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A Fable of Heraclitus
by Louise Norlie

The magician's daughter never saw beyond the cottage's shuttered windows and grew ravenous for knowledge. She begged her father to instruct her. He tried, but maps of the world melted like wax under a flame. Numbers switched places and played coy tricks, making math impossible. Chalk crumbled when it touched the blackboard. The quills of her pens gathered into birds and flew away. When she asked her father why, he repeated the words of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, panta rhei, all things are in a state of constant change; nothing remains the same. 

She was haunted by the sense of a terrifying secret, an all-encompassing lie as large as the mysterious world outside the walls that imprisoned them both. Her father hid himself in his study for hours while she chased chimeras in her mind. When they were together, his words never satisfied her longings. 

While he slept she picked the lock to his study, the one room she was forbidden to enter. Inside she saw a hanging globe, sparkling emerald and turquoise. Vaporous clouds hovered over its surface and ocean waves gently lapped the shores beneath. Overcome with wonder she reached out and gave it a playful spin. Tilted off its axis, the globe fell to the ground and rolled. The oceans spilled over and the mountain peaks flattened and chipped.

The magician's daughter gasped in horror. The ground rumbled beneath her feet and the wind blew in gales, rattling the cottage to its foundation. She hastily fit the pieces together and scooped the salt water back into its narrow trough. She heard her father's footsteps in the hall, realizing she had been caught disobeying his sacred order.

"Father! Let me explain!" she cried, falling to her knees before him and clutching his robe. His silence terrified her more than any angry words. 

Through her tears she saw him giving the damaged world its final touches, capping the hills with soil and grass, quelling the raging waves. 

"I have made the world right, my child, but you do not know the consequences of what you have discovered. I fear you are not ready...but you will have to be." 

A blast of wind shattered the window into flying glass. She scrambled for safety under the table, hiding her face with her hands. A formless voice echoed from the outside, speaking a language without words. She understood it with a familiarity beyond memory. When she opened her eyes, her father, the window, the cottage, all were gone. But the globe remained, hanging serenely amid vague shadows. 

She realized she was the only magician. Her powers isolated her alone with the overwhelming knowledge she once sought. But she would recapture what she had destroyed. She would chase the wind and write on water until she found a temporary refuge, a moment of innocence and awe, of ignorance and fear. Then, somehow, in a way she could not yet imagine, she would forget her powers. It would all begin again.


By day, Louise Norlie plows through miles of traffic to crunch numbers and shuffle papers in a windowless cubicle. By night, she dreams of better things. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various publications online and in print, including Sein und Werden, Labyrinth Inhabitant, and Dark Reveries. She has also been published in the Bound for Evil anthology from Dead Letter Press. Updates on her publications can be found at louise-norlie.blogspot.com.


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"A Fable of Heraclitus" © 2009 Louise Norlie. Used by permission of the author.
Raven Electrick © 2000-2009 Karen A. Romanko.