I came up with this prompt, basking in the afterglow of reading my favorite passages from Elizabeth Bear’s ‘Whiskey and Water’. I used it for Writer Zen Garden on Facebook. I wrote an ‘On the Other Side of the Mask’ ficlet, but it left me unsatisfied. What I came up with didn’t have much to do with the quote. Where were the references to the story? How did the story connect with the two statues reaching for the flower?
I decided to try again, drawing on the mythos of the Shadow Forest from my ‘Tales of the Navel’ WIPs. My second attempt refuses to appear on this blog. This is my third attempt.
The story played on the imagination, promised dances with devils, followed by a return to perfect grace. I began with Once Upon a Time, looming over me, casting his shadow over all that was to come. In the story, he could be nothing more than a pair of twins, reaching for the flowers, which grew on the misty trees above him.
No, not the pair. Once Upon a Time was only allowed to be one of them. The other was Happily Ever After. The beginning and the ending of the story should be together.
“Should they?” a voice whispered in my ear. “Is Happily Ever After worth anything, if Once Upon a Time is allowed to take him for granted like that?”
“Take him for granted?” I asked. I turned around to see who was talking. The vision of the statues trembled. I almost lost the pair of them, standing on a spreading sea of stone, which trickled down into another pair of human shapes. No, they weren’t human shapes. They were simply pillars with suggestions of humanity peeking out of the stone.
None of it was real. Nothing I saw was real. I doubted the voice whispering to me was real, either. I was probably just dreaming again, as I leaned over the pond, lost in another one of the visions only I could see.
“Yes, you are,” the voice said. It tickled the insides of my ears, as it crept into my brain. “Does it matter? Are you going to allow reality to define you. Limit you and your creations?”
“What choice do I have?” I muttered, but I concentrated on the vision. Yes, I could see the stone twins, surrounded by flowers and mists. I could see the darkness beneath their feet, creeping out between the pillars that supported them. Those pillars looked like women. If I stared too hard at them, I’d see faces I might recognize. “Reality limits every creature locked in the living world.”
“Ah, but what if you could unlock reality?” the voice murmured. The hairs within my ears shivered with its suggestion. “Bypass it, along with your limits?”
“Impossible,” I whispered, but the word tasted foul on my tongue.
“There’s no such thing as impossible beyond the door,” the voice said, swelling with certainty. Its words echoed in my brain, as if a series of bells had begun to ring. I could almost hear those bells, just as I could almost see the door. If I looked up, right above the space between the pillars, I could see its outline. Its knob jutted out teasingly. “All you need to do is open it. Open yourself.”