Cozy Flash: “Vacancy for Vengeance”

Erica set out for a day of fishing. She typically had many responsibilities around her house, but her mother and father allowed her one day a week to herself. Today this meant the freedom of enjoying the sunshine and cool waters of Lake Amaranthine. No drudgery of helping her father at the smithy or her mother at the churn, only the relaxed comfort of catching some fish and swimming.

She left early in the morning, when the silver of dawn was showing and birds were singing before the actual breaking of the sun over the offing. The hike to the lake lasted a spell, but it was easy work, going downhill a couple miles. Erica followed the brook the locals called Halcyon, which ran through her village of the same name. She found some berries on the way, and munched on them as she walked. She felt magic was in the air, in its unadulterated natural state of sublimity.

The birds sang. The sun woke. She spotted a twin-tailed fox and a blue-furred hare, which slunk and scurried away as she happened upon them, leaving only their evanescent auras imprinted on her memory.

She arrived in due time to the lake. She had a rumbly stomach, and so went fishing to follow up the appetizer that had been the berries. She caught a large crapet and built a small fire to cook it on. After licking clean the bones and her fingers, she took a dive in the cool waters, floating and enjoying the small eddies. Once sufficiently pruned, she laid down by her fire with a shiver, adding a few more twigs and one dry bough, fallen from an elm tree, to the flames.

As she lay, her mind wandered. She thought of her own life, and the chances she would have to see things further afield when she was older. Maybe she would have grand adventures, or perhaps she would live a simply pleasant life at home. This brought to her mind her precious parents, who had once been soldiers in the war against darkness when they were young, long before Erica was born.

Her eyes closed and she thought of her village and home if darkness had not been vanquished. Her lovely parents and neighbors, all in flame from the ravages of vengeance by some spurned dark power. Creatures of nightmare prowled in the long shadows, vague and formless but all too real. She could smell the smoke of the burning timbers, and the rank stench of fear as her family’s home collapsed to embers before her eyes. There were cries of terror and screams of mourning, piercing, piercing Erica’s ears and ripping through the air.

She started and woke. Her fire had died down to smoke, and the steady but gentle breeze carried the mustiness of the lake. There were no screams, just the calls of geese flying overhead. Her heart slowed its racing as she realized the horror was a dream.

These thoughts had spoiled her reverie, however, and so, the sun not having westered too far, Erica headed home. A weight in her gut she carried with her all the way, fearing that maybe her dream had been some premonition, a portent of some vacancy for vengeance that might be dealt to her.

But as she approached her village, the smoke above it was only that from the chimney of her father’s forge and the oven’s baking goods. She felt lightened then as she ran into the village and to her home. Her parents were waiting there, alive and well.

“You’re back earlier than expected,” Erica’s mother said.

“Did you decide to spend time with your friends as well?” her father chimed in.

Erica beamed, but did not answer aloud. She only put her arms around her parents and held them tight, as she knew that darkness had been defeated, and there was no dark being to take revenge: nothing to take what she loved from her. The war had left a vacancy, but it was for peace. To her, there was only home. In that moment, she felt like it would all last forever in the warmth that surrounded and filled her.

— Liam Hall

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