A Slowly Fraying Memory

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Photo: Free-to-use-sounds, on Unsplash

 

 

From the hollows of despair, they fled.

The shirts on their backs and the children

In their arms, all they could manage to

Take.

Even the abysmal shelters they had recently

Been made to call

Home,

No longer gave any protection or

A chance at repair or

Reform.

They left, dodging death and finding

Further fright to

Flee,

And in their hearts they held on

Tightly

To the slowly fraying

Memory,

Of days when life was softer

And beds were warm,

And babies slept

Well kept

Safe from war and hate and

Harm.

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Abysmal in 93 words

Note: Dedicated to all displaced, terrorized, pressed, oppressed, persecuted persons everywhere, and to the many millions who had, throughout history and in recent memory and in today’s times, been forced to further risk their lives by leaving what had once been home and safety behind, for the unknown.

 

The Way It Used To Be

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Photo: Sue Vincent

 

There were hollows underneath the old ruins. They could be reached through the small shadowy glen that indented the hill where the remains of the stone structure stood.

Da had said that the underground spaces had likely been storerooms, but in Konnor’s mind they could just as easily have been dungeons. People had such things in castles and forts and towers. In old times.

Or perhaps still did. You never knew what could be lurking underneath someone’s residence.

He used to go to the ruins with Baldwin. It had been their favorite play space. They’d crawl through the opening in the rocks which led to a small roundish place with hand-hewed walls that still showed marks of chisels, complete with what must’ve been a doorway to other spaces but was blocked by a tumble of large stones.

They had made a plan to clear those, he and Baldwin, once when summer was long and they were bored and needing an adventure. They were soon disabused of the notion, however. Not only were the stones heavy and the tugging of them sweaty work, but the dust that fell on their heads from the ceiling made them realize that the whole thing could come down and leave them buried.

They weren’t ready to be buried. Not when ghosts and goblins waited to grab any who stepped into Death’s domain.

So they left the rockfall alone and found that their imaginations managed to terrify each other well enough without actually discovering what hid underneath and behind the areas into which they had no ingress.

Then Baldwin got sick, and when the fever subsided his legs did not work anymore and one of his arms was weak and he became morose and pale and could no longer come play in the ruins. When Konnor came to visit him, Baldwin reclined in his bed and frowned and said that dungeon stories were stupid and for babies.

Konnor stopped mentioning their games. He visited less and less until he only went when his mother made him. Baldwin was too angry and there was nothing Konnor could do right and he felt awkward and worried and sad.

His feet still took him to the ruins — they knew the way so well — but it wasn’t the same without Baldwin. The place felt spookier. Lonelier. Colder. Silent in a way that breathed him guilty. The stories that had been so exciting felt empty and Konnor began to think that perhaps the hollow, too, was for babies.

He turned his back on the ruins and tried to forget the way things used to be.

Then one day, as his feet walked him by, he heard mewling. At first he wondered if those were ghosts come to haunt him … but the insistent whines sounded too much like complaints brought forth by small, needy, hungry, living things.

He crawled in. His torch lit an area of newly fallen stones and a squirming mound of furry wobbly creatures.

It had been heedless to enter face first into a den. He would have been taught a painful lesson by the parent, had she not been crushed under one of the stones. It couldn’t have been long. Her motionless form was almost warm.

The pups mewled and one wriggled to nuzzle blindly against Konnor’s palm, seeking comfort. It was only when he picked them up into his shirt that he realized something.

“The stories we told may have been for babies,” he told Baldwin when he unveiled the brown head of a pup that had snuggled into the crook of his arm, “but the dungeons seemed to have produced some real younglings.”

“And this one,” he planted the helpless creature in Baldwin’s withered lap, “needs someone who understands. Da says her back must have been crushed. Her hind legs are paralyzed.”

Baldwin’s eyes grew round and as he reached to touch the pup, she licked his finger. “I’ll call her Dungeon,” he said gently and his voice held a hint of sparkle. “For the way it used to be.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto challenge

 

 

 

Slip Slidin’ Away

Photo prompt © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

 

Now that it was time, she couldn’t get herself to do it.

The ice around her heart mirrored the slick coating on the deck, the driveway, the car. The accumulation of cold thinned. Her resolve cracked.

It dripped and melted into tears where the memories took hold. Where the sweet moments were as real as the many that weren’t.

Perhaps she should just wait longer. Hope for spring. Pray for summer’s warmth. Forget the frozen tundra that their relationships had become. The hurt. The broken bones.

The more she was nearing her destination, the more she was slip slidin’ away.

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

Bonus track of the song that played in my head as soon as I saw the photo:

 

The Two Stones

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

She shivered in the early winter chill and pulled the woolen cloak around her. The wind whipped her hair – always unruly – into her eyes. Her fingers stung. The day was above freezing, but the cold damp still had a way of swimming through her clothing to steal away her body heat. Her face felt stiff and she rubbed her hand over her cheeks and chin to warm them.

She picked up her pace only to slow down again once she neared the stream. The slope was treacherous and she did not fancy the possibility of a dunking in the bone-chilling water. How different this was, she mused, from the summer days of her childhood, when along with friends she had raced down the slope with the absolute intention of being the first to splash in.

The stream had seemed bigger then. Wilder and yet in some ways tamer.

She did not know at the time the other stories it could hold. The risk it would foreshadow.

She was still an innocent then.

As if in answer to her mood, the wind picked up and buffeted the edges of her cloak around her legs, threatening to unclothe her. She pressed her lips together in determination and shook her head. Not here. Not now. Not ever.

Not again.

The stream was lower than expected for the time of year, but she knew the looks could be deceiving. It wasn’t just depths that could kill you. Or the flow.

She picked her way carefully to the bank. She stood a few yards downstream from the ancient laundering stones that jutted at the widening where the narrow brook burbled into a seemingly placid pool before splashing down in tiny waterfalls at the other end. The women still used the flat rocks when she was a young girl. They’d crouch on the stone to slap the fabric as the stream carried away the suds and dirt and the occasional bloody stain.

Moss now covered the stones and she knew it wasn’t just the change of season that had led to the greening. Women had laundered in all seasons. They’d break through thin ice to brave the numbing cold if they had to.

But no one had used the rocks for a long time now.

Perhaps not once since.

It had been a late summer day, the warm air filled with scents of aging flowers and over-ripe fruit and a whiff of sweat. There was the ‘thwack, thwack’ of scythes from the fields and the hum of bees and the calls of children and the wailing of a baby, cranky for the breast. The laundering stones were draped with wet fabric, the water foaming slightly with the soaps.

Then came the scream.

The rush.

The hush.

The wide-eyed horror.

Two small children, tangled in a vine, floated to bump against the rocks at the end of the pool, the current threatening to carry them over and downstream. Like broken puppets on a string.

They’d been playing and must have banged heads under water, or on a sharp rock, or on some other, less understood, thing. Their thrashing would have been noticed, but they must have been lost to the loud playfulness of others, or to the slap of clothing and the scrape of washers against stone. Or to how quickly they dropped.

She shuddered as the image superimposed itself on the empty coldness.

Everything changed after that. She only came here one other time since. And not with company.

The family of the man who had been a child at the time still wielded power in the town. She wouldn’t have been believed if she had told, that the dreamy boy who liked to twirl in the sun and who no one dared tease, had drawn a slingshot in mid-dance and used his spin to hurl small sharp stones into the children’s temples. The “thwack, thwack” was not only from scythes. She wouldn’t have been believed if she’d blamed him for the death of her pet rabbit, even though she’d seen him kill the trusting ball of fluff. Or for holding her down and poking her where no one should. She kept quiet and let the secret nibble holes in her insides.

It wouldn’t have brought the children back.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, bending to touch the water with her fingertips.

The bodies had long been buried, but their souls could not be. Not without the truth.

She rose and wrapped the cloak tightly around her. The clouds gathered and she saw a crack of lighting in the distance. A low rumble chased it, chastening or soothing, she could not tell.

She forced the air into her lungs and turned away.

She will be leaving again. The secret will remain.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

 

Out Focus

Photo prompt: © Ted Strutz

 

He wanted to take the glasses off but it was not allowed.

The penalty was devastatingly permanent.

True Focus was reserved for a selected few. A privilege. Stealing it would result in losing all sight. Both eyes.

He blinked and tried to calm the nausea that came with the distorting lenses. He never got used to the dizziness. Or the headache.

He didn’t think they were meant to.

“Loyalty above clarity; Fealty, not facts.”

It was chanted. It was law.

A disoriented population was the goal.

He grieved for the realities that had been ignored when freedom still had hope.

 

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

 

Up In Smoke

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Minsk (Photo by Anton Rusetsky on Unsplash)

 

“These stacks look like a hand,” Bella rested her chin on the window’s ledge and gazed at the golden hues of sunset over Minsk. It was beautiful.

“A hand with six fingers.”

Bella scowled into the glass. In her mother’s tone she heard challenge, dismissal, and disdain. It stole the luster off the previous moment’s calm. She resented the coldness with which her mother marred everything during this visit. It felt like a smudge she could not wipe.

So she was surprised when her mother came to kneel on the bed by her, close enough to touch. Close enough to feel the trembling. Her mother rarely cried.

“Six fingers for the six millions,” her mother whispered. “And these clouds like burning souls against the evening sky. Everyone my mother had known. Our whole extended family. Burnt. Dead. Gone. This city will never be free of them, Bella. They speak on.”

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Minsk

 

Portal To Tomorrow

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Photo: Smadar Halperin-Epshtein

 

In the portal to

Tomorrow

Let the trumpets

Ring not

Alarm

And rush to

Harm,

But stop to the

Hubris

Of war.

In the portal for

Tomorrow

May those men

Who rashly

Spend

The life of

Others,

Know the call

Of trumpets

Often heralded

Only pain,

More gore.

Enough.

Enough.

No more.

 

 

For the Tuesday Photo Challenge: Portal

 

 

Blend In

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

They walked toward the light. The brambles, the thistles, the burrs, the thorns — all attempted to snag and ensnare and scratch and mark them for what would be held as treachery.

Still, they walked. Some of them bare-legged and bleeding. Others somewhat better clothed, but not much better off once flaps of torn fabric opened windows to the ravages of all manner of sharp things.

They walked toward the light. The dark, the fog, the cold, the hunger, the fatigue — all conspired to force them to turn back.

They did not.

Not when the tunnel they had managed digging, spoonful by spoonful of rock-hard soil, hiding the scrabbling sounds under the cover of endless mandatory chanting, could finally accommodate a slithery passage underneath the electrified fence.

They’d been digging it for months.

Waiting. Counting. Hoping. Dreaming. Fighting against those who dismissed the possibility, against those who threatened to give them away, against the weighing down by those who’d surrendered to messages of futility and given up.

It had been a fluke, really. A careless corner of a printed flyer that the wardens did not burn completely. A few lines and enough to give them the potential for a plan.

But they had to destroy the evidence. And not everyone believed.

Sometime even they began having doubts.

When the light arrived, many of them cried. Surreptitiously, of course. Lest the guards see. Lest they be found out.

And when the cold bit deep enough to keep the guards huddled by the watch-station’s stoves, and when the hour was late enough for no more chants to be required, they wriggled, one by one, under and out.

And fled.

Toward the light.

Where the masses congregating in the desert could swallow them. Where they would be hidden in the flocks of floodlighted extras dressed in rags. Where their dust and grime and hollows under eyes, would blend in with the crowds in caked-in dirt and post-apocalyptic make up. Where their actual horror, worse than any movie, could be made less real at last.

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge

 

 

In The Years

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Photo: Ian Schneider on Unsplash

 

In the years full of sorrows

They held on to the

Joys,

From the years when the

Smiles were more frequent than

Oys.

 

In the years where

Frustration

Overtook hope or

Peace,

They held on to conviction

That life can evil

Resist.

 

In the years where the wrong

Bloomed in hate

Unconcealed,

They held on to the truth,

So harm may be

Revealed.

 

In the years where they saw

Order crumble,

 Laws evade,

They held on and remembered:

Hope finds way,

Light’s ahead.

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS prompt: year

 

 

Relative Loudness

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Photo: Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

 

“It’s way too loud!”

Maria smoothed her skirt. Her mother’s sense of what wasn’t “too loud” was limited to washed-out grays, faded pastels, and the kind of drab that would put even a hyperactive child to sleep. “I like it.”

“You can’t possibly think you’ll get the job dressed like this.”

Her mother always went for the jugular.

Maria shrugged. She’d learned the hard way that to show her wounding only meant that more of it was certain to be dished out.

“Don’t come crying to me when someone more professional gets the position,” her mother added.

“Thanks for the support, Mom,” Maria sighed. She grabbed her bag, checked to see that the bus card was in her pocket, and walked out, deliberately ignoring the foyer’s mirror. She’ll give herself a final once over later, against a store’s window or parked car if she needed to. Any reflective surface would be more forgiving than her mother’s eye.

Some days the anger churned inside her like a witch’s noxious brew. A dash of fury, an evil eye of newt, a cup of resentment, a clump of shame, a fistful of sorrow, all stirred with the bone of a dog left to die in the street under a full moon.

“She can’t help it,” Sam, when he was still around, would try to soothe her. He was spared the worst of their mother’s tongue-lashings, being a boy and therefore less intrinsically prone to disappointing her. But he was well aware of how their mother’s wrath was doled onto Maria, and he’d even take blame where he could, knowing he wasn’t likely to be punished for the same misdemeanor, and that he’ll get off lightly when he was. “Mom sees in you everything she wants to be and cannot.”

It was truth. It was also small consolation.

“I can’t help it that she had less opportunity,” Maria would pout in answer. “It’s not my fault she was kept home to raise her siblings and never got to finish school. It’s not my fault she feels unable to try anything, or that Dad liked pointing out how uneducated she was.” And still … more often than not Sam’s reminders of where their mother had learned criticism toward daughters, and of the inordinate amounts she’d had to put up with, did help awaken a measure of empathy.

Some days less than others, though.

And on this particular morning Maria had very little of it to spare.

She’d worked hard to prepare for this job interview, and she’d put much thought into the clothing she selected. The turquoise top and a the splash of magenta in the beaded necklace were meant to put a bit of color in her pale complexion. She coupled that with a dark blue skirt with a banana-yellow belt. A matching silk scarf was tied around the handles of her rather overtired bag. She wore a single turquoise bangle on her wrist, and the dark blue pumps she’d kept for special occasions. Her hair was pulled back from her face behind one ear to reveal a single studded earring, and fell in soft curls over her cheek on the other side.

She thought she looked nice. Till her mother’s acid raised welts of doubt.

A whistle sounded and she turned around fully prepared to frown, only to have her lips turn up when she saw the whistler.

“You look glam!” Her eighty five year old neighbor leaned onto his rake and grinned at her through few remaining teeth. “Big day?”

“Hi Mr. Green,” she smiled back. “Yes. I mean, I hope. Job interview.”

“Ah,” he nodded sagely. “And you sure do look the part! Go get ’em! And don’t you let yourself worry none. Tell them all the good things that you are and can do, and don’t you be shy about it, either. It’s is your time to shine, so you go ahead and speak up as loud as anything. Show them who you are so they not miss the chance to employ you. And swing by on your way back to tell me how it went, will you now?”

She nodded. She did not trust her voice …

But her heart felt warmed and her feet were lighter as she walked toward the bus, every window reflecting rosy cheeks and a sparkle in her eye.

 

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS challenge: Loud