Monday Stories

New Fiction Every Monday

Category: Magical Realism

Morning King

“I’m not supposed to be here.”

Such was my thought that morning, when I saw the Morning King.

The day had held premonitions, from the moment of my awakening. I had showered and dressed in a fitful state, unable to put my mind to rest on any of a hundred pastimes or amusements, and had eventually left the house, intent to get some work done in the office if I was to be denied the further company of Morpheus.

As I left the house a thin sliver of a moon hung, just touching the tips of the mountains on the horizon. I stood, thrilled and immobile, terrified that mayhap the ancient gods of Greece or Rome were walking again, for here of a certainty was Diana’s bow.

I made my way to the train depot under this moon’s eerie auspice, and once aboard that conveyance I quickly became senseless to all outside my own rumbling, rattling carriage. The train seemed a living thing, a dragon rumbling low and fierce along its track, ignored by the sleeping masses as it prowled along its course.

In due time my station was announced and I ceased my moody woolgathering to alight onto the platform. The office was but a short walk from here, and I set out at a good pace.

Alas, the city has fallen into a state such that many could be seen making what accommodations as they could amongst the verdure along the sides of the roadway. I reflected sadly that these, the most noble of all of Providence’s creations, should be reduced to this state, and that society seemed either unwilling or unable to assist them in this condition. I was pondering further on my own culpability in this regard when my musings were again interrupted, this time by some commotion up ahead. One of these unfortunates, by look a young woman, was bounding down the lane, rounding a corner at a high rate of speed. All her worldly possessions were dangling loose from her arms, or hastily pushed into a large, shapeless rucksack on her back.

When she entered the main roadway she abated her pace and collected herself. However at this time my eyes were drawn to a figure beyond her, standing tall and straight on the pavement some forty feet ahead.

At first I mistook the figure for some new work of statuary, for so tall and noble was his bearing that it seemed impossible that any mortal man could attain to it. The illusion was further perfected by the grey-white hue of his clothing, looking so like marble that when a stray breeze ruffled his raiment I half wondered that the world would change so immediately.

I slowed my pace and took stock of my surroundings. Here were clouds, moving as they should through the firmament. Here was the sun, here were other passers-by, all walking through the world as if all were normal. It seemed only I was in this waking dream.

As I watched the poor wretch walked up slowly to the tall, noble man, whose robe, I now saw, was naught but a dirty and tattered blanket, light gray in color and mottled from countless nights sleeping on the earth. She set her belongings on the ground next to his and then circled him carefully, positioning herself so that the mysterious noble was between me and she.

“Surely,” I thought, as I walked closer, “this is nothing to do with me. I shall simply pass by these poor souls, and continue to the office. The world is as it always has been. This is no king of ancient lineage living rough in our fair city, it is simply a trick of the light and the erect posture of this man, who indeed has as much claim to human dignity as any…man…”

But at that point my thoughts faltered, for I had drawn close to him, and he fixed me with his eyes. Gray-blue they are, and clear as the breaking of dawn. His height exceeded even my own, yet about him was none of the softness that has entered into my frame owing to a life of leisure and indoor work. Nor was there about him an air of madness, but rather of mastery. I perceived in an instant that it mattered not of what material his clothing or cloak were made; had he been wearing sackcloth and twine his own being would have made them noble. It seemed to me in that moment royalty wore finery to project an air of nobility, but this man, this King of the Morning, his nobility transformed anything he wore into finery.

I tried to make some small obeisance and continue on my way, but I found my will draining away. His eyes stayed fixed on mine; in the periphery of my vision I could see the waif, sitting cross-legged on the ground, smiling as she watched her master at work.

He said but two words to me, and in them was contained my undoing. “Join us,” he said, quietly, and my will was no longer my own. In those words was contained an ancient covenant, that of liege and vassal. In his words I saw his world, that he and his court moved through our world but were not owned by it. The mores and standards of our civilized society mattered to him as little as the dew on the grass. I saw the rules by which he lived, free and principled, but not owned by any king or government. In his world, one’s word was still one’s bond, and each individual still held individual value, instead of the modern, interchangeability that–we are told–is the marvel of our age. I saw in his eyes a place of value, honor, and esteem held open to me, as this great Monarch lieutenant, the chief instrument of his will.

And in so seeing, I joined my will to his, and remember naught else.

You have laid great charges against me, and I believe them, though I do not remember perpetrating the crimes. I am accused of thievery, and I believe it. I am accused of vagrancy and I accept that, for I know that I have been following my King, and he lives not as mortal men do. I stand accused of drunkenness and dereliction and certainly I have drunk deep, though not of any cup that was filled from an ale-house’s cask.

I only know this, and let this be my final testimony: I walked with the Morning King while he would have me, and when he no longer had use for me he freed me in the streets again. Were this court to free me I could return to my former life, my former profession, little changed. I believe I could be of as great a service to my country as ever before.

But should the Morning King call to me again, for a day or a lifetime, I would again leave all and follow him, even to the gallows!

Monday Story: Schrödinger’s Flask

And with a sound like delicate thunder, it was over.

It was an event that never should have happened. It didn’t make sense. It didn’t fit, it wasn’t a good story. But it occurred anyway. The flask, an artifact of a mysterious and long-dead civilization, lay in pieces on the lab floor. Oh, they had found other artifacts on the dig, of course. You can’t spend eight months searching ruins without finding something, but the others were all just…data. They had progressed this far in stone working, this far in pottery, they ate these kinds of foods, and so on. But the flask, that was something special. It had been full foot tall, covered in images and symbols that they all hoped were writing…

And now it was in shards on the floor of their lab. Just data. There was no crime, no negligence, no incompetence. Entropy had simply claimed its right, as it always will.

Well, usually.

Ben, Chris, Daniel, and Elizabeth, four of the five brave souls who had spent eight months on that dig, sadly and carefully put the shards back in the large wooden shipping crate. The flask was gone, but someday, after a few glasses of perspective and a healthy dose of time, they would still be able to glean precious insights from the fragments. The last shards were poured in, the latches re-latched, pointless though it may be now, and the four filed out silently. They turned the lights off and tried to forget, tried to pretend nothing had ever happened. And reality rippled just a bit.

Perception shapes reality. Eight eyes had seen the flask hit the concrete floor. Four minds knew that this one little piece of the past was now itself history. Those same four minds were trying to cope with the fact. In those four minds, the crate they had built was now holding nothing but…data. Dust. Not art, not a thing designed by a person and crafted with his own hands, not a glimpse into the glory and ritual of an earlier time. Just pieces, something to use to increase knowledge. Not something that moves the heart and soul.

And those four minds were holding onto this new reality, if reluctantly. It was a struggle. It didn’t make sense. It was easy to believe that it hadn’t happened, easy to believe that if they went back to the lab now the flask would still be there, unharmed. Ready for them to photograph and study. It made more sense to believe that they had something to show for all the time and money they had spent, all the opportunities they’d passed up for the past eight months.

Some had it easier than others. Chris and Lizzy had each other, and that helped. Pain shared is grief halved, as they say. Certainly they had it easier than Ben and Daniel, who called a few days later, hungover and bewildered, from a bus station in Tulsa and a youth hostel in Amarillo, respectively. Apparently they decided to see how far west they could each get before sobering up.

Alexandra hadn’t been there. Oh, she had been on the dig, she helped build the crate out of wood they found around the site, she helped pack it and guard it to the airport. But when they opened it she had been in a lecture hall, teaching a freshman history course. And suddenly reality had a little wrinkle.

Because in one mind, the flask still existed. Alexandra hadn’t seen the flask fall, hadn’t felt her heart stop as it tumbled to the ground. She was untroubled, and a little excited to get to work on trying to decipher the markings on the flask.

And so she headed back to the lab, where their crate was waiting. She guessed that the others had already looked at it; she would have in their shoes. Well, she was making up for lost time now. She got out her camera and went into the lab.

Alexandra’s hands shook a little as she unclasped the lid. She’d spent time studying the flask on the dig, of course, and had some speculations about its purpose. It wasn’t really a flask, of course; Ben had jokingly called it that because it was rectangular, flattish, and had a cap, and the name stuck. The civilization that had created it had died off thousands of years ago and had left behind few clues about themselves. Ancient civilizations could be irritating like that. Many hours of work had gone into making the flask, or whatever it was, and its purpose was very likely ceremonial.

And it was Alexandra’s job to try and figure out what that purpose had been. She lifted the lid, set it aside, unwrapped the flask and set it on the workbench. Then she got the lights arranged and started taking pictures. Reality rippled a little bit more.

Chris’ first clue that things were not as he had thought came when he checked his email, while his world famous pasta sauce was simmering on the stove. He almost dropped his phone into the saucepan, but if this day had taught him anything it was to hold on to things tighter. Nervously he looked at the timestamp on the email, then at the pictures. Part of his mind, the part that had spent all day refusing to believe the flask was gone, crowed exultantly. Part of him wondered if he was going crazy. Or maybe, somehow, if Alexandra was. Could crazy people change history? Eventually, his eyes not leaving the pictures on his phone, he yelled out “Liz? is your phone close? I…I just got an email from Alex, and I think you should read it…”

Splashes and muttering echoed out of the bathroom. Elizabeth had just gotten comfortable in the tub and the last thing she wanted to think about now was the guilt she was feeling about not telling Alexandra that all their work was wasted. A few moments later she emerged from the bathroom, dripping wet, eyes wide.

“Did…did. I could have sworn. Earlier, did we just imagine…”
“I can still hear the crash in my head.”
“Me too.”

A few minutes later they were in their car driving up to the university, sauce and noodles cooling on the table, far from the stove. Alexandra may be able to somehow reverse bad decisions, but Chris wasn’t taking any chances.

The team had found tons of clay pots, broken, whole, whatever. Clay pots were everywhere. But this was different. Calling the flask a “clay pot” was…well, it was sacrilege, even the atheists on the team would agree.

The hands that crafted the flask were those of a master. There were no lines, no thumbprints, no imperfections in the surface. The glazier who had fired the flask knew what they were about, and had given it a sheen that seemed to glow from within. This was the work of an artist in his prime, a true masterpiece. And it had been made to last. Thousands of years later, after the craftsman had died, after his kiln had crumbled into dust, the flask was still there, solid, beautiful, untouched by the passage of time.

Chris and Lizzie walked into the lab. Alex was asleep, her head down on the desk, her camera plugged into her laptop. Behind her, on the workbench, surrounded in lights and glowing, stood the flask.

And today it still stands, now housed in a cube of glass, a treasure in the University’s museum. Four people still harbor memories that…make no sense. But they don’t question them too rigorously, or hold them too closely. Perhaps thinking too hard about what was, or what might have been…Maybe remembering the sound of delicate thunder will remind the universe, and it will undo whatever magic Alex did.

And time flows on. Someday entropy will claim the flask. Someday it will fall and shatter, and perhaps on that day someone will notice, up on the inside of the cap, there’s a thumbprint in the glaze.

Alex’s thumbprint.

Saturday Story: Dreams May Come

Ephraim looked up into the clear bright Nebraska sky. No clouds, no points of reference or interest between him and the hard blue sky. He flicked the reins once and his horse walked on, heading endlessly east, back to civilization in the form of Chicago. It’d been a long hard summer, but this year’s cattle drive would be profitable, despite the increase in rustlers. Ephraim leaned back in the saddle a bit, wiped his brow again, closed his eyes…

..And woke up.

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