Plagued Memory by Samuel D. Kirby

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SUMMARY: For the scrutiny of the July flash fiction contest.

"There, I see them!"

Joseph pointed beyond the sprawl of seafarers to where The Dignified Enchantress had docked, anchored and now unloaded its sunburnt passengers and cargo onto the landing pier. Three foreigners appeared in the crowd leaving the ship, their fair skin and apparel a blatant contrast to that of the native majority.

"Do you see?" His faintly accented voice trembled and he almost giggled between words. "And little sister with them too. Dear, she has grown!"

"They look so... impractical." The dark woman close to his side seemed to Joseph as nervous as he. In her arms an infant nuzzled, ignorant to the ensuing reunion. "All those clothes they wear make simple even the robes of the three great magi."

"Hah! That is how all Kingdom men and women look when they arrive here for the first time."

"I've seen your old long coat, and I still don't want to ever see you wear it! Your people bewilder me, too extravagant in outward appearances to know true sensibility. Why they bother to come here now after so long, I don't know."

"Remember that you speak to one of their own. I know you are upset and tired Davorkja, but you are too harsh. Let them see their grandson, without remark."

"Humph. For the last seven years, they've had no interest to meeting their son's gypsy wife."

"How could they not love you by the end of their visit?"

Joseph caught the attention of his family at last.

Little sister was mystified. Her gaze never strayed from the flat-roofed city of Ar'viculus and its dominant spire. The Institute of the Magi was sure to be the tallest building she had ever seen.

Father busied himself with an overzealous trinket merchant, who jingled spellbound necklaces adorned with gems near his plump face.

And a frail mother looked upon her son for the first time in many years, gasped, and then cried out. "William..."

* * *

Baby had been crying, which awakened Joseph, Davorkja, and at least one of their three guests. A faint, morning light spread in all places, and the air smelled like the desert does after rain, a rare and exotic aroma that must be savored, never squandered. Outside, someone could be heard pumping fresh water from the nearby waterhole. When the boy was suckling and quiet once again, Davorkja turned to Joseph and frowned.

"What's the matter?"

Joseph huddled within the long coat Davorkja had derided just days ago. His eyes stung and when he tried to talk, he needed to catch his breath.

"Since my mother mistook me for my younger brother William, I have had recurring dreams; ghastly nightmares from my youth.

"I am on a ship, on the journey that took me and my brother abroad to these dry lands. There is a plague and soon everyone onboard becomes afflicted by it. Many people die, painfully and loudly. It is terrible...

"With the few that remain, I help to heap corpses and we soak them with a liquid. As I throw in a flame and watch the fire rise, I hear my brothers call from within. I try to get closer, but I am pulled back by a stranger.

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