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Voices In Solitude

A.T. Greenblatt is a mechanical engineer by day and a writer by night. Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won't leave her alone until they are put down on paper. She is a graduate of Viable Paradise XVI and her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction and Buzzy Mag, as well as other online journals. Find her at atgreenblatt.com and on Twitter as @AtGreenblatt.

Kaylee's first act as sorceress was to bring the voices back.
The rain thrummed on the shingles of her quiet home as she lit the candles, drew the diagrams, and read out the names of each dusty ancestor, carefully laboring over the subtle inflections of the gh's and Ú's. One by one, she called the raspy, aged voices back from their silence.
There was a great groan from the townspeople who had got on quite well without them for generations thank-you-very-much. But their complaints were soon lost in a sonorous clamor of freed voices conversing in hallways and under streetlamps and in old Fredrick's pub where the taps still leaked and the smell of stale beer perfumed every seat cushion.
Each awakened voice was unique, of course, but they all carried the same undertone of joyous liberation. What a relief to be heard again! All around town, forefathers were offering sons and daughters an endless supply of old remedies for patching roofs and bandaging scrapes. Matriarchs knew the power of words and often held their tongues, though they were liberal with their sighs and tsk-tsk-tsks. The cheeks of the children were red from the coos and clucking of their great-great-great aunts alone.
"Why did she do this?" the townspeople asked each other over cups of tea and between church pews. "So unlike our old sorceress. She had loved silence." In fact, their former sorceress rarely said a word and sneered at company.
But no one dared to ask Kaylee because everyone knows one does not simply study sorcery for one's own gains. It's a public service job, through and through, and besides, if their new sorceress took offense and moved away, who would make sure the weather was never fickle or the rabbits stayed away from the vegetable gardens?
So, the townspeople grumbled (but never too often or too loudly, after all the voices do talk) and carried on with their weeding and shopping and dusting, ignoring the voices when they could. And yet, by the time the next rainstorm arrived, there were fewer leaking roofs and children, on the whole, were better behaved.
When she was certain there were enough voices for everyone, Kaylee put away her books and wiped the chalk from her hands. Alone, she walked through the hallways and the streets and the bar (that's genuine Irish Red, miss. There's worse things one could smell like), talking, mostly listening to the voices she found along the way. She liked them and they her, but none followed her home to whisper unwanted advice long into the night. The voices had rediscovered their relatives and she was a sorceress with no family or legacy of her own. A public service worker, through and through.
But eventually, she found a voice, one that called himself Petra, after the city hewed from the harsh desert stone, destined to never fade into the sands. He was a loner, a stray in his own right, remembered in town only for his way around a kitchen. When he spoke his voice carried the wisps of crushed pepper and thyme.
"Why me?" he asked. "Wouldn't un-silencing the old sorceress have been wiser?"
Kaylee shook her head. She had trained for this position for a long time, and had watched her aged mentor carefully, too. She learned how one could wither away in solitude and never realize it.
"I don't know much except sorcery," she said, "Will you teach me to cook?" Food, unlike chanting, made friends of strangers and filled them with nutrients and warmth.
So, Petra whispered lessons as she stood over the knives and the pans and the whisks: Never store the chocolate next to the bananas, always keep an eye on the onions as they cook, be sure to fold the dry ingredients into the wet. He even tried to teach her the best way to pick a melon, but as she cradled each fruit in her hands, they all felt heavy and sounded hollow.
Still, Kaylee persisted. She dutifully made notes, sampled the spices, and dog-eared recipes. She was determined to give the ever-talking voices something to gossip about.
"Soon no one will be able to resist your aubergine ragout," Petra promised, "They'll come in droves."
But promises, unlike magic, are fickle, sometimes coy. Kaylee learned that cookbooks were not straightforward things; neither was kneading dough and sautÚs. Her pancakes routinely turned black and crisp in the pan, she was too heavy handed with the pepper, and too light with the salt. She diced vegetables when the instructions clearly specified julienning.
And the nervous townspeople seated around her table, dinner invitations in hand, smelled the smoke spilling out from her kitchen and picked the ashes of her failures off their vests. They were polite, of course, and kept conversations light, but no one stayed for dessert.
So, Kaylee squeezed lemons into her soups and mixed sorrel in her salads and tried not to wince at the familiar bitterness as Petra (ever the optimist!) fed her a steady stream of advice, the faded aroma of cinnamon surrounding his words.
But most people are not groomed to be sorceresses and some people were never meant to be cooks. So, eventually, Kaylee packed up the slightly worn, definitely abused pots and stove top grilles, oversized mixing bowls and delicate eggbeaters, and gave them all away.
"I cast spells, not recipes," she told the women in queue at the bakery the next morning, surrounded by the pastries she could never make. The voices present among the wafts of baking bread immediately began to offer suggestions. But the women in line nodded and passed no judgments because, secretly, they had once burned their pancakes, too.
"I never did like aubergine ragout," Kaylee told Petra upon returning to her clean but solitary home, a loaf of fresh bread tucked under an arm.
"Perhaps you should silence me then," the voice that called himself Petra said, his words carrying no scent at all. "We voices know when we're not wanted."
"Liar," Kaylee replied. "But stay. I'm a lousy cook, not ungrateful."
After all, she was learning, always learning. The townspeople, the voices had helpfully explained as she walked home, were not inhospitable, just unsure. And despite her lousy cooking, they needed her.
"People are complicated," she said with a sigh, looking at her long, long list of requested spells for the week, "Perhaps, this is why most sorceresses like quiet and solitude."
Quiet and solitude though, were no longer an option in this town. The voices do talk--they cannot help it, just as they cannot help filling voids made by loneliness. Soon neighbors joined Kaylee for dinner, bringing stews and tarts and roasted meats on the condition that she provided only the plates and silverware. And sometimes, when the day was wet and dreary, they would even join her for tea.
After all, everyone was haunted by their voices now, voices who did not like to be alone, voices who did not want those they loved to be lost in silence.
So as Petra explained the surest method to make buttery scones, Kaylee smiled and pulled out her spell book and her chalk and candles and planned out next week's weather.
They were due for some much-needed rain.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, March 31st, 2015
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