Welcome back for today’s stories!
This week’s prompt was: “You had one job to do…”
Today we have one flash fiction story from R. A. Gates, and, perhaps appropriately, the beginning of a short story that didn’t get finished from Cheryl Mahoney. We hope you’ll enjoy reading!
R. A. Gates:
“You had one job to do,” Mrs. Renfield told Laney as she pinched the bridge of her nose. “The simplest job I could find. The one job I thought couldn’t end in disaster. But leave it to you to find a way to mess it up.”
Laney stared at the ground below her feet, waiting for her high school Charms teacher’s rant to end. She was totally overreacting. Laney did exactly what she was told to do. She just added a little extra pizazz, that’s all. It was the school’s biggest fall event after all; the Autumn Carnival. Her booth had to compete with the big rides and games. No one was stopping by her booth.
“Everyone is in a panic! Parents are threatening to sue the school. Arthur!” Mrs. Renfield pointed across the parking lot where the carnival was set up. Arthur ran to where she pointed with his magical cloud safety net and made it just in time to catch the child falling from the sky. Most of the teachers were busy catching falling children all over the carnival.
Mrs. Renfield sighed, one hand over her chest. She turned to Laney and exploded. “What were you thinking?”
Laney waited a second to answer, just in case she wasn’t finished. At the raise of her teacher’s eyebrow, Laney said, “The helium tank you gave me was almost empty and –”
“Then why didn’t you tell me?” Mrs. Renfield asked. “I have another tank in the supply closet.”
“You were busy charming all the scarecrows to dance around the fair. I didn’t want to bother you so I figured I could just use a spell to inflate the balloons.”
“Of course, you did,” her teacher said. “What spell did you use?”
“A Mary Poppins spell. I found it in a new spell book that came into the bookstore.” Laney worked at the local bookstore and had access to the latest editions. This particular book had all sorts of Disney themed spells and enchantments.
“This is amazing!!” Came a voice directly above them. Laney glanced up to see her friend, Kody, flying in the air while holding on to a bright red balloon. Laughter and excited squeals filled the air as dozens of children of all ages floated above the town, a few drifting off into the woods. The parents, on the other hand, were running into each other as the shouted and chased after their airborne children, trying to stay beneath them if they let go of the string and fell. It was utter chaos.
Mrs. Renfield glared at Laney. “Please don’t volunteer to help with another school function. I don’t think the school can afford it.”
It wasn’t my fault. I can’t tell the commander that—you learn very quickly that you don’t make excuses in the King’s army. So all I can do is stand there and take it. Even though it really wasn’t my fault.
“You had one job,” the commander bellows at me. “All you had to do was deliver the scroll! Isn’t that right?”
“Yes, sir,” is obviously the only thing I can say. So I say it.
But I’m thinking that it really, really wasn’t my fault.
I was handed the scroll by the commander a scant four hours ago, but it feels like a lifetime. I was told to deliver it to Lord Guydon, commander of the allied forces on the other side of the forest, and to be quick about it.
So I swung up onto Bluebell, my horse—she got named before I joined the King’s army, and she won’t come to any other name. I tried Dragon and Thunder and other names that seem more, you know, warrior-like and suitable for a squire, but she just stares at me like I’m crazy. Farmhorses are obstinate.
Anyway, I swung up onto Bluebell, and set off at a good trot towards the forest road, the scroll tucked into my jacket.
I wasn’t even out of sight of the camp when the first problem arose.
A little old woman waved at me from the side of the road, and shouted, “Good squire, spare a coin for an old woman in distress?”
Now, I know I wasn’t supposed to stop. But I also know that you can’t just ignore a little old woman in distress. They drilled us on chivalry as well as military order.
Besides, I’ve read stories. It’s the ones who ignore little old women who wind up turned into stone or something.
So I slowed Bluebell down, and reached into my jacket for a coin. It was only a copper—it’s not like squires get paid much—but hopefully it was enough to put me in the camp of “good guys,” not “terrible people who get punished for their arrogance.” I tossed it to her as we went by.
Now is it my fault she didn’t catch it? Is it my fault it hit her in the forehead instead?
She seemed to think so. “You wretched little cur!” she shrieked at me.
“I’m sorry, I’m really—I’m sorry!” I shouted back, because for one thing I wasn’t supposed to stop, and for another thing Bluebell had spooked when she shrieked and set off at a faster pace.
“You’ll regret this!” the old woman howled. “You mark my words, you’ll regret this!”
I already regretted it, but somehow I didn’t think that was what she meant. But I couldn’t tell any of this to the commander.
“All you had to do,” the commander continues bellowing at me, “was ride straight through the forest! That’s not so hard, is it? Is it?”
“No, sir,” is all I can say.
But it really was hard. And the goblin was just the beginning.