Itsy Eats it!

 

She’d had it with replacing the gate five times in a season.

She’d had it with coming back from any length of trip to find her garden in shambles, her gazebo in ruins, and her abode filled with debris. There were always some of her favorite things broken or missing.

Something had to be done.

This might not look like it’d stop determined burglars, but it should at least cause pause to the majority. If any dared try.

It didn’t matter that it was made of bent reeds, or that she’d been advised to seal the opening with bricks. Too much stone felt heavy. And anyway, she found pleasing beauty in the symmetry, in the way light filtered through. It was like a window to the world.

Also, Itsy came with references and guaranteed the work.

“Itsy build,” the industrious worker promised. “And if something break in. Itsy eats it.”

 

 

 

For the Crimson Creative Challenge #51

 

 

Poke Practice

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

“I’ll flunk.”

Malinda sighed. Her brother needed an inordinate amount of putting up with.

“You’ll be fine,” she forced calmness into her voice. In part because she felt bad for him — Jerrod had always been too sensitive and too-tightly wound — and in part because she did not wish to then have even more of his perceived wounding to bandage.

“I’ve flunked it before.”

He had. Three times.

“You were younger and you were less experienced,” Malinda soothed. “Here, have some tea. It’ll calm your nerves.”

Jerrod folded his legs and lowered himself to the floor, only to spring back up and resume pacing.

“What if I don’t pass this time, either?” the youth fretted. His hair was plastered against his bony cheeks and his gray eyes appeared sunken under the woolen hood of his cloak.

Malinda took a deep breath. It was becoming increasingly difficult to believe that the morose youngster was ever the cherub-faced toddler she’d cuddled to sleep, and whose ringlets were impossible to resist poking a finger through.

Poking. … How odd that this was what her memory conjured. Or perhaps not so odd. Considering.

“Sit, Jerrod,” she repeated, putting an order behind her voice. He was not helping himself by fanning the flames of anxiety. He needed controlled calm in order to tame flame.

He sat and she handed him the wooden cup filled with steaming liquid.

“What’s in it?” his voice rose with a wariness she knew had nothing to do with the contents of the tea.

“Pine and honey. Nothing altering. You know I would not break the rules about such things.”

“Not even for me?”

His vulnerability and neediness grated. She breathed to calm herself. She could not ask of him what she did not require of herself. “Not even to you,” she emphasized. “One cannot poke fire when their own mind is on the flee.”

He blushed. He knew that. Everyone did.

“I’m scared,” he admitted, nose buried in the drink.

“I know,” she said gently. “Let the fear become the center of your gravity, then send it through your arm. Use it to concentrate your force. Fear is energy. Make it work for you.”

“Is that what you did?”

Malinda felt her eyebrows rise. People did not ask others how they’d passed their Poke Test. She was of a mind to remind her brother of the intrusiveness of his query, but she knew it would only further increase Jerrod’s sense of isolation. Perhaps others did not ask because they did not feel the need to. Obviously he did.

“Yes,” she replied, and the word brought back the trepidation she’d felt. The mix of terror and excitement, the flush of fear that became an arrow of determined indignation. She had passed. On the very first try.

She closed her eyes at the revisiting of the panic and the thrill.

She’d just completed her one-digit years and became eligible for attempting the Poke Test. To tame and manipulate fire was to be afforded the respect suitable for one who mastered the life-element they could none of them survive without. Fire was life. To know it, to master it, was a necessity and therefore a right of passage.

Some, like her, passed the Poke Test soon after turning ten. Jerrod had tried, and failed. And tried, and failed. And tried and failed again. Cowering before the flame he was reduced to tears, allowing the tongues of fire to do as they wished. He could not master it. It mastered him.

He was thirteen now. The oldest among those who were yet to conquer fire. Save for Leon, who was almost twenty but soft in the head. Even Sandra, who was blind, had tamed the blaze by twelve.

“Yes,” Malinda repeated. “I was afraid, but I turned that fear into a wand and ordered the flames to bend to my will.”

“A wand?” Jerrod’s eyes met hers, and she hoped that the glimmer she saw in them was of will-power rather than the sheen of anticipated defeat.

She nodded. The sound of bugle resonated. It was time.

“Come, brother,” she grabbed his hand and pulled him up to a stand. “Today, you pass from child to man. Go and tame the fire with your wand.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Write Photo challenge

 

 

Stone Face

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

She stood on the ledge and watched the edge of the world dissolve into fire.

It had been a long day, waiting. He did not come. She did not know when he could. Only that he would when he managed to get free.

As she had.

It was their place. Before. It will be their home. Now.

They’d found the small cave down the rock-face when they were still children frolicking in the waves. They’d been rolling with a large piece of driftwood one day when the currents had taken them farther than they’d expected. They’d tried to reverse course but it was futile to fight the sea. It was after reality had set in and they’d began to fret in earnest, that they’d spotted what looked like a black tooth on the jagged cliff. As Merlin tried to point to it, the log rolled, depositing the two of them into the waves and bestowing a farewell knock on Marla’s head. It had gone black behind her eyes after that.

Merlin had managed to drag her to and onto the surf-beaten rocks, scraping both of them raw in the process. He claimed the seals had helped him and she never doubted it. Nor that the seals had likely rolled the log in the only spot the two of them might’ve had a chance of getting to the shore unbroken.

They had clawed their way slowly up to the ledge, crying and more than a little frightened, only to find that what had appeared a black tooth from the sea, was in fact a cave’s mouth that was dry and deep enough to offer shelter. The marvel had calmed them enough to explore, and they’d found a precarious but doable foot- and hand-hold way to gain access up to the top of the cliff. And from there across the moors home.

They’d made a pact to never tell anyone about “Stone Face” — named for how the features could be read in the rock above the ledge. They suffered the indignities of being mocked for slipping into a whirlpool — the story they’d made up to explain their miserable condition and the lateness of their arrival home — and they endured the punishment of being forbidden from going to play in the water for the rest of that long summer, and the drudgery of extra chores.

It did not matter. Their secret sustained them. As had their rare visits to Stone Face via the barely-there climbing way. It was their refuge and all the more a miracle to them for how no one had known of it (or at least not in their lifetime, for there were signs of hearth-fires on the blackened ceiling and some stone flakes that could cut deep and might’ve been a tool in someone’s hand). It was their place of hopes and dreams and stories.

Then time came and Merlin was indentured to the Smithy, and Marla was sent off to scrub the floors and bear the fists and the bastard children of Lord Bowery, a man of no nobility in deportment or form. She tried to endure him, but the core of her rebelled against his injustices and his brutal invasions. She fled.

The Smithy’s apprentice was due to bring brackets to the manor’s door that week. She had to trust that he would find out she was gone.

And that he would come for her.

To make Stone Face, home.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto: Stillness

 

 

A Net of Ents

Grimm AmitaAsif

Photo: Amitai Asif

 

“I am not going in there!”

Maxim sighed. “We must. It’s the only way.”

Stringer shook his head. “That place is haunted. Ghosts and goblins and who knows. I bet all the creepy things from the Underworld hide here, too.”

“The Underworld isn’t real.”

Stringer gave his friend a searching look. Maxim’s voice sounded a bit less certain than Stringer would have liked it to.

“Why does it have to be us, anyway?” Stringer pouted. Every cell in his body told him to flee, to leave, to get as much distance as he can between himself and this brooding, mossy, drippy, dark, tangled, creepy forest.

“Because.” Maxim lifted his chin, exposing a scrawny neck that had only gotten more birdlike in recent weeks. “Look, I’m scared, too, but even Mathilde said it was the only way.”

“She’s just an old crone,” Stringer scratched at a scab before glancing around guiltily and lowering his voice (one never knew if she might be listening and he did not fancy ending up in a cauldron), “and a witch.”

“Exactly.”

Stringer sniffed. He hated it when Maxim got the last word and even more when Maxim was right.

Mathilde was gnarly and bent and more than a little odoriferous (whether it was lack of bathing or the miasma of whatever it is she must be concocting in that iron pot that was forever perched over the fire, he didn’t know and didn’t dare ask). She was the oldest person he’d ever seen. Indeed if anyone would know about the procedure for removing spells, it would be her … and she had been clear that the one they sought to have lifted was beyond her skill.

“Only Ents,” she’d croaked and hacked up something Stringer was certain was more than just phlegm. “Ten of them. If there are even that many left. Only they can undo an enchantment net. And only if they agree, which they don’t always. Best keep your wits about ya when ya enter Old Growth. Tear a leaf and ya’d well end up lacking a finger.”

She’d stirred the pot, giving the quaking boys a full view of her three fingered hand. “That is,” she’d added, “if ya exit there at all.”

The whole way to the ancient forest, Stringer and Maxim avoided discussing the meaning or implications of Mathilde’s words. Giving it voice was too scary and they were too excited. The hunger had taken someone in every house, and winter was poised to enter empty pantries. All they could think of was what would follow if the hex broke: bowls of broth and bread and beans and oats.

Their stomachs spoke louder than their worries.

Now the edge of the forest stopped them cold.

“Did you see her hand?” Stringer tried.

Maxim nodded.

“Do you think …?”

Maxim’s tunic rose as he shrugged. “Maybe it was frostbite.”

“Yeah.” Better that. Frostbite was awful and utterly non-magical.

“Though …” Maxim’s voice shook, and still he bent resolutely to tuck the edges of his tunic into his leggings and retie his belt so it did not flap. “Best make certain we don’t accidentally trip or tear a leaf or snap off anything.”

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS writing prompt: Ten, Ent, Net

 

 

 

Heads Up

Photo from Morguefile

 

“I never got a chance to get ready!” Tuttie moaned, trying helplessly to wriggle so her mane fell as it ought.

“Shush! I’m trying to watch.” Tussock grumbled.

“Tuttie, your tuft looks fine!” Tilly quipped.

“No, it doesn’t. It’s all blowing in the wind.” Tuttie retorted. She was ever so particular about the way her threads flowed.

“Of course it would move,” Tussock bristled and tried to stand in attention as the clouds flew on the breeze. “When has it ever not been windy here?” Tuttie was annoying, but it irritated him even more that Tilly always perked up to soothe her fussy sibling’s fronds. She should get s spine instead of bowing to every mood. And why did he have to get planted right between these two, anyway?

“You in the periphery, stop swaying like a bunch of leaflets and stand up taller.” Topknot’s voice meant business. “Heads up now. It is almost time.”

The assemblage quieted. It was time for the sun to cross the horizon at the top of the tallest tree. A yearly passing when their ancestors’ fluff could climb aboard the golden orb’s mighty ship, and be carried to their eternal rest beyond the sea.

 

 

 

For the Sunday Photo Fiction prompt

 

 

Elves’ Dew

Basalt Fog KarenForte

Photo: Karen Forte

 

He was a Shrouder, ordained from birth to emerge in mist and fog to collect Elves’ Dew from basalt rocks. Ordinary persons could not discern the quality of water imbued by the Fair Folk. Detecting the elusive shimmer took innate talent and a good amount of training to trust what one saw right on the edge between the real and imagined.

Elves’ Dew. The world’s very spin depended on it, and yet most people did not know or believe it existed.

Thornsten used to think it odd. “Do they really not see or do they refuse to?” he’d asked Boulder. He must have been no taller than the large man’s knee at the time. Four or five summers old at most, and a wee one at height even for that.

Most of them were. Smaller.

Early born. Sickly. Odd in growing. The ones already half-way here and half-way in the other worlds.

Boulder was in that sense an anomaly for a Shrouder. Six-feet-tall and barrel-chested, he could lift rocks the size of a small man and break little sweat for it. He towered over most of common men, let alone the Shrouders he was training. And yet he was a Shrouder, and perhaps the better of them. Or was, some said, till Thornsten.

“They see only in parts,” Boulder had responded. “Like black and white instead of color.”

“But you do not see color,” Thornsten argued. Boulder’s eyes had been milky gray with whitish film from birth. “And anyway, the shimmer has no hue.”

But Boulder had only nodded and said no more and left the boy to wallow in a prolonged pouting and to wrestle whatever meaning he could out of the answer.

It was the way of Shrouders to do so.

A moody tendency that some saw as obstinacy and some excused as a product of having seen the afterlife and been sent back on delayed entry.

Thornsten thought that was odd, too. How else was one to ruminate an understanding without time spent submerged in one’s own moroseness?

In any event, by the time he reached eight summers, he came to think of others’ lack of belief in Elves’ Dew as more of a matter of need for adequate technology for visualizing the mythical. Perhaps a bit like how people hadn’t believed that germs were real only because they could not see them, and so had refused to wash their hands from the effluvia of death before they tended to laboring women. It had been a costly — and for some, a lingering — ignorance. Same could be said for the stubborn denial of the reality of Elves’ Dew, when the essence was mandatory for life’s survival. Would there ever be lenses that could translate Elves’ Dew into what ordinary people saw?

He asked Boulder about it the next time the mountain breathed in their souls and let them know it was time to go collecting.

The cool air pooled around their feet as they climbed. It filled their lungs with memories of moisture. In the midst of resting clouds there shimmered pearls of Elves’ Dew. It boggled Thornsten’s mind that some could not see them when they were clear as morning.

“Perhaps a way would be found,” Boulder answered. “But we best ensure life remains viable until people evolve sufficiently to manage it.”

He bent his bulk and siphoned a few drops into a cask, careful to leave some behind for the Fairies.

“But evolution itself depends on Elves’ Dew,” Thornsten countered.

The large man shrugged in reply and Thornsten knew he’d get no more out of him at the moment.

They worked in silence for a while. Behind him Thornsten felt more than heard the other Shrouders. The small troop had been listening to his conversation as well as to the mountain’s breath.

He pouted, but in spite of him the calm of the misty fog filled his inside eye and guided his hands from rocky dent to basalt shelf to precious drops to cask.

Long moments past.

“It may be you, if anyone,” Boulder added so quietly that Thornsten wasn’t sure he’d actually heard words. Recently he found that thoughts had their own voice, sometimes.

He looked up to see Boulder’s milky eyes resting on him.

“You will lead the Shrouders, Thor, and much sooner than I had imagined.” The man’s mouth did not move but the words formed, crystalline, in Thornsten’s mind. “And it won’t surprise me if you’ll somehow lead the ordinary folk to the marvels for which they had till now been blind.”

 

 

 

For the Friday Fun Foto challenge: Mythical

 

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

Fury

Photo prompt © Sandra Crook

 

He retreated to behind the fence during low tides and sharpened his claws on the aging timbers. He nursed his rage on fantasy and fed his fury on abandoned sea-foam. Some days the seething rose a hurricane that only freezing wind subdued into a smolder. He hissed. He breathed. He knew. He waited.

The time would come.

Waiting both allayed and fanned his urgency. He scraped his restless agony into the wood, that hewed abomination they’d forced onto his bay to tame it. As if it, he, could be. Tamed.

When time returned he’d vanquish them and show no remedy.

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

The Colonists

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

They would come out when dark was complete under a moon that was yet to be reborn.

First a scout would be sent. One not quite old enough to have their wisdom be missed, but not quite so young that they’d be careless or uninformed. It was an honor and a worry, both. For not all scouts returned, and laws dictated that no one is to follow and the outing abandoned until the next dark comes. The safety of the colony outweighed any singular life, no matter how heartbroken they were over losing one of their own or how many nightmares wracked the communal dreams for many sleeps afterwards.

Most times, blessed be the hidden stars, the scout would return safely. If they confirmed that all was as it should be, any who could walk would funnel topside through the tunnels that honeycombed their underground world, and out into the rocky canyon which was formed a million years ago by a whip of light from the stars.

The colony would climb over hills of leaves and navigate the muddy ponds at the bottom of the canyon, all in silence that only the heartbeats in their collective chests would pierce. For the predators were many and the colonists were small and peaceable. They lacked fangs or claws and were opposed to weaponry. The universe that sprawled beyond the walls of their rock canyon provided the provisions they required. They took the danger with the blessings.

Once beyond the relative shelter of the canyon walls, they’d fan out to forage and gather: edible leaves, stalks of grass for feed and weave and bedding, acorns, nuts, seeds, berries, and the occasional fallen fruit or discovered tuber that required many hands to trundle back into the tunnels where they lived.

They’d work until the elder who tracked the darkness passed the whisper to return, and they would fall in line to carry the final batches home.

The last to enter the canyon would pull a broom of leaves behind them – a gesture of traditional thanks for the sustenance, and a practical act for sweeping away many footsteps. The ancients had tunneled pathways for them to emerge into the night from, but there was no need to make those very pathways highways to decimation. They took care to not be known.

With all returned, the elders would seal the rocky door and bless it closed, and the colony would sigh relief as the rock itself would seem to whisper as it settled into slumber til the next unborn moon darkened the sky.

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge

 

Reclaimed Royalty

 

https://naamayehudadotcom.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/7d39a-co.jpg

Lord O’Neill’s Cottage, Ram’s Island (from article in the Dublin Penny journal – 1830s) 

 

He’d come from royalty. Or at least from those who should’ve been but history had been too blind to realize their value. He’d seen promise in his older brother James: a lust for power and a need to force his will onto others. But James hadn’t shown enough self-preservation for a prince. A pity … but at least it left no issue of seniority.

Since childhood the conspiring doctors tried to claim him ill with “grandiosity.”

His mother failed to see. “We come from farmers, Thomas. Always have.”

Perhaps she truly believed her forefathers were but serfs to the O’Neills, but he knew better. He’d seen himself in the drawing, and it fit what he’d always known: He was destined for more, a royal progeny.

He’d take the island by force. It’ll make them realize it was past time he reclaimed what was his by rights, even if forgotten by history.

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Northern Ireland