Time’s Tread

worn-steps SueVincent

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

She could swear the old house breathed at night. That the walls spoke.

It was the age of things, she thought.

She’d ask, but the next door neighbors gave off a distinct air of distance and her mother was too occupied with damp ceilings, leaky pipes, and bone-dry bank account. There were questions one did not bring up unless adults were in the right mindset, which was rare enough during calm times, let alone through times of grown-up strife.

So Sally kept her own counsel on the matter of whispers between bricks and words in languages that sounded just a step to the side of comprehensible. It had scared her at first to hear them, but when she set her heart to listen she came to realize that there was no malice in the voices. Or none that raised the hair on the back of her neck, which had to be good enough.

After some time, Sally thought of them as friends.

She had few besides.

A moldy suitcase in the attic spoke of travel and held the faint smells of smoke and grime and sweat. There were some clothes still in it: Petticoats holey with moth and yellowed with time; a faded dress that might have been dark blue or purple at the time; a pair of shoes with buttons, the leather wrinkled like the face of Grandam in her casket; some papers in ink-spotted writing that mice or something else gnawed on; a locket.

She fretted about the latter. She wanted to open it. She shuddered at the thought. She dared herself to do so. Hefted it. Stared at the latch. Could not bring herself to undo it. This felt more personal than the split drawers in the suitcase, with the faint brownish stains on them.

She left the locket closed. But she did find herself drawn to hold it. Dreamed of wearing it. Of the dark blue dress. Of bonnets and petticoats.

One morning, when no other dreams found space and her nights became filled with whispers, she decided to wear the locket on her necklace. The small, intricately carved metal heart felt cool against her chest. She hid it underneath her shirt.

Sally could hear her mother arguing on the phone with yet another contractor, voice shrill as she tried but could not quite keep desperate frustration out of her voice. Sally tiptoed down from the attic to the landing and slipped quietly out of the house to sit upon the stoop. The damp chilled her bottom, seeping through the fabric of her pants. She shuddered.

And it was no longer pants she wore, but skirts, dark blue, cascading around her knees and covering the indentation in the steps. Ancient, those.

The door of the adjoining house opened, and a butler poked his head, complete with white gloves and pocket watch.

“Good Morning, Miss Grenadine,” he bowed slightly in her direction.

She smiled, entranced by how neither her lips nor her eyes were her own.

“It will be a sunny one, once the mist burns off,” he said.

She nodded and plucked a petal off of her skirts. She did not quite trust her voice.

The butler bent to pick a newspaper off the stoop, tipped his head in her direction, and closed the door.

Her hand reached for the locket, which was hanging over ruffles and a row of tiny buttons. It felt warm.

“The longer you sit the further you will travel.”

She turned her head to the sound but saw no one. A crow perched on a stone across the next door’s stoop, beady eyes regarding her with something between expectation and reproach.

The bird did not open its beak but the words unfurled clearly in her mind. “Some things are better left unopened.”

The locket.

The crow nodded, reading her mind. “But that does not mean keeping your eyes shut.”

She did not understand.

“Listen. Watch. Observe. Live on.”

Riddles. Crows were known for riddles. She shook her head and looked down at her knees to see a woolen skirt, knit stockings, an apron. Her arms in sleeves.

“Visit the past, but don’t forget to leave your own steps on the stairs,” the winged messenger noted, bobbed its head. Flew on.

“Sally?” Her mother’s voice sliced through the air.

She blinked.

The crow was gone. Her legs in sneakers on the step. The stairs the same.

She rose and eyed the door, the bowed indentation in the stones that led to it. Walked down to the pavement, turned, and pressed her feet into the tread.

She climbed. Making a path for someone from another time.

“Coming, Mom!”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’ WritePhoto

 

 

Soul Archeology

vista SueVincent

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

They were literally walking on the bones of ancient past.

The bones of actual ancients, too, if you want to be exact about it.

He contemplated telling Liz then decided she was more likely to be spooked than awed by the notion. So he let the soles of his trekking boots crunch wordless greetings with each step, and he set his mind to wonder, radar-style, about the centuries he could not see and so few even knew about, yet lay here for every person to experience. Literally. Through the mounds. These monuments to earlier.

It was an odd thing. History.

Will others one day tread upon the remnants of his, and will any ever stop to wonder about the life he’d lived, the vistas his eyes had feasted on, the memories he’d placed into the air with every exhalation?

If so, what would they think, and how did he feel about the possibility?

Not great, he realized. Especially if those future humans would by then have skills for viewing molecules of thoughts or the equivalent … His mind, unearthed, would be a bit like having archeologists come across a buried midden: plenty of data, but far from being the end one would wish presented for scrutiny.

He shuddered. More from shame than worry.

“These are man-made,” Liz noted from behind. The path was narrow and they could only walk single-file.

He nodded, unsure whether she had misinterpreted his reaction or — as she sometimes could be — was eerily on point.

“I wonder if they had intended for anyone to walk on these,” Liz added.

He stopped. There was something in her voice. A fullness.

He turned to her. Her cheeks were wet. Her eyes were red. How long has she been crying?

Her lips turned up at what she must have seen in his expression. “I’m fine, Shawn,” she breathed. “It is just that there’s a sense of spirit pushing like a memory-foam against my feet …”

His own eyes filled and he shook his head, surprised at the emotion.

“See?”

“I do,” he nodded, reached for her hand.

The fields below them stretched wide and green to the horizon. The air sighed with the scents of grass and rain and years and sun.

“This place,” he braved, “it makes me want to be a better man.”

 

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

 

Teaching Without Telling

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

If only she could get there …

The mist and tears obscured her view, but she trod on, insistent and desperate for the safety of the circle. It had saved her ancestors. It had become a thing of lore.

But if the magic still held, she would be helped. The spirits that guarded the stones would weave protection over her. Bar the weapons. Shun the anger. Ward off those who wanted to do harm.

She tripped twice, the cold air breathing malice on her nape. She fought the urge to curl upon the damp ground and give up. She gathered up her tattered courage and wrapped the threads of memories around her shoulders. The incantations of her grandmother, sang softly into the cauldron, stirring soup and stories, teaching without telling, showing without spelling out what was forbidden to be known.

In the darkening damp she mumbled some forgotten fragments. “Help me, Nana,” she sobbed when her knees skinned on a stone and her breath caught.

“Rise, Child,” she thought she heard. She wanted to believe.

She rose. She stumbled on.

If only she could get there, she would be saved. The spirits will protect her in the mists of old.

The pitchforks. The firebrands. The mobs in their lust and calls for blood in smoke? They would not be able to see her. Not once she crossed into the circle. Once there, she would be scooped up, sheltered, danger gone.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

The Wait

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

In the days of old they’d walk out on the water at high tide, appearing to float atop the waves.

It was a sign of trust.

Also of recognition. For they’d come from the water, after all. Their bodies might have forgotten how to live in it, but their cousins — seals, dolphins, whales — still held links to what was possible. And they spoke of long swims and deep dives and frolicking, and of how one day they’d all come home again.

And so they hoped.

And let themselves be carried by tentative feet on mossy rocks built far in and well past the breakers, all the way to the beginnings of the depths.

First as children whose hands were grasped by others’. Then as youngsters showing off their balance and their fearless speed (and perhaps a bit of memory from within their cells, of swiveling agility and joy being in of itself a kind of swimming). Then as new adults, saddled with fuller understanding and big bellies or wrapped by legs and arms of small ones holding tight around the waist and neck. Then as elders, wary of a fall and fearful even more of a child letting go of their hand and drowning. And at the last, as age counted no more, carried, offered, sent home to the sea.

Yes, in the days of old they’d walk out onto the water.

In celebration. In commemoration. In passage. In ritual and prayer and courage and communal hope.

Till they forgot.

And the waves licked the rocks till very little path was left, and dolphins and seals and whales no longer were spoken to and had moved on, and the earth and depths curled tight to wait.

For the people’s lungs still ached for the swim, and their heart still beat to the rhythm of the surf as they slept, and they still made a bit of ocean in their eyes, especially when they wept.

 

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Write Photo

 

 

Almost

beyond SueVincent

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

“I wonder how many had spent a night in this place through the centuries.”

Dennis looked up from his walking boots. The laces had knotted and he was adamant about untangling them without cutting, even though he had a spare. Mirna’s chin rested on a palm propped on an elbow, the remainder of her body already cocooned in her puffy neon orange sleeping bag.

“You look like a giant orange slug,” he smiled.

“Oh, but thank you!” she giggled, wriggling playfully. “I’ve always wanted to achieve slug proportions.”

“I bet thousands upon thousands,” Dennis added.

“Of what?”

He gestured with his head at the space that sheltered them. The ancient stones still fitting together after multitudes of years.

“Yeah,” Mirna sighed. She turned onto her belly and peered out through the mossy rectangular opening. The moors stretched, bleak, to the horizon. As the day waned, the vista appeared increasingly forbidding. “I wonder who they were.”

“Shepherds. War refugees. Travelers. Hunters. Peddlers. Serfs. Messengers. Families seeking safety from the elements,” Dennis tugged on the knots gently as he spoke, and for some reason the controlled movement reminded him of the concentration involved in getting embers out of fire-sticks. He’d tried that once, out of sheer boredom, and the effort had left him out of breath, sweaty, and highly appreciative of the convenience of flint, not to mention lighters and water-proof matches.

“And now, more travelers,” Mirna noted. She rolled over and sat up in her sleeping bag, feeling very slug-like. “Here, let me.” She reached for one of Dennis’s boots, pulled out a hair pin and used it to loosen a knot, releasing one long loop of shoelace, then another.

Dennis shook his head and handed her the other boot. “So much for my skills,” he grinned sheepishly. “At least I know I’ll manage to light the field stove and make tea. Then we can watch the sunset, snug as bugs in a rug in our matching sleeping bags, and can be almost like all those who’d rested here before us …”

A whiff of wind puffed into the shelter and a straggling ray of light licked the mossy stone above Mirna’s head. A late-day cloud raced across the bog. A bird called.

A shudder traveled down Mirna’s spine.

It felt like a hello.

Almost.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

Pathfinders

crown SueVincent

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

They filed into the toothy circle, a long double line, holding hands over the green strip that split them apart.

The stone pillars stood, immobile, ever present, waiting.

There have always been golden fields in all directions. Wild, then cultivated. The rustling of the ripened plants replacing a hush that would otherwise feed unease.

For there will be no voice heard.

No word.

No song.

No shout.

Nothing said.

Just a long line of humility, stepping up the path and through the eye of the ancient circle. Waiting to be cleansed.

To be whole.

To be seen.

To walk on.

Ahead.

Out the other side and down the second path where a widening triangle fanned into the distant horizon, mirroring the measure of relief.

And from the far far spaces, well beyond the hills, the sound of voices, whispers freed, a humming on the breeze.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

Faith in Stones

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

They none of them could explain when it had been built or how it had been done. The standing stones were magic enough, but the slab of solid rock perching above their heads against the laws of order and human power — it went beyond what anyone understood.

Even The Sage did not know.

And she knew everything there was to learn and some of what could not be taught yet she ascertained anyhow.

“Though I heard say …” The Sage stretched the words as every child and many an adult leaned into her speaking. It was the mid-of-day that followed the longest morning. A time of pause and story. “… that it could have been the Angel Bird.”

The elder’s wisps of hair haloed her face. The oval itself was shadowed by the relative darkness under the stone overhang.

A child shifted in his mother’s lap. An errant toddler was reprimanded. A baby’s wail was quieted by its mother’s nipple. The people settled.

The Sage lifted her chin and many eyes followed. Soot and marks of time tanned the gray expanse above.

“In her beak, the Angel Bird can carry many men into the sea. Her wings can mask the stars so fishers lose the way back to their hearths. She can lift a whale and place it on the shore to feed the people. She can bring the howling wind. She can ice the river. She can slash the fire in the skies. Yet she can also pluck a clover and carve a snowflake. She can blow a single hair off of an ailing person’s forehead and lead them back to health or to the place-of-no-more-breath. … ” The Sage paused and filled her own lungs with air. “Perhaps the Angel Bird was the one to lift the slab atop the pillars.”

“Can she take it down?”

An admonishing murmur rose. Young voice or not, saying a thing made it. Now the notion hung above them like storm-clouds. Fear thickened the air but to state the worry might make it, too.

The Sage raised her palm but let the silence linger. Her eyes wandered over the cracks and small crevices of the ancient stone.

The questioning child was not to blame. The Sage had wondered similarly herself. Had her thoughts manifested through the young one’s mind? It had been known to happen. Sometimes it was a sign of too-easy a persuasion. At other times it signaled the nascent perceptiveness of a future apprentice.

The girl met The Sage’s eyes with tears brimming at the unfairness of collective condemnation, but stared on, defiant.

The latter then. The Sage allowed a corner of her lip to twitch. She’ll take it on herself to observe the child. In the meantime the girl deserved the response that had chased away many an hour of The Sage’s sleep.

“Indeed the Angel Bird can …”

People gasped. More frowns were directed at the girl, who pulled herself straighter, pushed a mess of tangled hair off her face, and squared her shoulders.

The latter. No question now.

“And she likely will. In time,” The Sage added.

An audible inhale rippled through the group as more and more faces lifted to inspect the heavy ceiling. No longer a taken-for-granted solid refuge, but a slide-between-the-fingers sand.

“All things die,” The Sage pressed on, aware that the answer had become the opportunity for its own story. “It is no curse nor blessing. No different than the change of seasons or the leaves that bud and green and grow and brown and fall. In early summer it may seem that foliage had always been and always will be, and yet we know that time will come when the leaves will die and the branches be laid bare.”

“This is no leaf,” a woman murmured, eyes uneasily on the rock and her body curled over a nursing infant.

Several other women fidgeted and darted glances at the sunny meadow at the shelter’s side.

The Sage sighed. Panic tended to have its fingers intertwined with knowledge. She knew it better than most.

“Life requires faith,” she said. “Every person who ever took shelter under this place of magic — from the first ancestors to the persons sitting here today — accepted that it is not of our doing. Whether by the Angel Bird or a different magic, this marvel means that our people do not suffer in the rain or ice or burning sun. We did not build this. It is our home but we do not own it. The most we can do is ensure we keep it well and are not the ones to destroy it.”

 

 

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto prompt

Ancient Crush

Yam lower stone for crushing olives AmitaiAsif

Photo: Amitai Asif

 

You’ve seen nations

Rise

And fall,

Felt oil

Extracted

From trees’ toil.

You’ve seen

The farmers

Tend the soil,

Bread dipped

To nourish

Heart and soul,

As children laughed

And played

And lived

And died

Through centuries of

War and spoil,

While you remained

Above the boil,

Till peace returns

For olives’ roil.

 

 

Note: The photo is of an ancient base stone (called “Yam” in Hebrew) of the grinding stones that are used for the first step of extracting oil from olives. A current-day olive grove can be seen in the background to the left. Olives were first domesticated about 6,000 years ago, likely in the Mediterranean basin. Documented history of deliberate oil pressing can be found as early as 4,500 years ago (around 2,500BCE).

To this day, making olive oil involves several stages of crushing and rinsing to extract the oil. In many places, olives are still harvested by hand or by beating the fruit off of the trees. The olives are then washed, and crushed by milling stones (traditionally between a bottom stone like the one in the photo and one or two mill stone that stand perpendicular to it and roll around the base stone). The millstone/s were historically moved by use of man-power or animal power, and in some places still are. The pulp is placed in woven bags or baskets, then the baskets themselves are pressed. The liquid from the press bags gets drawn into a reservoir where oil is left to settle and separate. Oil is then skimmed off and allowed to settle again, sometimes repeatedly, to remove impurities.

 

 

For the Tuesday Photo Challenge: Ancient

 

 

Tut’s Trough

Photo prompt: Sue Vincent

 

“It’s been here since time before time,” Marty’s voice rose in self-importance.

“I don’t think Mammoths would agree,” Donna deadpanned. She was tired and the tour-de-woods was becoming tedious. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Marty. She did. Or at least, she had … before he’d unleashed his inner Know-it-all in what he appeared to consider some form of seductive foreplay. It did the opposite for her.

To be fair, she’d always claimed men’s minds could be just as attractive as their bodies.

The key being ‘as important’ she sighed to herself, not the sole importance.

Marty, oblivious, nodded. “Mammoths didn’t need troughs,” he added pedagogically. “They weren’t domesticated.”

Donna slapped at some buzzing insect on her arm. The noise ceased. She’d slap away Marty’s patronizing tone, too, if she didn’t so abhor violence. These days.

The very thought stirred guilt. It wasn’t his fault she was there. It wasn’t his fault she was broken and that time hadn’t ever been kind to her kin.

She forced herself to breathe and glanced at the moss-covered structure in an attempt at interest, only to be mortified when the first thought through her mind was how much it resembled a sarcophagus and how peaceful it would be to lie in one for all eternity.

Or until some form of grave-robbers came.

She shuddered.

“You okay?” Marty’s voice filtered through her distress. “You look as though you’d seen a ghost!”

How little you know, Donna thought. “I’m fine,” she said.

The line between his eyebrows smoothed and he gestured grandly toward the vessel. “Some say it is haunted,” he leaned close to her and whispered a mockery of suspense, “for how this simple trough tricks the vulnerable into thinking it resembles King Tut’s tomb.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday Photo Prompt

The Pillar

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

The youngsters always met by The Pillar.

Their parents had. Their grandparents had, and the great-grands before that and on and on till time before time. It was a rite of passage of sort. A congregation-point for those just past the threshold from children to adults.

There was no timetable for how long it was before a set of youths made way for those younger still. Yet the time never seemed to be very long, no matter the outward circumstances.

In olden times such changeover was marked by many youths’ marrying shortly after adult bodies and responsibilities were taken on, as it was believed that matrimony was the lead to sensibilities. Any youths lagging behind in house-making would soon enough stop visiting The Pillar anyway, perhaps as it would feel unseemly for them to be seen hobnobbing with total greenhorns to the adult world.

In modern times, with childhoods that stretched well beyond the bounds any elder would consider reasonable, and with less children in town to nip at the heels of those frequenting The Pillar, youths nonetheless rarely mingled by it for much longer than they would’ve in the past. Just their chronological age had shifted some, from puberty to closer to the end of high-school.

Looking back, few could tell exactly what about The Pillar had drawn them to the location. Sure, the isolation allowed for some actions full-fledged adults would likely frown on (though they’d done the same — and sometimes worse — themselves), but there were plenty other isolated places to find privacy in. Blustery in winter and mosquito-swarmed by summer, the field where The Pillar stood was not exactly the height of comfort. Still by tradition or something more, the youth were drawn to it like moths to light.

It was the fairies, some whispered, magic of the Fair Folk, conjured so they could feed upon the newly discovered energies of youth, necessary to the Fairies’ sustained immortality. Others pooh-poohed the folklore, perhaps unnerved by the notion that anything but their own will had caused them to view as irresistible what later on looked quite the dreary spot.

“It was just the adventure,” the latter would grumble. “Every child in town grew up dreaming of being old enough to go to The Pillar. Of course we wanted to finally do so.”

Still they could not explain what had made them suddenly wish to visit it. Or why it had just as suddenly lost its charm.

When pressed, they’d shrug that “it’s been there as long as anyone remembers.” As if that was explanation enough.

Lore or not, the youngsters always met by The Pillar.

And there The Pillar stood. Slanted by age or forces beyond comprehension. Till another age of the earth would come.

 

 

For Sue’s Thursday Photo Prompt: Timeless