by Frances Pauli
She stared at the parting mist. A flat sheet lay before her, gleaming like ice, but too smooth to be a natural creation, too perfectly square. Behind it, a wide stair rose and there, in fragments between the swirling clouds, she saw portions of a castle. Here a turret lifted from the mist. There an arch or crenellation peeked, but most of the building remained hidden. In truth, Clara couldn’t say if an entire building stood there, or if some ragtag collection of castle parts danced behind the wall of vapors.
The music rose in volume. She turned her head from side to side. The sound drifted from both directions, played by an unseen orchestra just beyond sight. She reached a toe forward and tested the smooth floor. She feared it might crack or splinter at her touch. Instead, it glowed and shifted, sprouting a pattern of diamond tiles. The music paused, and trumpets blared from the castle wall. Clara lifted her gaze from the floor and stepped forward onto the surface.
She heard steps marching, the click of booted heels approaching. She watched the stairs and listened to the rhythm of the advance. The princes, her soldiers, came down in formation. They lined up along the edge of the floor, and Clara knew each and every one of them. Eleven well-dressed princes stood along the bottom stair, and behind them, watching over their heads at the very center, her newest nutcracker waited. His wooden body had miraculously transformed to flesh, and though he wore the same tall hat, the exact same uniform as he had when standing on her little shelf, his blue eyes sparkled for real here. And his smile held nothing of the stiff, contraption he’d once been.
All of them, each collected soldier, stood in the flesh, human and life-sized and waiting—she knew it now without a doubt—for her. The trumpets blasted out another fanfare, and her feet moved. She took two steps closer, and the music kicked in again.
The line of soldiers pulled her in. She walked across the floor, light on her feet and entranced by her decoration come to life. Her eyes inventoried the group, named each prince and remembered each purchase, gift or discovery. Each time they moved along the line, they would dart quickly to the man who stood above the group. Each time, they found him staring, sapphire eyes glinting in her direction.
Clara held her breath. She stopped before them, centered and watching the newest nutcracker. Her pulse raced, and she could feel the rhythm of her heart quicken. The fog spun and rolled around the scene, and the music lifted and vibrated through the cool air. Something was about to happen. She understood instinctively.
Now available at Devine Destinies