Week 11 of Odd Prompts

Spring’s in the air in the northern hemisphere, and with it, tricksy winds and cold. Second winter is a false promise, and can’t fight the light making its way back into the world.

Words are like that light, escaping whether we want the seasons to change or not.

So with that, on with the prompts! Want to jump in? Trade a prompt with another person (email to oddprompts@gmail.com), or send in a spare (add “spare” to the subject line. Prompts are up for grabs. It’s that easy!

PrompterPromptPromptee
nother MikeWhen we lowered a bucket into the well, something grabbed the rope and pulled…Cedar Sanderson
Fiona GreyShe closed her eyes, and saw nothing but sparkles.nother Mike
Cedar SandersonThat wasn’t sand, falling through the hourglass…AC Young
AC YoungThe elves were gathering for the once-a-century Great Elven Feast. Representatives from all across the known world were greeting each otherBecky Jones
Becky JonesThe big dog galumphed over to you. As you are giving her the well-deserved ear scritches, you see what’s hanging from her collar…Leigh Kimmel
Leigh KimmelOn the wall is an old-fashioned photograph of a little girl in a red jacket. You look closer and realize that the girl is wearing modern sneakers.Fiona Grey

And here are your spares, wiggling their way into the world like those tentative plant leaves poking above half-frozen soil. Show ’em some love.

SpareThe fireflies swarmed ahead, a river of living light leading onwards…
SpareThey left a cell phone in his coffin as a joke, and then he started making calls…
SpareThe hawk watched with an intense gaze, waiting for…
Spare“Stays crunchy in gasoline!”
Spare“Wait. We’re on a mission from Satan?!”

Add your creative offerings to the comments, in link or written form. See you there!

15 comments

  1. Cedar Sanderson supplied the prompt for this week: That wasn’t sand, falling through the hourglass…

    The hourglass wasn’t filled with sand, and with that ending to the sentence it wasn’t brightly coloured glass or gemstones (as used in Hogwarts) or the like. It was something not pleasant.

    No sooner did I come up with a solution to what was in the hourglass when I went full “fairy tale”.

    — — —

    Jeziblia appeared to be a beautiful young woman, about mid-twenties, with long blonde hair flowing down her back. It wasn’t an illusion, but it was deceptive. She was actually well into her second century. She was a witch, and used her magic to maintain her looks and youth.

    She cast a worried glance at the hourglass on her mantelpiece. It was running out, and when it ran out she would start aging normally again (or even faster – her mistress once aged months in days when her youth spells ran out, but she was well into her fifth century at the time). It wouldn’t be long before she needed to cast a new one. Based on past experience she thought she probably had only about a week left.

    It was time to leave her cottage deep in the woods and search for a suitable victim. Not too old – too little life to steal; not too young – too great a risk of the victim being fated to die young. And female – for reasons witches had never quite understood women always supplied more years of life than men.

    Of course Jeziblia didn’t think of her future victim as a victim; she thought of her as a sacrifice, a willing sacrifice given the right incentives (which often included realising that she had no choice in the matter).

    She prepared her supplies, revised her spells, and headed out.

    It was late afternoon as Thetis made her way through the woods. She had been to market in the local town with her father and brothers. They had taken part of the family’s flock to sell. Her father and brothers were making their way back along the main road with the supplies that they’d brought with the proceeds. Thetis was taking a short-cut through the woods in order to get back to the farm in time to help her mother with the cooking for tonight’s meal.

    These woods had a bad reputation in the area. It was supposed to be bad luck for women to pass through them. But no-one Thetis knew had vanished within them, or knew anyone who had. (Stories about some friend who’d vanished forty-odd years ago weren’t interesting, so Thetis didn’t take any notice of them.)

    Thetis rounded a corner and nearly bumped into another young woman coming the other way. Before Thetis could react the other woman threw some powder at Thetis’ feet, and muttered a short incantation. Then the other woman said “Follow me.”

    The other woman turned around, and Thetis followed her. She tried to turn right at the next junction – the route home – but the woman turned left. Thetis felt compelled to obey.

    Thetis continued to follow the other woman deeper into the woods. Their destination was a cottage. Thetis followed the woman inside.

    The woman pointed to a wooden armchair in the middle of the front room “Sit down, arms on top of the chair arms, and sit still.”

    Thetis was certain that obeying was the worst option, but try as she might she couldn’t resist. Within ten minutes she was securely tied to the chair. Even if she was able to disobey, now she wouldn’t have been able to get up, kick her captor, or do very much at all.

    The woman left the room. Thetis took advantage of the lack of orders to the contrary to look around the room. There was very little to see. The fireplace contained only ashes. The only thing of note was an hourglass on the mantelpiece. She noticed with horror that the hourglass wasn’t filled with sand. It looked as though what was falling through the neck was drops of blood!

    Jeziblia was relieved. She had her willing sacrifice. It looked as if this one was good for another three or four decades – perhaps more if she was lucky.

    The compulsion spell had worked perfectly. Her sacrifice was now nicely tied up awaiting the ceremony. But the spell lasted for twelve hours at a time (it could be made longer, but there was no way to make it less) and sacrificing a victim under compulsion would contaminate the spellwork – reducing the benefits to the witch by decades.

    Jeziblia just needed to wait out the spell, then the sacrifice could be made, and she would have eternal youth for decades more.

    In the early evening Robert left his family’s farm and headed into the woods, armed only with a wood axe. He was searching for Thetis.

    Her family had missed her as soon as her father and brothers had made it home. Her brothers had travelled to all the nearest farms to see if she’d made her way there instead of home, but to no avail. Robert had heard about Thetis’ disappearance when her eldest brother had visited his family’s farm.

    Robert was deeply worried. He had loved Thetis from afar for years, but as the middle son, with no likelihood of inheriting the farm, he had no chance of her family accepting his suit for her hand in marriage. His plan was to join the local noble’s militia when he reached the minimum age in a few months’ time, and he hoped that when he had served long enough he would have the requisite status to succeed in his suit – if she hadn’t married someone else by then.

    But he couldn’t marry Thetis if she was dead or had disappeared. So he had to find her. And waiting until the morning when her family’s search party was being organised wasn’t an option – he didn’t think he could sleep knowing that she was missing. So he had armed himself with the weaponry available to him and headed into the woods.

    He made his way swiftly along the forest trails until he reached the path that Thetis should have used. There was no sign that anyone had walked that way that day. Robert took the path towards the town.

    Some distance down the path he reached a three-way junction, the path to the right leading deeper into the woods. There were signs that at least one person had used this junction, turning off the main path from town onto the side path. Robert wasn’t much of a scout, so he couldn’t be certain that this was where Thetis had left her way home, but he chose to turn right and follow the side path further into the woods regardless.

    He kept following the path as it wound further into the woods. In time he saw a clearing with a small cottage. The chimney was spewing smoke, so there was someone at home. He decided to knock on the front door and ask the occupant if they’d seen Thetis. Then he looked through the window…

    As darkness started to fall Jeziblia returned to the front room. She put a log in the fireplace and set it alight with a short incantation.

    It was time to prepare for the ceremony. Once that was done she’d go to bed to sleep, and carry out the sacrifice at first light.

    She sat down in the free chair, her willing sacrifice being still tied to the other. Jeziblia had eaten only an hour previously, she didn’t see the need to feed her sacrifice.

    The first step was to craft the new hourglass. To avoid contamination the two halves had to be cast within a few hours of the ceremony.

    It took half an hour of concentrated use of magic to heat the raw materials in the fire to create the glass, then fashion the two bulbs. She then used a further spell to cool them.

    Taking a diamond she painstakingly etched her own name into the glass of the lower bulb. Then she turned to the sacrifice. “Tell me your name,” she ordered.

    The compulsion spell was still in force. “Thetis,” was the response. Jeziblia set about etching the donor’s name on the upper bulb.

    The sight Robert saw froze his heart. On the right of the fire was Thetis tied to an armchair. On the left of the fire was a beautiful woman with long hair, seated, doing something with a piece of glass. It looked like a picture of captor and captive.

    All thoughts of knocking on the front door fled from his mind. Giving the kidnapper of his love the opportunity to capture him too was not the best of plans. Waiting until a more opportune moment? He dismissed that stray thought instantly – such a moment might not arrive, and watching Thetis suffer alone was not in his nature. Going through the window wasn’t the best of ideas either – he would be too noticeable while he clambered through, and he wouldn’t be able to respond to any actions taken against him.

    There was only one thing he could do, and it was extremely risky. His axe was designed for chopping down trees and cutting them into logs. It wasn’t designed for throwing, and he hadn’t practiced the art. But throwing it at Thetis’ captor was the only action he felt he could take. He took a deep breath, knelt down so that he was at the right height relative to the window, drew the axe back over his head, and threw it through the window.

    He was extremely fortunate. His axe flew straight. And the axe head struck Thetis’ captor in her side. The beautiful woman crumpled and was still.

    Robert swiftly made his way through the window intending to untie Thetis and release her from her bondage.

    Jeziblia’s first impressions that there was anything going wrong with her plans was the sight of a flying axe in the corner of her eye. Before she had any time to react the axe head struck. She fell forwards in her chair.

    Through the pain she was able to retain hold of the lower bulb. Fortunately she hadn’t been etching at the time – she’d just finished the second ‘t’ of ‘Thetis’. She gathered her strength, then reached down and placed the priceless lower bulb on the ground. The diamond in her other hand she just dropped.

    She forced herself to stand. The pain was at least one magnitude more than she had felt in a long, long time. She removed the axe from her side, nearly collapsing at the additional stab of pain. The axe she carelessly tossed aside as she set about speeding up her healing – it cost her some of the life she had taken, but it was necessary if she was to survive this experience. The steady drip-drip-drip in the hourglass on the mantelpiece sped up into a continuous flow.

    The healing complete she focussed her attention on the youth that had just climbed through her window. “Do you have any idea what that just cost?” she screeched in rage.

    Robert was about to turn towards the love of his life when he saw her captor rise from her seat. He froze as she tossed the axe at his feet. He remained frozen as his mind processed the gash in her side closing – the woman was a witch!

    She spurred him back into action by yelling at him. He didn’t understand what she was asking and didn’t bother attempting a response, but she was clearly mad, and if he didn’t act swiftly she would be able to bespell him.

    He picked up the axe once more, and swung at the witch, as he would have swung at a tree. The blow struck true, the axe head slipping between two of her ribs on her left side. He released the shaft and stepped back.

    Jeziblia was furious. She had been warned by her mistress all those decades ago that rage was the enemy of magic – that while small doses of emotion could speed casting, large doses would swamp the magic she needed. Only now did she understand. She tried to grasp the magic needed to blast the impudent boy into the kingdom to come (as the locals put it), but it slipped through her fingers.

    While she was struggling to corral enough magic to cast the lightning spell she wanted to use, the boy struck. The pain cut through the rage, and she realised that if she didn’t heal herself quickly it would all be over.

    She started to speed her healing, just to keep herself alive, but a second later the last drops of blood in the hourglass passed from the top bulb to the bottom. The hourglass shattered into a million pieces, and Jeziblia belatedly realised her fatal mistake.

    She had been acting as if it didn’t matter how much or how badly she was injured, as she was used to having plenty of life left in the hourglass to fund her restoration. But she didn’t have a decade of stolen life left to fund her healing, she had started out with about a week. And all that life was gone. She had no life left to steal to restore her to health to continue the fight. She had only the remaining years of her own life, years she had been carefully curating and storing for over a century.

    She cast the spell, her own fear of death driving it. But she’d left it too late. Even the few seconds of gap between the hourglass shattering and her using her own lifeforce was too long. She could feel herself aging as her steadily healing lungs forced the axe out of its gash. But the healing was incomplete when her own life ran out.

    She fell to the ground, dead, as an old crone.

    Robert had no idea what was driving the witch’s swift aging from a beautiful siren to an old crone, but he was extremely relieved when she fell down and did not get up.

    He turned swiftly to Thetis and set about releasing her from her bonds.

    Thetis saw all of the combat, but could do or say nothing. The witch’s compulsion spell still bound her. But she knew when the witch died, for that was when her chains fell away and she could act as she wished.

    What she wanted most in all the world was to be released from the chair, but there was no need to say anything for Robert, the young man who she was secretly extremely fond of, was already untying them. She kept still to make his task as easy and, more importantly, as quick as possible.

    But when all the knots were untied she couldn’t restrain herself any longer. The relief at being fully free again drove her into action, and she flung herself into Robert’s arms, hugging him as tightly as she could, tears of joy and relief flowing down her face and onto his shoulder.

    Robert completed his task, but worry was growing with every knot untied. Thetis was staying still, she was not straining against her bonds. What had the witch done to her that she was staying as still as a statue?

    All worry vanished when Thetis was finally released and she hugged him. He hugged back, greatly relieved that his worries were groundless, and proud that he had rescued his love.

    The pair maintained that pose until Thetis released him. Robert wanted to keep her with him for ever, but he knew he couldn’t – hopefully not yet, but possibly never. “We need to get you home. Your family need to see you safe.”

    Thetis agreed to the plan. Robert paused only long enough to retrieve his axe from the old crone’s side. He then escorted Thetis back to her family’s farm.

    It was full night by the time that they arrived. Robert had to hammer on the wooden door with the handle of his axe to awaken anyone to let them in.

    Thetis was welcomed back with great joy. Her parents insisted that it was too late at night for Robert to travel back home before morning, so he was forced to sleep with her brothers.

    In the morning both Thetis and Robert told their tales. Initially to her family, but also to his. An exploration team found the cottage exactly where the pair said it would be, and found the crone dead with the partially healed gash in her side.

    The heads of the families got their heads together, and came to an agreement. Since Robert so clearly cared deeply for Thetis, and she cared for him in return, they were to marry. But Robert couldn’t support a family as the second son through farming. So the condition was that he would join the Count’s militia.

    Robert was not opposed to the plan, as it was the same one he had come up with himself. So it was that come midsummer he and Thetis were wed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m not sure what to think of the father. Is he recognising that it’s too late (she’s either dead or dying), or has he finally had enough and is abandoning his daughter to the fate she’s chosen?

      Dark, yes. But it grips the imagination, and makes the reader think. In that sense it works extremely well.

      Like

  2. Fiona Grey prompted…

    She closed her eyes, and saw nothing but sparkles.

    Then she opened her eyes again, and for a moment, the world was glittering with sparkles, like a light dusting of snow, but in all the colors of the rainbow. As she blinked, they faded, but she smiled. No, she grinned, letting her happiness run out and across her face.

    Now she knew that it was not something wrong with her eyes, not something she was imagining. No, it was true sparkles, the magic of the world shining through, and she greeted it with joy. And as she watched, entranced, a sparkle slowly lifted from a nearby bush and floated towards her. She put out her hand, and it settled onto her fingertips.

    Magic was alive!

    (A quick sketch, but I kind of like it!)

    Liked by 1 person

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