Ink That Casts a Shadow
1379 words long
They just demand to be told. They don't ask for my approval. They don't thank me, either.
Notes from the author:
I was three days late getting this particular Fictionette published--didn't even write this note until that third day--and it remains a bit of an unfinished mess. What's this about New Persia and remembering the future? Why is the narrator chained to that damn ink bottle? What purpose does her compulsive scribbling serve? Does anyone ever read the things she writes? Isn't this all just a smokescreen for the author whining about her weekly assignments?
But then this was never about fully fleshed-out stories. It's about the ideas that could become stories. It's about setting the timer and seeing what happens before it goes ding. Sometimes, in the pressure of converting one of these freewriting exercises into something presentable, I forget that. The resulting insecurities have a lot to do with why this one went up late.
Having finished this one at last, I find myself thinking more about what it means to be "true to the story." Aren't all narrators unreliable to some extent? Who's really in charge, the author or the characters? There are several possible simple answers ("The author! That's what 'author' means, dummy!" or, more charitably "...both? I guess?") but simple answers to complex questions rarely satisfy. The questions themselves are more interesting, anyway.
The ink in the cut-glass bottle had changed color. Last night it had been a prosaic earthen brown, almost sepia. Now it was a startlingly rich purple, that hue reserved for the wealthy and the royal in far off New Persia. New Persia would not be founded for some two thousand years, but the moment I saw the ink, I remembered it as though it were tomorrow.
The ink changes color by the day or the week. It does not wait for my permission. It can be very inconvenient. It occasions a thorough washing of my pens and brushes that I hadn't accounted for in my plans. I take the time, regardless, because the results of mixing colors can be catastrophic. You know this if you've ever closely read the label on your little store-bought bottle of J. Herbin ink. It says, "Ne jamais mélanger deux encres différentes," so you wash out your little fountain pen nib very thoroughly before swapping your Bleu Prevenche for Violette Pensé.
And no, just because they prohibit mixing two inks doesn't mean it's safe to mix three. Be reasonable.
So I took the fifteen minutes to wash all traces of yesterday's humble umber from the rough-cut goose quill I'd been using. What I had been writing with that ink was as mundane as the color, a tale of two peasants on market day morning--no story fit for the gemstone liquid that waited in my bottle this morning. No, purple ink called for a tale of monarchs, heirs to the throne, knights of the realm. A royal scribe, perhaps, wielding a pen whose business end was a delicately fashioned nib of gold, a gift from the king and queen upon their first bestowing her title. Of course the gold nib had been freshly washed that morning before being dipped into the ink and held ready to receive and transcribe each royal decree.
I began to write. The first words were "Once upon a time," of course. I watched the pen leave lines on the page that looped and curled. Yesterday's tale was told in a businesslike chicken-scratch scrawl, but now I watched my hand creating a copperplate masterpiece today. Scribes always have lovely handwriting.
And this scribe was going to be the villain of the piece. I saw that soon enough.
It's quite a blow to realize you're stuck with the role of villain.
This has been an excerpt from the Friday Fictionette for February 20, 2015. The fictionette appears in its entirety (1379 words) at Patreon and is available to all Patrons pledging at least $1/month.
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