They were sitting in the park, a child had come running up chasing a creature no one else could see, playing a game in augmented vision. She swiped at something in the air between them.
Yris watched her run off already obsessed by the next intangible she needed to track down.
“She knows,” Soraya said, as the child danced away over the sunlit grass. “She called me to account for my activities this last cycle.”
The pit of his stomach tightened and he looked at the woman sitting beside him, unsmiling. Her face was haunted by shadows of sadness and fear, beneath the sweep of blue-black hair. He reached out and gripped the two slender hands resting in her lap.
“Then we will have to go. I won’t lose you.”
“But nothing. It is time to make a stand. My sister has dictated the course of my life long enough. I will not have her destroy the one thing that makes me truly happy.”
The shadows lifted from her face for a moment, and the smile was as sweet as life itself. “She will not let us go easily.”
“I know. I’ve known her a long time. A very long time, more than four times as long again as you have been alive. So you must trust me when I say I know how to deal with her.”
The blue-black hair swung as Soraya turned her face away, watching the child running after her private ghosts. For a moment, Yris envied that unknown child, her freedom and potential had yet to be curtailed by life.
“I don’t know,” Soraya’s voice came from behind the veil of her hair. “I’m not sure we get to live happily ever after.”
“No ‘ever after’ is happy forever.”
It got dark as he spoke. The air was no longer crisp and fresh, but brackish and still. Shadows flickered from the weak lights.
“But ‘tsa story, Gran’pa. It says so – so they did.”
The small dark eyes looked up at him from a face wearing a defiant expression. “Wha’s a tree?”
Yris shook his head. It would not help the child to know.
“Just something in the story,” he said. Then trying to distract the child: “You read it all yourself, that is very good.”
For a moment, the dark eyes seemed to study him as if doubting his words, then the small face smiled.
“You need to come for sleep time.” The child’s mother stood by the entrance. It was hard to know which of them she was addressing. The child of course, but Yris was tired. Recently, he found his sleep times more often matched the child’s than its parents.
He remained there, sitting with the story open, staring at its cheerful pictures of chubby clouds and a smiling sun painted across a pink-blue sky. Of course, he had many images and even VRruns of the real thing, but somehow these designs captured more of the essence of them. Someone had thought what the essential concept was for ‘cloud’, ‘sky’, ‘sun’, what symbolic place each held in the human psyche, and had created these images to project that sense of ‘sky-ness’ or ‘cloud-ness’.
From ‘Tongueless Caverns’ by E.M. Swift-Hook, one of the stories in the Inklings Press anthology Tales From The Underground: Twelve tales of hidden legends