The Field of Glass Gem

Late summer days in Illinois could get oppressively hot. Thankfully, today was merely pleasantly warm. In the countryside, with no buildings in the way, the sky was clear blue. The red and cream checkered picnic blanket contrasted with the green of the grass. Nearby, a field of corn reached to the sky.

“This is very nice, John. But why are we here?” Rachel had her legs straight out in front of her as she sat on the blanket next to the picnic basket.

“I thought it would be nice to get out to the country and have some time away from everything.” John sat with his legs crossed on the other side of the basket.

“But isn’t your mother expecting us?”

“Well…”

“John?”

“No. My mom isn’t expecting us. I just used that as an excuse to get you to come out here with me.”

“What? You said this was important! You know I have a big project at work. I only came so your mother wouldn’t have any more reason to dislike me.”

“She doesn’t dislike you.”

“That’s not the point. The point is, I don’t have time for a picnic right now.”

“But you’ve been so busy at work lately. I thought you needed a break. Look, I even made your favorite, blueberry scones.” John opened the basket and brought out a small container. Inside were several triangular-shaped scones.

Rachel picked up the one on top, looked at it with mild annoyance, and then threw it into the cornfield. “I don’t care. I don’t appreciate being lied to.”

John didn’t say anything. He simply stared with his mouth open at the place she had thrown the scone.

“Look. I know you were trying to be nice, but . . .”

While she was still talking, he jumped up and ran into the corn. Rachel got up a bit more slowly and followed, calling after him.

“John? John! What are you doing?”

He was already out of sight, but she heard him answer. “I’ve got to find that scone!”

“What?” She pushed her way in and found him on his hands and knees, carefully inspecting the ground. “John, we have other scones. Are you even going to apologize for lying?”

“I’m sorry, Rachel, I really am,” John said without looking up. “But it’s really important I find that scone.”

“Why?”

“It’s supposed to be a surprise.”

“A surprise scone?”

“It’s . . . Look, I’ll explain when we find it.”

“Well, it can’t be too far. I didn’t throw it that hard.”

“You played softball in college. You were a pitcher.”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t pitching the scone.”

John continued searching, looking behind the base of each stalk and sifting dirt through his fingers. Rachel showed little interest in his frantic search, instead turning her attention to the corn that surrounded them. “What kind of corn do you suppose this?”

“How should I know, Rachel?”

“Weren’t you raised on a farm?”

“We didn’t grow corn.”

Rachel reached and pulled an ear off of a nearby stalk.

“Don’t do that. This is someone’s crop.”

“It’s just one ear. I only want to see what it is . . . Oh my!”

“What?” John finally looked up to see Rachel holding an ear of corn she had partially pulled the husk off of. The kernels were colors neither of them had seen on corn, and each shone as though it had been polished. Bubblegum pink, deep burgundy, pearl, even amethyst were dotted throughout. It looked like a cob of jewels.

“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” John said after admiring it for a moment.

“I think it’s called Glass Gem. I’ve never seen it in person, though. It’s beautiful.”

“Yes, it is.” At that moment, John noticed a light-colored triangle on the ground. It was the scone. Before he could get to it, however, a small creature, maybe a squirrel or chipmunk, grabbed it and began running away.

“No! Come back here! Drop it!” John chased after the creature, desperation driving him to crash through stalks, cutting across the rows. Still he couldn’t keep up with it, and, after a few minutes of following it, he lost any trace of the creature.

“John!” Rachel’s voice sounded distant. “Dammit! Don’t leave me here. John!”

The scone was gone, and along with it, the romantic moment he had planned. Rachel was mad at him. Nothing had gone the way it was supposed to. He began making his way back to Rachel and called out, his defeat obvious in every word. “I’m coming back. I haven’t left.” The least he could do was reassure her. Hoping to save the situation somehow, he plucked his own ear of corn as he walked.

When he reached her, there was a little anger on her face, but mostly, she looked worried.

“There you are. Please don’t run off like that.”

He walked up to her and got down on one knee. “I know this doesn’t make up for anything, but will you marry me, Rachel?” He held up the ear of Glass Gem corn, which was sparkling in the sunlight.

“John. That’s so sweet.”

“I had a ring, but . . .”

“This ring?” Rachel held out a ring made of two delicate bands, one white gold and the other rose gold, woven together. The round stone in the center was a light blue aquamarine, and on either side of it sat two smaller diamonds.

“Where . . .?”

“Before I threw the scone. I saw it embedded in there and pulled it out. Honestly, who puts a ring into food? I might have chipped a tooth.”

“This entire time?”

“Well, you were so panicked, and I was still a little mad that you lied to me.” She put the ring on her finger. “Yes, I will. And thank you for the beautiful ear of corn. I’ll treasure it.” She took it from him and bent down to give him a kiss.

This week’s story was submitted for the second challenge of the NYC Midnight 2021 Flash Fiction challenge. While this story was well-received by the judges, I did not advance to the next round of the competition. Still, I enjoyed writing this, and I hope you enjoy reading it.

Equal Exchange

The solution took Thomas weeks to work out, and once he did, it seemed obvious. Even so, he wasn’t at all sure that it was possible. Determined to make the attempt, he once again wrapped the note in a shell to isolate it from time and projected himself into the past.

Back in his old lab, he began looking for something he could use. The overall tidiness of the room made his search harder. Finally, he found a crumpled piece of paper in the wastebasket. Unable to interact with it directly, Thomas began casting the stasis spell. This was the most uncertain part of the solution: would he be able to cast a spell in the past? Against his expectations, it worked, and the paper was unmoored from time. Now he could pick it up easily.

The idea was an equal exchange of mass between temporal moments should prevent time from rejecting either. He had succeeded in removing the mass of the crumpled paper, so theoretically there should be a “gap” in mass that his note could now fill. He placed the note on the table in the corner, and, after a deep breath, released the stasis spell. Unlike his first attempt, the note stayed where it was. Now he had to wait for his past self to notice it.

Nearly an hour passed before his patience was rewarded. When the other Thomas saw the note, he picked it up and unfolded it. As he read, his face did not hide his surprise. Now that he had accomplished his goal, Thomas returned to his own present.

He was back in the house he had founded. There were no obvious changes. Thomas did not even remember finding and reading the note. Yet he had watched himself read it. Why did his memories not reflect that? Something had to be different. Perhaps the attack had changed, even though there were no obvious changes in his own room. The only way to be certain was to travel back and watch it again. He had visited that moment so often that he could cast the spell without thinking about it.

The scene looked just as it had every other time he had watched it. Just as the intruder entered the lab, Thomas cast a spell to stop time. He hadn’t tried before, but his success with the stasis spell gave him reason to believe it would work. When he finished casting everything was frozen. Now he could examine the attacker more closely.

As he approached the other mage, a voice startled him.

“You aren’t the only one who can wield time magic, you know.” The other mage was staring straight at him.

“How . . . ?”

“I just told you. I’m not going to repeat myself.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Before I answer that, what are you doing?”

“I am trying to discover the motive behind this attack, as well as the identity of you and your accomplices.”

“Really? That’s all you’re trying to do? Nothing more?”

“What else would I be doing?”

“Trying to change the past, perhaps? Alter the outcome of this encounter?”

“What if I am?”

“I would have thought your master taught you better.”

“You mean the man you kill?”

“None of this happens without you. Try to remember that.”

Even though Thomas had not canceled his spell, time began moving again. The attack began to play out just as it always had. He didn’t wait for it to end. Instead, he returned to his present.

Having nothing to offset the extra mass, he left the piece from the attacker’s shirt in its stasis shell. Once he could figure out how to remove it without it disappearing from this time, the fabric might provide him with some clue about the identity of the attackers.

The Problem with Roommates

Matthew was in his rooms when magic began behaving strangely. There were a number of power cells he had created using electricity magic, and each of them began throwing off sparks at the same time. The electrical discharges became more frequent until each was just a thread of electric current. All of the threads were curving towards one wall, each a tendril reaching for . . . something. Whatever they were pointing to was beyond the wall that separated Matthew’s and Thomas’s rooms.

Worried about the risk from fire, he began deactivating the cells. Before he could finish, however, a crashing sound from the other side of the wall distracted him, and when it had stopped the streams of electric current disappeared. He waited a few moments in case the strange effect started up again. When it seemed that it had truly passed, he hurried to Thomas’s door.

Sarah was already there, knocking.

“Thomas? Is everything alright?”

“So it wasn’t just my imagination.”

“All my illusions began to distort.”

Sarah knocked again, and the door opened. Thomas stood on the other side of the threshold, disappointment obvious in his demeanor.

“My apologies for the noise. A bookcase fell over.”

“That doesn’t explain why our magics began to warp,” Matthew said. “What are you doing in there?”

“I was just working on some research.”

“Thomas,” Sarah interjected. “Whatever you are up to in there is affecting us. We need to know what’s going on.”

“I am not ready to talk about it yet.” Thomas seemed ready to leave the issue there, but Matthew wasn’t.

“I respect everybody wanting to keep their research private, but when it goes beyond your lab, we need to know if it’s dangerous.”

Thomas sighed. “I am trying to discover the identity of those who attacked my master’s house. I thought I had worked a spell that would reveal new information. The results were . . . unexpected.”

“That’s it?” Sarah sounded unconvinced.

“Yes. I have to rethink the spell. I will not cast it again without giving you notice.”

“Can we help?” Matthew offered.

“It relies on time magic. I do not think either of you will be able to assist me.”

“Well, if there is anything we can do . . . We were there, too, and we want answers as well. Just . . . Be careful.”

“I will. And again, I apologize for disturbing you both.”

After the door closed, Matthew gave Sarah a questioning look. She shrugged back. “It’s plausible. I’ve never had much experience with time magic. And while he doesn’t show it, the Mistress did tell me he was distressed about the attack.”

“Should we do anything?”

“I don’t think he’ll let us. Not right now, anyway. We’ll just have to trust him to keep his word about keeping us informed.” With a weak smile, Sarah headed back to her rooms, leaving Matthew alone with his doubts.

Experimenting with Time

The man entered the lab and started casting. Thomas had watched this scene play out many times. His younger self began casting a protection spell that would only partially keep him from harm. He stopped watching before Matthew dispatched the intruder.

It had been almost a year since he had established his house, and most of that time was spent revisiting the moment he had been attacked. No matter how often Thomas observed it, he could find no additional information that might lead him to the identity or motive of the attackers. Because he only had a link to himself, he could not view any other members of the house; this fact had completely thwarted his attempts at getting answers. He needed to know more.

His research had led him to one idea; it was risky and might not work, but he had gotten nowhere merely observing the past. Under the supervision of his master, he had mastered a stasis spell that would protect an object from the flow of time. The spell was intended to preserve items from decay, but he had come to believe it could be used to insert something into a different time. If it worked, he could warn his past self about the attack before it happened.

The note was short and direct, indicating the date and time of the attack. He had written it by hand and ensured that his handwriting would be recognizable. The paper itself was folded into a small square so that the stasis spell wouldn’t need to be large and also to minimize the impact on the past. The spell was relatively simple, merely a modification of the spell he had originally mastered. The original spell rooted its target to a particular moment in time, isolating it from the normal effects of time’s passage. His modification unmoored the target from time entirely. His master would have vehemently opposed this use of the spell were he still alive to raise an objection.

Once the note was protected, he secured it inside his sleeve and began projecting his consciousness back in time. This trip took him further into the past, arriving in his old lab a month or so prior to the attack. If his memory was accurate, his past self would be working on the modifications he was currently employing in this experiment.

Looking around the lab for a suitable place to leave the note, Thomas noticed an empty table in the corner. He placed the note in the center of the table where, given his own fastidiousness, it should stand out to his younger self. Intending to wait until the note had been discovered, Thomas released the stasis spell. The instant the spell ended, however, the note vanished.

The anti-climatic ending to this experiment caused disappointment mixed with relief. His plan had failed, but it hadn’t caused a catastrophe. The other Thomas hadn’t even looked up from his work. Determined to figure out what had gone wrong, he returned to the present.

Back in his rooms, he discovered that someone or something had caused a chaotic mess. One bookshelf had fallen over, spilling its contents onto the floor. A small hole in the wall where it had stood suggested something from the outside was the cause. His writing desk looked like it had been smashed by a sledgehammer. Finally, in the center of a small clear patch on the floor, he saw a small square of paper. The note had returned to its proper time.

Rejection

“Jason. Thank you for coming.” Thomas sat in the parlor. It was his favorite room in the Mistress’s house. Bright and peaceful, he had spent many hours reading there.

Jason stood in the doorway. “I couldn’t say no to you.”

“But you also couldn’t be on time.” Over the years they had known each other, Thomas had learned to expect Jason’s lack of responsibility, but he still pointed it out.

“There’s a reason this time. I knew we would need to have a private chat.” Jason finally entered the room and sat in a chair.

“Why is that?”

“I don’t know. I just knew it would be better to be late.”

Thomas knew from experience that he wouldn’t get any clarity from Jason, so he dropped the subject.

“I asked you here because I have a proposition for you. I inherited some money, and I plan to use it to start my own house. At the meeting I asked you to attend, I invited Sarah and Matthew to be founding members. They both accepted, and I’m hoping you will join us.”

“No.”

The speed of Jason’s response surprised Thomas. “At least take a moment to consider it.”

Jason smiled in that mysterious way that always vexed Thomas. “See? I was right. We do need to talk. Good thing I was late.”

Exasperated, Thomas asked, “What do you mean?”

“I think Sarah and Matthew will be great choices, but I can’t accept your invitation.”

“Why not?”

“I have things I need to do, and belonging to a house will get in the way.”

“What do you have to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? The house wouldn’t stop you from carrying out your research or whatever else you need to do. You know this.”

“It can’t be helped. I can’t be part of a house right now.”

“You’re not making any sense.”

“I’ve tried to explain this to you before. I just know when something is a bad idea.”

“So you are saying my house is a bad idea?”

“No. I’m saying it’s a bad idea for me. I need to be free from such associations right now.”

“You are actually turning me down?” Thomas was not certain which surprised him more: Jason turning him down or the disappointment he felt.

“It’s not you. I would have turned down any offers. Just not my path right now.”

“Well, I must say this is unexpected. And unfortunate. I suppose we will have to move forward without you.”

“You’ll be fine.” Jason continued to smile, much to Thomas’s annoyance.