The Grand Gate

Alain walked behind the cart, his steps slow and measured. Occasionally, the cart hit one of the many potholes in the road, sending dirty, rancid water splashing everywhere, but he anticipated these drops and moved just far enough aside to avoid the worst of the spray.

He’d walked this spot, behind his father’s cart, for two days now. This would be his first trip to the City, the first time that his father deemed him old enough to go along on the twice-yearly pilgrimage to sell their wares, to bring back the battered and scratched silver coins that would pay for the repairs to their little farm.

In Alain’s mind, the City was this mystical place, a wonderland where everything existed, and his father somehow know how to submit their humble wares to trade for the objects they needed. His father, a stout and doughy man named Cuthbert, Cuth to the others in his village, only returned with what was necessary – but one time, Mat’s dad, Singer, brought back a strange small box of crystal that produced wondrous tunes when a small crank in its side was turned. That tiny box filled Alain’s head with all sorts of ideas about what other incredible devices and sorcery might exist in the City. Continue reading

Modern Arranged Marriage

I looked around the office, trying to control the anxiety building up inside my chest. Just breathe, Jake, I told myself. You’re just here to find out how it works. You haven’t signed anything, haven’t agreed to anything yet.

Whoever designed the office, at least, had been well aware of the anxiety that its visitors might feel. Most of the walls were paneled in dark wood, and a large fountain in the middle of the room sent a small waterfall cascading down amid lush green vegetation. I felt more like I’d accidentally stepped into a spa, or perhaps an upscale massage parlor, rather than a dating service.

“Jake Hoffman?”

I glanced up at my name, and saw a tall, efficient-looking brunette in a tightly tailored navy suit looking back at me. “Yeah,” I said, rising up from the low bench where I’d been sitting and gazing blearily into the stream of falling water. “That’s me.”

She smiled at me, an efficient and businesslike smile that she’d probably practiced a thousand times in the mirror. “Right this way, Mr. Hoffman.” Continue reading