“A Fountain Among the Fox”

This is a short story written for #BlogBattle over at http://rachaelritchey.com/blogbattle/

The theme for this story is ‘Trace’ This is my fiction piece.

 

 

“A Fountain Among the Fox”

It was less of a fountain and more of basin, filled with water from a small stream that snaked its way up a hill and out of sight, lost to anyone in the overgrown swamp brush but the animals that knew it.

There was a certain flock of birds that came to basin every year on their migration from the cold winters north. How long they had been coming is uncertain, but it’s been said that the same flock of birds stops there to even now.

It remained long undiscovered until one day, a sweaty, bearded man, dressed in gleaming armor and an oversize, wide brimmed hat, came crashing through the palm trees to the shores of the small basin.

He turned a full turn and looked down, then around again, as if someone had hidden his own house from him.

“This is it?” he cried. The palm trees answered with an affirmative sway in the breeze.

He narrowed his eyes suspiciously at the water in the pool; clear and blue in the afternoon light. The water, for its part, did nothing. It didn’t care what this man’s ire, it was water.

The man sighed and produced a glass bottle from a calfskin bag. He knelt down to fill the bottle.

“I wouldn’t do that,” someone said. The man jumped to his feet and withdrew a long, sharp knife.

“Who said that? Who’s there?” he asked fervently.

“Leave the water alone. It’s not going to do what you think it will do,” the voice said again. The man turned, tripping over himself trying desperately to find the disparaging voice.

“Show yourself, you dog!” he cried.

A Fox jumped from a craggy rock and landed, soft as a pillow, on the ground next to the man.

“Woof,” it said.

“Um,” the man said.

“What’s your name, stranger?” the Fox asked. It grinned, which, all things considered, was impossible because Foxes can’t grin, but they can’t talk either and the Fox had clearly asked the man’s name.

“Diego,” he said, knife pointed between the dog’s eyes. “Yours?”

“You can call me Fox,” the dog said, licking a paw.

“Of course,” Diego said. “Are you the devil?” he asked, never moving the knife.

“I am not,” the Fox said. “I’m just a friendly, ordinary Fox.”

“Who can talk.”

“Who can talk, yes.”

“And grin.”

“Yes, grin. I can also chase my tail and touch the sky and chase down the fastest rabbit, but you don’t see me bragging about it.”

“What was that about the sky?” Diego asked.

“Nothing,” Fox said. “Listen, about what I said before, about the water, disregard that.”

Diego gave Fox a sharp glare, but bent down again to fill his bottle.

“But don’t touch it!!” Fox yipped.

“Why not!? I traced my way here, through swamps and seas, I sailed from Spain!”

“And that is why, dear Diego, I would hate to see you fill your bottle with the wrong water! You’re looking for the water that will keep you forever young, am I correct?”

Diego nodded.

“Well! This is the wrong fountain! I’m sorry I have to be the one to tell you, but it is!”

Diego shook his head. “It’s not,” he said gravely. “I procured a map from one of the local natives and, as I mentioned, traced my way here.” He unfolded a rough sketch of the stretch of land the fountain belonged to. He had quite literally traced the map; it was crude but aesthetically pleasing to see the world set out flat like that, mountains and hills small triangles and semicircles, little doodles of palm trees and shaded waters. Diego felt achingly attached to his map. It made this strange land easier to understand laid flat on the map.

“Yes, but-” Fox said.

“It’s here, this is the correct place.” Deigo once more knelt to fill his bottle, but Fox quickly ran through his legs and placed himself between the bearded man and the water.

“Move, beast! I have come too far-”

“All in search of the water that will keep you forever young, yes, I know. The problem with this water isn’t that it won’t do what you think it will do, it’s that it will do exactly what you think it will do. You will never stop getting younger, until you’re nothing but dust!”

“You want it all for yourself, don’t you!” Deigo realized.

“This water is not yours to take. I can trace my family back generations to these swamps, to this land. You are a thief, a usurper and you are not welcome here.”

Diego lunged, knife point searching for Fox’s grin, but in an instant he was stuck. His limbs felt like they were trapped at the bottom of a Rum barrel. Heavy rain began to fall despite the cloudless sky only moments before.

Diego struggled. “Please, you don’t understand. It’s not for me, it’s for the woman I love. She’s taken ill. Please, her father has stated that any doctor that can cure her may have her hand in marriage!”

“It’s not yours to take. And you’re not a doctor!”

“I’ll kill you!” Diego raged.

“You can’t,” Fox said as though he were remarking on a palm tree being a plant or the sun rising every morning. It was a fact, clear and sharp in Diego’s mind. He sighed. His hat sagged in the rain.

Fox let him go and the rain stopped. As long as he sat by the fountain, Diego could not take the water.

He straightened his armor and stood proudly, trying his best to accept defeat with poise and grace. The tear running down his cheek belied this feat, but he tried nonetheless.

“Fine. I will return home. Mark my words, I will save her with or-”

Fox had vanished.

“Without…” Diego finished lamely. Fox was gone, yes, but there was something there, unmoving and unseen, that growled at Diego to go.

With a heavy heart, Diego pulled out his map and traced his finger along the path he had taken away from the fountain and back to the coast.

Unbeknownst to him, in his calfskin bag was a bottle with one small sip of water.

 

The Gravity of Ken Sulane- Part II (Short Story)

“They all have a story or a grudge or a debt,” Ken said, locking eyes with the god. “They’ve always come, my whole life, so forgive me if I’m a little sick trying to make up for something someone who lived hundreds or thousands of years before I did.”

“You don’t understand, Ken. This is coming for you regardless of you accept or not. You don’t need to accept or decline, it will affect you either way. You see, back-”

The large, red bearded man cut Apollo off. “Oh, so you’ve accepted his quest then?” he accent was thick, not quite Irish, not quite Scottish, not quite easy to understand.

“No, I haven’t Brian.” Ken said wearily.

“Lad, how could you?” Brian whined.

“How could I what? I haven’t done anything!” Ken protested.

“The god said.” The giant Samurai noted, stepping forward. “If you accept to right the wrongs he brings you, please, reconsider my plea-“

“There is still our matter to be settled!” The Renaissance man spat. “Ken, your great ancestor, Antonio Di Siricusa is the true artist and creator of the works attributed to Michelangelo!”

“I’m sure he’s not.” Ken said testily.

He is not allowed to go anywhere!” All twelve of the shadowy figures that hung from the ceiling said in a wavering, robotic voice. “You must pay for the sins of Huang Zhiyuan,. The feeble tendrils of your life belong to us. Ken Sulane, we are owed a soul that must come to the netherworld, at the last gate at the base of the Mountain of Spirits.”

“Yeah, I’m not going. I’m never going with you guys, so you can stop waiting.”

It is not a choice, Ken. You will come.”

“I won’t.”

You will.

“You cannot take him,” said the woman that had been talking with the Renaissance man. “Kenneth, you must come and save me. I have awaited the prophecy to be fulfilled, for a man of your bloodline to rescue me from my imprisonment.”

You will come.

“Leave him be!” she implored the floating figures.

“Hilda,” Ken said. “We’ve talked about this. It’s 2016, you are a strong woman and you don’t need a man to rescue you! Also, you’re dead.”

The Union soldier spoke up, his wife grasping his arm. “Ken, you promised you’d help find our lost war treasures. As your great-great-great grandfather, I think I take precedent.” Ken’s great-great-great grandmother nodded frantically.

“YOU MUST HELP FIND MY TREASURE THAT YOUR ANCESTOR, THE FIERCE AND BEAUTIFUL TSUWEI, HID FOR ME,” the Dragon roared from outside.

“We would like our treasure!” Great-great-great-Grandfather protested.

“I WOULD ALSO LIKE HIS TREASURE,” the Dragon yelled.

Ken’s great-great-great-Grandmother harrumphed loudly.

From the middle of the room, a dark man faded in from nothingness. He was a warrior, armed with a thin, ovular shield and a pointed, sharpened spear.

He was so tall that he needed to kneel to speak with the sitting Ken, which he did, opening his arms wide.

“I implore you again, many-great grandson of mine, to find my brother, your many-great uncle, my assassin, the one who took from me my life with poison, and regain our rightful throne.”

Ken sighed. “I’m sorry man, but like I keep saying, I really think you have the wrong Ken Sulane.”

Apollo tried again. “Ken, I apologize for what is clearly an ongoing problem with your bloodline, but-”

Ken laughed, unhinged a little. He stood and walked to the bed, where he scratched Wixon behind the ears. “It’s more than a problem, Apollo. You want to talk about my bloodline? Thanks to all of you, I can trace every movement of every ancestor I ever had! Who they screwed over, who they screwed, what they made or lost, what insane magical beast they befriended or made an enemy of. My father’s ancestors came from Greece, wise politicians and rumored to be of a god’s bloodline, someone I’m sure you knew Apollo. Probably someone who did something you’re here to warn me about! Right? Well they moved from Greece to Italy, to the Greek colony of Syracuse, later Siracusa during the time of the Romans, where they stayed for many, many years before moving North to Ireland sometime in the 1600s. There they met the other component of my father’s ancestry, as evidenced by Big Red Brian over here. They narrowly avoided the famine of the 19th century by about 80 years, moving around 1800 to America where they’ve stayed ever since.”

Apollo’s patience was wearing thin. “Yes, Ken.”

“Then my mother? She traces her family back to China, to the earliest known peoples there. Apparently someone pissed off a bunch of ancient floating shadows so they won’t leave me alone, as well as hid a Dragon’s treasure for him.”

“HELLO,” the Dragon said again, more cheerily this time.

“In the meantime they moved to Japan. I know this because I get more ghostly kitsune spirits than anyone should have, not to mention Mr. Samurai the Giant there. They moved back to China at some point and then from there to California during the Gold Rush. In between that, my ancestors really got around. If you’ll notice there is a fully armored Dragoon on horseback outside that has sworn to protect me and my kin from any harm as long as I live, the ghost of a Great Dane, who’s purpose here is still unknown to me and this fucking gnome who will not stop snoring and…. just wake the fuck up! Come on seriously, who sleeps this long WAKE UP!!! So no. No, no no Apollo, I really don’t care. I cannot add another. I am full. No Vacancy. Please. Please I beg you to leave me alone.

I’ve never had a normal life. I never had a normal childhood. When I was 13, a Pegasus came to me and told me I, by proxy of my ancestors, was his true owner. He tried to follow me everywhere and at first, it was amazing. How many other kids have a flying horse? He, by the way, was the one that told me you’re the last of the Greek gods. We had fun for a few years, but after everything, after all the people and creatures that came to me, I couldn’t stand to look at him anymore. It made me feel sick, like I made a Taco Bell run at 4 in the morning. A few months ago I sent him to the moon. I told him I needed a very important rock and off he went, flying higher and higher until he was just a small white speck. I sent a fucking horse to space, Apollo, because I am so burnt out on hearing about my ancestors and whatever it is that they did. I don’t even know if that Pegasus can breathe in space! There could be a dead flying horse on the moon for all we know. I can’t handle it anymore, Apollo. I am only human and I just do not have the capacity for this. ”

“Ken,” Apollo said, and it was not a question or even simply his name, but a command ushered into the world for the first time where it cemented itself as a force, hanging in the air for a moment, tense and sharp. “You do not have a choice.”

Apollo began to explain, but he barely moved an inch before the breeze in the windows faded and Ken’s room systematically, inch by inch, blackened. Ken and his nuisances remained as a large, motley group, floating in the nothingness of a blank, black canvas.

“Shit. What is this?” Ken asked.

Apollo shook his head. “What I tried to warn you of.”

There was nothing all around Ken, but he still felt as though he were standing on solid ground. His brain, however, screamed to any synapses that would listen that Ken was falling, that there was nothing beneath him and he should currently be panicking; finding any way to survive a fall into an abyss that apparently did not exist. Ken felt a sort of dizzying seasickness. He closed his eyes, but found he couldn’t tell if they were open or closed. The darkness seemed to contract for a brutal moment before expanding. Ken opened his eyes and saw earth, the size of a marble, hanging in the sky. It grew as he watched it, until he found himself standing under the Earth, slowly spinning on its axis like an exhibit in a dark, forgotten room of a museum.

It was different than it looked in pictures, in part because Ken’s brain couldn’t quite process that he was staring at the planet he should be standing on and in part because of the giant, robed Lizard Man holding the earth on its shoulders. The Moon hung in the sky near the Lizard Man’s head; a ghostly after-image of the Earth.

The Lizard Man peered down through a pair of golden slits Ken supposed were eyes. Its tongue flitted through the air like a dragonfly. It locked eyes with Ken and from somewhere deep inside, rumbled a growl that rumbled its way to a roar.

“Thermistocles!” it shouted at Ken.

“No, Vrssa, this is not Thermistocles,” Apollo called to the creature.

“Thermistocles!” it shouted again. “The time has come for you to fulfill your promise to me. It is your turn to hold the earth!”

“What happened to Atlas?” Ken asked.

“Your ancestor, Thermistocles, was tasked by Hera with killing Atlas,” Apollo explained. “But he needed someone to hold the earth in the meantime. He convinced Vrssa, a Lizard man from the Nile delta to hold the earth while he disposed of the Titan. In return, he would give Vrssa Ra’s golden scepter.”

“Let me guess,’ Ken said. “He never had a scepter. He told scaley-face over there that he’d come back and never did. And Atlas probably paid him off not to kill him.”

“Yes,” Apollo said, impressed.

“Why don’t you ask Heracles!?” Ken called to the serpent.

“Don’t-“ Apollo began, but Vrssa let out a primal, guttural roar.

“YOU DARE SPEAK TO ME OF HERACLES?”

“Heracles killed Vrssa’s wife,” Apollo explained.

“Okay, sorry! I’m sorry!” Ken said. “Listen, Vespa,”

“Vrssa,” Apollo corrected.

“Whatever. I’m not Thermistocles. My name is Ken and I’m not going to hold the Earth for you.”

“You look like Thermistocles!” Vrssa growled, squinting so much that its eye slits almost closed.

“No, Thermistocles was my great ancestor. But I have no plans of making up for whatever it is he promised you. See these people with me? They’re waiting for the same thing you are, but it’s never going to happen.”

“Thermistocles or not, it is your responsibility to take the earth from me and give me the Scepter of Ra.”

“It is not my responsibility!” Ken bristled. “Vrssa, no one has to hold the world! No one, including you, has to hold the Earth because there is a thing called gravity! Just put the earth down!”

“I cannot!” Vrssa cried. “If I put it down, it will tumble out of the sky and I will lose my hordes of gold, my salt mines, and the favor of Set!”

“I can’t imagine any of those things are there anymore,” Ken muttered.

“If you do not take the earth from me, as was promised, and give me the Scepter of Ra, as was also promised, I will disembowel you and feed you your organs in small pieces before using your skull to pick your coagulated blood from my teeth.”

“Oh,” Ken said.

“Um,” Apollo said.

“EW,” the Dragon said.

Apollo cleared his throat. “Vrssa, please, there is no need for that. Ken will take the earth from you.”

“The fuck I will!” Ken cried. “No one needs to hold the earth! There is gravity to hold it up!” Ken waved his arms in the air emphatically, moving from person to person in an unwavering, non-determined zigzag. “I don’t understand why that is hard concept. I don’t understand why you all want to live in the past, to live forever focused on one deed or one act a long dead ancestor of mine may or may not have perpetrated. It’s not the past anymore, there is no treasure and no debts to be settled, there is no need for gods and warriors! There is gravity! No matter what, there is always gravity! But none of you know this! No one bothers to find anything out about now, about what governs the world now. You can’t keep yourselves in the past and drag me back there with you. Feel the gravity! Okay, maybe not here because we seem to be standing in the atmosphere, but you know what I mean.

I will not take the earth. I will not, under any circumstance, avenge anything or anyone, I will not find treasure or travel to the gate of the dead or the valley of the lost or whatever other depressing fucked place you want me to go to!  I won’t put up with any more bullshit from the past!” Ken turned, locking eyes with Apollo. “Is that clear!?”

Apollo did not say anything, but kept his eyes locked with Ken’s.

“HE MAKES THIS SPEECH ONCE A MONTH. YOU DON’T HAVE TO LISTEN TO HIM IF YOU DON’T WANT.” The Dragon said to Apollo, attempting to whisper but failing.

“I never do,” The Renaissance man said. The others murmured their agreements. The ghost of the Great Dane barked once. The gnome still snored.

Ken sighed.

“Fine. I’ll take the earth.”

“Ken, you can’t.” Brian said. “It will crush you. You’re only mortal.”

Ken stepped forward, growing in size with each step he took towards Vrssa. By the time he reached the Lizard Man, he towered over the retile, towering enough to take the earth from the Lizard and rest it atop his shoulders. Apollo’s mouth hung open. The others gasped as the Dragon shouted “WOW!”

Vrssa grew smaller as he walked away from the earth, rolling his shoulders and cracking his joints. He grinned a reptilian grin; all teeth and pencil tongue, before jumping from space back to the earth, presumably to find no gold, no salt mines and no crocodile god Set. Ken stood, massive and glowing, no strain on his face as he held the earth, a blue and green jewel that spun ever so slowly. Continents brushed Ken’s back, his hair touched mountains and oceans. From somewhere on the moon, Apollo swore he heard a horse whinny.

“Ken,” Apollo said. “Are you okay?”

Ken did not respond, but instead locked eyes with the god and, in one breathless movement, dropped the earth.

No one moved.

The earth did nothing. It hung in space happily, spinning slowly, undisturbed and content to continue its existence with or without someone holding it.

Ken shrunk back to his normal size as the others admired the earth spin. Ken joined them, space slowly fading away as Ken’s room became their state of existence.

“I told you,” Ken said.  “Gravity.”

Wixon barked happily upon finding herself back in her room. The others seemed unfazed by what had happened, as they resumed earlier conversations and activities.

Ken sat on the bed next to Wixon. “I told you, we don’t need anyone to hold up the earth anymore. We’ve figured out those inexplicable fears we used to have. We don’t need debts and vengeance and spirits. We have gravity.”

He paused, staring at the floor.

After a long time, he looked up and examined Apollo with a dense concentration. “We don’t need you,” he said finally.

It stung the god, Ken could see it in his face.

“I’ll leave you.” Apollo said. Ken made a fist and pounded his leg just once, grinding his teeth.

“Still,” he said before Apollo could move. The god eyed him with a seasoned wariness. “I guess I should have listened to you from the start instead of complaining. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” the god said, his eyes like bright suns.

“Come back if you’d like, preferably without a Lizard Man.” Ken said. Apollo nodded and, like the last rays of sunset, disappeared from the room. Ken could see the light outside that had not entirely faded.

Apollo stood outside Ken’s window, a Dragoon o horseback eying him suspiciously, the great Dragon floating in the sky like a fiery kite. He heard Ken pluck a few chords on his guitar.

Ken’s voice carried outside the window in the summer sunset. He sang:

“And though I sleep tonight without my crown

Gravity could not weigh me down.”

The Gravity of Ken Sulane- Part I(Short Story)

Ken Sulane sat in front of his Mac, Garageband open and displaying a rainbow of colored, recorded tracks, tuning his guitar. It was the zenith of sunset in July, the kind of night where 9:00 comes and goes and the sun still hasn’t quite set yet. An open window let in a silent summer breeze, like cool feathers floating in the room. Opening a window wasn’t Ken’s usual course of action when recording for fear of neighbor’s lawnmowers or barking dogs showing up in his songs, but it was late in the evening and he seemed to be the only one still awake. Besides, it was hot, and the open window made the heat of his room more manageable.

He played back a track, listening through his headphones and picking out a harmony on his guitar. On his bed, his Australian Sheppard, Wixon, adjusted her position to get a more comfortable spot on his pillows. Ken took a sip of hot water with lemon before adjusting the playback volume on another track.

Ken was a 25 year old studio musician that had, by a stroke of luck, inherited his house when his parents moved south to Virginia a year ago. He had turned the house into his own, walls lined with minimalist art and vintage pieces of furniture, a whiskey collection in the basement, all while keeping his mother’s Grand Piano exactly where she always kept it and his father’s garden just as he left it. Ken suited the house and the house suited Ken; it was as if he had been given a chance to improve upon and update his childhood. He liked the neighborhood, liked the convenience to his rented recording space and favorite dive bar, Try It!, and proximity to the lake. Sometimes, it felt lonely without the sounds of his Dad falling asleep to Conan or his mom’s practicing jazz at the piano, but they had traded cold winters for better prospects in Virginia. None of that interested Ken. He wanted the space he had lived in since he was a baby.

He put on his headphones and hit the record button, singing back the same words he had recorded only a few minutes ago but this time, harmonizing. For a moment, he thought he saw a bright light flash from outside, but it passed. He smashed the mouse on the square STOP button and looked around the room, waiting for something. Just let me finish this harmony, at least, he pleaded with the universe silently. A still moment passed, and just as Ken turned to his computer, Wixon gave a short woof and jumped off the bed. Ken turned to ask her what the matter was when he saw a man sitting on his bed.

Ken sighed.

“Hello,” the man said. He had dark, brown curly hair that rested on his head as though it had been placed carefully rather than grown. It should have been too long for him, but suited him better than it if it was short. His eyes were gold, a shimmering, unwavering gold. He was clean shaven and well-dressed, with expensive sandals and nice cut slacks that he paired with a navy dress shirt.

“I don’t care,” Ken said to the man, agitated. He put his headphones on.

“Excuse me?” the man asked.

“Sorry, it’s not you. It’s just that I don’t care what you have to say.” Ken said. Wixon wagged her tail and trotted over to the man on the bed.

“I haven’t spoken.”

“Wixon,” Ken whistled, “Come on girl, don’t. Don’t encourage him. Can’t you bark and snarl like a ferocious guard dog?” Wixon jumped back on the bed and began to lick the man’s face. “Okay, great. Good girl.” Ken said.

“Good dog,” said the man, but rather than stay for an impromptu bath, he stood and crossed to Ken. “Ken Sulane, I am here to warn you. I am here to ask for your help. I am Apollo, ancient god of Light and Music. You-“

“Apollo?” Ken asked, turning.

“Yes, I am a god. I am the Apollo,” Ken read the man’s face and saw that he was somewhere between holding back a smile and a great pain.

“That’s impossible. All the old gods are dead.” Ken said, turning back to his computer.

Apollo halted. He blinked in rapid succession. “Yes, that is true. By their own choice but, how did you know that?”

Ken sighed and set his guitar down on a stand next to his computer.

“Apollo, I know why you’re here. You’re here to tell me about my ancestor, something one of them did long, long ago before the world was unsure there would be a time when I could even consider being born. You’ll tell me what a noble person they were, how they got into trouble with something or someone or some deity and you ask me, or warn me, or pledge a debt to me although I doubt you’re the type who pledges debts or is indebted to humans at all, and I’ll rush off to travel through time or to some far corner of the earth to help you.”

“I-” Apollo tried to cut in.

“No. I’m sorry but no. You think you’re the first?” Ken asked, his voice raising and carrying out the window. He worried that his neighbors might hear, but he found he didn’t care all that much anyway. “You think you’re the first deity, or being, or ghost or crazy fucking creature to come bearing a warning?”

“Well,” Apollo said.

“You’re not! Look around!” Ken shouted, waving his arms wildly.

Apollo narrowed his eyes before looking around the room. At first there was nothing, just the breeze carrying Ken’s drapes in and out of the room like a soft pendulum, but, when he really looked, he saw them: shapes that were there, had been there the whole time wishing to be unseen. It was as though Ken’s room were some sort of casting call for a piece of historical fiction that verged on high fantasy.

In one corner of the room stood an enormous Samurai, a faded monolith of a man still covered in blood. Near the door a sort of Renaissance artist spoke with tragic but beautiful woman in garb that seemed older than that. A bear of a man, with red hair and skin with scars the color of peat moss stood solemn and silent by the bed. All manner of fairies floated about the room while a Roman man in a royal looking toga scowled at them.

“Um,” said Apollo.

A man and a woman, the former dressed in the uniform of a Union Cavalry soldier and the latter in a nurses frock, hovered near Ken. The ghost of a Great Dane sniffed around Wixon who paid him no mind. Near that, a fully living Garden Gnome snoozed lazily on the carpet. At least twelve shadowy Chinese figures hung about the ceiling, glowering as they shimmered between light and dark. There were more, too many for Apollo to count or take stock of. He looked back to Ken who pointed out the window.

An enormous scarlet and gold Chinese Dragon, four tiny arms sprouting along its serpentine body and a head that resembled a cartoon dog more than a reptile, mouth open to reveal huge, sharp golden fangs, twirled the shadow of a firework in the air.

“HELLO,” The Dragon roared in a voice that sounded like flint on stone crossed with a lion singing bass in a choir.

“Oh,” Apollo said lamely.