Mist rising out of the marsh around a boardwalk.

#7DayFlashFictionChallenge – Day Four

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A little earlier today, but it’s my wedding anniversary, so the evening is spoken for.

Today’s random image, attached to this post, brought me the following piece of flash fiction. By the stopwatch, it took 43 minutes and 59 seconds to write. According to Word, it’s 995 words long. Can’t get too much closer to the 1000-word mark, can I?

I seem to be alternating between Science Fiction and Fantasy so far, which is unusual for me for the last couple of years. As I noted back before New Year’s (link), my reading in the last four or five years has been closer to an 80-20 split. A quick analysis of first draft writing shows similar numbers for short fiction, but if I look at the novel range for first drafts and plans, that drops all the way down to 67-33 once I’ve discounted a couple of Historical fiction books I’m planning.

Which can only mean the alternating genres is a decision I’ve made at some level. Therefore, tomorrow, I’m going to muck with that plan.

But for today, please enjoy a secondary world Fantasy offering.

Stay safe and be well, everyone.

Bridge in the Mist

The monks didn’t want to let me in, of course. They likely didn’t want to let anyone in. It probably didn’t take long each year to get tired of fishing bodies out of the marsh.

But I knew they couldn’t deny me. They weren’t allowed. They couldn’t even talk me out of wanting to come in, much less bar the door. Religious vows forbid it, even though four in five of the people they let in had actually come to suicide. I wasn’t any different.

That should have made me feel guilty. It did, a little. Just not enough to change my mind. How else could I atone?

“You will have to wait three days.”

I nodded, not caring about the monk’s scowl or her narrow eyes or her rigid posture. “That’s fine.” Only three days. It could have been much worse. In summer, when travel was pleasant and easy, it could easily have been three weeks instead. But this early in the spring, there were few travelers on the roads, and fewer so far into the hills to reach the monastery.

“I will show you to a cell.” She stepped aside so I could enter the compound, closing and barring the thick oak door behind me. Her stern expression not changing, silently judging, she turned away and started walking. Obviously, I had to follow to find my cell. “Meals are served morning and evening when the bell tolls. I am the only member of the order with dispensation to speak to outsiders before equinox. Conversation will be acknowledged but greeted with silence. Your time is yours.”

Which meant I should leave everyone alone. That suited me well. “I understand. And the other…” People waiting for their time to die? “Visitors?” It seemed a weak finish to the question but wasn’t even worthy of a glance from my escort.

“That is up to them.”

We walked in silence after that. Probably, she would have liked to be bound by the same oath of silence as the rest of the order, and that seemed like the only real respect I could show her at the moment.

* * *

I consumed meals in silence for three days, silence to match the rest of my contemplative time before the end. Each morning, a small basin of water appeared outside the door to my cell, along with a sliver of soap and a small, rough towel. Apparently, I was expected to not offend the delicate noses of the order.

During those three days, I never caught a glimpse of the other travelers or knew if any came after me.

On the fourth morning, I woke long before dawn to find the basin already present. Washing, drying, and dressing, I waited for some indication that it was my turn. Finally, a sharp knock struck my door, and I opened it to reveal the same monk who’d let me in that first night, though I hadn’t seen her since.

“Come. It is your turn.” Almost as soon as the last syllable struck the air, I was looking at her retreating back and had to step quickly to follow, through the compound and to the ancient gatehouse that was the monastery’s entire reason for existence.

The door to the gatehouse looked the same as the one to the compound, thick and oak and strong, though it held no handle, no lock, and showed no means of opening to permit entrance. She placed a palm in its centre at chest height and murmured a few words I couldn’t hear then stood aside as the door opened inward. “What is for you to see is not for me. Stay on the walkway. I will return when the sun has fully breached the horizon.”

Faced with the open door, I had no idea what to say, no idea what I could say. Thanks seemed inadequate, but it was all I had.

Passing through the door, I walked forward to the edge of the raised wooden path that was in our world but still separate from it, accessible only from the gatehouse. It wove a winding path past lilacs at the edge of the marsh and through the rising mist towards the dim horizon, where a line of fire was just beginning to appear. Frogs and early morning birds and insects made their noises in normal tones, undisturbed by my approach or by my quiet footsteps on the bridge.

If you walked the path at dawn and looked into the waters of the marsh, you could see those who had gone before you, those you’d lost. If you left the path, you’d drown in the marsh and join them.

Which was why most people came to the monastery.

Which was why I’d come.

I leaned far over the railing, made of waist high oak logs of slightly varying heights, their ends polished smooth by centuries of visitors and waited for the faces of my wife and daughter to appear in the calm and placid water, so different than the waves that had pulled them from the family’s fishing boat on a day they shouldn’t have fished, on a day that was mine to spend in the market. If it had been Klara’s market day, she would still be with me and I might have saved Klarynn. Such a small difference to bring such a large change.

In the dark stillness, barely lit by a sun still below the world’s rim, a face shimmered and appeared under my own reflection, neither wife nor daughter, but a father who’d left the mortal world a year and more ago, holding back a earthquake broken wall so children could escape the falling building.

His face appeared, and shoulders, chest, and hand, palm out towards me. A clear enough message, if one dooming me to a lifetime of sorrow, however long that might yet be.

Nodding once, I turned my back on the water and the path and the mist.


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