Flash Fiction: Pear Blossom and Ash

The bonfire cast the town square in crimson, stretching the dancers’ shadows over the ring of cabins. They looked like demons, black against red, prancing at their master’s feet. Rhyme turned away from the fire.

No one called him to dance or drink with them, and he did not think he would accept if any had. The morning would come soon, and their sweet apple wines and honey brews promised a sour stomach. The road back to home was a long one.

They did not want him, unsmiling and silent, to sit beside them while they drank the day’s labor away. Better to sing and dance with the others, the outsiders who brought sleek gifts and light stories. Rhyme had no such stories. He contented himself, and them, by finding a space outside the circle.

Though Rhyme, with his back to a tree and now free of the fire’s throbbing heat, admitted the place had its charms. If he closed his eyes he could better pick out the scents of pear blossom and overturned dirt from the smell of ash. It was like home, he thought. Not the one he would travel towards in the morning, but the one he could only remember when he closed his eyes.

Rhyme had not been there when that home had been overtaken by the stink of fire and ash. But with the bonfire so close, he could imagine.

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Legal Theft: Order in the Wilds

Every message took an hour to decode. Carved into rotted planks and posts, reclaimed by the forest, the work began when he found them. Its trail was long gone and its stake subsumed by a particularly impressive pine. But he was able to wrestle the plank away from the undergrowth.

He dug at the moss covering it, hands turning grubby and green, until he found its message etched deep with specks of leftover yellow paint. With the fog rolling in and the light fading, he tucked the plank under his arm and trudged back the way he’d come. small camp, he strung a tarp between two trees and pried open a can with his hunting knife. The brown mush within wasn’t immediately identifiable. He ate it anyway, scraping the sides of the can with a battered spoon. Once fed and thinking more clearly, he set the plank before him.

His small camp was only a tarp strung between two trees and a dry patch of ground for the fire. He settled in, picking a can from his pack and setting to work on its lid with a hunting knife. The brown mush within wasn’t immediately identifiable. He ate it anyway, scraping the sides of the can with a battered spoon. Once fed and thinking more clearly, he set the plank before him.

The little letters arranged in horizontal lines and clusters meant nothing to him. Uncle had yet to deliver on promises to teach him the old script, and he couldn’t wait. There was work to be done.

He withdrew a folded bundle from his coat’s inner pocket. Aware of the destructive raindrops pattering against the tarp overhead, he unfolded each crease deliberately and smoothed the paper under his fingers. The map had letters and words marked on its green expanse, some of his making but most in the ancient script of the golden age.

With the words from the plank in his mind, as one held the image of an object you’d lost,  he scoured the map and its pale lines. The process took time, words were repeated, the plank’s script was wet and rotten, and he checked each find with meticulous attention.

But an hour passed, the rain continued to fall, and he slowly began to understand what the plank had indicated. A diverging trail, and what he suspected were increments of distance. He’d go back tomorrow and find a new post for the sign. The trail was long past saving, but its marker, now recorded on his map,  provided a bit of order to the wilds.

If not a thief, definitely a scoundrel. This piece is part of the legal theft project and the first line comes from Apprentice, Never Master, who invited the project to steal it.