Photo credit, Poison, by Victoria Frances.
Here’s another short story using this picture prompt. I wrote for #WordingWednesdays, the online writing group on MeWe, I call it
The Last Parade.
“Don’t you think a black cat is a bit too–stereotypical?” Sidney asked, raising his eyebrows high. “Why not a dog, or better yet, a robot with grinding gears and flashing eye bulbs?”
“Hush, Sid.” I furrowed my brow, concentrating on not spilling a single drop of the solution. I poured slowly from the conical into the brown bottle. Even the slightest contact as it hit the bottom of the vial brought reactive fumes and vapors to the top of the eight ounce glass bottle. I was thankful for the makeshift mask, a thick wool rag tied around my head bandit-style.
“Sire, look!” Sid walked to the window, then looked back at me rubbing his hands up and down his thighs as if they were cold. I could tell he was getting antsy. “Professor come here, you have to see this!”
I ignored him.
“Fine. Stay there. But we’d better hurry though from the looks of things,” he continued, “Surely, we’ll make it. There are a ton of people on the street. Do you promise they’ll let us aboard? What if—“
I twisted the lid sharply on the bottle then jerked the rag down from my nose. It hung loosely around my neck only a moment before I raised my hand and pointed a finger, zapping it around Sidney’s neck as he stood across the room by the window. I tightened it for effect. He grabbed at it, squeaking his surprise. His eyes bulged but–more to the point– he remained silent.
I chuckled at his discomfort and appearance, then loosened the knot with a twirl of my finger. Even clean, Sidney managed to look dirty, like an unkempt vagabond. His black hair looked constantly bed-ruffled. He wore laceless scuffed boots, an overcoat too big for his smaller frame, and there was a hint of a mustache that looked more like a smear of dirt above his lip. He was the exact opposite from my dapper three-piece-suited self.
“How many more elixirs have you to make?” He rubbed his neck, scowling at me. “You already have dozens.”
Setting the bottle on a square of burlap, I brought up the corners over the glass and tied it with twine around the neck of the bottle. I picked up a thin piece of coal. All of them had a symbol of some sort, and on this one I drew a skull and crossbones–Poison.
“Five more should do it. It’s hard to know what ones I may need, Sidney. And because of the uncertainty of any ingredients being available once we’re there …” I said, letting the comment drift. I held out the bottle for him to pack away with the others, as was our procedure.
He huffed and grabbed it as if it were a sack lunch.
“Sidney! Have a care, lest I decide you should stay behind after all. And pack it well just like the others.” He, clearly, was not happy about the cat thing. I sighed.
Why did my familiar have to be human? A very nervous, garrulous human. Ah well, I suppose the trade-off was having an extra pair of hands once in a while.
I watched him open the heavy lid of the wardrobe trunk. He removed the feminine clothes on top—much to his embarrassed confusion when I asked him to search for them last week—then lifted the false bottom. He searched for an open area amid the cotton padding and other bottles. Finding a place, he tore some of the cotton, then wrapped the glass bottle before setting it into the bottom, taking care none touched each other.
I slipped the gold pocket watch from my vest and mentally calculated what I had left to do and how much time was left to do it in. It was two-thirty in the afternoon. I had two and a half hours to do five hours of work.
Within thirty minutes of five o’clock I was exhausted, but had the finished potions in record time. Sidney packed the last vial safely among the others and placed more cotton packing on top of all. He carefully fit the false flooring onto the padding, then folded the garments—pantaloons, lace underskirts, stockings, colored corsets, hair ribbons, and nightgowns—and placed them on top before shutting the lid. He locked it and handed me the key. I tucked it away in my vest.
Summoning my strength, I raised both hands over the trunk and murmured the protection spell to safeguard the potions. There was no telling how time travel could possibly affect the potency and I could not afford to take chances.
“What now?” Sid asked. “Is it time to–you know,” He wiggled his fingers in the air at me with a sorrowful expression then mercurially his look changed as a happier thought occurred to him. “Do I have time to make a sandwich? Because I’m really hungry. No telling how long before we eat again. Want one? How long do you suppose it takes to get there? Should I pack food?”
I rubbed my eyelids, moving forefinger and thumb back and forth. It never ends, the rambling. On and on and on …
“I feel a tired headache coming on, Sidney.” I switched to massaging my forehead. “Perhaps just a glass of water and an aspirin for me. “I’m going to simply close my eyes and rest a few moments in peace and quiet if you don’t mind, Sidney, before we leave.” I said pointedly, reclining back on the chaise lounge.
Sidney left for the kitchen and there was blissful silence. I couldn’t turn my mind off, though.
I looked around the sparse apartment that we had called home for the past two centuries. I wasn’t sure if what I felt was sentimental nostalgia, or exhaustion from days and days of preparation. It certainly wasn’t fear regarding our departure. Was it? I squelched down those second thoughts. I had no time for whatever was trying to creep into my psyche.
I called out to Sidney loud enough for him to hear in the kitchen. “Gather up the last of whatever you want or may need, Sidney,—the compass, the pocketknife, the flintlock if you think you might need it— whatever will fit into the carpet bag.”
I got up, finding little relief from reclining and clasped hands behind my back and walked to the window. “Oh, and see if there’s room for the picture album, will you? The small one.”
Yes, it was just nostalgia; foolish wonderful sentimental nostalgia, I thought. I turned my attention outside.
Flying machines of various types and sizes flew slowly, single file, past the buildings on Main Street. They were eye level with our window. Fascinated, as if viewing a revamped Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade where machinery was the highlight, I watched. There were reconstructed hot air balloons in fantastical shapes, boats with sails were also rigged with several propellers along the hull, carriages with large wheels rotated a variety of windmill blades as they all followed one another through the air. One machine was comprised of two bicycles attached to each side of a huge basket. It held a family of four—six counting the two peddlers–which churned the helicopter-size blade overhead that kept them airborne in the queue.
“Here ya go, sire.” Sidney said, joining me at the window. He handed me a glass and aspirin and asked, “When is the last community Zeppelin scheduled to load?”
“At five thirty.” I said, throwing back the pills and emptying the glass. “The women and children will board first. I don’t think all the men will be as fortunate. It will fill up faster than they think and I want to leave shortly to secure a spot. I fear there will be maniacal rioting near the entrance before the door closes.”
We stood there silently, gazing beyond our desperately dying world into the distance at the ominous blueish-black hole, churning and spinning in a spiral. It covered half the horizon, and it’s circumference was increasing in size each day. Two days ago, it was smaller and the land was covered with motor machines; the first to drive into the dark depths. Now, those of us who waited until the last minute to depart relied on the quicker flying machines.
And sadly, those who stayed behind—those without transportation, or those hiding scared, or those stubborn delusional ones—would be dead in under a year. There will be no food, no water, no resources, and no sun.
Thankfully, this strange hole found us in time, doing what normal black holes do—eating everything in it’s path including planets and stars. I would be scared silly if not for the vision I had confirming that Sid and I would be okay. And it was not on this planet. It was a world unlike any other I’d ever seen. I didn’t understand it at the time, but now that it all makes sense, find myself eagerly awaiting the unknown.
“We must ready ourselves, Sidney.” I said, breaking my reverie. I began removing my clothes. Sidney fidgeted with the buttons on his coat. In spite of Sid’s nervousness, and anxiety about leaving, the look on his face was resigned. He shoved our clothes in the carpet bag. I hoped they would allow a second bag.
We stood in the middle of the room in our skivvies. “Are you ready, Sid?”
“You sure I have to be a cat?” He whined.
“Takes up little space,” I said, nodding. “I could take you as a goldfish, if you’d rather?”
He shook his head, grimacing out the side of his mouth, and closed his eyes. I lifted my hands to him and within a second he was gone in a puff of smoke. I closed my own eyes, and lifted my arms, hand ups, from my side toward the ceiling. The room began to shake, then Poof! I was … opening my eyes.
When the cloud settled, Sidney the green-eyed black cat, stood watching me warily. I smiled, taking immense pleasure in looking at him. Finally, I have a cat as a familiar!
I turned and looked in the mirror. Staring back at me was a voluptuous brunette with waist length hair wearing a sexy black corset, and a full midi skirt with a lacy petticoat underneath. I looked down. I couldn’t see my feet. There were … things in the way.
“Sidney! Look, I have boobs.” Sidney was more interested in licking his paw.
I bent further forward and saw high-heeled black-laced boots. I turned this way and that.
This would take some getting used to.
“What do you think, Sidney?” He yawned wide, then meowed.
“I agree. I look wickedly good.” I fiddled with the medallion on my necklace. I recognized it as one like my grandmother had worn. I practiced smiling in the mirror–different alluring and pouty smiles. I decided on a coy one with a side eye glance.
“I told you I would secure our passage on the Zeppelin. Never underestimate me, Sid. And quit sulking. We will change into … whatever we need to when we get there.” I put on the finishing touch; a purple top hat with a black sash and bow. I eyed myself up and down, satisfied.
“Let us be on our way, Sidney.” I walked to the heavy trunk. “Climb up, my dear fluffy boy.” I effected affectionate, gooey cat-speak to Sid as he jumped up and landed on the trunk. I ran my black gloved hand over his arched back, before flattening it out over the trunk. Slowly, it rose to meet my outstretched hand. I clasped the handle and the heavy wardrobe stayed an inch off the floor gliding effortlessly beside me. I picked up the carpetbag with the other hand and into the hall we went.
I practiced swaying my hips, awkwardly, then promptly turned my ankle sideways. I may have to use magic just to walk in these contraptions, I thought.
We had just rounded the corner when loud sirens began screeching an alarm. People began running and crying and bumping into each other like they never knew this day would come
So many still were here!
As if alerting an incoming air raid of years ago, the tightly wound air sirens began screaming throughout the broken city, sounding the call for departure on the grand Zeppelin. It was deafening and shattered all thought.
In the years to come, I would remember this sound with sadness, thinking it mimicked the cries of those left behind as we rose into the sky.
By Ronda K. Reed