Saturday, January 28, 2017

Short Stories Are Hard To Title

As part of my challenges for the month, I wanted to write a draft of a short story. To hold myself accountable for completing it, I also decided that I would share the 'warts and all' first draft. The only revisions have been putting it through a spelling and grammar check. “You are certifiable if you think that your father is going to let you stand and compete at the testing ceremony,” Kingston stated as he lifted another hefty book back up to the shelf. Seeing that he was having difficulty with its weight, I reached out to the book with my connection to air and lifted it with him so that it could be placed back on the shelf. “Yeah, I know that I’m insane. I also know that if my dimwit cousin goes up, we will lose the challenge,” I pointed out. Kingston turned and looked at me. “Luna, you won’t be allowed to compete. You’re the wrong gender,” he said, trying to keep his tone gentle. “You’re telling me that because you think that I don’t know?” I asked him. “No, but I think that you’ve conveniently put that criteria aside, just as you have the realisation that you’re not going to be able to slip in as an extra contestant. Only one, one, candidate from the generation of each of the four families is allowed to stand and be tested,” Kingston recited. “They are going to recognise your name and won’t let you compete.” I waved my hand and released some of the energy that was building up inside of me as I heard him speak. The heaviest of the books on the desk lifted, as did the desk, hovering in the air an inch above the floor before falling back. “Just because you’re pissed that I’m right doesn’t give you the right to come in here and throw my stuff all about like that,” Kingston reminded me. “Since when can you lift a desk?” he added. I shrugged. “I’ve been practicing. Just because I can’t compete doesn’t mean that I can’t keep my skills up.” Kingston actually seemed impressed. “Yeah, I get that, but that right there, well it’s damn near levitation,” he said. “You aren’t supposed to be able to do that if there isn’t any wind about, right?” “Technically the gift is linked to air, as in the stuff that we breathe. It’s easy to manipulate when you understand the interconnectivity of it all. Hell, you’re the Scholar here, tell me that it is impossible,” I added with a wry smile. He bit his lip and turned away instead of answering me. “Okay, now what was that all about?” I asked, moving so that I stayed in his line of sight. “Come on, share with your best friend.” “I’ve been reading a lot lately,” he said. “That’s kind of like when you told me I was a female just now. That’s not that much of a surprise to hear,” I reminded him. His family were part of the Scholars, a group of knowledgeable people who studied the scripts, looking for portents of things to come. “Yeah, but this is more like the stuff I’m not supposed to be reading about,” Kingston explained hesitantly. “Well, what is it that you’re trying to tell me without telling me about?” I demanded, getting sick of the way he was skipping around something. When he did it in the past, it usually meant something big, possibly something bad. “Is air the only element that you can manipulate like that? Is it the only one that you can summon from next to nothing?” he added. I paused. “I’ve never tried any other one. I mean, my family are all air users, much to my father’s chagrin. My mother, he doesn’t speak about her and what her family were connected with but I believe that there had to be some connection there.” “You don’t know if your mother was an elemental?” Kingston asked me. “Well, no. I mean, she died when she gave birth to me and my father doesn’t like to talk about it and her family had dropped all connection with us. I assume that they were some kind of elemental given the way my father goes on about the dilution of magical blood, just not air users because if you’re an air user, chances are there’s a blood connection to other users,” I explained to him, even though it was unnecessary. He knew it from his talks with my father. As a member of the Scholars, Kingston was permitted access to the ruling families to consult on a variety of things. “Do you know anything about your mother or any of her family?” he asked me. “I don’t even know what her name was,” I reminded him. “I mean, if she had have lived, maybe I would have gotten to know her family and all but I didn’t. Why are you asking about all of this again?” Kingston looked at me. “Have you ever tried, even just on a whim, to summon fire into an empty fireplace?” he asked me. “No. I was told that it’s too unpredictable to try that sort of thing. When my cousin and I were being told of our family’s elemental connection it was drilled into us.” “That’s not really an answer to my question. I mean, I know you. Whenever someone tells you not to do something, the first thing that you do, once you’re out of their sight, is to try,” Kingston explained. “So, come on, tell me, did you try anything?” I looked away from him. “You did,” he said, and when I turned back to look at him, I saw him smiling at me, almost to the point of laughter. “What did you do?” I sighed. Might as well admit to it, I thought with a shrug. “Do you remember the lake that appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the forest?” I asked him, knowing that he did. “Given that my father and I spent a month trying to find something in the texts about something like that appearing like that, yeah. That was you? Which part did you create?” I raised my eyebrows at him and attempted to look innocent. “I connected with earth to create the hole,” I admitted. “How come it’s full of clear water? How come it isn’t a huge mud puddle?” Kingston asked me. I noticed that as I spoke he was making notes of our conversation. I looked at him until he dropped the pencil. “Sorry, old habit.” “There were a few tyres that I found nearby. They were like huge tractor ones. Anyway, I connected with fire and when I touched each one they softened to the point of being malleable enough to cover the sides of the hole,” I said, moving to sit at the table. “And the water? Were you the one to fill it up?” “Actually, that wasn’t me. I had to get home and when I came back the next day I figured that some water user had filled it for me,” I told him. “What’s with all the questions anyway?” Kingston turned to the set of shelves to his right. He reached up and pulled down a heavily dusted tome. He put it on the table between us so that it would open facing me and moved to stand behind me. He reached over my shoulder and rubbed at the dust on the cover to reveal the front of the book. There were glyphs that I couldn’t read in gold gilt set into the leather of the book cover. “It’s the writing of the Ancients,” I said, recognising the glyphs that were catching the light and shining back at me. “Care to translate it for me?” I asked him as I pointed to the words. “I mean, after all, you’re Mr Language.” “It’s like you know that sucking up to I will get you what you want. Aren’t you going to touch it?” he asked, nodding at the book and the way that my hand was hovering over the top of it. I shook my head. I didn’t know how to explain to him that I couldn’t bring myself to touch the cover of the book. Every time that I even thought about doing so, it filled me with a sense of impending doom. Kingston smiled and reached over to the cover and turned it gently. Sometime in the moments where I had been staring at the book he had slipped on a pair of thin, cotton gloves. “What you’re looking at is a book that no one else in this locale has ever seen. Their ancestors from maybe five generations back might have seen it but I can guarantee that no one else has.” I thought about asking him to justify what he meant but watched instead as he turned the pages in the book. “What are you looking for?” I asked, noting the determined way that his hands were moving through the pages as if he were indeed searching for something. He stopped at an opening and ran a finger along the page, coming to a stop midway. The entire page was covered in the same glyphs that were on the cover. “This,” he said. “Well, again, I can’t read it, so please, by all means, translate and tell me what it is all about,” I said, with an encouraging nod at the page. “‘There will come one who embodies the five gifts. They alone will be the leader of all, and usher us into a new age of prosperity.’ That’s what it says,” Kingston told me. “And no, that wasn’t an error in translating. The ancients did not specify a gender for their prophesised leader.” “Five gifts? Don’t you mean four? That’s all there is,” I reminded him. Kingston lifted an eyebrow at me. “Are you sure? I mean, how do we know?” he stated. I looked back at him, wanting to argue with him about it, mostly because I wanted him to tell me that it was true. “Okay, so, say I believe this is true, what is that fifth element?” I asked finally. “Well, once, many, many generations ago, the fifth element was something akin to heart, but I think that might be the old scribes over describing things. I don’t actually think, if what they describe is true, that there is any heart involved in the people they describe.” “Why not?” I asked him, not liking the way that he looked as he spoke about the ancients. I definitely heard some criticism. “I mean, I could be, for all we know.” Kingston nodded. Then he walked out of the room and returned with a metal bowl. He motioned for me to move all the books out of the way and then, when I had done so, he put it in the middle of the table. “Fill it up with water,” he told me. “Now, just like that?” I asked him. “I told you that I can’t do something like that,” I added. “Try,” he insisted. “Think of this as your testing ceremony and the room is full of people, judging you, waiting for you to fail because they think that you aren’t good enough because of your gender.” I gave him a dirty look and then cleared my mind. Okay, I can do this, I thought as I held a hand above the rim of the bowl. Okay, water, right, fill the bowl, I added, realising that I probably had to focus more to get it to happen. The bowl on the table shook and looked as if it were on the verge of almost rolling over. “I think that you’re summoning air,” Kingston added, a wry smile on his face. Bastard’s enjoying this, I thought as I tried to keep my focus on the bowl. Then a thin curl of smoke came off of the bowl, even though there was nothing in there. Then, a single low flame curled up from the edge of the metal. “I’m pretty sure that’s fire, like the complete opposite of water,” Kingston said as he moved to extinguish the flame. Watching as he doused the flame with a cup of water he had brought in with him, I felt a little disappointed. “Okay, so, I’m not the one. I can handle the disappointment. What are we going to do about finding this one though? I mean they should be told about their birthright so that they can step up and do something. Does that book of yours give any indication of how to find them?” Kingston shook his head. “Nope.” “So, what happens next?” I asked him as I picked up the bowl of water and walked it to the kitchen. “Well, we go to the testing tomorrow and see what happens next,” Kingston suggested. “I’m kind of hoping that we end up with your dimwit cousin as our next ruler. The devil you know and all that.” “Yeah, possibly,” I agreed, albeit half-heartedly. Admit it, for a moment there you thought that you could really be the next ruler, the voice in my head whispered. No, I thought at it firmly, but the potential to find them is out there and that’s what I think I am going to do with my life. (C) Patricia Kekewick 2017

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