The Golden Orb
Short story by Iris Carden
Every generation of the family had a Zelda. She was always single, childless, stonking rich, and mad as a hatter. That’s how the story went.
This Zelda couldn’t care either way about the “single, childless” bit of the family story, but she suspected that might change if she ever met a man who she considered worth her time. As for extreme wealth, she was pretty sure she could handle that. Being crazy, that part wasn’t in her plans.
She was thinking about the family mythology and her place in it because the reigning Crazy Aunt Zelda had recently died. She’d been considerate enough to do so in mid-semester break. Working on her PhD thesis, Zelda hadn’t planned to take the time off, but no-one really expected her on campus and she was free to fly home for the funeral.
She’d heard conflicting stories about Aunt Zelda’s death. It was a skydiving accident or a snowboarding accident. It wasn’t until she reached home, that she heard the full story. It was a skydiving and snowboarding accident. Aunt Zelda jumped out of a plane, with a snowboard and no parachute, planning to land on a snowy mountain and ride the board to the bottom. The “Crazy Aunt Zelda” moniker fitted well.
Zelda took her place in the first row at the funeral along with her family: her sister Mary, her parents, her Uncle Hueby and his sons Andy and Howard. The crematorium chapel was full. That was hardly surprising. Aunt Zelda had lived life to the full, and made lots of friends. She’d also given lots of money to charity.
All of the right things were said, and the family members placed white roses, directly from Aunt Zelda’s garden, on the coffin before the curtain closed.
During the afternoon tea that followed the service, Uncle Hueby took Zelda aside.
“It’s about Zelda’s will,” he said. “I don’t know how to tell you this, little Zee, but she left everyone else money, shares, Mary got her house, but not you. She only left you this. I think you can contest the will if you want.” He handed her a small wooden box, which had the letter Z burned into the top.
“I don’t know what’s in it. I couldn’t get it open,” he said.
“It’s OK Uncle Hueby,” she said. “I asked Aunt Zelda to leave me out of the will. She paid for University for me. She offered. I didn’t ask. She bought my flat, paid my fees, and put aside money for an allowance for me so I didn’t need to work, I could just focus on study. I told her if she did all that for me I didn’t want to be in the will. This box must just be some small personal trinket she wanted me to have.”
In her old bedroom at her mother’s house, Zelda looked at the box that her uncle had been unable to open. She lifted the lid. It opened easily. Inside the box was lined with what seemed like black velvet and it held a small gold ball which seemed to glow. She reached in to pick it up, but her fingers went straight through it. A tingle went from her finger, up her arm and through her body.
Was it some kind of hologram? Zelda looked over the box. She couldn’t find any power source. She picked up the lid. Tucked into the underside she found a card which had written on it, “My darling Zelda, with the orb in your possession, the world is yours.” The card looked very old, perhaps a previous Zelda had written it to her aunt.
The flight home was more comfortable than expected. Zelda had been upgraded to first class because of a glitch in the ticketing system.
That night, she won the Lotto jackpot, a hundred and twenty million. She put most of the money into shares. Over time, she would discover that whatever companies she invested in would do well, no matter what was happening in the rest of the share market.
Everything she did simply worked for her. Her PhD thesis passed first time. She decided against a regular job, because she simply didn’t need one. She tried art, and won awards. She tried writing, and won awards. She tried swimming and won medals. When she parked her car for too long, the parking meter malfunctioned and always showed she was in credit. It seemed it was impossible for her to fail at anything.
She began to realise why her aunt had seemed crazy to the family members. She could get away with crazy, seemingly-stupid high risk things, when she couldn’t fail at anything she tried. The downside was she couldn’t have a romantic relationship with someone when she didn’t know if they would have freely chosen to be with her.
Zelda gave away huge amounts of money. She quickly discovered charities were like people; some could work absolute miracles with minimal resources, while others could spend an infinite amount and still achieve virtually nothing. She supported those whose work made the greatest impact. They seemed to be even more effective once she became a patron.
Then she researched her family history. As far back as she could trace her family tree, along the maternal line there really had always been a Zelda, just as the family story went. None of the Zeldas ever had a child, but each had a sister who had a daughter she named Zelda. And once the new Zelda reached her late 20s, the older one died in some kind of accident. It happened time and time again, generation after generation. Each of them really had been ridiculously rich, and had handed a great deal of wealth on to family members.
This Zelda documented everything she learned. Her niece, who she knew would eventually be born, would receive more than the box, more than the old card with the note. She would also receive all the information Zelda could find about the box, the orb, and the family history. The next generation’s Zelda would start out better equipped to understand.