From time to time I’ll write a short story and post it. They’ll be diverse and typically I won’t really edit them before posting. Please let me know by posting in the comments section if you especially like one of them.
“Ninety-nine bottles of fear on the wall,” sang the warlock who watched their every move.
Take one down, pass it around, and there’s 98 bottles of fear on the wall…and one in my hand, Kayra thought to herself triumphantly.
She looked around the yard at her fellow prisoners. Each of them had their own section of wall and their own bottles of fear. Some had more than others, but all who remained in the yard had at least one bottle on their wall—bottles that no one else could remove for them.
Kayra’s own bottles mocked her. She did her best to close their taunts and shrieks from her mind.
Two left, she thought as sweat dripped down her face and onto her standard issue t-shirt. Still panting from the effort it had taken to remove it, she held bottle number three in her hand. She thanked the Highers that it stopped screaming the moment she lifted it from the wall. This one will break easily; she smiled as the cold glass of the bottle trembled in her hand. She felt its heart racing, and Kayra cursed its maker for causing the enchanted bottles to feel like living creatures. It made it even harder to destroy them.
The warlock who cursed them all left some of the bottles empty for his entertainment. They would shriek and threaten like the others, but they were empty imitations of real fear. Bottle number three had been one those. Kayra knew he laughed at her from his observatory. She’d felt him laughing for two weeks as she tried to find the courage to remove number three. Bottle number four had burned her. At least it’s gone from my wall. She looked at the burns on her hands and smiled at them. The eventual scars are a small price to pay for my freedom.
Many of the bottles left at least a small mark as they fought to remain alive and whole.
Kayra stared at the last two bottles on her wall. I should be excited, she thought. She looked across the yard at Carrick. One bottle remained on his wall. It was tiny, and from the color of it, Kayra suspected it was as empty as her number three had been. Carrick sat, as he had for the last five years, staring at the gate. Etched constantly on his face was a look of longing and despair.
I will not be like Carrick! Kayra turned back to her own wall. The fear in the bottles throbbed to the beat of her racing heart. As she stared, the bottles grew in size. Kayra wiped the sweat from her brow and looked again at Carrick. Why doesn’t he just break that last bottle? The question added even more panic.
“You’re just like him. You think you can be different, but you will never be free of us,” bottle number two sneered at her.
Kayra looked at the warlock’s observatory as she did each day. He smiled at her. He tortured them every second of every day with his cursed bottles, but he stood there looking as though he were the very incarnation of goodness. For the first time since she had broken bottle ninety-nine and had learned what real pain felt like, she realized that she was suddenly more angry than scared.
Kayra grabbed for both bottles at the same time. She wrenched them from the wall and screamed as their fear spilled over her. She dropped to her knees, and with tears streaming down her cheeks, she beat the bottles against the base of the wall. The glass shattered and the last of the warlock’s curse oozed into the dirt.
Kayra turned with the intention of destroying every bottle on every wall in the yard. She ran toward Carrick’s wall first.
“You can’t take his fear,” the warlock’s voice boomed at her as she neared Carrick’s wall.
“Watch me,” she replied defiantly.
Carrick looked at her with more hope than she’d ever seen on another’s face. She reached for his last bottle, but the bottle turned to mist. Kayra’s hand repeatedly floated through it.
“Your bottle isn’t real, Carrick! It turns to mist every time I try to grab it,” Kayra said.
Carrick narrowed his eyes and scooted away from her. “Just because you don’t have any bottles, doesn’t mean that mine aren’t real! You’re as bad as the warlock!” Carrick accused.
“I told you,” the warlock said with a detached shrug.
Kayra looked at Carrick and sadness filled her. She realized it was part of the terms of their imprisonment. Bottles on another’s wall were removable only by that person.
“It’s time for you to leave now,” the warlock commanded. “Stay any longer and your wall will be refilled.”
Kayra walked past her wall on the way to the gate. Already bottles were starting to accumulate on top of her wall. No, she thought. It isn’t my wall anymore. She rushed to the gate.
The gate remained closed as she approached. “How do I go through?” Kayra asked the warlock.
“How did you break your bottles?” the warlock asked in return.
Kayra reached out and grabbed the gate.
Carrick saw her disappear, and he hated her. The warlock smiled at him and then disappeared through the gate and back into his observatory.
Kayra didn’t realize until she stepped through the gate how dulled her senses had been by the fear on her wall. She felt the warmth of the sun on her skin, enjoyed the soothing coolness of the breeze on her face, and smelled the intoxicating smell of green grass and earth.
Free at last! Then she opened her eyes and blinked. In front of her were multiple paths, each with a shattered bottle marking its entrance. Kayra recognized them as her bottles. The shards and dust sparkled in the sunlight as though they had never been anything but delicate and pretty. On this side of the gate, she doubted they could be anything else.
Kayra looked back at the exit she had just come through and saw the warlock standing there. He smiled at her. In order to leave, you must destroy your fear, she remembered him saying the first day she had been imprisoned. She looked at the multiple paths marked with destroyed bottles.
“I could have left after I destroyed bottle number ninety-nine?” she asked the warlock.
He nodded, smiled at her, and sang, “Ninety-nine bottles of fear on the wall…” his voice trailed off as Kayra chose her path and left him.