The following short story exists solely because the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour topic this month is a writing prompt. Writing prompts mean stories, not posts, at least for me. So don’t fret if you don’t recognize the holiday, or if your holidays don’t go quite like this. Honestly, it’s better that way.
Inshi tied the last of the ribbons to tree in the old cemetery as the bells in the village monastery tolled noon. Just in time! That last ribbon hadn’t wanted to stay tied; it would probably be the first to fly free. She picked up her willow basket and headed down the hill. This had been the first year her grandmother trusted Inshi to do this by herself, although that was probably only because Grandmother preferred to sleep through the chill of the mornings these days.
In the village proper, giggles came from inside homes, and door hangings fluttered in the breeze. No one would come out now until the bonfire this evening. A couple curtains by windows twitched as Inshi walked by. She remembered the rumors from her own childhood, that ghosts followed her mother, or an angel walked in front of her, or Death itself carried her basket.
None of those things were true, of course. She didn’t know what the morning would bring, any more than anyone else did. She only hung the ribbons.
Other villagers believed otherwise, however, even if they’d given up tales about who walked with her from the cemetery. At the bonfire that evening, three pregnant women came up to her to ask whether their babies would survive childbirth. The older villagers avoided her completely, as if just speaking to her would be enough to kill them.
A few of Inshi’s friends still had smiles and friendly words for her as she sat next to her grandmother, watching the dancers. Palo even brought her a plate of food.
He spoke quietly, despite the clamor around them. “I saw you coming down the hill today.”
She glanced sideways at him, one eyebrow raised. He must have had a good reason to break tradition.
“I thought at first I saw the angel, then I realized it was you.”
She flushed and looked away. Grandmother nudged her, though, giving a knowing chuckle, and she turned back to Palo.
“I was hoping that perhaps next year, you might tie an extra ribbon on the tree. Or maybe two, if we’re blessed with twins.”
Shocked, she could only stare at him. Was he really asking her to marry him on this dark night?
Grandmother poked her in the back again. Which was all well and good — Grandmother had threatened to ask Palo for her — but who would tend to Grandmother in the mornings if Inshi married? Grandmother poked her again.
Annoyed, she looked around at her grandmother, who first met Inshi’s eyes, then stared off into the bonfire before speaking. “I saw an angel this morning, too. As the village Fate, it is given to me exactly once to do so.”
This, Inshi knew. A Fate dealt with the village as a whole. She could tell from the ribbons lost or dropped how many would die or go away in the coming year, just as auguries at other times would tell of crops and storms. Only one individual outcome was knowable — the Fate’s coming death.
She bowed her head in grief. She had seen it coming, in the general sense of acknowledging Grandmother’s failing health and susceptibility to cold, in the increased pace of teaching so she could become the village Fate herself, in the quiet conversations Grandmother had taken to having with old friends in the afternoons. That did not mean she was ready to let go.
“Fate ties and unties,” Grandmother said. “My ribbon will fly, and others will come. Someday, you will say this to your daughter or niece or granddaughter, and she will mourn. Yet you both will do what you must.”
Palo said nothing while her grandmother was speaking, and now Inshi sat between the pair of them, silent. Her hand stole out to grasp Palo’s. In the morning, her grandmother would bind them together, for fastings were a sunrise rite. Then the village would gather to go up to the cemetery together and count the lost ribbons. Grandmother would not go; indeed, Inshi was not certain her grandmother would last out the day.
She knew now whose stubborn life ribbon had struggled so hard to be free already.
– END –
Yeah, that turned out a lot darker than I’d planned on. Not even sure it really counts as a story, since there’s no real story problem in it. But there you are.
Today’s post was inspired by the topic “Writing Prompt: Holidays”– December’s topic in the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour — an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy. The next post in the tour will be on the 4th, by D. M. Bonanno. Be sure to check it out.
If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out their thoughts on crossing genre lines, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. You can find links to all of the posts on the tour by checking out the group site. Read and enjoy!
I see what you mean about the story problem, but it’s a very moving little piece nevertheless.
And I think you could make an argument that the underlying story event is her acceptance of her role.
It mostly feels complete to me, it’s true, but to have the arc be her acceptance of her role, I think I’d have to change the first paragraph to make her more frustrated or annoyed at what she’s doing. Something that makes it clear she doesn’t feel ready to be the one in charge.
I felt like she wasn’t so much frustrated or annoyed as afraid — afraid of the changes, afraid she wasn’t ready, afraid she would lose her friends. Basically afraid of taking the final step to growing up.
I hadn’t thought of if it that way, but I guess it is there in the subtext of her interactions, isn’t it?
Oh, this was lovely, Erin. It felt like a story to me. Not every story has to tackle a big problem or have a huge arc. This was a quiet piece with a lot of impact.
Thank you. I’m so glad you liked it!