This is my entry for Round 1/Challenge 1 of NYC Midnight’s 2015 Flash Fiction Challenge.
Location: A mountain stream
Word Count Limit: 1000
Actual Word Count: 997 )not including title)
Synposis: “When a man journeys to beg a favor of a Goddess, he receives more than he could have hoped. “
The day was hot so Sulgo stopped by the stream to rest. He carefully set the child down on the soft earth near the water and sat beside her. Her red eyes watched him and he smiled as he offered her the water skin. After she drank, he dipped his kerchief into the cool stream. As he wiped the sweat from her forehead her eyes slipped closed.
“Beco,” he whispered, but she didn’t respond.
As one with red eyes who wielded the Mother’s magic, Beco’s soul would be lost to darkness if she died before they reached the pool. Panicked, Sulgo touched Beco’s throat and found the slow, irregular beating of her heart. Relieved that she’d survived the trek up the mountain, he said a silent prayer of thanks to the Mother, their Goddess.
When Beco’s black eyes had turned red at the age of three and she had healed for the first time, there had been a great celebration. The Mother had blessed their people and despite Sulgo’s sadness that Beco would burn out by the age of twenty, as always happened to those like her, he was proud.
She had healed many people, saved many lives. But each time, her lovely dark hair had gained another small streak of white. By the age of seven, Beco’s hair was more white than black. Sulgo had begged her to stop, to preserve herself, but she’d refused. She’d said it was her duty to their people, to their Goddess.
He lifted her and set out again. The path beside the stream was easy to travel, worn smooth by the passage of many feet over the centuries. Others who had come to the Mother to beg her mercy for the souls of the gifted.
Beco stirred and Sulgo looked down to see her watching him. “Hold on, child. We will arrive soon.”
“We have arrived, Papa,” she said in a feeble voice.
Sulgo looked ahead to where the stream emerged from a dense copse of trees. The pool was there. The Mother was there.
He wanted to hurry, to preserve the beautiful soul of the child in his arms, yet he wanted to hold her for just a while longer.
Nine years was not enough.
Sulgo followed the stream through the dense trees. He reached a clearing and saw the Mother sitting beside the pool from which the stream flowed. She was waiting for them.
“Bring her to me.”
He clutched Beco to his chest possessively as he trudged toward the Mother and sank to his knees before her.
Her eyes were red, like Beco’s. Her silky, silver hair grew long and cloaked her naked body. Her skin was a rich shade of brown, like the soft earth where they’d rested beside the stream. She was the loveliest creature that Sulgo had ever seen.
“Blessed Mother,” he began respectfully. “Your magical gift burned her out too soon and she faded quickly. I brought her that she may partake of you, if you allow. I pray that her soul not be banished to darkness.”
The Mother cocked her head. “You are angry.”
Sulgo lowered his eyes. “I am sorry to offend, merciful Mother,” he said quickly. “I am bereaved. She is… precious to me.”
“She is precious to all.” The Mother held out her arms.
Releasing Beco was difficult but Sulgo relaxed as he watched the Mother cradle the dying child to her naked breast. She stroked Beco’s hair which softened and grew long until the silky ends reached the pool. Beco turned her face and began to suckle at the breast of the Goddess.
Sulgo slumped in relief as Beco’s skin began to glow softly. The milk of the Mother would preserve her soul. The glow moved from Beco’s skin to her hair and Sulgo watched it flow down the long, silky strands into the pool. When he looked back at Beco, the glow had left her skin. It slowly faded from her hair and once it was gone, the Mother lifted Beco’s hair from the pool.
The motion pulled her breast from the child’s mouth and she laid the lifeless body on the soft earth before Sulgo. He wept as he bent to kiss his daughter goodbye. He didn’t notice the bead of the Mother’s milk at the edge of Beco’s mouth until its sweetness touched his lips. His anger faded suddenly. His grief lessened. Surprised, he looked at the Mother.
Her smile was gentle. “A gift. It will help you in your bereavement.”
She gently touched Beco’s head and came away with a lock of hair in her hand, which she quickly plaited into a long, thin rope. She wrapped it twice about Sulgo’s wrist and secured it in such a way that it was one endless braid of soft, white hair.
“This will also help you,” the Mother said. She dipped one finger into the pool and touched the braid, which began to glow faintly. “Eat nothing. Drink nothing. Hurry to your wife and give her another daughter.”
Sulgo’s eyes widened and he looked down at Beco.
“No. She is part of me again and must remain. You may see something of her in the next, however.”
“I beg you Mother, not another daughter with red eyes. I can’t bear it.”
The Goddess laughed. “The eyes of the next will be as black as her hair and her skin. You have cared well for Beco, for me. I thank you. Her soul is home, safe from the darkness.” The Mother rose with the child’s body in her arms. “Go now. One drop will not benefit you for long.”
“Thank you, generous Mother.”
She turned with Beco and faded into the trees.
Sulgo leapt to his feet, followed the stream away from the pool, and hurried down the mountain. He cried tears of both grief and joy, and rejoiced when Beco’s laughter joined with that of the Goddess in the voice of the burbling stream.
Four days after receiving my score on my round 1 story submission, I received feedback on my round 1 story… yay! Note that this round 1 story scored 15 of a possible 15 points from the judges, ranking me in 1st place out of 29 entrants in my group (the top 15 received from 15 pts. down to 1 pt., with the other 14 stories receiving no score). As you might guess, I was (and still am, frankly) quite thrilled at receiving the maximum number of points for my little story.
- A compelling story. Conceptually excellent, and a great way to incorporate all three contest elements. Great pacing and well-drawn characters.
- The emotional content embedded in the narrative is truly touching. The dialogue flows with a natural ease.
- A beautiful story beautifully written. The magical rules of the world were nicely sketched in without feeling ponderous or expository. The story’s turning points were believable and effective – the characters and relationships were likewise authentic.
- Not much constructive criticism here. This was a very engaging story.
- There is only one mention of Beco’s mum but we don’t know why she hasn’t join them on this journey. Was Beco using her eyes when she was healing people or this was just a way to recognize her special gift?
- A bit more sensory descriptions would have been nice – more about plants – flowers, bird sounds, smells, perhaps a constriction of Sulgo’s throat causing a catch in his voice.