Short Story: The Crone and The City

So, even though short story writing isn’t my forte, I recently wrote a short story again. And today I decided, why not share it? I’m focusing on my novels and on researching agents, and I’ve stopped submitting short stories to magazines and e-zines, so why not? I hope you enjoy the story.

Fire. Fire everywhere. Red and golden flames on either side, their brightness blinding and their heat sweltering. The Crone stood quietly, her eyes nearly closed as she squinted hard, looking at the smouldering shipyard on the south side of the City; the warships that rained death and destruction upon her City a blur in the distant harbour.

They’d brought with them trebuchets and containers full of God’s Wrath, which burst into hungry flame when launched and breaking upon the brown cobbles of the City’s main road. All around the Crone, people were screaming, were fleeing, were dying. Still she stood quietly.

A couple of young lovers ran past her; the woman’s yellow skirts on fire, the man’s eyes crazed and full of panic. They were running, but there was no escaping the fire. The South Gate had been demolished by rocks hurled by the enemy’s trebuchets, the North Gate had already rotted away years ago, the West Gate ripped apart by strong magic, the East Gate lost to flame. Everywhere there was fire. Everywhere there was death.

The City was burning, and its people were burning with her. The Crone moved her shoulders in an upward motion, almost as if shrugging. Death meant nothing to her. Death was always present, a constant, a shadow that eventually embraced each and every one of them. Fire didn’t scare her. Flames didn’t hurt her already burned and withered flesh, nor would they blacken her already blackened and rotting teeth.

A raven took flight, its black wings obscuring the sickly sickle of the moon. Did the bird grow larger in the waning moonlight, or was that just a trick of the mind? Did it turn into something else, something not quite there, not quite real? The Crone didn’t care. She knew ravens, as she knew all birds. As she knew all animals. And they knew her.

The flames consumed her City as if they were alive, and the Crone found herself staring at them as they travelled from house to house, from shop to shop, from person to person. She saw thatch roofs catch fire and collapse, she watched ceramics burst apart from the heat of the flames in the little pot shop; she looked on as people’s flesh burned, blackened and died, their colourful parade clothing burned forever into their skin.

She heard people scream, cry, curse, and finally she heard silence. No more human voices. No more animal voices. Only the roaring voice of the fire. The Crone started to move slowly, her black garb trailing behind her, smothering any flame that dared go near her. She didn’t feel the oppressive heat. She wasn’t blinded by the brightness of the fire. She felt nothing.

The Crone didn’t feel sadness, regret, or anger. The Crone felt nothing at all as she walked past burned and still burning corpses of the families, lovers, friends, rivals, and acquaintances all decked out in their best and most colourful clothes, as was wont during this time of year. Parade after parade followed by even more parades; the Crone had always suspected the citizens had tried their hardest to make sure the winter knew how much they enjoyed its coming, but more specifically its going.

The Crone paused for a second or two beside the corpse of a young boy, his toy sword still in his smouldering hands. She bent over, prying the wooden plaything from his hands. This, this I will keep, she thought; the mouths of her corners turning up slightly. The Crone didn’t smile. The Crone never smiled. The Crone just was. The Crone just is.

The stink of burning flesh reached her caved-in nose and she took a deep breath, almost savouring the scent. Almost. She moved again, towards the body of a girl in her prime, a moonflower still in her hair. The Crone too took the flower, then moved away, not sparing the girl a second glance.

Slowly the Crone walked past the warships, but the enemy soldiers couldn’t see her. No one could. That didn’t stop anyone from praying to her to stay away, from wishing her upon those they hated. When she reached the edge of the woods, she heard the caw of a raven, and a black feather fell from the sky.

The Crone turned her eyes to the sickle, the condemning moonlight shining down on her. Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you stop them from killing your people, destroying your City? So the moon accused, but the Crone shrugged. Useless questions, not worthy of an answer. There will be other people, and other Cities. And death, she reminded herself. Death will always be there too.

The Crone bowed to the moon, then bowed to the City and its dead inhabitants. She gestured calmly, and her black garb turned into a white robe free of all and any blemishes.

Death turned and walked into the woods, disappearing from that part of the world. The only sign of her presence in the City were the corpses, and the howling winds which oftentimes sounded suspiciously like the cackling of a Crone.

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