I have been a member of the Fantasy Faction forum for getting on for five years now and one of the best things about the community has been the writing contest. It’s been a little defunct recently so this is the last winner for a while, but if you want to swing on by to help get it going again, that’d be great!
The theme for the competition when this story won was “Combine an historical event with magic” and the story is “Easier to Believe” by wakarimasen
The muffled sobs had given away his granddaughter’s hiding place. She was curled as tight as a woodlouse against a tea chest, hidden from the attic entrance by the room’s odd centerpiece.
“What on Earth are you doing girl?” He asked in a far gentler tone than he normally used on trespassers in his gloomy sanctum. Uncurling enough to wipe her face on her sleeve, the child looked up but didn’t reply. The old man reached out.“Come on. I won’t tell anyone you’re up here, but at least sit round here in the light.”
He tried not to wince as a snotty hand grasped his and the child allowed herself to be guided to a low chest. He surreptitiously wiped his hand and dropped into a throne opposite her. No doubt the high backed chair had been built to impress, festooned as it was with beasts howling and clawed, but it was now less imposing thanks to the battered floral cushion that made it comfortable. The old man regarded his granddaughter, who in return looked anywhere but at him as she tugged her sleeves down over her hands. The girl’s gaze rested on a fat jar with a narrow neck, only slightly smaller than she was. Within that jar was another, and another within that and so on, shrinking in an impossible nest. It was hard to tell how many there were in total, but you could clearly see that at its centre it was empty.
“It’s not you know.” The old man said. “Empty, that is. That there is one of my most prized artifacts. One to which I owe my freedom, if not my very life. Do you know what it contains?”
The girl leaned toward it with a frown, red eyes narrowing. She shook her head.
“Secrets.” The old man told her. “It holds secrets so that no one else can know them.”
The girl wiped her face again, her shuddering had stopped but her distress was evident. The old man ground his teeth but then asked in a steady voice.
“Do you have anything you’d like to put in there?” He ventured. The girl tried to pull her sleeves even further down and shook her head, eyes locking to the floor. Her grandfather coughed.
“Well, how about I tell you about one of mine that is in there? Something hardly anyone knows. Something so utterly unbelievable that even if most people did know it they would say it was not true.” He leaned forward with a conspiratorial whisper. “Something about the door.”
The girl’s eyes tracked up to the worn oak archway that stood in the middle of the room. The strangest of the strange things in her adopted hiding place. She looked at the old man’s cocked eyebrow.
“Yes please Grandsha.” She managed. The old man smiled.
“To know about that door, my girl, you have to know what I was doing some fifty years or so ago. Ahhh. The 1960s.” A warm smile of remembrance split his lined face. “I was a wild spirit, lass. A wild spirit. I had been privileged to have the best education, studying the classics, and my family had a fine future mapped out for me. But such dull, fixed, paths are not for wild spirits and I broke with my family, taking off to study archaeology with an equally wild set of friends. Now, you may think that archeology is the dusty study of Egyptian tombs, but no lass, not for a foppish band of adventurers like us. Ours was the study of the mysterious and the occult, of witchcraft and legends from the mist. We lived in tents and wandered the star-lit fields, sometimes with nothing on at all!” He made a scandalous face at the girl, who almost smiled. “Well. It was sometime in 1965 that we found our way to studying the Autharian myths. You know about King Arthur do you lass? And Merlin?”
The girl nodded. Satisfied, her grandfather continued. “Well, we fancied ourselves the great wizard’s heirs, the inheritors of his gifts. We toiled in barrows and caverns, deciphering scrolls that had been long hidden. We walked in the land of man and in the kingdom of our minds using potions ancient and modern… but..” He coughed. “… that bit is probably more appropriate for when you are older.”
The girl eyed his reddening face with suspicion and it was his turn to look away.
“Point is… it was during these investigations that we came to find the Island of Avalon. Most people will say that it does not exist of course, the resting place of Arthur the once and future king! They, however, do not know that it is simply unreachable without the portal that Merlin himself enchanted.”
He waited for the girl to examine the door afresh. A humble oak doar, held upright in its frame by lumps of stone. She shuffled a little further away from it.
“Oh don’t worry. Its power is almost spent. You see, Avalon was intended to be unreachable to man, so Merlin placed it in an airless world of cold, a place so familiar and yet so unknown none would think to look there for his King.”
“Where was it?” The girl asked, her attention taken.
“Ah… well there’s the thing. This tale does not just involve kings of old but the warriors of the present. To be more exact, the American army. I’m not sure how much you know about that time but there were two great nations locked in a race to prove themselves better than each other. One was the United States, who were mildly less worrying than the other which was the Soviet Union. There were several amongst my wild brethren who wished one or the other triumph. I myself was ambivalent, utterly obsessed as I was with unlocking the mysteries of the portal. I had mastered the mind magics needed to open the door to Avalon when we came to the attention of the C.I.A… which is a sort of secret police for America. They raided our little commune of wigwams in the dead of night, carting us off to the arid deserts of Arizona without so much as thankyouverymuch.”
The girl looked at him, her fear apparent.
“Oh yes, lass. I know what it is to be torn from my slumber and dragged against my will to a place of fear.”
The girl pulled her legs quickly to her chest and he cursed his ham-fisted fumbling. Quickly, he held out his open palm and summoned a green flame. A simple cantrip, but enough to pull the child out of her retreat. He smiled, snuffed the flame, and continued.
“They weren’t too bad really, they were just scared. They were locked in this race and so terrified that the Soviets would win, that their enemy would achieve a great milestone and prove to the world that their ways were superior. The CIA were seeking any advantage they could, even chasing bands of hippy wizards across Somerset on the rumour that they held a great secret. When they discovered the truth of my work with the portal I think they were almost as scared of me as they were the Russians!”
His granddaughter twisted her face in disbelief as she eyed up his floppy, slightly grubby, clothes.
“I know, right? But that is how it was, and still is. If men find something they don’t understand, like sorcery, their first instinct is to push it away. If they cannot avoid it then they threaten it, hoping to control what they do not comprehend. Eventually though, when their need to beat the Soviets outweighed their fear of us, we were brought into the fold. We were not only part of their plan, we were their plan. We were to help them put American men on the moon.”
He waited for the realisation to sink in and nodded happily as the girl’s head snapped back and forth between him and the door.
“It goes to the moon?” She asked, gaping.
“A cold and airless world.” Her grandfather repeated. “Yes. The moon. The two nations were neck and neck in a frantic race to reach a place that Merlin had conquered almost a thousand years before. Their scientists worked ceaselessly to create the rockets that would one day cross the void and land in the selenium realm! But… it was too close. The Americans were not ready and when they found that I had divined the means to cross the gulf of space, they chose deception over revelation. No one, they reasoned, would believe that a wizard could part the veil of existence and step to our satellite as easily as to the next room! No. It is far easier to believe a fiery column of metal could be crafted to cross there over weeks. So that’s what they told everyone. Whilst a world watched scratchy, black and white images of a mighty Saturn rocket powering skyward I was meeting a team of three men that would be sent through the Portal of Avalon to stand on the moon.”
“Did they make you do it?”
He considered the girl for a second. “No. Not exactly. I wanted to do it. You see, mighty though my powers had become I could no more survive on the moon than a kitten can survive a volcano. The spacesuits and rovers which were being constructed offered a way for me to finally send people across, people who might tell me more about Arthur’s fate. I had little alternative anyway, and as long as I committed to the great lie I was allowed to continue my researches. Studies that led, to among other things, that secret reliquary that you were admiring.” He nodded back to the glass jars. “And so it was, on July the twentieth, 1969. The world once again watched those shaky, monochrome pictures. The Americans had won the race. They had put a man on the moon. The signals came from the moon, the environment could not be faked. Well, later people thought they had, but the detritus of the missions is up there still. The proof. Proof of a thing that happened in a way that was easier to believe than the truth.”
“Can we go there?”
“What? Heavens no. We wouldn’t last ten seconds. Besides, all power has its limits and by the time everyone had lost interest and the race had turned to more atomic matters, I had all but expended the power of the portal. There is perhaps a single, one way, trip left in her timbers. Only one.” He reached out to pat the doorframe.
His granddaughter leant forward to emulate him. Her sleeves rode far enough up her arms to reveal lurid purple bruises. The old man looked to the vaulted ceiling, hiding his pain. Then got to his feet with a clap of his hands.
“Well, now you know a truth which I have hidden in those bottles for half a century. A secret that even those people who were involved have forgotten because I hid it so. Keep it to yourself, won’t you?”
“Yes grandsha. I can keep a secret.”
The old man nodded with unhappy agreement. Then stretched. “Now, run along to your mother will you, and send that hulking step father of yours up here. Tell him I need his help moving something.”
The girl shrank into herself. “Do I have to grandsha?”
The old man let his mask fall away, let the gravity and fire that was still his to command show in his bearing and expression.
“Be brave, young wild spirit. Send him to me.” He placed a hand on the door at their side. “He is but one step from your freedom.”
The girl finally looked him in the eye, hope and pain mixed together. Then she nodded and ran for the stairs.