It's not my usual time for flash fiction, but the constraints of the #writephoto blog hop don't fit well with the usual, and why not a Monday flash?
If you’d like a regular flash fiction prompt, consider popping over to KL Caley’s website New2Writing.com, and check out the Writephoto section on the menu. There’s a new prompt every Thursday, with stories due by the following Thursday. KL provides reblogs and a round-up post to give all the entries a chance to shine.
This week's photo is a guest photo from writer Jemima Pett, and inspired a story I'll be sure to haul back out for National Library Week.
Here's the photo:
I wasn't sure where I was going when I started with this, but I can't say I'm surprised to find where I ended up.
About 800 words.
If she ever came back down those steps, she’d be a different person, or so the promise ran.
She ran through her mental checklist. Sword: check. Hidden knives: three, check. Satchel of food: check. Desire: check.
One deep breath. A second. She stepped onto the bottom stair and felt the magic tingling through her feet.
Maybe a sword wasn’t what was called for here. She hesitated long enough to do one more gear check: the amulet, given her by the witch who had told her she would find her heart’s desire and life’s work here. It felt warm where it hung from the leather thong around her neck and rested against her chest. Coiled within the crude bundle lay a single bit of parchment. Myttha knew that, because she’d looked.
The witch said that parchment unlocked her future. That she would know when the time came to use it.
Myttha didn’t know if she believed in the power of lines scribbled on parchment, but she needed all the help she could get. When you signed on to be a warrior no one told you that by thirty you’d be sore, stiff, and on the brink of old age. She needed out of the fighting life before an enemy discovered she wasn’t the invincible swordswoman she’d been half a lifetime ago.
She took the next step, and the next, climbing the span, feeling the troublesome tug in her left hamstring where that poxy ogre had raked her the previous fall.
At the top of the arched bridge, Myttha hesitated again. She’d expected a door at the far end of the stair and the bridge, but the way continued between the crowding buildings, a mere thread of an alley. Was it the wrong place? Should she turn back and try elsewhere?
She turned, raised a foot—and ran into an invisible wall.
Truly, there was no turning back. The witch hadn’t been exaggerating after all. Perhaps the wall was the witch’s doing.
Indecision now useless, Myttha moved ahead more confidently, one hand on her amulet, the other on her sword hilt. Wasn’t that how her whole life had been formed, between sword and sorcery? Fitting now that her quest for a way out should be formed the same way.
There. The door she’d been seeking. It looked plain enough, like any door. Behind it? Myttha only know that it would change her life entirely. The magic might let her walk past, but what was the point? She’d been making her living by the sword long enough to know it was only a matter of time before making a living led to losing her life. The door represented a way out of that inevitability.
Of course, there could be monsters behind the door, or a whole army, or an assassin waiting just for her. All Myttha knew was that the old woman had told her to come here, shown her a vision of the door and promised that behind it she would find her new life. And given her the amulet.
It was an alley entrance, and the door led into—whatever lay beyond—from the back. No address, no labels, nothing to indicate why she had come.
She laid her hand on the door and the latch gave way. No one attempted to spear her or behead her as the door swung open so she stepped inside, sword in hand, prepared for whatever attack might come.
All she saw were walls of books. One room leading on to another, and another... it was immense, and the significance took a moment to strike her.
It was a library.
What had that old witch meant, sending her to a library of all places? How could she find a new life here? She couldn’t even read! She had spent hours studying the slip of parchment in that amulet without making a single hint of sense out of it.
A very large person of some indeterminate species was crossing the room toward her. This was it, then—the moment when someone would point out she didn’t belong here and show her the door. Or clap her in irons for breaking in through the back door.
The voice was low and utterly non-threatening.
“Can I help you? Do you have a library card?”
Myttha found herself handing over the amulet and answering with words that she never would have thought would pass her lips: “I would like to learn to read.”
And so her life changed.