Aphelion Issue 279, Volume 26
December 2022/January 2023
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The Pen is Mightier...

by Larissa March

Amy almost dropped her book when someone started hammering at the door of the old farmhouse. Her cat hissed and bolted from her lap into the bedroom.

"Hello, hello! Help, please help!" She tossed the book and blanket on the couch and jumped towards the door when she heard the woman's pleading voice, but stopped with her hand on the doorknob. There was that story going around about a friend of the cousin of the local librarian who opened the door to help a strange woman and got half beaten to death by robbers for her trouble. Amy flipped on the porch light and stretched up on her toes to see through the old glass window. The woman on the snowy porch looked like she was wrapped in an old blanket, clutching a bundle desperately. She certainly didn't look dangerous, but who knew. The woman silently looked at her through the window and thrust her bundle up to show her a young baby, flushed and feverish looking.

"Please, please help us!" Impulsively, Amy opened the door and pulled the woman and baby out of the freezing night.

"Come warm up, and sit yourself by the stove. It's a cold night out there, don't you even have a coat"? Amy scolded. She herded the woman and baby to one end of the couch by the wood stove then fussed around, dipping water from the pot on the ancient potbellied stove to make two mugs of hot chocolate. The strange woman had dropped her blanket from her shoulders but still hunched protectively over the bundled baby in her arms, crooning quietly. The baby whimpered and wiggled as she tried to soothe it. The woman took the mug gratefully and sipped from it, but she watched Amy warily.

Amy sat at the other end of the sofa with her mug, pushing the blanket and book out of her way. The book slid off with a muffled thud.

The woman flinched, then poked at it with her foot.

"Sorry," said Amy, not quite sure what for. She picked them both up and offered the fleece blanket, but the woman reached for the book, cradling the baby in the crook of her arm.

" 'Lady Marion's Folly'?" she read in a hoarse voice. She turned it to read the back, then looked up in fear and wonder. "This is my story. How can you have a book that is my life?"

"Um.... What?" Amy muttered. She grabbed the book and read the back, then flipped it open to read a bit. She hardly needed to since it was an old favorite, but she had no idea what to say to the impossible woman sitting on the end of her couch. "You're Lady Marion?" she asked, refusing to look up.

"I am. Why did you bring us here?" Wild hope bloomed in the woman's eyes. "Are you a witch? Can you cure my son?" She tore frantically at the cloth swaddling the child, and tried to push him into Amy's lap.

"What? No! I mean... I don't know how you got here! I don't know who you are! You can't be real!" Amy dropped the book in her efforts to push the baby back at his mother without dropping him on the floor she really didn't think he was swaddled enough for THAT to be safe.

"I am real! I am here, and you did it!" Lady Marion's face turned from awe to anger. "If you did it by reading my life in this book, then read the rest and tell me my son will be well!"

Amy could feel her face change as she recalled how that story turned out. Her mother had always said her heart could be read from her face as easily as any of her books, and her horror and pity were easy enough to see.

"If you have magic by reading this story, then you can change it." Lady Marion's eyes were implacable as she set her son at the end of the couch and stood, drawing a dagger from the folds of her skirt. "Change the ending, read it differently. Change it, or maybe I can end your magic by killing you."

Amy gaped, stunned. "Well, I will try. I can only try."

Marion scooped up the book and dropped it in her lap with a growl.

"You will not try. You will succeed, witch. If my son dies, so do you."

Amy leaned away as Marion dropped onto the couch by her side, still brandishing the dagger.

"I will, I will!" Amy squeaked as the dagger approached her cheek. "Just let me build up the fire first, please, to keep your son warm."

Marion waved contemptuously at her with the dagger, narrowly missing her ear.

"Do it, then, but don't take long. If he dies, you die, witch. I'll burn your home with you in it."

Amy sidled around the couch towards the woodpile, watching Marion out of the corner of her eye. She tucked the book under her elbow and grabbed several large chunks of wood. "Do you know what's wrong with him?" she asked, trying to keep her voice casual.

"The doctors don't know. None of them know, and none of them cares enough." Marion started crying quietly as she reached for her son, and Amy seized the chance.

She dropped the armful of wood, pulled open the door of the stove, and shoved the book in without hesitation. She flinched back as the book exploded in the stove. Darting behind the couch, she saw Marion flare into a fountain of scarlet sparks, still reaching hopelessly for her son. The swaddled baby glowed like an ember, then quietly fell into grey ash.

Amy watched the last firefly specks die, then collapsed on the couch. It might be time to get a TV, she thought.


© 2008 Larissa March

Bio: Larissa March lives in Georgia with her husband and two cats. Aside from being the Aphelion Assistant Serials Editor, she has also contributed poetry, a book review column (Off the Shelf, November 2008), and several Forum Flash Fiction Challenge entries. She says "I nearly got published once, but I still maintain it doesn't count since they went out of business before I got paid!" (So Aphelion appearances don't count either?... Hmmph!)

E-mail: Larissa March

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