Flash Fiction Challenge - A Choice of Colour



The latest Wendig Terribleminds Challenge revolved around an article in an on-line magazine. I thought of spiders, of moths, of beetles and, finally, I thought of fairy rings, and this is what I came up with. Enjoy:

A Choice of Colour

Shiloh saw the first tower ring as she stepped out onto the porch. The sight made her heart beat faster. She hadn’t counted on being found so soon. Glancing around, she breathed a sigh of relief. Nothing above the door. Nothing on the opposite lintel. Careful now, Shiloh looked down, butterflies stirring restlessly in her stomach, her toes instinctively curling away from the innocuous palisade of white in her front of her feet. That one had nearly worked.
Taking a cautious step backward, Shiloh stood in the doorway, taking stock of the day. Grey, pre-dawn light softened the world outside, drawing long shadows on the red earth beyond her front porch. Cool air touched her skin, something to be relished before the sun rose and the air became a moving blanket of warmth.
Shiloh glanced down at the tower ring. The warmth would nullify most of the magic, but she wondered how those on the other side would cope with the sudden influx of red dust and heat. She wondered if they would be attracted to it as she had been, if any more would be tempted to cross.
A milk crate stood to one side of the door. The station hands used it as a seat when they took off their boots before coming inside, or when they wanted a smoke at the end of the day. West-facing, they stared into the growing dark, watching the sun fade from the sky and enjoying the cooling pallor of evening before heading in to shower the red dirt from their skins and hair.
Shiloh didn’t want to think of what would happen to those bright-eyed boys in the shadowed cold of the other world. She glanced at the towers inside their protective silk fences and sighed. Who knew refusing a marriage would be so hard. She fetched the old metal dustpan from the kitchen, found a paint scraper the boys used for cleaning cow shit from their boots, and crushed each tower complex with a decisive swat of the flat metal blade.
Even with the protection of iron to shield her, Shiloh felt the sting of dying magic touch her through the scraper’s handle, felt the outrage of its creator and the resulting sadness in her heart. Of course, there was only one who could have tracked her. The partial pre-marital bonding still held, a barrier to her finding happiness with anyone else, a tangible link between this world and the next. Or, perhaps, she truly did love the man she’d promised to wed. Loved him, even when she could not live within the constraints of his world. The bonding should not have held when she disrupted the last ceremony, destroying the gifts that would have completed the tie. Only her only feelings maintained it now.
Shiloh swept the crushed remains into the old iron dustpan. Again, the wooden handle protected her from the last sparking remains of power, but not the emotions of its creator. Joy? A faint surge of happiness eclipsing the chagrin and anger at the destruction of so exquisite a crafting? Even sensing the emotion raised Shiloh’s pulse. Sweeping the remnants into the rubbish bins at the side of the stockmen's quarters, Shiloh looked up at the sky, using the brightness of the sun to dry her tears. She didn’t want to run again.
Shiloh wiped the back of her hand over her eyes, brushing the last tell-tale moistness away, then she turned and walked back inside. She’d be safe until just after dusk. Dusk, when the air would grow cool enough for her fiancĂ© to make another attempt. Moving would do her no good. He’d only find her again. And again. And again.
Shiloh knew she’d just have to face facts. The ceremonies didn’t work unless the attraction was there already, unless each half of the couple wanted to make it work. Tallean was her choice of partner. His persistence proved he had chosen her. Their differences aside, they both wanted the same thing. The only problem was that Shiloh didn’t want everything that went with it. She couldn’t—wouldn’t—live in The Grey.
As usual, thinking of him and the world beyond, opened the link enough she could imagine hearing his voice again.
“Come back, princess mine.”
The words were always the same.
“Come back, princess mine.”
But she couldn’t.
Shiloh returned to the porch, moved the milk crate back to its position by the wall, sat down. Staring out into the wild country surrounding the stockmen’s quarters, she let her mind wander, absorbed the colours. The red of the earth, the bright blue of the open sky, the myriad of green and grey foliage, the white splash of paper daisies and the brilliant yellow cluster-puffs of wattle. Much as she loved Tallean, she couldn’t, wouldn’t, give this up.
“Colour my world.”
The words brought tears to Shiloh’s eyes.
I can’t.
“It wasn’t always grey.”
It’s so cold. Always cold. Shiloh blinked, soaking in the heat reflected from the ground outside. Even she couldn’t go out in such brightness, the warmth of full day always too warm for Shiloh’s otherworld skin.
“It’s grown colder since you fled.” The sadness in Tallean’s voice brought more tears to her eyes, blurring the brilliance of the world beyond.
Ridiculous, Shiloh thought. I can feel him standing at my side, his hand on my shoulder, as in days gone by.
“But that’s because I am here.” This time Tallean’s voice was an all-too-real rumble from just above her head.
Shiloh drew a sharp breath of surprise, but Tallean continued, “I can see why you like it here. The colours…”
Shiloh waited, feeling her lover’s pleasure in the sight, feeling his regret, the gentle squeeze of fingers on her shoulder.
“I cannot ask you to give it up,” Tallean said, and Shiloh felt the pressure of his fingers start to fade. “But think of me.”
“Tallean, I…” But he was gone.
Can I really bring colour to your world?
“Yes.”

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