Against The Flow

under-new-bridge Crispina Kemp

CCC #68

 

“This won’t do,” Marc shook his hard-hatted head and lifted the dreaded red marker to the clipboard.

Nicholas scratched under his own protective gear in effort to control his irritation. Marc’s been insufferable ever since he’d been promoted, parading with his supervisor’s  paraphernalia as if it made him a demigod. For the millionth time, Nicholas wondered whether Bob The Builder — their blue coveralls donning boss — had assigned him to Marc’s team just to get back at him for the moniker. As if it was Nicholas’s fault that the man fit the cartoon character to a T.

“How come not?” he managed when the silence lingered.

“The arrow,” Marc pointed the board across the water.

“What about the arrow?!” Nicholas snarled. He almost fell, painting the darn thing while standing in a dingy.

“Pointing the wrong way,” Marc smirked in evident satisfaction. “Won’t do to go against the flow, you know.”

 

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge #68

 

Hide And Go Seek

memory SueVincent

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

It was the best place to play hide and go seek.

At least, that’s what they wanted him to think.

It was also the best place to go missing.

Not that they’d tell him. …

He had no reason to suspect anything was amiss. Not when the whole troop of them had ran together all the way to the weathered monoliths that dotted the small glens by the ancient cliffs. Not when the game had ensued with much merry running and grabbing and stone-circling. Not even when most of the children had headed back home for supper as dusk neared, but he was invited to stay “and play a bit longer” with a handful of the most popular kids.

He was new in town. He felt included. He felt welcomed.

He should have felt scared.

“He just disappeared,” they later said. “We thought he’d gone home with the others.”

“It has happened before,” their parents nodded, wrapping arms around the shoulders of their feet-shuffling children and forming a united wall against the ashen faces of the boy’s parents, the newcomers who never should have come, who never could belong. “The boy must have wandered away in faded light and fallen into a sinkhole.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

Upstaged

 

The lights seemed brighter than usual that night. The music louder than remembered. The movements blurred. The words slurred. The heels on the wood rung jackhammers in his head.

He clenched his teeth and dug his nails into the worn velvet of his seat to keep from squirming.

She’d worked so hard for this.

The years of training. The months of practice. The weeks of rehearsals. The days of excited anxiety as the premiere neared. The long awaited curtain calls.

He was not going to let his daughter’s performance be upstaged by a migraine. Or a stroke. Or an aneurysm.

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

 

Kultuk

elijah-hiett-GEmpHF7zjrQ-unsplash

Nikiski, USA (Photo: Elijah Hiett on Unsplash)

 

“The spirits of water and sun fought with the spirits of snow and ice well before the white man came to this land aiming to tame them.” The old man spoke softly, punctuating his words with silence. “Our people did not fight the spirits. Birth and death. Light and dark. The Tinneh accept them as they do life.”

The elder’s story was met with quiet nods of respect. There was no need for sound when another was speaking. A log crackled in the fire and the hush of waves sang on the shore instead.

“Our Tinneh ancestors have lived here ever since Walrus and Whale were born from the womb of Water Spirit. The white man calls this place Nikiski. It is a fine name, but not as fine as the name it already has. Just like the seal that swims unseen, Kultuk still lives under the new name’s ice.”

 

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Nikiski, Alaska

 

 

Tacked On

whitewashed-mill-in-mist-cp CrispinaKemp

 

The house was there first. Small and determined, it huddled against constant winds, braved the sun, stood fast through raging dust-storms and the terror of lightning.

Years passed. The land yielded. The silo was built. A practical thing, meant to store the grain in. However, tacked on as it was, snug into the back wall of the cabin with nary a breath of space between, it also contained hope. It held the promise for winter stews and for bread rising in the oven even long after the growing months had gone and there was little sign of nascent greening, let alone of next harvest’s ripening.

The silo became another sturdy thing to be led home by. There when ice rode in and clouds breathed snow and the cabin was too lonely in the vastness of being. Together they formed a home. An oasis of nourishing.

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

Perfect

spring SueVincent

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

Finally, the light was right, the water mirrored what it ought, the sky spread silk above her head. Even the dotted white of sheep lent the necessary movement to what might otherwise feel a specter of a time too soon or too late.

It was perfect.

Stella pressed the sole of one foot against the trunk and leaned into the tree behind her, balancing the rest of her weight on the other leg. All through her childhood, this preferred pose of hers had driven her mother to distraction.

Though long passed, the memory of a particular exchange about it was yet to fade.

“God gave you two feet to stand on. Use them!” Her mother had demanded.

Stella must have been six or seven years old then. “I am,” she had countered, exasperated with the constant admonitions of what felt to her a perfectly reasonable way to stand. “God also gave me a knee that bends. I’m using that, too.”

Her mother had made her “use her bending knees” to kneel on dried peas for most of that evening, punishment for using God’s name in impertinence. Apparently God also gave children the gift of parents they were not supposed to talk back to.

Stella had carried the bruises of that evening for weeks thereafter, and the ache for longer. She learned to keep quiet when reprimanded, and to adjust her posture and compose her face and straighten her back and never slouch or run or climb or get mud on her skirts or expose her legs. But she still found ways for small rebellions. And whenever she was out of her mother’s line of sight, Stella never did stop planting one sole against a tree or wall when standing. Not even when her brother, whose maleness allowed him liberties that would not be tolerated in a girl, gave her secret away by calling her “Stella Stork.”

And a kind of stork I indeed am, she thought to herself, and pressed her foot into the tree in a sigh of freed determination.

Midwifery did not quite pay the bills. Nor did her artistry through painting. However, between the two callings she had found a certain kind of balance. Granted, she often got paid for the former in apples and hens’ eggs, and while those filled her belly they did not translate into peat or cloth or rent. However, the commissioned illustrations for “Country Ladies” magazine did compensate in some coin, and she had recently been asked to provide a “pastoral series.”

Stella gazed at the scene, adjusted her easel, lifted her brush, and leaned further into the trunk behind her. The past receded. The future waited. The present moment lingered, perfect, as the hours rolled.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Write Photo

 

 

Digging To China

KeithKreates250

Photo: Keith Channing

 

“Winter is the best for digging!”

Icicles hung from Snout’s whiskers, and his tail wagged excitement. The cookies-n-cream dog had two settings: asleep and overexcited.

It was exhausting.

Dumbo yawned. She stood under the dubious cover of a naked tree, and tried to make the least contact between her paw-pads and the frozen ground. Soon enough their human would stop staring into the hypnotizing rectangle, realize that he can do the same thing indoors, and “Cum’eer” them home. All she could do in the meanwhile was endure.

A bird took flight from a branch above her head and a pelt of snow plonked right onto Dumbo’s back. A shudder traveled from the tip of her nose to the end of her tail, shedding snow as it went. Now she was wet as well as cold. Stupid bird didn’t even have the decency to pick a different tree limb to launch itself from.

Dumbo hated winter.

She hated rain. And ice. And snow. And hail. And wind. And any type of weather that didn’t come with a built-in dry spot to sun herself in, preferably without any flying insects or pull-on-your-ears baby-humans or a housemate that believes the only kind of recreation befitting a dog is one that involves digging smelly things out of the ground.

She should’ve been born a cat.

Cats don’t have to go out in all weathers just to relieve themselves, and no one expects them to sniff others’ butts or follow orders or look happy about it. It was beneath a dog to be envious of a feline, but there it was.

“Come dig!” Snout barked enthusiastically.

“No thanks,” she muttered.

“You’re wet already, might as well have fun!” the smaller dog almost disappeared into the white mounds, paws tunneling in double speed into the frozen substance on the ground.

The human looked up, smiled, and pointed the hypnotizing rectangle at Snout’s behind, before checking the contraption, and raising it again in Snout’s direction.

Great. Mini-dog images. It meant they’d be stuck outside for another era. Who cares if the tip of Dumbo’s tail was ready to fall off from the cold.

“Come dig!” Snout yipped. “There’s stuff underneath here. Who knows what we’ll find!”

Dumbo yawned again and licked her chops in irritation. Go dig yourself to China, she thought, and stay there, too … see if I mind.

 

 

 

For Keith’s Kreative Kue #250

 

Bauble Bob

tolhouse CrispinaKemp

 

His father declared him hopeless. His mother bemoaned his daydreaming. His brother called the boy a fool. His teachers rapped his knuckles, dressed him in the dunce’s cap, slapped his head. Nothing helped. His mind continued meandering and his pockets remained filled with bauble nonsense.

By the time Bob turned sixteen, the village elders had resigned themselves to him becoming one who loitered by the stream, carried water for the old, and attracted the cruelties of the young.

The last thing anyone expected was that Lord Bailey’s new wife, who hired the young man for the price of bread and ale to repair some fallen stone in her abode, would so enjoy the river rocks and pebbles utilized as repairs by Bauble Bob, that she’d have him adorn her gate, her walls, even her door.

Soon enough there wasn’t a manor around he hadn’t been called to restore.

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge #66

 

 

The Way It Used To Be

storm SueVincent

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: