Published by Isabel Caves at Shakespir
Copyright 2017 Isabel Caves
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Table of Contents
They said I couldn’t be a mage because I lacked instinct. I couldn’t tell when the magic was about to turn sour. That’s why they rejected my application to the academy.
But that was before the plague. Before the devastation that ripped through their halls.
The academy’s top mages were helpless. They themselves were dropping like flies. The academy was in a state of crisis. And suddenly, me and my sour magic were in high demand.
I’m a top mage now. I just needed practice. They were too arrogant to see it, but I had talent all along.
Creating the plague was easy. It only took me a few tries to get it right. The end result was pungently effective.
It turns out sour magic is my specialty.
I sealed her in a prison of glass. It is the only element that can withstand her evil.
She stalked these lands as a human once, killing the man who thought he was her father and vilifying her step-family.
So if you are wandering the forests of Western Europe, and should happen upon a glass slipper – do not touch it. Do not listen to any voices that may come from within it.
Treat it with the utmost fear, for it holds the demon known as Cinderella.
The pendulum swings back and forth, back and forth.
On each seventh swing a life is lost.
A soul is torn from its body, a family mourns. Candles are lit, prayers are said, and a creature of the night spreads its wings for the first time.
It waits for the pendulum to strike seven. The coffin creaks open, a scream is muffled, the next victim is claimed.
The pendulum swings back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
No green thing grew there. Not a drop of water could be found for miles.
But those scorched sands, they hid secrets.
That’s how I met the djinni.
Buried in the sand for a thousand years, that’s what the scriptures said. I braced myself as his vapour poured from the crack in the bottle. I was prepared to slay whatever creature arose from the vapour. But when the djinni appeared, there was such sadness in its eyes.
“What is your wish, mortal?” it rumbled.
There was an eternity of tiredness in its voice. Had it given up hope of escaping from the bottle? Was it tired of tricking mortals for so many centuries? Did it still delight in their misery?
There was such sadness in its eyes.
So I wished for something that made it freeze with surprise. I made a wish it would finally have no desire to thwart.
I smiled. “I wish for you to be happy,” I said.
Deep in the bowels of hell, a heart glowed fiercely on a cave wall.
The devil found this most unfortunate. He tried having his minions scrub it off. That didn’t work. They poured water on it. The heart glowed as fiercely as ever.
Scorching, disinfecting, hitting with a stick…none of these worked.
The devil was at his wit’s end. “Alright,” he said. “Who’s lost their heart? Come and claim it before I lose my temper.”
There were no takers for the heart. The devil was going to have to look at it every morning when he woke up, hanging as it was on his very own bedroom wall.
To make matters worse, a gaping hole had appeared in his chest.
He thought he’d better cover that up pretty quickly.
Fields of sunburnt barley and a sky the colour of blueberries. That’s all I remember from my childhood.
I remember being older, thirteen and upwards, but before then there was just one image: me, and that field.
I miss the country. I have since the day Grandpa abruptly moved us away. Our farm was perfect. Idyllic.
At least, that’s the way I remember it.
Others tell strange tales. Tales of scarecrows that call for children in the night. Of twiglike fingers reaching for them, trapping them in bodies of straw and taking their places in the human world.
I don’t remember those rumours. Then again, I barely remember being a child at all.
I still long for the field. I long to be back in that one memory where everything felt just right. I feel like there’s something not right with the way I’m living. It sounds strange, but I feel like I move too much.
I long to be back where I belong, under that blueberry sky. To just stand in the barley field with my arms stretched out to the side, drinking in the summer air…and to finally, once again, be still.
As the ocean glimmers a powder blue, the valkyrie in me stirs.
I remember the battlefield and I remember the slain.
I remember death under a blood-red sky.
And I remember his eyes, his unspoken wish.
There are some soldiers that never leave you. They are the ones you cannot save, one way or another. Their destinies belong to fate and fate alone.
And yet, as the battlefield burns with the blood of the fallen, the human in me stirs.
He was not meant for me but I took him anyway.
I will be punished for my disobedience. They will take him from me and return him to the arms of fate.
Until then he sleeps in a world of powder blue.
I found the centre of the universe.
It was in a dark void adrift with dead moons. There was nowhere for my spaceship to dock. The moons looked hostile, and I didn’t want to anchor myself to something that didn’t know where it was going. So I simply drifted alongside them.
It had been a few hours when it suddenly became very cold. Despite my ship’s heating mechanisms, I shivered. A great evil lurked here. I could feel it.
It called to me. It pulled me away from my body, into a sea of darkness. I was everywhere, and nowhere. I called for help but no help came.
I feel my humanity slipping away. It is replaced with an icy breeze that fills me with malevolence.
I am not alone.
There are others trapped here.
We wait for you.
Your planet is young, but you will find us when you do. Look for a dark miasma that calls to you. Do not dock on any of the moons – they are hostile, and you do not know where you will end up.
Do not be afraid.
Come and find us.
We are waiting.
The world was a painting of silver and blue on the night the moon fell from the sky. An ethereal orb, it fell into the ocean and was swallowed by dark waves.
The mermaids delighted in their new light. They embraced the gift of the moon, and for the first night in centuries they were able to dream.
The world changed.
Above the sea the nights were long and empty.
But in its glittering depths the mermaids still dreamed; they dreamed of rain and grass, of whispering breezes and seashells glowing in the sand.
They dreamed and they dreamed, and the waters were forever filled with magic.
It was under the bridge that I found it again.
I’d left it there so long ago. I thought time would bury it, or destroy it. But there it was, undamaged – the ancient scroll I’d wished never to see again.
I was a young archaeologist eager to discover the secrets of the world. I discovered this one in the ruins of an old cemetery. The scroll was yellow, the ink smudged, but I could still read it.
It told the story of a young maiden whose heart burned with love for a demon. But she was mortal, and her love for him would die with her. The demon eventually killed the maiden and devoured her heart so her love could be with him forever.
I took the scroll home to study.
It was the worst decision I’d ever made.
Its pages haunted me. Every dream turned into a nightmare. The maiden’s howls tore through my very bones: Was it love or betrayal? Love or betrayal?
I could no longer sleep.
I tried to burn the scroll, but it wouldn’t burn. I tried tearing it into pieces. The pieces always became one again. So I sealed it in a small chest, inscribed a warning above the lock, and buried it next to an old bridge that no one used anymore.
The years passed. Now I, an old man, kneel under that bridge again. I hold that same scroll between my weathered fingers. I hear the maiden’s whisper rise from its yellowed pages:
Was it love or betrayal?
Love or betrayal?
I bit into the fruit. Its juice burned like sweet fire and I coughed.
Was I immortal now?
I touched a palm to my cheek. I didn’t feel any different. This was the forbidden fruit, no? The fruit from the cursed persimmon tree?
I took another bite.
The juice felt warm in my veins, and my whole body became warm with it. I began to feel sleepy.
I lay down under the tree. Its leaves fell into a gentle dance above me, each one a tiny hypnotic flame.
I felt myself slipping into a dream…
I still sleep under that persimmon tree.
I don’t know if it’s been decades or centuries. I long to feel the wind in my hair again, but I know that if I wake I’ll die.
Every so often someone comes to visit me. A young girl with hair like flames. She waters the tree. She caresses my cheek and whispers “thank you”.
Her breath burns like sweet fire.
Her name was Ivy, or so they said, and no one knew quite what she was.
I’d grown up with stories about the mad girl who lived in the jungle. She’d been here since my great-grandfather’s time, but she never aged. She watched us often but never spoke.
Was she a witch? A spirit? An immortal faerie?
And what did she want from us?
I saw her only once. I was picking plums on the outskirts of the village. The only sound was the steady plonk…plonk… of plums dropping into my apron. As I worked I became aware of someone watching me. I looked up to the canopy and there she was, a waif of a child, looking down at me with sad curiosity.
I should have fled. Who knows what strange magic she had. But for some reason I didn’t.
I still don’t know why I did it.
I held a plum out to her. “They’re sweet,” I said.
She stared at me, confused.
“I…I can’t eat all of them, so you ought to take one.”
She didn’t move. But as I walked away I looked back and saw something that made me smile. Ivy had come down from the tree and was clasping the plum with both hands, an expression of wonder on her face.
After that Ivy disappeared.
The days turned to years, the years to decades, but no one saw hide nor hair of the strange girl who had once watched us.
After all those years why had she chosen that moment to leave us?
My grandchildren think I’m telling tales, but that day as I walked away from the jungle Ivy glanced up from her uneaten plum to look at me one last time, and there was a change in her eyes. Around that same time I felt a change in the trees around us. The whole jungle shifted.
When the young ones have left and I’m alone in my hut, I ponder that thought. That somehow, in that strangest of meetings, Ivy had finally found what she was looking for.
Isabel Caves is a writer and poet living in Auckland, New Zealand. She has been writing for as long as she can remember, and wrote her first “book” when she was 8. To read more of her writing, you can .
Treat yourself to bursts of magic with this collection of quick, entertaining tales from fantasy writer Isabel Caves. Each of these 12 tales is under 400 words in length, with most being in the 100-200 words range.