I’m here for one reason today. The estimable and grandmotherly Jem Jones has given us yet another prompt in her wonderful flash fiction prompt series, and I have written a Thing in response to it.
Have I mentioned how much I love this series? So many interesting things have come out of it. (I won’t say they are all good things, but they are Things, you know?)
Here is the prompt under consideration:
Okay, so I don’t really have anything else to say except that my quirk got way longer than I was intending…and it doesn’t…exactly make sense?
But anyway. Here it is:
Enigma was starting to get tired of his pet.
He hated to admit it, but it was true. And this made him very grumpy.
He kicked savagely at a clump of dandelions, sending an explosion of seeds spinning all over the clearing. They shimmered teasingly in the sunlight and skittered along the thickly woven branches of the trees on the clearing’s fringes. The feathery leaves on the tree branches cast dappled green-tinged shadows on the forest floor. The air smelled of pollen and bark and everything that’s green and growing.
Enigma’s skin almost crackled with the energy of the forest. The day was perfect. It was perfect for a game of tag.
Enigma glanced sidelong at Danny. Here was the culprit responsible for his foul mood. Danny lay on his back, his languid face pointed to the side. He hadn’t moved at all since Enigma had last checked on him.
Enigma sighed and approached his lethargic pet. “Hey,” he said, poking him with his foot. This elicited no response. “Let’s play.”
Danny sat up laboriously and leveled his gaze at Enigma, blinking several times. His eyes seemed to be having trouble focusing.
Enigma ignored this. “Let’s play,” he repeated.
“Okay,” Danny replied tonelessly. He seemed to be thinking about standing up, at least.
Enigma hauled him to his feet impatiently. “Catch me!” he cackled, and cartwheeled into the middle of the clearing, scattering clouds of dandelion seeds as he went.
Danny started after him at a jog, then quickly slowed into a walk. After a moment he stopped altogether and just stood there, staring vacantly ahead.
Enigma scowled. “What’s wrong with you?” he demanded.
Danny gave a halfhearted shrug.
Enigma tried to disregard the sinking feeling in his stomach as he marched back to where Danny stood swaying in the grass. “Don’t you want to play with me?” he asked.
Danny nodded. “Yes,” he said slowly. “I do. Only…I’m so tired.” He lowered himself into a cross-legged position in the grass.
“You’re always tired nowadays,” Enigma grumbled, plopping down in front of Danny.
“I’m sorry,” Danny said. His face was very pale, so pale that Enigma couldn’t ignore it no matter how much he wanted to.
He also couldn’t help but notice the profoundly melancholy expression that was taking over Danny’s face, and this made him nervous.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” Danny mumbled. And suddenly there was water leaking out of his eyes.
Enigma hissed through his teeth, his skin prickling. Then he exhaled quickly, sending a puff of air right into Danny’s face.
Almost instantly, Danny’s mouth spread into a huge grin, the melancholy look vanishing completely. He sprang to his feet with sudden energy.
Enigma was already leaping away, crowing, “You can’t catch me!”
“We’ll see about that!” Danny laughed, racing after him, and the game commenced.
Enigma tried very hard to enjoy himself.
But it was difficult not to think about the overpowering cloud of enchantments that hung in heavy layers around Danny. Enigma had to use stronger and stronger magic to make Danny play with him now, and each enchantment seemed to last for a shorter and shorter period of time before his pet lapsed back into an apathetic stupor.
He had known, of course, that this would happen eventually.
But he had hoped that this human would last a little bit longer.
The last time Grace had seen her brother, he had been nine years old.
She remembered the day vividly.
It is unbearably hot, and the four of them have gone swimming at the lake. She is old enough now that her parents trust her to go without them, so long as she makes promise on top of promise that she’ll be careful and watch out for her sisters and her brother. It makes her feel important.
At their favorite spot to swim, a dead tree has fallen into the lake, but still holds onto the shore by the roots. They’ve spent countless hours playing on that tree, jumping off of it, balancing on it, and pushing each other into the water, shrieking with laughter as if it is the funniest thing in the world.
On the last day Grace saw her brother, she’s gotten out of the water early and stands on the shore by the tree’s rotting roots, watching her siblings play, feeling older than she is. Water has dripped off of her body, creating a wet patch at her feet on the otherwise crackling dry ground. She can smell the forest baking in the heat.
Melanie and Kelly have gotten into an intense splashing war, their laughter piercing the air. Danny has climbed up onto the fallen tree and is standing there, alone.
He turns and looks towards Grace, a curious expression on his face. She thinks he is looking at her at first, but then she realizes he is looking at something just beyond her.
She turns briefly to see what it is, but she doesn’t see anything of interest.
When she turns back, Danny is gone. As if he has vanished into thin air.
She had been the last person to see him.
That had been over a year ago now.
Enigma crouched near the top of the tree as he watched the three girls approach through narrowed eyes. He made a nasty face at them. Obviously none of them could see it, but it still gave him a small satisfaction.
He didn’t know why he kept coming back here. Maybe he was just bored. Not to mention being around Danny was making him increasingly uneasy. But he didn’t want to think about that. It was sometimes entertaining to watch the girls, even if it put him on edge. Even if he wished that they would stop coming.
The oldest girl stopped on the shore by the rotting tree, gazing along its length. She did that every time they came here. Enigma found it exceedingly annoying.
One of the other girls took her hand, and the three of them sat down in the grass.
Enigma rubbed his hands together. Abruptly, it began to rain.
He had used this trick before to try to get them to leave, and knew it wouldn’t work, but at least he had the gratification of making them a little bit more miserable.
They had spent countless hours searching in these woods, but of course they had found no trace of what they sought. They had always searched until they were too tired to search, and then they would sit in a huddle, sometimes to cry, sometimes to sing. Sometimes just to sit in silence.
It had been the middle girl’s idea that maybe a fairy had abducted the boy, and they had devised all sorts of woefully inadequate fairy traps (these had caused Enigma great mirth) to try and catch it.
Enigma took pleasure in sending nasty insects after the girls, in playing with the weather, and sometimes even in causing tree branches to fall on them. He’d even broken one of the girls’ arms that way. It had just finished healing.
His pranks, instead of deterring them, had increased their conviction that the boy was nearby and that a fairy was trying to scare them off. Enigma reflected that he had been rather careless and resented that they were able to see through his scheme so easily.
But it didn’t matter, really. No matter how hard they searched, they would never find what they wanted.
“Do you think that if we had something to offer the fairy, something really exciting, that it would give Danny back?” the youngest girl asked.
“I’ve thought of that,” the oldest girl said. “But I don’t know.”
“Do you think that the fairy can hear us?”
“Maybe.” (He could.)
“Do you think that Danny can hear us?”
“I don’t know.” (He definitely couldn’t.)
“I hope that he can. Then he’ll know we haven’t forgotten about him.”
After a few moments, the girls began to sing a song. It was one Enigma had heard them sing before. One that he’d heard them say was one of Danny’s favorites.
He closed his eyes and leaned his cheek against the bark of the branch, enjoying the high, melodious sound of their voices. Even if the song was meant for Danny and not for him.
They fell silent after the song.
Rain continued to cascade over them relentlessly.
At length, the youngest girl said, “I’m cold.”
“I know,” said the oldest girl.
“I’m tired,” the middle girl said.
“I know,” sighed the oldest girl. She paused. “We should head home.”
“But we…” the middle girl trailed off. She shivered. “Okay.”
As they stood up, the oldest girl scooping up the youngest in her arms, Enigma was surprised to find that he felt disappointed. They were going so soon? Were they finally giving up? And if they were, shouldn’t that make him happy?
“Don’t forget the message,” the middle girl said. She reached into the oldest girl’s pocket and removed a small roll of paper.
“You’re getting it wet!” the youngest girl protested.
“No, I’m not.” The middle girl held the roll tightly in her fist, then lifted a rock, placed the message under it and placed the rock back on top. “We can go now,” she said.
Enigma watched the three of them move slowly away into the forest, frowning. Then he leaped to the forest floor. It stopped raining instantly.
He lifted the rock and snatched the squashed roll of paper.
We miss you a lot. I hope that you haven’t forgotten about us.
Enigma rolled his eyes. How unoriginal these humans were.
The apple tree you planted in the front yard is still alive. We’ve been watering it for you. Mama made new quilts for us. She didn’t make one for you, but you can share mine when you come back.
He’s not ever going back there with you, Enigma thought.
There is a family of swallows living under the eaves of the barn. The cat had another litter of kittens. I named one of them Leonardo, because I know you like that name. I hope we get to see you again soon.
Love, Melanie (and Grace and Kelly, but I actually wrote it)
When would they stop doing this?
Enigma crumpled the note in his fist and flitted back up into the trees.
Grace didn’t want to give herself time to think about what she was about to do. It was probably stupid and reckless, but that was kind of the point. Maybe something stupid and reckless would actually work. At least it was something they hadn’t tried before.
(But the reason they hadn’t tried it before was because it was incredibly stupid.)
She knew there was magic in these woods, and everyone knew that it was foolish to enter a magic infested wood in the middle of the night.
But then, most people were trying to avoid encountering the magic. Which was smart of them.
Grace was doing the opposite.
Grace stretched her arm, the one that had been broken. Whatever was out here was dangerous. Not that she wanted to think about that right now.
Moonlight dappled the forest floor, creating shifting shadows that made everything look like another world. She had traveled this path enough times that she didn’t need to see to find her way, but it was still disconcerting to feel so blind.
When she reached the fallen tree at the edge of the lake, she stopped, taking a deep breath. Moonlight glittered across the quiet expanse of water. It felt so peaceful.
She stepped up onto a gnarled root and walked out onto the log.
Her heart beat loudly in her chest.
When she reached the center of the tree, she turned around and looked back at the dark mass of trees on the shore.
“Where are you?” she muttered.
Enigma was tired. He didn’t like being tired. But as he flitted from tree to tree, drinking in the moonlight, he couldn’t help but notice that his limbs were moving more sluggishly than they should be.
When he caught a glimpse of the girl standing on the lake, he was so surprised that he lost his balance and dropped out of the tree, crashing to the forest floor. He quickly jumped to his feet, wincing and rubbing his shoulder.
She was just standing there, gazing steadily at the forest.
Was she an idiot? What was she doing out here at this time of night?
Enigma stealthily approached the fallen tree. There were certain rules about what he could do to a human during the day, but at night? He could do whatever he wanted.
And right now, he wanted to play a game.
He stepped out onto the log.
The girl started in surprise, nearly losing her balance, but she managed to keep her footing.
Enigma grinned. “Did I scare you?” he asked.
“You,” the girl said, her voice quivering a little. “Who are you? Are you a fairy?”
“Well, I’m certainly not human, if that’s what you mean,” Enigma said, taking another step towards her.
She automatically shrank back. “Are you the one who kidnapped my brother?” she asked, steadying herself.
“Maybe I am.”
“I don’t have to tell you anything,” Enigma said. “But let’s say for the sake of discussion that I did kidnap your brother.”
The girl breathed in sharply.
“What were you planning on doing about it?” Enigma asked.
“I want to make a deal,” the girl said. “I want you to give him back.”
“What would you offer me in return?” Enigma asked, stepping yet closer.
The girl stood her ground, balling her fists. “What do you want? I’ll give you whatever I have.”
Enigma laughed, long and hard. She was truly hilarious. “You know what I really want,” he said, recovering enough to speak, “is to play a game. Will you play with me?”
The girl looked confused. “What kind of game?” she asked.
“It won’t be any fun if I tell you,” Enigma said. He was face to face with her now, and he could see her trembling. “Now,” he went on. “I’ll make a deal with you. You play this game with me. If you win, I’ll let the boy go.”
The girl’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“He’s gotten awfully boring,” Enigma sighed. “But I wasn’t finished. If you lose, I get to keep both of you forever.”
The girl lowered her gaze. She bit her lip. “But I don’t even know what the game is yet,” she said quietly.
Enigma shrugged. “That’s part of what makes this entertaining. Besides, can you really say no? To the chance to getting him back?” He leaned closer to her. “You can’t, can you?”
The girl looked at him, desperation in her eyes.
“Okay,” she said in a clear voice. “It’s a deal.”
Enigma grinned wickedly. “Oh, this is going to be so much fun,” he said.
Well…there it is. I kind of like it, even though there are things that don’t make all the sense? I also wanted more to happen, but…it’s already too long and I’ve run out of time. So.
As always, MANY THANKS to Jem for the prompt!!
Also, a thing: I won’t be posting next week. My sister’s wedding is happening and I need to focus on that.
So I’ll be back two weeks from now!
4 thoughts on “One Quirk Later #14~ In Which Enigma Just Wants To Play And Kids Make Sketchy Decisions”
Wait… what?? That’s the end? But I need to know what happens next!!
This is such a creative story, and I kind of love Grace. Please tell me there’s a part two… *puppy eyes*
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*Laughs evilly* For now it will have to remain a mystery. 😉 I am planning on writing more of this, but I’m not sure how it will turn out and if it will end up on my blog…we shall see.
I’m so glad that you enjoyed it, though!
ahhhhhh I’m sorry WHAT. THIS IS EPIC AND UNSETTLING. Why are you so good at writing siblings and also creepy beings who would probably steal your toes and eat them. I know you have sibling experience, Professor, but that does Not explain the creepy beings.
(…wait what am I talking about. Siblings take it in turns to be the resident creepy being who will steal your toes.)
I hope your sister’s wedding goes smoothly and you all have a beautiful day!
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Hehe, “I’m sorry WHAT” is just the type of reaction I was looking for. 🙂 I’m glad you find it unsettling! I was definitely going for that. Thank you so much!
(Indeed, you have hit upon it. Siblings. What even are they?)
Thank you! It was quite beautiful. 🙂
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