It’s that time again - time for flash fiction from around the world. Established authors, up-and-comings, and yours-truly, all sharing in a blog hop for your pleasure. Don’t forget to scroll to the bottom to find the links for the other stories!
Tears and Toil
They’d been walking down the stairs into the furniture store bargain basement one minute, the girl, her father, and her new stepmother, and walking up into mist and magic the next.
Obsidian gates opened for the woman, and as the three crossed through, the woman’s plain off-the-rack black suit changed into a flowing black gown shot through with diamonds, and her hair and lips changed from wine to blood.
Star looked at her step-mother and realized she was the queen of this place—wherever it was—and looked at the starry sky above her and looked at her father.
Her father was gazing at his bride as if he could see no other. “I will build you a garden,” he swore. “To show my love for you. The perfect garden.”
The queen nodded, and so the contract was made. The man became the gardener, pouring his life into the soil and seeds, and when he came too close to perfect, the queen ripped out trees and bushes and flowers and left them roots-up and weeping.
When the child could stand being forgotten no longer, she hid herself inside a bag of trash and escaped the starry night and obsidian walls for the mists, where she survived and fought and learned, and when the invitations went out, she was ready.
Dressed in dawn-colored tatters, she presented herself at the gates with the others and was permitted to enter.
She found him in the farthest corner of the garden, a stone man hemmed in by fading iridescent black ropes of magic, hunched over a raised flowerbed, and she despaired. He still lived, or the old, thick bindings would have faded to nothing, but had she come too late?
“By blood and bone and tears and toil fairly given,” she chanted. “By seeds and shoots and blooms and soil long nourished. By honor, by word, by blood, your contract is fulfilled.”
The stone figure shuddered and chips of granite flaked away from his eyes.
Then a man slid out of the stone, leaving a hollow husk behind, and stepped away from the flowerbed. He stooped more than she remembered, and his face fell into lines of concentration, but when he smiled, she saw her father.
He squinted. One hand reached for her hair, but stopped before touching. “Star?”
“I was,” she said, forcing herself to be still, to give him time. “I am Dawn now.”
“You… freed me.”
She scowled. “You freed yourself. You kept your promise and more. She allowed her garden to finally be perfect. I just said the words.”
He stilled, and for an instant she worried that he had become stone again. “Why today?” he growled.
Trembling—in anger and fear—she pointed. “She weds another today. She wanted the garden perfect for her wedding guests.”
Anger rose in him, flushing his face and brightening his eyes. “And you?” he said coldly. “Are you one of her guests?”
“How else could I get in and out again?” Her lip quivered. “Today is the only day she has allowed free passage in and out of her realm since I escaped.”
He softened. “You came for me.”
Lifting her chin, she said, “You completed your contract with her. You swore to make her the perfect garden and you have. I came to ask you to fulfill your contract with me. Leave her. Be my father again and let me be your daughter. Love me and no one else until I am ready.”
She watched him, under his second wife’s starry skies, the man who used to be stone, and before that the gardener, and before that her father, and saw the magic bindings rise out of his body and hover over him. She’d guessed right. At some point, he had promised to love her, and now all that contract needed was a renewal.
But a shadow crept across her mind, dark and sharp. Am I doing to him what she did?
“Wait,” she said.
“Daughter?” He shook his head as if flies buzzed in his ears. “What’s wrong?”
“I won’t make you my slave.” She bit her lip. “I won’t bind you like she did.”
“Living in the mists,” she said, gesturing to the obsidian wall, “I learned to see magic bindings, and what I just asked you… I won’t. I won’t make you mine the way she made you hers.”
Moving slowly enough to allow her to flee if she wished, he took her in his arms and held her as he had not held her since they’d descended those stairs so long ago. “You are mine,” he said simply. “My daughter, my blood, my hero. I owe you your childhood, and I will stay with you as long as you need.”
Something broken inside her healed.
Even from behind her closed eyelids, she could see bright threads of gold wrap them both. With the threads came obligation, yes, but with both parties’ understanding and willing acceptance of the terms, also joy.
When she was ready, he released her, and she wiped her eyes, and they walked through the gardens together, a tall, hunched man gone gray from years of service, and a child with dawn-colored hair and dawn-colored tatters.
They walked past the queen in her ice-froth dress, and her new, dazed husband already being leeched of magic by his bride. They walked past the guests of all shapes and sizes, glitzed and glamored and glorious. They walked past the guards who were bound by the queen’s word not to stop them.
Outside the obsidian gates, outside the queen’s realm, the starry sky changed to gray mist, and the man faltered.
“Don’t worry, Papa,” the girl said, twisting the magic all around them.
He swallowed. “How can I worry with my daughter by my side?”
Dawn smiled at him and clutched his hand, and together they walked into her realm, into the light.
For other great stories, follow the links:
Coming Soon:, by Karen Lynn
Home Repairs, by Jason Gallagher
The Robot Accomplice, by Janna Willard
I – The Magician, by Raven O’Fiernan
Evening Update, by Elizabeth McCleary
Allies, by Eli Winfield
The Salem Witch Trials and What We Can Learn From Them by Amaliz Tenner, Class 4c, by Katharina Gerlach
The Fairest, by Nic Steven
Something About Mary, by Bill Bush
Grumpy Old Harpies, by Juneta Key
The Goddess of Wine, by Vanessa Wells
A Melody in A Grotto, by S S Prince