You find this old pack near a forest trail; on a park bench; on your front step. You open it. Here is your prompt: I am the Other and I write the story of the person who once carried this pack. In the writing I will discover what is inside and why it was discarded. Sentence by sentence, the pack-owner will emerge.
Send us your discovery to be entered in a competition for a free writing hour with me. I’ll decide Dec. 31 what three writers win. I’ll evaluate according to quality and quantity of submissions to BTW. Some of you are already front-runners. The winners and I will work out how to conduct their free consultations. My normal charge for an hour of my time experience and razor eye is $100.
*** Cin Norris: My high priestess called me to her in my eighteenth year, and told me I was to undergo a testing that would help me understand my future. Other tests like this had not been uncommon but more often served to confuse me than anything else. I trusted her with my life, so I went.
Her apartment was the back of a house that had been divided up into four living spaces. She had a small, tidy living area with a fold-out bed, a bathroom you could barely turn around in, and a kitchen with enough room for a sink and a microwave. Still, it was clean and it was sunny and it suited her. Herbs hung from every available space and other curiosities and oddments of her craft filled plyboard and cinder block shelves.
She sat on a colorful cushion and bade me to sit across from her. Between us were a number of objects on the old, heart pine floorboards. I looked at her, intrigued. This was not something we had done before.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked. She gave no answer, only permitted a tiny corner of her mouth to betray a smile. I searched her face for clues, but she offered none.
Thus thwarted, I turned my attention to the array of objects on the floor. A shard of mirror about the size of my palm reflected the afternoon sun onto the wall. A lump of gray clay, real clay from the earth, not a box rested next to it. There was a small box of many-colored marbles, green cat’s eye, white, blue, and black. A cone of incense burned, the scent of sandalwood drifting upward with the lazy swirls of smoke. She had laid out a brown mug with cracked glazing containing what looked like water, next to a blue jay feather and a deck of tarot cards. A white taper burned, clear wax sliding like tears into a crystal disk filled with the remains of other candles.
It was obvious to me that I was supposed to choose something, and that “thing” would help me determine my fate or something equally obscure. I started to try to outguess the test; what should I choose that would give me the best answer? I had wiped suddenly sweating palms on my jeans when she spoke.
“You’re overthinking it again.” I looked up at her and her crystal blue eyes regarded me with merriment and exasperation. “Tell me about your Grandma. Is she feeling better?”
I was surprised by the change in tack, but willing to take any excuse to avoid this bizarre test. “She’s better than the last time you saw her. She takes a short walk every day now and the doctor doesn’t think she’ll need a hip replacement after all.”
She smiled. “That’s great news. Soon she’ll be back to her regular five miles a day, I’m sure.”
“Maybe. I have to watch her like a damn hawk or she’ll over do it.”
“You come by that honestly,” she said and I shrugged.
“I just do what needs to be done,” I replied.
“So, it’s fire then. I can’t say I’m surprised.”
For a moment I just stared, the non-sequitur stalling my thought process, then I realized that I had picked the candle from its holder and was playing with the flame.
In that moment, the world went away.
Warmth suffused me, light currents of air touching my face, arms, and hands. Vibrant reds, short-tempered oranges, and sharp tongued yellows surrounded me, living flame reflecting my many faces, my past and my future. Dove gray ashes told of my tragedy and char black my rage. An electric blue defined my intensity and a hazy brown-gray revealing my tendency toward secrecy.
The fire swirled around me, spoke to me of my innermost soul, and offered me insight into my own nature. I stood in the heart of that furnace and my own heart sang in harmony. I should have been fevered. I should have been blistered. Instead, I felt more completely at home than I had at any time before.
My focused snapped from the timid candle flame up to the face of my priestess. Her tiny smile was full now, and crinkles deepened at the corner of her eyes.
“What?” I said, most of my mind still back in that blazing bonfire.
“Nothing at all, dear one. I’ll put on some water for tea, shall I?”
Lynette Sheppard – “What are you willing to die for? Because you are doing that right now.” Supposedly Simon Senik said this, but I don’t care who said it, it brings me up short every time.
These words pierce us as we grow older. Our time here is finite. And we are all too aware of that fact.
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