"A Dark and Beautiful Fairytale"
If you enjoy dark, short stories, then you'll want to read The Forgotten Web. It will take you on a surreal, fantastical journey that will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman and Susanna Clarke.
Novella Category Winner in the 2015 Lyra Contest
Robin's simple life is changed forever when a young Weaver named Fauwen accidentally unravels his existence and traps him in her own strange world. Refusing to accept his disastrous fate, Robin convinces Fauwen to use blood magic to weave his life anew.
But that which is unwoven can never be redone, and a life borne of blood carries a terrible price. Robin returns to a darkened world where shifting memories and tenuous realities threaten to tear apart the fabric of his sanity.
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I hurried through town as the sky brightened with the dawn. I was late. Riverwend wasn’t an especially big town, but I lived on the wrong end of it. And a farmhand who lives far from the fields will always be in trouble should he fail to wake before sunrise—as I did.
Despite the chill morning, sweat broke across my brow as I hastened across the cobblestone roads. I passed whitewashed shops, pale and pristine, with windows displaying goods that were far beyond my own meager means. It weighed upon me, my inability to partake in that particular world—to be the one standing outside, looking in. It was where I had always stood. I knew not how to change it.
The memory of my wife’s shrill voice rang in my ears and I cringed. It was Annie who had roused me that morning, scolding me for the wages I was sure to lose. Her scorn stung my heart, just as the white walls stung my eyes. I closed them and hurried on, and in my blind haste ran into Master Bombar as he stepped out of his alchemy shop.
“Pardon me, master,” I said as I stumbled back. I reached out to straighten his rumpled jacket, but then I remembered myself and returned my hands to my sides.
Master Bombar tightened his grip on a folded paper bag as he smoothed out his coat. He glowered at me. Then, as if recalling my name, he brightened. “Ah, Rob. Good morning to you. Heading off to work, are you?”
I fidgeted with my hands. I was eager to leave, but I didn’t want to be rude. “Yes, sir.”
“Very good,” he said, though his eyes looked faraway and distant. “Say, I wonder if you might do me a favor. I have some medicine I need delivered over to Mrs. Fowley. She’s not doing well, you see, and needs this medicine first thing. Gary, my errand boy, won’t be in until later today. But that simply won’t do. She must have it at once. Would you run it over to her for me?” He held out the paper bag.
My mouth hung open. “I… I’m sorry, but I’m late as it is. I’d like to help, but—”
“Oh, don’t you worry about that. I’ll have a word with Master Gren and explain your tardiness. I am sure he will be as thankful for your help in this matter as I.” He shook the paper bag as he held it out to me.
Stunned and confused, I took it. Master Bombar was one of the most respected men in town. How could I refuse him? And maybe he really would be thankful. Maybe, should any opportunities arise under his employ, he would remember me and how helpful I was. “Of course,” I said, my stomach sinking. “I’ll run it over at once.”
Master Bombar beamed at me. “Wonderful! You know where she lives, yes? Outside of town?”
“Good man,” he said and clapped me on the shoulder. “I’ve much to do today, and this will save me a great deal of time.” A bell rang as he opened the door to his shop and disappeared inside.
I peeked inside the bag and found a dark bottle stoppered with a cork. I stared at the writing on the label—cursive and flowing and looking like a work of art. I couldn’t read, so that’s all writing ever was to me. I liked looking at it, though. I liked imagining a day where I could also write with such an elegant hand.
I turned back the way I had come. Mrs. Fowley lived well outside of Riverwend, far away from the fields and the bustle of the town. Some folks called her odd or a recluse. Some said she was really a witch and that the forest in which she lived was haunted. I never believed such talk. I figured she just liked the quiet.
The sun was well up in the sky by the time I turned off the road and walked up the pathway leading to Mrs. Fowley’s house. She lived in a grand old manor that had supposedly been fine in its day. But the passing years seemed to have weighed heavily upon it, with its sad, sagging roof and broken shutters.
I knocked on the door and waited. Mrs. Fowley had no servants, as far as I knew. If she were ill, she’d likely take a while to get to the door. And so I stood there, listening to my own breath as the air turned cold on my skin and the surrounding trees faded into nothingness.
I started and blinked, and the trees again came into focus. I rubbed my head. What was wrong with me? Uneasy and eager to leave, I knocked again.
“She’s not there,” a voice said from behind.
Startled, I spun around. A girl of about ten stood there, watching me. She was an odd-looking thing with brown and green mottled skin. She wore a dress made of white and grey goose feathers, and beetles crawled through her dark, tangled hair woven with leaves and twigs.
I took a step back, shuddering as I watched the insects crawl across her scalp. They were black and as big as my thumbnail, though their carapaces shone blue and green whenever the sunlight hit them.
The girl seemed to pay them no mind. She stared at me with angled, oval eyes that shifted from brown to green to gold, depending on the light.
“She’s not there,” she repeated.
I tried to speak, but words failed me. I turned around to look at the house, but it was like I no longer recognized it. It seemed so out of place there in the woods, with its painted timber and tinted glass. I closed my eyes, gripping the paper bag in my hand, and I remembered again how to speak. “Where did she go?”
I frowned and tried to open the door, but it was locked. “How could you know that?”
The girl shrugged. “I just do.” She held out her hand and I stared at it. Her fingers were long and bony; her knuckles looked like knots in wood.
“You’re not from around here, are you?” I said.
“I am. We’ve just never met is all.”
I wondered how that was possible. I thought I knew everyone that lived in and around Riverwend. “What’s your name?”
She shrugged and said, “Fauwen,” as if it was obvious.
“Rob,” I said.
“You mean Robin.”
I frowned at her. Only my mother had ever called me that. “How did you know?”
She smiled and shrugged, and again she held out her hand.
I glanced down at the paper bag. It seemed Mrs. Fowley wouldn’t need her medicine, after all. But I still needed to get back and work what hours remained in the day. We didn’t have a lot of money, Annie and I, and the lost wages would hurt. Yet even as I told myself to turn around and head back, I found myself taking Fauwen’s hand in my own.