Ablution

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Photo: Ales Krivec on Unsplash: Vintgar, Slovenia

 

The Radovna pooled itself and waited for her ablution. Still. Clear. Shattering in its beauty and perfection.

Everything she was not.

Hers was more the unfettered rush, cutting gorges, collecting all manner of debris, and lugging along tumbled things that poked their heads out of the milky froth of living.

There were no still ponds in her being.

She looked at the icicles suspended from rocks above the freezing water. They were guarding it.

From beings that did not deserve to be cleansed.

Like herself.

Hom and Boršt rose above the gorge, patient and unbending. The beech trees on the slopes, stripped bare for winter, rustled as they waited to witness her own naked skin.

Her eyes lifted to the bridge, though she expected no one on it. The area was closed to tourists in the winter. Only the locals came, alone, to seek absolution in the Radovna’s icy bowl.

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Slovenia

 

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

 

 

The Way Of Stars

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

They were like stars, swirling low and high across the sky, marking the path of time and soul and light and dark and what will come and what had been.

As the murmuration rose and swelled, so did the sorrow in her chest, as did tears, and longing, and gratitude.

Her grandmother had told her once, that murmurs were a way of making stars. Flocking in elegant waves across the heavens, to the places far above, where movement wasn’t labored and where breath no longer hurt and where hearts beat in the unison of souls that know all separation is only an illusion.

She held on, remembering, her tears a stream to feed flowers that would grow to feed the small things that would feed the starlings that would murmur to make stars to house beloved souls. And she thought of how the murmur in her chest – which made sound and sobs – ached and expanded as the birds’ wings wove and rose and dipped and dove.

For it was like being seen.

The starlings’ dance a last hello, a soft goodbye, a blessing on the wind.

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Write Photo: Murmur

 

 

 

Where It Broke Out

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

“This is where it broke out.”

Bender shaded his eyes from the glare and squinted at the black patch on the meandering snake of ice.

“Tis a mighty small one, then,” he noted.

Roman frowned. “That hole is bigger up close. And anyway, you should’ve seen the length of it.”

Bender shrugged and took a few steps closer, daring Roman to do the same. The ice crunched under their feet, a staccato to their accelerating heartbeat.

They would be punished for walking here. The Winter Gods had taken too many who strayed onto what masqueraded as solid ground but was in fact bog fairies lurking beneath frosted fronds. Even in summer these flats were dangerous, full of sinkholes and swampy ponds that sucked at your feet and then leeched out your blood. Children were outright forbidden from entering the bog.

Which made the space all the more alluring to boys who had to prove bravery and test the lore.

For there was a boy, the stories told, who got swallowed by a sinkhole only to be adopted by the creek and made half-human and half-snake. He could breathe both in the air and underwater, and came to hunt in winter, when other snakes were slowed by cold.

Some had said they’d seen it, slithering among the silver plants by dusk and dawn. Some even claimed to have escaped its grasp — for the half-boy-half-snake had arms that ended in sharp claws held close to it’s lower body as it undulated silently toward its prey. One man had four parallel scars upon his calf that he said were the proof of his escaping the creature.

Roman said he’d seen it, slipping out of the ice.

Bender never could trust Roman’s sight, influenced as it tended to be by what his friend wished to see but often did not. Still, to say so would be showing him a coward … so … Bender took another step, crunching deeper into the foreboding land.

Behind him, Roman breathed out clouds of exhalation accentuated by shorter puffs of terror. “Perhaps it had gone back in already,” he whispered.

“Yeah,” Bender gasped in barely masked relief. “Must have. After all, it is almost full light. Nothing for it but for us, too, to head back.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto prompt

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