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Choices

Here is a flash fiction story I submitted to Fireside Fiction, but they weren’t impressed.

“She’s coming.” The wind whispered to Maggie, slipping under the door and rattling the windows.  She looked up from her workbench where she was grinding a concoction of herbs and gazed blankly around the inside of her cottage, hoping she had misheard. Perhaps it was a tricksy mouse scuttling across the floor, making fun of her. But the room was empty of mice. The huge kitchen hearth stood centre stage on the back wall, her work area where she was standing to the right of the hearth contained a jumble of benches and shelves holding an endless arrangement of jars, bunches of dried herbs, piles of raw minerals and assorted junk. To the left was a tidy seating area comprising two chairs on either side of a low table.  A small bed rested against the far wall, neatly made up with a colourful plaid blanket. There was nowhere for mice to hide.

“She’s coming.” The wind taunted louder, a swirl of smoke and sparks belching from the fireplace.

Maggie put down her mortar and hurried over to the hearth, stamping on the tiny embers. “Nobody is coming,” she scolded the impertinent wind.

Another gust of wind sent smoke billowing across the room. “You called her,” sighed the wind.

Maggie shook her head, and jiggled the flue to shut out the wind and the smoke and the summons. She returned to her workbench and picked up the mortar and pestle and ground and ground and ground the herbs, muttering to the obstreperous wind.  “Nobody is coming. I was angry, that’s all. It wasn’t a proper calling. Grief shouldn’t count”. The wind laughed.

#

The rabbit hopped a few steps into the clearing and paused. The paw on its rear leg was badly mangled, the leg trailing in the dirt hindered its progress. The fur on the lower part of the leg was matted with blood and pus, picking up dirt and dried grass as it moved deeper into the clearing. It hopped hesitantly forward for a few more steps then paused again, looking around dully.

Maggie knelt down in front of it and reaching out cradled it gently between her bony, work worn hands. It blinked, but barely twitched as she picked it up, cradled it against her scrawny chest and stood. She carried the wounded rabbit across the meadow that fronted her small cottage, shouldered open the door and ducked through the low doorway.

Maggie tutted to herself as she shoved aside a collection of bottles and gently placed the rabbit in the space provided.  Keeping one hand on its back as a precaution in-case it tried to escape, her other hand hovered over the group of bottles, until identifying the correct one she picked it up, shook it a few times and put it back down again. She fumbled the stopper out of the bottle and waved it under the nose of the passive rabbit.

It’s nose twitched, it made an aborted attempt to jerk away and then slowly slumped over.  Maggie quickly replaced the stopper. It wouldn’t do to get a whiff of that particular concoction. She hurried over to the hearth and picked up the kettle simmering gently beside the fire, brought it back over to her table and poured some water into a shallow bowl. Putting the kettle on the floor, she picked up a cloth, dipped it into the water and began to clean the wound.

#

The wind rustled a warning just before her cottage door was flung open and crashed against the wall. Maggie continued dabbing at the rabbit’s leg.
“That’s my kill,” said a female voice.
Maggie looked over at the stocky young female standing in her doorway, legs braced apart and arms akimbo, a bow slung over one shoulder and a hunting knife strapped to her thigh.“Oh no dear, he’s not dead yet.”
The girl strutted into the room. “My trap, my rabbit.”
“But he wasn’t in a trap,” said Maggie, reasonably.
The girl made a move to reach around Maggie for the rabbit. “I tracked him here.”
Maggie grabbed her hand and bore it down to the table, away from her charge. “My cottage, my rabbit.”
The girl wrenched her hand away. “Do you know who I…”
“Oh yes.” Maggie tilted her head slightly, “Well I know who your father is, which is rather more to the point.”
The girl flushed. “You can’t take what’s not yours. I hunt these woods. What I catch is mine.”
“Think of it as a trade. You took something of mine. I take something of yours.” Maggie glanced at the array of bottles on her table. “I had thought to take something else.”
Looking around the Spartan room, the girl sneered. “As if I would take anything of yours.”
Maggie continued talking, as if the girl hadn’t spoken. “I had a cat you know. A marvellous mouser, but she would wander out into the woods, even though I warned her. She also thought she knew best.” Maggie shook her head and glanced at the girl’s bow. “One day she came home with a most terrible hole in her side.”
The girl swallowed, looking a little uneasy. “Well it wasn’t me. I kill what I aim at.”
Maggie stroked the rabbit. “Is that so?”
The girl took a step forward, hand dropping to her knife. “Give me my kill.”
Maggie bent back over the rabbit. “No.”
The girl turned on her heels, stomping out of the cottage. “You’ll regret this.”
“Perhaps, but choices must be made,” said Maggie to the sleeping rabbit.

#

“They’re coming.” The wind whipped through the tree branches above Maggie’s head. She resettled the pack on her back. “They’re here,” cried the wind.
The rabbit stuck his head out the top of the pack and twitched his nose inquisitively. Maggie glanced back once at her cottage as the flames shot skywards with a roar, almost drowning out the screams. The rabbit ducked back down.
“They’re gone, sobbed the wind.

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