Drabble: Proposal

Gobelen had warned us that an old enemy of his named Wathanni might come looking for him. At the time I was unconcerned. Now that I’d been encased in a pillar of charcoal, I was more concerned, and slightly frustrated that I could still hear the two of them eating and talking.

“Gobelen, do you remember the last time we had a meal together like this?”

“Oh yes. It was just before you had me imprisoned in that infernal bottle.”

Wathanni laughed. “Quite right. Strange how easy that was to arrange, but that’s of no consequence. Have some bread; I assure you it’s excellent.”

“I notice there is no salt. I suppose you remain devoted to some unholy purpose.”

“Naturally. My name does mean ‘heathen’ after all.”

For a time I only heard silence, then the air hummed with a voice like a song.

“You never even wanted the title. The life you asked for was one of humility and freedom. Why not yield to the one who desires the authority you consider a burden? I vow you would have all the freedom you dream of. When my shadows cover the world they will leave you untouched.”

Again I only heard silence, and the longer it lasted the more panic set in.

Drabble: The Power of Alhana

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and post. Part of the reason (among other things) is that I spent a few days at the Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society convention in St. Louis, Missouri, where I had the opportunity to read a selection of my flash fiction as part of a panel. It was my first time participating in a reading of that sort, so it was a thrilling experience. The flash fiction sequence I read reused some of the posts I’ve published on here, and also featured new material centered on the characters, so I thought I’d post the new scenes here as well, starting with this one. The previous posts that appeared in the sequence are: Meanwhile, The Bottle Opens, Reentering the World, A Hidden Image, and The Traveler.

 

 

Fire flashed from Alhana’s eyes, and Gobelen was forcibly changed back into his human form, which began aging swiftly as the building around them turned to dust that blew into the wind. The clouds turned to rocks and began falling around them while the ground evaporated like steam.

“Look around you, Mithal, and alter what you see if you can. You may the Caliph of all Jinn, but I am the Prophetess to the Caliph, and you will hear my words if I must lock you in a thousand bottles first. Do you yield?”

“Cease your signs, Prophetess, I yield.”

The world began returning to normal. Alhana’s eyes dimmed as her power was reigned in. “Good. You will accompany me to the Great Hall, where we can discuss matters in a manner befitting the dignity of our powers.”

It wasn’t until Gobelen nodded that she returned him to normal as well.

Stand alone drabble: Nesrin’s Comet

When Nesrin looked into the burning rock hurtling towards her, she was grateful to have her uncountable siblings around her. One hidden one acting alone can only divert a comet with monumental effort, but a large gathering of them can manage quite easily.

She heard her mother say “Wait till it comes through the clouds to give it time to burn off, then we’ll all charge it together and send it away with one strong push.”

Nesrin could already feel the heat starting to dry her skin. Even so, she was so entranced by the white shine of the flames on the apparent smoothness of the stone that she would have forgotten to change into her hidden form if one of her brothers hadn’t yelled “Nesrin, change before your flesh burns.” Shaken into reality, she glanced at her newly red arms. She shifted to her other self without thinking. Her mother had told her that her hidden one half made her immortal, but she hadn’t fully understood what that meant until she’d put her human half to the test.

Novel Excerpt: Family

Nesrin and Ceylan walked alone through the ruins of Karatepe, as they often did when they needed to talk together as sisters. Ceylan stopped and looked at the angle of a lion statue in relation to the ocean. “I think this is where we used to watch the leviathan surface in the water.”

Nesrin stopped next to Ceylan. “It’s hard to tell. The wall’s much lower now than back then. If this is the spot then it must also be where we and our siblings diverted that comet away from the earth.”

Ceylan nodded, then pointed to a line of stone monuments. “I know that’s where that colony of jann made their camp and refused to move for a year and a day.”

Nesrin smiled. “Oh yes. Those are the stones Mother stood on to mediate between them and the townspeople.” She tilted her head. “Speaking of which, did Mother ever rule in Bedeea-el-Jamal’s case?”

“Oh yes. The Patron of Liberty officially reinstated the Queen of the Jann yesterday, and I’m sure she will not let Bedeea forget that. Now that there are seven rulers again, they’re all going to claim a day of the week to represent like the Seven Kings used to. Mother’s going to be Mistress of Monday.”

“Because she needed another title.”

For a short time they walked in silence again. Once again the silence was broken by Ceylan.

“Your roommates seem nice.”

Nesrin considered Isabelle and Jason. “I did stumble onto some good ones. They’re the first humans I’ve wanted to reveal my true self to for a long time.”

“Aravis seemed quite impressed, too, but then I suppose there’s a reason for that.”

“Now what does that mean?”

“I’m not sure. Mother’s just been dropping vague hints lately. Probably nothing.”

“Ceylan, if you know something I don’t…”

“I assure you I don’t, not for sure anyway.”

Narrative Poem: The Weeds on the Wall

weedsonwall

 

Centuries ago the seas concealed cities,

Home to folk who prefered water to air,

Who looked nearly but not fully like we.

One was named Julrane, with ankle length hair

Blue as the water, and eyes of light, deep green.

She lived in Gulfia, near Persia, where

She tended the Citadel’s flower garden.

More plants thrived on the sea bottom back then.

 

Julrane worked quietly and by herself,

Though she rarely felt alone. She had the plants

To provide a sense of life outside herself,

And spoke to them as she would cousins or aunts.

She’d pot a few sometimes and keep them on shelves

In her room, where they became her confidants.

They were flowers, mostly, with some fruit and weeds.

Her favorites, though, were the wild ones; the weeds.

 

On her first day she’d been told to remove all

The weeds from the garden. She pulled up one

And it drifted to the garden’s chalky wall

And stuck. Seeing it, she knew what could be done.

Rather than remove she replanted, till all

The wall wore a green trim which she left alone

And let cover the bare, dormant chalk in life.

For this, having seen it, none could give her strife.

Nesrin’s Journal – Origin Story

I was born in Karatepe, in the southern region of what is now Turkey, though neither of my parents lived there originally. My mother spent her early life in the area around Persia. She was not born of a mother as I was; she was created in fire.

This was during the time when hidden ones dwelled only in the Rig-e Jenn and had a greater dependence on humans. A delegation came to King Harun and said “We have written the treaties you asked for with the children of Adam, but they request evidence of the strength of our union.”

In response King Harun called for one of his servants and said “Find me thirteen jars of olive oil.”

When the servant returned with his oil, the king removed some of his own flame and used it to set the oil alight. The flames grew and finally began to take shape. The shapes flickered between various forms; doves, horses, perytons, spriggans, and finally settled onto nine women and four men of fire who stepped down from their jars and looked around.

Harun said “These are Sila; beings like us who will marry humans and give them children, thus creating a firm bond between our two peoples. They can change their shapes to make this arrangement agreeable, and you will have no trouble sealing your treaties.”

The plan was made at a time before its faults were widely acknowledged, and so it was agreed to. Before sending them out, the King gave them names, and he called my mother Samira. Clearly he did not know his own clones, or else he would have known that Samira was not so docile as the others.

When they tired to lead her away she refused to go. “Was I made to lead a prisoner’s life? I am fire of the king’s fire and wield more power than any of you. Let the one who makes light of his hands touch me first.” When they moved towards her she created a circle of lightning around herself which removed the tips of their fingers, then she dispersed into a wild windstorm. She re-formed herself on a distant mountain where they would not find her, and thus began an age of exile.

For centuries she traversed Eurasia and Africa, abiding where she liked, and marrying who and when she cared to. Naturally one outcome of this is that I have more siblings than I care to keep track of, and only very few from my father. At one point her travels brought her to the city of Troy, where she discovered that a number of our people had broken Harun’s treaty and were secretly agitating a human war. By now she had become more sympathetic to humans than to her own kind, so she sought to mitigate some of the chaos.

When the infamous horse came through the gates, Samira warned the soothsayer Cassandra about the destruction it would bring, and she went throughout the city warning the people. Only a respected merchant named Cleontes and one other person listened. The other was killed by snakes, but that did not stop Cleontes and Cassandra from plotting together to destroy the pretend gift.

Cassandra told Cleontes “We will act at night when the horse is alone, just before our enemies plan to venture out. You can move about more freely than I. Acquire two axes and two torches. When you see that the people have moved from the horse, come and fetch me, but let no one know what you are doing.”

The plan might have succeeded except that another hidden one named Withanni possessed Cassandra and caused her to rush at the horse alone in the middle of a crowd. Withanni also alerted the people to Cleontes’ intentions, but Mother warned Cleontes that they knew, and he fled in the night.

She took pity on him because he was one of the few who had heeded her warning. When she had helped Cassandra make her own flight, she raced ahead of Cleontes to Karatepe—no difficult task for a hidden one—and when he arrived she was waiting near the city gate in the shape of a woman similar to but different from Cassandra. “Welcome, good traveler. You appear weary. Have you had a long journey?”

“Not long, but hurried, and without sleep.”

She produced a wineskin and a satchel. “Here, let me give you some water and bread. Come with me, and I will show where you can feed and water your horse as well.”

She led him to a well at the center of the town. While he watered his horse she brought him some hay and said “Anything you find in this hay is my gift to you. Use it as you see fit.”

With that in mind, he decided to feed the horse by hand rather than let it graze freely. In so doing he found enough gold coins to buy a house and set up a comfortable life.

Naturally he married her. They integrated well into the workings of their new city, and he set up a successful business as a potter.

I was their firstborn. By your calendar I was born on February 7, 1183 BC. Like all hidden ones I came into the world in smoke and sparks that swirled like roses, but like all humans I also came in with screams and blood. My first movements were abnormally clumsy for a hidden one, and I did not find my voice as quickly as they usually do. I did, however, begin to use my abilities much sooner. They say even in the womb the first time I kicked half the city became invisible, and the second time the streets turned to water. I know those stories are true because I remember. I made the city invisible because I liked playing games, and I flooded the streets because there was a drought. I would have done much more without Mother telling me stories to calm me. She called me Nesrin even then. In English “Nesrin” translates to “wild rose.” I was named after the rose in a story she told me about a nightingale. That story stopped me from creating a lightning storm because I wanted to hear the thunder.

When I was finally born I waved my arms and every hidden one in the country was exposed to the humans around them. I’d been told stories; I knew the hidden ones were supposed to be aiding the humans, and that they continually resisted this order, so I took a stab at correcting that. Sadly that was the last time I got away with such a flippant action, even if Mother had secretly been pleased.

My childhood was pleasant enough. Without Mother’s power to tap into I had to develop for myself, which was unbearably frustrating but also exhilarating. Ceylan was born a year after me, and we had grand adventures together, though those are all different stories. There isn’t time to tell them all now, but I’m sure I will tell them at some point. I tell these ancient stories often so as not to forget them myself. 3201 years is a long life to keep track of, and without my journals I doubt even I would remember all I have seen and done. Some of my stories are not worth remembering, others I have actively tried to forget, but this is one I mean to hold on to.

Snapshots of Alternatives

Jason’s roommate Jonathan nudged him awake. Looking around, Jason saw that he had fallen asleep on the couch holding a video game controller, again. He looked at his phone and saw it was 5 pm. “Great. I lost almost another full day of job searching.”

“Which reminds me, the rent’s due, and I can’t afford another month of not getting your half.”

Jason rubbed his head. “I should’ve stayed in grad school. Could’ve gotten a little job at the college… sublet that apartment with Isabelle… She wouldn’t let me sleep my life away.”

While Jason was bemoaning his choices, Isabelle was in a history museum running between the exhibits. “Madre, check out these Mardi Gras queen’s trains. This one’s from the 1800s. Vaya! Can you imagine how strong the stitching must be to hold all those diamonds in place for this long?”

Celia put her arm around her daughter’s shoulder. “It looks muy pesado to me. Do you think being a queen is worth wearing that, Niña?”

“I think they only wear the trains for the parade, and then they drape them over the float, so it’s less like wearing one and more just pretending to wear one.”

“Well in that case I hope I get to see you pretend to wear one some day.”

Isabelle instantly started imagining a royal blue cape with a big golden eagle broach at the top and ribbons flowing all the way to the bottom over an embroidered map of the world, with gears and a clock face in the middle. She was pulled from her fantasy when her eyes turned to the next exhibit. “Madre! Madre! Madre! There’s an exhibit on the Titanic!” She started to run towards the cutout of the ship, but after a few steps she and Jason both ceased to exist as their real selves broke from their fantasies.

***

Nesrin rode a giant dog made of fire, leading her army into the apartment complex. Waves of hidden ones led by Ceylan flew overhead while the human ranks marched beneath them with guns loaded. The snipers and ninjas had gone ahead of them on the rooftops, and tanks were left in the streets waiting. Mithal the Failure Caliph was chained to Nesrin’s dog, carrying the Bottle of Samira.

Nesrin smiled at the lack of resistance. “My day has finally dawned. Soon she will learn that no one opposes Nesrin the Half Fire, not even her alternate self.” At last earth’s moon and Venus appeared in the sunlit sky. Now she was ready. She teleported into the apartment with Ceylan by her side.

Ceylan scoffed at their surroundings. “Forgive me, Khanum, but I fail to see how even a hypothetical version of you could live here.”

“This version was weak.” Her eyes glowed black and a dagger of black water appeared in her hand. “History broke her, but she is only a wraith of a might-have-been.”

They found the other Nesrin in her bedroom writing in her journal about impersonating her mother and her new reconnaissance task. The experience had revived suppressed, panicked memories of a human war she’d been involved in. The tortured fantasies it provoked gave the darker Nesrin strength as she lifted the dagger.

The other Nesrin slammed the journal shut and closed her eyes. “No.”

The Khanum dropped her dagger and stumbled.

The other Nesrin clenched her fists on her desk. “Let the thoughts go. Just hand them over.”

The Khanum and her sister faded like smoke in the wind, sending out ripples that erased their army like a tsunami. Once they were gone, the real Nesrin collapsed into her chair, able to relax a little.