The Lane of Unusual Traders is a great project from Tiny Owl Workshop, a small publisher in Brisbane doing all kinds of interesting things with – in particular – illustrated speculative fiction. Chris White has created a world, the City of Lind, and writers have been encouraged to submit small stories which take place in this world. My story didn’t make the cut, but I reckon it might make the beginning of a nice novella (if I can ever find time to write it…)
Iridescence – Clarity
‘Please,’ Sal begged.
‘Mate.’ Iri was only half listening now – he had accounts to check. ‘I already told you we don’t do replacements.’
He cut her off. ‘You got the spiel when you came in for the removal. This is a one-way procedure. Once it’s off we can’t put it back. You should’ve done your research.’ He looked up, then wished he hadn’t when he saw Sal’s look of utter despair. His voice softened ‘It’s a serious procedure, Sal. That’s why we make you wait a week. I’m sorry. There’s nothing I can do now.’ He pushed the cut-glass tray of mints over the counter and went back to his accounts.
Sal took a mint, sucked on it for a second or two while the consequences of her decision roiled through her mind, then realised the mint’s sugar coating was actually a residue comprised of finger-grime, dust and fly shit. She stuck out her tongue and dropped the mint into the road, spat repeatedly to clear the taste from her mouth.
She was too tired to cry any more. She slumped onto an abandoned crate just outside the doorway, banging her head on Iri’s obfuscating sign: ‘See clearly – find your place in the world – know the future and the past’.
See clearly indeed.
She’d wanted clarity; she couldn’t deny that. She’d been fired up, all those years back, when she’d joined the Collective, but lately it seemed she couldn’t remember what it was they were fighting for. She’d felt like she was just getting too old for this shit. She’d put in so much time already – hadn’t she earned some rest among the oblivious, the citizens of Lind?
But Horus had convinced her to give it one last try. Visiting Iri was his idea. He’d promised her that when Iri removed the caul spell, the one cast on every Lind citizen at birth, she’d find her conviction again. She’d have a reason to live.
So she’d done it. The procedure was painless. The procedure was: life without the caul was agony. Suddenly Sal could see the implications of every decision she made. She saw the suffering and slavery woven into every thread of the scarf she’d thoughtlessly bought last Market Day. She heard the waste and agony, the pointless life and painful death, of the beast she’d roasted for her dinner. Nothing she did was without consequence. No consequence could be ignored.
Was there really no way to get her caul back? She cursed Horus, cursed the Collective, cursed the movement and cursed the god-blighted City of Lind for its injustice and cruelty that forced her to fight this stupid fight.
She sat on the crate and gathered her strength. A citizen walked up the steps beside her and seconds later she could hear Iri.
‘Caul spell? Sorry sir, I think you’ve come to the wrong place. I am just a humble optometrist…’