The Aisles of Blest
By Leslie Carmichael
(Originally published by SF Online, Winter 2007)
She paused, drinking in the sights and sounds of the battleground. She was ready but for one thing: a mount.
A line of steeds awaited her choice, light winking seductively off their burnished bodies. She reached eagerly for the silver harness of the first, then chanced to glance down at its wheels. She drew in a breath. Misaligned.
Dismayed, she looked more closely at the rest. Most were subtly or overtly flawed. Dirty, dented, disfigured. Tawdry beasts, all.
She was about to capitulate and choose one of the marred creatures, when she spotted a solitary, perfect mustang in the dimness of an alcove. The beast’s very stillness drew her. She stalked it carefully, then grasped its metal bar. A gasp shook her. This was the one! It quivered under her touch.
She glanced at the battleground and bared her teeth, anticipating the ideal moment. Finally, it came.
Blood singing, she sailed into the fray. Together, woman and beast plunged into the maelstrom, moving almost as a single being, they alone harmonizing in the midst of so many discordant partnerships.
With a manic grin, she faced down her opponents, her marvelous steed echoing her movements as if it were an extension of her own body. The most delicate touch sent it gliding through the crush, into spaces seemingly impossibly small.
They flew past “Jams and Jellies”, through “Canned Goods” and “Plasticware”, the steel creature moving with joyous speed under her guiding hands. Aisle after aisle surrendered to her marauder’s instinct. She plucked prey from hiding places too high or deep for other mortals.
Then they turned a corner to confront . . . disaster.
She narrowed her eyes. The steed trembled under her hand, poised in pregnant silence. She feinted; then stooped, hawk-like, and snatched the cowering, solitary article from its dark cave, out from under her opponent’s very grasp. Triumphant, she smiled graciously at the other woman, who was left to face the harsh reality of the hated “rain-check”.
She could feel her beast's approval--as it was worthy of her, so she had proved she was worthy of it. Impatient, it urged her forward, eager for more battles.
They were curbed only twice after that. An avalanche in “Produce” impeded them but briefly, and her steed skittered away nervously from a much larger beast in the narrow confines of the Deli. She soothed it with a firm hand and quiet words.
All too soon, it seemed, they approached the final test--freedom's passage--the check-out. The battle was almost over. She was exhilarated. Yet a trickle of sadness arose in her chest.
They, woman and beast together, had accomplished their mission like a true-mated team. Now she would have to leave her faithful steed behind.
She only hoped she would be able to find her soul’s partner again when, as she knew she must, she returned. In its absence, the Hunt would surely be a lesser thing.
She frowned. Others might not be so appreciative of her steed’s sublime form. Would it still be in the same gleaming shape, when she next they met? Or would it have suffered the fate of so many others? Dented? Wheels off true? Or--most horridly-- broken? Its impetuous nature fettered by domesticity?
She pictured it instead in magnificent splendor in the wild.
“Look ” passersby would cry. “There it is!” And they would watch in awe, as it stood proudly among the hills, tall grass grazing its belly, the sun gilding its gleaming sides.
But that would be a lonely existence. Anything might happen. 'Twas better thus, truly. At least here it could be tended, cosseted.
She gave it a surreptitious pat, then reluctantly sent it back to its stable, where it nestled tiredly with the other beasts. Its thoroughbred beauty looked out of place with the rest of the spavined herd.
She realized, then, as her distracted gaze took in the rest of the beasts, that what she had taken for flaws in each of them were not defects.
They were battle scars. Honorable and worthy of respect.
Her beast would, she acknowledged, eventually come to bear them as well. She silently apologized to its stablemates, vowing to never again scorn the honest veterans. Chastened, she bowed her head, saluting them.
Giving her exhausted steed one last, tear-laden glance, she exited the store, her newly-won plunder dragging at her arms.
Farewell, my friend and faithful steed, she thought as she drove out of the parking lot into the setting sun.
Oh, fare thee well.
Leslie Carmichael has been inside the Great Pyramid of Giza, has watched the world turn purple during a solar eclipse, and has been an honoured guest at a Canadian-Scottish-Taiwanese wedding. She has swum in the Red Sea, picked amethysts off the ground in Thunder Bay, watched a space shuttle land and cooked a medieval dinner for 200 people. She has worn a corset, a suit of armour and a Klingon outfit (but not all at the same time!). Leslie liked to work on miniature dolls and dollhouses when she was not writing. She could crochet three-dimensional objects without a pattern, but found knitting way too complicated. She also sang soprano in a choir and loved music.
Leslie lived in Calgary with her husband, three children and two demanding cats.
Leslie was a member of numerous writing groups and organizations, including the Alexandra Writers Centre Society.
Leslie passed away January 9, 2014 after her year and half battle with colon cancer.
She will be missed but never forgotten.