Flash Fiction and Where the Stars Used to Sing
Two stories and a look at the last sketch for Where the Stars Used to Sing
Hello again Dear Reader,
Well it’s finally the last weekend of February (far too quickly on the one hand, though) and that means Where the Stars Used to Sing are being released this weekend! Sunday to be exact. Because, as you will see below, I still have a bit of work to do!
Here’s a look at the sketch for “The Tree House on the Moon” that I’m currently busy with and that’s the last one for the collection. It still needs some colour and some ink - and maybe a few more stars - and then it’s done! Yay!
If you’d like to read the first draft for this story, you can do so over here.
And now, without further ado, some fiction for the weekend!
And the Shadows Danced
The fire dancers were preparing for the midsummer feast on the beach. Most were by now stripped to their waists in the gathering twilight. Shallow fire pits adorned the beach of fine, white sand beyond the reach of the waves. The pits were arranged in gleaming bands radiating from the centre platform where the dancers were. If the stars were to look down they would see a second sun burning upon the earth itself, drowning out the fickle light of the moon.
As the sun set and its fires died upon the waves, the drummers started to beat out a rhythm for the dancers.
Magicians of great power, the dancers were a chosen few who could control the elements. With the control of fire you could lay your enemies waste, but you could also make the heavens cry for the beauty of the fire dance.
The five dancers gathered in the centre of the platform started moving to the beat. Their feet stamped faster and faster to the beat of the midsummer dance and then, when the music reached its crescendo, the fire joined them in the dance. Flames sprouted from the pits, some high, some low, some burning red, others nearly blue. All in a pattern that followed the dance and the movements of the dancers.
The people standing on the dunes cheered. Some shuffled where they stood, clapping their hands to the tune of the drums. From where they stood they could only see part of the pattern, but the rain dancers would be able to see the whole sun medallion from the high cliff where they were ready to call forth the clouds for the midsummer rain.
Inanna stood between the cliff and the dunes. Her hair was blowing in the wind and when she closed her eyes she imagined that she could feel each strand moving in its own little dance. The light grey smoke of the fires curled high into the sky as the fires burned hotter and faster with each passing minute of the dance. She stretched out her arms. This was her moment to show off her own talent.
She screwed up her eyes and concentrated on the smoke. Gathering it. Twisting it until it was like clay in her hands. The dance stopped, as did the drums. Only now people looked up into the sky.
Inanna pulled sparks from the fires and sent them swirling into the smoke, creating the shadowed outline of men and horses. Galloping between them, and then downward to the platform – so that the dancers scattered – came the legendary hero Milkilu on his horse. The rest of the scene slowly faded until only his shadow figure remained.
The people were stricken dumb in awe and wonder. The figure of Milkilu threw his arms in the air and a banner unfurled from the spear he was holding. Inanna dragged sparks onto the banner to form a miniature of the sun medallion still burning on the beach.
People gasped with delight and some cheered, looking around to see who it was that was doing the conjuring. But Inanna dispersed the smoke, letting it drift up into the night sky and the waiting rain clouds.
And it started to rain.
But the next year the rain did not come. Neither did it come the year thereafter and the people stopped believing in the magicians’ powers. Too soon the magicians themselves stopped believing. The midsummer and midwinter dances stopped. Soon all the dances stopped. And yet the sun kept on rising and the stars kept shining. And the fickle moon kept on waxing and waning.
Their enemies, hearing that the magicians were no longer and how almost all had been run from the lands, came to take the fertile tracts of land and the great stone city for themselves. And the people cursed the magicians who had failed them and who had left them when they most needed them as the great city was burnt and laid waste.
It was twelve long years before adequate rain started to fall once more. Though some of the elderly who had survived the severe drought remembered the magicians and wished that they would return, most had set all such thoughts behind them through the long years of suffering, thirst, hunger, and death.
With renewed fervour, the people fought their enemies and slowly regained their city and burnt what had been rebuilt before they again started to rebuild the city from the ashes of the previous. Soon a kind of normalcy returned to the land.
The fairy tales of fire dancers and magicians that could make it rain slowly died out with the elderly and the magicians who, in their new identities as simple citizens, slowly passed on to the next life. But there were some who still remembered.
Inanna sat by the fire in the inn’s common room. Around her most were drunk, but a few still had their wits about them enough to call for a story from the old wizard. She listened to them talking about the great battles and the great victories she remembered quite differently. She listened to the forgotten sorrow replaced with faded memories. And she conjured from the sparks the sun medallion she had seen so many years ago.
“It was midsummer,” she said, moving her hands and the smoke obeyed her, casting shadows and filling all with wonder. “And all the fire dancers were ready to dance just as the sun died upon the waves of the ocean.” From the sparks she conjured the dancers, swirling and stamping their feet, jumping into the sky against a background of smoke rippling like water. “It was the happiest night of my life,” she whispered. Her hands moved slower and the conjuring unravelled as fatigue overtook her. Slowly she fell asleep to the voices of those few elders who remembered the old festival, the drums, the dancers, and those tiny honey-scented sweetmeats they all use to have as children. In her dreams, the shadows came alive and danced.
The Tower of Scattering Winds
Winds from the east blasted over the sand dunes and piled yellow-red sand against the Tower of Scattering Winds. At the entrance men and women dressed in white robes and with blue cloths covering their noses and mouths against the swirling dust scooped the sand into buckets which they carried bent-backed into the tower. From there they would start to climb the stairs to the top floor where the work was done. It was difficult work. Back-breaking work. But they were outside time, in a sense they created time. They had all the time they needed to get to the top floor of the tower.
As they climbed the stairs, knees trembling under the weight, wisps of sand escaped from the buckets to be carried away again to lie in the corners of the steps and to later find its way outside again.
No one quite knew how it worked, only that it did. No matter how long or short the trip was up the stairs, when the Life Timer carrying the sand reached the room where the glass timers were filled, there was only enough sand left to fill one timer. And, furthermore, in that timer would be every second given to the person in the great Book of Time.
Sometimes sand was carried into the room on the Life Timers’ robes. These they would shake as they entered the room, trailing yellow-red time sand behind them. And that is where Dagna worked. He gathered these seconds and minutes into a bag with a tiny brush. Mostly the Life Timers ignored him. To them he was inconsequential – someone unseen who sometimes had to be tolerated because he spoke of the world outside the sands surrounding the Tower.
Everyone knew of the world outside, of course – there were the seemingly mythical people for whom the Life Timers were made, after all. But it did not do to speak of it. Many simply wasted the sand which were so laboriously gathered and carried to the top of the stairs where they could be put into the frail glass timer that they would later shatter and which would become part of the sand itself. Time was never lost. It just changed hands.
But Dagna moved within the world with his bag of seconds and minutes that he would give to those who needed it the most. Yet, sometimes, it seemed that there was never enough of the extra time to go around. He could only grab a pinch or two of sand from the bag at any one time. He could never take out a whole handful to give to someone, even a new mother or a dying wife. Sometimes the second it took just to say the word “goodbye” was all that he could manage. That was the part which they did not understand. He couldn’t just dole it out to everyone, he couldn’t save anyone.
Once he had gathered all the scattered sand, he slung the thick canvas over his shoulder and pulled his own blue scarf over his nose and mouth. Then he slowly walked down the stairs and unlocked the great door that would lead him out of the Tower of Scattering Winds and into the world where time reigned over all.
Soon he was sprinkling sand in-between the seconds which would mean life and death. Here someone needed three seconds to miss dying in a car accident. There a new mother needed a few to save her and her baby’s life. Here he was too late to save someone until they could say farewell.
Dagna stared down at the bed. Around it he could see the ghostly glimmer of the broken glass timer fading. The young man by the side of the bed also stared down at the empty body. He looked up, staring straight through Dagna.
“I’m sorry,” Dagna said, reaching into the empty canvas bag. “There was no time.”
He stepped away from the scene back into the world of the Tower of Scattering Winds. He sat down on one of the dunes and watched the Life Timers gather their sand. The sight blurred and he rubbed the salt water from his eyes before plunging his hand into the warm sand and letting a fist full of minutes run through his fingers. He wondered if there was ever enough sand. The face of the young man at the deathbed was burned into his mind.
He stood, brushed stray seconds from his clothes and went into the tower’s hall of glass timers. Above each of the timers hovered a life-like manikin of the person whose it was. There he searched through the thousands upon thousands until he found the young man’s. As he stared at it, the life timer seemed to grow bigger, grow fuller, or perhaps both.
“You’re no doubt wondering what it all means,” an elderly voice creaked next to him.
Startled, Dagna took a step back from the man next to him. The man’s face was dark and furrowed with deep wrinkles.
“What does it mean?” Dagna asked and looked down at the timer in his hands.
The old man smiled.
“He’d started to live.”
That’s it from me for today - let me get back to giving Where the Stars Used to Sing its final touches!