Cheri and I have this amazing, superhuman ability to modulate our writing tones to match each other’s. Okay, so not much of a super power, but still, it’s pretty cool. With that, we did another prompt where we got a prompt from the Banana Bunch (umbrella in the desert) and both started a story. Then after 15 min, the other person had to finish it. This was one of the stories we came up with:
The desert people of Gartha were known for their ornate, delicate lace umbrellas. They would go down to the villages in the tropics hundreds of miles away to sell them as their living. The otherwise simple folk did not use their own creations for their daily life of herding and migrating to the next waterhole, but rather worked long into the cold nights on their masterful creations.
Each desert family had their own series of designs that they would imbue into their works. The best of this small travelling group was known as the Vabishne family — and it is with their youngest that the story begins.
From before she could walk, Ashke would sit next to her mother and father and watch them weave thin strands of fleece mixed with the desert spider’s webbing to create the sturdy umbrella designs. Filled with holes and useless against the harsh sun, she always wondered why they gave up so much time and themselves into this useless art, but they were always so proud of their creations and others were grateful for their skills brought renown to this small group of hard workers.
Ashke started as they all do — carding the wool and the webbing — but she found that when she did this rote action, something very unusual would happen. The threading was able to be spun finer, and lighter, and stronger, but not only that she could imbue it with her thoughts.
She first noticed when she spitefully sat one night with her two large brushes as she sat and brushed, and brushed, and brushed. Ashke hated doing things over and over and this particular night she was tired and the stars seemed to sing lullabies in the dark desert night. All she had wanted to do was sleep and yet she had to stay awake and brush, and brush, and brush.
The next morning as her family struggled to join the living, they noticed that Ashke’s carded materials shone brightly in the day. As her mother taught her the basics of weaving, Ashke hummed to herself and let the thread that she spun talk to her. As the design seemed to weave itself beneath her small hands, others gasped in delight — it seemed that the talent had bred true in the Vabishne family and little Ashke was the best of them.
When the season came to pass, her father travelled with all the other men and were gone for months. They came back with unusual stories.
Ashke’s desert umbrella was the first to sell and her father had been so proud. To the highest courtesan it went and she used it that very day to go to the biggest party of the city. During the warm city night, the Gartha were woken by screams and the sounds of armor clashing through the streets.
As the dawn broke spilling its red rays across the streets, they were told in hushed whispers that the courtesan had fallen into a fit of rage and slaughtered her patron and her guests with a beautiful, sharp hairpin.
The others spoke as though it were a great adventure but Ashke’s blood ran cold. She knew it had been her doings.
From then on, at a very young age, she forced herself into loving the art.
Ashke carded the wool and brushed out wove threads with the lightest touch of her fingers. Her every thought she made sure to saturate in sunlight and goodwill. Images of lush flower gardens and beautiful woman in trailing gowns swirled against her finished parasols, the lace thin as a sigh but strong enough to weather ill treatment and the occasional storm. Every city the merchants from Gartha came across touched Ashke’s creations like something holy. Though the tale of the courtesan and her blood-spattered desert umbrella persevered, soon enough there were whispers, and then outright merry gossip about the Gartha goods bringing fine luck to their new owners.
A lover in one city bestowed a beautiful creation upon his beloved — birds in flight and the dappled light through the canopy of finely feathered leaves — and their union ended a centuries-long feud among their famed families. A shrewd merchant in another bazaar kept his wife safe from the harsh sun with a gift of an umbrella — bursts of desert roses down every side — and her beauty attracted customers across the city, making the merchant the richest man in the marketplace. The stories went on and on and Ashke heard each with a long-held sigh of relief.
But it is a strange thing, holding to that shining light of forced joy. Though Ashke put her every effort into such luminous thoughts, her temper had always been uneven and her impatience with her art was hardly held in check with simple gratitude or other’s fortune. What of her own? she thought darkly. Was she ever to be held in false love for other’s sakes?
Such thoughts began to brush the edges of her conjured whimsy, night after night, slithering in along day’s end when she was most exhausted. It wasn’t long before the walls she had built snapped, a clean severance in such a tenuous tether.
Ashke built one last desert umbrella and it was such a thing to behold. The faces of all the Gartha, the Vabishne family prominent among the mural of expressions, were placed along the lace threads, love and laughter and faces caught in every manner of fright and sadness, ecstasy and surprise. Ashke showed it to her own family as the sun rose the next day, walking out to test the parasol as the light glowed beyond the curtains of every village window.
They say it was a sight to behold, the beautiful, tired girl and her creation. Later, there would be talk about the smears of blood hidden between each woven stitch of the otherwise pristine umbrella. Such detail was to be masked by the gossip about the way the sunlight hit the girl and the way she had smiled, so sweetly, as the sun touched the edge of her parasol, of her bare feet, of her upturned face, round as a cherub.
They said there was only a single, unending scream as her body burst into flames. There is talk, still, of the color of the flames and the nature of the ashes and burnt, black bones by the time it had all ended, the pyre her body became covered by the bent bodies of her family. No one paid any attention to the parasol then. It lolled on its side, beautiful. They say it caught the sunlight, rays through the design sending off a shadow. Screaming faces, they say. All the faces of Gartha, screaming.
Can you guess where the switch happened?