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art by Cheryl L Owen-Wilson

The Keepsake Box

Alex Shvartsman is a writer and game designer from Brooklyn, NY. He's had over 50 short stories published in places like Nature, InterGalactic Medicine Show, Galaxy's Edge, Buzzy Magazine, and others. This is his sixth appearance at Daily Science Fiction. Alex is the editor of Unidentified Funny Objects anthology series of humorous SF/F. His fiction is linked at alexshvartsman.com.
For this spell, only the most powerful magic will do.
The glass tubes full of air magic jingle like wind chimes as she takes them off the shelf, the iridescent gases swirling inside. Next she moves the heavy clay pots filled with earth magic and then wrangles the jug of water magic with both hands. Hidden behind it is the keepsake box.
Spellcasting is no different from chemistry. She can mix elements and emotions, memories and mantras in just the right dose, and watch them react to each other and produce carefully measured miracles. Among many possible ingredients, love is the most powerful magic of all.
She's been storing mementos of their love since the day they met. Items of little meaning, of little value, to anyone but her. Items charged with concentrated magic, squirreled away for a rainy day. Today she has no choice but to use everything.
She dumps the contents of the keepsake box onto the table and begins to chant as she picks up the items one by one, drains them of their power, and weaves the resulting strands of enchantment into her spell.
From the twig of the tree under which she met him, she drains excitement. It's light and full of possibilities, like beats of a fluttering heart.
The dried-up petal of a borage flower from the bouquet he brought her on their first date yields the first drops of love, full-bodied and aromatic.
His hair, plucked from the bed after their first night together, holds the magic of ecstasy. Like cinnamon, it must be sprinkled onto the spell in small doses. Too much will overpower it, will make her burn.
The pebble from the beach where he proposed and the strand from her wedding dress both provide copious volumes of joy, thick and sweet like expensive wine. She hesitates for a briefest moment before using them up for her spell.
A small copper coin provides a dose of frustration distilled from the memory of their first fight. It's hot-pepper spicy, tempered only with time and wisdom.
A seashell they found on the evening when she told him she was pregnant is crackling with bliss, sweet and fluffy like whipped cream. They walked along the shore the entire night, held hands, and thought up baby names.
Her hands shake as she reaches for the next item. A wooden doll he made for their future child stores the despair of the day she miscarried. He held her and spoke words of encouragement and promises he couldn't deliver. Despair has the bitterness of an over-steeped tea.
A shard from a broken wine bottle holds disappointment. After she couldn't conceive again, he became distant, sullen, and often inebriated. He lost interest in carpentry, and when he ran out of coin to pay for his drink, expensive enchantments she worked so hard to create began to disappear from their home. Disappointment is bland.
The last ingredient is rage. She needs no item to store it, for it is burning within her. It has been boiling since she found out about the other woman. Rage is sharp and pungent like an aged cheese. She drains as much of it as she can stand into the spell.
The resulting mix is potent and dangerous, a complex blend of textures and flavors, the most powerful spell she had ever created. It needs one final ingredient--hope.
She places the spell inside the keepsake box itself. It has stored a decade of memories, pleasant and painful, a haphazard map charting the course of their relationship. There is no better item to represent hope.
Tonight she'll confront him. She will demand answers. She will challenge him on his infidelity, his larceny, his alcoholism. She will demand that he either leave or change.
And then she'll lie.
She'll tell him about the keepsake box, and how it holds the most precious spell inside, the magic of their love, coalesced into a priceless ruby. She'll admonish him to never, ever open the box. That would break the spell forever and end their marriage. And then she'll wait.
If he truly loves her still, he won't open the keepsake box. The value of the gem inside will not tempt him. There will be time to mend their relationship, to bridge the rift that has developed between them. That is if he loves her. And if he doesn't...
Pandora snaps the keepsake box shut and waits for her husband to come home.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014


I have a keepsake box--a small collection of mementos accumulated over the course of my life. There's nothing financially valuable in there, but there is a great deal of emotional value to me. So far, I've used the idea of the keepsake box in two separate stories, the fantasy flash you just read, and a science fiction story that I hope will find a good home sometime soon.

- Alex Shvartsman

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