This story is my entry for the April Flash Fiction Carnival. The theme is “The Elements.” I hope you enjoy!
(Since the prompt suggested either one story or four, I’ve written more than one. The first element, Air, is 617 words. The others come in later chapters with associated word counts. Please feel free to visit one or all.)
Greta waved the light smoke away from her face and resisted the urge to sneeze.
“Pungent stuff,” Grant complained. “Why are we using this again?”
Greta sighed. “Dragonsblood is a purifier,” she said for what felt like the fifteenth time.
“Ooh. Purifier,” Grant intoned. “I thought dragons didn’t exist?”
She shot an irritated glance at him. “I told you, Grant. It’s from a tree. Croton lechleri, actually.”
“Never mind. Just crack the window a little and hand me that bowl.”
Grant did as she asked, still grinning like an idiot. She took the bowl and deposited the small tray with the lit charcoal and melting resin into it. Armand had asked her to clean the new apartment for their circle-mate Kirby, who’d finally gotten out of the horrible relationship with his girlfriend. Armand wanted the place nice and homey before Kirby came, and he’d asked her to bring Grant along.
“Why are you doing that?” Grant asked.
“It’s too hot to carry by itself,” she told him. “See?”
She held out the dish for him. He put his hand over it and snatched it back, eyes wide. “Oh!”
She snorted and set the bowl on the marble block she had on the altar for it. She inhaled deeply, the bitter tang of the incense filling her senses. The crow feather lay next to it, glossy and black, the center stalk white and almost translucent. She glanced at Grant. “Are you going to come with me, or do you want to stay here?”
He shrugged. “I told Armand I’d help, I’ll help.”
She resisted the urge to say, ‘But you don’t know anything, how can you help?’ Armand must’ve had his reasons. “Here,” she said instead, and handed Grant the crow feather. “When we go around the apartment, I want you to waft the smoke up into the air, okay?” She demonstrated, flipping the smoke up toward where the wall met the ceiling.
“Okay,” Grant said dubiously. He took the feather and frowned. “I thought it’d weigh more!”
“Birds can’t weight a lot,” she pointed out, “otherwise they couldn’t fly.”
He looked thoughtful at that and stilled, watching her. She smiled at him and turned back to the altar. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.
It wasn’t easy to build the circle here in this new space, but she focused on relaxing and letting herself come into the moment. She concentrated on her breath, counting inhalations and exhalations up to ten. By the fifth, her hands grew warm. By the eighth, she felt the calm sense of ‘now’ she got in ritual. When she was ready, she opened her eyes and lifted the marble and incense.
Starting at the altar, she led the way around the apartment. They moved slowly, going clockwise through the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen; then back to the living room. When she was done and the resin a hard, melted blackness in among the ashes, she set the marble back on the altar. She looked at Grant and found him staring at her, wide-eyed.
“Wow,” he breathed. “That… just… Wow.”
She cocked her head, curious. “What?”
“I always thought this stuff was airy-fairy. But this… I felt something, Greta!” he burst out almost plaintively.
“Airy-fairy?” she echoed, not offended.
“This was amazing!” His blue eyes were glowing with excitement. His whole face was transformed into something handsome and engaging.
She was surprised to find herself feeling kindly toward him. “Well, we have a full moon celebration next week, if you’re interested,” she offered shyly.
“Yeah! I’d love to!”
She blinked, pleased, and turned back to the altar to clean up.
Maybe Armand knew what he was doing after all.