I don’t know if this should be considered flash fiction, since it’s longer than 1,000 words. Maybe it should be “what the hell am I writing” fiction, except it’s not an official genre yet.
Anyway, done with this. Back to Blood Promise. Have a good weekend! :0)
No one else saw the palace in the reflection. Which didn’t surprise me as much as it should have. I was used to being privy to the secrets of the world – I paid attention to it, and in return it let me see its hidden beauty, listen to its favourite songs, and dream its magical dreams.
When I first told Josie about the palace I saw on that rainy day, I hadn’t even expected her to believe me. But she only said, “Show me,” with that dire look in her eyes that meant I had better not let her down.
I did, though. I didn’t mean to, but I did. Even when I pointed hard at the image in the water – it’s just right there, can’t you see it? – and even when she scrunched up her face and glared at it like it was offending her by not appearing, all she saw was a smooth blank puddle and on it, the light scattered by a recent storm.
She didn’t see the glimmer and gloss of the high glass windows as the sun slid across the sky, the iridescent lights the palace walls gave off, the weird clouds of mist that danced around the palace and entangled themselves with the spires, or the great birds that roosted atop the clock tower, which housed not a clock but a constantly shifting map of the stars. I knew they shifted because I had observed them long enough, days and weeks and months of staring at reflective surface – a mirror, a puddle of water, a window.
Josie always said I was good at building castles in the sky.
But this was no daydream. If only I could convince Josie so! But people find it hard to believe the things they can’t see. And they find it hard to accept the things they don’t believe in.
When I finally managed to enter the palace, it was only in a dream. By then, it was obvious this palace wanted to stay hidden, so I was almost unsurprised to see it in my dream.
It was hard to look at the palace directly at first. Not only was it too big for the scope of my vision, every inch of the palace was covered in precious stones – dazzling diamonds, lush emeralds and sapphires and rubies fat and red as crystallised blood – that broke the sunlight into iridescent shards.
There were the giant birds going about their slow, lazy circles in the air. Guards, I soon realised. They were not ordinary birds: their wings could span as wide as building heights and shrink to an arm’s length, and in their eyes was a canniness that was more human than bird, more thinker than soldier.
The palace was rich not because of the jewels and stones its walls were encrusted with, or the gilded marble floors that gave off its own music when you tread across the high-vaulted halls. It was rich with the scent of some exotic bloom I had never before encountered, the mellifluous voices that broke into song the moment I pushed open the doors to the hall, and the splash of pastel-coloured lights everywhere.
The palace was alive, and it had a mind of its own. It had ideas on where to take you, sliding around freely as though in mid-air, so that you tumbled down hallways and bustled through doors. Deeper and deeper you went into its heart.
And then what? More birds?
As it turned out, it was a queen.
There in the heart of the labyrinth she sat, on a burnished dais. Her crown was spiked with crystals against the scarlet and ebony headpiece that fanned out behind her head. Her robe, a crimson river that flowed from her shoulder down the steps, was matted with dust. She looked like a mannequin in a store – an exquisite display in a glass case – but there was something strangely, keenly, alive about her, as though she was silently observing you the way the palace was.
I kept waiting for her to open her eyes or acknowledge me, but no amount of throat clearing or greeting could rouse her. It was like she was trapped, waiting, in that dormant state.
“She won’t wake,” came a voice, no louder than a whisper in my ear, making me cry out in surprise. My voice bounced off the high walls.
In spite of myself, I said, “Not ever?”
“Not until the sea children cease their petty games and release us from this spell. Whoever heard of a palace cast adrift from its kingdom?”
I had no idea where this was leading to, or where it even started, but I tried to offer the best suggestion I could think of. “So talk to them. Can the sea children be made to see reason?”
“You won’t be able find them even with reason on your side. They’ve disappeared. They’ve all disappeared. And now the queen is in limbo, as is the fate of all her people.”
“I don’t understand.” By now, I was half yearning to leave this dream.
But the palace was not letting me out of its thrall until it had made its point. “You have to find the sea children. Save us, save our queen.”
“But I don’t know how to.”
The desperation in the air came in waves. First as a shrieking wind that ripped through the hall, then as a tectonic disturbance.
As I cried my apologies, the ground juddered beneath my feet. My arms flailed for balance, but I only tumbled to the ground, then rolled across it and slammed against the wall as the palace continued to rock in fury.
“Find the sea children,” it implored. “Save us.”
The light outside had dimmed to a sickly shade of yellow, and a frosty draft swirled around the hall. Gone were the music, the kaleidoscope of colours, and the warm sunlight streaming in through the windows. I saw this cold marble and glass palace for what it truly was: encrusted in jewels but bereft and barren.
“Find the sea children. Save our queen.”
When I opened my eyes again, there was only Josie’s face hovering above mine. Her breath, shallow and hot, fanned my face.
“Melly!” she cried, gripping me by the shoulders. She gave me a violent shake that jolted me wide awake.
“We have to find the sea children,” was all I said as I struggled to catch my breath. “We have to save the queen!”
Josie’s grip went slack. “How did you know about the sea children?”
(To be continued??)