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An Unexpected Legacy

September 30, 2023 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic, Writing tagged as , ,

The hall closet was the final frontier for Asher. For three days he’d been chipping away at the house: the trash bin on the porch was overflowing, the growing pile of items marked for donation threatened to topple, and Asher’s patience was worn to a nub. Neither of his siblings could be persuaded to help him with this overwhelming task—despite both of them sharing the same now-deceased father as he.

“Dad’s place is filled with junk,” Asher’s sister told him, after pleading her excuse of a busy schedule. “Just get rid of it all.”

It’s my vacation time, too, he wanted to point out. But Leigh thought her time more valuable because she was the CPA and a mother of two to his no-kid, single-man, dev-ops job.

With a sigh, he pulled down a cardboard box from the top shelf of the closet. He’d lost count of the number of boxes his father had packed into the nooks and crannies of the suburban rancher. Caution was printed in marker across the lid: Do not open. Asher shook the box, but heard no rattle or clunk. A forgotten Christmas present his father had squirreled away? He eased off the lid. Inside, a weighted bundle covered in blue silk filled most of the interior. Unwrapping it, Asher held a goblet that once must have been shiny gold. The cup was etched with faux lettering—It reminded him of a party store prop. Part of a Halloween costume? He tried to picture his father dressed in a Medieval tunic and Arthurian crown, sipping rum and Coke from the cup at a late October party. Nah, not Cooper Plack, whose imagination was limited to whether he could cheat on his annual tax return.

Asher ticked off what he’d found so far that might be worth something—something that would help pay off his father’s debts. It was a short list: a four-year-old Ford sedan parked in the driveway; a pair of diamond studs he’d found in a jewelry box (his late mother’s?) in the master bedroom; a vintage roll-top desk (once Asher cleared out the notebooks, catalogs, and random slips of paper stuffed into it), and now this—a goblet of questionable provenance. 

Eager for a break, Asher carried the goblet into the kitchen and washed it, hoping a little soap and water would bring out the luster it may have once had. He whistled as he scrubbed the fancy cup with a dishcloth. The end of his house-emptying ordeal was in sight.

A sudden pop and flash surprised Asher enough that he almost dropped the goblet. 

Why are we summoned?

The words that Asher heard seemed to float in the kitchen—or were they inside his head?

“Who’s . . . there?” He said this aloud, cautiously.

The only sound he heard back was the faint ticking of the clock on the wall above the microwave. Then . . .

We are the Calet of the Chalice. You know the Decree. State your purpose.

Asher still held the goblet, but it no longer looked tawdry. Instead, it gleamed from within. Clever party gag, he decided, and turned the goblet over to feel for the on/off switch. His fingers found only the smoothness of the goblet’s stem and base; no button, no toggle.

Oh, well. He would play along until the unit’s timer reset. “Ah, a Chalice, is it? Well, then, if it’s magic, I get three wishes, right?”

We will grant one wish.

“Only one?” Just like one of his father’s tchotchkes to act parsimonious. 

Please note that after your wish, the Decree requires we receive something in kind.

Asher laughed. “Dad, where did you find this cheap-ass toy?” He set the goblet back in the sink and dried off his hands with a dish towel. Time to get back to his task.

Cooper Plack found us while dumpster diving along Walnut Avenue.

Frowning, Asher felt a twinge of unease. “Wait. That wasn’t a wish directed at you. It wasn’t even a wish.”

It counts. You should have read the Decree.

“There wasn’t any paperwork in the box,” Asher protested. He felt silly arguing with the toy. Even a toy that somehow knew how it came into his possession. His father a dumpster diver?

You have your wish. Our turn now.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said with a smirk, wishing that he’d never opened the box, never removed the blue silk. “But I’m a nobody. Just a software tech guy.”

Done. We accept that trade.

With another pop and flash, Asher vanished. 


His sister, finally worried that she couldn’t reach him, stopped by their father’s house to investigate. 

“Asher,” she called from the open front door. The word was swallowed by the silent rooms. He’d made more progress with the de-cluttering project than she expected. But where was he?

In the kitchen, she surveyed an open cardboard box, a yard of blue silk, and in the sink, a shiny goblet. But still no Asher.

She picked up the ornate cup and rotated it to study the antique lettering around its middle. Was this for real? She rubbed at a smudge near the rim.


Stumbling back from the sink, Leigh dropped the goblet on the table as though it were scalding. 

Why are we summoned? 

A haughty voice filled her head, but underlying it she could make out an urgent murmur of others, and one in particular caught her ear.

“Asher?” she said. “Where are you?”

Run, Leigh, run.

And she did. Out the door, slamming it behind her.

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Dry Run

July 30, 2023 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic tagged as , ,

What was July but sun and heat and more sun? Terina wiped the droplets from her forehead and wished for the crisp days of October. Grunting slightly, she pushed the wooden cart forward. In the noon warmth, she wanted to simply lie down in the shade beneath it and nap the afternoon away. But she was due in Ladenville before dark, to set up for the next day’s festival.

It had been more than two years since she’d attended the festival, and she didn’t recognize the harsh landscape that surrounded her: the dry grasses, the trees whose leaves were mostly wrinkled and yellow, the dusty creek beds. It should have been a verdant season, but a drought had sucked the life out of the countryside.

Her own hamlet, miles back, was a lucky oasis still green and lush.

Had the townsfolk of Ladenville not spoken to their resident merlin? Bade him summon the rain beasts?

A man carrying a burlap bag over his shoulder approached Terina on the path. Sweat soaked his shirt. He nodded at her and she nodded back.

“Sir, can you spare the time for a short question?” Terina wiped her forehead again.

“Aye,” the man said, but stood away from her, cautious.

“I am several years away from this land, headed to the Brine Festival. Why such dryness?”

The man frowned and spat at the ground. “Our merlin passed on more than a year gone now, and no one left has the knowledge to call the rain.”

Eyes wide, Terina tried to imagine such a scenario. “The Fates are often fickle. My sympathies, sir.”

He nodded again and went on down the path. 

Rummaging in her pack, Terina pulled out a flask of water and sipped; the aridness made her thirsty. She contemplated her next steps: Maybe the Brine Festival was a bad idea. Drought made people irritable and less likely to spend their coins. When she slipped the flask back into her pack, her hand brushed the bottle of elixir.

Uncorking it, she sniffed the sweetness of ripe berries. She knew only a brief sketch of the rain ritual—not being a full-fledged merlin, but it was worth a try. She held the bottle above her head, letting the desiccating breeze lift the scent upward.

Iniye ab-wo neq,” she recited. There was another step that she tried to remember. A tuft of sedge? A handful of creek mud? The small rill that crossed her path contained neither. Every creek stone she turned over yielded only hard, cracked earth.

Digging again in her pack, Terina located the peach she’d squirreled away for a snack. Soft with ripeness, the fruit might work. Holding the peach aloft as she had the elixir, she squeezed it until the juices ran down her arms and dripped to the ground.

She repeated the incantation and waited several moments.

In the deep blue of the sky, the smallest of cumulous clouds popped up. 

She waited again, this time for the cloud to spawn more clouds. But the cumulous remained solitary.

With a sigh, Terina cleaned the juice from her arms and closed her pack. Pushing hard against the cart, she persuaded it to roll onward, to the north and east, toward Ladenville.

Behind her, as her one step became ten, and then stretched to a quarter mile, the water vapor in the blazing heavens condensed. Thunderheads mushroomed and spread, cutting off the sun. And the rain beasts rumbled long and low.

More of Dianna’s Stories

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August 30, 2020 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic tagged as , , , ,

I found the rooftop garden because of Captain America. We’ve become close friends, he and I. He depends on me for fresh greens, and I depend on him to keep me from taking the last step off the ledge. 

Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

The electricity blinked off citywide five weeks ago, but the evenings aren’t as dark as you’d think. There’s the residual glow in the sky long after sunset, and the ants that crawl along the windowsill in the kitchen give off a greenish hue, like those plastic glow sticks kids wear around their wrists at birthday parties—or used to, before. The Captain is crepuscular, so he rustles around just at dusk, but then falls fast asleep as I watch the clouds on the horizon with wide eyes, such an unnatural pink against the faint sprinkle of stars.

Except for me and the Captain on the sixth floor, no one else is left in this building. Before, I sometimes had to turn on my white noise app to mask the street traffic and my neighbor Javier’s blasting salsa music. Now the only sounds are the distant whine of a massive piece of machinery spinning into oblivion, fed by its emergency generator, and the thumps and rattles of my building, trying to decide how much longer it will remain upright. 

The evening is my favorite time of day now. Before, I lived for the morning, up before the alarm, out the door, at work in my cubicle in the financial district a few minutes before eight. Daytime reminds me of everything I no longer have–that the city no longer has. Maybe even beyond? It’s hard to say. With no juice to charge my phone, it’s been dead since four days after. That hardly matters because I lost coverage after a day. My parents live in Florida; maybe all is well there.

For some freakish reason, the plumbing still works. When life was normal, leaky faucets and cold showers were the stuff I commiserated about with my friends. Now, I wake each morning worried that the toilet will at last stop cycling or my kitchen tap will run dry. But they keep on filling and pouring. 

Once they do quit, I’ll need to leave this place. I’ve been living on canned food, heating it on my tiny balcony with the mini Weber grill I hardly ever used, before. Without electricity, my fridge isn’t much help to store perishables. In the beginning, I helped myself to the romaine and tomatoes and strawberries at the corner market; with no one around, there was no use letting it go to waste. But that has long rotted, so my visits now are to fill my cloth grocery bag with whatever cans I can carry in one trip. It’s decidedly creepy to crawl through the rubble of a dead city—no cars passing, no people yelling into their phones, no trucks trudging to collect the garbage left decomposing at curbside. 

The Captain isn’t mine. Captain America isn’t his real name either. He lived on the fourth floor, and I found him in the first few days after. Guinea pigs whistle when they’re hungry or need something, and he was setting up a racket I could hear from my sixth-floor window. I went searching, taking the stairs, of course, since the elevators ran on the energy grid. He was sitting in a 2-foot wire cage, looking at me with big, soulful eyes (and big teeth), and I picked him up, his tawny fur as soft as a kitten’s. 

“Hello, there, Captain,” I whispered. 

It was another living thing, not counting the immortal ants and roaches. But what did I know about guinea pigs? A city branch library is about three blocks from my building, so I went looking for a book to tell me, a tough hunt given that the online catalog was offline and the lights were out. If you need to know, guinea pig books are in section 636.9—with books on other small mammals like rabbits and hamsters. 

Before, I liked looking out onto the courtyard between my building and the next one, where an older fellow named Pete raised tomatoes and squash and tried to keep the squirrels from taking bites out of them. Now the courtyard floor is buried in debris, and Pete and the squirrels have vanished along with the pigeons.  

Just after I brought the Captain home, and desperate for some kind of greens for him, I located the entrance to the building roof. As I popped open the steel door, the earthy scent of soil washed over me and there it was: Three long aisles containing flat after flat of lettuces, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and more lettuce. I stood for several minutes, not believing my find. The wind picked up and a pelting rain fell, the first since before. I felt both drenched to the bone and refreshed, watching as the droplets ran down the lettuce leaves and dripped off the ends, exuding a faint bluish glow even by the light of day. My arms and legs—and likely my head—also glowed faintly in the dampness.

Later, with the Captain asleep and night descending, I pondered this new world where the sky was pink and the rain was blue. A line had been drawn for humanity. What I would find when the Captain and I finally struck out from the city? Would we meet masses of people who had fled … or no one? Or maybe, I thought, I’m crazy, and the world is still normal, but I just can’t see it.  

It is now day forty after, forty empty days and forty empty nights. I am harvesting more romaine leaves and anxiously watching the new shoots I have planted poke out from the soil. Then I hear someone. They are walking on the street below, whistling. I slip to the roof edge to listen—it’s an old folk song, “For the Times They Are A-Changin’.”

Despite our catastrophic reality, a sense of humor. 

“Hey,” I shout, but he doesn’t look up, doesn’t seem to hear me.

I run for the stairs—eight flights to street level—will I make it before he’s gone? I take the steps two at a time, then three. The Captain and I are not alone after all.

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