It’s that time again! I’m participating in another round of Rachael Ritchey’s #BlogBattle! This time I’m working out of a storyworld I’ve been working on for a while now. Once again, it’s fantasy, though set in our century.
I hope you enjoy “Hourglasses”!
Seldom is it that a person can pass by my house without shuddering. At times, they don’t notice cold fingers creeping down their spine, the hairs rising on the back of their neck. Oh, they can dismiss that inevitable chill as merely being a stray gust of cold air. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to give a second thought, even though the sun is high in the sky, keeping the world at a balmy eighty-two degrees.
But deep down, they know. Once the thought that something unnatural lurks behind my door, that intuitive part of them that knows it beyond the shadow of a doubt, will not let them rest until they are far away.
In the end, it’s just as well that that they never come near enough to learn what lies within these walls. It’s just as well that they never come to my door, never peer through the windows. Even if they did, what could they learn? What would they see but the inside of a dusty mansion inhabited by a lone, eccentric hag?
What would they see but hourglasses coating floors, tables, walls – every square inch of space that isn’t a walkway?
These hourglasses… They are my life. Everything I am, everything I could become in the few years I have remaining in this world, is wrapped up in them. I have protected them, cared for them. I have laid them to rest when their sand runs out, and cared for the new ones that take their place. Mine has been one of the most vigilant watches my order has ever seen, and not even my master can deny it.
That, at least, was what I thought.
Then their hourglasses started falling from the shelves.
I can’t explain it. I’ve searched every nook and cranny of this mansion, searched until my dim eyes ached with the strain, but can find no explanation for it. There’s never so much as a breath of wind in this place, no living creature in it except me. How can they fall from their places and shatter of their own accord?
Even now I kneel before the shattered remains of the hourglasses. Tears blur my vision as panic claws its way up my throat. I cup a glass shard in my hand, sand clinging to my fingers. These hourglasses… They were so beautiful. Each of them was subtly different in their make, each imbued with a magic not even the oldest fey can imagine. It would have been bad enough if these hourglasses had belonged to humans, but these… These had belonged to young fey.
They had belonged to the children of my masters.
A sob catches in my throat. This was my fault. Protecting these hourglasses and the lives bound to them had been my job, and I failed. Their blood is on my hands, and there is nothing that will wash this guilt away.
What will my masters do when they find out that the deaths of their children is my fault? Will they kill me? I don’t know which hourglass belongs to me. It could be close to empty even now. One of the fey could be on their way here, coming with some strange punishment I cannot imagine. Whatever the punishment may be, even if it isn’t a death penalty in their world, I can be sure that an old woman won’t survive it.
A knock sounds at the door.
My heart lurches into my throat. How could they have found out so soon? How do they know it’s because of me that their children are dying? I want to believe that, no, it isn’t them. This is just my overwrought nerves acting up, making me hear things that aren’t there, or making me read more into the sound than there actually is.
But I can’t fool myself so easily. A fey man stands outside my door, waiting with my punishment.
Pain shoots through my joints as I pull myself up and weave a meandering path through the hordes of hourglasses covering my floor. I place a trembling hand on the cool brass knob and crack the door open.
An old black man stands on my doorstep. Dirt cakes his faded jeans and baggy t-shirt. I squint to get a better look at him, but no such luck. My eyesight is too poor to make out his face, though my mind remembers clearly enough the balding head, the grizzled beard, the heavy brow, and drawn mouth. From what little I can see, he hasn’t aged a day.
I bow my head and pull the door more fully open, keeping it as a shield between me and him. “Master,” I murmur.
He nods. “Hepzibah.”
He brushes past me; he’s taller than he used to be. More likely that I’ve gotten shorter. I ease the door shut, and it latches with a dull “click.” I stare at the door knob as though it might hold the answer to my predicament. How unfortunate I don’t know what that predicament is.
My voice quavers as I speak. “Is… Is there something I can get you, Master? Some tea? Coffee? Something to eat, perhaps?” I curse myself for my foolishness. Since when do the fey eat human food?
He ignores my bumbling. “Where are the hourglasses, Hepzibah?”
I duck my head and shuffle past him. “They’re this way, Master.”
I lead him to where the shattered hourglasses lay. He squats next to them, scanning them with his eyes. He doesn’t move for a long time, and I begin to wonder if he’s turned to stone.
At last, he breaks the silence. “How many times has this happened?”
“This is the fourth time, Master,” I whisper.
He nods, again falling silent. Then he stands and walks to the door.
Is that it? He just comes, takes a look at the broken glasses, and then leaves? No punishment? No orders? I almost call after him, demand some explanation, but hold my tongue. I know better than that. He is my master. I don’t speak unless spoken to.
He stops at the door as though he can hear my unspoken questions. Maybe he can. “You still have that library, Hepzibah?”
My brow furrows, but I don’t question him. “Yes, Master.”
“And in it are still the documents specifying the location of the Fey Glass?”
I blink. “I… Yes, Master, I believe it is. Shall I find it and bring it to you?”
His eyes flash, and for the first time since I’ve known him, he raises his voice. “No!” He strides to me in three long steps, eyes burning. I shrink before him, fearing that this is the moment when my punishment comes.
He speaks in a low hiss. “You listen to me, Hepzibah, and you listen to me very closely. By no means are you to bring me that document, me or any other fey. The moment I leave this house, you stoke up every fireplace and furnace in this house, and you burn every last book and scrap of paper in this place. The Fey Glass must never be found. My people cannot be allowed to renew their time. Do you understand me?”
I nod quickly, my heart hammering too hard for me to speak.
He nods, satisfied. “Good.”
He presses something into my hand. For a moment, my fingers are too weak to grasp it, my brain too muddled to make out what it is, but when I can muster enough strength to hold onto it, I realize what it is.
I stare at the little cylinder as he leaves, slamming the door shut behind him. I am left alone.
Alone with the hourglasses, a lighter, and a library to burn.