Legal Theft Flash Fiction: The Face She Knows (1164 words)

Fate had a funny sense of honor when it came to telling futures. It never seemed so fond of its secrets as its puzzles, never so intent on fooling as in confusing to sort the slow minds from the sharp, never misleading so much as overwhelming.

And waking after one of her long, crystal-sharp not-dreams, Serit always felt overloaded.

Fate didn’t even give many the ability to see the clues. She’d met a dozen or more that claimed it, but there was no greater tell for falsehood than the accreditation they all claimed: My mother had the sight too… It didn’t run in bloodlines. It just appeared, here and there, one at a time. Serit’s grandmother said that her grandmother had met a boy who had it, just once, and he’d been sick before his first dream that was not a dream. Serit had been sick too, and Grandmother supposed that it might be the cause. The same way some people fell into coughs and fevers and woke with a limp, or woke gone blind, Serit had woken with a mind that saw too much when her eyes were shut.

Serit wasn’t sure she believed that. But she had no better explanation, and it wasn’t like Fate was likely to visit her and explain the gift.

Because Fate explained nothing in her silent code of nobility. She simply showed.

Serit dreamed, and she saw motion, heard words, felt warmth and cold, and woke with a head too full. And still, Fate never really showed her anything she had not seen before. She never saw a face she had not seen before, so she could never say what a child might look like in ten years’ time; they simply played their roles looking just as they had when last Serit saw them waking. She could not say what shirt a man might wear when he met the love of his life; she only saw a shirt that she had worn before and had to guess at why her mind had dressed him in that. She could never say what house a family would move into in the next town over, only how fine it might be by whether her mind set them in the Falconer’s stone mansion or in Edderman’s low one-room home.

The first time Serit dreamed of an infant, she woke laughing, to see chubby lips and tiny tongue make sense of long words and thoughts. The second time, she woke just trying to breathe, because there was something wrong with the sharp way the baby looked around the room.

She hated dreaming of babies. There was too wide a window for when the thing might happen, and too many distracting oddities that kept her from sorting through everything she’d seen.

Serit took a long breath, and rolled out of bed, exhausted from sleeping and ready to let her waking mind soothe her again. She dressed slowly, letting the light from her window flood over her, sink into her bones and her eyes. She took another breath, ran her fingers roughly through her hair and tied it back as she moved toward the stairs. She could smell her mother’s baking drifting through the rooms below, and knew that she’d been up for a long time. Her dreams had carried her deep into the morning.

She walked lightly down stairs, balanced properly on her feet in a way she never was in her dreams, and she enjoyed the weight of herself, tied to gravity. Stepping into the kitchen, she sat at the table without looking up. She ran her fingers down the grain of the wood beneath her fingers, caught in the lines for a moment, as she remembered the lines of other things.

“Good morning,” her mother said gently.

Serit looked up, blinking. “Good morning,” she murmured back.

Her mother was smiling, sympathetic, as she rolled a loaf of dough in her hands. Without looking, she pressed her fingers into it in all the right places and dropped it onto the oiled board with its twisted leafing pattern. “Long night?”

Serit nodded. “The Alden’s baby was going to run away from home. He was tired of taking care of goats all day, said he wanted to see a bigger world, and have his adventures.”

“Goats?” Mother asked, curious. She raised her eyebrows a little. The Alden’s didn’t keep any goats yet.

Serit just nodded again, and set her head into her hands. She rubbed at her forehead. “Denn talked him out of it.”

Her mother paused a moment then. Serit let her, grateful for another minute of silence that might let her wake more fully. The Alden’s baby would have a nice voice, and a smile that lit easier than kindling, but it was hard to see it on a face that should have just been wide-eyed and round. He didn’t even have a name yet, but Serit knew it now.

“You know Denn is sick just now?” Mother asked.

Serit looked up. “He is?”

Mother nodded, not looking at her now. “Your father was out to look at him yesterday morning.” She touched her tongue to her teeth, teetering on her next thought. “He told me that Denn might only have days.”

Serit took the weight of that, let it hold her tongue and mind down. She liked Denn. Then she let it go a little and tried to sort out what she’d seen the night before. It had been chilled, winter, snow at the windows, even as bright sunshine bounced off it onto the wooden ceiling of the room.

“You might make a visit to his family,” Mother was saying. “Tell them that he’ll still be around for years. The Alden’s boy can’t turn into a runaway until he’s at least six, I’d think.”

“Ten,” Serit said. She repeated some of his phrasing, tried to memorize the tone of his voice. “Maybe twelve.”

Mother smiled slow at that. “So tell his family. Tell him. They’ll want to know they don’t have to worry.”

“Unless they do,” Serit said, voice low.

Her mother’s smile faded. “How could…”

“Father’s a smart man,” Serit said, a little too quick, a little too sharp. She took another breath. “And they weren’t sitting in Denn’s home. They weren’t sitting in the Alden’s. They were here, at this table.” She ran her fingers along the wood again. “It’s a strange place for them to be, so maybe it’s not here at all, just a home I’ve never seen. And maybe it wasn’t Denn, but another gray-haired man I haven’t met, and Denn was just the best face I have for him.”

Serit smiled at her mother as soon as she realized the weight she’d dropped into the entire room. “As usual,” she murmured. “It’s best I don’t say anything.”

Her mother nodded after a moment, smiled back. “Goats then?” she asked.

“Goats,” Serit repeated, and her smile stretched. “It’s hard to imagine the way he keeps their yard.”

My friend, Bek is a thief! Yesterday, she stole the first line of this piece for one of her own. Be sure to stop by her blog and read Future.

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