Day 6 of the Flash Fiction February Challenge. The prompt today is to write a story in the absurdist style. I’m not sure I quite got that right but I still enjoyed writing this one.
It started when she was five. She would walk through the alleys and streets and pick out the shiniest pebbles she could find. Each stone had caught her eye because it had a sheen or glimmer of something unique–maybe a streak of rosy pink or a shimmer of gold flakes.
Each was pocketed away to be carefully cataloged and stored on a shelf in her room. Her mother wanted her to take them outside. Her brothers threw them at each other or at her so she had to hide under her bed until they left her alone. Then, she would get down on all fours and search for the wayward pellets. Over time, the shelves became full so she started organizing them in wooden boxes based on size, color, composition, and weight.
The more her collection grew, the more important it became. “I’m going to display it at the finest museum in the country!” she declared at age ten. It was her exhibition of geological wonder, and she wanted to share it with everyone who visited. She invited the town’s scientific experts to view her collection. They politely declined.
When she was 15, she set up a booth in front of her house and rotated the “featured collection,” every few days. She would stop each passersby to invite them to hear the story behind every stone. Her brothers stopped throwing them and completely ignored her, pretending she was unrelated. She didn’t seem to care or notice. These stones were her whole life. Each specimen had a story, a memory that was hers and hers alone.
One day, just a day past her 17th birthday, a man stopped by her collection. He was old—ancient even—and he listened to her stories more than any other visitor had. He even asked her questions about the compositions of individual specimens. Had she ever found one that had green instead of blue, or was flatter than the one she had? When he spoke, his voice sounded like crushed granite, grating against itself. His eyes were milky like pure marble, and she could swear his wrinkled brown skin shimmered like mica. She was enamored. A real believer! A kindred soul! she thought.
“You must travel to the Spikelands,” he told her. “The ground is littered with real precious stones that can’t be found anywhere else. No two stones are alike and their colors are those of the most vibrant rainbows. Nothing else in our world can compare, living or not.”
At first, her eyes widened with wonder that such a place could exist. It had to be unreal, a fantasy made up by this strange ancient rock man. “How does one get there?” she asked him.
“You must travel down the Salintian River and through the Tirdanthe Mountains until you reach Dragona. From there, the journey is not for the weak. Few have made it over the Canvas Desert, but when they do, the beauty they withhold on the other side will inspire and embolden them beyond their wildest dreams. Many have gone on to become the most powerful rulers or influencers this land has ever seen. The Spikelands indeed hold many powers.”
The man then pulled out a stone from the inner pocket of his jacket and the girl’s eyes lit up like full moons on a clear night. It was merely a stone but the intensity of its marigold color made it appear to glow. It was smoother than any other stone she had seen, polished to a sheen that seemed to be immune to nicks and scratches.
Before she could respond, he put the stone back into his pocket and simply said, “I have to be going. Please take what I have told you to heart. Only you can choose how you spend your life.”
With that he shuffled off, his joints grinding as if his bones themselves where made of stone, pistils grinding in mortars. The girl had been staring absentmindedly at the ground where he had stood. When she raised her head to call after him, he was no where to be seen.
The girl thought, This is my chance for the world to see who I really am! She could leave in the morning and make it through the mountains before the end of summer, giving her the cooler temperatures of fall to cross the desert.
She turned and ran inside to tell her family of her plans but as soon as she looked back on her house, she stopped. Her stones would have to stay here. Her collection could not go with her, their weight would be impractical. She became nervous and agitated. Each one was a memory, a piece of her. They were more a part of her than her own family because she understood them and they understood her. The thought of leaving them left her empty and scared.
“What is it, dear?” her mother called from the door. “Who were you talking to out there?”
The girl looked at her mother with the eyes of a woman, no longer a girl. “Nothing, he was just talking gibberish about some fancy stones. I don’t think they will compare to the ones I have here.” Her mother sighed and returned to the kitchen, saying, “Yes, I’m sure you are right,” over her shoulder.
The stone collector spent the rest of her life without ever leaving her town, growing her precious collection. Although she is now long gone, it is said you can still find her stones, in heaps in the alley outside the small house she never left.