further ado, here’s my flash fiction for this week. Enjoy!
In Kira’s memory, this place was supposed to be a paradise: blue water lapping against a pebble beach, and a tumble of lush vegetation spilling down almost to the water. Master Brock’s cabin was supposed to be right there, on the edge of the sea and the edge of the greenery. Now, the ocean was dark and violent, the vegetation was scorched away, and the sand had been fused into black, shattered glass. The cabin was gone, and Master Brock with it.
The ministers had called her in from a mission in the Silver Mountains to investigate what had happened. The kingdom of Ruhall was rumored to be gathering forces, and the assassination of the most powerful mage in Var seemed a likely precursor to an attack. But that was not why Kira had come back. She came back because she should have been there. She could have protected him from the attack or died trying. It was a student’s duty to serve and protect their master, and she had left him to diminish in a hut by the sea while she hunted for glory. What glory had she thought she could find that would be better than serving Brock the Wise?
The black glass crunched under Kira’s boots as she made her way toward the former site of her teacher’s cabin. She tried to take her bearings but the place had been so devastated, even the familiar landmarks were gone. Had the cabin been here, or was it over there? Kira doubled back to was she had come, trying to remember.
Her mind tried to recall the first time she had come to see Master Brock here. She had been just a girl, sent from the academy to learn at the feet of the master. She had worked so hard to earn that honor. She had reined in her horse at the top of that rise over there, and looked down at the idyllic location, and then the master had looked up from his vegetable garden and—
The memory slipped away. It had been so clear but the more she focused her mind’s eye on it, the more it seemed to unravel. It was like trying to remember a dream. Like reading words written on the surface of the sea.
There was something more at work here than her faulty memory. Whatever magic had destroyed her master and his home was still at work somehow, toying with her perceptions. The closer she got to her goal, to more the memories slipped away. She needed to get away before they were gone entirely, and any chance of learning what had happened vanished with them.
Kira returned to her gray horse, mounted and spurred away, following the path up to the lookout. When she got there and turned around, she hoped that she might see something, but there was nothing there. She tried to focus her mind on the memories she still retained. Memories of her training with the master away from the site of his destruction. They had stood in the very spot she was standing and practiced controlling the sea birds. In the deep forest to her back, they had foraged for herbs for the master’s healing salves and he had taught her to speak with the trees.
As she pieced together the memories of her time with master Brock, she began to see a path in her mind’s eye, like stones beneath a rushing rapids. Precarious footholds at best, but leading somewhere. She followed the path of memories. Part of her knew that she was still riding her horse, that they were returning to the shore by some subtly different route.
She saw the end of that route now. It terminated at the doorstep of a small house, half-seen, like a mirage atop the blackened landscape. Carefully, wary of losing the vision, Kira approached and opened the door to the house.
The shimmering illusions collapsed around her as she stepped inside. It was an ordinary cabin. Wood walls hung with tools, gaps between the boards inexpertly patched. A warm fire glowing in the hearth with a kettle of fish stew bubbling above it.
Master Brock sat by the fire, reading. He continued for a few more seconds before marking his place with a bony finger and looking up.
“You found me.”
“But you’re dead!”
“Am I? I have to say I thought death would feel different. Cold and painful. But here I am, quite comfortable.” He gave her a wry smile and closed the book. He gestured at the other chair by the fire. “Take a seat my dear.”
Kira, unable to do anything else, obeyed. She opened her mouth to speak but master Brock cut across her words.
“The magistrates sent you, didn’t they?”
“Yes, to investigate your assassination at the hands of Ruhall.”
“Ruhall? What are they on about? Ruhall hasn’t dared to attack us in a century.”
“They just did! They blasted you into the void!”
“They did no such thing!” Master Brock seemed indignant.
Kira rubbed her temples. “Clearly, since you are still here. But if it was not an assassination attempt what happened?”
“Oh, I got tired of those bureaucrats telling me what to do. I have research ideas of my own, you know, but they were always ordering me to come up with ways to make bigger explosions or more efficient farmland. Boring.”
“So you staged your own death and prompted a war with Ruhall because you were bored?”
“No! Well, yes to the latter. But I have no interest in Ruhall.” He levitated a ladle full of stew from the pot to his lips and sipped cautiously, then nodded. “Soup’s ready. Stay and have some. But then I suppose you had better get back on the road and tell the magistrates not to go to war on my account.”
“I can tell them that you are alive then?”
“No, of course not. A student’s job is to protect her master.” Kira realized that he was very serious. He had cast a subtle spell even as they spoke. She literally would be unable to tell them. “But I’m sure you will think of something.”