This story is by Elaine Evans and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
You would have made a great surgeon.”
“Would have? Who are you?”
He paused, her eyes locked onto his steady gaze and she felt uncomfortable. “I think you know.”
A memory stirred, there was something in the voice, his manner, something compelling that she could not quite place. Why today, just as she had received the coveted acceptance to the University Hospital? How could she fail? She had worked hard for this.
His voice was measured, deliberate. “You are the one, the Chosen..”
Childhood stories came flooding back.. Fairy tales all, like Santa and the Tooth Fairy, but in amongst the legends one that her family was different-that in each generation one would be chosen. She stopped believing in them years ago. Who’d want to be the tooth fairy anyway?
” You can refuse, but refusal will only bring disaster.”
“Yeah, right. My birthday isn’t until next week.” At least it wasn’t a strippergram. Someone in the family must be behind this stupid prank, someone who knew the stories.
He gave a long drawn out sigh. Young people these days were more sceptical, they never took anything on trust. “When you are ready to see, come..” He walked to a door in the wall and stepped through, waiting for her to follow. Fiona turned and walked away, hearing the door close behind her. Funny but she never remembered seeing a door before though she had walked past there a hundred times.
Days passed and the mysterious door preyed on her mind.. Irritated, she wanted to confront whoever it was. He was probably long gone by now. Silly!
“Get some sleep girl, you’ve got a big day tomorrow.” Tomorrow was her 18th birthday. At first, sleep wouldn’t come. She tried counting sheep but they refused to jump over the gate, and the sheepdog was too busy chasing its own tail to bother. She tried singing to herself ‘One man went to mow,’ but kept losing count and having to start again. Eventually, stealthily, sleep claimed her.
It was dark when Fiona awoke.. Feeling restless she got up for an early morning jog and found herself unconsciously drawn in the direction of the wall and its mysterious door. She tested it, to see if it would open.
Moving forward she found herself on the same side; the door was locked. She continued along the familiar street, only vaguely registering that the street lamp had gone out. Her parents would be worried to get up and find her out of the house so she took her phone out of her pocket to call them, but there was no signal. No matter, she would not be gone long.
A drunk on the other side of the road threw up and she hurried past.
As she turned the corner there was a woman pushing a shopping trolley laden with water bottles. There was a flash of lightning and the woman froze, counting the seconds out loud. “One thousand, two thousand, three thousand..”. Fiona felt the earth shudder under her feet. “Nine thousand, ten thousand..” then the long drawn out roar of a distant detonation. “Ten and a half- Luton’s gone” she said “Get out of the rain fast and hope the wind blows the other way” and raced on with her cart.
An old newspaper lying in the road announced that the ravens had left the Tower of London. Not just the ravens but the guards had all gone too and the Crown Jewels had been looted. Not that there was any point. Not even the Cullinan diamond would buy a loaf of uncontaminated bread. She tried to read the date but a strong wind blew it out of her hands. This was crazy, it couldn’t be happening, she must still be asleep.
Determined to wake up from this nightmare she began to retrace her steps back to the door. As she passed the drunk he looked up with unseeing eyes, his face and hands badly burned, a pool of vomit at his feet. Reaching the door at last only to find it was still locked. She hammered on it shouting “Open up, let me out!” over and over until her arms ached. After what seemed like an endless wait the door opened, and there he stood, the man from the previous week.
” You have seen. This is what will be, if you decline.”
. This dream was too real, too vivid. Was this a bad trip? had someone slipped her a Mickey Finn the night before? She had too much sense to fool around with drugs. May as well play along and see where it leads.
“If you accept, there can be no turning back.”
“Just get me out of here!” He stood there for a few moments, silent, barring her way to the door. ” You must choose now. Are you willing to proceed?” Another flash of lightning, brighter this time. A wave of nausea swept over her. Anything to get out of this. Can you feel sick in dreams? She nodded. “Yes” “ Come then”.
They passed through the door a second time to find birds flying overhead and small waves lapping at their feet. The air was fresh and cool; a ripple washed through the reeds and purple heather cloaked the distant shore. It was beautiful.
“It is time” Mesmerised for a moment, she stood still, drinking it all in, choosing not to hear him. “Lady”. She looked round, wondering who else was there. Nobody had ever called her that before. “LADY” The voice was sterner, more insistent now. She looked down to find her ripped jeans had gone, replaced with a gown of white samite, mystic, wonderful. Then she remembered. The Chosen had no name, only The Lady. Every written record of her existence had been erased the moment she stepped through the door, all memories wiped without trace.. Even her own mother would not remember ever having given her birth. It was as if she had never been.
His voice softened. “He will return in your time, be patient.” The familiar lie slipped easily from his lips. “H-how long? Will it be years, decades even?” “The future is always conditional” That much at least, was the truth. Nothing was ever certain, there were only probabilities. “Go now, locate your charge and fulfil your destiny.”
She waded deeper into the lake taking a great gulp of air in order to search the bottom. She was a strong swimmer, it held no fears for her. Twice she resurfaced empty handed and three times she dived. The third time her foot caught in some weeds and she struggled to free herself. She held her breath for as long as she was able then started swallowing water, Drowning is painless, she remembered. You panic, but there’s no pain. They say that if you die in your dreams that you die in real life. She needed to wake up, NOW! She panicked, choking as the water began to fill her lungs. This was no dream. This was real. She struggled harder, fighting with every last ounce of strength to free herself and reach the surface, but to no avail. Her lungs filled with water and she finally became limp
Suddenly, just as all was lost, she found that she could breathe. Breathing water, fresh clean water, and her legs were free at last. She swam along the bed of the lake, exhilarated by her new found ability until she found it, shining with a light of its own, clutched in a withered hand. As she took it, the hand released its grip on the hilt. and she rose again to the surface, waving it in the air to show that it was secured. As she clasped the great brand she found the memories returning, memories of her predecessors, of the time Arthur had taken the sword from her, of taking it back as he lay dying, to keep safe until he should come again, the once and future king. Her magical powers, long dormant, now began to re-emerge and she walked upon the surface of the lake.
He was right. There was no going back. Soon the persona of Fiona would be just another memory; she had become the Lady of the Lake. But he had promised. He had promised the king would return on her watch, to reclaim his birthright, Excalibur. Lie or not, she had to believe he would come in her time or she would go mad. The enormity of her charge began to sink in and she started to sob, great racking sobs until she felt her heart would burst. The salt water of her tears mingled with the fresh waters of the lake, as had the tears of countless others before her until at last, out of sheer exhaustion, came acceptance and with it, peace.
As the last rays of the setting sun played on the calm waters of the lake, Merlin slowly turned away and retraced his steps.