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Fiction Fantasy Science Fiction

Called to Duty


With a muted BINK-bonk the ring around the small speaker turned a pulsing yellow, indicating an incoming notification. Agatha Freeman sat on a high stool pushed up against the island in the middle of her kitchen, her laptop opened in front of her and a large mug of hot black coffee off to her right. The morning sun filtered through the window over the sink and played itself in a wedge across the dark granite island top. Agatha was scrolling through her emails, left thumb dragging down the rectangular trackpad, and she took a long pull from her coffee. Dressed in an oversized t-shirt, and red and black checkered flannel pajama pants; her feet clad in a pair of sheepskin moccasins she was enjoying a slow start to her day.


“Catchall,” she said, absently, “play notification.” Agatha had changed the little smart-speaker's wake word after she had installed it. The new name amused Agatha since the speaker not only played music but also fielded her phone calls, allowed her to shop, and controlled most of her house. She had purchased the device on a whim during Cyber Monday the year before, and it still amazed her how prevalent in her life the squat round thing had become.


“Agatha,” a vaguely English accented voice emanated from the speaker, “a package has been delivered.” The pulsing ring of light dimmed as Agatha looked up, frowning. She hadn’t ordered anything that she recalled, and she hadn’t been told to expect any packages. 


She slid down from her stool, moccasins making a slight shisshing sound against the hardwood floor; she walked across the kitchen and down the small hallway that connected the room to her front door. She opened the door, and a sweeping gust of freezing wind blew past her. She shivered and stepped out onto the small porch. Sitting on the porch was a small box approximately four inches square. It was not another of the plain brown boxes, blue tape securing the top and bottom flaps, that Catchall usually notified her about. This box was red and made of some glittering thick paper. A thin silvery ribbon crossed the box and sat in a large bow atop the box’s lid. Agatha looked around hoping to spot whoever had dropped off the box, but she saw no one. Perplexed, she picked up the box, and reentered the house, closing the door tightly against the cold as she went. 


Agatha walked back to the island, the small box in her hands. She pushed the laptop off to the side and set the package down. She sat and looked at it for a moment. She turned it left, and then right. She looked underneath the box, but there was no tag or note anywhere to been seen. Curious, she tugged one tail of the silver bow, and the ribbon came undone smoothly. Agatha brushed the ribbon down the sides of the box, and gently lifted the lid off. It was tightly fit, and she had to slide one fingernail underneath the edge of the lid to pry it up. Inside the box, on a bed of black satin rested a small golden heart.


She reached into the box and lifted the heart out. It was heavy in her dark-skinned hand. It was two inches from the top arcs to its rounded point, and about half an inch thick. It was completely smooth without lines or seams and was bubbly. That’s the word that came to her: “bubbly.” Like back when she was in middle school, and her girlfriends used to doodle the names of the boys they liked in their notebooks, letters thick and rounded as if they were filled with air. As she held it, Agatha felt a warmth radiate out from the heart, spreading through her hand. It was soothing, and she felt the arthritis that had begun to develop in her fingers loosen. Amazed, she sat holding the heart for several minutes before laying it gently back into the box. The warmth in her hand lingered, and Agatha flexed her fingers. There was no pain or stiffness, as there had been for the past ten years. 


BINK-bonk. The ring of the speaker once more lit up, pulsing.


“Agatha,” the speaker spoke. It’s vague-lish voice was friendly. The lighted ring flashed as it spoke. “You have been chosen.”


Agatha stared at the little device, it’s light pulsing slowly. “Riiiiiiight,” she said, drawing the word out like warm caramel. In her mind, two thoughts began to bicker. One insisted that nothing untoward was occurring. The other insisted quite vehemently that, in fact, speakers do not, as a rule address their owners. That Agatha should, at minimum, be perturbed.


“Yes. Chosen.” The light turned into a single point which raced along the circumference of the speaker, stopping at the apex of the circle before returning to its original yellow pulsing. Agatha took this as the speaker’s way of giving the old forefinger and thumb circle, with three other fingers extended sign. The one that meant Bingo! Or, everything is okay. A-Ok.


“Chosen.” It wasn’t quite a question. Nor was it fully a statement. The ring cascaded in a light blue from top to bottom; returned to its normal yellow pulse. It was as close as the object, lacking shoulders, would get to releasing a patient sigh of exasperation.


“Yes, Agatha. Now do please pay attention, as we don’t have much time,” it admonished. “There is a battle coming, and you need to be ready. What you have been given is called Zoweh. Using an advanced algorithm, an averaging of your daily behaviors if you will, we determined that you, Agatha, would be brought into service. Zoweh is Life. It will fortify you and protect you in the coming fray, but you must be willing to accept it. We cannot force you.” The lighted ring pulsed. The light coming in from outside seemed to get brighter, spilling in from the windows.


“I....don’t know what any of that means. Or how you’re talking to me. Or why me at all,” Agatha said. The sunlight in the room was beginning to hurt her eyes. The warmth in her hand was now pulsing dully in time with the lighted ring of the speaker.


“Some are born to greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them,” the speaker said, the light cycling from the bottom to top again in light blue. It was a shrug. “Still others are conscripted and pave the way.”


“So that’s it, then?” Agatha shielded her eyes with her hand against the growing light in the room. “I’m to be a pawn.”


“That is not for me to determine, I’m sorry.” The yellow light pulsed twice quickly, it’s machine apology. “I’m just a messenger.”


Agatha sat in silence for a moment, reflecting back to the last time she had enlisted for a war she knew nothing about. That was back in her “sandbox” days as they called it. The War on Terror. It was always spoken of like that, the words in capital letters. Most nights she awoke screaming. Screaming for squad mates long gone. Screaming for the one boy, caught in the crossfire that day her convoy was ambushed. The inside of her house was now far too bright, light pouring in through all the windows, bathing everything in a whiteout. The speaker and its pulsing light were lost, and the appliances and furniture were cast into stark relief against a brightness that continued to grow. “I…don’t know if I can do it again. Fight.” She covered her face with her hands, the light beyond bleeding through her fingers, all she could see was red.


“Understood,” the voice drifted through the white, sounding not unkind. “We only ask that you see for yourself before you decide.” 


Agatha slid off the stool and, hand in front of her face to block out the white as much as possible, stumbled to the window over the sink. As she looked out, the whiteness began to decrease, the light lessening, until the world’s colors came back into being. Beyond the window, Agatha’s well kept lawn drew back into its verdant green, the wood line beyond that coming back into focus. She saw them. Standing shoulder to shoulder in her yard, their bodies forming a ring about her house, were figures dressed in golden armor. Each armored set was engraved with glowing runes. The helmets were full-faced plate mail with only a small slit at eye level. Each figure held a silver spear six feet long as well as a shield equally as tall. Longswords hung in scabbards at each one’s waist. Seeing them brought a sense of deep foreboding to Agatha. Not of themselves, but of something in the distance, unseen but felt deeper than her bones even. Somewhere in her soul. She sighed.


“Alright, I’m in. What do I do?” She turned to face the speaker.


“Excellent.” The ring of light cycled quickly through a rainbow of colors; red to orange, green, then deepening finally into violet. “All you need to do is accept Zoweh.”


Agatha walked to the red box, hesitating only a moment before reaching in to lift out the tiny golden heart. As she brought it up to her chest, the bauble began to radiate its heat, and she felt its warmth travel throughout her body. Old aches and pains disappeared and Agatha felt energy cascading through her muscles. She felt stronger, her eyesight became keener. She could hear faintly the scurrying of a squirrel in the woods out past the line of golden warriors. Agatha became aware that the heart’s pulsating warmth had attuned to her own heartbeat, its energy now flowing through her every cell. Looking down, she saw runes like those of the guardians outside appear on her bare arms. She marveled as the runes filled with the same calm blue light, and as she watched they grew brighter and more intense. The small metal heart, now held close to Agatha’s chest, began burning through her shirt, little tendrils of black smoke rose up, its odor acrid in Agatha’s enhanced nostrils. It continued to burn, now into the skin of her chest, but Agatha felt no pain. It was the opposite, a thick, full, feeling of bliss spreading throughout her body. She watched, as slowly, golden armor began to form around her. At first translucent, her dark skin visible through it, the armor began to solidify, encasing her. Her mind’s eye flashed back to a time unremembered, in her mother’s womb, amniotic fluid providing heat and sustenance.


It’s like that again, she thought as the final piece, the helm, formed around her head. And then she was in darkness. A darkness of peace, of well-being and strength. Instinctively, she reached out with her mind. Are you here?


We are. As you are. The response wasn’t heard but instead understood in her mind. A choir of voices all answering in harmony. It was the Guardians. As she changed, Agatha felt her mind melding within their commune.


You (I) are none.


I (we) am (are) One.


The golden sentinel stood solitary in the kitchen that no longer belonged to Agatha Freeman. Silence abounded, and time itself halted momentarily. Awe filled the room, the house, reverberating as the knights communed. Their glowing runes intensified, building until the house in whole was bathed in blinding light. Then, with a blink, the phalanx disappeared. Air rushed into the vacuum left where they had stood with a crack.


Inside the kitchen, dust motes began to settle on the counters and the floor. A tiny wisp of smoke rose up from the speaker. It was lightless and voiceless, its service complete.


December 03, 2021 23:33

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4 comments

Karen Freeman
13:21 Jan 28, 2022

Your wording is so rich and full of description. As I have thought since I first met you, you have a gift.

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Jon Butters
22:35 Jan 28, 2022

Thank you. Sometimes, and sadly often, I forget that I do, and I keep it too tightly wrapped and hidden away.

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Kevin Broccoli
22:57 Dec 08, 2021

This is one of those strange times where I wish a story would have been longer. It feels like a great start to something or something you could pull out in different directions if you wanted to.

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Jon Butters
18:01 Dec 09, 2021

Thank you so much for the feedback. I'm glad you enjoyed it. 😁

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