1. The first day Jane Grey’s mind went wandering, she meandered through a dry riverbed leading into brown hills.
Eventually she came to a dead wood. Leaving the riverbed, she heard a clattering and triumphant shouts.
She followed the sounds deeper into the wood, until the trees were so dense, light no longer shone through their thick branches. There she found the mouth of a cave.
Scrutinizing the entrance she ducked as an earthenware jar hurtled from the cave and crashed against a tree. Shouts resounded from the cave, then gleeful laughter, then a child’s song: “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”
Jane Grey picked up a shard of pottery. The outside was brown like the woods, but the inside was painted in a rich red and purple. When she looked closely she saw the shape of a windmill, depicted at sunset. Taking another shard she found a yellow knight on a green horse. She combined them to form a scene.
The song resounded from the cave again, “Ring around the rosy. Pocket full of posies.” She dropped the shards as another jar flew from the cave. The shards fell, like the jar, against rocks and crumbled into dust.
2. The second day Jane Grey’s mind went wandering, she clambered down snowy mountains into a fertile valley. There she met a farmer counting seeds. He invited her for dinner with his family. They ate rice, and fish from a frozen river.
Jane stayed to watch the snow melt in Spring. When the days warmed the farmer tilled his fields. He worked from dawn to dusk, rising early to pray to his ancestors for fertile land.
On the second day of tilling, soldiers stopped on the road in front of the farmer’s house and he departed with them. Jane Grey followed at a distance, all the way to the palace.
In an inner garden stood a potentate dressed in twenty pounds of silk robes. He sipped wine from the lips of a concubine who held the wine in her mouth until he was thirsty.
The potentate was considering a parcheesi board carved into a marble stone ten meters by ten meters. On it stood the Crown’s subjects: a priest, a merchant, a tutor and a mendicant, among others.
The potentate bade the farmer to stand on the home space. He then ordered him to move four spaces forward. The game went on and on, lasting until the end of Summer.
When the potentate bored of his game, he sent the farmer and the others home. As they crossed the river, they noted it was no longer flowing with water.
Home again, the farmer tilled his fields and planted his seeds. But it was too late for a crop to grow and that Autumn the farmer and his family starved.
Jane asked the dying farmer why he did not appeal to the potentate, who had misused him. The farmer replied, “Sometimes we flow rapidly and sometimes we rest, like the frozen river. We must be of use while we can. Remember child, though the river is dry of water now, it will flow again in another season.”
5. The fifth day Jane Grey’s mind went wandering, she criss-crossed a city full of glass buildings reaching to the clouds.
She observed each person she encountered was richly dressed, like the potentate. Each drove an elegant chariot and spent hours playing at games, drinking wine and laughing with friends.
With dusk, a deep fog descended around the buildings. Jane wandered through the glass forest, watching the citizens return home.
Five times that evening she found a person asleep in a doorway, or holding their hands out to the revelers, or twitching as if bewitched. The revelers gave these five space and were polite to them, though they offered no help.
Jane continued to traverse the darkened streets. Across an avenue, between two tall glass buildings she saw a grove of trees, and beneath the trees, a small cemetery full of gravestones.
She drew closer. Many of the headstones were old and crumbling. But many were new. On the newest gravestone she saw her name.
9. The ninth day Jane Grey’s mind went wandering, she left her room and crossed the lawn inside the Tower. She climbed six wooden steps to a platform.
She gazed out at a handful of people, all familiar to her. Then she closed her eyes.
She donned a blindfold and turned to her priest. She put out her hands to him. “Where is it?” she asked, stumbling forward.
When he did not answer, Jane grew flustered. She took two more steps and began to panic. “Where is it? What am I to do?”
Then the priest took her hand and led her to a table. Jane Grey knelt and laid her head down.
She whispered, “Into thy hands, I commend my spirit.” Then a pause, and then she hummed, “Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.”
[ flash-fiction seattle september 17]