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We need more staff, thought Mayor Millicent as she furiously rummaged through her oversized coat pockets for the tiny key she knew was stuck in there somewhere. Her hands fumbled stupidly in the cold, knuckles banging into each other - damn it! She swore out loud and looked around self-consciously.

Nobody else was out this late. The main road through town was silent as she wrestled with the library gate. The padlock was rusty and grating, another thing to be replaced in an endless list of them. Millicent mentally filed it away: new padlock, library. Being the mayor wasn't fun, she thought for about the millionth time that day. It was chores, it was all the things people didn't know got done, half public works, half media pressure, half civic administration and if that made three halves well that felt about right for how tired she was.

Goddamn it! Why was she here? She knew why. She was the mayor and the mayor looked after the town. And the mayor looked after the library, the furthest building down the road, and it was already snowing steadily and the dratted librarian Ms. Price had forgotten to do it when she left and called her as soon as she got home to ask her, oh, only if it wasn't too much trouble, if Millie wouldn't mind quickly popping out to lock up. And she had held the receiver to her ear and looked out the window and it was already snowing, only lit up by the streetlights outside, and she had just poured herself a sweet mug of coffee and damnit she hated being called Millie. But because she was honestly scared of Ms. Price ever since the childhood rumour that she was a witch, and because she was the mayor and the mayor looked after the town, Millicent said yes.

So here she was, although she still didn't really know why she was here, why she'd ever run for mayor. The campaign was fun and she loved winning and meeting new people and feeling like she could do something that mattered but that was years, decades ago and now nobody else seemed to want the job. She had barely campaigned last time, but the opposition was a snide little moustached weasel named Kenneth Pern who everybody hated and so she had won again. She bet Ms. Price voted for her out of spite. Retirement maybe, she thought, but in the eyes of the older townspeople she knew that would be viewed as resignation.

It was like this, thinking furiously of all the Ms. Prices of the world and shaking the rust from a broken padlock, that a golden light fell over mayor Millicent. Her skin slowly warmed and in the comforting, final seconds of consciousness she saw her own shadow cast before her, a deep abyssal blue in the night gloom contrasted against a bronze glow. Her shoulders relaxed; what was she so worked up about? Nothing that bad, nothing that couldn't wait. Just lock this gate, she thought, and the padlock clicked shut.

The next morning the mayor would wake up in bed, having slept more soundly than she had in weeks, not remembering the trip home, the padlock, Ms. Price calling, or anything other than a warm blanket of residual goodwill. That was how winter in the town came to an end.


from Firmament, released April 20, 2022


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High Mage Productions Colorado Springs, Colorado

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