Wishes and Fools: my NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge Round 1 Story!

A few months ago, I teased this one because I didn’t want to post it until I knew how I’d done. No feedback just yet, other than two most excellent beta readers (love you, Tar and Jenny!), but it did place 10 out of 15. The story for Round 2 this weekend is under way; I’m currently struggling with an ending.

Here, for your reading enjoyment, is my 1,000 word flash fiction fantasy with a setting of a mountain stream, and milk as my object!

Wishes and Fools

Synopsis: When a hero desires to win another’s heart, the lore of his village says to petition the Wee Folk of the mountain stream with a gift of milk. He completes his journey, but his skepticism, greed, and impatience prove to be his downfall when he unintentionally murders one of the Fae, and he must pay for the crime with his own life — although not in a conventional way.

The old mothers of the village have always said that when you want something badly enough, an offering to the Wee Folk is as sure to help as anything.

I remain skeptical. But every morning the winds sweep down from the mountain and over the fields of flax as golden as her hair, and every evening the sky rises dark and sparkling as her eyes. Her lips are the red of the wine in my cup, and her bosom soft and fragrant as two rounds of bread by the fire . . .

I won’t tell anyone. No-one has to know that I have sought blessings on the mountain, from the Little People. Perhaps, one day, when her golden hair has silvered and my hands are weakened, I will tell her how my longing drove me to the hidden stream near its peak, where no water should flow, bearing a gift for the Fae stolen from my grandmother’s she-goat.

I leave before sunrise. There is enough light cast by the setting moon and the earliest blue of morning to see my way along the slender trail as it winds along the waist of the mountain. So few walk this path, there are places where it all but disappears. I know the way, though.

We all know the way.

My feet tread the ground in time to the beat of my heart. I pass the first marker,  touching the mass of boulders where the muscle of the mountain bulges forth, and I press on, following the path as it ascends through a field of slippery shale. It is here, the old mothers have said, that trolls made their home until the Wee Folk came and drove them all away.

A rope bridge provides passage over the second marker, a cascading waterfall so high above the valley that its waters disappear into an underground river well before they ever reach the village. I check that my pack is secure and grasp the sides of the bridge tightly.

In the middle of my crossing, strong gusts swirl up from the chasm, blinding me with icy spray. The bridge shivers and sways, and I lose my footing, falling to my knees on the twisting fibres. I feel the flesh split and scrape on my legs, splinters digging into the soft skin between the callouses on my hands.

I pass the test, crawling the rest of the way over the bridge. It is tempting to lay still on the solid rock, breathing in the scents of lichen and damp stone, but I am so close . . .

The air is thinner here, where the path is steepest. The sun breaks over the horizon as I keep my weight close to the steps on the near-vertical cliff. It is as though each brief platform had been carved as stairs for giants.

And then, the final ledge ends not in another sheer wall, but opens out into a miraculous plain. Here, the snow field meets the bare rock and the granite is darkened with sheets of water. There are patches of soft grass that grow wider near the stream, and tufts of strange, fragrant flowers.

I stumble forward, my footsteps loud in the stillness — not even the wind dares to blow in this place. The gurgling laughter of the impossible mountain stream makes me shiver. Hurriedly, I crouch by the streambed and work open the leather knots of my pack.

I pour the milk into the bone cup I’ve brought, and say the words. “Please, let her love me as much as I love her,” I add in a whisper.

And then I wait.

What happens next? The old mothers were never clear. I expect a fairy to appear, smiling knowingly; an elf to come forth, nodding sagely.

I am so weary, I put my head down on my arm. I dream of her, dancing, whirling close to me and then away again. Always away.

The bright light of the sun wakes me, now fully over the horizon. The stream gurgles and laughs at me.

I am a fool.

Enraged, I rise, prepared to kick the stolen milk over the precipice. But it wouldn’t do to waste it. Instead, I take the cup to drink it down myself.

Too late, I see the little figure clinging to the edge inside.

I feel its wings flutter madly against the roof of my mouth, sharp nails grasping at my teeth and my tongue. But I have tossed back the drink as I would my ale, and in another swallow, the Fae is gone.

I fall back, stunned. My stomach twists, and I pound at my midsection, willing myself to bring it up, but there is nothing to be done. I lay in a heap, sweating, my heart racing.

I must get home. The old mothers will know what to do.

I try to rise, but my legs refuse me. My pulse thunders in my ears; the twisting in my gut now a burning pain. I shudder, my back arching; I am a fish on a hook, pierced through the shoulders; my gasps and cries come to my ears strangely, as though they belong to someone else . . .

I am spent. Thirsty. The leaping water beside me giggles and beckons, but I roll over, looking for the bone cup. My tunic feels too heavy, falling over my head like a tent; I pull my arms out of too-large sleeves to crawl. The soft grass cradles my naked waist and legs, for I have left my breeches and boots, too.

The cup looms before my eyes as a near-empty barrel, glowing pearly white with milk film. I put out my tongue, laving up drops of the precious liquid.

There are footsteps on the path. I see wisps of golden hair flying free of her braid.

I must hide my nakedness. I make to rise, and a wind aids me.

The thrumming pressure at my back is not the wind.

I have wings.

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