Flash Fiction Challenge – Must Contain Three Words
Here is the latest flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig. Per instructions, I borrowed Liam’s D10 and rolled a 3, 2, and 9, which gave me “betrayal,” “a lost comic book,” and “a shoebox full of photographs.” I haven’t come up with a good title for this story yet, but it comes in at around 980 words.
Zandrea had waited for this moment for thirteen years. Finally, it had come. She had smiled and said, “Yes, Grandmother,” and done all the stupid, little things a good apprentice does – fetching and carrying, cooking and cleaning, massaging the crone’s gnarled, bunion-y feet. Ugh! She wouldn’t miss that!
She’d genuinely liked the old woman in the beginning. When she was initiated, she was honored to be Grandmother’s apprentice. “Only our cleverest and most trusted young initiate is worthy of serving one so venerable,” they’d said, but it hadn’t taken long for Zandrea to see the truth. There was no doubt that Grandmother was powerful, but she was also certifiably insane. She muttered and cackled constantly, and Zandrea was never sure whether she was talking to her, to herself, or to one of her ever-present cats, rats or birds. She’d learned many things from the old bat over the years, but always felt that Grandmother was withholding vital information. She’d learned charms for finding lost items and spells to help the lovelorn or those looking for lucky lottery numbers, but she yearned to work big magick – spells to change the weather, to bring wealth and fame, to bend another’s will to your own. Whenever she would press for those secrets, Grandmother would cackle, “You’re not ready yet!” and the more she said it, the angrier Zandrea became. She longed to scream that she was absolutely powerful enough and certainly smart enough to learn all the secrets, but she bided her time instead.
Everyone knew Grandmother was crazy, with her dreadlocked silver hair, her bedraggled skirts and shawls that belonged in some hippy commune, and her skeletal, arthritic frame covered in strange jewelry. And that horrible, tattered shoebox held together with bits of string and layers of tape, decoupaged a half-century ago with pictures cut from magazines, like something a child would make to hold valentines received at school. Grandmother never let that box out of her sight, even sleeping with it clutched against her breast like a weird teddy bear. Every evening, she would sit in her rocker, muttering and cackling to herself as she rummaged through it. Over the years, Zandrea became convinced that it held nothing more than old junk – a lost comic book, a pile of yellowed photographs, a dried rosebud, a moldy bird feather – proof that Grandmother was crazy, and one more item she could use to build her case against the old hag.
Grandmother shuffled into the main hall of the covenstead clutching the shoebox under her elbow. She stopped in the center of the room, unfazed by the rest of the coveners standing opposite her. She pulled herself upright as best she could, holding her apprentice’s gaze with clear eyes that held no trace of madness. Zandrea almost wavered, but took a deep breath and stepped forward.
“Grandmother, I have been your apprentice for 13 years. I wish to be released from my service.”
“You shall be, at Beltane, along with the others at the end of their apprenticeship.”
“No, I wish to be released now.”
“Always in such a hurry, little one. Always so impatient. Why can’t you wait for the releasing ceremony with the rest of the girls?”
“Because I’m done! I’m done living with you and working for you and feeding your cats and rubbing your feet. You haven’t taught me half the things I need to know to be a true witch! You haven’t held up your end of the bargain!” Zandrea hadn’t intended to shout, but angry tears rolled down her cheeks as she willed herself not to sob.
“I have taught you to observe the seasons and the phases of the moon. I have taught you our ways. I have tried to teach you to listen to those who would seek your counsel, but I fear that lesson was lost on you, little one.”
“Stop calling me that! I am 24 years old and I don’t need you anymore! I have this!” Zandrea thrust an ancient, leather-bound book into the old woman’s face. It was Grandmother’s Book of Shadows containing notes, incantations and spells collected over many years. She had planned to give it to Zandrea at her releasing ritual.
Grandmother threw back her head and cackled, an eerie sound that pricked at the neck hairs of everyone in the room. Then, moving more quickly than anyone had seen her move in years, she lurched forward, grabbing hold of a cloth belt around Zandrea’s waist. She unsheathed a small knife and yanked Zandrea forward, slicing cleanly through the belt and pulling it from the girl’s waist before tossing it to the floor. She had resheathed her knife and bent to retrieve her shoebox before anyone in the room could react.
“There. It is done. You are free, little one.” As she turned to go, the room erupted into chaos. She had it! Grandmother’s Book of Shadows! The other coveners crowded around Zandrea, clamoring to get a look at the book that surely held the greatest, most powerful spells the coven had ever seen. There would be no stopping her now. Everything she desired would be hers.
– – –
Grandmother sat in the back of an old, VW microbus with “Portland or Bust” scrawled on the grime-covered windows. She was surrounded by suitcases, animal cages and barely-clothed young people who smelled of patchouli and marijuana, but she hardly paid them any notice as she sifted through her shoebox full of mementos and memories. Every so often, she would pick up the comic book or a photograph, squint at it just so, and waggle her arthritic fingers at it, murmuring to herself. If her fellow passengers noticed the images swirling and changing into text, they didn’t mention it. They just laughed it off as the effects of the righteous weed the awesome old lady had provided for the trip.