“Submission Caws,” by Rebecca Gomez Farrell

Aug 20th, 2019 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

A black crow swoops onto the open window ledge, and yearning gushes from deep within me. I tamp down the emotion swifter than the crow can deliver its charge: a rolled parchment that bangs against the bookshelves as it flips toward the floor. The crow musses its feathers and launches into the air, off to retrieve its next assignment. Soon, someone else will receive fresh misery. I retrieve the parchment, find it quaint that the Gate Keepers use it for correspondence when they could just place a call by sandspelling. The parchment’s seal displays a sentinel guarding a mountain of scrolls piled behind an ornate, locked gate.

My muse caller, a wooden whistle, drops from my lips. The enchanted object’s been passed down my mother’s line for generations. I’d been about to revise a new spell recipe with it, but now I’m not so sure I’ll have the gumption. I roll the whistle between my fingers, try to take strength from its well-worn carvings depicting an open spellbook, music notes, and a fairy staring at the sky in ecstasy. Grandma created the most beautiful symphonies with it, conducting singing sprites while they painted with water colors. My mother used it for brilliant choreography, training crows to deliver prophetic messages to entire audiences. But I’m not one for performance, so I write spell recipes for visions that others can conjure to entertain themselves. The only problem? None have been released to the public.

I take a breath that isn’t deep, only determined, and open the parchment. The message, written in black calligraphy, is too concise to yield anything but rejection. Disappointment courses through me as I read, “Thank you for submitting your recipe, ‘Hope is a Fluttering Wing on the Breeze,’ for our spell collection. Although we enjoyed your ingredients’ inventiveness, especially the marmot whiskers, the spell lacked a certain je ne sais quoi when we cast it. Maybe add glitter? We receive many quality recipes; thus we must reject many quality recipes. Please do submit to our future anthologies.”

This is a familiar message. When my mood is cheery, I recognize it’s better than the standard response. The Gate Keepers admired how I combined my totems, how I laced my intended result through the narrative instructions and took extra care to use a charm that ensures the recipes arrived typo-free.

My mood is not cheery. All I can see is that word: submit. It pulses with implied subjugation. I channel years of disappointment and burn it off the parchment with a finger beam. My familiar, a docile gray tabby named Precious, meows discontent at my histrionics. I watch flame engulf ink strokes, and eureka strikes. I laugh, a sound that begins in humor but ends in deep, gravelly stubbornness.

I am done submitting. I will make the Gate Keepers submit to me, channel my conviction into a fireball that shatters the fabled gate’s metal into filaments. I will storm their fortress, rush past towers constructed from the compressed ashes of failed spellings and moats filled with crumpled correspondence. The Keepers will be in the study, dozens of them reclining by the flickering fire as nearby, herbal tea steeps. They will toss glowing spell sheet after glowing spell sheet to the floor. Only when the felines perched on their shoulders mew their blessings, will they stop flinging away those failed dreams. “You like that one, Pookie?” the Keepers will say in seeming synchrony. “Acceptance it is!”

I will burn it all down with a fire burst fierce as my unleashed fury. 


Back in reality, Precious lashes my ankle with her tail. I meet eyes so dilated, I can barely see their deep emerald green.

“I wouldn’t really do it, Precious,” I promise. “It’s just nice to dream.”

Precious lifts her head and marches down the hall, leaving me to my resentful hallucinations. I slide my family’s Book of Spellcraft from the shelf, hoping for inspiration. There must be some way to get past the gate, some cheat for outsmarting the Keepers’ opaque criteria. Why, that Betty Hex announced her third spell sale this week, and I’ve tried her recipes. They’re uninspired incantations that barely fizz before they fizzle out, providing no more than a fleeting ecstasy, as insipid as a child transforming dry pasta and cow’s milk into overboiled mac and cheese for their first dinner enchantment.

Yet Betty Hex’s stories keep selling.

I grumble as I toss up a handful of sand from the telepot at my feet and mutter, “Find Betty.” The suspended grains swirl together as a hazy image of her blonde pigtails comes into view. Though we’re pushing thirty, she looks for all the world like she did at thirteen.

Betty giggles and the connection is complete. “Oh, hi there, Kimmie!” She waves from the same bedroom where we played Connect-the-Fireflies as younglings. “I haven’t thought about you in ages.”

“It’s Kim,” I grumble, but this isn’t the time for that. “Hey, I have a question for you? Got a minute?”

“Sure thing!” She rolls onto her stomach on the bed, holds her head in her hands.

“So…um…” I stumble, loathe to admit my failures. But I must find a way, and if Betty, dear god Betty, knows the secret, “How did you get your first spell recipe accepted for a collection?”

Her eyes crinkle with delight as she claps her hands. “Oh my god, I had no idea you’re spellcrafting again! It’s so easy, isn’t it?” Her chuckle slaps me with a green mist of envy. She speaks with a patter that could never be mistaken for thoughtfulness. “I suppose you had to come back around to it eventually, with your family.”

I soften my tone…well, a bit. “So how do you do it? Come up with so many—” I cough, “—winning recipes?”

She sounds grave and stares wide-eyed into the screen. “It’s a family secret.” Then she winks and rolls back with laughter. “Just kidding! Reverse the enchantment on your muse caller, silly, so the little bugger travels away from you and toward a Gate Keeper instead. Do it the moment you ring for a crow to deliver your spell submission, and the muse’s brilliance will smack the first Keeper it reaches right in the noggin. Us Hexes have been doing it for years!” 

Us Hexes have been doing it for years, I mock with a high voice in my head. Of course, they have. I contain my condescension—barely.

“I swear you’ll see an acceptance on the next crow after that. And if the Gate Keeper it hits has a patron charm or two lying around, they’ll even send their next submission call directly to you.”

“That’s it?” I’m already searching for a reverse muse entry in my book. A drawing in pink and green ink illustrates a fairy flying backward on a breeze. It looks promising. Maybe…maybe Grams and Ma weren’t as effortlessly brilliant as they led me to believe.

“That’s it! Happy crafting!”


The sandscreen goes fuzzy and sprinkles to the ground, but not before glitter poofs from it: Betty’s signature calling card. She’s gone before I can thank her properly, no doubt off to tea with the newt delegation or some other nobility. I roll my eyes, but if this works, I’ll send her a bouquet of exotic flower charms—I just know she’s the type that lives for garden entertaining.

One more test of my recipe, “Nighttime Visions of Stars Dancing,” and I’m ready. Shaking stardust from my hair, I fish out the muse caller. The spellbook insists I mix the same three ingredients as the invocation that binds the fairy to the whistle: birch tree bark (reminds the muse of home), ambrosia fluff (for long life and sustenance—it looks like cotton candy), and honey (so the fairy goes down sweet, but stays stuck in the sticky). I plop them in a cauldron—okay, my coffee mug—and swirl them counter-clockwise while humming whatever song most inspires me (I’m not telling).

Neon blue steam rises from the liquid, and I hope that means it worked. I gasp, realizing the muse can’t fly both toward the Gate Keepers and me at the same time, so I’ll be flying solo myself. But I know “Nighttime Visions” is a solid recipe, or at least I know it long enough to lean out the window and caw as loud as I can.

Before the crow arrives, I dip my quill in fresh ink and carefully write “End Recipe” at the bottom of the glowing spell sheet, making sure to exactly center it. I roll up the parchment and place a seal on its exposed edge. The muse caller touches my lips and I blow.


Rebecca Gomez Farrell writes all the speculative fiction genres she can conjure up. Her first novel, Wings Unseen, debuted from Meerkat Press. You can find her shorter works in over twenty publications including Typehouse Literary Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and most recently, the Fright into Flight anthology from Word Horde.

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