A silly little short story to make the afternoon go by a bit quicker.
Management is not responsible for any detrimental shifts in theological perspective that may result from reading this work. Terms and conditions apply. See inside of cereal box for details.
Ned started with the weather, as he usually did. Scraping the sharpened edge of his quill on the glass rim of the inkwell gave him a shivering sort of satisfaction as he watched the excess drops slide down the polished sides to join their fellows again, morphing back into a nebulous potential that slipped and sloshed at his command.
Rain, he thought as the surface of the liquid settled back into its millpond shape. It will definitely rain.
He just had to decide how much, and that was always a little tricky. Should he predict a deluge that would flatten the crops and flood the orchards just as the harvest was coming in? Or tell a tale of gentle showers, misty summer mornings and cool flashes of lightning to speckle the midnight skies? What did he do last year? He couldn’t remember.
“Albert, what was the rain last time?” he called to the old man sitting high up at the front table, bent in two as he scratched and mumbled over his parchment, his ancient hood draped so far over his face that it nearly swiped the paper, the hem stained with the remnants of previous disasters long since lost to memory.
“Make it bad,” the elder replied, his voice scratchy with age and too much pipe smoke. “They deserve it.”
Ned shrugged and returned to his work, inscribing a storm that would shake the heavens, watching the words settle themselves onto the stretched and scraped skin. Maybe they did. It wasn’t much of his concern.
“All done?” his bench-mate Matthew asked him as he rolled and tied the parchments with red tapes, depositing them in the basket that would be taken to the mill. “I’ve got a couple of boats to deal with, then we can have supper.”
“River or ocean?” Ned asked, yawning behind his hand. It was getting late, and he had been pulling double shifts to get the coming year’s events finished before the solstice.
“Both. Someone’s in a bit of a mood,” he said, surreptitiously jerking his head towards Albert.
“I don’t know,” Ned shrugged. “Evelyn says he put in a good few births for Saltford. They’ve been having it rough lately,” he added, thinking about what he had just written.
“If you say so. Let me finish so I can knock off early, too. You owe me an ale.”
Ned nodded and left the scriptorium, blinking in the strong sunlight. The dark, whispering hall always seemed like a different world from the bright and breezy out-of-doors – and in fact, it sort of was. Inside the scribe’s domain, he could cause an apocalypse with a stray stroke of his pen or an accidental misspelling, which had happened a few more times than he cared to admit. But once he left, he could scrawl graffiti on the gates of heaven themselves without causing a single snowflake.
The limits on his effectiveness were supposed to help his guilt, Albert had said during his initiation all those years ago, but Ned didn’t really have any. During his lifetime, he had always wondered what capricious forces determined the fortunes of the mortal world: gifted feasts to one village while their neighbors starved; prompted wars and floods, sickness and cancers, miscarried babies, and men struck down in their prime.
He had cursed the gods like all the rest of them, railing at the anonymous skies with all the anger of a thousand mourning hearts, the frustration and pain and grief nearly unbearable as his short life came to its sudden, ignoble end at the wheels of a runaway farm cart. But now that he knew it was just Albert having a bad day, it didn’t really seem to matter much anymore.
Besides, it was Friday, he thought, yawning again as he sat down on a bench to wait for Matthew. No one really cared on Fridays.
“Aren’t you supposed to be working?” Evelyn said from behind him, jerking him out of his quiet doze and into an undignified yelp of surprise.
“Aren’t you?” he replied when he had recovered.
“I don’t take as long as you do,” she told him, sitting down next to him. “Besides, all I had was a plague.”
“Lucky,” he sighed, rubbing his neck. “You always get the easy jobs.”
“Waiting for Matthew?”
“I was waiting for you,” he lied.
“How sweet,” she said, clearly not believing him.
“You can come out with us,” he offered, knowing she would turn him down just like she always did.
“Two drunks and a tavern. How could I resist?”
“I try, Evelyn,” he said solemnly, shaking his head. “You just don’t know a good thing when you see it.”
“Yes, I do. Which is why I’m usually headed in the other direction.”
“I’m going to switch to crop blights,” he said. “I’ll write your name in dead corn in every field of England. Then you’ll see how true is my love.”
“Why, Ned. That was almost romantic…if a bit sadistic.”
“See, I knew I had it in me.”
“I didn’t,” she said. “Maybe I’ll see you later,” she added, leaning over to give him a light kiss on the cheek before she left him.
“I saw that,” Matthew said when she had gone, and Ned tried to wipe the stupid grin from his face. “You know none of that is allowed during your hours.”
“It’s Friday,” he said, still smiling, “and it’s not my hours anymore. I’m going to the pub.”
“Wrong. Albert is looking for you. You forgot the hail.”
“What? No,” Ned groaned. “I’m sure I put some.”
“Not enough. He told me to tell you that you need to rewrite the whole thing. You know what mistakes do to him. They’d stop his heart if he wasn’t already dead.”
“It’ll be another three hours. Evelyn’s going to be there. She just said.”
Matthew shrugged. “You know how he gets on Fridays.”
Ned scowled. Albert didn’t like hopefulness. He didn’t like weekends. He didn’t like people not working when he still had things to do. He didn’t like Evelyn. He didn’t like anything, and he made sure everybody knew it. Ned stomped off back to the scriptorium, determined to put in so much hail that the village would never recover. And he’d schedule it for a Friday. That would show them.
Ned slunk back to his table and pulled a fresh sheet of parchment from the stack, uncorking the ink pot and stabbing the pen into the paper as he wrote up a storm that would go down in the record books.
If I have to suffer, so will they, he thought as Albert smiled approvingly from his perch. Bloody Fridays.