The Shut One

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They’ve learned to speak naught about it.

So well that they almost forgot it was. There. Tabooed.

She had tried justifying to herself later. How there had been much to cope with and such minuscule leeway. How choice never truly was, a choice.

But as well as she could explain the circumstances, she could less and less forgive. Herself for the blind eye that she’d turned. Them for making it so that she’d needed to. For making it so that they could not even talk of it amongst themselves.

The crushing price of secrets. A cost calculated not with arms and legs, but hearts.

It haunted her. Nowadays. Now-a-nights.

The shuffling beyond the darkened window. The locks. The cries. The scraps that weren’t really for the dog.

By the time she’d grown enough to contemplate a rescue, there was naught to save.

Her sister. Feeble. Gone.

 

 

For Cristina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

Gateway

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She pulled the reins gently, but Mathilde was already slowing. Perhaps the mare knew where to stop. Perhaps she understood Elana’s shift in the saddle.

The horse tensed under her thighs.

“I know you want to gallop,” Elana patted Mathilde’s sable neck. “We’ll just stop here a minute.”

Mathilde snorted, then lowered her head to nibble on a cluster of dandelions by the gatepost.

“It’s been too long,” Elana whispered. To herself. To the plaque the ancestor she was named after had placed at the property’s threshold. A crest. A warning. A gateway.

Elana reached and Mathilde pranced sideways, bringing them flush with the square of gray granite. “Thank you, Em,” Elana breathed.

Her fingers traced the carvings and rested on the wheel of time.

The air around them shimmered. Bent. Restored.

The pasture rippled in the sun and she heard a clash of swords. Laughter.

“Let’s go visit Great-Grandam!”

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

Green Grace

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“I didn’t even know where she lived.”

Maya shook her head, agreeing. “Don’t think anyone knew.”

“I did,” Sydney whispered.

Deena and Maya turned to her and stared. Tears made a path through the makeup on Sydney’s cheeks, ruining an hour’s worth of work in front of a mirror.

“Spill …” Deena demanded after Sydney said no more. “You brought us here!”

“Yeah,” Maya echoed, encircling the overgrown garden and weed-filled greenhouse with her arm. Goodness knows the condition of the stone cottage. “How come you know where Rock-For-Heart…” she shrugged apologetically at Deena’s kick. “Sorry, now that she’s, um, gone…where Professor Rockfort lived?”

Everyone gave a wide berth to the gruff professor in musty tweeds and bushy eyebrows. Her snap was prodigious, and her marks were stingy. Why would anyone even want to know where she lived?

“Her name was Grace,” Sydney sniffled. “And she was my great-grand aunt.”

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

Frozen In Time

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“What’s he doing there, Papa?”

“Serving his time,” he didn’t need to look to know what his granddaughter was pointing at. He could see it with his eyes closed. In his sleep. Seared into his very dreams.

“What time?” the innocence in the child’s voice returned him to the present. She could not know. So many died so she would not need to.

“His time in war,” he explained.

“To fight?” the green eyes were round under the cascade of unruly hair. The girl never could abide any hair-ties. Her mother despaired. He found it enchanting. He’d forgotten what it was to have hair

He nodded.

“But he’s just watching,” the child noted.

“Yes,” he nodded.

“Forever?”

He looked up at the man frozen in time. So many of them were.

“I hope not, child.”

She pressed his hand.

“I shall bring him a blanket,” she said. “And a pup.”

 

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

Robin’s robin

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“Tell me again, Grandma,” the child burrowed into the bedclothes.

“You heard it a million times,” she ruffled the girl’s curls.

“But it’s my favorite story, Grandma!”

The woman smiled. Begging was part of the ritual. Their dance of love. She made herself comfortable and felt the small torso snuggle closer.

“Remind me again how it starts?…” she teased.

“Grandma!”

“Silly me. Of course I remember… So, there you were, born early and a little wrinkled.”

“A lot wrinkled!”

“Yes, a lot. And with a howling mouth ajar like a hatchling calling for a juicy worm …”

“Eeew …”

“And we didn’t know what to call you …”

“Till you saw my hair …”

“Which was as rusty as a robin’s bib.”

“And …” the child wriggled with anticipation.

“And it is clearly the right name, because a robin has been nesting in the tree outside your window ever since!”

 

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

Wild Away

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Margot leaned closer to examine the stake. Her smile grew.

The child should be called Gretel, with such clues.

Then again, Margot was no evil stepmom. Or at least, not evil … The two of them couldn’t help not being biologically related.

Not any more than the girl could help being wild.

The social worker believed the latter a hindrance. Understandable, perhaps, given how many placements the child had lost. The system found it inconvenient to have a lass with more wilderness than tameness, who needed space and took it. Knowing Grenadine’s history, how could they not see why she’d tolerate no leash?

“This child will run away,” the social worker had warned when Margot said she’ll have her. “You’re so rural, you’d have no help keeping her contained.”

Margot had no plan to do so.

The child was free. The sticker meant that she’d be home by dinner.

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

No Thoroughfare

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“Mama, come quick!”

Marybeth lifted her eyes from the soapy water and straightened, rubbing her aching back with a dripping hand. Luke’s face was flushed. The boy was excitable, and she was of a mind to scold him for being over-dramatic, but something in the whites of his eyes stayed her tongue.

“What is it?”

“Just come, Mama, please!”

She sighed and wiped her hands on her apron. “Come where?”

“The back. By the woodlands,” Luke ran ahead, turned, returned, and grabbed her hand. Hurrying her.

“Slow down, boy, nothing to be gained by spraining ankles.”

He inhaled as if to argue, but did not. Good lad.

They walked.

What on…?

She grabbed his shoulder and felt him shiver.

Whatever had gone through had to be monstrous.

The sun found a cloud. A shadow grew. A full moon was soon to follow.

Ankles be damned.

They turned and ran.

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

Finding Fido

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“Still nothing,” Sally said as soon as Damian came through the door.

His shoulders sagged. The whole drive home he’d hoped for news. He didn’t dare imagine beyond that, but his arms ached and his cheeks felt cold without the welcome of unabashed wriggles and wet kisses.

And to think he’d never wanted “a beast in the house.” To think he’d been so set against it.

Little did he know that a furball in a giant velvet bow would burrow deeper into his heart than anyone before it. Including, if he was honest, the two-legged.

“I taped more flyers,” Sally filled the silence. “And called the vets … just in case.”

Damian nodded over the tightness in his throat.

“Mary is so sorry …” Sally pressed on. “She didn’t mean to leave the door unlatched.”

“I’ve to go,” Damian grabbed his gun. “I must find Fido before the dark does.”

 

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

Time Lines

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The forest floor cushioned their steps. She inhaled the scent of tree and sap and hidden wet. She had forgotten the caresses of fallen leaves and ancient bark under her feet. A flash of sun painted a memory – a small girl running barefoot in the woods, knobby knees peeking under a faded calico dress. Oh, how she had loved that dress!

“Here.”

Albert’s voice called her back into the present. He’d grown old and grumpy. It made her wonder what others thought of her. Eccentric? Obstinate? Silly? Dumb?

She followed her brother’s pointed finger and her heart quickened. A dark line circled a tree.

“Here, too.”

She turned. A fainter line hugged another tree.

Albert faced the first trunk and lifted his arms. His fingertips grazed the line.

She did the same with the second tree. Perfect fit.

Their birth-marked trees had grown exactly as tall as they.

 

 

 

For Crispina‘s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

A Heart of Stone

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“All you have is this little wheelbarrow?”

Marsha nodded.

Shelly shook his head.

“I don’t mind how long it takes,” the despair in Martha’s voice was overshadowed by determination. “And anyway, this won’t be too heavy.”

Shelly shrugged. “You’d change your mind after you make a few trips pushing this rusty thing uphill against the wind.”

In the weeks that followed Marsha wondered more than once if her brother had conjured the wind just to spite her. Dust and grit found purchase in her eyes and throat. Her palms grew red, then raw, then rough.

And still, she pushed the loaded wheelbarrow through gravel and scrub brush and small canyons of cracked earth that manifested overnight upon the path she forged across the steppe.

Slowly the grave-marker took shape.

“I’ve brought the stones from our creek, Mama,” she whispered as she placed each carefully. “Your heart will never again thirst.”

 

 

 

For Crispina‘s Crimson’s Creative Challenge