Staring at Spoons
The creek running through Late Sun, though hundreds of kilometres long, was aptly called a creek. In most stretches, its waters just barely wet the stones beneath it. Its water could be found in any dint or crag, squeezed between the interlocked stone paths, or moated around a home. Given its reticent nature, it was a wonder how it ever managed to integrate itself with the town so heartily, and more curiously, why it commandeered so much attention. For many, it was the suspicion that the creek would one day split the town in two since each run of its waters carried along some of the ground with it. For most though, the creek garnered attention because it was the region’s sole supplier of fresh water.
To fill a bucket took two buckets. One left upright for collection, the other to sit on its side until it filled with a finger’s worth of water. Bending up and down to collect meagre portions of water was a back-aching experience. Tightness in voice was a trademark characteristic of every Sunnish citizen— save for a little girl who lived in a house by a forest, in a hilly area overlooking the main settlement below.
The two buckets took pity on Brona, so they tried to cheer her up every morning by levitating and swooping and filling themselves up with water, just for her! No one else’s buckets in town did that. It was just for her.
At least – she liked to think of it that way.
The trade-off for Distorting her two metallic buckets was that Brona had to kneel barefoot in the creek, with pants pulled up above her knees, as she shed the warmth she’d left her house with earlier. The spell must have fed on the jolting twangs of shivers running up her body or her noticeable discomfort. Using Ouroborics was easier than manually collecting water herself, but it was still a poor deal, even if she wasn’t seizing her lower back like her neighbours. She envied her shoes lying on the bank by the water’s edge, gradually acclimatizing to the morning air rather than suffering a complete molestation of cold like herself. Brona tightened the blanket around her shoulders. To have made things faster, she would have liked to collect water from a deeper part of the creek, but that would mean she would need to pass the nearest neighbour and being sworn at was an awful way to begin the day.
Whether or not someone did swear at Brona didn’t really change her temperament though. She tended to wear a scowl on her face. If it wasn’t caused by her mother forgetting to come home, it was the irritation caused by the short tendrils of her brown hair that poked her in the face. Her eyes didn’t do much to convey any childlike warmth either, a dull grey that sucked the joy from any party and a skin tone close to match (but that was common of every other Sun-deprived person in Late Sun).
Brona watched as the second bucket poured its last contribution of water into its brother. Completing the task, it fell from its aerial poise with a jolt, as though it was in shock that its gift of self-movement had been a bastardization all along.
Which it was – of course.
The bucket fell into the creek and began to drift down the stream. “Whope whope, I still need you,” said Brona, catching it by the handle. She hobbled carrying both buckets back to the shoreline and hung the empty one on a tree branch that loomed over the creek.
Yellowed blades of grass and sandy earth clung to the sides of Brona’s feet. She didn’t think it good to put on her shoes yet, so she stuffed them into the waistline of her pants. They would probably fall out or fall down her pant leg as she walked back up the hill to her house.
Based on the relative brightness – or more accurately to say – dimness of her surroundings, Brona could tell it was about the second hour into the seven-hour dawn. Late Sun boasted hours-long mornings and evenings. A phenomenon which was normally only seen in mountain settlements (where the early and late day only seemed longer because the mountains blocked out the sunlight). The reason it happened in Late Sun was a mystery, with the tallest blockade being the trees from the forest up on the hills, but they were not nearly tall enough to block out the sun for the larger part of a day. This didn’t bother the pale skinned residents too much, except for the chalky vitamin D pill they had to suffer along with their morning breakfast. Consequently, seeing the differences between dim and slightly less dim light was vital to tell time in order not to lose track of the day. It required a trained eye unless you owned a watch.
In front of her revealed the mouth of the path, exiting the steep forest trail and arriving in an overgrown yard which looked like a poorly sewn tapestry of uneven, mish-mashed colours. Mostly grasses and wildflowers dominated her plot, which was good for the bees. Drudging through the tall grasses didn’t risk any rashes or bug bites either since Brona cast a Distortion to eradicate all the ticks and bull thistles in the surrounding area. She’d initially set a path of stones from the opening of the forest trail leading down to her front door, but she didn’t pound the rocks into the ground strongly enough, and so the resulting path was very difficult to walk on and only succeeded in twisting her ankle any time she attempted to use it. Brona pushed herself to run the last stretch to her front door. Some of the water from the bucket waded onto her feet.
A rusted roof and sun-stained stucco made up Brona’s house underneath an entanglement of viny plant life strangling one another to cover the already-occupied area beneath it. The buds of the little flowers that would one day become black berries had begun forming around the peeling door frame. Everything on her property had a dull greenness to it —or was at least being choked by it – but something out of place, something that wasn’t there earlier this morning, something reflective caught her notice.
Some had intricate, floral designs, one was golden, but most were plain and silvery. They were ordered in a tidy row on the stony doorstep, all reflecting a warped version of Brona’s face as she looked down. Brona shook her head. Regardless how much some of these spoons may have been worth, clearly people thought sending a message was more important than the lack of spoons in their own homes. Brona sighed and collected them.
She pulled the screen door and propped it open with the stopper. Fortunately, the first room of the house was the kitchen, so Brona didn’t need to carry the bucket much further. The house was designed for efficiency, built by her uncle who had a short fuse for dealing with bullshit, so rooms were positioned in hierarchy of usage. They didn’t even have a dining room, because really, how often would they host guests? Especially since Brona was the black sheep of Late Sun – they’d be likelier to gather people to host her exorcism than a supper. Normally the back door could be seen from the entrance, but a slim figure clad in a purple slip was sitting on the kitchen table, blocking the morning light, and reading the paper.
“Your neighbours brought you some gifts,” said Grendt, putting her paper down and gesturing towards the bouquet of spoons. “I would’ve brought them in myself, but by the look on their faces, it was really a ‘fuck you’ meant just for you,” she smirked, her black-brown eyes swimming with mischief. Those eyes pissed Brona off.
“Help me with this bucket, Grendt.”
Grendt slouched further, lifting her coffee mug, “Oof, sorry, my hand is full,” she said with exaggerated pain. “—But could you pass me one of those spoons? The honey’s settled on the bottom of my cup, I wanna stir it.”
Brona sifted through the spoons to find the dirtiest one but paused for a moment as she caught her reflection again. The reflection in spoons was ugly. Distorted. The people of Late Sun left Brona spoons as a reminder of her own hideousness—her ability to pervert the natural world around her with her Distortions, which Brona always thought was hypocritical of the Sunnish considering they could also Distort, albeit to a lesser degree. It was their therapy to prod at the strongest source of Ouroborics in Late Sun, Brona figured, as a means of coping with the problem they were all implicated in.
Whipping the dirty spoon at Grendt, Brona hobbled and plunked the bucket down beside the sink and opened one of the many shelves under the countertop to dump her new gifts into a compartment already teeming with spoons. She proceeded to turn on the stove and boil some water. She gathered the remaining flakes of dry porridge from a linen bag into a measuring cup to start breakfast. Wiping the spoon against her slip, Grendt broke the uncomfortable silence by announcing the latest news from the only paper in Late Sun: The Daily Black and White.
"Your friend Callum is doing well in the town polls…Looks like he’ll win his re-election as Head Informed… Not like there’s much to be informed about here though," said Grendt with her worldly perspective. “He’s more of the ‘keep-everyone’s-shit-together’ organizer than the man who’s gonna find the source of the Tasker.”
“Yesterday.” Brona hissed, ignoring Grendt’s attempt at conversation. “Yesterday night, you weren’t home like you said you’d be.” Grendt pulled her eyes from the paper, looking around the kitchen, focusing on the eerie patches of mold on the walls and ceiling that had appeared overnight. “I didn’t have enough hands to help me, I ran out of ingredients while I was doing it, and the whole thing exploded and set some kind of curse on the house! Or it actually is mold! I’m too scared to touch it!” spat Brona.
“I can see that Distortion didn’t go as planned. You probably mixed the ingredients too quickly again. Impatience is not a quality I like to see in my Durnann –but it’s not like I have a choice in my disciple, do I?” she scoffed, her dark smirk creasing the lines around her mouth. "We can’t all catch on as fast as I did."
Although Grendt’s haughtiness was irritating, it wasn’t completely unfounded. For thousands of years, Grendt had served as council and chief Distorter to a prosperous patriarchal kingdom, where she developed efficient salvaging Distortions, so that resources could be filtered and reused (such as metals and cementing stones), produced goods which enhanced the less Ouroborically skilled people, as well as designed barriers and protections which protected the kingdom from invasion. She was so impressive, that part of the standardized school curriculum included a section on her work and her influence in history.
Brona whipped a rigid hand to her mouth and bit the first finger. Grendt cocked a brow at the rude gesture, but smiled in response nonetheless. It was true that it was because of Brona’s impatience that her Distortion, which was supposed to be a stain-erasing chutney, discoloured the walls with tufts of very much visible mold, but she was angry that Grendt had gone back on her word again, leaving Brona to figure out Ouroborics on her own. And how was it possible that Grendt managed to leave her? She was a Blood Projection.
Long legs straightened as Grendt set the paper down and hopped of the table. She walked towards a wicker basket below a slit in the wall containing letters. One was iconically from Brona's uncle, a bright red envelope from a letterset he’d been given decades ago. He probably sent a letter just to let her know of his whereabouts, which was routine of him to write Brona. His letters were always brief; location, reason for being there, and next destination. Brona loved her uncle, but his straightforwardness was a bore to read. She thought it would just be easier for the both of them if he’d just send the envelope to indicate he was still alive. There was one other letter in the basket, lying flat at the bottom, which was equally iconic: Black with silver letters on the cover reading 'Brona', with no return address, nor stamp.
"Seeing as you're already in such a good mood this morning, I guess you'll be happy to know you've got mail," said Grendt, pulling the black letter out from the basket.
Brona wanted to drop her head into her bowl of porridge. Getting mail in Late Sun was a guarantee to any citizen that your day was about to get far worse than picking porridge from your hair. The mail was something that afflicted everyone, and no matter if you killed the mail carrier or set fire to the postal office, a certain piece of your mail was always guaranteed to come to you.
Black was the colour of choice for the envelope, but also for the letter inside. This kind of mail didn't come every day, and not consistently either. Some people got it less, others it was a more of a regular routine. Brona was one more particularly prone to its postal whims.
The magic called itself the Task Curse. It was a piece of rogue Ouroborics which festered and became corrupted. Spelled out in silvery letters would be the name of the person in the house it wished to torment, the task for the day in the enclosed letter, as well as the threat if you chose not to act. It targeted every citizen in Late Sun, preventing them from ever leaving or leave to suffer the consequences. The tasks ranged from things as easy as patting your stomach after every sentence, to burning your own house down before supper hour.
The threats, however, were standardly very compelling. Claiming the curse would kill a close relative or loved one if you didn't perform the task. Not all threats were carried out, the curse could be lazy like that sometimes, but it was enough that no one risked it, and enough reason for everyone to remain compliant.
The energy which fuelled the Sunnish to travels hours up steep slopes only to leave spoons on a child’s doorstep was the loathing suspicion that she was the source of the curse. It had appeared shortly after Brona had been born, and her proficiency in Ouroborics didn't help to detract attention from her.
Brona tore her letter open, accidentally ripping a piece off her instructions. As long as they were still readable, it didn't matter. The curse would not be offended by that.
Step on every stone cemented in the roads of Late Sun before 4PM.
I'll kill your Uncle if you don't.
The Task Curse.