Do you see the picture that I chose for this post? It’s here for a reason. I might not be a good writer yet, but I’m not giving up. And yes, I was raising my voice and shaking my fist in the air while making that stubborn declaration.
In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about, here it is: a week ago I took my first flash fiction challenge. I failed. What I ended up with was a story no one but myself should have to read. Don’t get me wrong. That story had to be written. That’s how you get the bad stuff out.
This week, I took my second flash fiction challenge. I don’t think the result is too bad but that’s because I have just finished writing it. And because it’s 3:30 am and I’m dead tired. I will think differently tomorrow.
The challenge was to come up with a short story, three thousand words or less, based on a random song title. The first song I heard on the day the challenge was issued was “Teardrop” by Massive Attack. Before I change my mind, here is the story I wrote. I sat down at my computer with the idea of writing romance, and ended up with death and a bit of magic instead. I don’t think E.L.James has to worry about any competition from me!
by Ada Ireland
Anya looked at her father, her face as emotionless as ever. “You want me to leave?”
“Yes. It is my wish for you.” The old king struggled to hold his daughter’s gaze. “You’ll be stronger because of it. You’ll have the mind and the heart of a leader. Our people need that.”
“You said you wanted me to leave because I never cry. How does crying show strength?”
“Anya, you don…”
“I have won every single battle I have lead so far. I am your best warrior. I am the strongest even if I have to use my mind to make up for what I lack in physical strength. I failed you once …” Her voice trailed off. A few seconds passed before she started talking again. “I failed. But I have done my best to make it up to you. I have given my all to atone for my sin.
“I have also kept my promise.” Her voice turned to steel. The words came out slowly as if each of them carried a terrible weight and saying them out loud took an incredible effort. “The deaths of my mother and my sister have been avenged.”
Zarus closed his eyes. How many times had he cursed that fateful day? How many times had he prayed to all the gods for forgiveness? For a miracle?
He couldn’t bear to look at Anya as all the painful memories flooded his mind. The news that the palace walls had been breached by his enemy, Seth, and his army. Zarus and the last of his few standing men forced to retreat to the throne hall. Their fight to protect his queen and their two daughters. He could still remember the despair in every single slash of the sword. His arms were getting weak. He was going to fail. He couldn’t save the lives that mattered most to him.
He looked behind him, at the far wall of the throne hall where his wife and his daughters were standing. He motioned to his wife. “Take the girls and escape through the gardens. Your father’s army should be here soon. They might be outside the city walls even now.” He tried to keep out of his voice the pain at the thought that he was never going to see them again.
But Zahara knew. She bowed her head, a last goodbye to her husband, and opened the secret door that led to the gardens. She didn’t dare look back.
Zarus and his men kept fighting. Not for their lives. They all knew they were going to die. They fought to delay Seth’s soldiers from following the queen and the princesses.
It seemed like a lifetime yet only minutes passed before Zarus heard more soldiers running down towards the throne hall. He knew the end was near now. Only five of his men were still alive and fighting next to him. He wished he could find some words to express the gratitude he had for his faithful men. But how do you tell someone you’re thankful they’re dying for you and the ones you love?
He didn’t say a word. His men knew his thoughts anyway. He just kept fighting. A few more seconds, he thought. Just a few more seconds. It was in those few seconds he realized it wasn’t death but salvation that had come. The soldiers he had heard were part of his father-in-law’s army. Help had finally arrived.
He didn’t spare any second for questions. He rushed like a madman towards the secret door that led to the gardens. Only hope and fear were able to carry him forward. The fight had taken everything else out of him. And then he saw them … and blinding pain took over his mind. His knees gave out and the mighty king was forced to crawl.
They were all dead. The ends of two arrows were sticking out of Zahara’s back, right where her heart would be. The queen’s body seemed to be wrapped around Daria’s, the older daughter, as in a last desperate attempt to protect her with her own body. Yet the same arrows that killed her, brought the death of the daughter too.
Anya was left out of that deathly embrace. She was laying face down on the ground, her right hand made into a fist around the bottom of her mother’s dress. It looked as if she had fallen behind and grabbed onto the queen’s gown so that she would be able to keep up.
Suddenly, Anya moved. She wasn’t dead. She had just passed out. She forced herself to get up off the ground while still holding on to Zahara’s dress. She knew before she even looked up that her mother and sister were dead. A heartbreaking cry rose in the eerie silence of the garden. “I’m sorry that I held you back … I’m sorry that I held you back …”
Zarus was just an arm’s length away from his young daughter and yet he had no strength left to move and no desire to get next to her. A single thought flashed through his crazed mind and hateful words left his mouth, words that he could never take back. “You are the reason they died …”, he uttered and then blacked out.
What was worse? The cry of man who had lost his wife and young child and gone insane? Or that of a little girl who felt she was the one who got them killed?
When Zarus finally came to, Anya was still there holding her mother’s dress. She hadn’t moved a bit. Soldiers were all around them yet nobody said anything. The king rose. He looked at his daughter and shuddered when he remembered his own words. He reached for her but that little girl was not Anya anymore.
Seth’s soldiers had killed his wife and oldest daughter, but that day Zarus killed Anya’s soul.
Zarus’s mind returned to the present. He looked at his daughter again. He knew his words would fall on deaf ears but he tried anyway. “There was nothing to atone for, Anya. It was I who failed that day. Not because I didn’t save your mother and Daria. But because I was too blind to see the precious gift I was still allowed to have … You. Alive.”
Anya didn’t even blink. It was as if her heart had truly turned to stone. “Yet now you want me to leave. You want me to suffer.”
“I want you to feel. I want you to go out into the world and find your own way. You’ve lived your life with the single goal of killing Seth. You did that. Just a month ago you finally got your revenge. But where’s your peace? Where are your feelings? I knew you wouldn’t feel joy. But I hoped you’d finally be able to shed those long overdue tears and move on.”
Anya stopped him. “Say no more. I will do as you wish. I’m leaving at dawn.”
Zarus sighed. “Orion is coming with you. He will be your companion on this journey.”
“You are sending your two best warriors away. That’s a mistake. You might come to regret your decision.”
“The king is not sending me away.” Orion stepped forward. He stood out in the group of king’s knights gathered in the throne hall like a mountain in the midst of mellow hills. His stature was impressive. There was no mistaking the determination in his voice and his eyes. “I’m coming with you by my own choice.”
Anya looked up at her fellow warrior. If she could have felt anything, she would have called him her friend. All the battles they had fought together. All the times they had saved each other’s backs. It was almost as if they could read each other’s thoughts. She knew Orion loved her. If loving back were a battle, she would have fought that for him.
She didn’t argue. “For all you know, we might never come back. But if your mind is made up, I will not stop you.”
Zarus rose from his throne. “It’s our last night together before your journey. Let us make good memories of it.” A golden goblet filled with a blood red liquid was in his hand. He offered it to Anya. “This is a special drink our magus guest left for you.”
Anya remembered the gaunt, old little man who showed up at the castle just three days ago. He was there to see the king, he said. For some reason, his request was immediately seen to. He and the king spent a few hours alone. Nobody knew what was said. Nobody even saw him leave. When the king came out of his room, something about him was changed. So that’s what happened, Anya thought. The idea for this journey came from that stranger. Did that matter though?
She picked up the goblet and noticed an inscription on it. She read it out loud.
“Let your tears come.
Let them water your soul.
A single teardrop from your heart,
Is the key to bring you back home.”
She looked straight into her father’s eyes and then drank up the whole cup. Her blood went cold instantly. The cup fell from her hand. A blinding light flashed in front of her eyes. Complete darkness followed. The floor seemed to have vanished from underneath her. She was suspended in … nothing. There was no light. There were no sounds. She tried to speak … she couldn’t. She tried to move … she couldn’t.
What she could do was feel her heart beating fast. That was the part that made the least sense. She had forgotten what it felt like. She didn’t have time to ponder what it meant. The darkness started to spin. She felt like she was moving at dizzying speed through time and space. Glimpses of her life broke through the darkness in rapid succession.
First came the past.
She saw a warm, summer day of playing in the fields with her parents and her sister. There was joy and laughter.
She saw the day her favorite dog died. The tears she shed when saying goodbye.
She saw the day Seth’s army took over the castle. The run through the secret passage to get to the garden. She fell in there twice. Her mother tried to pick her up but her broken arm made her give up. She made Anya hold onto the hem of her dress instead. “Don’t let go, Anya,” she said. They started running again. Anya tried to keep up. Fear had turned her legs to lead. Tears were running down her face, making it hard to see and slowing her down even more. “Don’t let go, Anya,” Zahara urged again.
Daria was pulling her mother forward. Anya was holding both of them back. Zahara stopped running. She let Daria lead the way, but slowed down enough to make sure Anya would not be left behind. Hope left her eyes. Love didn’t. “Don’t let go, Anya.” Those were her final words before she died.
Anya didn’t know what made her pass out. But it was pain that brought her back to life. Death would have been a blessing then. All she could feel were pain and guilt. And then she heard her father’s words “You are the reason why they died …” and felt nothing more. Her heart shut down. It was her mind that kept her alive. She knew one day Seth would die at her hand. She had no feelings about it though.
The darkness was spinning faster now. It wasn’t the past that was flashing before her eyes. It was the future. A future … past. She knew the things she was seeing had already happened. But when? How? Her questions remained unanswered. All she could do was keep watching.
She saw the day she left her father’s castle. The two years of wandering through foreign lands in search of … what? The day she realized there was no way for her to go back home. Her heart was as cold as ever. She decided the next city would be her last stop. The endless roaming didn’t bother her, but Orion deserved better than that.
She saw that night of passion fueled by wine and the knowledge that she was holding someone back … again. It was her broken heart that kept Orion away from home.
She saw the daughter that was born out of that night of temporary surrender. They named her Zahara. It was Orion’s choice. It was the first time Anya smiled.
She saw the day Orion and she became husband and wife.
Memories of unlived moments kept flashing in front of her eyes. But something new was happening. She wasn’t just an outsider watching the lives of that young family. She started feeling their joy and sorrow too.
At first, the feelings were like a burden. A heavy weight making it hard to breath. Little by little, her heart got used to it. It got used to happiness. To sadness. To love. The only thing it couldn’t get used to was guilt. The guilt that she had been too weak to keep up with her mother and her sister the day they were killed. The guilt that she, the weakest one, had been the one to live.
The spinning of the darkness that surrounded her suddenly stopped. The future became the present. She wasn’t watching it anymore. She was living it now.
Only, she wasn’t really living. She was dying. Sharp pain was making it hard for her to breathe. Blood kept seeping from the deep sword wound right below her right front ribs. Her vision was getting blurry. She fell to her knees, her hands on the floor. Her little girl touched her shoulder. Anya could feel Zahara’s body shaking with fear and soft cries.
She gathered every ounce of strength she had left and forced herself to sit up and lean back against the wall of the little secret room they had retreated to. Orion’s dead body was blocking the door. Too many wounds and the loss of blood had killed him.
The attack had taken them by surprise. Anya and Orion were both inside their home. Zahara was out playing on her own. By the time they found her, it was too late to avoid a fight.
Anya looked at her daughter. She saw her fear. She saw her pain. And she saw her guilt. She tried to speak but her own pain made it hard to get the words out.
Zahara bowed her head “I’m sorry …”
Anya squeezed her daughter’s hand and forced herself to speak. “It is not your fault, Zahara.” She pulled her daughter closer. She took the little girl’s hand and placed it over her heart. “You are what matters most to your father and I. You are what made my life worth living. I would have died a thousand deaths just to keep you alive.” In that moment, Anya finally understood that it was her mother who couldn’t have let go that day. A parent’s heart will always want her child to live. A single teardrop fell from her eyes. The first tear since the day her mother died.
In an instant, everything disappeared. She found herself in darkness again. This time it wasn’t quiet nor still. It was deafening with sounds of crying. It was suffocating with feelings of pain. It didn’t take her long to realize it was her own crying she was hearing. It was her own tears and pain that made it hard to breath.
Suddenly, she felt a gentle, warm touch on her hand. She opened her eyes. There was no darkness anymore. There was just light. She was laying in her own bed. In her own room at her father’s palace. Zarus was at her side, holding her hand. No one else was in there.
Tears kept streaming down her face. All those tears that she had held back. She looked at her father. She knew what needed to be said. What he needed to hear. “I’m sorry they died but I know now that it wasn’t my fault.”
Zarus couldn’t speak. He just shook his head very slowly.
Anya waited for her tears to dry out. She needed to get out the pain and guilt of the past. She wanted to make room for the future. The future¸ she thought. Worry settled on her face. “What happened to me?” she asked. “Where are my husband and my daughter?”
Zarus smiled. “You never left the palace. The drink made it possible for you to relive your past and see a version of what is yet to come. Orion and Zahara are in your future. Everything else was just a dream. It was the teardrop that woke you up.”