On Fragility

Flash Fiction July, 15

She’s a whirlwind of drifting ivory silk dress and a mane of tangled rib-length hair. Some call her a wild creature, one conjured up from imagination, when the silk flutters at the slightest motion. No – she doesn’t even need motion, just the potential for it and the thin silk frays at the ends, sleeves with loose threads and the hem swirling around her ankles in a parody of a bridal gown.

She breathes in, needlessly. Counts to a thousand just because she can, feels her wrist for a pulse that isn’t there and wanders off, slips through the millimetres of space in between the door and the wall. It’s only uncomfortable for a moment.

Those who see her call her ethereal. She presents herself at whim and will, unrestrained by human law or lock, darts away in a blur of silk and hair and gossamer. (Sometimes, in her weaker-willed states, she overstays her welcome, pretends the humans are her friends – it always culminates in having to leave that much faster) They go a little mad after seeing her, think she’s some kind of an angel or fairy come to visit.

They call themselves chosen, unique, created. She doesn’t trouble herself to tell them that she has been sent for them, to observe and then leave without interference. It’s her own fault that she breaks the rules – she has never been any good at keeping to the rules.

Every time she leaves she has to create a diversion, humans don’t notice a lot but they aren’t completely ignorant, so she disappears into a thunderstorm. When she was human she always liked the sparkle of lightning glittering across the sky, liked counting and waiting for the thunder.The lightning blocks out the confused expressions as she’s leaving; thunder drowns out pleas for her to stay longer, to take human form and need her lungs again.

It doesn’t matter that she destroys the silk a dozen, hundred, thousand times over. At the end she recharges and it’s always mended, threads raveling back into place, tears in the fabric stitching themselves back up and her hair untangling into its normal long loose style.

Any little token she brings with her is inevitably gone in the time it takes a bolt of lightning to cross. (Well. It’s not like she has pockets or a bag to carry things)

She wanders the world like this, presenting herself to the selected humans who first go a little mad and then heal from it, become more whole and perfect than they were before. Her assignments are quick, easy, and she learns the habit of collecting dozens of little reminders of every human she meets. Before too long she goes a little mad herself, absorbing countless reminders of how a living room smelled like an herbal tea, how someone else had a piece of art on the wall of every room, hears a recollection of how people would speak and all the tiniest mannerisms of someone who knew how to be human.

She heals though. It takes very little time; when she has eternity, a few days pass in what feel like minutes. The world feels like it is expanding some days, when she roams to new places she hasn’t seen before and takes in all the sights like a ghost-tourist. On her time off, she makes herself invisible and takes the immediate world in the palm of her hand, examines the ones who don’t need to heal and makes sure they stay that way. Other times she goes through museums and galleries and shops, learns how the world is working.

(She has long since forgotten which year it is)

It doesn’t matter that she can’t physically interact with the world, pick up a book or run her fingers over a dress to feel the material. She listens to music and hovers invisibly over someone reading for hours on end, follows the story and watches the reader make marginalia all over the pages.

It’s a good practice, she thinks humbly. Like leaving a bit of yourself behind.

She carries on drifting through the world and her assignments become tougher. As she progresses the white silk darkens, shifting to a palest-gray silk and then runs the gamut of shades before finally settling on darkest charcoal, dovetailing into frilly layers that are edged faintly in white.

These, she realizes, are the assignments of harder healing, the kind where she has to work longer and harder and make the humans mad faster. The new rule is this: she may break the crystal, if she needs to, and she does. She never enjoys it, but it gets the task done.

She gets demoted again. The people are easier to heal and the gown fades back to pure white with every thunderstorm diversion she creates. (Sometimes she sticks around long enough to catch the news of the freak thunderstorm that hit a city and knocked out power lines, and knows she overpowered it)

Centuries pass and they develop new strategies. At some point they learn mind-powers, but it’s not something she gets to learn. Her role is outdated, something she never thought she would see happen, and she is watching as others gain all the jobs she used to take. She works the slowest now, is the oldest of her section who hasn’t left, and she doesn’t want to leave. It’s been too long, she doesn’t know how to be human again.

She awakes one morning, silk gown intact, and discovers a tiny vial on a chain around her neck. Beside her, a heavy envelope – the first item she has handled in more years than she can remember. Inside are documents, information she will need as a human, and instructions for the vial. One more assignment, and she will be cured.

The assignment runs on autopilot and before she stops to think about it she is in a room, the envelope and vial clasped firmly to her.

She uncorks it and drinks.

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