Do Not Engage

Photo Prompt © Roger Bultot

 

“It’s covering its eyes.”

“Say what?” Sergeant Frank was always gruff but Leon knew a warning when he heard it. He could (almost) visualize his superior in his boxer-shorts, remote in one hand and beer in the other. One did not get between the Sergeant and his beer.

“The new statue, Sir. In Rockefeller. It’s covering its eyes.”

“Leon, are you drunk?!”

“No, Sir. The hotdog man saw it, too. And a bystander.”

“Statues don’t move, Leon. That’s why they’re called statues.”

“This one did, Sir.”

Silence.

“Sir?”

Sigh. “I’m sending Marco. Meanwhile, Leon … sit tight and … do not engage …”

 

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

The Instructions

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Photo: Luma Pimentel via Unsplash

 

“I’ve written it all down,” she’d said.

“Anything you need to know is there,” she’d promised.

“It’ll a breeze,” she assured me, one hand already on the door handle. “I won’t be too long. It’s just a short gig. A few hours at most. He’ll likely sleep right through to my return anyway.”

But the baby slept through about five minutes and then would not stop crying and I had no idea what half of the terminology for baby-brand stuff meant or what “up to the spoon line” was supposed to be when I couldn’t find any spoons with lines, and no clue how to “keep a hand on the baby at all times” while also needing two of them just to untangle the tabs on the darn diaper and another two to keep the baby’s feet from kicking it away … And the clean bottles came separated from nipples, which had multiple unrelated parts that needed assembly like an Ikea cabinet from hell … And what on earth is a spit-up cloth and how is it different than a towel or a blanket?

Speaking of, how does one swaddle a baby without dislocating something in the process of making it into a mummified burrito?

And did I mention the baby would not stop crying?

 

“You’re a saint, Rick!” she’d said. Even kissed me on the cheek like I was some long lost brother and not the neighbor who happened to live next door and perhaps smiled a few times at the baby on the elevator.

“I know it is last minute but I’ve been waiting months for the opportunity … I’ll make you dinner,” she’d promised, and her relief at having a solution for the baby was so palpable that I felt guilty extricating myself from what she’d misunderstood as “yes” when at the very most I’d meant “maybe, but not really.”

 

“It was a breeze,” I said.

“He woke up but is now sleeping like an angel,” I assured her, ignoring the baby’s heft on my desperate bladder. I hadn’t dared to move, lest the baby woke again.

She looked tired and worried and sad and a little worse for wear, and I wondered how the gig went but didn’t want to ask after she appeared to hold back tears when I’d asked if she had a good time.

“Did the instructions help?” she asked instead.

I nodded. “Perfectly.”

 

 

 

For the SoCS Prompt: Instructions

 

The Proposal

Photo prompt: Sue Vincent

 

“You might as well open your eyes now.”

His gravely voice was somewhat amused but carried in it the edge of impatience she’d recognized from her own father. A dismissive tone that simultaneously mocked and tolerated females’ flair for the emotional while also warning said females to not mistake momentary patience for leniency.

Muriel swallowed any sign of sigh. Her body ached from three days rattling on wooden wheels over rocks and gravel and muddy ruts and unexpected pits. To make matters worse, the girl-servant who’d been her companion since childhood, hadn’t been allowed to accompany her, and the rough hands of service women who did not know her, had tied her stays too tight and left the knots digging at her ribs and the small of her back.

She’d closed her eyes in part to manage the ever present nausea of travel forced on her at the opposite direction of movement. However, a goodly bit of it was in order to allow herself at least a semblance of private space in the confines of the carriage. His eyes undressed her either way, but at least she could pretend to not see it.

Her time for privacy was up.

She forced her eyes open and nodded the politest smile she could manage at the man who would be her lord and father-in-law (and if his leering told her anything, also the master of her body, son or no son).

He scared her and his eyes were cruel, but she’d learned at a young age to hide revulsion under a lowering of lashes and to nod compliance as means to reduce inevitable harm.

“You are a girl-child, Muriel,” her mother would soothe and scold her as she gently rubbed salve onto what new welts and bruises another lashing had left on the child. “No matter what they do or ask of you, you must not disobey.”

And yet even her mother, the mistress of the manor, who embodied the balance of stately conduct and humility before her betters, sported the occasional split lip from her husband, Muriel’s father, along with other wounds in areas best left unmentioned. All a female could do was walk the tightrope in attempt to limit scope and frequency of pain.

Muriel raised her eyes to meet the heavy brow of the man who occupied the seat across from her. She calmed her voice so it not reflect her fretting mind.

“Have we almost arrived, My Lord?”

His eyes flicked to the window and she leaned to look through the opening, acutely aware that this brought her body perilously close to his lap.

The lake sprawled at the side of their conveyance, the water undulating lightly in the breeze as afternoon clouds gathered. Into it grew a spit of rock and on top it a castle, stout in stone and strong in somber presence. It was far larger than the house she’d left behind. Gloomier and more glorious, too.

She wondered how long it would be before she could once again see it from this or any vantage point. Some lords did not allow their women to leave their rooms, let alone the courtyard. Especially not the newly arrived, who might attempt to steal a path out of marriage by seeking the luring company of nymphs at the bottom of lakes.

She let her gaze linger on the castle before straightening.

“It is beautiful, My Lord,” she said.

His eyes narrowed then relaxed and she was glad she didn’t need to lie about it. He’d probably know if she had.

“Your new home,” he noted, almost kindly.

Her stomach lurched. Home or jail, there may not really be a difference. Still, as the carriage continued toward the future that this man had proposed and her father had accepted, she felt she may have passed some test that if she managed to maintain the credit of, could bring her — if not safety or protection — then perhaps a lesser measure of misery.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto challenge

 

Keepsake

Photo prompt: http://mrg.bz/n22FGA 

 

He kept it all these years.

A memento of sorts. Something to remember things by. A penance, perhaps. Or a tribute. Sometimes he wasn’t sure which one it was. Or both.

Some nights he’d leave their bed, her light breath highlighting the heaviness that had kept him from sleeping, and walk to the garage just to look at it. To remind himself of what is real and what was possible and what should never once again take place.

Even if it could.

It was the only lie he’d ever told her, though in truth it had led to many more lies — of omission, of deflection, of withholding aspects of himself he could not let her know about. Not ever.

Or did he someplace hope to one day let her know?

For why else would he keep it?

Sometimes he thought that his refusal to do away with it was his way of warning. Himself. To not allow himself to fall into an illusion of what he was not. Perhaps a warning to her, too, to read between the lines of what he couldn’t tell her.

Of the damage he could do. Even in accident. To the ones he’d loved.

 

 

 

For the Sunday Photo Fiction challenge

 

Chew On This

blaze bonfire campfire dark

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

He had never been so hungry.

Not even when he’d gone without food for three days to win a dare. Perhaps because at least then the food was there, available to him had he gotten too weak or ravenous enough to render the challenge unappetizing.

He’d won that bet. And the mountain bike his friend was cocky enough to suggest as the prize.

The same bike — and all his gear atop it — that now lay twisted at the end of some ravine he had no hope of reaching. The bike that would have dragged him down to the same end had he not, in some unknown reflex of survival, thrown himself off the seat and against the rocky walls of what he’d thought was a sort-of-trail.

It first it was the abrasions that caused him the most suffering. The skinless arms and cheek. The raw wound on his shoulder where his shirt had ripped.

Then night came and it was the cold.

And the next day, the hunger.

He had nothing on him. No knife. No phone. Not even a lighter. He’d been so proud to dress the bike with a complicated harness to carry everything he needed for his week-long trek. Now he was naked of supplies. Bare of any protection or wherewithal, alone in the wilderness, and ignorant of how to make do without the gadgets he’d never given a thought to the possibility of not having.

Ignorant, too, of the consequences of veering off the path “to test the bike’s capabilities.” He had told a couple of friends he was planning to go for a bike ride, but he had planned to surprise them with his accomplishment post-trek, and in his hubris did not notify them when, where to, or how long for.

Off the trail and into the “uncharted.” He’d felt strong. He’d felt courageous. He’d felt the braggadocio reverberating underneath his ribs.

Now no one knew where he was.

Or when to expect him.

Or that he deseprately needed aid.

He’d never been so hungry. Or so tired. Or so hurting. Or so scared.

He couldn’t help thinking of how someone would one day find what was left of him. That is if some animal did not find him first.

He stopped to rest when the new blisters on his feet had burst and the pain of another raw place was too much to manage.

His shoulder throbbed. His head. His hand where it had slammed against the rock and left two of his fingers black and unbending. He checked the sky and realized a third day was about to end and he was just as lost as he had been the ones before. And hungrier.

He cried a bit. There was no one in front of whom to be ashamed.

Or so he thought.

He woke to warmth and thought he’d died already. The weight of something on his torso must have been the earth, though he couldn’t bother to try and consider who’d have dug a grave.

Then a smell wafted to him and his stomach clenched in painful hunger. Surely not even hell would torment so in death!

He cracked open an eyelid to the view of a lively fire and a shadowed figure stirring something over a corner of coals. He blinked. The figure was still there. He swallowed, and his mouth was not as dry as it should have been. There was a taste of sweetness on his tongue, as well. He coughed just to hear his own voice.

The head swiveled toward him and he could not discern any of its features against the brightness of the flames. A hand reached back into a pack and rummaged, then the legs straightened and the person unfurled and stepped toward him. He squinted but still could not see the face. He wasn’t even sure it was a man.

“Here,” the voice confirmed. A woman, and not a young one. Not warm but by her actions so far, not unkind. “Jerky. Chew on this until the stew is done.”

 

 

 

For Linda’s SoCS challenge: Chew/Choo

 

Blessings and a Whisper

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

Lush grass now grew over the span of stones, though none had grown there in the many years when the passage of feet had mowed and flattened any seedling that had found a crack in which to nestle.

The water gurgled as it had, though, flowing like a ribbon of careless abandon underneath. Incoming. Through. Not one look back. Away.

She wondered if the fish silvering in the stream were the descendants of the ones who’d flapped among the rocks and dove out of the reach of all manner of two-legged hunters. Their instincts certainly remained the same.

Like hers.

Honed by years of flight, and generations of bare escape from calamity and disaster and all manner of two-legged hunters’ spread of misery.

For centuries the stones of the old bridge had been the thoroughfare of goods and news — both good and not — from isolated farms to the town’s market and from the town into the farms, and in that order. It had withstood war and fights and blight and playful dares and cruel shove-overs. It streamed with rain and baked with sun and creaked with ice and endured more than one direct hit of lightning. It had heard the laughter of small children and the cries of same, sometimes not much later after. Where rugged wheels and heavy hooves had carved ruts of rattling passage, now weeds took hold to cover any sign of man.

It stood deserted, and perhaps relieved, since the new and wider bridge was built a bit further downstream. The modern pathway accommodated simultaneous travel in both directions as it carried the weight of the machines that belched dark stains onto its tar.

She’d been warned against attempting to put any weight on the old bridge. They all were. “It’s held by no more than blessings and a whisper,” her grandmother had cautioned. “One step onto the wrong stone and it could collapse.”

And yet, it had outlasted both Grandmother’s life and Mother’s and seemed poised to outlast hers, as well. Perhaps blessings and a whisper were better mortar than the speeding up of time.

“And you don’t have much long to wait to outlast me,” she murmured as she walked to the water and bent to dip her palm. Cold.

As she would be, sans blessings or a whisper, before much more water churned indifferently along, passed under the bridge, and was gone.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge

 

Therefore

dream catchers OsnatHalperinBarlev

Photo: Osnat Halperin-Barlev

 

It has come to her before.

The message that had felt like lore

And made a home

Inside her core.

It ricocheted in her heart

Amidst the four walls

Of her soul.

Her spirit knew it,

And therefore,

She left her door open

For more.

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS challenge: For/Fore/Four

 

 

In Translation

valentin-salja-762005-unsplash

Photo: Valentin Salja via unsplash

 

“You can’t do it.” Lizbeth scowled.

Betty shrugged a shoulder at her cousin and put the hand-bound manuscript in the box beside her.

“You’ll ruin it.”

“I won’t,” Betty countered. “I’ll be gentle.”

“That’s not what I meant!” Lizbeth folded her arms and planted her feet firmly on the dusty floor of their late aunt’s apartment. Her color rose. She was jealous but would never admit it.

Betty always got the best of everything: Summer camp, long visits with Aunt Mathilde, a degree in writing, even a dad who taught her Swedish.

“I’ll be gentle in my translation,” Betty caressed Aunt Mathilde’s poetry booklet. “Dad will help. Her words languished long enough without being read.”

 

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Translation in 115 words

 

 

When She Leaves

shallow focus photography of brown tree trunk

Photo: Mahima on Pexels.com

 

When she leaves, there will be time enough for all the things that should have happened and yet didn’t. When she leaves, a space will open to allow what was yearned for but manifested not. When she leaves — in a week or month or year or decade — a leaf would turn to let the newness grow.

When she leaves.

Yet for the time being she remains.

She has no choice. Or not a real one.

She plods along the rutted path made by the heavy feet she’d dragged so many times before. She does what must be done. She smiles. She nods. She cooks. She holds.

She finds in every day a small reminder of the hope. A sliver of a dream. A memory of what is yet to come.

It sustains her.

It has to.

It’s all she has.

Until she leaves.

 

 

 

For the SoCS writing prompt: Leaves

 

 

Contented

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

There was nothing wrong with her beyond that she could not abide much in the way of interference, and had always preferred the company of fair-folk and the song of wind and dust-in-light to the over-stimulating presence of other humans.

She’d gotten through the requisites of growing up: the schools, the get-togethers, the expectation of having friends, the beck and call of work one needed in order to make a living. She’d endured the close proximity when needful, but mostly let the din of people’s voices wash over her like an avalanche, while she curled up inside her mind and sustained herself on preserved pockets of precious solitude.

Most wouldn’t have believed her had she laid bare her wistfulness for isolation. Or perhaps some would have, but had never said it. She did not much care to find out which of the two or neither it was.

Three decades had passed and the half of another, before she began wondering if she’d live to see the exit of another year or self-combust under the pressure of life’s demands for what felt like constant interaction.

Then Aunt Carolina passed. She left behind a small fortune in savings bonds and an old house no one would have wanted. The latter was to be torn down and the land sold to become someone else’s problem.

Or so the estate managers thought.

Cilia fought them with a ferociousness that surprised her at least as much as it had anyone who’d ever known her. It wasn’t that she’d been a pushover till then, only that she had never found it worth the effort to try and exchange one relative discomfort with another. This was different.

This house was what she suddenly did not know how she had ever lived without.

In the end they relented after she gave up all claims to any of the funds Aunt Carolina had left. She’d get only the cottage and its contents. None of her cousins — not even Marley-the-Meddler — objected. Their share grew with her out of the pie.

The attorney warned her that the house would sooner gobble up what savings she had than be a home that could house her. “The gloomy place is centuries old,” he warned. “It doesn’t even have running water.”

“Aunt Carolina had lived there till she died,” was her retort.”She bathed. I’ll manage.”

She did much more than that.

For the first time in her life she could feel herself actually breathing.

The garden’s stone walls wrapped around her like a hug of moss and ancient patience. The cottage creaked and cracked and breathed as if it was itself alive with memories and whispered sighs of times before. And she did not have to explain to anyone how none of that was a menace. The walls held echoes of calm solitude. The garden wreathed itself in growth. The birds chirped. The kits of a fox mewled. The silence gleamed.

She knew why Aunt Carolina had refused to leave.

“We are like twins stretched over several generations,” she murmured into the fire as the wind whistled in the chimney and the elves made a racket in the trees outside her door. “You must have known, someplace, that I will need to find this. As you had, in your time.”

She stretched her feet and giggled at the big toe that the hole in her sock had liberated. A wooden box sat, heavy, in her lap.

She’d come across it in the crawlspace earlier that afternoon. She’d climbed up after a noise she thought was a squirrel’s nestlings. Instead she found a loose board, half-an-inch of dust, and a pile of rags atop a box.

“The house and all its contents,” she smiled in recollection of Aunt Carolina’s will. “I should have known you’d leave more than enough behind to keep the roof above us for another eon.”

 

 

 

For the Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge