Upending

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Brugge, Belgium (Photo: Libby Penner on Unsplash)

 

Some call this city “Venice of the North,” but they don’t know the other direction this town goes, and it is not one of the winds.

I know, because I’ve seen it.

Seen what lies beneath the streets, glazed over by blind eyes of tourists snapping photos, dismissed by those who should know better yet still refuse to view.

For the ones beneath need acknowledgement to manifest. Not trust, recognition.

I know, because I don’t trust them. Not one bit. And yet they are there, plain as anything: The Upenders.

They’ve been here before people, and they expect you pay respects. Their mirage is reflected in the still waters of the canals, and when you let yourself go below the floor, beyond the basement, they’ll reveal themselves. If you won’t visit, beware. For when you least expect, they’ll rise to flip yours over, resentful of a willful ignorance of Upending.

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Belgium

 

Kiss Bliss

Frog Ready for a kiss AnneToet

Photo: Anne Toet

 

Time had arrived

To make the shift

From frog

To handsome

Prince,

But then the kiss

When it was dished

Kept Frog’s

Amphibian

Bliss.

 

 

For the Tuesday Photo Challenge: Fantasy

 

 

Land Of Water

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Photo: Guyana, by Joshua Gobin on Unsplash

 

“Have we always been here?”

“‘Always’ is a long-winded word,” Papa’s melodic voice told me a story was coming. “Some people lived here before our ancestors. Some had come after we’d already been here. The land and the water were here before any humans had come. The word ‘always’ does not mean one thing.”

“Moses said we’re not from here. That we were brought here as slaves.”

“Are you a slave?”

“No, Papa.”

“Are you here?”

“Yes, Papa.”

“You and I are Guyana born. Have you worked this land, swam in the Essequibo, witnessed Kiaeteur Falls, walked the savanna, ate manioc?”

“I have.”

“So you have your answer, Son. We’re all children of land and water. All born of wombs filled with water, all depend on water, and will one day become rain and go over the falls. Your ancestors got here. You’re here. Where else would you be from?”

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Guyana, South America

 

 

Pink Sky Won’t Lie

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

There it was.

Now she knew what would certainly happen. It did not matter that the calendar had counted down the days for many weeks. It did not matter that arrangements have been made, checklists marked, letters sent, particulars organized. She suspected, she resisted, she pretended …

Till now.

“Pink sky won’t lie,” her grandfather had always said. A fisherman all his life, he’d counted on the minutia of the heavens to warn or greet his days.

She’d learned to accept his observations, no matter how disappointed she was with a last minute reversal of plans he’d made for her to go with him. “The water is no place for children today,” he’d say. And saddened though she’d be, she knew enough to respect his judgment of the weather, and knew him well enough to know that nothing she could say or do would dissuade him once he’d made up his mind.

“God may control the weather,” he’d tell her (though always well out of earshot of her grandmother, who would’ve boxed his ears for speaking heresy, grown man or not). “But to me the weather is the real God. I can’t see God, but I sure can see these skies, and I know what they tell me. I heed those clouds. I heed those waves. I heed those colors in the sky.”

And heed he had. Though heeding did not mean one could always escape the wrath of what was coming.

The waves had claimed her grandfather when she was not yet ten. A fast-moving storm that all had later said no one could’ve out-rowed. She almost stopped believing after that. Stopped taking heed.

Because if Grandfather couldn’t read the sky or if the sky could hide its meaning from him, why even bother trying? What will be, will be. Que Sera sera.

And yet, someplace, she never did stop checking the color of the heavens every morning. Somehow, she never did stop glancing out of windows, no matter where in the world she found herself, or how far from any seas or oceans.

Oh, she listened to the forecast. She had the Telly on while she got herself ready for the day. She checked the extended before she packed.

Yet she trusted few things better than what her own eyes showed her: Pink sky at night, sailor’s delight. Pink sky in the morning, means sailor’s warning.

The sky were ablaze.

It was dawn.

She considered herself warned.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge

 

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

 

 

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