... though somehow a whole week went by without a post. I got back from my 5-day writer residency in Oregon, full of excitement about writing and with a ton of work facing me as the listing date for my house approaches.

I want to do a report on the residency and share some photos, but that will come next week. For now, I'll give you another bit of fiction from the archives.

This story seems particularly appropriate in these unsettled days. It was originally written to a photo prompt, a picture of a gazing ball on top of a fence post.

 

The World In the Palm of Her Hand


All Lissa knew was that she was supposed to save the world.

In point of fact, she didn’t really know even that: she’d had a message from some mysterious old man who refused to show his face, exactly according to regulations. The message read, “She has the world in the palm of her hand. Don’t let her drop it.”

In theory that left the field so impossibly wide open that there was little hope of finding the right woman, but Lissa had a bit more to go on than the message suggested. For one thing, since she got the memo, she could assume that the woman was somewhere in Lissa’s region.

All the Guardians had their own regions to watch over, and Lissa’s was large, but sparsely populated. That would help.

Further, she could feel disturbances in the powers, so she ought to be able to sense the problematic woman.

But Lissa had no idea what the message meant, beyond trouble. Was the problem a politician about to do something stupid and trigger World War VI, ending everything? Or some well-meaning genius trying to cure diseases who might instead unleash a plague that would wipe out all life?

Lissa spent two full days researching all the possible madwomen, scientists, terrorists, and politicians in her region and, for good measure, the regions touching on hers. None of them seemed in a position to do anything of world-ending import, either of malice aforethought or by accident.

She then spent two more days racing about her region trying to sense an imbalance.

Nothing.

Nothing, that is, until she got to the boundary with Region 76. What she felt there wasn’t what she expected, but it needed investigation all the same. The assignment of a mission didn’t relieve her from the duty to look out for other disturbances.

Crossing into another Guardian’s territory was frowned on, except in hot pursuit. The paperwork required for a waiver was extensive, and Lissa, like most of her fellow Guardians, opted to skip it and hope she wouldn’t be caught.

Following her instincts, she went looking for the Guardian she couldn’t feel. Something had happened to—what was her name? Lissa had to look through the records a long way back to find that the Guardian of Region 276 was Ilga, and that she had been a Guardian since the days of the horse and buggy. Now Lissa could feel only the faintest hint of her presence in the area she was meant to protect.

She followed that trace through an agricultural landscape that seemed to have been frozen in the 20th Century. The early 20th, if Lissa was any judge. Was that Ilga’s doing, or just the inclination of the locals?

On the third day Lissa found her: an old woman, sitting in a farmyard doing absolutely nothing. Only her aura told Lissa she’d found the missing Guardian. Ilga held something shiny in her hand, and at first Lissa thought she was admiring herself in a mirror, gone childish in her final days.

When she got a better look, Lissa felt dizzy. The object was not a mirror, but a crystal gazing ball. Lissa had seen such things, mostly in the Guardian’s Museum of Silly Human Artifacts, where they sat next to a collection of cracked and glazed Crazy 8 Balls.

A gazing ball in the hands of an ordinary human was just a piece of pretty glass that reflected the world back in a beautiful distortion. In the hands of a Guardian, it could quite literally contain the world, and turn it upside down.

Ilga looked up and saw Lissa. Her smile was not what the young Guardian would have liked to see. Someone had miscalculated: Ilga should have been retired long ago; what Lissa saw looking from those ancient eyes was the pure madness that could come of centuries of trying to keep humans from destroying themselves.

“So you’ve found me.” Ilga’s voice was old and cracked, but calm.

“You’re upsetting the Messengers.”

The old woman cackled. “They are such fuss-budgets. I’ve nearly finished here.”

Keep her talking, Lissa encouraged herself. The first rule of stopping destructive lunatics was to keep them talking. Usually they were human lunatics, but Lissa figured the same rule applied to a Guardian who had slipped a cog.

“Finished what?” she asked, with what she hoped was the right blend of interest and indifference.

“Loading the world into my ball. So much easier to watch this way.” She held up the ball on her hand, and Lissa felt herself turn cold. Ilga had done it. The ball cleared, no longer reflecting the sky. An ever-shifting view of people and landscapes played in the depths. The constant motion made Lissa a little sick, but she knew what had to be done.

The ball could no longer be destroyed. It would have to be taken to the head Guardian to be disassembled with utmost care. For now, whatever happened to the ball would happen to the world.

The Messenger had been right: Ilga held the world in the palm of her hand, and she didn’t seem to be particularly concerned.

“Why don’t you give me that?” Lissa asked as casually as she could.

Ilga only cackled and balanced the ball on a fence post, stepping back to admire it. Lissa felt the shift in gravity as it moved. This was bad.

“It will do very well there,” Ilga said, and walked away. Torn between a need to stop the woman from any more madness, and the need to protect the gazing ball, Lissa hesitated a moment too long. The earth made another jolting adjustment, and the ball began to roll from the post.

Lissa caught the movement from the corner of her eye, and launched herself in a long, desperate dive, arms outstretched to catch the world in the palm of her own hand.


©Rebecca M. Douglass, 2022
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