Royal Dilemma

Once upon a time there was a rich and powerful kingdom which no one remembers.

One might ask “If they’re totally forgotten, how can you tell us a story about them?” Simple—the kingdom may be forgotten but its stories are not. Kingdoms eventually fall, cultures collapse, but all stories need to continue is someone to tell them, and someone to hear. That’s me and you.

Now the monarch of this kingdom had a dilemma. His ancestors had long since realized automatically handing the crown to their eldest child made no sense. Maybe one accident of birth made those children royalty, but it was asking far too much of providence to grant that any one of them could be suited for the crown.

No, anyone wishing to inherit the throne had to show they had the right qualities. In a family with a lot of offspring, this was no easy feat, and often involved poison, sharp implements, and long falls from high towers. The current monarch had been relatively lucky; he only had one sister and had tricked her into joining a convent. Now he could feel his time growing short and he needed to choose an heir.

He didn’t have one.

Oh, he’d had children, right enough. His late Queen had been safely delivered of five of them: two girls, three boys. The girls were too much alike and thus managed to poison each other at the same tea party. One truly promising lad eliminated both of his older brothers in one epic but completely fake hunting accident, only to die himself one year later in a real one.

His Majesty was certainly not oblivious to the irony of the situation, but the problem remained.

“The system usually works but does not take the whims of fate into account.”

His Majesty’s only option was to send out a call to the other kingdoms in the realm, offering the throne to second and third sons and daughters of their ruling houses, since most royalty of the area was either closely or distantly related. Unfortunately, the other kingdoms were quite aware of the conditions in place to win that particular throne, and on the day set for the arrival of the candidates, only one young man appeared.

He was hardy-looking fellow dressed in forest green and carried a longbow in his hand and arrows in his belt. The king looked him up and down and pointed out the obvious.

“You do not look like a prince,” he said.

“I am the only son of a princess, and thus a prince,” the young man said.

“Who then is your mother? Do I know her?”

“You should. You once tricked her into a nunnery. She escaped. You won’t.”

With that the young man drew his bow and loosed an arrow so quickly that no guard had time to react. Even after the arrow struck him, the king could not stop smiling.

“My heir,” he said, as the light faded, “The system still works.”

©2021 Richard Parks

Lapis Philosophorum

As I’ve stated before (probably ad nauseum), I used to have a dim view of flash fiction. I’ve since learned better. For one thing, it’s the perfect medium for little offhand notions that are fun to play with, but probably not substantive enough to support longer work. Sort of like a feghoot, but without the pun. So here’s a new one, because it’s fun to play.

Lapis Philosophorum

“The problem with immortality,” Daniel said, “is it doesn’t last long enough.”

Daniel was my oldest friend, but he was prone to gnomic utterances. One simply had to play along or ignore him. I had learned that it was ultimately more fun and even occasionally enlightening to play along, which is why we’re still friends. It also likely explains his three divorces.

“You do realize what you’ve said is a total contradiction in terms? Immortality does not end. That’s why they call it immortality.”

“Oh, but it does. Mine ended about three weeks ago, when I had my first heart scare.”

The pacemaker was still a source of some discomfort to him, both physically and mentally. Maybe there was something at the heart—so to speak—of his nonsense aphorism.

“So you were immortal…and now you’re not?”

“How could I be otherwise? All the death in the history of the human race was an abstraction to me and therefore it did not and would not apply to me in any real way.  I was special…in the sense that I was just like everyone else who also believed themselves immortal.”

“Humans aren’t immortal.”

Daniel was in his element. “Ultimately? No. My point is the belief is almost always there. Death is something that happens to other people. So, if death is not real to you then, logically, you’re immortal.”

“The premise is flawed, ergo so is the logic. Death is absolutely real.”

“No doubt. But you must admit the belief in one is dictated by disbelief of the first. I knew I was mortal, but I didn’t believe it. Now I do. My immortality is at an end.”

“Tragic.”

He glanced at me. “Are you going to tell me that you never felt as if you’d never die? Seriously?”

I sighed. “As you say. I knew it, didn’t believe it. So I guess I was once immortal too. Is there a point to this?”

“I was thinking of the origins and practice of alchemy.”

This, too, was typical Daniel. “Are you changing the subject, or is there a connection I’m not seeing?” From my experience the odds were roughly fifty-fifty, so it was always best to ask.

“I think there is. Consider the Philosopher’s Stone, the ultimate goal of every alchemist worth his alembic. They believed it existed. Ergo they tried everything to find it. They failed. Why?”

“Because a substance that can transmute lead into gold and confer immortality does not exist, Nicolas Flamel notwithstanding, and all the futile mixing of tinctures and heating of mercury was never going to find it.”

“True. Yet in the pursuit of the Stone they collectively discovered the reactive properties of thousands of substances and laid the foundation for the very real science of chemistry. Their life’s goal was an delusion, but the result was not.”

“So you’re saying our delusions of immortality may serve a practical purpose? Such as?”

He smiled. “If I knew that, I really would be immortal.”

©2021 Richard Parks

Contemplating Forever

Today’s post is some idle musing on the concept of infinity. Disguised as a piece of flash fiction.

Contemplating Forever

He was washing dishes. She was reading. There was a dishwasher, but sometimes he just liked to get his hands wet and pruney. She wondered what the heck was wrong with him, but only briefly. There weren’t enough hours in the day to follow that particular road.

“Hey, come look at this,” he said.

“Look at what,” she asked, putting aside a really fascinating article on the rise of shamanism in non-indigenous cultures. Just because he asked her to. Maybe it was love, but she didn’t think about that. Over the years she’d learned that life went a lot smoother if you didn’t over-analyze everything.

“Bubbles!” he announced proudly.

“Bubbles in a sink full of dishes that would have been clean an hour ago if you’d used the dishwasher,” she said. “Imagine my surprise.”

“You’re cute when you’re sarcastic. No, I meant this particular arrangement of bubbles.”

He pointed to the glistening configuration in question, which was one large bubble…containing another bubble, which contained another, as far down as she could see.

“It’s almost…fractal,” she said.

“Indeed. Can you imagine? Bubble within bubble down to infinity?”

She shook her head. “Wouldn’t work. Fractals repeat in infinite iterations. A bubble within a bubble would eventually run up against electromagnetic barriers as it approached the atomic level. Besides, you can’t have a bubble with just one atom. That’s why I said ‘almost’ fractal. A pseudo-fractal, if you will.”

“I won’t. Either it’s a fractal or it isn’t. If the pattern cannot repeat to infinity and beyond, it’s not a fractal. Still darn remarkable, though.”

“There’s no “beyond infinity,” with all due respect to Mr. Lightyear. If there’s no end, there’s no beyond.”

“Semantics,” he said.

“Rubbish,” she said. “Either a word means what it means or it doesn’t, in which case it’s a different word. A fractal is one thing, infinity is something else…even though one has a relationship with another.”

“You mean like us?”

“That goes without saying. A fractal is a pattern each part of which is a representation of the entire pattern. Infinity means whatever you’re referring to goes on forever,” she said.

“Which I concede are different and yet related concepts. Drill down in a fractal, you get more fractal. It goes on forever yet is contained in finite space. It contains infinity, yet it is not infinite.”

“And your bubbles are not fractals,” she said.

“I believe you’ve already established that. Yet I’m still amazed at how casually we throw terms like ‘inifinity’ and ‘forever’ around. Does anyone really grasp what ‘forever’ means?”

“Sure do,” she said. “It’s the amount of time you’ve had me looking at soap bubbles instead of reading my article.”

“That’s in relative time. In actual time? Five minutes, tops,” he said.

“Seemed a lot longer,” she said.

“Naturally. That’s why it’s called relative time. Two different observers, two different perspectives.”

“Are we really going down that rabbit hole?”

“Nah. Linear time is an illusion anyway,” he said. “Besides, it would take forever.”

(c) 2021 Richard Parks

Fairy Tale Flash

I was able to complete a side project I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Tales From the Black Dog was the first, though only the lovely folk on my email list can see that one. Regardless, as I’ve written more flash fiction over the last few years I’ve noticed certain themes emerge. Not too surprising that many of them were twisted takes on traditional fairy tales…not to mention new ones, the kind of things I often did for the late and still lamented Realms of Fantasy magazine, Shawna McCarthy editing. The flash writing group has given me an outlet for that sort of thing which otherwise doesn’t exist at the moment. Maybe one day. But until then, I have to take care of business myself.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying I’ve put together another collection of my flash fiction, Fairy Tale Flash: Fractured Fables Old and New. It’s available on Amazon at the moment. The Apple Books and Kobo and Nook editions take longer to get through the system. I’ll make those links available as soon as I have them.

There are 21 stories total, 500 words each…oh heck, I’ll do the math: just under 11000 words total. And I used to think telling a story in 1500 words or fewer was hard.

Well, okay. It is. Writing anything well is hard. But I will say it does teach one to cut to the chase…even more than I thought I already knew.

Your Free Book Awaits. Sign up for my Newsletter and it’s yours.

No obligation. Unsubscribe at any time.

The Changeling, Part 2

As promised/threatened last week, here’s the second part of The Changeling flash narrative. Not the second part of the story, necessarily, since part 1 stood on its own. But rather “what happened next.”

There’s always something next, regardless of the story, unless of course everybody dies, then it’s simply someone else’s story. Nothing complicated about it.

 

 

 

The Changeling, Part 2

When I finally got up the courage and the means to leave, I was an old woman.

My sister was waiting for me, sitting on a park bench, looking the way I thought I looked, until she handed me a mirror.

That is, my changeling sister. She’s the one they left in my place when the fae took me. I was angry, at first. She was still young, and what had she lost, compared to me? I yelled. I screamed at her. She just waited until I wore myself out.

“Feel better?” she asked.

“No.”

That was all either of us said for a while. I thought of leaving, but I was tired and had nowhere to go. “When did you find out?” I asked finally.

“Probably about the same time you did. Our lives are parallels in so many ways.”

“And how do you figure that? Look at me!”

“I’m just as old as you are,” she said. “And I can’t go back either.”

“What do you mean? Of course you can go back, and I am back.”

She sighed. “Are you? You don’t know how to live in the human world any more than I know how to live under the hill. You don’t know what it means to be human. And me? My family threw me away like old clothes! Now tell me what ferry crosses either of those rivers.”

“You were waiting for me. All this time you knew where I was!”

She nodded. “True, but I couldn’t reach you. I just hoped you’d find a way out.”

That stopped me. “You’re one of the fae. What do you mean, you couldn’t reach me?”

“I was raised human, remember? The way under the hill is secret, and hardly anyone comes out now. I would have seen them. How did you find it?”

“An old fae took pity….”

She shook her head. “We both know the fae don’t feel pity. If they told you, there was another reason.”

Time to face the truth. “He was the one I thought was my father. He was just tired of me.”

She looked thoughtful. “Why did they do it? I’ve always wondered.”

“Because, among the fae, having children is a rare privilege which brings great honor. I think they were afraid of losing it.”

“So instead they robbed us both,” she said.

“Both?! My life was a lie, and my true life ends before it even begins! You’ll go on—“

She nodded again. “Yes. And on and on. Not belonging anywhere, with anyone. Tell me again who got the worst of that deal.”

I didn’t have an answer for her, only a question. “What happens now?”

“If you want, we can belong together for a little while.”

“And then?”

She smiled a sad smile. “And then I’ll remember you.”

I’d just met my sister, but in that moment I knew I both loved and pitied her.

Which was as close to human as I was going to get.

-The End-

 

©2020 by Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.