This story is by Julianne Kelsch and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Never underestimate the power of the Fates.
This phrase was a favorite of my mother’s, now immortalized on her crumbling headstone; the fading words an unheeded warning by all but one. Me.
To most she had been eccentric and crazy. The Fates were figments of a mythological idea that existed in a world where man had no reason and looked to fiction to explain the unexplainable.
To me she was brilliant and cunning; a master of deception for she had known the truth of that world, had fought the power of The Fates, and deceived them anyway.
The German Shepherd at my side jumped to attention, wagging his tail in anticipation.
I hated dogs.
I needed John.
The animal followed me home, content to whip my leg with his tail, as if reminding me that without him I would die.
The stairs to my apartment creaked, and the door caught as I shoved it open. Paint chips fluttered to the floor, dusting John’s coat in small flecks. He stared at me, his head cocked to one side. I knew what he wanted. He wanted me to paint the door and fix the steps.
“No, John. They match the place. You know I mustn’t stand out.”
His head dropped and he whimpered. For a moment I saw myself through his eyes, long enough to feel the shame he felt for me, or was it pity?
“Stop it,” I mumbled, shoving him through the door. “I’m doing the best I can.”
He ignored me. I expect it was because he didn’t have an answer.
The apartment was dark, but I didn’t turn on the lights immediately. The door had to be locked first, and bolted at the top and bottom. The windows had to be shuttered so nobody could see inside. It was imperative that I check all the seals to make sure none had broken. Then and only then could I turn on the light, a small lamp opposite the window. I had to make sure no light escaped this apartment
My humdrum dinner wasn’t heated, but that meant nothing to me. I’d learned to exist in the cold – cold food, cold showers, cold apartment. It kept me alive.
The Fates – the witches that determined the destiny of men, that chose the path men would walk, that snuffed out life before it could be lived – they were always looking.
The Fates knew I had escaped them.
My plate empty, belly almost satisfied, I sunk back onto my couch to read my mother’s diary. Wood slats shoved in my back, and cotton spilled out of small holes in the fabric, but they were all reminders of the fact that I lived. And my fate was mine. The diary I held spoke the truth of it.
The first page was torn, but I had memorized every word by heart. It was the story of my mother stealing my destiny back from the Witches. She’d ventured to the heart of the Underworld to pull my fiber from the tapestry of time. By the time the Witches discovered the lost thread, it was too late. My destiny had become my own.
From then on my mother had told me to never underestimate the power of the Fates.
So I hid. I kept myself obscure. I read the diary over and over until I had all the tools I needed to outsmart immortal beings. And I kept John near me. He warned me when The Fates were near, told me when I should run.
The diary spoke of these things. Never draw attention. Do not rise to great heights. Avoid your neighbor, for one may be a witch. Move through life unseen, unheard. A ghost living among the living, that’s what I had to be.
Just before I reached the last page of the diary a single black thread fell onto my lap. This was my thread, stolen from the tapestry. I ran it through my fingers, marveling at the strength after all these years.
Suddenly John bared his teeth, growling at the door. The doorknob rattled and shook. The dog’s hair stood on end and he slunk forward, my protector, my warning that The Fates had come.
“Come, John,” I whispered, backing away from the door. There was a window in my small bedroom. I could escape through there.
He ignored me, moving closer to the rattling doorknob.
“John.” Rising panic clutched at my throat. The animal wasn’t listening. I needed him to come. Without him to warn me again, I would surely die.
“Please,” I pleaded, ignoring the trembling in my bones and the sweat coating my body.
He crept closer to the door while the doorknob rattled harder. Paint chips fell to the dirty floor as my immortal intruders began to shove against it.
“John!” I hissed.
He looked back at me, and I swear I saw him laugh.
That look broke everything. The room seemed to encroach upon me, my one lamp suddenly too dim. The banging on the door drummed against my skull, a pounding cadence that spoke words of its own: you are doomed. Paint chips sprayed off the door again and again, filling the air with chemical dust. I tasted them in my mouth, felt them coating my lungs. My meager dinner fought against my stomach, threatening to escape after I’d forced it to enter. The world began to spin.
Desperately fighting for air I clawed at my chest, begging my body to breathe through the chemical coating, to breathe through my fear. It did no good. My panicked breaths couldn’t make their way through. Fire burned in my lungs. Somehow I was aware of the lamp flickering, but it was too weak to hold off the darkness. It blinked one last time before the door broke open and the blackness invaded, plunging into my body and soul.
I awoke on a cold, hard surface. My fingers still clutched the thread of my life, and three pairs of cruel eyes stared down at me. They belonged to three old women whose papery skin seemed held together by wrinkles and sheer luck.
They’d found me.
John, my faithful friend, stood near the eldest fate, her fingers wound in his silky coat. He seemed to be smiling.
The animal had betrayed me.
“You knew?” I whispered to the Witches.
The Fates nodded in unison, their eyes never leaving my face.
“Oh yes,” the youngest said, her voice trill and sharp.
“You were never hidden,” said the middle.
“From us,” finished the eldest.
The youngest reached down, pulling my life thread from between my fingers.
“This,” she said, handing it to the eldest witch. “is his thread.”
“So pitiful,” whispered the middle.
“As expected,” crowed the eldest.
“Look,” the youngest said to me, pointing her bony finger at the wall beyond. There a tapestry hung, its fibers gleaming with life. Light seemed to flow outward from the strands, rippling to others, binding them together. Darkness followed close behind. Those that had bound together were untouched by the darkness, while those that remained unbound reached out for the darkness which swallowed them whole.
The three witches moved to the tapestry. My body followed of its own accord until I stood in front of it, enraptured by the ripples moving across the weave.
“You belong to this tapestry,” the eldest croaked, her voice as rough as a rusted drainpipe. She touched the end of my thread to the fabric and I watched in wonder as it wove its way into place. I thought the thread would disappear but it didn’t. Instead it seemed to create its own light, beaming inside the weave. Other threads reacted to the light, connecting and binding to my thread. For a moment I saw what my life would have been had my mother not tampered with Fate. I saw friends, children – life.
And then the eldest Fate ripped the thread from the tapestry and my vision faded.
“We had great plans,” she said.
“For you,” the middle broke in.
“Family,” the shrill voice of the youngest.
“Love,” the eldest again.
“Beauty,” the middle.
“You chose otherwise,” they said together, all three swinging to face me.
“You chose fear,” the middle again.
“You chose death.” The words fell like a hammer from the drainpipe voice. The eldest held out the thread of my life while the other two gazed at it.
“Your thread is weak,” whispered the youngest.
“No,” I pleaded. “Please. Take my thread. Weave it in the tapestry. Add my life to yours!”
“It’s too late,” snapped the eldest. “You chose your fate.”
In one swift motion the middle Fate snipped my thread in two.
My body trembled, my soul and heart divided, and my spirit fled, hovering briefly above the fates before yawning blackness swallowed me whole.
“He chose,” said the eldest fate sadly.
“Terrible choice,” said the middle.
“Terrible,” echoed the third.