I found out last week that I placed first in my heat for NYC Midnight's Flash Fiction Challenge, round two. (Yay!) That, combined with my sixth place finish in the first round, was enough to earn me a spot in round three: the semifinals.
I was challenged to write a fantasy story, set in a hospital waiting area, featuring a broom. As always, I had 48 hours and 1000 words. Here's what I came up with in two very short days last weekend:
The Whispers of Phyx
Brooms have always looked like brooms, always will. The smooth staff with neat bristles she held was not the rough-hewn thatch she grew up using, yet both could be taken for nothing other than a broom. This was the good omen that presented itself upon Epyony’s arrival.
The wooden handle against her palms and the orycle’s words on her tongue helped ground her in this unfamiliar future that was too loud, too full, too much.
Upon waking, take three cleansing breaths. Call upon Phyx to orient you. Knowledge will come with patience.
Epyony performed Myrlynne’s ancient breath rite, and implored the spirit of the Sphynx Goddess Phyx to make this otherworldly place comprehensible.
The teeming mass of creatures here made concentration difficult. Every size, shape, and color of human was represented in the tiny wallpapered room, their torment crashing over her in waves.
Rows of low blue plastic chairs overflowed with them, their agonized cries and righteous fury a terrible din. A red slick of blood pooled on the floor, dripping from an unconscious man’s elbow.
She began to see how she might put her talent to work here. Back home, her skills were distressingly average. Here, they could be so much more.
First, to deal with the blood. She turned to the wheeled cart at her hip to exchange the broom for a more appropriate tool. The tool she chose was a staff with an end of wet tentacles, like the kraken that filled the oceans in her homeworld of Cantorya.
Mop, Phyx whispered, supplying the word Epyony’s brain could not.
Epyony lay one of her long-fingered hands upon the bleeding man’s arm, stopping the flow. The man awoke and looked around, brow furrowed as he took in his surroundings. He bent his elbow several times, and ran a calloused hand over his unmarred skin. Shrugging, he walked out the door, spine straight and eyes clear.
She watched him leave, then bent to mop the blood.
Every Cantorian womyn was born imbued with grace and wit and of course, miracle. Epyony’s matriarchal line was legendary; her mothyr’s talent for nurturing and potioning enchanted herbs emerged even before her womynhood began to show.
When Epyony, long expected to become an extraordinary healer of some stripe, had reached her 33rd year with nothing to boast of save the paltriest of hand-laying abilities, she went to Myrlynne to determine what could be done.
Myrlynne did not belong to any of the major lines of miraculous heredity. She was not a healer, nor a negotiator, nor a mentor. She was an orycle who saw all that will be and all that had been, future and past, into time without end. Her prophecies were as reliable as the tankard of ale that she constantly clutched in her knobby fist.
“I’ll have your tryad, then,” Myrlynne said on the day Epyony ducked into her dark, smoky dwelling. “Quickly now.” The low ceiling hung with dead animal skins and every table was covered in books.
Epyony plucked a hair from her head, and drew a drop of ruby blood from her fingertip with the knife Myrlynne offered, depositing them both in the wisewomyn’s ale. For the third ingredient, Epyony leaned forward and spit into the cup. Myrlynne stirred it with a fat-knuckled finger and drank deep.
“You are wasted here, young Epyony. What is commonplace in this time will be astounding to the descendants who will inherit our planet. They have grievous need for you. Your purpose is to be their miracle. Go now, make your farewells. I must send you to them on the morrow.”
Epyony studied the humans for a sign. No one was bleeding, though many had visible wounds and illnesses. How to choose? Phyx’s guidance was slowly building her understanding, but the enormity of the task overwhelmed her.
Two clerks sat at the front of the room. They shook their heads wearily, pointing each suffering human to the blue chairs, already full.
Beginning to lose faith, Epyony lifted her eyes to call upon Phyx when they lit on the sigil over the building’s entrance.
Beth Israel Medical Center.
Beth. A female appellation, signifying healing. This was where she belonged.
She reached out with her senses, smelling for infection, watching for anguish, listening for the most desperate cries. Death tasted like ash in her mouth, acrid and gritty. This flavor led her to a small human with raven hair, curled in her mothyr’s lap. Sweating with a fearsome ague. She did not have long.
By the time Phyx whispered, this Beth is a Hebrew word meaning ‘house’, she no longer needed such assurances.
Epyony laid a hand on the child’s head, and color bloomed back into the pale cheeks. The raven head lifted.
“Momma, I don’t like it here. Can we go home?”
Her mothyr, staring hopelessly at a set of swinging doors bearing the letters E R, flinched at the sound. Not trusting her daughter’s smiling guarantees of health, the mothyr took a narrow glass vial from her satchel and placed it in the child’s mouth.
Thermometer, Phyx whispered.
After twenty sharp ticks of the clock, the mothyr removed the vial and gaped at it. She gathered the girl in an embrace, shedding joyous tears.
Epyony continued her circuit of the room, laying hands to quiet disturbed minds and heal maladies of the flesh. She bid Phyx take her silent gratitude back in time to Myrlynne, who had prophesized a purpose for Epyony that no one else could have foreseen.
Many hours later, an exhausted nurse in stained pink scrubs shuffled out of the swinging ER doors.
“Susie Jacobs? Is there a Su—”
She looked up from her clipboard to see something that, in her many years working in New York City hospitals, had never come to pass: a waiting room without patients.
The only person in sight was the new janitor, a regal woman in a headscarf and long saffron dress, marching resolutely out the door.