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

Cryptography

https://crimsonprose.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/no-junk-mail-1.jpg?w=640&h=427

 

“How would this work, exactly?”

Jason shrugged and bent to scratch a bug-bite on his ankle, shaggy mane covering his face.

Mark narrowed his eyes. “Seriously, Man, who’d put a mailbox on a crypt?”

Jason straightened, and not for the first time, Mark couldn’t help but think of puppets with too many strings and too few fingers to operate them. Everything about Jason was too long, too lanky, too loose. It was as if someone had forgotten to tighten the screws in his friend’s joints. He’d known Jason since Second-grade, yet something about seeing his classmate’s movements in this setting, woke a bell of alarm in Mark’s belly.

He moves like a mummy, he realized. Shuddered. Shook it off.

“My Granny says some use it,” Jason replied, oblivious.

“For real?”

The tow-headed boy nodded. “Requests for revenge, mostly, she says. After all, it is the crypt of a mass-murderer.”

 

 

For Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

Two By Two

twins OfirAsif

Photo: Ofir Asif

 

“Do we have to?”

“For the hundredth time … yes, we do!”

“But no one else is going!”

“No one else will be around for long.”

She felt his pouting through the ground. His clomping had a rhythm for each mood, and this one spelled: I’m thinking of an answer to refute you. She counted his foot-beats and waited. Never took more than a minute, with this kind.

“So Noah says.”

She couldn’t help but smile at his predictability. “So he does.”

His tetchy steps continued, unconvinced.

She said nothing but upped their pace a bit. It wouldn’t do to be late for this one. They cleared the lee of a dune and a gust of wind blew sand into their faces. She shook her head to clear it from her ears.

“And you believe him?”

At that she paused and turned her head toward him. “I’d rather believe him than perish.”

“But look!” He bellowed, and if she hadn’t known him well she would’ve missed the fear under the notes of clear frustration. “There’s not a drop around.”

She sighed. For all her projected certainty, he was voicing the doubts she did not let herself express. The blue skies mocked her loyalty, and the parched ground billowed dusty clouds as proof of the utter lunacy of leaving the herd to follow some two-legged prophet and his nightmare.

And yet, her own dreams had been filled with thunder. She’d wake startled, breathless with the premonition of a fruitless escape from tumbling mud that rose above the highest dune and all the way to the horizon and beyond.

She breathed and chewed her cud a moment before resuming her walking. She’d rather be a fool who lives. Especially with the calf that she could feel kicking in her womb.

“Noah said he’ll have fresh hay and all the food and water we can stomach,” she cajoled.

“Alfalfa, too?”

She grunted her assent along with her amusement. Her mate had always been partial to alfalfa, and the rare treat’s season had long passed.

“He promised some of that, yes. And barrel-loads of dates.”

His footfalls overtook hers, excited now. “Dates?! Why didn’t you say that sooner? Stop dawdling and pick up your feet! How much farther to that ark, you said?”

 

 

 

 

For Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Two

 

Weighted

Weighted SmadarHalperinEpshtein (2)

Photo: Smadar Halperin-Epshtein

 

The weight of the world

On his shoulders.

His heart thumps a fatigue

In his chest.

Eons stretch

Since certain with brawn

He sought

With his strength

To impress.

 

 

For Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: open topic

 

 

They Bowed

Photo prompt: Sue Vincent

 

“They bow, you see,” Mir explained.

The child held on silently to his hand.

Mir peered down at the small head, so uncharacteristically still, the red curls shining like molten gold under the sun.

The quiet lingered and Mir did not break it. More words would not change how there was only so much one could say about some things.

A bird fleeted close. A bee buzzed by. Somewhere a donkey brayed and a dog’s bark answered.

Still the child did not move.

Mir let the air in and out of his lungs mark the passage of time, even as he knew it would not be measured in the same way by the child. Nor would it matter. Time is rarely what it seems to be, anyhow.

The air shimmered. The scent of smoke wafted from someplace beyond the fields, and in it mixed the faintest hints of manure and baking bread.

A caterpillar inched its way atop a blade of grass.

“There is no wind,” the child finally noted.

“There is not,” Mir confirmed.

“Are they tied together?”

“They are holding limbs.”

The child looked at her own hand in her grandfather’s. She did not look up, but Mir could feel the connection being made as it wove a thread of understanding between the two of them, between them all.

A hush fell. Then a sudden breeze rippled through the field and whistled an unnamed sound as it passed through the stacks. The tips nodded.

The child bowed back.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Thursday Photo Prompt: Wicker

 

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

 

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

 

Bayou Bridged

City Park (New Orleans) - Wikipedia
City Park, New Orleans (Photo: en.wikipedia.org)

 

They always met in the park. There were spirits there, too, of course: The drowned. The lost. The desperate. The abandoned young. However, these tended to be the milder spirits, mellowed by moss and rain and the freedom to roam on whispery winds. House spirits were harsher, meaner, and angrier. They carried histories of rape and whippings and the smaller everyday murders that chip at a soul until there is nothing left but agony and bitterness.

It was better to meet in the park, on a bridge between this world and the other, chiseled by masons, anchored by time.

She lowered herself onto the top stair and waited. She’d hear him come, but she would not turn. He did not bear to be looked upon.

“I will take him across,” he’d said when they last met. And he had. It was a gentle death.

Now it was her mother’s time.

 

 

For What Pegman Saw

Messenger

Messenger DvoraFreedman

Photo: Dvora Freedman

 

Above it soars,

Large feathers splayed,

A messenger

Of times ahead.

With blessings given,

Seasons’ change,

It rises

O’er the home range.

 

 

For Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: In flight

 

May Apple

Mayapple flower PhilipCoons

Photo: Philip Coons

 

Not ripe in May

Not quite an apple

Mandrake grows best

In partial dapple.

No screams will sound

When it is pulled

Though tales will try

To have you fooled.

The fruit is fine

In moderation

But beware of higher

Concentration.

Medicinal

Though it may well be,

Won’t eat the seeds

If it were me.

 

 

For Cee’s Flower of the Day