The Fall – A Random Picture Prompt

The Fall – A Random Picture Prompt

Once again, I tried a little something different with this one. I wanted each scene to be a piece of microfiction, no longer than 300 words. I didn’t quite succeed at that goal – one is 378 words and the longest is 415. But I’m still pleased with the results.
. . .

She stepped onto the edge of the roof just as the first fat drops of rain began to fall and lifted her chin into the biting sting of the wind.

She had never been so close to reaching her goal. Nor had she ever felt so far away from achieving it.

There was only one step left to take now, and it was the hardest step of them all. Everyone always thought it was the first step on a journey that was hardest to overcome, but those were just lies people told to make themselves feel better about procrastinating.

It was the last step, the most important step, in every journey that demanded the most from the traveler, and not just because it marked passing the point of no return.

She could almost taste victory sweet on her tongue. The hour of its arrival had finally come.

All she had to do was fall.

*   *   *

Victoria’s sister was the loveliest soul anyone could ever encounter. She had a smile as bright as the sun and her laughter was sweet as maple syrup. Meeting her was like stepping into another world, one filled with endless blue skies and angelic music.

The last time Victoria saw her sister, her eyes were filled with tears and the sort of horror you never quite managed to forget. Expressions like that often accompanied the realization that death meant gone forever, or the seeing of a monster under your bed no matter how your parents insisted they didn’t exist.

Victoria remembered clutching the fingers in hers for dear life, knowing the slipping of her grip would invite doom and disaster into her life. But will couldn’t always override physics, especially not when you were ten.

She had searched all around the base of that ravine for the next two weeks, leaving no inch unscoured. But she never found any sign of where her sister might have landed when she fell.

*   *   *

Some words came awkward to the tongue until you got used to them. Victoria taught herself three different languages during her quest to find her sister. One was supposed to be extinct. Most people thought the other two were imaginary.

But if magic had been spoken in mundane parlance, it would have been part of the ordinary.

No one ever believed her story about what happened to her sister. Stress-induced dreams, they said. Even after Victora found accounts just like her sister’s in a hundred different books with origin dates stretching back to the fourteenth century.

Faerie tales didn’t hold the same kind of sway they once did. Faerie rings were just mushroom circles now, the grave markers of long dead trees. And spells were just poems consisting of gibberish nonsense.

Newspapers never did offer her any assistance, though not due to lack of effort.

It was a kidnapping, her family cried, and turned to the law to sort it out.

Meanwhile, Victoria practiced every spell she could find. Spells of summoning. Spells of seeing. Spells for luck and fortune and grace. But none revealed the final destination of her sister’s flight.

*   *   *

She didn’t receive her first real clue until a decade separated her from her twin. By then, her mother had given up crying on talkshows and radio interviews, had given up posting signs and consulting psychics. Darkness clouded everything.

And besides, if her sister was still alive, she’d be grown now, and surely that would have helped her come back home.

They told Victoria to mourn, but she refused.

Unfortunately, she also had to stop reciting spells by the light of the moon after a demon threatened to drag her soul down into a dark abyss. Summoning was a serious matter, and she had been treating it as casually as tea at a cafe with friends on a Saturday afternoon.

But if she couldn’t summon the soul of her sister, that must mean that somewhere, somehow, she was still alive.

She wasn’t sure exactly what brought the information to her, if it had been a conjuration of luck or the result of some random act of kindness, but it was waiting on a post-it-note when she returned to her desk after lunch one rainy afternoon in late October.

The Way is Open

The Path is Simple

All You have to Do is Fall

*   *   *

“You can’t just fall from anywhere.” The voice that spoke the words was low and hoarse. The face that produced it was obscured by a cloud of smoke, no doubt the source of the voice’s scratch. “The place is important and so is the height, though it’s the entry point that dictates it all, you see?”

Demons, Victoria had learned, often wore human faces. And if you were careful about how you approached them, they were shockingly willing to share their information. So long as you could pay the price. It was only the big boys with the red skin and the eyes of fire and brimstone that wanted your soul, but you could end up destitute and down on your luck if you weren’t careful with the little ones.

“So where can I find these gateways?” Victoria pressed. If she was going to pay for this information, it was going to be worth her while. Deal with a dozen or so demons and you learned to be hard, learned to press, otherwise they ended up with well more than they deserved for what they offered.

The demon hissed softly, but covered it with another drag from the cigarette. They liked it better when they dealt with newbies, young hopefuls who hadn’t yet mastered the art of the contract. She could still walk, and he knew it. Then he’d have given her a nudge and gotten nothing in return.

“There’s a trick to it,” he said at last, exhaling a fresh veil of grey smoke. “It starts with a sensation on your skin. A sort of rushing vibration that makes all your hair stand on end. Most people mistake it for anxiety or excitement, but it’s almost always close proximity to power.”

He would have to teach her, but that was a transfer that would come later. Sometimes she dreamed the lessons and sometimes she simply acquired the knowledge like someone who checked their lottery ticket and realized they had picked exactly the right numbers.

“I want your next promotion,” the demon said as she rose to leave. “Should be coming up in a month or so.”

“Take it,” Victoria replied with a flick of her wrist. In that regard, she didn’t have much further left to drop.

*   *   *

“The Way isn’t always open, you know.”

“Excuse me?” Victora glanced up from the daily crossword, the only magic she still performed these days.

The woman who lowered herself into the seat across from Victoria was so old she looked like a stiff wind might just snap her in half. From the look of her homey eyes and the state of her knit sweater, Victoria guessed she had no idea what she was talking about. She had probably never even dabbled in the arts, too afraid it would strike her from the grace of her god, or some nonsense like that.

But sometimes, when a life was nearing its end, when a soul was beginning to flicker back and forth between realms, they caught something. Knowledge they couldn’t possibly have possessed but could recite with perfect accuracy. People like Victoria called it Knowing. And if this old woman had somehow gleaned that Victoria needed the results of hers, it could only have been the result of one of those long ago, half-forgotten spells.

“It isn’t enough just to find the Gate, dearie,” the woman replied, her voice thin and husky. “You have to time the jump just right. Otherwise you go splat instead of passing trough, you see?”

Victoria rolled her tongue across her mouth while she considered that, then jotted one of her answers into the boxes of the newspaper crossword. “And what’s the magic number?” she asked, almost absently.

“Eighty-seven,” the woman replied. Then she rose and walked away as if the conversation had never taken place.

On her way to the crossword the next day, Victoria spied her obituary. She had died less than five hours after the exchange, the result of a fatal tumble down a steep set of stairs.

*   *   *

The rain drummed a steady cadence against the rooftop as Victora let the cloak slip from her shoulders. Almost instantly she felt the sensation sweep across her skin. A rush. A thunder. A deep and thrumming pulse.

She shifted one foot along the roof’s edge, ignoring the bite and scratch of its lining against her skin. Time to start counting.

Eight-seven… Eight-six… Eight-five…

Reaching up, Victoria bound her hair across her eyes. She couldn’t take any cloth or covering with her or she’d spoil the spell. But the blinding was part of the magic required to open the path.

Fifty-three… Fifty-Two… Fifty-one…

Though she could no longer see them, Victoria knew that cars were halting at a stop light some thirty stories beneath her. Windshield wipers sloshed water out of the driver’s field of vision, but didn’t clear their windows enough to see her. Not until she passed right in front of them. And by then, it would be too late.

There would be no sirens. No negotiators trying to talk her off the ledge. There was just the steady soaking of the rain and the rhythm of the numbers as she counted down.

She turned and spread her arms wide, as if embracing the storm. Her heart thundered in her chest for several seconds before it rose into her ears.

Twenty-nine… Twenty-eight… Twenty-seven…

This was the moment when most pilgrims failed. When good sense or a healthy dose of fear overrode the knowledge of what waited beyond the final step. She didn’t even have to leap; she only had to lean backward and let gravity do the rest.

For one heart-stopping moment, when her brain reached one, she thought she would hesitate. She thought she would make the climb of shame back down the inside staircase and have to explain to some police officer why she had been standing naked on the ledge of a private rooftop.

Then she felt the air take her, felt the rush of wind in her ears and sensed the ground rising rapidly to meet her.

When she reached the small square of pavement in the center of the intersection – the gateway she had been aiming for – she did not stop. The drivers who witnessed the incident would never quite be able to describe it later. It was as if the ground had simply stretched to accommodate her. Stretched until the material had become so thin that it gave way.

And Victoria simply continued to fall.

*   *   *

It was dark when she landed.

The area around her seemed cramped and filled with the soft sobs of a child turned into a woman.

Victoria reached up to unbind her hair from her eyes, then reached for the figure that knelt beside her.

“Victoria?” the woman’s voice gasped around a sniffle. “Is it really you?”

“Sarah?” Victoria replied, unable to keep a grin from splitting her lips. “Do you have any idea how long I searched-“

“Why would you come here?” Sarah snarled, batting her hand away. A vicious series of sobs wracked her body and she fell forward, her forehead colliding lightly with Victoria’s chest. “What would ever possess you?”

“Did you think I would abandon you? Sarah, we shared a womb. We should have shared a life too.”

“You think I don’t know? But the only way back is to climb. And gods help me, Victoria, I’ve tried. So many times. But it’s too difficult and too far-“

“Shh,” Victoria interrupted as she embraced her long-lost sister, cradling her still-sobbing head against her chest. “It’s all right now. We’ll be back before you know it. You’ll see.”

“How can you possibly know that?” Another snarl, but Victoria ignored it.

“Because, my dear sister, the fall may have been something we had to do alone. But the climb we can surly make together.”

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