The Fern Flower Summons (5 of 5)

Photo by Jonathan Petersson on Pexels.com

This is the fifth installment of five. Below are links to previous episodes for anyone who missed them.


“The Fern Flower Summons” (Part Five)

Stumbling to his feet, raising a hand to protect his eyes, Connor squinted into the unexpected glare. Off to his right, he could discern a frail old man’s silhouetted figure walking toward him within the brilliance.

“What? Who are you?”

“Someone you should trust.”

“I don’t understand.”

(connor time runs low)

“Wait! Where is that light coming from? Is that another fern flower?”

(connor a better life awaits take it)

“Ignore the voice! Yes, by God, it is another fern flower! Listen to me, Connor! You’re making a mistake!”

“What? I’m so confused! How do you know…?”

(connor the bloom fades)

“Using the flower is a mistake. What you’re asking for is wrong.”

“Asking for my fair share is wrong? You don’t understand. It’s humiliating how they treat me, my family, everyone living in orbit!”

“I know how you feel. But, this isn’t the right way.”

(connor)

“You don’t know how I feel! You don’t know me!”

“I do because I remember. The exhilaration of stepping into a new world intoxicated me. I gave in to the temptation, ignoring the warning I felt, the warning you feel now. My greed destroyed me, leaving only anguish, robbing me of the joy I sought.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m you. I’m what you become. I am your future.”

“Impossible.”

“It’s true. Trust me, Connor. Wanting for nothing, having everything life offers is a lovely dream, but….”

“You’re lying, trying to trick me out of what I deserve!”

“No, I’m trying to save you and prevent me from ever happening.”

“This is crazy! The flower won’t give me what I want? The voice lies?”

“The voice speaks truthfully, but it does not reveal the cost of wishing.”

“What cost?”

“Choosing this path will provide you with unimaginable wealth. But, you can never share it.”

“And that’s a bad thing? Surface-dwelling snobs hoard everything without consequence!”

“Connor, you will gain what you wish but lose everything you love. The fern flower’s power can never be used to help anyone else, even friends and family.”

“Hey! Disembodied voice! Is this true?”

(using the flower to help others will negate its power undoing your wish)

“Will my wish hurt my family?” 

(no your good fortune need not come at their expense)

“See! I can make things better for myself. I’ll explain everything. My family will be happy for me. They’ll understand. Finally, I’ll be able to help them if there’s a real emergency. I’ll give everything up when I need to.”

“Connor, altering reality is dangerous. It changed me. I didn’t want to acknowledge it, but I began to think of myself as invincible, above the law. Justifying my actions became easier the further I slipped into the world I created for myself. But, it all came crashing down when Phoebe…when she….”

“What about Phoebe? Why are you crying? What happens to her?”

“I had the power to save her, but I hesitated. Addicted to the life I created, I feared losing the flower. I reasoned the odds of helping her were slim. I told myself I would sacrifice everything when all other options ran out, but I waited too long. She died unexpectedly from complications during an experimental procedure. My greed subjected her to needless suffering.”

“What? I’d never allow that to happen!”

“Connor, I’ve lived a privileged life, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. I’m ashamed to admit it, but my memories of enduring ridicule have always prevented me from doing the right thing. No matter how I tried to have it all, the flower has consistently denied me the true treasure of sharing my life with someone else.”

(infinite are the paths the flower offers with foresight you may choose differently)

“Yes, you’ve given me the warning I need.”

“No, don’t do this.”

“Why shouldn’t I enjoy the good life while I can? If I make wise decisions, nothing bad will happen.”

“Think of Phoebe.”

“I’ll write all this down! I promise to remember! I’ll be better than you!”

“Will you? Is it worth the risk? Will you accept wealth, power, and status now, knowing people you love might suffer and die because of it?”

“But, the voice says I can take a different path.” 

“I beg you! Walk away from this evil!”

(it is time to choose)

His future self’s warning frightened Connor. He rejected the possibility of ever becoming this wretch. But, the thorny seed of doubt had been planted. No matter how he tried to pluck it out, the grotesque image of a bleak, lonely future grew, threatening to overwhelm him. He shook, cried, and stamped his feet as he gazed between the ugly old man and the exquisite flower.

“Connor, all the universes have to offer isn’t worth a damn thing without someone to share it.”

(will you take the flower)

Connor hesitated, hoping to ascertain the true strength of his character. He desperately wanted what his other classmates possessed but feared the uncertainty. He knew he couldn’t rule out the danger of making the same mistakes. 

“Connor, reflect on the happiness you have now being amongst friends and family. Contentment comes in many forms.”

He recognized the truth in the old man’s words, realizing he only yearned to be accepted. Suddenly, he understood if Bright Star Academy couldn’t give him that, somewhere else could. Fate had dealt him a difficult hand, but he suspected changing reality should happen, moment by moment, throughout one’s life.

“I’m afraid I must decline. Some things are just too good to be true.”

0500 hours, June 21, 2433

Connor found himself abruptly standing in the meadow overlooking the school campsite. His teachers and classmates gathered quietly about the fading fire. He entered the circle and sat down next to a fellow student whose name he couldn’t remember.  

“Where’ve you been, Connor?”

“Got lost. Thought I found something. Turned out to be nothing.”

“Well, you missed the excitement. Freddy fell into the river, trying to fish a wreath out. He almost drowned! Ironic, he’s so athletic but apparently can’t swim.”

“Must’ve been quite the sight.”

It occurred to Connor his classmate spoke to him normally without any hint of derision. 

“Wait…why… why are you talking to me?”

“Ouch! But suppose I deserve that. Hey, I know I shouldn’t let those jerks intimidate me. And I’m sorry, Freddy and Brad give you such a hard time.”

“It has made things kind of rough.”

“Well, you seem like a nice guy. Anyway, I’m tired of letting them decide who’s cool and who’s not. Personally, I could care less if you live in orbit.”

“Now, I need to apologize. I’ve no idea what your name is. In my defense though, I don’t talk to anyone.”

“Nathan.”

“Nice to meet you, Nathan.”

Professor Dalton interrupted the quiet of predawn as he jumped up and down excitedly. 

“Amazing, Dabrowski! That last spike in multidimensional radiation topped everything! I hope it didn’t damage my scanner. It’s completely silent now. I’m not even picking up the background levels we saw yesterday afternoon. Whatever it was, it’s gone now. But, I must say this has been a worthwhile experiment. Plenty of data to publish!”

“Ah, sorry to hear that, Dalton. Perhaps, the approaching dawn drives the denizens of Para away. Look, the sun’s beginning to rise.”

Connor smiled eagerly, facing east to witness his first sunrise. He couldn’t help but feel as if he had passed some test. He didn’t expect his difficulties to vanish, but he felt hope again. 

1200 hours, June 21, 2507

Jeeves and Alfred waited, watching the sun climb higher and higher.

“It’s 12:00. Sir, has not returned. What does this mean?”

“Sir has found what he sought.”

“Now, what?”

“Per his instructions, seek out our new master in New Seattle.” 


This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!

The Fern Flower Summons (4 of 5)

Photo by Kelly on Pexels.com

This is the fourth installment of five. Below are links to previous episodes for anyone who missed them.


“The Fern Flower Summons” (Part Four)

Convinced the source of the distant glow was multidimensional, Connor rushed off, determined to confide in Professor Dabrowski. Having misjudged the distance and his ability to navigate the darkness, he stopped to recover his bearings. His heart sunk, realizing the light had vanished. As Connor searched for it, the dazzling radiance rematerialized in the field before him. Staring in disbelief, he couldn’t shake the feeling it beckoned to him. Mesmerized, he stepped tentatively forward. 

(come closer)

Startled, Connor halted. Rooted in place, he trembled, doubting his sanity. 

(don’t stop now)

“Who’s there?”

(follow the light all will be revealed)

An unbearable urge to enter the woods welled inside Connor. But, he found the light’s retreat into the dense undergrowth disconcerting. His courage failed at the forest’s edge.

“What do you want?”

(to help you connor)

“How do you know my name?”

(your mind is easy to read)

“Why couldn’t anyone else see the light?”

(you are the one chosen)

“Why?”

(you endure great unhappiness)

“Why should that matter?”

(is it wrong to remedy harm inflicted)

“No, but I don’t understand. Who are you? Why do you move deeper into the woods?”

(the gift resides there within)

“What gift?”

(indulge your curiosity bravely follow the light)

“Why should I trust you?”

(risk abides in every action and refusal to act)

“What will I find?”

(what you already suspect)

“The fern flower?”

(yes)

Connor wrestled with conflicting emotions. Endless possibilities ran through his mind. Although the offer tempted him, experience had taught Connor nothing in life was truly free. He supposed interacting with another dimension could have unforeseen consequences. Faltering, he tried to decide whether to play it safe and return to the bonfire or accept the risk, follow the light and take his fair share of wealth and privilege. 

“Stay there. Don’t move. I’m coming.”

Connor tramped forward, pushing through the brush until he stepped into a hollow filled with radiant light emanating from a floating orb of energy. A large oak stood in the middle, its branches thickly overhanging to create a secluded grotto. Nestled between the tree’s gnarled roots, a beautiful woodland fern grew. Fine motes of light drifted down from underneath its fronds, coating the ground with glittering dust. A golden stem extended up in its center, bearing a magnificent flower. 

Connor watched the luminous sphere descend and merge with the blossom to cast an array of iridescent light through its translucent petals. Connor felt an intense heat radiating from the bloom. 

(rarely do mortal eyes gaze upon the ferns fiery blossom)

“I… I am honored.”

(do you know the magic it holds)

“Professor Dabrowski says it has the power to grant wishes.”

(correct)

“If I wish for something, will it happen right away?”

(the magic works subtly until time brings your desire to fruition)

“How’s this possible? Magic isn’t real in this world.”

(what you call magic is simply energy capable of shifting reality bringing desired aspects from countless parallel universes into this one)

“I want to be like my classmates. I want to live on the surface. I want to be respected and admired. I want the life they have!”

(ask for limitless wealth the rest will follow)

Connor crept closer to the fern. Variegated light illuminated his body as he fell to his knees. Tentatively, he extended a hand to touch the flower.

“Do I pick the blossom?”

(fear not the bloom is imperishable utter a wish pluck it forever yours to keep)

The crack of snapping wood and crunching leaves startled Connor out of his reverie. He vainly searched the surrounding darkness, his eyes struggling to adjust. He suddenly suspected someone had followed him. The thought angered him.

“Hello? Who’s there?”

(a woodland creature ignore it make your wish)

Connor recalled his mother’s fear of wildlife.

“Animal? It sounds huge.”

(the hour grows late)

Detecting a trace of irritation in the voice’s tone, Conner again reconsidered accepting help from the multidimensional entity. But, his qualms fled as he turned back to behold the flower’s ethereal beauty. An intense desire for wealth and status reconquered him.

“Yes, of course. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

(hurry)

Energy pulsed up his hand as he grasped the flower, numbing his entire arm. The stem resisted his pull. 

(state your desire to reap the bloom)

“I want….”

A dazzling flash accompanied by the crackle of arching electricity interrupted Connor’s wish.

“Wait! Stop! Say nothing! There’s something you need to know!”


This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!

The Fern Flower Summons (3 of 5)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is the third installment of five. Below are links to previous episodes for anyone who missed them.


“The Fern Flower Summons” (Part Three)

“Shall we get started, Dabrowski? I have conducted baseline scans for dimensional radiation, but I’m depending on you to guide us through these archaic rituals.”

The literature professor set his suitcases down near the bonfire, opening one with a flourish. 

“Now, everyone, gather around. I’ve had costumes specially fabricated for this experiment. I think you’ll find them quite amusing.”

Connor’s classmates bunched forward, shoving him aside. 

“Don’t touch anything, Orbit!” someone whispered.

“Yeah, careful! I hear Orbitals are allergic to everything down here. You could go into anaphylactic shock.”

“It’s like Orbitals aren’t even human.”

“Probably why resettlement restrictions exist. It’s for their own good.”

“Nah, if we let everyone back, it’ll ruin the climate again.”

Mortified, Connor fled to another part of the circle.

“Tonight’s the eve of the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Humanity has long revered the solstice, believing it a time when a portal to the fey realms opens.”

“Fey realms? Professor, is that another name for Para?”

“Yes, I suspect so. Now, I’ve brought along plenty of traditional Slavic costumes for anyone wishing to dress the part. The academy has graciously provided funding for replicas made with transforma-cloth. You’ll find everything adjusts to fit.”

“Professor, they’re so garish!”

“Ah, but that was the style.”

The students began picking through the pile of multicolored garments as Professor Dabrowski opened the other suitcase to reveal a jumble of clippings. 

“Now, we have violet, rosemary, vervain, thyme, hyssop, mugwort, lavender, and St. John’s Wort.”

“What are we doing with flowers, Professor?”

“Making wreaths. These plants were believed to be magical, especially on Midsummer Night’s Eve.”

“How so? 

“Providing protection from wayward spirits or conversely attracting good luck. Some even claimed such herbs could help find true love.”

“Scandalous, Professor!”

“What kind of field trip is this?”

“Don’t be gross!”

“I think it’s romantic!”

“Ladies, gentlemen, please control yourselves. Remember, this is a school function.”

“Professor, how’re a bunch of flowers going to find true love?!”

“Glad you asked! Simply weave them into a wreath and toss it into the river. If your suitor retrieves it without getting wet, rest assured knowing their love is true!”

“Why can’t we get wet?”

“Because of the rusalka.”

“The what?”

“Spirits lurking beneath the waters eager to lure helpless young men and women to their doom! Remember, the veil between worlds is at its weakest tonight!”

“I’m not afraid.”

“You’re an idiot.”

“It’s not real.”

“Para is real.”

“That’s different.”

“Yeah, this is just a superstition.”

“Ah, but we’re here to test that conviction. Are these truly just fairytales? Other dimensions and parallel universes hid around every corner. Science has proven this. Contact with the inhabitants of Para has cast everything into doubt.”

“You’re scaring me, Professor.”

“Rest assured, you’ll be completely safe provided you remain dry. In the event you fall into the water, our bonfire will ward you from harm. Its flames summon kindly faeries keen to bestow aid and good fortune.”

“Really? What kind of aid, Professor?”

“Success during the coming year or good health.”

“How about passing all my exams?”

“A worthy aspiration for all my students!” 

“Professor, what’s special about the fire?”

“It’s the bravery displayed about the bonfire that’s important.”

“Professor?”

“Our ancestors leapt the flames hoping to prove themselves worthy of otherworldly gifts, favors, and secret knowledge.”

“Like hidden treasure?”

“Most sought help procuring the fern flower, a rare blossom found only on Midsummer’s Eve.”

“And if you find it?”

“Discovery grants a wish.”

“We should try to find it!”

“Yeah, where do we look, Professor?”

“I should warn you. The flower is guarded. Legend says only true desperation reveals its location.”

Connor wondered why any of his classmates would ever need to find such a flower. Wishes were meaningless when you already had everything, he thought. 

“Remember, everyone, make time to acquaint yourself with the dim-scanner. I’ve collected rather unusual readings with Professor Dabrowski’s arrival and subsequent lecture. Perhaps there is something to all this nonsense. Sorry, Dabrowski, no offense intended.”

“None taken, Dalton. You are, undeniably, a consummate man of science. Leave the imagining to me!”

With instructions given, the students dispersed. Some plopped near the fire with armfuls of cuttings for making wreaths, while others danced about waiting to jump the bonfire. Connor sat on the outskirts quietly surveying the antics. He found himself distracted by the countless fireflies flickering about in the surrounding darkness.

“Finished my wreath. Protect me as I toss it into the river, Brad?”

“Absolutely, Chelsea!”

Connor watched the couple stumble off, giggling. As usual, everyone ignored him, but tonight he didn’t care. Leaning back on his elbows, he stretched his legs and gazed across the meadow. Above, the lights from Earth’s ring of artificial structures twinkled brightly. While trying to locate New Seattle, his eye was suddenly drawn to a glimmering glow near the forest’s edge. It appeared to him to be another fire. Startled, Connor jumped up to get a better view.

“Do you see that?”

Several heads turned toward Connor.

“Are you talking to us?”

“Ah…yes. Do you see that light?”

“They’re called fireflies, Orbit.”

“No, in the woods. See the light changing color?”

“I don’t see anything. You feeling ok?”

 Out of character, Connor grabbed hold of someone walking by. 

“Tell me you can see that!” 

His classmate angrily brushed Connor’s hand away. 

“Let go of me, Orbit! What do you think you’re doing?”

“Uh…sorry.”

“What’s your problem?”

“I… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean….”

“He’s hallucinating or something.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You shouldn’t even be here.”

Embarrassed, feeling trapped, Connor’s eyes darted about frantically. Spying Professor Dalton, he rushed over to the man. 

“Professor! Professor! Professor Dalton!”

“Connor? Whatever is the matter?” 

Connor glanced quickly again to the forest seeing the light still blazed conspicuously. His stomach clenched, realizing he alone could see it. He paused to recollect himself.

“Sorry, Professor. Nothing’s wrong. Just a bit excited to be here.”

“I should say so.”

“Professor, I’m curious. Has the scanner picked up any indication of an actual dimensional rift developing nearby?”

“Why yes, Connor. I owe Dabrowski an apology. The readings are off the charts.”

“Any idea where?”

Surprised to hear such eagerness in his student’s voice, Professor Dalton quickly scrutinized Connor. 

“Well, multidimensional radiation is high everywhere, but it increases significantly on this side of the bonfire.”

“Is the scanner difficult to use?”

“No, not at all. Give it a go, Connor. It’s straightforward enough once calibrated, which I accomplished painstakingly earlier. Simply point and press this button to capture a reading.”

“Have you scanned closer to the forest?”

“What? Well, no. I’ve focused my attention around Dabrowski’s activities.”

“Professor, may I sample levels further away from the bonfire?”

“A budding scientist, eh Connor? By all means, but let’s not stray far. Lady Science demands controlled methodical inquiry. Remember, our objective is to uncover any correlation between concentrations of dimensional radiation and reenacting superstitious practices.”

Walking several paces towards the woods, Connor took a measurement.

“Interesting, Connor! This warrants further investigation. Unquestionably, this uptick in energy suggests the presence of a nearby weakening of the division between our universe and the next.”

“Perhaps, the bonfire really does provide some kind of protection.” 

“Interesting. Dabrowski will be delighted to hear this.”

“Where is Professor Dabrowski, sir?”

“He’s down by the river. The notion of treacherous spirits skulking about is absurd, but youthful shenanigans are not.”

“I’ll tell him what we found. Thank you, Professor!”


This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!

The Fern Flower Summons (2 of 5)

Photo by Mike Demou on Pexels.com

This is the second installment of five. Here is the link for part one for anyone who missed it.


The Fern Flower Summons”(Part Two)

1800 hours, June 19, 2433 

“Connor! You’re home!”

Connor’s little sister tackled him as he entered their family’s modest living quarters. 

“Hey, Phoebe.”

“Please help me with my presentation! Mom’s useless.” 

“Sure, what’s it about?”

“How interacting with parallel universes will change society.”

“Really?”

“Hey! I’m not little anymore. I’m learning important stuff.”

“Relax, I know. It’s just we also talked about Para in literature class today.”

Phoebe beamed triumphantly. 

“I’m catching up to you! We’re studying the same things!”

“Guess you should advance your application to Bright Star Academy now. Well, only if you can stomach spending time with condescending jerks.”

Phoebe frowned.

“Is anyone nice there?”

“The teachers can be.”

“Oh, Connor.”

Her genuine concern touched him.

“Don’t worry. I’m tougher than I look.”

“I’ve got an idea for my presentation!”

“What?”

“Contact with Para means we can travel to all sorts of parallel worlds. Nobody has to live in space anymore!”

“Always the optimist. Hope you’re right.”

“If you set your mind to it, you can do anything.”

“Can you convince Mom and Dad to give me money for transport to the surface?”

“The surface?! Wow! Why?”

“School outing.”

“Where? To do what?”

“Professor Dabrowski thinks myths and folklore about fairies are based on actual historical encounters with dimensional rifts into Para. He wants to use the school’s dim-scanner to prove his theory.”

“I wish I could go! You’re so lucky!”

“Not if I can’t get money for the fare.”

“I’ve saved some money from babysitting. You can have it if you pay me back.”

“Let’s see what Mom and Dad say first. Hopefully, I can use the money I’ve saved working during breaks. Supposed to be for university, but this is a school trip. They might say yes.”

Connor’s mom looked apprehensive. Rarely on the surface, being outside frightened her. 

“I don’t know, Connor. Is this trip safe? You’ll be in the wilderness? I’ve read about animal attacks.”

“I’ll be with a bunch of people.”

“Still makes me nervous. School’s providing transport?”

“No. We have to arrange our own ride.”

“What about the school’s private transport your scholarship provides?”

“I asked. It’s only for travel to and from campus.”

“Can’t someone offer you passage?”

“Everyone lives on the surface, Mom. They’ll already be there. No one’s going to make a special trip up for me.”

His father balked at the cost.

“Ship fare’s a month’s worth of wages.”

“I have the money.”

“Oh, no, you don’t, Connor! That money is for university.”

“Mom, please! I can work extra shifts.”

“Your mother’s right. That money is for school, not entertainment.”

Frustrated, Connor gave up.

“Mom, you always say breaking into surface society requires good connections.”

“Phoebe, your point?”

“Everyone at Connor’s school treats him differently. This is a chance for him to fit in.”

“I’m sure he has friends. Don’t you, Connor?”

Connor shrugged, staring at his feet. 

“And Dad, you’re always preaching that we should stand up for ourselves and force others to acknowledge us. You say things will never change if Orbitals keep floating around up here, manufacturing everything for the elites below.”

Their father smiled proudly at Phoebe, nodding his head.

“This idea of crashing a surface-dweller’s party is beginning to appeal to me.”

“Honey? I don’t want Connor getting political.”

“No, this is perfect. He can wear my union protest gear.”

 “Dad, that’s not going to help Connor fit in.”

“Well, he could wear a slogan. How about Celebrate Climate Restoration! Bring Everyone Home!

“Dad, stop!”

“I’m serious. I could ask the action committee to pay for the trip. Think of the publicity!”

Connor hated the idea. But desperation got the better of him.

“I’ll do it.”

“That’s my boy!”

“Honey, no. This isn’t fair to Connor. I’ve money tucked away for emergencies.”

“But, Babe?”

“I won’t have him used as a political pawn. Connor, you can go. But, I expect extra help around here while your father and I work overtime.”

Phoebe jumped gleefully as Connor hugged his mother.

1300 hours, June 20, 2433

After waiting in line for close to an hour, Connor managed to find a seat on the commercial Earth-bound shuttle. A throng of people swarmed about the cabin, filling the space with noise, odors, and clutter. 

“Connor. Mind if I sit with you?”

Professor Dabrowski struggled to stow several cumbersome bags before dropping into his seat. 

“Professor? What are you doing here? Why all the luggage?”

“Traveling to our campsite.”

“But, I thought….”

 “And… you’ll have to wait to see what I’ve packed for our expedition.”

“What are you doing in New Seattle?”

“Just because I teach at a prestigious school on Earth doesn’t necessarily mean I live on Earth.”

“You live in New Seattle?”

“Used to. Visiting with family for a couple rotations. My wife and I live on Manchester Station.” 

“I’ve never seen you on the school transport.”

“I stay down in staff quarters on campus when school is in session. But, when I do travel, I prefer commercial ships. They’re more interesting than stuffy, private shuttles.”

“I guess.”

“Oh, come on, Connor. Humanity is enriched by diversity. In some respects, you’re better off than other Bright Star Academy students.”

“Sorry, Professor? How could I possibly…?”

“No, I’m sorry, Connor. I forget how limiting it is to grow up in orbit. I, too, dreamed of living on Earth. I remember feeling cheated by my circumstances.”

Professor Dabrowski’s admission piqued Connor’s curiosity.

“How did you do it?”

“What? Oh, you mean, how did I avoid an unfulfilling, low-wage job in an orbital manufacturing plant?”

“Yes.”

Professor Dabrowski took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

“Just like you, I studied. I aced my exams and earned a scholarship to a school on the surface.”

“Why don’t you and your wife live on Earth?”

“Connor, there’s more to it than making enough money. The elites living below have a plethora of unspoken rules. Life there is restrictive, stifling. I prefer to keep a wider perspective.”

“What restrictions? Surface-dwellers have everything one could want!”

“And they don’t appreciate it. They’re bored, trapped in a scripted world of endless leisure.”

“Sounds great to me.”

“You’re lucky to be able to think outside of the box. You can take risks because you have nothing to lose.”

Connor flinched.

“I’m sorry I didn’t mean to be so brusque.”

“No, you’re right. Thanks to the government, my family has just what’s necessary, but nothing else. Opportunities to get ahead are scarce. Earning my scholarship to Bright Star Academy was a dream come true.”

“And what do you intend to do with this opportunity?”

“Become filthy rich, move permanently to the planet and never come back.”

“You’ll leave your family, friends, and countless others like you behind?”

“I’ll never abandon my family.”

“Well, a word of caution, the privileged like to talk about equality and rewarding hard work, but there’s very little they want to change or share when it comes to action.”

“But, you’ve been able to work and live on the surface.”

“Yes, because I’m an amusing oddity. Think of me as Bright Star Academy’s mascot for charitable contributions.”

His conversation with Professor Dabrowski unsettled Connor. Excusing himself, he lingered in the crowded dining compartment, only returning to his seat just before their destination. 

“Ah, Connor. I feared my pessimism scared you away.”

“No, not at all. Just grabbing snacks.” Connor lied.

“I remember those days. My father contemplated getting a second job to buy food!”

Connor felt guilty hiding. He really did like Professor Dabrowski. Discovering their common background made him realize he had unexpectedly found someone at school who understood how he felt.

An announcement sounded, indicating the shuttle had reached Krakow. Connor prepared to disembark, eager to finally visit another part of Earth. After navigating through security, they found themselves standing in a waiting area jam-packed with boisterous reunions and the shrill calls of vendors hawking souvenirs. Extensive lines queuing for refreshments, lavatories, and taxis branched about, creating a chaotic maze of people. 

“There’s our ride. Come on.”

Connor briefly caught a glimpse of a man leaning against a hovercraft, holding a sign for Bright Star Academy.

“Glad you’re leading, Professor. I’d be overwhelmed on my own!”

During the ride, Professor Dabrowski and the driver chatted amicably. At the same time, Connor gawked at the rolling pastoral landscape and immense country estates. Witnessing firsthand the stark contrast between life in orbit and that on the surface angered him. He knew he’d do anything to live here. 

“Oh, excellent! Professor Dalton has already built a lovely bonfire.”

Connor’s heart leapt into his throat, seeing his classmates frolicking about the encampment. He felt the weight of his awkwardness return. Even more than at school, he felt like an intruder here.

“Dabrowski! How good of you to join us! I was beginning to worry. Trouble with public transport?”

“Never fear, Dalton. I am here. All is well. Traveling with the masses may be slow, but I find it exhilarating!”


This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!

Celebrating Rejection!

While perusing the news recently, I came across a top-ten list of glitzy jobs, which can, in reality, be quite horrible. Top of the list was publishing/writing.

Yep!

Beyond entertaining us, I don’t think the reporter hoped to dissuade anyone from pursuing a demanding, onerous career. But, the cautionary article reminds us there’s a reason we refer to one’s profession as work. 

I love writing and equally hate it. But, I cannot ignore the call to create.

Submitting stories to publishers for consideration is a rite of passage for aspiring authors. Experiencing rejection is inevitable. Knowing this helps, but it still stings. 

After thinking it over, I decided to post the first story I felt brave enough to submit for publication. It also holds the distinction of being the first rejection! It will forever remind me of dipping my toe into the maelstrom of professional writing for the first time. Ha! Perhaps I sound dramatic, but I’d ask you to forgive me for indulging a freshly bruised ego! 

This past Monday marked the beginning of August and the ancient Gaelic holiday, Lughnasadh. It’s midsummer, and the harvest times have arrived. I often revisit Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream around now and consequently find myself musing about faeries. It seems to be an apropos time to share my sci-fi/fantasy mash-up tale about a twenty-fifth-century young man’s strange encounter with the fey on the summer solstice.

The original short story is a bit long to post all at once on my blog. I will dole it out over a series of shorter episodes. 

Enjoy! 



The Fern Flower Summons”(Part One)

1900 hours, June 20, 2507

The orbital cities encircling Earth dominated the twilight sky like a bejeweled girdle of brilliant light, occulting even the brightest stars. Beneath them, an old man gazed blissfully across a meadow, admiring the fireflies.

“More this year. A good omen.”

 Peering beyond to the forest, he frowned.

“Jeeves, Alfred, I’ll continue on alone.”

The servant droids waited with the luxury hovercraft. 

“What’s this about?”

“Superstition.”

“Regarding?”

“Faeries and flowers.”

“Seriously?”

“Sir has solemnly observed solstice for eleven years now.”

“What does Sir seek in the forest?”

“I know not, but he always returns disappointed.”

0600 hours, June 19, 2433

Earning the opportunity to attend an elite academy on Earth had been difficult. But Connor had succeeded. Knowing most people struggled to afford even a brief once-in-a-lifetime vacation to the planet underscored his good fortune. But, before long, Connor realized obtaining a scholarship to Bright Star Academy didn’t equate to earning social parity with his surface-dwelling classmates. After weeks of failing to fit in, ignored by most and taunted by some, he became increasingly self-conscious about being the only Orbital at school. 

Catching the academy’s private shuttle down to campus in Buenos Aires required waking a couple hours early, but Connor didn’t mind. He thought that being able to ride aboard the luxury transport made up for it.

“Good Morning. How’s New Seattle’s future poet laureate?”

“Morning, John. Tired and hungry.”

On the first day, Connor thought the shuttle pilot was teasing him but soon realized the man spoke with a sense of comradery. John explained Orbitals had to stick together when navigating amongst the surface folk. 

“Hop in. Tonya’s serving up coffee and the usual surface-style breakfast.”

Connor noted only one other person in the cabin, an unfamiliar professor, sipping coffee and reviewing his papers. He settled into a plush, spacious seat next to a large window. Connor loved observing the stark, inky contrasts of space gradually morph into the hazy, soft blue of the planet’s atmosphere. While selecting something from the menu, he heard a warning chime. 

“Unexpected magnetic field disturbance. Possible solar wind uptick. Departure delayed approximately twenty minutes.”

“Damn!” Connor muttered.

He hated being late; it only accentuated that he lived in orbit. Two of his classmates relentlessly bullied him because of it. Connor fretted, anxiously watching the minutes pass until the shuttle gained permission to leave. 

“Finally! I just might make it in time.”

As the shuttle neared Earth, Connor saw the Andes looming far off in the west. Below, green, gold, and brown patches of farmland spread across the extensive Pampas. Buenos Aires lay further off with the Rio de la Plate estuary glittering behind it. Connor longed to explore these places, but his travel documents only allowed him to attend school. 

He grew up with stories about a dark past when people fled a toxic, used-up planet for an artificial sanctuary in space. Time and technology promised a chance to return one day, but most were still waiting. His father, like many, argued against continuing the draconian resettlement restrictions. Connor wasn’t interested in politics, but the flights back and forth to school had opened his eyes to the vast disparity between life on the planet and that above. 

After landing on the school grounds, Connor sprinted to class, eager to get there on time. Just outside the door, he paused to catch his breath. Hearing disorderly chatter, he peeked inside, finding no sign of Professor Dabrowski. Confused, he checked the time only to discover how late he was. Quietly entering, Connor tried unsuccessfully to avoid attention while taking his seat. 

“Incoming! Falling from orbit fast!”

“Meteor?!”

 “Nope, space junk.”

Snickering percolated the unsupervised classroom. 

“Hey, Orbit. Trouble landing?”

Connor sunk further into his chair, reddening. 

“Security quarantine you again?”

“Probably took one look at your face and sent you to decontamination.”

Connor ignored the taunts knowing any reaction only prolonged the harassment. Relief washed over him seeing a disheveled man jog into the room. 

“Class, sorry I’m late!”

“Good morning, Professor Dabrowski.”

The salutation stopped the old man short. Warily scrutinizing the room, he smiled.

“Yes, it is a lovely morning. I confess I had my doubts.”

Shuddering dramatically, he scowled.

“Administrative meetings. Wretched things.”

Post-apocalyptic literature heartened Connor, giving him a reason to continue attending Bright Star Academy. While his privileged classmates sneered at Professor Dabrowski’s antiquated mien, Connor basked in it. The old man’s appearance harkened hundreds of years back to the 21st century. Eschewing modern fabrics, the teacher’s clothes consisted of scratchy, natural fibers incapable of acclimating to the environment. The man actually endured perspiration. 

“Before beginning, I’m delighted to inform you of a last-minute opportunity to earn extra credit this weekend!”

The class groaned. 

“Now, none of that. I expect you’ll feel differently learning what Professor Dalton introduced to the faculty today.”

“What?”

“A dimensional scanner.”

Pandemonium erupted.   

“No way!”

“How’d the academy pull that off?”

“Aren’t dim-scanners classified?”

Professor Dabrowski raised a hand for silence.

“Fortunately, our headmaster worked intimately with the scientists involved in humanity’s first contact with Para, our interdimensional neighbor.”

“Professor, didn’t Dean Choi lead the Orbital Collider Project before coming to Bright Star?”

“Yes.”

“Professor, what’s the Orbital Collider Project?”

Disbelief punctuated the air. 

“What? Am I the only one in the dark?”

“Probably not; I applaud your bravery in admitting it. Allow me to illuminate. The Orbital Collider is where astrophysicists first created a stable micro-singularity, making it possible to interact with parallel universes.”

“Oh yeah! Like Para! I knew that.”

“Yes. Well, done. Now, due to these connections, Dean Choi’s been invited to join the I3 Taskforce.”

Someone raised a hand. 

“Yes, sorry. The Interdimensional, Interspatial, Intertemporal Agency.”

“Can I use the lavatory?”

Rolling his eyes, Professor Dabrowski nodded.

“Professor, how does this relate to the dim-scanner?”

“The headmaster’s tasked the faculty with finding ways to incorporate this new technology into the curriculum. Professor Dalton and I volunteered to pilot using the dimensional scanner with students.”

“How?”

“Well, upon hearing communication between worlds is possible, myths and fairytales immediately came to mind.”

“Those are children’s stories, Professor.”

“I’m convinced there may be a kernel of truth to them. Let’s consider. Is it possible stories of fairy circles, hidden kingdoms, and magic portals were simply primitive attempts to make sense of frightening encounters with interdimensional beings?” 

“The dim-scanner, Professor?”

“Oh, yes! We’ve organized an excursion to my ancestral homeland of Poland, during which we shall endeavor to reenact the ancient rituals of the summer solstice. Professor Dalton will assist students in deploying the scanner to capture fluctuations in dimensional radiation throughout our visit. I, for one, am quite eager to learn if any of the old customs will have any measurable impact.”

Connor’s pulse quickened, wondering where he’d find the money to go on the trip. He knew he’d have to find his own way to the surface. Unlike his peers, his family didn’t own a transport.


This tale was inspired by a submissions call from Shoreline of Infinity Magazine for their upcoming September 2022 issue themed around science fiction fairytales. Hope you check it out. I’m eager to read what made it in!

Flash Fiction: “The Outsider” (Director’s Cut)

Ever bemoan cutting favorite elements from a story to keep within a word limit? What is an author to do? Rise to the challenge of course! But sometimes it’s gratifying to indulge oneself and post a lengthier “director’s cut”. If filmmakers can do it, why not writers?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

“The Devil Is In the Details” (Author’s Cut)

Brody Quade cursed, hearing the sharp rap at the door.

“Police! Open up!”

Brody marveled at how quickly they had managed to locate him. He made a mental note to better research this world’s technological capabilities.

“Half a moment! I’m coming!” Brody lied.

He quietly gathered his essentials and keyed on his transporter.

“Come now, Mr. Quade, the gig’s up! Surrender peacefully! This doesn’t have to end with violence!”

Brody could hear their attempts to override the lock.

“Alright! Alright! No, need to destroy my door!”

Casting a longing look at his collection of stolen goods, Brody lamented all the hard work, now wasted. Shame to lose it all so close to the end, he reasoned. Rummaging about, he greedily stuffed a few odds and ends into his pockets.

“Time’s up, Mr. Quade! Any blood spilled is on your head!”

Before he could respond, Brody detected the sound of a barrier-breacher powering up.

“Blast! They’re quite insistent! No, time for calibration.” Brody muttered.

Perspiration blurred his vision as he hastily inputted the obscurest coordinates he could recall off the top of his head.

“A valiant effort, Inspector! But, I remain as always one step ahead!”

Brody laughed manically as the authorities disintegrated the door just in time to see him slip into another dimension.

He endured an unusually long and rough transit before the transporter finished relocating Brody.

“Phew! That was cutting it too close.”

Swiping his brow with a handkerchief, he paused to orientate himself to his new surroundings. Brody smiled, recognizing the crowded café. The aroma of coffee mingled with the dry, desert heat creating an inviting atmosphere he knew would soothe his frayed nerves. He wove his way in and sat at a table being cleared.

“Triple espresso, please.”

Looking up, the server huffed and hurried off without any response.

“Rude.”

He waited, preparing a scathing rebuke. But indignation turned to shock when the waiter returned to seat an elderly couple at Brody’s table.

“Voila, Monsieur, Madame. A moment while I fetch your drinks from the bar. Apologies for the delay.”

As they proceeded to sit at his table, Brody experienced a bizarre whirl of force whisk him abruptly from his chair onto the floor.

“Well! I never!”

Clawing at the table, he pulled himself back up.

“Mind your feet, Mario. You’ll upset the table.”

“I haven’t touched the table.”

“Well, something did.”

“Perhaps, a tremor. This local’s suspectable to such activity.”

Brody glowered, hands on his hips.

“I say! What the devil has possessed you to assume you can just barge in and hijack my table? Waiter!”

The woman looked up from her menu.

“What’s that, Mario?”

“I didn’t say anything, Harriet.”

“You were muttering something, dear.”

“I most assuredly was not.”

Blood drained from Brody’s face. He pulled out his transporter, unsurprised to find an error notification flashing across the screen. Opening the message, he swore as he read the details.

[INSUFFICENT DATA. TRANSFER INCOMPLETE. LOCATION OUTSIDE STANDARD DIMENSIONAL PARAMETERS.]

“Blimey, stuck in between again!”


Read Original 75 Word Version Written for Chronicles’ July 75 Word Challenge.


Prompt: The Outsider

Word Count 500

Micro Fiction: “The Outsider”

An exceedingly short piece of speculative fiction!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Some of you know, I enjoy the challenge of writing a story with as few words as possible. Definitely an acquired taste for only some writers and readers! Below is what I entered for Chronicles’ (A Science Fiction and Fantasy Community) 75 Word Challenge for July.

There were 41 entries this month!

I encourage everyone, who loves science fiction and fantasy, to check out this website. Great way to connect with other writers and fans! Perhaps, you might entry next month’s challenge?

The prompt this month was “THE OUTSIDER”. Genre was author’s choice of horror, speculative, fantasy or science fiction. Hope you enjoy my entry below!


“The Devil Is In the Details”

Desperate, Brody hastily inputted coordinates to escape back into his own dimension.

Frazzled, he sought solace at a favorite café.  

A couple approached to join him. Before he could protest, eddies of nausea swept him onto the floor. 

 Brody stood up, hands on his hips. 

“Excuse me! But this table’s mine!”

“What, Mario?”

“I didn’t say anything, Harriet.”

Disquieted, Brody checked his transporter. He blanched, observing the error message. 

[INSUFFICENT DATA. TRANSFER OUTSIDE DIMENSIONAL PARAMETERS.]


Prompt: “THE OUTSIDER”

Word Limit: 75 words.

Flash Fiction: Cracked Stucco


Here’s another piece of flash fiction. It needs more work, but I had fun with it. Liked the idea of the woman being fearless while her boyfriend is the scaredy-cat! LOL.

“Sinister Muse”

Ben and Zoey slipped through the hole in a fence surrounding the abandoned estate. Legends of greed, untimely death, and cult activity attracted paranormal enthusiasts to the infamous movie mogul’s home like bugs to a porchlight.

The local authorities made some effort to keep the structure boarded up. Still, a new blog posting details of past investigations had revitalized interest.

“Think we parked the car far enough away?”

“Yeah, relax.”

“My parents will kill me if we’re arrested for trespassing.”

“I think the cops have better things to worry about.”

The couple crept across the overgrown grounds toward the rear of the building.

“This is a bad idea. I can’t see anything.”

“Come on. Don’t wimp out now.”

“I’m not. I’m just stating the obvious.”

“Want me to go back and get the night vision goggles?”

“You have night-vision goggles?”

“No, stupid.”

“Oh.”

“Honestly, you’re so gullible, Ben.”

“How am I supposed to know? You have an infra-red gun, EMF meter, and a voice recorder. I’m surprised you don’t have night-vision goggles.”

“You’re stalling.”

“By all means, then lead the way. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you fall into a ditch.”

Zoey kissed Ben on the cheek.

“You’re so sexy when you’re frightened.”

“Wow. That’s dark. Were you a black widow in a previous life?”

“Probably. Now, help me find this poorly secured window someone posted about yesterday.”

A few splinters and a nasty scratch later, Zoey stumbled upon what she was looking for.

“Yes, told you. The plywood comes right off. It looks attached, but the nails are cut. See, just the heads are left.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Let’s just do this before I chicken out.”

They climbed inside, pulling the board back across the window. Thumbing their phone lights on, they began to explore. Zoey scanned the room with the EMF meter.

“Whoa! Zoey! This place is remarkably well-preserved! The furniture’s still here. Filthy, but still all here!”

“I knew you’d love it. I heard the family insisted on leaving everything exactly as it was on the day of the murder.”

“It’s like stepping back to the golden age of Hollywood.”

“Plenty of inspiration here for a set design intern. Still scared?”

“Yes. But, it helps feeling like I’m in a scene from Grand Hotel.”

“Take lots of pictures.”

“You know they debunked ghost orbs. They’re just motes of dust.”

“No, for your scrapbook. Crazy how the owners decorated the place. How much do you think it would cost nowadays to have all this carved wood?”

“Actually, it’s not wood.”

“What?”

“That’s not wood.”

“I heard you the first time. What is it then?”

“Stucco. It’s a kind of plaster. Very versatile. Easier to work with and cheaper.”

“Learn that in architecture?”

“Yep, and while working with my uncle during vacation.”

“Glad to see art school is teaching you something practical.”

“Hey, interior design is a respectable career. My uncle makes tons of money. And it’s safer than investigative journalism. I know you’re dying to cover a war zone someday. Pun intended.”

“Oh, you have no idea, Benny-Boy. I’ll be there in a heartbeat. I’m the next Clarissa Ward.”

“As long as you’re home for dinner.”

“Come on, Martha. Let’s check the rest of this place out.”

Ben followed Zoey out into a hallway.

“Need to find the main stairwell. It’s a hotbed of paranormal activity.”

“Great, now I’m anxious again.”

“Come on, baby. You can hold my hand.”

“I’d rather we went back to the car and made out.”

“I’ve got a better idea. Let’s find the master suite.”

“Sure, because that doesn’t sound like the plot of every horror movie ever made.”

The EMF scanner chirped, startling both of them.

“Ooh, we’re picking something up.”

Zoey squeezed Ben’s hand as they shuffled forward. One by one, indicator lights turned on until the entire array blazed brightly. Before them, a large space loomed.

“Zoey, look. This is the formal entrance. There’s the grand staircase.”

“Loads of EMF activity!”

“Can we leave now?”

“Oh, come on, Ben.”

“I’m sorry. This is super creepy!”

“Just five minutes. I want to take a few temperature readings and try to capture an EVP.”

“Ah, fine!”

“Why don’t you explore the decorum. This part of the house is probably fancier. You know, first impressions and that kind of thing.”

Ben shone a light about the foyer at the bottom of the stairs while Zoey busied herself with ghost hunting.

“You’re right. Check out these wall sconces!”

“Uh, huh. Nice.”

“And the detail around the front door is absolutely exquisite.”

“Temperature’s cooler over here.”

Absorbed in taking photos, Ben stumbled unexpectedly over something.

“What the…? There’s crap all over the place. Watch your step.”

“Uh, huh. I will.”

Picking up a piece of rubble, Ben recognized the chalky, white material.

“Stucco.”

He flipped over another chunk, revealing the cracked visage of a woman.

“That’s a shame.”

“What?”

“Looks like someone decided to tear down and crush all this statuary.”

“Maybe an earthquake?”

“And dumped it all in a pile here?”

“Probably fell from the walls.

“Everything in here seems intact.”

“I don’t know then.”

“Me either. Are you ready to go? I like this place less and less the longer we’re here.”

“I want to go upstairs.”

“Come on. I’m bored and hungry.”

“And scared.”

“Yes, but I think I’ve made a lot of progress today. You’re not going to turn me into a paranormal investigator overnight.”

“Just to the top of the landing. I promise.”

“Fine.”

Zoey grinned and rushed over to give Ben a kiss.

“I promise I’ll make it up to you.”

“You better.”

Ben shivered, watching Zoey climb the stairs with the temperature gun in one hand and the EMF meter in the other. Her excitement grew with each step as her equipment’s sensors flashed and beeped with increasing intensity.

“You should come up here! This is amazing.”

“I’m good.”

The EMF meter’s lights silhouetting Zoey fell dark as she reached the last step.

“Damn! Can’t be the battery? I just charged everything.”

Frustrated, she examined the equipment.

“It’s a sign we should go.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Let’s go.”

Ben huffed as Zoey lingered.

“Hey! There’s lots more stucco up here. It’s all over the floor.”

Her feet crunched as she moved onto the balcony.

“You said to the top of the stairs. Come on, Zoey! Let’s go!”

“I think I figured out where all your stucco came from. The ceiling’s covered with it. See, I was right. It must have fallen during an earthquake. Look.”

Her phone’s narrow beam of light illuminated a classically-garbed figure.

“Its face is missing. Are there more?”

“Yeah.”

Zoey highlighted another statue.

“Have your tactical flashlight on you?”

“Yes. But, I thought you were worried about attracting attention.”

“Turn it on for a second. I want to see more of the ceiling.”

“Ooh, babe! Risky! I like this new, brave Ben.”

“Shut up and just do it.”

An oblong patch of light spilled across the ceiling revealing elaborate decorations and multiple effigies of robed women.

“It’s the muses.”

“How can you tell?”

“Easy. That one’s Urania with the globe and compass. There’s Terpsichore with a lyre. That one’s quite damaged, but I can see the comedy mask and shepherd’s staff. That’s Thalia. Besides, there are nine figures, one for each Greek muse.”

“You think someone vandalized these?”

“I mean, I guess an earthquake could have, but only the faces have been damaged.”

Zoey headed back toward the staircase.

“Hey, Ben? Something’s odd.”

Zoey’s voice sounded tense.

“What?”

“Only five have been defaced.”

“So?”

“Someone did this on purpose. And I think I know why.”

“Why?”

“You probably can’t see from down there, but scratches connecting the destroyed heads are scored into the plaster.”

“Probably caused by whatever they used to scrape the stucco away.”

“Maybe.”

Zoey’s step quickened as she descended the stairs.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t want to scare you, but you know there’s one thing I don’t mess around with when doing an investigation.”

“You mean…?”

“Don’t say it.”

Zoey stood close to Ben, squeezing his hand tight as she peered up.

“Five faces destroyed. Look at the order, the spacing. The lines are difficult to see down here, but that’s a pentagram.”

“That settles it. I’m definitely not a ghost hunter.”

“Come on, let’s get out of here.”

“Happily.”

Ben stopped short and turned.

“Put that crazy-ass light out.”

“No one’s going to see it. The place is boarded up.”

“Please turn it off.”

“Ok, ok.”

Darkness engulfed the room, surprising both of them.

“Turn your phone light back on!”

“It was on! Turn yours on!”

“I’m trying!”

“Stop fucking around, Zoey!”

“I’m not!”

“Use the flashlight again!”

“Give me a sec!”

“Zoey!”

“It’s not working either!”

The EMF meter squawked, indicator lights blazing.

“Zoey! The ceiling! Look at the ceiling!”

“Just run!”

Fleeing, Zoey glanced up. Unearthly eyes shone down menacingly from the five ruined faces forming the points of an eerily shimmering pentagram.


Word Count: 1500

Word Prompt: cracked stucco

Courtesy of The Twiglets. Great site for writing prompts and inspiration. Check it out!

“The Forging of Isaz” (Part 7 of 7)

A Short Story Set in a Mythical Nordic Medieval World.

Glossary of Terms and Characters

  • Völvur: a shamanic order of women capable of foresight and communing with the otherworld.
  • Jötunn: god-like elemental forces of nature from the mountains, forests and wilds of the tundra. (Giants.) 
  • Gobban: a Norseman, a smith and master craftsman of weapons.
  • Kalda: servant of Skadi, an ice sprite. 
  • Skadi: winter goddess of jötunnic origins.
  • Seiomenn: men who practice conjuring magics.
  • Greta: the queen’s seeress.
  • Alfar: fairies, elves.
  • Surtr: Norse god of fire.
  • Muspellheim: elemental realm of fire.
  • Steinvegg: a stonewall.
  • Holde seg:  a command to hold, stay, or remain still.

Part 7 “Winter Thaws”

Kalda’s suggestion flummoxed Gobban. The smith stared uncomprehendingly at the ice sprite.

Isaz?” he asked incredulously. 

“Yes.”

An involuntary titter escaped Gobban’s pursed lips, replaced by silence as he observed Kalda’s sincerity. Forcing a cough, he cleared his throat to compose himself. 

“I typically shy away from Isaz. The cruel cold tends to induce brittle weakness in steel.”

A fiery, azure light flared in Kalda’s eyes as she scowled fiercely. Gobban stepped back, head titled, eyes wide, and hands in the air. He simpered, attempting to mollify Kalda’s rising ire.  

“Now, of course, Isaz can represent such things, but I have you, Kalda, to thank for showing me a different side to winter’s power.”

The ice sprite raised an eyebrow inquiringly, emboldening the smith to continue talking. 

“With your guidance, my eyes have been opened to intriguing possibilities. Tonight, I have witnessed impossible feats wrought with the help of your wintry magic.”

“You understand then how the ice rune is crucial to achieving your goal?” Kalda asked. 

“Isaz’s chill bite may diminish the beast’s inferno, making its fires unequal to those we used in forging this sword.”

“I believe victory will be won by the sword’s ability to endure,” Kalda said. 

“Agreed.”

“Good. How do you affix the sigils to your work?”

Gobban led Kalda to a workbench. He laid the blade before them and fetched a small clay pot from a shelf. 

“My family has perfected the recipe for an acid capable of eating into the steel.”

“How can this clay jar contain such a liquid without failing?”

Gobban laughed. 

“Simple. Nothing magical is involved. Manure from a cow solely fed spinach and kale greens is liberally mixed into the mud.”

Smirking, the smith removed the jar’s lid and dipped a fine brush into the etching fluid. 

“I suppose your brush is made from spinach leaves?” Kalda quipped. 

“Nope, just a regular brush. I trim the burnt end off after each use. One will last quite a while.”

The ice sprite rolled her eyes. 

“I was hoping for something a little more exciting, master smith.”

“Sorry to disappoint.”

Gobban and Kalda giggled, forgetting momentarily the monstrous evil threatening the kingdom. As their laughter subsided, the smith regarded the ice sprite solemnly. 

“Thank you for coming to our aide. I admit I was anxious, not knowing what to expect. But, ironically, your laugh, your presence warms my heart.”

Kalda nodded, reflecting.

“It surprises me, but I am pleased to be in your company. My kind and yours so rarely have such close dealings. Many questions arise in my mind. Being here awakes memories I had long forgotten.”

Curiosity gripped Gobban, but he held his tongue. Sensing Kalda would say no more, he clapped his hands, rubbing them together. 

“Let me demonstrate the technique I employ,” he said. 

Melting a lump of wax, the smith fashioned a mold outlining first one rune and then another until six letters ran down the length of the blade. The ice sprite watched intently as Gobban carefully applied the acid to the spaces surrounded by wax. The liquid fizzed and bubbled, wisps of vapor wafting towards the ceiling.

“It doesn’t take long.” Gobban offered. 

Kalda remained quiet, seemingly deep in thought. 

“That ought to do it. Here’s where I usually make a mess.”

Juggling the sword and clay pot, Gobban tilted the blade, causing the acid to run down its narrow length haphazardly. Most of the liquid successfully streamed back into the jar. After mopping up the small spill, he gently removed the wax, buffing the steel clean.

“One last thing to do. Then our work is done!”

Gobban attached a bronze guard and sturdy wooden handle to the tang. Fine wire and two strong bolts held everything together tightly. The smith sighed with pride as he presented the finished sword to Kalda.

“It is a beautiful sword.” Gobban beamed.

“Yes, it is. But do you believe it will be sufficient? Will it slay the beast?”

Gobban sighed grimly. 

“If our sword fails the prince, my kingdom is doomed. There be nothing left to do but flee. And yet, I dare to hope this weapon will be exactly what his Highness requires.”

The smith smiled wanly, attempting to convey confidence. The ice sprite seemed not to notice. Absorbed in thought, she stared intently at the runes on the sword. Silence stretched as her eyes burned and her face hardened. Gobban struggled to read Kalda. 

“What? You wrestle with something. Tell me.”

The ice sprite’s eyes bathed Gobban in a tangible radiance of sapphire light. The set of her chin was tense, her smile ferocious as she stood tall and proud. 

“Gobban, there is yet one thing more I can offer to help you and your people.”

Something in the tone of her voice brought a lump to his throat as his heart quickened.

“You have done more than you know already, Kalda. What further aid could you render?”

“A foresight is upon me. Smoke and flame fill my mind. I fear the sword as-is will not be enough.”

Gobban shook his head. 

“I disagree.”

“The beast’s fires will melt this weapon like all the others.”

“Why this sudden doubt?” 

The smith squinted, raising a hand against the increasing glare from the aura of blue light surging out to surround Kalda. 

“I see clearly now the wisdom in my mistress’ choice to send me to answer your king’s call for aid.”

“What are you doing?” Gobban shouted as her rotating screen of snow whipped faster. 

“I will imbue this blade with my essence.”

Horrified, Gobban gasped. 

“You can willingly part with an aspect of your life force?”

“I am prepared to hand over the entirety of my power if need be.  

“Everything? Can you survive such a sacrifice?”

“My mistress, Skadi, has bestowed a great gift upon me; a means to redemption.” 

“I do not understand.”

“The sword must be magically warded against the beast’s infernal fire.”

“The runes will….”

“My wintry spirit will amplify Isaz’s potency, protecting the sword. Its power will overwhelm and subdue the beast, allowing the steel to pierce and freeze its fiery heart.” 

“Kalda, no! You are not one of the völvur. Pay no heed to this false vision. I have clouded your judgment, foolishly giving voice to my fears and uncertainty!”

The growing maelstrom of ice and snow writhed around the sprite filling the air with an ethereal sound as if a thousand tiny bells were simultaneously ringing.

“Gobban, for years beyond count I have existed, created when the world slept beneath majestic glaciers blanketing this realm in an endless winter. I am not afraid.”

“Kalda, please no!”

“Gobban, I welcome this. Being here has reminded me of my desire to right past wrongs.”

“Stop! I forbid this!”

Gobban held the sword behind him.

“I have made my choice, human. There is nothing you can do.”

“But, why? The beast will be defeated! The völvur seers foresee it. Think of the weapons, the tools, the art we could create together!”

Kalda’s magical presence expanded, filling the room.

“Please, Kalda. Stop. I know it sounds ludicrous, but I love you.”

“Master smith, you have thawed my icy heart, producing the closest thing to love a winter fairy may feel. Thank you. Goodbye, Gobban.”

A blizzard of energies engulfed the smith. Gobban flung his arms up to shield himself from the icy tempest, the sword clattered to the floor.

“No! Please gods, no!”

Kalda’s voice sung reassuringly above the din. 

“I will live on in the winter and within the blade itself. Grieve not, Gobban.”

The smith fell to his knees, numbly watching the vortex of magic quicken. It hovered above the sword, channeling the frigid forces toward the blade. A brilliant orb of sapphire light crackled with energy at the point of contact as Kalda’s power surged into the weapon. Gobban could no longer see Kalda. A blinding radiance obscured everything from view until flashing and disappearing with a loud clap of thunder. The magic exploded, throwing the smith to the ground. The concussion extinguished the forge fire throwing the room into darkness as a wild wind ripped its way outside.   

Silence dominated. The smith took a moment to collect himself. He lay on the floor and shivered under a new coating of snow and ice. Ghostly afterimages from the dazzling light danced across Gobban’s vision in the darkness. As his eyes recovered, he became aware of lighter areas of blackness outlining the windows and from somewhere inside a faint blue glimmer. 

Sitting up, he beheld the sword gleaming with a radiance absent before. There was no sign of the ice sprite. Gently picking the blade up, Gobban studied it. The runes etched into the steel shimmered with an otherworldly blue light. One rune sparkled more intensely than the others. 

“Isaz,” he whispered. 

Responding to his voice, the sword crackled with light extending from the runes to illuminate the entire blade. A chill seeped down into the handle nipping his hand. Ignoring the frigid pain caused by touching the sword, Gobban cradled the weapon and wept. 

“Kalda, your sacrifice will not be forgotten.” 

Gobban’s heart ached to recognize the runes burned with Kalda’s familiar sapphire blue light. Loath to move, to disturb the solemnity of this grievous moment, he knelt quietly. The smith grappled with warring emotions. He knew he should be grateful, consumed with joyous relief. They had succeeded in creating a weapon to defend the kingdom. But sorrow and guilt welled up, threatening to drown him.

Listening to the shutters banging in the breeze, Gobban chided himself. He acknowledged the tragedy of Kalda’s death, but his emotions dumbfounded him. Humans and fey folk rarely interacted. The smith had spent one night with the ice sprite. He did not understand why he felt this way. 

A faint, unfamiliar noise pulled Gobban out of his reveries. With dawn beginning to break, he wondered if the sound had come from outside. The smith refused to face the world just yet. He stood, walked to each window, and closed the shutters. He stumbled forward in the gloom using the sword’s light to see. After some effort, Gobban managed to rekindle a frost-covered torch. He grimaced in dismay surveying the sodden remains of the forge fire in the smoky, guttering torchlight. 

Again, a muted sound caught his attention. He raised the flickering light to illuminate more of the smithy. A whispering murmur percolated from somewhere inside. Cautiously stepping forward, he searched the room. On the far side of the forge, a figure lay huddled on the floor. 

Shocked, Gobban’s heart skipped a beat. His mind raced; he wondered if this was Kalda’s body. He hadn’t anticipated anything corporal remaining behind after the ice sprite had selflessly poured out her spirit. Gobban realized he was shaking, racked with indecision. He dreaded having to gaze upon her lifeless form.

The smith stood rooted in pace, hesitating until he perceived a quiet groan coming from the prone form. With a disbelieving, desperate hope, Gobban catapulted forward. Collapsing next to the body, he gawked. Coarse fabric and the filthy pelt of an unknown animal covered the figure. Long hair hid the person’s face. 

Hand trembling, he reached out to turn the body over. Through the grime and dirt, Gobban could see it was a woman. He nearly leaped out of his skin when she coughed. He leaned closer, scrutinizing the stranger. Wild, dark, unkempt hair framed a beautiful face. Tentatively, he leaned forward to listen to her breathe. Instantly, he could feel her warmth and vitality. The woman stirred, eyes fluttering open with a look of surprise. 

“Gobban?”

“Kalda?”

Gobban studied the woman’s face. He recognized her features, but instead of pale, unnaturally white features, Kalda had a tanned, ruddy complexion. Deep, dark brown eyes gazed back at the smith. Astonished, Kalda studied her hands and felt her face. She smiled, crying. Gobban assumed she shed tears of joy.  

“But, how? I don’t understand,” he asked. 

“The gods have restored me to what I was eons ago before the völvur’s magic made me into something different.”

“You, you were human? I mean, you’re human?” Gobban whispered.

“Yes, human.” she laughed. 

Gobban clasped Kalda tightly in an embrace. Showering her face with kisses. 

“I don’t understand. But, it doesn’t matter. You’re alive!” the smith said. 

“The gods have forgiven me, Gobban. I have a second chance.”

“But, why? What did you…?”

Kalda touched a finger to Gobban’s lips, silencing him.  

“Not yet. Please. I promise I will explain soon,”

“Ok.”

Sensing Gobban desperately yearned for some explanation, Kalda sighed, shaking her head.

“I was foolish and vain. Lust for power consumed me, stealing my humanity.”

“Oh.”

Gobban frowned.

“But, you’re not… I mean, you’ve… changed?”

Kalda reflected. 

“I believe I have. Yes. Yes, I have. After all these years, meeting you has changed everything.”

Kalda smiled broadly and giggled. Gobban smirked, blushing. He shook his head, struggling to reconcile the youthful image before him with her claim to ancientness. 

“How old…?”

“Older than you can count, master smith. And yet, I am beginning to feel young again.”

“The Forging of Isaz” (Part 6 of 7)

A Short Story Set in a Mythical Nordic Medieval World.

Photo by sam Hancock on Pexels.com

Glossary of Terms and Characters

  • Völvur: a shamanic order of women capable of foresight and communing with the otherworld.
  • Jötunn: god-like elemental forces of nature from the mountains, forests and wilds of the tundra. (Giants.) 
  • Gobban: a Norseman, a smith and master craftsman of weapons.
  • Kalda: servant of Skadi, an ice sprite. 
  • Skadi: winter goddess of jötunnic origins.
  • Seiomenn: men who practice conjuring magics. 
  • Greta: the queen’s seeress.
  • Alfar: fairies, elves.
  • Surtr: Norse god of fire.
  • Muspellheim: elemental realm of fire.
  • Steinvegg: a stonewall.
  • Holde seg:  a command to hold, stay, or remain still.

Part 6 “Runes”

Holding the elegant blade aloft engendered within Gobban a hope he hadn’t felt for weeks. It felt good allowing himself to celebrate. But, the moment passed quickly. The smith became grave again, worry and concern shrouding the radiance on his face.

“Now, we come to the real test, Kalda.”

The ice sprite tensed, perceiving a solemn air of importance hovering between them. 

“If we fail, nothing short of divine intervention will stop the beast from consuming the entire kingdom with his infernal fire,” he said. 

Kalda reflected. 

“I fear the assistance you seek from the otherworld is already standing before you. I pray I am equal to the task.”

Gobban smiled, nodding. 

“I believe you are.”

“Tell me what needs to be done.”

“We must create the hottest possible fire to harden the sword. The winds you conjure should be sufficient.”

“What will prevent the steel from melting?”

“The magic inherent in this forge’s construction will imbue the metal with a resistance matching the fire’s intensity.”

“Then truly all that’s required to defeat our foe is to build a fire greater than its own.”

“Yes.”

Kalda studied Gobban’s face trying to identify what he didn’t say. 

“You are troubled by something else.”

Gobban snorted, shaking his head. 

“You see right through me.”

“It isn’t difficult to read your aura.”

Her revelation surprised the smith. He stared disbelievingly at Kalda. 

“My aura? You speak as a völvur. What signs do you see circling about me?”

The sapphire light behind the ice sprite’s eyes intensified. 

“You are afraid. Our task is more dangerous than you say.”

Gobban sighed. 

“I can’t be certain the forge will contain the fires even with my smithing magic. This is uncharted territory.”

“Remember, you don’t carry this burden alone, Gobban. You will have my magic supporting you. Together, we shan’t allow the fires to get out of control.”

“Your confidence is reassuring, but quenching the blade will present the most danger. The extreme shift in temperature is always violent.”

Kalda smiled, her magical barrier expanding. She reached out, touching the nearby barrel of water instantly freezing it. Gobban grimaced as the expanding ice cracked the wood. 

“Hey! There’s a hole in that now.” he laughed. 

“I wanted to remind you of what I am capable of.”

Gobban rolled his eyes.  

“I assure you I hadn’t forgotten.”

“Let us begin then?” Kalda asked. 

“Sooner we start, the sooner we’ll know if we’re successful.”

Gobban threw more fuel on the fire, carefully raking the coals to create a hollow. Laying the sword in the furnace, he raised his mighty voice to sing and chant while Kalda fed the flames with a steady current of frigid air.

Feast and Fed! Flare up! Burn bright! 

Surtr, the swarthy one, harken to my plea! 

Hammer, anvil, tongs, and bellows! 

Coal, wood, peat, and oil! 

Surtr, creation comes through you!

Fire, I seek.

Fire, I start.

Fire, I tend.

Fire, I shelter.

Forge of Muspellheim, my need is great!

The fire grew so intense it pained Gobban to stand close by. The hue of the flames shifted from blue to white. The radiance silhouetted Gobban as he paced, gesturing with his hands to evoke a shield of warding magic around the forge.

“The fire needs more air!” 

Kalda responded, increasing the airflow from outside.

“Good!” he shouted. 

Containing the heat and fire was becoming arduous. Gobban rushed to and fro, reinforcing the magical barriers. His voice grew hoarse, no longer singing, he shouted his incantations over the roar of the storm Kalda had brought into the room. 

Steinvegg strong have I built! Holde seg!”

Gobban gasped, exhausted from his efforts. As the flames intensified, they increasingly threatened to escape. The rising heat required him to redouble his focus on providing a scaffolding of magic about the sword, but continuing to confine the firestorm demanded too much of his attention. Ensuring the sword endured meant Gobban had to risk allowing the fire to damage the smithy.

Holde seg! Be content within the steinvegg!” 

The firestorm obeyed briefly as the smith called out to the ice sprite. 

“The sword is in danger! I can no longer protect it while reining in the fire’s desire to spread!”

“I will stand guard for errant flames!” Kalda said. 

Releasing his grasp on the raging inferno, Gobban watched in dismay as wooden beams above the furnace erupted into flames. He struggled to concentrate as a blast of snow and ice snuffed out the fire. He whooped gleefully, seeing the charred wood drip with moisture. Gobban could now focus on the sword, knowing Kalda would watch the fire. Thankful most things in the smithy were made of stone or metal, but he winced, noting his bellows had already been reduced to ash.

Attending to the steel blade nestled deep within the forge, Gobban saw it shone with the light of the midday sun. Now, his task was to maintain a tight wrapping of magical force about the sword. He naturally did this with all his craft, but rarely to this extent. Standard weapons and armor did not require a heat of this magnitude. 

Eventually, Gobban realized they could achieve no more. He decided to withdraw the sword from the forge. Hopefully, the heat they created was enough. Reports of city walls sloughing apart in the beast’s fiery grasp harried his mind. Urgently, the smith studied the forge’s stonework. The granite sill running atop the furnace’s circumference showed signs of bowing inward. Still, his spirits soared, noting the great slabs of dark augite lining the interior walls remained firm, holding their shape. 

“It is time! I am going to quench the sword! Prepare yourself, Kalda! Wrap yourself tight within your snowy magic!”

Gobban fearing the blade would bend, continued to chant a protective spell about his work. His hands screamed as intense heat instantly radiated up through the metal tongs. The pungent smell of singed hair clawed at his nostrils. Gobban charged forward, plunging the brilliant white steel into the quenching vat. The oil erupted violently, causing the smith to stumble backward. Gobban fought to maintain his grasp on the tongs as splattering grease peppered his unprotected arms with angry blisters.

“I fear our success is also our undoing! Our magic allowed us to preserve the sword’s integrity within a heat that should have melted it. But it’s taking too long to cool! I can sense the steel threatening to buckle. It will take all my skill to safeguard our progress.”

“Have a care!” Kalda shouted.

The smith disappeared behind a dark cloud as the oil started to smoke. The fumes billowed and spread, rolling across the ceiling, cascading down the walls to fill the room with their acrid stench. The roar of the boiling oil increased, reminding the ice sprite of a mountain stream swollen with spring meltwater. Gobban’s hazy outline reappeared as the oil ignited, throwing flames high. 

“It’s too hot! The amount of oil is insufficient! It shan’t cool the blade fast enough!” he cried.

 “Let me extinguish the fire and chill the sword,” Kalda said. 

“No! You’ll create an explosion! The ice and snow will react with the oil throwing it everywhere!” 

“Then what shall we do?” Kalda asked. 

“Snuff it out. Pull the air out again with your magic. We’ll have to start over once I devise a way to safely quench the blade.”

“But that will take more time!” 

“There is nothing else we can do. We can’t safely cool the blade fast enough right now.”

Coughing, eyes burning, Gobban continued to sing his magic as he extracted the sword from the burning vat. Oil clung to the metal, wreathing it in flames.

“Wait! It needs to be cooled quickly?”

“Yes, an almost instant drop in temperature is required,” he said. 

Gobban could sense the sprite was about to do something rash. 

“Stop, Kalda. Let us ponder and try again. It is too dangerous!”

“Brace yourself! Keep a firm stance!” she cried. 

“Kalda! No!”

A vortex materialized about the sword threatening to wrest it free with powerful suction. Currents of air siphoned heat, smoke, flame, and oil away from the blade carrying them out the window. Seeing clearly again, Gobban marveled the steel continued to glow brightly with a white-hot radiance. 

A narrow shaft of cold moisture struck without warning, enveloping the sword in pale blue magic. Gobban reflexively flinched against the blast of steam. But, the expected onslaught never came. A strong, warm current of air protected him from behind, shunting the hot vapors into the expanding whirlwind.

Within seconds the sword’s heat and its light diminished and disappeared completely. The smith reached carefully to test the temperature of the blade. He laughed, feeling it was cool to the touch.

“My gods! You’ve done it!”

Kalda danced about the room, chasing the smoke out and smothering the remaining pieces of leather, wood, and cloth still smoldering about the smithy. Gobban noted the ice sprite avoided the vat of fiery grease. She had listened to his warning about trying to use water to douse it. Laying the sword gently aside, he moved to deal with the burning oil. Throwing handfuls of the scouring sand onto the flames, he tamed the fire and secured a lid atop to extinguish the blaze.

“Did I quench the blade fast enough?” Kalda asked.

Gobban picked up the sword and carefully examined it. His face beamed as he looked up across the room. 

“Yes, Kalda,” he whispered, awestruck.

“We are done now?” she asked. “Have we succeeded?”

Gobban could only laugh as he nodded and wept for joy. 

“Yes, we have accomplished a miracle. This weapon has endured even when the granite stones have not. Look at my forge!”

“Then we are done.” Kalda smiled. 

“Almost. Now, let us gently heat our masterpiece to temper and relax the steel. This will prevent the blade from becoming brittle. Otherwise, it could shatter in battle. Supple strength is our goal.”

Gobban returned the sword to rest amid the diminished furnace coals. Kalda watched as he frequently adjusted the sword’s position to modulate the heat.

“We will need to clean and resharpen the edge once more. Are you able to repeat what you did before?”

“I do not tire easily as your kind does,” Kalda smirked. 

“You underestimate humanity.” he laughed. 

Another layer of snow and ice buried Gobban as he held the blade beneath the scouring magic Kalda created. But, the smith found it easier to tolerate knowing their work would indeed fashion a weapon capable of defending the kingdom. He dried and oiled the sword admiring its beauty. Gobban looked up, beaming at Kalda.  

“I believe, my dear Kalda….” Gobban stopped short, realizing what he had just said. He flushed with embarrassment. 

Kalda’s blue incandescent gaze sparkled. 

“Continue my master smith. What do you believe?”

Gobban’s heart burned with a stinging warmth like the tingle fingers experience while thawing from frostbite.

“I believe this is the strongest blade I have…we could ever craft,” he said. 

“Then we have succeeded?”

“I can dare to hope so.”

Kalda thought for a moment. 

“Do you not ward your weapons with runes?”

“Yes, I often do when the need is great.”

“Which will you etch into this blade?”

Gobban considered. 

“Mannaz, certainly, to support and augment the wielder’s power. Urug to foster strength of will. Algiz to provide protection. Naudhiz to declare a great need. Lastly, Sowila to claim success.”

Kalda nodded, quietly thinking. Gobban watched a frown spread across her face. 

“What? What is it?”

“I suggest you add one more additional rune.”

“Which one?”

“Isaz.”

“The ice rune?”


Coming Next: (Part 7 of 7) “Winter Thaws”