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It Will Be Under the Next Stone

Jennifer Linnaea's fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons and Flash Fiction Online, among other places. When not writing, she studies Aikido and Japanese and enjoys the beauty of her adopted state of Oregon. For more about her and her work, see her website at jenniferlinnaea.com.

She is the best. Not only can she overhear a conversation between spirits in a gurgling brook or overturn those rare rocks with djinn correspondence carved on the bottom; she also catches wisps of stories from the gods themselves, songs as old as time with messages so eternal they are as relevant today as a hundred thousand years ago. I met her years ago, in a circle for seers that used to meet in town, back when I was entertaining the notion of going into that business myself. She loves her job, and allows hardly anything else to enter her life.
Her name is Gwenneth.
My name is Hananh, and I am recently deaf. I remember the sound of the desert wind through the acacia trees, but I can no longer hear it. However, I know they have been talking about me, so I wrote her, and she came.
She is kneeling beside the stone wall that bounds my yard, ear to the ground, hand on an unearthed tree root. Her hair is brown shot with gray. I can tell from how thin she is that she forgets to eat sometimes.
I bring her mesquite honey and crackers on a tray and place them on the ground beside her. She does not look up, but I did not expect her to. I pluck a pebble off the ground and inspect its bottom, cool where it was touching the ground. No message there. The trees know something about me that I don't know. That I am a changeling or the chosen one of an old prophesy or that there is gold buried beneath my house. Before, when I could hear, I heard them whispering about me but I could never make out the words.
Gwenneth rises and walks out through the rusty gate, into the desert which brushes up against my property. No matter that on either side of the wall it looks mostly the same. In here is "the yard" and out there is "the desert."
I watch as she wanders down to the dry creek bed. Lots of acacias down there. She's listening very intently to something. Her brow furrows in concentration.
It's about ten in the morning. Already the sun has washed the color our of everything, and the heat has weight. If Gwen forgets to drink it won't be very good for her, so I go into the house and draw water from the tap into a clear glass. I walk down to the dry creek bed and hand it to her. She holds the cup to her ear. Then she drinks. What does well water have to say to her I wonder.
I pick up a fist-sized rock and study the bottom.
Gwen stays out all day. I bring her several more glasses of water and some dried figs, but she never once talks to me, which is good, because I don't read lips very well yet.
The sun is setting red behind the bluff when she returns. I've lined a bunch of stones on the windowsill and I'm half staring at them and half staring out the window and it startles me, having her appear before me like that.
She hands me a folded piece of paper and I unfold it right away and read it. It says:
"A djinn is in love with you. He stole your hearing because the acacias make no secret of their disapproval of him, and all his kind. But a thousand years ago, before you were born, he carved a message for you on the bottom of a stone. When you find it, follow its instructions until you meet him."
I look into her face and I'm searching for mockery. The intimation of a joke, but I see none. I reach out my hands to take hers, wanting comfort, but she pulls away.
So I reach for my wallet instead. I pull out a stack of twenties and hand them to her. She counts them and nods, satisfied. I walk her to the door, then out through the gate to her powder blue pickup truck parked at the end of the driveway. I hope she'll stop, lean against her truck and write something else: that she's sorry, that she understands how upset I must be. That she'll tell me how I'm supposed to deal with knowing I've lost the sound of bird song over an attempt to control my heart. Instead she gets in the truck. Dust billows up in plumes as she drives away and I stare at it for patterns. But it's getting too dark to see, or maybe there's just nothing there.
I re-fold the note and tuck it into my jeans pocket. As I walk slowly back to the house, the motion-sensing floodlights kick on. I remember the crackers and honey and go to retrieve the tray, but the ants have gotten to it, so I let it be. The whole time, slow fury builds in me.
The next day I walk down to the acacia trees. I watch their leaves dance in the wind. I pick up a stone by habit, then throw it as hard as I can without turning it over. I jam my hands deep into my pockets. He took something that was precious from me. He shall take nothing else.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, August 6th, 2018
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