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Copyright © 2017 Lynette Aspey
This story remains the copyrighted property of the author and may not be reproduced, copied and distributed for commercial or non-commercial purposes.

The Stone Disciple

My grandfather was a stone disciple. I only began to understand what that meant when he stopped speaking and began to stiffen. Yet, even then, when the cost to him was clear, our neighbors still brought their sick and their wounded for him to heal.

I guess they cared for him, honored – perhaps even worshiped him – but they used him all the same.

He gave of himself to others but the cost of that giving etched lines into skin slowly hardening to stone. Strong and healthy as I was, I could only watch as his stubbled cheeks became smooth bedrock for tears spent on others’ pain.

I became jealous; I wanted him to give me something too.

One day, I captured and broke the wings of a wild bird and brought it to him to heal. Afterward, he could not lift his hand above his shoulder. He cried when she flew away.

After that, I brought him whatever I could catch so that he could lay his hands on them and I could watch as the stone took more of him.

Then came the day mother brought her sister’s baby home. The infant was strong, healthy like me, but it had killed my aunt coming out. I was curious. If I broke the baby, would he fix that too?

It cost him his legs. Afterwards, he stopped moving altogether and took root in the stone of our kitchen floor but he could still see, so now we watched each other.

It became our secret. I brought him things that squawked, or squeaked and squirmed, and I would break them in front of him.

Do you see, Grandfather? I would ask. I have power too.

Then the bird came back. It sat on his shoulder and sang into his deaf ear. I could see how it distracted him, how it brought something back into eyes that were rigid inside his stone skull.

I tried to catch the bird again but it knew me now and fluttered out of reach, dancing between his shoulders, then his head, then onto his hands.

Aha! I thought, as I went to snatch it up – only to be caught myself. Fingers so hard, so strong, curled around my own and held.

I felt him die in that moment, as he used the last of his magic to heal me, sick and broken as I was.

This piece came directly from a weekend workshop organised by our local New England Writer’s Centre with the fabulous Australian authors Ian Irvine & Pamela Freeman, in September 2017.

The flash story began as an exercise to explore the cost of magic. The first draft was written in 20 minutes on Sunday 15 September, submitted to the flash eZine 365 Tomorrows the next Tuesday, 17 September – it was online by lunchtime the same day accompanied by some very nice and supportive feedback.

The idea of the “Stone Disciple” comes from a novella that I wrote back in 1995 that shall remain forever lost for the benefit of mankind, but I always loved the title and concept. Now, all these years later, I’m bringing that concept back as a fresh idea of a story in 2018.