I signed up for the 2015 NYC Midnight “Flash Fiction Challenge”, trying my hand at writing creative fiction for the first time in (gulp) something like 26 years. Here’s how it works: Last Friday night at midnight Eastern, I received my story assignment, and was charged with writing and submitting a short story (no more than 1000 words) in the “Fantasy” genre within 48 hours. A key location for the story had to be “A Mountain Stream”, and if that wasn’t challenge enough, I had to incorporate an object into the story at least once. My object was “Milk.”
I won’t hear back from the judges until mid-September, just before the second heat of the challenge begins (all entrants automatically participate in heats one and two.)
Without further ado, here is my submission, a 993 word fantasy story taking place at a mountain stream and incorporating milk.
(Disclaimer: I have zero illusions about winning this contest and am posting this here primarily so I can post it on the forums for the challenge to receive constructive criticism and feedback from other writers/participants.) Thanks for reading!
The Aim Must be True
Synopsis: A wizard who lost his powers in an accidental fall contemplates following his rival’s extreme instructions to regain those powers.
Just before the rock connected with his head, fear and doubt bubbled to the surface in the Fraud’s mind, raising their objections to his actions and effectively slowing the rock’s trajectory.
Rather than knocking the Fraud out, as was his intention, the stone succeeded only in cutting a painful gash in his forehead and grazing his cheek before falling to the ground.
“Maybe it worked anyway,” his inner voice whispered. The Fraud concentrated on a small branch across the stream. He reached out with his mind, first coaxing, then urging, then demanding that it rise. However, the branch defied him, remaining motionless across the stream.
The Fraud released his concentration with a grunt of frustration. “You didn’t follow Carlon’s instructions,” he reproached himself. “This is the way…” he muttered, his voice gravelly and startling in the early morning stillness. “This has to be the way. My aim will be true next time.” His voice rising, he continued “I cannot let Carlon become the new Wizard.”
Raising his hand to his head gingerly to assess the damage, the Fraud was dismayed, but not surprised, when his fingers returned to his lap sticky and warm. “Just like the Dark Day…” he whispered under his breath.
He hadn’t always been the Fraud; until the Dark Day, he had been the Wizard, his powers just as strong as those of any wizard in the land. “They came to me for help. Always to me; not to Carlon.” His cackle sounded a bit mad to his own ears.
He recognized the irony. That he now found himself following instructions from Carlon, the young wizard who had challenged him on so many occasions and whose naked lust for power was evident in his every action, was an unexpected twist of fate.
Absently, the Fraud noticed the water trickling over the rocks on its way down the mountainside. The stream by which he now sat had witnessed his first forays into magic as a young man and had been the spot where his powers had abruptly ended on the Dark Day.
Unbidden, his memories returned. Closing his eyes, the Fraud could almost feel the icy water dancing across his feet as he had waded across the stream that morning; he remembered the moment he stepped on the slick, moss-covered stone, and then the fall. There had been flashes of pain and light, and then just darkness.
Upon regaining consciousness, the Fraud, who had still thought of himself as the Wizard at that point, knew immediately that something had changed.
Physically, he seemed unharmed but for some bruises and a cut on his head where it had collided with the stony stream bed. However, he knew instinctively that his magical abilities, the very talents that defined him, were gone. With something akin to horror, he had realized that he could no longer hear and feel the force that had become as much of a part of his life as his own hands and legs.
The Fraud had admitted his failings to no one. Desperate to retain his authority as the Wizard, he had become reclusive and withdrawn.
He had tried every conceivable method to restore his powers, to no avail. He had scoured the old texts, had recited countless incantations and had prepared and drunk dozens of potions. He had even taken to drinking warm goat’s milk with honey every morning; one of the old texts indicated that this concoction had been known to enhance magical abilities that otherwise laid dormant. However, none of it seemed to have any effect; not the words or the potions or the milk and honey.
Earlier today, the Fraud sat despondently by the stream after trying the last possible potion. Once again, he had tried his hand at magic; once again he had failed. Lost in despair, he had been startled when Carlon emerged from behind a tree.
The Fraud had no love for the younger wizard; Carlon wanted to be the only wizard on the mountain and his envy and lust for the role were thinly veiled. In spite of this, the Fraud held a grudging respect for Carlon’s talents, which rivaled his own before the Dark Day.
His voice breaking and his head bowed in shame, the Fraud had admitted his weakness to the younger wizard, telling him the story of the Dark Day.
Carlon sat silently throughout the tale, his hands folded beneath his chin, only speaking when the Fraud had finished.
“The way is clear, old man.” Carlon said softly. “You must recreate the head injury to regain your powers.”
“It is crucial that the rock strike you here and with the proper degree of force, so you lose consciousness”, he continued, indicating a spot on the Fraud’s forehead. “If it misses its mark even slightly or if the blow is applied with too much force, you may be killed. Worse, you may injure your mind beyond repair.”
“As much as I’d like to do so, I cannot help you with this task, old man. No wizard may cause bodily harm to another. Your aim must be true.” And with no fanfare or parting words, Carlon had risen abruptly and departed.
That had been early this morning, before the Fraud’s aborted attempt which left him with a throbbing head but no magical powers.
Jolted out of his reverie by the high-pitched call of a bird, the Fraud picked up another rock from the stream bed. Holding it in his hands, he contemplated the possible outcomes of what he was about to do.
“I cannot allow Carlon to become the Wizard, which will surely happen if I do not regain my powers. My aim must be true.” He uttered the words reverently, as a prayer.
The Fraud raised his hand and closed his eyes before bringing the stone forcefully to his head, never noticing Carlon watching intently from across the stream.
The stone’s mark was true; the Fraud’s world faded to black.