Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Her Story

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," she told me the first time we met. Of course, I knew better. I opened the book and began to read.

Now I’m sure you’re going to think this is some story about me getting sucked into a book, going through some difficult adventure, and having a life-changing experience or epiphany, but you’re wrong. This isn’t The Neverending Story. That’s not to say I’m not a fan of that movie, ‘‘cause it was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid. But this isn’t like that.

Nor is this a story about me being skeptical about something in the realm of magic, and the book is supposed to be some old mystical tome, and then I jokingly read a “spell” out of the book and then have to deal with dire consequences because of my skepticism.

By this point you’’re probably wondering what the story is about. Well, we have three elements: her, me, and a book. I’ll tell you right now that it’s not about the book. It’s not even really about me, either. It’s about her.

I don’t know what her name is. She was probably about the same age as me, but it was hard to tell. I’m at that annoying age where hormones are going crazy, and some of the girls are already looking much older than the boys, but not all of them, and even some of the boys’ voices are changing, so it can be kind of hard to tell exactly how old someone is compared to you. There’s one girl in my class who, no foolin’, looks like she’s about seventeen. Yes, I’m smack-dab in the middle of puberty.

She wasn’t in my class, but I’d seen her around school, usually in the cafeteria. That didn’t give me much hint on her age, ‘cause my class shares a lunchtime with a few fifth-, sixth-, and eighth-grade classes. Okay, so now you know I’m in seventh grade. I’m thirteen, okay? Fine.

Anyway, well here’’s the thing. I watched her. I watched her a lot. But can you really blame me? She’s gorgeous! But not in that annoying, blonde, spoiled, cheerleader kind of way. God, I hate those girls, the kind that have huge sweet-sixteen parties, like on TV, and they’re obviously planning to get by the rest of their lives on their looks and whatever allowance Daddy gives them. No, she wasn’t like that. She’s a redhead and peppered with freckles. I think she plays either soccer or softball-- I’m not sure which-- because I overheard her talking about practice once, but nothing more other than that. She looked like a soccer player though, so I think that’s what she plays.

I keep getting off the subject. So I watched her. Whenever I could, which was usually around lunchtime. Well one day, she saw me. Saw me watching. And she smiled. Smiled! At me! And then she giggled. The other girls around her giggled with her. I blushed and went back to my sandwich.

The watching kept going on. And I noticed her watching me, too. Sometimes. When she thought no one else was watching, when she thought I wasn’t looking.

Then there was the day it finally happened. I was doing some English homework during lunch-- trying to get ahead, you know?-- and she, get this, walked over to my table! Now I’’m not popular, so I usually have a whole end of a table to myself. And she came over and sat down across from me. I pretended not to notice her, just kept my head down, because I could feel my ears burning and knew I was red as the inside of a watermelon.

But I couldn’t keep it up. I looked up at her. And she smiled at me. I smiled back.
So what happened next may seem childish to you, but keep in mind that, well, we were both still, in many ways, children. She passed me a note. We were sitting face-to-face, not five feet apart, and she pushed a note across the lunch table toward me.

Do you like me? Yes/No

I circled Yes and pushed it back to her.

She got up. "I wouldn't do that if I were you." Of course, I knew better. I opened the book and began to read.

Turns out she wasn’t attracted to girls.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Illegitimate Heir

In Zuro, custom and tradition make it illegal for the king to marry, so his progeny consists solely of children born out of wedlock. I am a son of the king, and I am a bastard. I am neither one of the oldest of my father’s children, nor am I among the youngest. Age has no bearing on who will be the next king. His heir is whomever he chooses.

My mother was the daughter of a miller whose smile and hips pleased my father, and though she was betrothed to another craftsman, law decreed my father could take her if he so chose. And he did, only the once. I was born of that union, and there is no doubting my paternity. A prominent stamp of my father’s feature is evident my face... as well as the faces of at least a dozen of my brothers.

I am not the heir. As my fifteenth birthday came and went and my sixteenth approached, no heir had been named yet. In a single chamber of the keep, I slept in a small cot surrounded by cots holding a handful of my half-brothers. No one was given special treatment, lest he get cocky, believing himself the favorite son and eventual heir. It’s simply not the way things are done.

Zuro is the name of both the kingdom and the capital city. The kingdom boundaries extend but a dozen miles or so outside the city walls, so the lands are fairly pathetic, and the kingdom– in my opinion– doesn’t truly deserve to be called such. Yet, like so many others, I was desperate for the throne and the power to command those lands. I wanted to be the heir, to be the next king, to be the favorite chosen son and become ruler over the kingdom.

What else had I to live for?

On the eve of my sixteenth birthday– a day that would mean no gifts or honors or even acknowledgment form my father– I lay on my cot, poring over an old sheaf of paper bound by leather lace ties. It was a recounting of the founding of Zuro and the first king. He had conquered the city with an invading force, and as a virile and lust-driven man, chosen to take the entire female population of those he conquered as his concubines. Dozens of children were born to him in that first few years, and he chose the son who most pleased him to take over the ruling of the kingdom he’d carved for himself. His son followed his example, except he was more choosy about the women he took to his bed. So began the tradition that I had been born into. There were few people in the little kingdom that I was not, at least distantly, related to, through my father’s father’s father’s exploits or the like. It’s possible that I could even be related to my own mother... if the loose breeches of another king had fathered her mother or grandfather or something on some unknown woman.

We do not think over such things.

I was alone in the room, for it was but mid-afternoon, and the brothers I shared the room with were out and about. It was a fine late summer day. The whole summer had been mild and pleasant, the summer planting fruitful. The air practically stank with the sweet aroma of the wildflowers that grow in every patch of grass. We do not plant decorative gardens, but cherish every flower that grows naturally in a place of its own choosing– except in functional farmlands.

The black smoke ribbon that rose in the northeast was an unwanted surprise. It curled up, staining the picturesque sky with its foreboding taint. Had I not been reading of the first king’s conquest, I may not have known what the smoke meant: attack. At the keep, we were simply not taught such things. But I knew what it meant.

There must have been some sort of oral passing-down of the knowledge by those who lived outside the keep, for once the sighting of the smoke signal was passed from mouth to mouth and became common knowledge, panic struck.

Eight of my brothers were in the tower by the time I got there, and as they were crowded around the only viewing scope, I was unable to get a peek through the lenses. Father came soon after, and wordless, all nine of us backed away so he could use the scope. Ages passed as we watched our father and king stare through the glass and toward where invaders must be approaching. I itched to know what he was seeing. In those silent ages that passed, we were joined by more of my half-brothers, who immediately picked up on the mood and stood aside, adding to the silence.

“Take up arms, my sons,” my father the king said, pulling away from the eyepiece. “Whosoever best serves Zuro in defense against these invaders will be my favorite. Do me proud.”

The scramble out of the tower room resulted in at least one of my opponents falling down the stairs and breaking his leg. As I puffed my way to the armory, I was startled at myself. How quickly had my brothers become my enemies, my rivals. I had grown up with these men, so many of them older than me. So many of them had helped me learn reading and taught me to first use a sword. And now I would be rushing into battle with them, hoping to outdo them and become the man they would all one day bow to. As I armed myself, I looked sidelong at these other men, my rivals, wondering if they were thinking the same thought I was, if I was suddenly an enemy to them. An even more frightening thought gripped me:

What if one or more of them sought not to best the rest of use, but to eliminate us. To eliminate me?

Zuro has no active military. It is simply expected that in times of crisis, able-bodied men will take up arms and defend home and keep. Men were rushing out of the keep and into the city, out of the city to the farms, and out of the farms to the plains where the invaders were apparently approaching.

I retreated. Never before had I considered myself a coward, but the thought of being impaled on the sword of an invading stranger or worse, of a half-brother, sent my toes back to the inner keep and eventually back up to the tower.

My father was still there. He turned upon hearing my approach and looked me up and down, taking in my heavy leather clothing and the weapon I held. Never before had I felt so weighed and measured, and strain for height as I might, I fell short even to my own self-appraisal.

“I must be elsewhere, to give orders,” he said, his mouth twisting slightly as bit back what was surely a comment on my cowardice. I withered in my shoes. “If you are staying out of the fighting, use the scope. Keep watch on your brothers. I expect full reports on their deeds during this defense.”

A murmured acquiescence tumbled past my lips as he brushed by me and began descending. I shed my leather padding quickly and laid the sword atop them.

Before that day, I had no experience of battles, except the accounts I have read in scrolls, so I had no real practical comparison to what I watched. It might have been one of the most spectacular battles ever fought, or the dullest and tamest, but I had no way of truly knowing. I do know this: Their numbers were larger. My brothers– how surprised was I to suddenly realize I did not think of them as rivals!– fell alongside craftsman and farmer. They felled others, paired up with allies to fight off a single man and were ganged up on themselves. Through the lenses of the scope, I was able to see blood spurting from slashed throats in all too much detail. More than once I felt the urge to lean away from the scope and empty my stomach. I saw a brother decapitated by a man he had already run through, and both fell together. Hands and arms I saw severed, legs made useless by heavy mauls and spiked maces, faces ruined by flails and axes. The ground was being churned into bloody mud before my very eyes, and still the fighting went on.

As well as I could, I kept watch on my brothers, cataloguing their advances, their kills, and then their deaths. How I wished for a paper to write down what I could, fearing I would forget something, someone. But I had none.

As suddenly as it had begun, it was over. I had watched as our smaller, less-disciplined men fell, rose wounded, and set upon the invaders again. The opposing army’s numbers dwindled gradually, each of their men falling one by one to the stubborn blades of the people of Zuro. Deep in the fray, I watched as one of my elder brothers, alone and bleeding heavily from several wounds, launched a frenzied attack on what I assumed was the leader of the enemy force.

And defeated him. That one death marked the end of the battle, so abrupt it was shocking. At seeing their leader defeated, the enemy soldiers dropped their weapons almost as one. Knelt they then, surrendering to whomever happened to be closest.

I made my way down from the tower then, to where my father was waiting to accept the surrender and the prisoners. Our survivors returned with their prisoners in tow, some with one man, others with three or more. Several of my brothers actually returned with lines of a half dozen or a dozen or a score trailing them as the tail follows the dog. I kept a tally in my head of prisoners each of my half-brothers brought in, so that when the time came and my father asked for my report, I would leave nothing out.

Once the surrender was finalized and the prisoners escorted away form the king’s presence, the surviving men left to return to their loved ones for healing and care. I was left alone with my expectant brothers and quietly contemplating father.

There are those who, I am sure, are wondering at this point if I have sisters. I do, of course. The king has sired many daughters. But tradition passes the throne from father to son, and my sisters are given to their mothers for care and raising. I have sisters, but very few do I actually know.

“I promised you,” father began of a sudden, his voice booming through the chamber. “My sons, I promised that whoever best serves my kingdom in defense will be my favorite son and my chosen heir. The time is to hear what service each of you made to Zuro.”

My eldest brother stepped forward and opened his mouth to speak. As eldest, it was his right, but before he could even begin to detail his endeavors on the battlefield, our father’s hand forestalled him.

“Rather than hear blathering and boasting and attempts to outdo one another, fabrications of what happened while weapons flashed and men died, I will hear all your actions told by one who watched.”

At this, he motioned to me and bid me make my report. Throat dry and voice cracking, I began my telling of the battle. I could not help but look into the faces of my brothers as I stood before them, making no omission nor embellishing the deeds of one over the other. What little was left of the evening faded into night as I talked, until I was even hoarser than I had begun and my throat felt scratched raw.

The king considered my words for a long time as I remained before them all, bearing the varying looks of my audience. Some brothers glared furiously at me, no doubt feeling themselves slighted by my report, others looking surprised at things I had credited to them, few with pleased looks, as if what I had said was the same as they would have. I fear I suffered more glares than any other.

My father did not consider my words long. “And who, in your opinion, best served Zuro?” he asked, never taking his eyes from me. Again I felt weighed to the ounce and measured to the inch under my father’s gaze. It was without hesitation that I named the brother I had seen slay the enemy commander, who had ended the battle with a fierce stroke.

“You have it by your own words. Son, come here.” My brother looked shocked as he staggered to the king’s feet. His wounds were bad and had been no more than hastily and crudely bandaged after the battle. Still, he stood straight under the weight of his injuries to accept the blessing given only to the heir to the throne. In that act, I saw the hopes I’d had dashed to pieces. Only there was a voice in me telling me that wasn’t the act that had sealed it. It was turning away from the battle. No act but my own had damned me to mediocrity.

I am the son of a king, and a bastard. I cannot be more.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son. Their resemblance was strong, and even their mannerisms hinted at a parent-child relationship. They both cocked their heads the same way when listening, got the same faraway look in their eyes when they were thinking very hard. But Bant had the bearing and self-assurance that could only come from years of experience, while the boy was just that: a boy. His face was smooth and always ready with a smile, his eyes were brighter than Bant's, and he walked with that boyish swagger that hinted at energy barely held in reserve.

But Bant and the boy weren't father and son. Their DNA was identical down to the last chromosome. Or close enough that it didn't make much difference. The boy was Bant's twin brother, who bore the unfortunate name of Clone.

It wasn't that their parents were out of naming creativity when Clone was born; the decision had simply been out of their jurisdiction. It hadn't even been their decision to allow Clone to live. He simply... was. One day, he was just one of the multiple embryos frozen in a tube, and the next... he was a squalling baby in a lab. Of course, once his parents had discovered about the boy's existence, they had been outraged. But by the time that secret had come out, Clone was already eight, and the moniker had stuck. Oh, his parents had tried to give him a more appropriate name-- had tried several, in fact-- but it always came down to whether or not he would respond, and he simply wouldn't. Appropriate or not, his name was Clone.

Clone didn't hate his parents, but he didn't seem to really love them-- not the way Bant did. Then again, at ten years old, he hadn't had nearly as much time with them as Bant had at 25 years. The tension of Clone's relationship with their parents had finally been lifted when Bant graduated from college with a degree in architectural design, moved permanently out of his parents' house, and taken Clone to live with him instead.

They didn't really talk much; they didn't need to. Maybe it was their almost-identical genetic structure; twins often did have connections and understandings of that type, after all. Maybe they just didn't want to talk. Either way, they were both happy with the arrangement. They coexisted; it was enough for both.

The bus accident took them both by surprise.

It was nobody's fault, really. An unseasonable snowstorm had left a blanket of snow three inches deep on the ground, and the sky had spat down ice afterward, turning the normally-temperate Tennessee ground into a crust of white crispiness. In a city where snow only came once a year (or even once every three years) this was a big deal. And despite the city employees' valiant efforts to plow and salt the roads well, black ice still dotted the pavement, and it was a patch of that Bant and Clone's bus hit. It spun out of the driver's control, practically flew across a shallow ditch in the median, and tried to merge its front with the concrete sign of the hospital.

Everyone on the bus wound up either in the ICU or the morgue. The bus itself was totaled. The concrete sign came away unharmed.

Clone was in better shape than Bant was. He was awake when their parents showed up, fawning and gasping and nearly crying at the thought of the accident. Bant was still in the emergency room being poked and prodded and whatever else had to be done with him, so Clone was alone with his parents. One of the doctors asked to speak with the two adults outside the room, but that didn't stop Clone from getting out of the bed and limping in agony to the door to hear, dragging the machine attached to him behind him. Lucky for him it was on a cart with wheels. It took longer than he would have liked to get to the door, but at least he could hear out there.

"...severe damage to both his kidneys. I'm afraid the damage is irreparable. Unless we can get at least one transplanted, he'll have to be on dialysis indefinitely, and that is, in my personal opinion, no way to live. He's still so young..."

Mother stifled a sniff. "What do you suggest?"

"Well, the waiting list for organ donations is long, as I'm sure you've heard through the media. We do have a perfect match in his brother, but I would need permission to proceed down that path. And you're the ones with the power to make that decision."

Give his brother a kidney. Clone supposed he could do it, if it would save Bant's life. He wasn't really even supposed to be alive anyway. Why not take advantage of his existence and help Bant live? Whatever decision his parents wanted to make, Clone would make sure his own decision was the one that was followed. He limped his way back to the bed.

So when they came back in, seeing him lying just as they left him, awake and quiet but alert, he waited for them to bring up the subject. They had to, sooner or later.
Father wasn't one to beat around the bush. "We have to talk to you about the accident, and about treatment."

"I'll give it to him," Clone blurted, immediately turning red. So much for playing it cool and reasonable. Now they knew he had been listening. "How soon can we do it?"

His parents exchanged a significant look, but neither of their expressions showed even a bit of anger at his eavesdropping. Did Mother tear up more, though?

"It's not as simple as that, Clone," Father said finally. "You... can't give him a kidney. I'm not sure exactly how much you heard, but... well... you're the one who needs a kidney. And Bant is... well..."

Mother took a shaky breath. "Bant isn't coming home, Clone." Her smile was forced, intended to comfort a ten-year-old even though she needed the comfort more.

And Clone understood. He would be getting two kidneys, both perfect matches.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hester's Child

She barely made it to the toilet in time. Hester complained about her grumbling stomach and about the girl who’d held up the restroom for so long. Another minute, and there would have been a mess on the floor outside the restroom door, not to mention inside Hester’s drawers That would have been undignified. Even as she relieved herself of whatever she’d eaten that had upset her bowels, she was going over the faults of the generation that young girl belonged to. Holding up bathrooms when other people were having digestive problems was fault number one on the list.

As she reached for the toilet paper, her gaze happened to settle on the trash can. Right on top was the empty box and instructions for a pregnancy test. Was that why the girl had taken so long? Hester harrumphed and looked in the can a little more closely. There was no sign of the test itself. She thought back to her quick view of the girl once she’d finally gotten out of the restroom. Young. A teenage slut, no doubt. Well the little whore’s behavior had caught up with her. No one would take the test with them if it was negative, Hester knew. The girl must have been pregnant. Served her right for sleeping around. Hester silently hoped this would ruin the girl’s life.

Finished with her wiping, Hester flushed the mess away and washed her hands. Undignified such a restroom episode may be, but at least it had gotten rid of that sickening greenish-brown rumble in her stomach. Amazing what a good shit could do. She washed her hands again– that was another thing the younger generation didn’t do was keep clean– and her thoughts went again to the pregnancy test box. It wasn’t fair. All these clueless teenagers were getting knocked up left and right without trying, while she– a well-to-do, educated, perfect candidate for motherhood– had failed for years and wound up needing a hysterectomy because of an issue with her uterus. No hope. It was so unfair.

She’d dreamed of her children, more than once. Perfect, well-behaved little ladies and gentlemen, they were smart, polite, respectful, quiet, breathtakingly beautiful... All the magazines and books she’d read on parenting told her she would be the perfect mother. No chance her daughter would end up a teenage whore. It was unthinkable. Not only would her genes not have allowed such a thing to come to pass, but more importantly, Hester’s natural mothering ability would ensure her children were flawless in their actions and thoughts. If she could only have had that child herself... even some other child with bad genes she was sure she could set straight.

The store was busy and crowded when she left the restroom. More than one child whined or threw a temper tantrum over something wanted or despised. Hmph. Hester’s children would know better than that, too. She strode purposefully toward the exit, passing people and shopping carts ,thinking about her children and how perfect they would be and how people would comment on their behavior and be jealous. They’d ask her advice and all she would tell them is it was natural for her children to be so perfect since they had such a perfect mother.

On her way out, she reached a hand out and picked up an item, tucking it quickly under her arm. Nestled in the folds of her girth, no one would be able to see it as she left. Everything was so overpriced these days, it was robbery– like Hell she’d pay for what she took. She was the victim here. If the price were fair, she would pay it. But for this, she’d already paid more than a fair price. This was owed her. No one would miss it anyway.

She made it outside before it began to make noise. Hester jostled it a bit to shut it up. Later, if it wasn’t ruined already, it would know better than to cry like that. As she began strolling down the street, ultimately heading for her apartment building, she pulled the baby out from under her arm and looked at it. Not bad-looking, but its face was deep red from crying. She shook it again and told it to stop it. If it always acted like this, it definitely wouldn’t bee missed by whatever unworthy woman she’d taken it from.

Well, Hester knew she could set the little beast straight. Not its fault the stupid cow that had birthed it didn’t know how to make it behave. She’d have her perfect baby within a week. She could fix it. In fact, come the weekend, it would already be the perfect little lady or gentleman– whatever the baby was– it was supposed to be.

There was a huge commotion being made behind her, back at the store. Something about a robber, or something being stolen. Hester shook her head at the still-wailing baby in her arms. Shaking it again to quiet it, she mumbled about the faults of everyone these days. Robbers, inconsiderate teenage sluts, overpriced stores... her baby would know better than to be involved in anything like that. Much better.

Hester's Child was written as a response story to a friend of mine's story, Leaves and Ashes, which you can find here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fairy's Tail

If you were to travel outside of the great civilized cities of Candlin, heading east past the wide rushing river Melhasawump where it cuts through the plains of Nuhla, traverse the dense Felaria Forest and enter the great desert our maps label as Quilistoriavni, and if you were to get lost in the desert, you might find yourself coming upon an oasis that stands in the middle of nowhere. Only three people I know have ever claimed to have found the oasis: one was an old drunkard, another was a traveling fool, a the third was a merchant woman from a foreign land she never told me the name of. I listened to each of their stories, one story each night for three nights. Here are the stories they told me:

The Drunkard’s Story

He used to be a treasure hunter, but there was no luck in his trade anymore. After thirty years, it seemed that there was no more treasure in the world to find. He followed rumors of caches, or of hidden gold or gems or artifacts, but they had turned out to be dead ends, every one of them. So finally, desperate for any sort of money, he turned to different rumors: rumors of rare beasts that had been sighted, beasts whose hair or hide or horn, hoof or head, shell or skin or skull, claw or carapace, paws or poison could fetch a high price. So a poacher he became, hunting the venomous Lord-stinger, the swift Avalant, the aqueous Pike Ripper and the great horned Malthan Retriever, among others. The stories of those hunts are good for an evening’s entertainment, but they are not what I wanted to hear. He told me about the oasis.

It was a flock of Dustchoke hawks he was after, out in Quilistoriavni desert- which his people called Tavni desert– when a great storm of sand rose. Whether it was a natural dust storm or the work of his quarry he didn’t know, but he was blinded and turned about in circles. The dust settled, and everything was changed. His waterskin growing emptier, he pushed on, until a green speck showed in the heat-hazy distance. The green speck turned into a tree, then another tree, then the oasis.

His tongue dry and his forehead burning, he fell into the pool of water from which sprang this patch of life. The water was cool and clear and cold; the trees bore fruit that was ripe and red and ready to be eaten. The flowers were fragrant and fanciful, like something out of a story. Some had petals the size of his hand or bigger, all of them in the most vibrant colors you could imagine, some of them spotted or striped or both.

At first he thought the flowers were just swaying in the breeze, but then he realized there was no breeze. He splashed water from the pool onto his face, wiping his eyes and trying to clear his vision. But still they were there, looking like smaller buds of the flowers, brilliant red and bright yellow, shining blue and deep purple in color. It was their wings that were such loud colors. The tiny beings flitted about, unfolding their wings until they were almost the size of the flowers, flapping and flying and fluttering.

But what was most beautiful about them was not the graceful, minuscule human shape of their bodies, nor was it the moving display of their rainbow wings. No.

It was their tails.

For as small as they were, he described their tails as far too large for them. The fairies– for that was the only name he could think to call the creatures– were no longer in body than his first finger, yet their tails trailed after them for nearly a foot in length. Feathery but not made of feathers they were, sparkling wetly but floating like sand in a draft. The trailing tails changed colors in the light that filtered through the oasis canopy in distinct beams.

As a poacher does when he sees a beast worth taking, the man decided he would capture the fairies and take their tales to market. They would fetch a handsome price, he thought.

But the fairies were not easily caught. They were not tempted to fly towards things that shone bright, like some insects, nor were they easily outwitted by a poacher’s usual traps. They could not be snatched out of the air by hand– they were too fast– nor could they be coaxed or teased into a cage or sack. Even their long flowing tails, if he grabbed at them, seemed to always be just out of reach, or slipped from his hand at the last second, even as his fingers were closing on them.

He didn’t realize how he had exhausted himself until he stumbled and couldn’t catch himself. He wasn’t quick enough, and fell face-first into the pool. The fairies made no noise, but he could have sworn he heard their laughter in his ears, their giggling next to his head, their chuckles taunting him. Dragging himself from the pool, he wrung the water from his clothes and hair, made one last feeble attempt to grab a fairy prize, and left the oasis, defeated.

The Fool’s Story

A fool is best off when he has a person take him on and keep him as almost a servant. But only the greatest, most foolish of fools earn places in castles by the sides of kings. The fool who told me of the fairy oasis was not one of the greatest of fools; he was an ordinary fool. Oh, once he had been the fool to a tyrant-king, a king who was kind to few people, and the fool was one of them. He capered and tumbled and danced, he told jokes and spun tales and made insulting comments about the king in private. His clothes had been checkered or spotted or motley, his face had been painted white. Or half-black and half-green, or checked blue and yellow, or any other strange combination. But that king had been rebelled against and had been killed, and the fool had fled.

He moved from town to village, from village to city, and from city to hamlet. Inn stages he performed in, manor houses, and on street corners. And once no more coins fell in the cup nearby, he gathered himself up and moved on. So he found himself in Quilistoriavni by accident, hopelessly lost and with nothing but his face paints and his coin-cup and the clothes on his back. Now and again as he forced his feet to keep moving, he told himself all his old jokes, over and over again, to keep his eyes open and his ears listening and his mind awake.

His foot was practically in the oasis pool by the time he realized there was an oasis. He, too, nearly fell into the pool when he saw it, dunking his head into the cool, fresh, life0giving water. Nectar of the gods.

When he lifted his face, dripping the clear water from his ears and chin and nose, he too saw the fairies. At first like the flowers were shedding petals, they unfurled themselves and put their wings and tails on display for the fool. Then they began to dance in the air, twirling around each other mid-air, passing above and below one another, doing flips that made their tails arc after them in perfect curves.

Such beautiful tails! No tale or joke he knew spoke of creatures like these! What a story these creatures would make for me to tell a king, thought the fool. And what king could resist keeping the only fool that could be found with such a pet in a cage by him? The thought of having a sure seat with a king was heartening and so tempting that the fool could not resist. He thought to take one fairy with him as proof of his story, and he reached out a hand to a flower where the nearest of the little creatures sat basking in the light. But when his hand closed, he felt nothing but his own skin. Again he stretched out his hand to grasp at a lazily drifting one, and again he came away with nothing.

Only when the light faded to the black of night did he realize he had been hours trying to catch one and had no more to show for it than when he first began. He could not catch a fairy. Quickly, he realized that his legs felt made of rubber and that he was too tired to walk. He curled up in the shade underneath one of the oasis trees and fell asleep.

Upon waking, the oasis was gone.

The Woman’s Story

The woman’s accent was foreign, but she would not tell me from what country she was. She carried with her a wooden chest, and inside the little chest were a few smaller wooden boxed. These held fine paper and thick, one held pencils of color, one had pencils of different hardness, and one was full of stoppered bottles of colored paints and brushes to go with them. She was a scribe and an artist, though she spoke differently and was obviously not from Candlin.

The strange creatures that dwell in the sands of the desert were what drew her. No book held pictures of Dustchoke hawks or Timberback rattlers, or Yellow-bellied scorpions or the always-hiding Sandtrap spider. She wanted to be the first to draw these creatures that were in no book.

Well-laden with water and food, she entered the desert in search of the animals she wished to draw. For three days she saw nothing but sand and mostly-dead shrubs. It was on the third day that she lay down under the tent she had brought to shield her from cold night wind. She woke not to the heat of the sun baking her little tent, but to the clean scent of fresh water and lush greenery. For the duration of the morning, she looked at her surroundings, studying the flowers and trees, gazing into the water. She opened her case and sat, sketching the flowers first with uncolored pencils, then with colored, even though the hues and shades of her pencils did the real flowers no justice.

Only when she was about to put everything away did the fairies appear, wafting on the wind, bouncing on the breeze, their luxurious tails trailing after them. Hurriedly she pulled her papers back out, working feverishly to draw the beautiful creatures that were before her. Never did she try to touch one for fear of frightening them away, and when she was finished with her drawings, she carefully closed them up in her case and quietly crept from the oasis.

These are the three stories I was told about the fairy oasis. The old man had no more proof than his words, so I found it simple to pass his words off as the fanciful musings of a drunkard. The fool too had no proof of his tale and was dismissed just as easily.

But the woman, when I rolled my eyes at her story, opened her case and took out not one, not two, but five pieces of paper, sketched with the flowers of the oasis and three with the fairies. These could be the work of imagination, I told her, but that is not to say I do not find them beautiful.

She was not listening to me, but was staring into the case she always carried with her. Shaking, she reached a hand into the case and lifted out a long trailing item that glittered and shone in the firelight of the tavern room. It seemed made of feathers and yet not.

I have seen the tail of one, and I now believe in fairies.

"Fairy's Tail" is one of my favorite short fiction stories I have written to date. It was written for a project I and a few fellow writers undertook, called "Letters to a Pen". Sadly, the project was not completed. Still, this was one of the products, and I could not be happier with it.