There was nothing fancy about the envelope, just a standard white business envelope. The postage was the basic flag forever stamp. Nothing but the address and return label on it. It would have been easy to ignore, toss it out as junk. But I recognized the return address, and it demanded my attention.

She had gone out of her way to type the address rather than write it in her easily recognizable looping script. That seemed heavy with meaning. Yet I couldn’t be sure what that meaning might be.

It would be simple to just open it and remove all the mystery. Instead, I had sat staring at it for over an hour, not even daring to touch it. It merely lay there, a veiled threat, already made, but not yet received.

It was probably the letter where she finally tells me everything I did wrong. How I hurt her. How I destroyed the relationship. Why I was a bad person and would never find happiness. The letter I had been waiting for, that confirmed everything I had been thinking over the last year. I wasn’t ready for that.

On the other hand, it might be mundane, just some unfinished business, fallout from disentangling two lives. Something about a signature on an official piece of paper. Or settling some outstanding financial matter. In any event, that would explain the impersonal envelope. Just business, nothing emotional.

I wasn’t sure which would be worse. Did I want to read someone else confirm all the horrible things I thought about myself? Or did I want to see five years reduced to some meaningless paperwork? I didn’t know. And I still haven’t opened the envelope.

Cut Off

He sat cross-legged in the grass. His knees complained only a little, which, given his age, was remarkable. Briefly closing his eyes, he summoned frost on the grass to encircle him. The flames that most used for such a ritual had always eluded him, but the frost was an adequate substitute, and a more appropriate one at that.

The sun was setting on his left as he drew forth a small bag from the folds of his robe. With a practiced gesture, he cast the runes on the ground in front of him. Closing his eyes so as to better feel them, he passed his hand slowly over the spot they lay.

But they weren’t there. He opened his eyes in surprise, and saw the stones right where he had cast them. He simply couldn’t feel their magic. They were inert. Quickly gathering the stones and placing them back in the bag, he cast them again. Once more, they were invisible to him.

Closing his eyes once more, he summoned a blizzard. When he looked, only a handful of snowflakes fell before giving up entirely. The frost making up the circle had already begun to melt.

The magic was still inside him; he could feel it. But he couldn’t access it, as if it were sealed behind a barrier. A sense of vulnerability began to overwhelm him. Nothing like this had ever happened to him. To any mage, as far as he knew. There must be some solution, but until he found it, he couldn’t count on magic to save him.

Always Turning on the Light Switch

She flipped the switch. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the light. The bedding was mostly on the floor, and several bottles of champagne had been emptied and left in different positions on the nightstands. It was a familiar scene.

A woman wrapped in a towel stepped out of the bathroom.

“Oh! I’m sorry. I didn’t realize anyone was in here.” She turned to leave, but the other stopped her.

“It’s fine. You probably need to get this room cleaned up. I’m afraid we made a bit of a mess.”

“I can come back later.”

“No, really, I don’t mind. I’m almost done, after all.”

She wasn’t sure what to do. The room needed to be done before check-in, but she wasn’t supposed to rush guests.

“Please stay.”

Reluctantly she turned back into the room. The woman was drying her hair with another towel.

“Thanks, I’ll stay out of your way. It’s just kind of… lonely. You know, the morning after?”

“I can’t say I do.”

“You clean all these rooms, but you’ve never enjoyed a stay in one?”

“No.” She stripped the bed and carried the sheets out to her cart. As she brought in a fresh set, she saw the woman was staring at her from the bathroom doorway.

“What do you do? For fun, I mean?”

“I do this.” She finished smoothing the sheets before returning the comforter to the top of the bed.

“This isn’t fun. This is work. Oh! Come out with me tonight!”

“I am not supposed to socialize with the guests.”

“Well I won’t tell anyone. Come out. Have fun. There’s more to life than cleaning up after other people. Please?”

“I… I’ll come back later to finish up. I’m sorry for intruding.” She left the room quickly before the woman could stop her again.

The Seasons

A single beam of light made it through the thick canopy to strike the forest floor. It was a sign of the end of summer that enough leaves had released their grip on branches to let the light through. A figure moving amongst the trees stepped to avoid the spot on the ground, though it smiled as it did so.

Another figure joined the first. “You would laugh at my end, sister?”

“Don’t be so dramatic. It is merely the passage of time. It happens every year.”

“And every year you seem happy about it.”

“Well, why shouldn’t I be? My time is upon us. Don’t you rejoice at the beginning of your season?”

“It is never enough.”

“Careful, brother. You’re beginning to sound like a human. They, too, jealously guard their time, and envy those they think have more.”

“I do not care. You can delay the change. If you have any affection for me, you will.”

She considered the suggestion. “For how long would you have me delay?”

“A month. Six weeks at the most.”

“Six weeks! You would have me give up half my season? And for what? Merely because you are not satisfied with your allotted time?”

“So you will not grant my request.”

“I should say not. Other things depend on the turning of the wheel. More important than your petty desire for more.”

“You hurt me, dear sister.”

Only then did Autumn perceive the danger. Summer had never called her ‘dear’ in the whole history of the world. By the time she had thought the unthinkable, Summer had taken hold of her and cast her into a deep pit hidden nearby.

“You will release me this instant or you will regret it!” Anger punctuated every syllable.

“I think not. Perhaps, if it were a week or two later, but you are not yet in your full. I, however, still retain most of my strength.”

“Our sisters will never let this stand.”

“Oh dear Autumn,” this time he made no attempt to conceal the sneer, “they will never know. They will simply marvel at your generosity. Or scowl at your negligence. They will not discover you.”

She had no response for his dismissal of the danger the others represented.

“Now enjoy the warmth down there. It will be with us for some time.”