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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In which I ruminate on a fresh story idea and upcoming things to do

Imagine if there was a little girl whose tangled hair could catch fairies?

While working on getting my 9 year old to take a bath and brush her hair, that’s what I said to her, and it called to mind all kinds of interesting images and possibilities.

Like, what would happen if Bridget’s hair was a fairy-net? She’d go running across a field or through a trail in the woods, and come out with one or two of the Wee Folk waving from behind her ears, calling to be let free. Worse than touching your hair and feeling a mosquito or a deerfly buzzing around back there! I mean, that’s alarming enough, to reach back and where you expect nothing but softness and maybe an elastic or barrette come loose, there’s a tumbling, vibrating, bumbling creature bouncing against your fingers or the palm of your hand. If it were a fairy, though, or a pixie, or a leprechaun, would there also be hell to pay? Or would they be understanding of the mistake?

Some people are particularly attractive to mosquitoes. What if someone was attractive to supernatural creatures, through no fault of his/her own?

I’m thinking it’s a a great story idea and now it’s floating around in my head, wanting a plot line and characters and a rich setting to play in. I’ll put a pin in it, as the saying goes now, as I’ve got to get other things done first.

How would you brush fairies out of your hair, though? Would their wings get caught? Maybe if it was curly . . . They might not like the smell of the leftover shampoo fragrance. What if the person who owned the hair didn’t even notice the fairies at first! How would you explain that to the poor little things, watching a great big comb coming down at them? Minding their own business, working happily around the forest, visiting relatives and picking up roots and berries for supper, when a great wind comes up and blows them into a tangled web of silky strands. At first, they think it’s a spider’s web — would that be a fairy’s greatest fear, to be caught by an untamed spider? — but quickly learn it’s something else entirely. It’s a human’s hair.

Would time flow differently for a fairy, being so small? What seems like hours to them might be only minutes for us. So upon being caught up in the hair, the fairies might have to resort to drastic means for freedom.

Makes me think of the Spiderwick Chronicles. I enjoy those stories. I’ve also got the Squished Fairy Book, and I love reading Jenny Twist’s story, Away With the Fairies. Hubby showed me a video tonight, too, taken by a mother who claims she saw a tiny man running through her kitchen.

Yup. I’ve been hit with the next thing to work on as a WIP, already. Not even a day out of the last one.

Meanwhile, I’ve got the Ottawa ComicCon trip in one week (yikes!), plus sharing carpooling of our 14 year old with another boy to referee training sessions this weekend (sadly, the timing is such that we won’t get to see Avengers: Age of Ultron right away), and I’m auditioning for a part in Shakespeare in the Park, so I have to work on my monologue and playing my French horn. Hubby did a lovely job of starting our spring cleaning in the house, so that needs to be kept going, and progress reports for the month have to go out on Monday, thus I must spend a few hours finalizing marks and reading blogs. Tomorrow I have to remember to pick up waffles and fixings, plus decorations, for my writing students’ Camp NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up party, and decide who will receive buttons as awards for different things.

And it’s Beltane tomorrow. My old University coven is getting together, hours away from here, and I wish I could be with them to celebrate. At least, for this fire festival, the snow is mostly off the ground. It could be possible to follow the tradition of bathing my face in the first morning dew, if it’s not frosty out. That’s something else that needs tending this weekend, or after work: my gardens need cleaning up and clearing out for fresh planting. And I need to plan out the expansion. I want to add two or three more beds this year, as I work to make the most of our backyard space.

Hope I don’t get anything caught in my hair, short as it is. Bugs or fairies. I don’t need itchy bites, burning stings, or Wee Folk curses hurled in my direction!

Oh, and still no title for the Snowmobile Story. It’ll come to me. Been getting suggestions from students, too.