The Ash Woman

I wrote a flash-fiction fable. This is unedited and I just finished it. As of … three minutes ago. I’m sure there are some issues with it that I’ll glance over and figure out in the next couple days. Anyway. I’m writing a novel in the meantime about dreams and such because I keep having these recurring dreams and need to get them out somehow. However, because I have the attention span for writing like a gnat has for … whatever gnats like to do (knitting? kayaking?), I used a short-story as an outlet. It’s called the Ash Woman. Enjoy.


There was a man who loved a girl made out of ashes. His love was as true as the rain, rivets in steel, the sanctity of a summer’s day, and all other things that make up little aspects of the world. They met in a silent city; everyone except the man had forgotten to breathe. The ash woman stood in the center of the street in the central street in the center of town. She held her hands up to the sky and the sun fell down around her like a veil.

When the man saw her, he noted the way the sullen grey of her skin mirrored the white dress that she wore to mid-calf. He loved her with an instant intensity that he could not explain nor justify. He did. That was all there was. That was all there needed to be.

The woman turned and saw him as well. She felt the calm whisper of his breath in the still emptiness of the city. It stirred her hair and she felt drawn to him. He was careful not to take her hand with the strength he wished; she gripped his hand tighter for him, to show him that she would not crumble and disperse under the weight of his touch.

Every morning, the ash woman would sit out underneath the sunlight and stare at the sky. There was a great drought that had settled over the land and the man was pushed out of steady work by it. He spent much of his time working at old, ancient estates that had once held such promise, such glory. He trimmed dead hedges and cultivated the skeletons of animals that had long since died of thirst. Yet he had kept barrels of rain water at his home. He was also paid in water by his rich patrons and hoarded each drop.

The ash woman did not drink the water that they had; she used some of it to keep her skin from flaking away in sudden bursts of wind. Aside from that, she ensured that she did not burden the man with her presence. She had been called a burden before, and never wanted to be made to feel that way again. In return, the man was surprised by the lack of her need. She did not eat; she rarely slept; she did not drink. They spent their evenings under the light of oil lamps that burned ancient wicks that gave off warm yellow light that spilled through the old stucco homestead that was on the hill by the gnarled tree outside of town.

The only thing she asked of the man was that he would never lie to her about his intentions or his situation. He agreed to this, as it was not a difficult request. He would leave for hours on end to visit these sad estates and rarely saw another person, aside from the employer. Sometimes he went to estates he had visited before, simply to follow up on the work he had done before. Still, the drought persisted.

Each evening, the ash woman asked him three questions: what he had done that day; how much water was left; and – the most nebulous question of all – was he afraid. Every evening he answered her in truth and spoke of those aging estates, explained the state of the water barrels and the occasional new drop of water here and there that he would collect from his employers, and he would tell her that he was not afraid, for he had nothing to fear.

The drought lasted for five years. The man would visit those same estates, ancient and weathered and covered in dead moss, the dried shells of beetles and cockroaches, and the bones of the old owners. Everyone in the town had died in place, their bodies withered and mummified in the ceaseless heat of the sun. He began to drink less and less water. His skin began to dry and crack; his hands were becoming gnarled and his teeth began to rot away from his gums. His breath smelled of the muscles that his body was burning to fuel itself.

Each evening, the ash woman asked the three questions before they began their nightly activities. He always answered in truth.

One day, the man became afraid, torrentially afraid. He was standing at the largest estate outside of the city, close to his own home that sat on the barren hill next to the weathered tree outside of town. This estate had once grown grapes and rye, and its cellars were full of wine that had gone to vinegar and whiskey that had evaporated in the dry, cracked barrels.

The man sat in the cellar and wept. He had not spoken to another human in almost two years. This was not an issue, as he was with the ash woman who he knew was just as human as anyone he had known before. But he had watched his friends die of thirst; he had seen his employers give up and lie down in their homes and allow the thirst to take them. The sight of those aged barrels and rancid wine had sent him into blind panic.

That night, he dawdled as he walked home. When he reached his house, he stood and stared at the ash woman through the window.

She asked the same three questions she had every other night. This night, he hesitated at the third question. He turned to her and opened his mouth to whisper his fear; he wanted to speak of every fear he had, tell her of the deluge of horrors.

Instead, he shut his mouth and shook his head.

In that instant, a wind picked up through the window and the scent of rain blew into the cottage with the strength of a turgid river swollen with meltwater. He ran outside and felt the first drops of rain on his skin. She followed him outside.

He turned to look at her and his words gushed out: they were saved, the rain had come, the drought had ended.

And the wind continued to pick up and the man saw a far worse horror. The ash woman’s fingers began to flit away in the wind; her face withered and drifted into dust that swirled in a storm around him. The ash that had made up the hair and eyes and skin he loved became nothing more than a cloud that caught in the wind and fell to earth, carried on swollen beats of rain.


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