Thursday, August 09, 2018
Flash Fiction # 315: Fallen Flowers/1
There were dead flowers on the spiral staircase. The rose blooms had cascaded downward over the steps and died, the colors fading and some leaves turning to dust. They couldn't have been there more than two weeks, the last time Catlyn and her brother had been to the mansion, and yet they looked as though they'd been dead a year or more.
"How did the flowers get there?" Catlyn asked, looking at Terrance with a lifted eyebrow. "You didn't --"
"Not me," Terrance replied with an emphatic shake of his head. He'd pulled his hair back into a tie hoping to make it look more acceptable. "I told you that I haven't come back here since the gathering. Grandmother scares the fu --"
Catlyn had put fingers to his lips. While Grandmother didn't scare her, there was no reason to straight out annoy the older woman with language she did not approve. Catlyn couldn't begin to figure out why grandmother had sent for the two of them, though. That worried her, especially on the eve of what had seemed like two uncommonly long days.
"Well? Are you coming up?" the familiar voice shouted from somewhere above them.
"Yes, Grandmother," Catlyn replied, her voice steady. She tapped Terrance on the arm and gave him a nod of encouragement.
Terrance started up ahead of her, carefully avoiding the debris of flowers. A fallen vase sat at the top of the stairs, dusty along the edges. Why hadn't anyone picked it up yet? Grandmother might be eccentric, but she did have maids and other people working in the house.
Grandmother was, as usual, in her sitting room and on the high-backed chair by the window. She wore a long, gray gown, more than a century out of date, but exquisite in a way that made Catlyn wish, for a moment, that women could still dress that way, at least sometimes. Grandmother's silver hair formed an intricate design above her thin face, and jewels glittered in the tresses, the light from the window catching them as she turned from one side to another, looking at the two.
Catlyn always felt as though they ought to bow to the queen, and that wasn't merely a snarky response to the elaborate scene. There was something both majestic and powerful that Catlyn felt every time she came near the woman.
"Thank you for your promptness," Grandmother said.
That threw Catlyn, and no doubt Terrance as well. While Grandmother was never overtly rude, she rarely made anyone feel welcome or even that they had done something well. Catlyn mistrusted the change.
Terrance was quick to respond, though. "We are honored that you wanted to see us here. What can we do for you?"
The woman looked from one to the other, her green eyes narrowed and her thin lips pursed as though she weighed them both. Then she gave an unexpected, and very un-grandmother-like, shrug.
"Neither of you are much like your mother."
Catlyn weighed the tone and the implications and then gave a slight bow of her head. "No, we aren't. Mother is drawn to making money and living in a style that seems more confining the richer she becomes."
"Yes!" Grandmother sat forward, as though they had made a connection for the first time.
"I've nothing against money," Terrance added. Oddly, this was a conversation Catlyn had had with her brother before. "I just don't want to be trapped by it. Mother doesn't understand, but at the same time she's glad enough that we don't try to interfere with her life any more than father does."
"What is it you want, Grandmother?" Terrance asked.
Grandmother stood. She was a tall woman and thin. She did not stoop from age, and her movements were steady as she crossed to the side of the room and stood by a massive globe. She signaled the two of them over to her.
"I have a problem," she said and gave a sigh that held a hint of disgust. "One of my own making, I fear. I got careless. Look. This is where your father is now. He's sailing."
"Yes," Terrance said and looked down at the expanse of water where Grandmother pointed. We both knew father was sailing from Honolulu to Osaka on the latest stretch of his quest to sail all the oceans and seas. "We can't be certain where --"
Grandmother touched the globe. It changed. Three dimensional, Catlyn thought at first. That was pretty high-tech for a woman who dressed as though she lived in the 1890s. And really cool -- it had a cloud layer coming in --
She felt chilled. Terrance took a step back and then forward again, staring down at the globe.
"This happened yesterday, children," Grandmother said. "I got careless, and something slipped into the house through the back door. I felt it coming up the stairs, so I grabbed the vase of flowers as a handy weapon. The water, you see, is special."
She waved a hand toward a vase of roses. Catlyn began to fear they were the same roses that were dead on the stairs. She wanted to say something. So did Terrance, but neither of them spoke. Grandmother looked from one to the other and gave another nod as though they'd passed a test of some sort.
"While I was throwing the roses at the ghoul, something else came through and straight into my room. They set a storm in motion," she said. The globe turned a bare quarter of an inch, and a storm swept in, dark and ominous, reaching for their father. "By the time I realized the trick, my enemy was gone. I turned back the time once, twice -- but no matter what I do, I cannot be in two places at once. I must throw the roses and stop the ghoul. The two of you will stop the other from setting the storm against your father."
We didn't argue.
To be continued...