Think of this blog as my writer’s notebook, full of enthusiastic outpourings and half-baked ideas. Where I stretch my literary muscles. These stories are exercises, usually inspired by writing prompts, to practice my craft. Some I love. Some I hate. But all have taught me valuable lessons.

This is just a taste of what I’m working on. Larger worlds are slowly forming in the background. If you enjoy what you see here, make sure to subscribe to my email list. To learn more about me, visit www.rerulewrites.com.

Enjoy & Happy Reading!

~ R. E. Rule

Please note that all writing on this blog is the exclusive property of R. E. Rule and is not to be reproduced or retransmitted without permission from R. E. Rule. Link and email sharing is welcome as long as proper owner/authorship is attributed to R. E. Rule.

Writing Prompt Resources:
Writers Write Daily Writing Prompts
Reedsy Writing Prompt Contest

Tiny Tales: Episode 8 – Reunited

Episode 8 of Tiny Tales is now live on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Buzzsprout, and the Tiny Tales webpage.

Tiny Tales is a weekly podcast of short stories spanning horror, fantasy, comedy, and everything in between. Written and narrated by R. E. Rule. Music and production by Frank Nawrot (www.franknawrot.com).

This Week’s Episode:

Episode 8: Reunited Tiny Tales

Until we meet again.

More soon!

~ R. E. Rule

Leaving the Mountain

            There were six of us in our little tribe, when we were young and ran free across the mountains like a pack of wild things, feet muddied, hair tousled, cheeks reddened by the wind as we planned our next great conquest. We ruled with the order of the innocent, strict but merciful. Then we turned thirteen, and our fate was stamped onto our skins.

            Mitra, the bravest, always the first to plunge into dark caves or scamper across fallen logs, who planned the assaults of our imagined foes, was told she should be meek and her voice hidden away.

            Ordin, the gentle one, who kept bugs in his pockets and nursed fallen baby birds, who tended bloodied knees, was told to pick up the spear and take his place as warrior.

            Tiva, the fair beauty, with her gentle voice and dexterous fingers, who sang with the birds and wove crowns from tender vines, was taken to labor in the fields.

            Nex, the strong one, who carried us when we were tired and knew the woods like a wild animal, was locked away with parchment and quill.

            And Salin, keeper of my secrets, who fought back to back with me against our invisible foes, would stay while I was sent away to learn to mend and tend. We were told we would meet again, would spend our lives together, but when we did, I could not look him in the eye nor speak without invitation and all my secrets must be mine alone again.

            So, we left the mountain, leaving behind only muddy footprints and the echoes of our laughter.

**Today’s short story was based on the prompt: Young. Wild. Free.**

~ R. E. Rule

Where She Walks

Roses bloom from her palms,
Orchids tangle in the vines of her hair.
Where she walks, life awakens.

Bees and butterflies, her aura.
Pools of water, her eyes.
Her skin, the earth.

Thorns adorn her limbs.
Nectar drips from the well of her lips.
Life to some; to others, poison.

Death and beauty, embodied.

This poem was based on the writing prompt: flower power.

Tiny Tales: Episode 7 – The Curse

Episode 7 of Tiny Tales is now live on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Buzzsprout, and the Tiny Tales webpage.

Tiny Tales is a weekly podcast of short stories spanning horror, fantasy, comedy, and everything in between. Written and narrated by R. E. Rule. Music and production by Frank Nawrot (www.franknawrot.com).

This Week’s Episode:

Episode 8: Reunited Tiny Tales

Until we meet again.

More soon!

~ R. E. Rule

Wait! There’s More…

Before we get to the short story… As you no doubt know, over the past few weeks protests were (and are still being) held across the United States and the world. If you aren’t sure why these protests are happening, here’s a link with a brief article summarizing the inciting event:


Since then, protests have been organized in many other major cities and rural areas. These next articles have more recent updates and the changes that are beginning to take place in Washington and across the country in response to the outcry against police brutality and racism.



If you are interested in helping support BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) or educating yourself further on this issue:

Sign Petitions

Make Donations

Learn More

Support Black Voices (for free)

This is just a tiny list. There are a multitude of resources here and here. There may also be action taking place within your community. I would recommend finding live streams of the protests, either from journalists or attendees, to see an un-edited version of events.

And now… today’s fiction.

           The ground wavered far below as I uneasily stepped over the gap to the top of the building. The door slid shut behind me, and with a whoosh, the airbus rejoined the lanes of aerial traffic whizzing past. Rows of dormant aeromobiles lined the rooftop, and at the far end, a sign emblazoned with ‘Fergin’s Discount Transportation Sales & Services’ hovered in midair, affixed to the transparent, electrostatic walls of an office. Inside, a man sat with his feet thrown up on a desk, his back leaning against the wall. Only open air lay behind him, and it looked like he was sitting on the edge of oblivion.

            I wove through the vehicles and knocked against the solidified air of the office wall. A low snore floated through the door.

            “H-hello? I’m… here to buy an aeromobile.”

            He jerked awake with a curse, sending a flood of papers to the floor as he yanked his feet off the desk.

            “Course you are, course you are, course you are,” he mumbled, jumping to his feet and shaking the dazed expression from his face. “And may I compliment you on your good taste.” He proudly patted a faded plaque. “100% sales rate. Satisfaction guaranteed when you fly off the lot.”

            He popped a giant, pink square into his mouth and loudly gnawed on it as he joined me outside.

            “This is a strange place for an aeromobile dealership,” I noted, inching away from the dizzying drop over the edge.

            “Where else would I sell them? On the ground?!” He guffawed loudly. “Naw, you need to see the vehicle in its natural environment.”

           With a deep sigh, he surveyed the open sky around us, filled with whizzing traffic and towering buildings, before steering me toward a vehicle near the end of the lot. I stopped halfway, eyeing a sleek red model.

            “What about this one?”

            “Good eye, good eye, good eye,” he rattled, bobbing his head and gnawing viciously on his gum. “Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to be a good fit for you.” His eyes flickered across the empty lot as he leaned closer, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “Between you and me, you’re better off without this one. Gravity manipulator has a nasty habit of malfunctioning. Only upside is the fall would kill you before it turned you into a metal pancake. Now, this bad boy”—he slapped the walls of the gray, amorphous blob next to it—“can’t go wrong. State-of-the-art technology back in its day, and only a 2% chance of it hurtling you into the fourth dimension.”

            “E-excuse me?”

            He slowly shook his head, his eyes fixed on the sloping metal walls, his jaw still working furiously.

            “Not many of these left in this condition. Honestly, at this price, it’s a steal.”

            “Did you say… the fourth dimension?”

            He ignored me, dragging me across the lot to a black, boxy model.

            “Now, over here we have an interesting find. Only one owner. Foreign import, but it’s been refitted with all the standard safety features.”

            He nudged one of the blank walls, and a panel popped out, sliding aside to reveal the interior. I peered inside at the deep seats and neon lighting lining the ceiling.

            “There aren’t any controls.”

            “Ah, that’s the beauty of this model! It’s all powered through, um…”—chew, chew, chew—“synaptic energy. Instead of using the telepathic abilities of the native manufacturers, they put together a new system. You drive it”—he leaned closer, tapping a forefinger to his temple—“with your mind.”


           The exterior was surprisingly free of scratches or burn marks from atmospheric re-entry. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but I had a feeling this might be the one.

            He bent over, digging through the vehicle. “Yup. It’s real simple. You just stick this”—he emerged holding a headpiece with a giant needle protruding from it—“into your brain, and voila!”

            I gaped at the needle. “Th-through your skull?!”

            He frowned at it, turning it over in his hands.

            “Ya know, I think it might have to go through your eye area. I’m sure it’s not so bad after the first time.” He extended the headpiece to me. “Wanna take it for a test drive?”

            “I… think I’ll pass.”

            “Suit yourself,” he mumbled through his gum, tossing the hardware back into the vehicle. “Can’t blame you. Don’t trust those foreign builders anyway with their non-auditory communication. It’s not natural…” He shook his head again, his jaw furiously chewing. “Not natural.”

            I myself was from two planets over and beginning to regret this whole situation.     

            “Well,” I clapped my hands together uselessly. “Thanks for your time. You’ve certainly given me a lot to think about. I’m going to sleep on it, and uh… I’ll let you know.”

            He waved a dismissive hand in my direction. “Yeah, sure. Whatever you need.”

            I glanced around, looking for an exit sign or an airbus pad.

            “How do I… get out of here?”

            He gnashed on his gum, pointing past a line of vehicles, but his extended finger only led me to the edge of the building and a steep drop.

            “There’s nothing here.”

            “It’s there,” he called, lounging against the invisible walls of his office. “You just can’t see it.”

            I scanned the open air, looking for any flicker of electricity or sign of a platform.

            “Could you show me?”

            He stalked over and frowned at the air, hands on hips, jaw working furiously.

            “Well, look at that,” he sighed. “Looks like it’s out.”

            “I’ll just wait for the next airbus then.”

            “Sorry. No buses run here without special request.”

            “Can I use your communication device then?”

            “Eh,” he gnawed loudly on his gum. “’fraid that’s not working either.”

            “Well, how do you get down?!” I snapped, reaching the end of my patience.

            “I use my aeromobile.”

            I stared at him, the reality of the situation dawning on me. “So, the only way I’m getting out of here is if I buy—“

            “Looks like.”

            He watched me expectantly. I wanted to argue, but I wanted to leave more. My shoulders sagged.

            “I guess… we’ll have to make a deal then.”

            “Great!” He clapped a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll draw up the paperwork.”

            My payment was exchanged for a worn activator device, and he carefully inspected the vehicle, muttering to himself and making haphazard marks on his clipboard before planting himself in front of me.

            “Would you say you were satisfied with today’s transaction?”


            “Because if you’re not, I am morally obligated not to finalize the sale until you are.”

            “Then… yes, I’m satisfied.”

           He was watching me intently, his jaw tirelessly gnawing.

            “100% satisfied?”

            “Yes,” I sighed.

           He triumphantly placed the last check on his clipboard before saluting me with it and striding back to his office. It landed with a clatter on his desk before he threw his feet up after it. The panel slid closed behind me, and I eased off the roof, merging into the flow of traffic. Maybe this wasn’t so bad. It was only a 2% chance, and the fourth dimension was supposedly nice this time of year.

This story was inspired by a very unfortunate encounter I had with a, for lack of a better word, skeezy car salesman.

~ R. E. Rule

Tiny Tales: Episode 6 – Don’t Let It Fall

Episode 6 of Tiny Tales is now live on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Buzzsprout, and the Tiny Tales webpage.

Tiny Tales is a weekly podcast of short stories spanning horror, fantasy, comedy, and everything in between. Written and narrated by R. E. Rule. Music and production by Frank Nawrot (www.franknawrot.com).

This Week’s Episode:

Episode 8: Reunited Tiny Tales

Until we meet again.

More soon!

~ R. E. Rule

The Lost Goodbye

The writing prompt for “The Lost Goodbye” was provided by Reedsy.com: write a story that starts with two characters saying goodbye.

                 People in brightly colored jumpsuits bustled around us, loud voices echoing off the spaceport’s metal walls, as we stood in silence, foreheads pressed together. I held him as long as I could until the blaring voice announcing the last call for his flight tore us apart. His hand slid from mine as he reluctantly moved toward the gate, but he stopped halfway, turning back to me.

                  “What are you doing?” I asked.

                  “Memorizing you.”

                  Tears spilled down my cheeks. He stood with his bag over his shoulder, watching me until the attendant told him this was the last chance to board before the doors closed. I waved half-heartedly as he paused in the doorway, and he raised a hand in response before the metal throat swallowed him completely.

                  I walked to the window and watched his ship detach from the station, silent plumes of steam evaporating in the vacuum of space. My head sagged against the glass as I fought against my grief, but the garbled voice blared again, calling for me this time. I sprinted through the spaceport to the ship that would carry me a world away from him.

                  We had met at the base of the small metal craft that was to be our new home. His unruly hair and bright red jumpsuit matching mine marked him as a fellow researcher in the sea of buzz cuts and starched uniforms filling the docking bay. He had been sent from our sister station on the opposite side of the planet to be the other half of our two-person team.

                  “You must be my fellow sardine,” he laughed, extending a hand to me.

                  His easy manner was a welcome relief from the tension of what lay before us. I eagerly shook his hand, opening my mouth to respond, but a man with a clipboard and a permanently creased forehead interrupted us, greeting us each with a curt nod before launching into his lengthy briefing.

                  “Sir. Ma’am. You will be entering RA 2-15-2 and passing through an unknown energy field. Once inside the field, all electronics in the craft will malfunction and communications disappear due to the ele… electro…”

                  I exchanged a glanced with my shipmate as our lecturer stumbled over the technical jargon, holding back a smile as he dramatically rolled his eyes. We had dedicated our lives to researching space phenomenon and undoubtedly knew more about what lay before us than our dedicated informant, but we dutifully listened as he droned on.

                  “Our calculations place you emerging from the other side approximately three months after entry. Our ship will retrieve you and take you to the main Earth transportation hub where you will return to your respective research stations.”

                  We were handed emergency supplies, a thoughtful but useless gesture considering where we were headed, and told to strap in for departure. When he turned to climb the ladder up to the small door, I could see a fresh incision matching mine at the base of his skull. We entered our tiny craft to resounding applause and blaring klaxons as the hangar cleared for our launch. They sealed us in and threw us into the void.

                 I gripped the safety belt across my chest with white knuckles as our craft shuddered and jerked in the lingering gravity from our mother ship. He was muttering to himself, apparently unfazed, engrossed in the stack of papers in his hands.

                 “What are you doing?” I croaked, desperate for a distraction.

                 “Reading our new operations manual.” He tapped a finger on the incision on the back of his neck.

                 Only organic machines worked inside the field, the electricity in our bodies stubbornly continuing to flow when all other electronics shorted out. We had each been given a chip, wired into our brains, to record everything we experienced, turning us into living sensors. There was only one problem.

                 “Not that it matters since I won’t remember any of it,” he laughed.

                 Removing the chip erased our memories from the moment it had been activated. When they sawed my skull open to jam it in, I thought that was a mercy.

                 The cushion of space caught us, smoothing out our flight, and we tossed aside the safety belts. Stacks of papers clamped in clipboards lined the walls, and in the center of the ceiling, a large glass portal faced up into the blackness. There were two small rooms with beds and various exercise equipment, and that was it. It reminded me of the black and white pictures of antique submarines, small and suffocating, but it had to be. Our bodies were our heat source, the insulation of our tiny vessel keeping the cold out and our warmth in. Blankets and packs of hand warmers had been provided, but we were on our own except for the microscopic organisms in the walls, gulping down our carbon monoxide and excreting oxygen.

                  We drifted ahead, carried by our momentum, until the lights on the consoles blinked rapidly and died. The whir of machinery faded, leaving us in silent blackness.

                 “We’re here.” His voice floated through the darkness, filled with infectious excitement.

                 The ship gradually solidified around us again, stained pink in the faint light, and the field came into view through the glass portal, arcs of rosy energy lacing across the void. Our feet lifted off the metal grating, and the papers lining the walls swooped up into art deco motifs.

                  “Well, that’s interesting.”

                  I turned to see him floating upside down, grinning at me. Our first day in nothing, he made me laugh.

                  We threw ourselves into our work, taking measurements, shoving liquids and instruments through the tiny airlock into the unknown, checking and re-checking oxygen levels and air quality, and monitoring our internal systems as closely as we did the ship’s. Temperature, pulse, blood pressure, muscle mass, hydrations levels, all recorded in pencil on rudimentary charts. He sang while we worked, and if he wasn’t singing, he was turning slow somersaults in the air and pelting me with questions about myself, my life, my research. I had volunteered because I had no family, no attachments, no one to grieve if this ship became my crypt. He had too.

                 At first, the days passed easily. But days became weeks, and the sensation that my feet were where my head should be, and my head was where my feet should be, that everything was inside out and upside down, grew until I locked myself in my room where he couldn’t see to throw up into vacuum-sealed sanitary bags. I tried to focus, to pour myself into the work, to distract myself from the immensity of the darkness closing in on me, but there was no time here, just an eternal pink light, unchanging. The X’s we drew through the days on our paper calendar meant nothing.

                 Every eight hours, we tried to sleep, shutting our doors against the pink light. The bed had straps to hold me in, but I couldn’t sleep tied down. I hovered over it instead, wrapping blankets around myself like some miserable nebula. His singing had stopped for the night, and silence closed in around me until I could hear the blood rushing in my ears. I couldn’t touch anything. There was nothing. No sensation, nothing to cradle my body, no gravity to press me to the earth. I didn’t exist. I was a lost consciousness, disembodied, floating on a sea of blackness, and it took him shaking me for me to realize I was screaming.

                  “I can’t,” I sobbed, panic blotting out everything. “I can’t do this.”

                  I gasped at the cruel air that refused to let me land. I needed touch, the security of gravity, the sensation of my body, and I thrashed against the merciless nothing. His arm closed around me, pinning my arms to my sides and anchoring my back to his chest.

                  “Look.” He shoved his wrist in my face, showing me his watch dimly illuminated by the pink light filtering through the door. “It’s practically an antique, but it’s the only thing that works out here.”

                  I stared at the tiny glass face as the second hand marched in deliberate circles, its quiet tick deafening in the silence. My breathing gradually slowed to match it, and his grip loosened as I regained my senses.

                  “How are you so calm?” My tears floated through the air around us, tiny diamonds shimmering in the faint light, and he caught one on his fingertip.

                  “I’m not calm. I sing because it’s too damn quiet. I ask you questions because I desperately need anything to distract myself. I’m terrified. When you started screaming, I thought it was me.”

                  He smiled weakly at me, but his face was drawn and haggard. I wrapped my arms around his neck, needing anything to hold on to.

                  “This is the warmest I’ve been in weeks,” he laughed shakily, embracing me back.

                 Any lingering unfamiliarity between us vanished, and we clung to each other, the only specks of life in a vacuum. After that night, we slept holding each other. It was the only way to combat the excruciating nothingness. I fell asleep to his breathing and the tick of his watch and woke to his soft singing and a protein bar hovering over my head.

                  We fell into a dance, a rhythm, orbiting through the ship from waking, working, exercising so our bodies didn’t waste away, back to sleep, over and over, always together, always talking. He became my gravity, and as the weeks passed, so did my fear. I left behind the jumpsuit, the fabric becoming suffocating against my skin, and stopped ferociously pinning my hair to my head. I would hover under the arcs of pink light, eyes closed, strands of hair lightly brushing my face. I was free. I didn’t need to know I was anything; I was nothing. I was everything. When I closed my eyes, I became the universe, limitless and unending. And when he touched me, it was not my body I felt but the heat of his skin, the pulse of life he carried within him echoing in my ears and beneath my fingertips. While all was still and silent, he moved freely. He spoke. He laughed. There was a universe of existence within him, and he fascinated me. I was happiest when he smoothed my hair away from my face and smiled at me.

                  We continued our work only because that was our routine, but the numbers stopped meaning anything. I couldn’t remember why this mattered, and I hastily scribbled data into white boxes, rushing to when we could hover together on our backs, gazing up at the pink arcs of energy.

                  “I think I’m in love with you,” I said, staring up at the expanse.

                  On Earth, I would never have been so bold, but I was free of that weight, looking into the mouth of eternity with the only other being in existence at my side. He was warmth in a sea of coldness, the only light in a void of darkness, my gravity, holding me together, and we were eternal. His fingers twined with mine, and the pink light splashed across his face as he pulled my forehead to his. When he kissed me, I wondered if I had ever known what sensation felt like.

                  We would hover over the blankets, weightless, only the insistence of our muscles holding us together, my hair floating around us, the heat of his breath in my mouth keeping me alive.

                  “I wonder how this will show up on the chip,” he laughed, and the coldness that washed over me at his words was more agonizing than the vacuum of space.

                  When our journey first began, dread overwhelmed me whenever I looked at the calendar and saw the sea of days remaining before our return. The same dread filled me now when I saw the days we had left growing fewer. We had survived, and now they would erase him. Us.

                 On our last night, I woke him with my crying. Work abandoned, charts blank and data unmeasured, we clung to each other until the pink light faded, and we were left in darkness. I hoped this was death, that we could spend eternity here in the black void, but the ship shuddered around us. Metal shrieked as the door was pried open, and gravity welded us to the bed. I tried to hold on to him, but a flood of medics and researchers tore him away. I was laid on a stretcher and adorned with sensors and needles and liquid running through tubes. I tried to see him through the crowd, to find any trace of him, but he had vanished. The lights, the colors, the noise, the grating touch against my skin was unbearable, and I ripped at the needles, deaf to my own shrieking, until someone emptied a syringe into my arm and merciful nothingness returned.

                  They put us in chambers with dimmed lights and soundproofed walls, not together but close, separated only by a plexiglass partition. We would sit as close as we could, our foreheads leaned together, palms pressed against our transparent prison. Our vitals were under constant observation, red alarms screaming if our heart rates wandered too far. Doctors poked and prodded, asking questions and gauging our reflexes. I couldn’t remember how to fake sanity, but time slowly secured my mind back in my body. I had lost myself in space, but I still loved him even though gravity had made him thin and tired. He spent most of his time writing furiously. When I knocked tentatively on the glass, he would turn to watch me for a moment before smiling and turning back to his writing, and I wondered if he had already forgotten.

                  By the time we reached the transportation hub, we were deemed fit to return to our work and released from our plexiglass prisons. The first thing he did was reach for my hand, and we walked together through the halls, out into the bewildering crowds, to his gate.

                  “I can’t. I can’t do this,” I sobbed.

                  He took my face in his hands.

                  “I will find you. I swear.”

                  “But you won’t remember.”

                  He yanked his notebook out of his bag and flipped to the middle, showing me his meticulous notes.

                  You met a woman on board. You don’t know it yet, but you’re in love with her. Find her.

                  The pages were filled with our journey, our time together, me.

                  “I wrote down everything,” he said. “I don’t have to remember. I’ll find you. We’ll make a new story.”

                  “What if we don’t? What if it isn’t enough?”

                  “Then…” He swallowed hard. “At least we won’t remember what we lost.”

                  The vacuum of space had fused us together, but now gravity was too heavy. It was ripping us apart, wrapping our skin around us again. Even if he found me, those moments, those beautiful moments when we were alone in the universe, would be gone. He unbuckled his watch, securing it around my wrist.

                  “I’m coming to get this back.”

                  I held him as long as I could, but now I was back where it had all begun, where they had put a chip in my brain and told me I would be advancing space research by a hundred years. I traced my fingers over the watch face. He hadn’t shown me how to wind it, and the hands were slowing.

                 A nurse ushered me into a sterile white room, and I lay back on the chair as they shaved the base of my skull, wiping it with cold sterilizer. A needle pricked for the injection of the local anesthetic.

                  “The other researcher,” I said as I went numb. “Is he okay?”

                  “They removed his chip this morning. He’s fine.”

                  Hot tears blinded me. He had already forgotten, and no notes could bring me back. The doctor came in, snapping her gloves as she pulled them on.

                  “Like last time, we will keep you awake in case of complications.”

                  She disappeared behind me, and I felt a tug at the base of my skull, but no pain. I closed my eyes and let myself float back to those moments in his arms, weightless, fearless, when it was only him and–

                 I sighed, waiting for them to finish. I knew having this chip installed was necessary, but that didn’t mean I was enjoying it.

                  “Is it in yet?” I asked, twitching my feet nervously.

                  The doctor appeared at my side, a bloody chip clamped in a pair of forceps. I slowly realized I was on the other side of… I had no idea what. The clothing I thought I had put on just that morning was different, and my body was thinner. A hot tear trickled down my cheek, and I wiped a hand across my face, staring at the moisture on my fingers. An antique watch had appeared on my wrist, the second hand frozen in place. My heart ached, but try as I might, I couldn’t remember why.

~ R. E. Rule

Tiny Tales: Episode 5 – The Gift of Nothing

Episode 5 of Tiny Tales is now live on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, Buzzsprout, and the Tiny Tales webpage.

Tiny Tales is a weekly podcast of short stories spanning horror, fantasy, comedy, and everything in between. Written and narrated by R. E. Rule. Music and production by Frank Nawrot (www.franknawrot.com).

This Week’s Episode:

Episode 8: Reunited Tiny Tales

Until we meet again.

More soon!

~ R. E. Rule

Swept Away: Rewritten

In preparation for the Tiny Tales podcast episodes, I’ve been editing my short stories. Here is the re-worked version of Swept Away, first published in February 2020. To hear it in podcast form with original music, click here.

        The Orinath village perches on the edge of the great river, and it is there we have dwelt for longer than memory can tell. Each morning, we gather on the misty banks to plunge our buckets into the streams, and our days are spent foraging within the lush forest or standing on the riverbank with ropes in hand to catch what fish we can. The waters sustain us with their teeming schools and clean currents, but the children of the Orinath know never to enter the river, for it is told that any who do shall never return, and what the river takes, the river keeps.

         Thus we had lived our lives in quiet simplicity, but now, the Day of Marking drew near and we eagerly prepared for its arrival. Colorful banners hung from branches, and the air was heavy with the smell of smoking fish and bread cooking on fire-warmed stones. At the center of the village, adorned with garlands of flowers, stood an enormous tree, its gnarled bark scored with rings of countless marks, stretching up higher than the eye could see. A notch for every year, circling the trunk until the last reached the first and the circle was completed, marking the passing of one hundred years. On the morrow, the final day of the final year arrived, and we celebrated, for legend foretold that on that day, the river would rise and the village be remade.

         On the last morning of the hundredth year, we awoke to watch the sun rise. We danced in the foggy dawn on the banks of the great river, for the life of the Orinath was short, and we rejoiced that we were chosen to see this day. The toils of survival were for once set aside, and we spent the day in joyful feasting, eagerly awaiting the river’s arrival, but when the sun again settled below the horizon, the waters still flowed as they always had.

         The next day as the last mark was carved into the tree, a stranger appeared among us. Her hair flowed to her feet, and her eyes were as dark as the depths of the river. No travelers crossed these lands, and the great river was ever bare of boats, so we wondered among ourselves from where she could have come. The Orinath journey not and know nothing of the world beyond the forests and the riverbanks. We welcomed her, offering her bread and fish such as we had, but she turned it away.

         “For seven thousand years, I have warned you of the price,” she said, running a finger along the fresh mark etched into the tree. “And for seven thousand years, you have neglected to pay it.”

         We murmured among ourselves, for none of the Orinath lived longer than threescore years, and surely this woman was very old. Her voice rose as she spoke, her face darkening.

         “You are granted life from my banks, and in return I ask only for one of yours, but still my waters remain empty.”

         We saw then that the river had arisen as was foretold, but she had arrived late, and we grew fearful of the anger in her eyes. Again we offered what meager possessions we had, but she refused them, spilling the baskets of fish onto the ground.

         “The time for your tribute has passed, and now all must pay the price.”

         Terrified at her words, we begged her to have mercy, to let us remain on her banks, and when the day again came, we would gladly offer ourselves to her.

         “This time, we will remember!” we cried, but she turned a deaf ear.

         “Please,” we pleaded. “Our lives are short and our memories fleeting. If ever we knew of this price, we have long forgotten it.”

         She took pity on us then, for surely we were no more to her than the silver fish flitting among her waters. The children of the village were called forth, and she chose two, a boy and a girl, pulling them into her arms.

         “The price must be paid,” she chanted, as her hair pooled around her feet, spreading out over the land. “But two shall remain. Two to carry on my word, for none shall dwell on my banks who will not return in kind what has been given. Of my life you take, and so with life you must pay.”

        As she spoke, waters sprang from the ground, the river rose from its banks, and even the trees bowed to her might. For a day, her anger swept through the forest, until the waters receded and her arms unfurled from around the children. The village was gone, and only the tree remained with the marks on its trunk stretching up, up out of sight.

~ R. E. Rule