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Call of the Orb

By Cassandra Hamm

The dark market never changed. Even after sixty years, the rickety stalls seemed apt to blow over at a breath, and the sun unable to penetrate the dark shroud.

Penelope halted at the edge of the alleyway. Jack’s voice echoed in her head—“I want an orb!”—and her staunch response—“As long as you live under my roof, there will be no orbs for you, young man!” He had scowled and muttered and rolled his eyes, even kicked the table a time or two, but she hadn’t anticipated his running away.

Where else could her grandson be but the dark market? Their fights had increased over the years, almost always centering around that one subject—orbs that supposedly gave a glimpse of the future in a single sound. Even if she believed such nonsense, magic always came with a sinister price.

Taking a deep breath, Penelope hobbled onto the dirt road. The cloying scent of incense soaked the air, and she coughed, eyes stinging. Haunting lyre music, played by a woman draped in golden fabric, stirred memories of the seventeen-year-old girl wandering through the market with wide eyes and a pocket ready to be plundered.

Her hand drifted subconsciously to the bulge in her dress pocket. It brushed the frigid glass surface within, then jerked away as if stung.

Cane thumping against the dry, cracked dirt, Penelope navigated the cluttered stalls. To her left, a wizened woman waved a delicate lavender veil with supposed magical properties. To her right was a man holding amulets—as if those jewels could protect anyone.

She should have been able to stop Jack from coming here. If his father weren’t in a drug-induced stupor, if his mum hadn’t left, would he have turned out differently?

I failed you, Jack.

A thick growl caught her attention. Chained to a new stall—new within the past sixty years, that is—was a creature from legend.

A man with bulging eyes, a pock-marked face, and a matted auburn mane leered at her. It turned, revealing the muscular, lion-like torso and sleek, powerful legs. Its massive scorpion tail whipped dangerously close to its caretaker’s head.

The cane slipped from Penelope’s shaking hands. A manticore! Never in her life did she expect to see one.

As she bent—slowly—to pick up her cane, the beast roared, pointed teeth dripping fat drops of saliva onto the ground. It wasn’t the same thin, piercing scream she had heard inside her orb, but still she shuddered.

Hurrying away from the manticore, Penelope wove through the crowd of cloaked strangers whispering dangerous deals. She stopped at the stall she had visited sixty years ago. Burgundy fabrics spilled across all available surfaces, blanketing hundreds of glass balls that fit in one’s palm.

The world seemed to shrink until all Penelope could see was the stall; all she could hear was the vendor speaking to the boy at his feet.

“Here you go, kid.” The man knelt before Jack with an orb in his outstretched hand. “When you say your name, you’ll hear the sound assigned to you.”

“Jack!” Penelope crossed the final few steps to her grandson. He whipped around. She embraced him, his hair brushing her powdered cheek. “Oh, thank goodness you’re safe!”

“Gran?” Jack jerked away. “What’re you doing here?”

Her lips pressed in a firm line. “The question is, what are you doing here? I specifically forbade—”

“Gran, it’s fine.” He covered his face with thin hands. “Just go home.”

How dare he talk to me like that? Just because I’m not his mum. “I—”

“That’s no way to speak to your grandmother,” the vendor said.

She waved her cane at the man. “You’re the one cheating my grandson out of his gold!”

“Cheating? Seems to me he is fully aware of what he’s purchasing.”

Jack snatched the orb from the vendor and whispered, “Jack Aron Lombardo.”


But a thick and guttural and strangely familiar roar drowned her out. She reached for the source of the roar—the orb—but he held it to his chest.

“It’s my orb, Gran!”

“You return that right now, young man!”

“He already heard the sound,” the vendor said. “Now he is bound to the orb.”

“Stop with your tricks!” Penelope glared at him. “We both know that the orbs are just glass baubles.”

Jack folded his skinny arms over his chest. “Then why do you have one?”

She touched her pocketed orb.

“Ah, you do.” The vendor’s eyes crinkled. “Your sound will happen, ma’am, just you wait.”

“I’ve waited sixty years,” she snapped.

A roar—real now, not from Jack’s glass bauble—split the air, followed by a crash. Penelope turned as fast as her body would allow. Sweet Lord.

The manticore’s massive paws pounded against the ground as it raced through the market, trampling people and stalls in its way. Discarded chains trailed from its legs, smashing into an occasional unlucky soul, and the scorpion tail stabbed at anything or anyone in its path. Penelope stumbled backward, but her body was too old, too frail.

“Gran!” Jack pushed her to the side, and she hit the street. Gasping and wheezing, she saw the lion-man flash by—

The exact scream she had first heard from the orb she’d wasted her gold on at seventeen. A scream that had haunted her nightmares ever since. A scream shrill and piercing, vulnerable and broken.

She crawled toward her grandson lying in the dirt. “Jack?”

Blood oozed from a gash in his chest the size of the manticore’s gaping claws. More blood trickled from the corner of his unmoving mouth, and his eyes stared blankly at the sky.

The manticore raced on, leaving a trail of broken people, but all she could hear were her own screams.

Her sound had come at last.

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Cassandra Hamm has always been fascinated by the inner workings of the human mind. She received her B.S. in psychology and continues to apply her knowledge to her characters. Her love of writing prompts has spurred her to start blogging, submit stories to amazing websites like this one, and host flash fiction contests on Instagram. She is obsessed with cats, jigsaw puzzles, movie soundtracks, and Broadway musicals.

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