The Ringing of Bells.

Kirsten Krone-Wilson

Written for the Cambridge Fiction Award with the topic "Storm."

In the Sultan's city all the bells are tolling.

"Storms!" screams the mendicant, "are God's punishment for sin!"

The merchants wrap up their special goods using the goods they claimed were special.

The kite-maker dismantles his stall in a feverish blur.

The nuns select the most troublesome orphans to expose on the hill.

Heirs of frail old ladies prop open doors and windows.

The captain of the guard sends his least favourite lieutenant to the observation tower and stokes the barrack-room fire.

The amputee beggar wheels his board to a quiet street then runs to the tavern.

The costermonger sends his idiot son-in-law on an urgent and unnecessary errand to the farms.

The cats find comfortable spots under the baker's oven and the fishmonger's table.

The conjurer locks his cabinet and throws a cape over the rabbits which have not yet appeared.

The conjurer's assistant holds her breath behind the cabinet's secret panel.

Old matrons tell each other of the fuss young people cause.

And the Sultan carries his new born son to the palace balcony to show the people his heir. The celebration bells are ringing in every tower but, inexplicably, there is no cheering crowd in the marketplace.