I got really attached to this story I wrote. I wonder if I can shrink it down to 300 words for the Rebirth Anthology in April?
The gears rolled when Gear turned the crank in the machine.
All of the other girls waited, breathlessly as they stared at the clear glass bubble at the top of the device which would decide which of them was the incarnation of the Lost Charm. The legendary charisma the first queen had possessed, until a witch drained it from her and trapped it in a machine.
Now it was a small, golden locket to be dropped in the hands of a different woman every six years. That way, no one would be queen for too long. No one could make the land suffer as the first ruler had.
No one would have a chance to get so angry, a curse would well up in her heart. A curse like the one which had activated this machine.
Now, it was part of their sacred tradition.
“Turn the crank!” an old woman wailed. Her cry was taken up by other woman. “Turn the crank! Turn the crank!”
She pushed the lever in a counterclockwise direction. Objects appeared within the bubble to whirl around. Trinkets, snatches of ribbons, boughs of holly. A flash of gold appeared amid the other items, a hint of the locket’s presence.
At the end of a queen’s reign, she’d surrender her locket to Gear. Gear would drop it in the opening on the top of the machine, even as it filled with ribbons, holly, and flower petals.
Not that anyone was interested in these other things. All eyes were fixed on the charm. Whoever owned it would possess the legendary charisma which could ensnare a witch. It was every girl’s dream to ensnare a witch. A woman who could catch one of these legendary charm creators might possess something even better than the locket.
Once, twice, thrice, Gear pushed. The gears groaned in protest. The machine wanted to go on turning. It wasn’t ready to stop.
She’d learned to trust the machine over the years. Three turns was law, though. What’s more, it was tradition. Three cranks would determine whom would be queen.
The girls crowded together. Every one of them stretched out their hands towards the machine. One pushed others aside to put her hand directly beneath its opening, a girl with a sallow face and a pinched mouth.
The charm dropped into her hand. She closed her fingers over it before anyone could see it.
“I have the charm! It came to me!” the girl, Brusque said. Only she was Brusque no longer. Like every queen before her, she would be known as Charm.
Whoever possessed the charm became Charm. No matter how ill suited she seemed to such a name.
“I am now Queen Charm!” Brusque, no Charm crowed. The queen allowed her mouth to pucker into a smirk. “You all have to do what I say, even if you hate it!”
“Congratulations, Your Majesty,” Gear said, forcing her lips to smile. She dropped into a bow, just as she’d bowed to every Queen Charm before her.
“Quiet!” Queen Charm said, wrinkling her thin nose. “I refuse to accept congratulations from a mere mechanic!”
The new queen turned her back on Gear and stalked away. Almost every girl followed after her.
Once, they would have stayed for Gear to turn the crank. To snatch a bough of holly, a little ribbon, or anything else the machine might offer them.
Only Queen Charm had turned her back on ‘the mere mechanic’. The other girls did the same. They surrounded Queen Charm, simpering and fawning, each one trying to get their new queen’s attention.
All except for one girl. A dark haired, dark skinned maiden, who lifted her open hands towards the machine.
“Won’t you turn the crank for me?” she asked. She smiled and met Gear’s eyes.
Gear looked into those black, intelligent orbs and wondered what would have happened if she’d kept turning. If she’d given over to the will of the machine.
Only it was against tradition.
She pushed the lever around, allowing the machine to dictate how many. It allowed her to go for five turns before it let out a shuddering groan.
A flower dropped from the machine’s opening. Not flower petals, but a camellia in full flower. It fell into the girl’s hand.
“Thank you,” the woman who might have been Queen Charm said. She lifted the flower to her nose and breathed in its scent. “Maybe I’ll change my name to Camellia now.”
Gear found herself smiling in spite of herself.