Palo Alto Weekly 24th Annual Short Story
Sharp crystals of ice swirled outside my window. Jagged spears and frosty needles darted and danced outside the glass, hurtling down to the courtyard, to break on the hard, unforgiving flagstones below. Bare, twisted trees touched their foreheads to the ground in a forced bow to the harsh masters of the wind. Strange air spirits flew, twisting and turning, flying on their mounts of ice and air, brushing the world of magic with their fingertips, ready to disappear in an instant. The opaque, milk white sky darkened with night, turning into a massive, swirling bruise of bitter greens, murky blacks, and thick blues. Shades of ominous purple wound themselves along the vortexes of the whirl of color, gradually spinning down into a dark point, heavy with the weight of all eternity. Even the stars dimmed in their eternal shine and the heavens seemed distant and cold. Strangely, although the wind screamed, rushing and pulling and knotting this way and that, the castle was silent, not a calm, peaceful quiet, but a menacing stillness, the kind that simmers before a storm breaks.
I felt the darkness press down on my temples, pulsing in my ear. The very air I breathed seemed to burn with fear and untold threats. Restless, unsatisfied, I shifted on my hard, stone throne. I rarely had peace. My heavy skirts swept the smooth cold floor. I reached out slowly, daring to move, toward the frosted window-pane. Like a pale moth, it crept closer, inching forward, fluttering about until in its inescapable destiny, its wings and my fingers brushed the glass. Bone-chilling cold. But what did it matter? I had all the time in the world, I thought with a mirthless laugh. Nothing was of significance. Slowly, inexorably, I pressed my palm flat upon the numbing surface. I stared at that pale arm, almost translucent, dimmed from its luster from countless days spent inside. Icy daggers swirled around my outstretched hand, forming the faces of my mother, father and brothers. They all stared at me through sightless eyes, trying to reach through the glass, to my throat. I had nothing to fear I thought, as I gazed coldly at their blank expressions. I did not forgive them, but I would make amends for my deeds. I would not be here long. There would be no need. My revenge was finished, and there was no one to say good-bye to, except Aarol. My friend. He did not need me, and we had only seen each other for a year. He would have forgotten about me by now, not needing to hold onto our happy hours the way I did.
I gazed down at the courtyard where the old, moaning oak was bent double next to the courtyard gate, providing a breathtaking (and stomach taking) view of the Mountain Time. As I turned to go, something caught my eye. A dark speck hurtled across the icy Plains, skidding to a stop at the foot of Mountain Time. Although I was too far away to see his features, I knew who he was from the way he ran, graceful, loping like a snow leopard, and from his stance, defiant, proud and determined as he stood before the icy crag. Although I knew he would try to stop me, I couldn't turn away, could not wrench my eyes away from his form. Ice shards flew about him, catching his clothes, and covering him in an armor of glistening ice. Vaguely, distracted, I wondered how he had known to find me. Probably from old Mortilla, the village Trisc's apothecary, I thought. He reached the first step of the Thousand Step Stairway that led to the gate of Castle Eternity. Crusted with ice, slick and cold, he would break his neck if he slipped. I prayed for him to be safe, but then hoped he would not come into the Castle. I had no wish for him to see me in my joyless, desperate state. With a quick, firm nod that defined Arrol, he put his foot on the block of ancient stone ... Up and up ... The wind blew around him, pressing, pulling, buffeting him this way and that. I longed for him to make it, for me to be able to see him after so many years, but I felt ashamed, not wanting him to see me, come ... do not come ... come ... do not come ... He reached the last step, clutched at the heavy, cold latch, defying the winds that howled around him, defying the wind ghosts that moaned, and cried for him to stop, not to enter. Desperately grasping the latch, he heaved. I sighed in relief and disappointment. Old wood and stone creaked to let him pass. Entering the courtyard, there was a sudden hush. The screaming of the storm was not totally quieted, nor was the ground stilled in its shaking, but there was a pause as in respect of his decision or of bafflement at his stupidity, I thought grimly. He gazed at the courtyard where he and I had played, whooping and screaming, and at the old oak. In its now-bent branches, I had told him about my family's betrayal to me and there Arrol had pledged to keep me safe, no matter the cost. And he had meant it. Ghosts pulled at my friend's clothing, uselessly trying to hold him back, do not go... do not go... He charged forward, I could hear him echoing now, up the flight of stairs where he and I had slid down so many years ago on my father's ashtrays. He pounded past the kitchen where we had stolen sweets. I knew that I must start now, or I would never be able to. Arrol would not understand, not having had a mother, nor father. No matter how horribly they had betrayed me, I should never have thought of giving their souls to the Ice Spirits. Now, the most I could do was to give my soul to the Spirits, to say that I was sorry, and to release them from bondage by giving my happiest memories. The floor trembled, rumbling with the awakening of an ancient force. I nodded. It was time.
Stepping to the middle of the stone hall, I waited. It was not long. Soon strings of mist swooped in. Shadows and Lights twisted together, cavorting and dancing in an intricate pattern, like eagles in a dalliance. I called out, pleading to them, "Take me with you, ancient ones! Let me become one of you!" Nothing happened, except for them to swirl faster into more and more complex designs. But I waited, holding my breath knowing that at least they were pondering and knowing that if I even made one wrong flick of my eye, I would be denied. Suddenly, they glowed. Flames of fire and crystals of ice knit themselves into Ancient Runes. Flickering, they formed the silent words of "come".
As I chanted the runes that would turn me into mist like them, I heard a crash and a bang behind me as the door next to the throne opened and because of the force of the blow, flew across the room to hit the opposite wall. Arrol. Stopping in mid-chant, I whirled around. The spirits combined and boiled in a frenzy of anger. Where the door had been just a few moments before, was Aarol.
His gold eyes darted around until they landed on me, scrutinizing me, freezing me in place with his piercing stare. He was not that different, save for the desperate look in his tawny hawk's eyes. There was the same unruly mess of black hair, although his wiry body had caught up to his feet now. I felt a tear forming in my eyes, blurring my vision. The spirits convulsed in a disarray of mist, flame and shadow. I remembered all the happy hours spent together. Having someone to talk to, actually making a friend, smiling shyly, and even, once, laughing. Through tears I managed to whisper the word sorry, then with a breath, I continued to chant.
He screamed for me to stop, the words ripped out of his mouth by some unseen hand. Shrill and desperate came his cry and his eyes looked wild with terror. I felt tears coming, thick and fast. There was nothing that could be done now, nothing he could do to save me. I was bound to them forever.
All I needed to say now was my full name. I took a breath, but before I could say a syllable, a hoarse yell ripped through the room. "I, Aarol," Aarol screamed. His face both white with fear and with shock at what he had done. But now he had uttered it and I was saved. While he was doomed...in my place.
The mist swirled slowly, above his head as I rushed across the room towards him. They came quickly, flowing in greedy circles, tighter and tighter, mirroring the storm above the castle. By the time I reached him, the cocoon of time had wrapped around him, covering everything, but his eyes. Tawny, gold eyes looked out at me. They gazed deep into mine, losing themselves in memories...memories.
"Have peace, Tyrha," and then, he was finally lost.
Alone, I am, in a tower, in a castle on a mountain in a lonely world, alone and lost in time.
The writer of this story is clearly in love with words and revels in them throughout. The language of this interesting fantasy is rich and imaginative.
Short story writers wanted!
The 31st Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult (15-17) and Teen (12-14) categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by April 13, 2017. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category.