By Amanda Waters
[author’s note: this bit of short fiction was inspired by a three-word challenge courtesy of writer Abigail Thomas. Check her out at www.abigailmthomas.com]
Of all the times to have a cold.
The woman trudged up the side of the mountain. 2,800 steps. She clutched the plastic-wrapped Waterford vase to her heaving chest as she climbed, cursing her Mom’s odd and specific instructions and wondering why the living felt such an obligation to the dead.
Other climbers gave her a wide berth, and she didn’t blame them. She’d stay away from the crazy lady too: a woman with red eyes, a clearly stuffy nose, and carrying a crystal vase full of what looked like dirt.
Ashes! She wanted to shout at everyone giving her a sideways glance. It’s my Mom’s ashes!
Finally, she reached the top. Panting she walked around the small overlook at the top of the mile long hike, searching for just the right spot: not too close to people, but close enough to the edge of the cliff.
Sniffling, she walked over to just the right spot and unwrapped the vase–a wedding present from her Dad’s parents–and whispered,
“Rest in peace, Mom. I hope you’re finally getting to take those dance classes you always wanted to take, and mix your patterns, and that you grew your hair out again.”
At that, the woman drew her arm back and heaved the heavy vase over the the side of the mountain, thirty years of manipulation and resignation, and a thousand dollars of crystal shattering on the rocks below.
Be careful who you game with
by Amanda Waters
[authors note: this short fiction was the result of a three-word writing challenge, and was inspired by the many happy hours spent playing games with the Pruiksmas and Hesters.]
The dice rattled, coming to rest inches from the edge of the table. Rebecca rubbed her eyes, bleary from lack of sleep, and tried to focus on the pips.
“So…”she rubbed her eyes again. “I can’t math right now. I rolled a four. I have three persuasion and the fancy duds so that’s…”
“Ten. You passed.” Terry’s voice drifted up from the floor where he was stretched out with his eyes closed.
“Thanks. Ok, that completes that job then, and that’s my turn.” Rebecca moved her cards, and leaned over to pull money from the bank. She handed a small, green plastic dinosaur to Haley. “You’re turn.”
Haley yawned as she began her turn, moving her blue ship across the board and turning over cards as she went.
“When did we start this game?” she asked. Flip. Slide. Flip. Slide. Flip. Roll. Slide.
“Almost 3 p.m. I think,” Aaron answered, returning from the kitchen, his arms full of popcorn bowls, Dr. Peppers, and a bottle of water for the pregnant Rebecca. “I logged off of my work server at 2.”
Rebecca reached for the water, walked over to the living room window, and pulled the curtain back. “That can’t be right,” she said. She let go of the curtain and turned back to face the others. “It’s as bright as noon out there.”
Four pairs of eyes turned toward the large round clock on the wall.
“Has the clock stopped?” Haley sounded confused.
“Well, I can still hear it tick-tocking,” Aaron replied, but he also sounded confused.
Terry sat up and pulled his phone from his pocket. “Guys.” he said. “It’s 2:00 p.m. We’ve been playing this game for almost 24 hours.”
“No.” Rebecca shook her head and sat heavily in the nearest chair. “Impossible. Even our longest game of Firefly only takes four or five hours. Max.”
“We have to stop,” Haley said firmly. “No winner, just stop and sleep. We’re all clearly delirious. You two just crash in the guest room,” she gestured to Rebecca and Terry. “I don’t feel comfortable with either of you driving right now.”
Rebecca nodded, but didn’t stand up. Aaron sat down next to her, absently passing around the snacks, for which everyone absently thanked him then sat in a silence punctuated only by pop, hiss, crunch. No one moved.
“The thing is,” Terry said finally, scratching his week-old beard. “I know you’re right. I want to stop. I really do. But I can’t. Like…I physically can’t.”
Reecca rolled her eyes. “What are you even talking about.” She paused. Her brown eyes widened. “Crap,” she said, voice cracking. “We can’t. We can’t stop.”
Haley reached out and completed her turn quickly and silently, then passed the dinosaur to Aaron. As he went through the motions of his turn, she stood up and walked down the hall, walked back toward the kitchen, went outside on the porch, and returned to the dining room table.
“It’s true,” she said, sitting down. “I can get up, walk around the house. I didn’t even have trouble going to stand outside. But as soon as I think about not playing the game…I can’t even describe it. It’s like a compulsion and mental block all rolled up into one.” Her sigh was deep, frustrated, weary.
“Okay, let’s think about this,” Aaron said as he passed the dinosaur to Terry. “What is different about tonight?”
They sat thinking, the only sound that of Terry rifling through a deck of game cards.
Abruptly, Terry set the stack of cards down and looked up. He grabbed the plastic dinosaur and plunked it down in the middle of the game board. Ships jostled out of position, but no one cared.
“Where did you get the dinosaur?” he asked. “Have you played a game since you got it?”
“It was a gift,” Aaron said. “From a work friend. Acquaintance really. Chad. I’d been telling him about the game and he really wanted to play, so I invited him over for a game. He brought it with him. It’s the only time I’ve used it.”
“Was it a long game?”
Aaron shook his head. “Two or three hours. About normal. Chad one.”
“Wait!” Haley stood up. “Chad!? Training to be a wizard Chad? Practical joker Chad? Likes to cheat Chad?”
Haley smacked her palm against the table, making them all jump. “The nerve! Twenty bucks says he put a spell on that dinosaur that makes it impossible to stop playing unless he wins.”
Aaron shook his head. “That’s so…specific. Why would he do that and then leave it here?”
“Spite? He thought it was a good joke?”
Rebecca stood up. “I’m so tired, I’m not thinking straight,” she said walking to her purse. She rummaged around and eventually stood, holding a small brown glass spray bottle.
“For emergencies,” she said.
She shook the bottle gently as she walked back to the table, then reached out and sprayed the dinosaur. “Usually only takes a minute.”
As they watched, the mottled green paint appeared to melt, sliding down the toy and coalescing into a shimmery ball next to the now naked dinosaur. They stared.
“Looks like you owe your wife twenty bucks,” Terry said.
“Is the spell broken?” Haley asked.
Rebecca shook her head. “No, the spray just revealed it. But it’s small and simple. We can break it ourselves even without the originator. Which is good, because it’s possible that Chad had someone else cook the spell for him.”
“So what now? When you say break do you mean…literally break it?” Haley gestured to the green ball.
Rebecca nodded. “Yes, basically. But we need to make a salt circle to protect the area from the release of energy. I’d do it myself but…” she gestured to her five months pregnant belly. “No hands-on magic after the first trimester.”
“This might be a stupid question,” Aaron chimed in, “but if we need a protective circle, how do we protect the person doing the breaking?”
“Well, if it were a witch or wizard they could just ward themselves,” she said. “But I’ve got something in the car that we use in school. Be right back. You guys keep playing while I’m getting it. It’s starting to feel a little hard to move.”
Rebecca returned before the end of Terry’s turn carrying what looked like a cross between a fire fighter’s uniform and a trench coat. She was slightly out of breath.
“Lead coat,” she explained, dropping it to the floor with a thunk.
She picked up the green ball and found a bare spot on the tile floor to set it on.
“It’s your turn,” Terry said. “I think you should play it while we make the circle and do the rest of it.”
Rebecca nodded and went to the table, reminding Terry to make sure the salt circle was clean and unbroken. Haley went to get salt from the kitchen, and Terry picked up the lead coat.
“Want me to do it?” he asked.
“Aaron should,” Haley said as she returned with the salt. She turned to Aaron. “Your friend, your responsibility.”
Aaron sighed. “Not my friend,” he grumbled. “But I get your point.”
He took the coat from Terry and put it on, going to stand next to the spell. Terry bean encircling them with the salt. Rebecca finished her turn and handed the naked dinosaur to Haley who raised her eyebrows at the gesture. Rebecca shrugged. “Well, we’ve been passing turns with this dumb dinosaur for 24 hours. Why stop now.”
Terry finished the circle and stepped back. “All you now, brother.”
“Wait!” Rebecca reached out a hand. “Close your eyes. I forgot safety goggles. Just in case.”
Aaron took a deep breath, balanced his foot above the tiny, unassuming spell, closed his eyes, and stomped.
Air whooshed through the room, ruffling their hair and clothes, and the pressure in the room shifted abruptly, like a balloon being popped. For a long moment they all stood still, then Terry said, “I think it’s time to stop playing,” and walked down the hall toward the guest bedroom.
Rebecca laughed and followed.
Aaron looked at Rebecca, a huge grin splitting his face.
“Race you to the bed,” he said, and with a laugh they ran toward their room.