Everything She Needs

shadowed-me CrispinaKemp

 

She took one last look around, another in the mirror.

Waterproofs. Umbrella. Boots. A change of clothes tied around her waist. A utility apron with ration-filled pockets. Some necessaries. Her pen and notebook. Basic first aid. Matches. Tarp. The photo. And her courage, tightly wound into the center of her chest.

She was ready.

There were no roads or maps where she was going. She’d hike up then use her wits and hopefully the scent of memory, awakened, to find the place. She didn’t know how much the faded photo would help, with the quarry and the landslide and the decades passed since the plate was exposed. Still, she took it. Her soul told her that the photo did not wish to be left behind.

She walked into the dawn. She had everything she needed.

If fates smiled, she’d find the ruins of Witch Wilma’s home. Her great-great-grandma’s tomb.

 

 

For Crispina Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

 

Clara Of The Clock

fantasy SueVincent

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

There were bells above the clock in the tower. A tiny room above that, with blue shutters that could close themselves to everything or open to the four corners of the world. A taller turret still above it, its naked windows whistling in the wind. And over that a peaked roof with a metal creature perched wide-winged, inviting lightening.

To Clara, this was home. The keeper of the hour and the minder of the rectory below, she was forever scaling spiral steps and ladders.

Up and down the narrow stair that spun inside the tower to the clock-room, then up and down the ladder that hiked along the breezy bell balcony to her room, and up and down again on the metal rungs that climbed the room’s wall to the turret and the vast horizons beyond.

Father Brown used to climb up and down, too, though thankfully he’d grown too corpulent to lift his body up so many stairs or hoist himself up the ladder. She did not think he would even fit through the entrance in her room’s floor anymore.

Good.

For he was never meant to fit into any of her entrances anyway.

She was better off with him too fat.

Fearless, they said she was, to live so high above the village, buffeted by winds half-way into the sky, not to mention, in total loneliness. Unnatural, they called her, to prefer the company of birds and clouds to that of other people, or a man.

They were right. About the latter.

Birds did not raise a hand to her. The clouds did not box her ears or pull her hair or force themselves inside her.

There was solitude in the small room where the air was clear and the noises of the village did not reach. Just the swish of the wind and the clarion sound of the bells and the heavy heartbeat of the clock, ticking like the heart she’d almost forgot, the heart inside the chest she must have laid a head on in the first weeks of her being and before her mother – and her life – turned cold.

Through years of misery in the orphanage, with cruelties of every kind meted by the nuns and priests and older children who sought to repay their own experienced agonies onto those smaller than them, she gazed at the part of the clock-tower she could see, and dreamed of heartbeat.

When Father Brown came to the orphanage to pick a new housekeeper to “serve God” in the rectory adjacent to the church (and tower), they lined up the girls for him to choose from. She trembled with both hope and horror.

Perhaps he liked seeing both feelings warring in her, for he let his eyes travel the length of her body before curling his finger in her direction and telling Mother Superior that “this one would do.” She had just turned thirteen.

She kept house and cooked and cleaned and tried to keep away from his fondling hands and pinching fingers and the parts under his robes. She wondered if the former housekeeper had wished to ail and had welcomed the opportunity to die.

Then again, perhaps the previous girl did not know of the tiny room above the bell-tower. She herself only found out about it when Father Brown twisted an ankle and she was required to complete a few tasks there on his behalf. She was immediately entranced. By the openness. By the freedom. By the possibilities.

The next day she went to see Mother Superior under the pretense of needing salve for Father Brown’s leg but with the real aim to have someone clothe her request in piety. “It is but a small room, but I feel nearer to God there,” she told the nun, hoping to mask her awe as faith.

“And,” she whispered, “it could be more proper for Father Brown, too, to have me in separate lodging.”

The head nun frowned in reproach then tented her fingers to consider. The rectory had only the one sleeping room, and so housekeepers slept on a pallet by the kitchen stove. Even the most pious man may need a drink of water in the night. Best to put away any Eve where she could not lead a man to sin.

“You are wicked to even have such thoughts,” Mother Superior admonished. “Perhaps it would be best to remove you to the tower.”

Clara lowered her eyes in relief.

Father Brown was farthest from enchanted with the new arrangement, but he could hardly argue with Mother Superior’s suggestion. Nor could he claim that a woman should not scurry up and down the tower ladders in her skirts when he himself had sent Clara to do so.

Oh, he made sure to let her know there was no sanctuary from him in the tower. But she focused on the heartbeat of the clock and let it speak louder than his thrusting, and she bade her time, and fed him.

He grew fat. And old. And rheumy eyed.

She grew taller. And confident. And limber in her climb. She became the sole caretaker of the timepiece, the sorter-out of the bell’s ropes, the heartbeat of the tower.

Clara of the clock.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

Teaching Without Telling

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

If only she could get there …

The mist and tears obscured her view, but she trod on, insistent and desperate for the safety of the circle. It had saved her ancestors. It had become a thing of lore.

But if the magic still held, she would be helped. The spirits that guarded the stones would weave protection over her. Bar the weapons. Shun the anger. Ward off those who wanted to do harm.

She tripped twice, the cold air breathing malice on her nape. She fought the urge to curl upon the damp ground and give up. She gathered up her tattered courage and wrapped the threads of memories around her shoulders. The incantations of her grandmother, sang softly into the cauldron, stirring soup and stories, teaching without telling, showing without spelling out what was forbidden to be known.

In the darkening damp she mumbled some forgotten fragments. “Help me, Nana,” she sobbed when her knees skinned on a stone and her breath caught.

“Rise, Child,” she thought she heard. She wanted to believe.

She rose. She stumbled on.

If only she could get there, she would be saved. The spirits will protect her in the mists of old.

The pitchforks. The firebrands. The mobs in their lust and calls for blood in smoke? They would not be able to see her. Not once she crossed into the circle. Once there, she would be scooped up, sheltered, danger gone.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

The Hidden

green-shed-in-trees CrispinaKemp

Photo: Crispina Kemp

 

It had been their favorite place to play as children. Filled with old tools and lopsided shelves. A leaky roof that hindered the rain from soaking them when the weather turned and they had misjudged the time.

She never would have thought that the shed would become a shelter from a lot worse than the rain. And without end. For there was no place to return.

There will be no welcome in the farmstead. Not anymore.

No warm soup waiting. No blanket. No fire to steam wet clothes as fingers thawed. Instead of comfort, they’d likely send the dogs.

She still could not quite understand how quickly times had changed. How she’d gone from part-of to pariah.

Was she the same? How could she be, when the patch she was made to wear now defined her?

A jew, she was their plague. How long would the shed conceal her?

 

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

Flecked History

wadi a dawasir M.Bin HMQ

Photo: M.Bin HMQ; Wadi ad-Dawasir, Saudi Arabia

 

“He is an infidel,” Abdul grumbled about his employer. “Ad-Dawasir history shouldn’t be fouled by non-believers.”

“So were your ancient ancestors,” Umm Habib noted, her fingers flying as she shaped the dough with the practiced moves of innumerable meals prepared.

The adolescent startled. Such accusation would’ve necessitated a fist-fight if it hadn’t come from his grandmother.

“Many Taghlibi remained Christians well after The Prophet came,” the old woman’s face remained placid. She didn’t need to look up to sense the anger flashing in the boy’s hereditarily flecked eyes. But youngsters’ dark moods and opinions were like moving water. Truth remained.

She plucked freshly baked bread from the earthen oven with bare fingers, tips hardened by life’s constant flames. “That history is long passed, but it bears remembering some of our ancestors even fought against Muslim, and many stayed Christian …” she paused, considering. “Before finally embracing The Prophet’s teachings and Islam.”

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Wadi-ad-Dawasir, Saudi Arabia

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Eyes Of Time

Photo prompt: Sue Vincent

 

“Learn to listen,” He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs told him as they sat to whittle spears and arrows out of saplings.

The old man’s hands moved the sharp bone deftly over the yielding wood, smoothing any bumps that could confuse an arrow’s spirit and send it listening to things other than the direction intended by the hunter.

He-Whose-Smile-Fades-Fast had hands that didn’t listen. The bone slipped. The sticks broke. The tips burned instead of hardening.

“You are still young,” He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs nodded at the boy’s frustration, his own fingers flying like starlings in a sky dance. “Your patience needs many more moons to grow.”

“…And you face special challenges,” the older man added, and the unexpected compassion softened the lined face in a way that soothed the boy more than the salve where the fire had wounded him. “It is your path to struggle. It is your path to overcome and become One-Who-Knows.”

“Like you?” the boy asked, eyes gliding over his mentor’s legs — one long and lean and straight, one tight and oddly bent. It had taken him months to build the courage to speak to the Shaman, and months more to dare note what all saw but was taboo to mention. The deformity was part of the man’s magic. It lent him awe. It caught the curiosity of spirits so they crowded closer to examine him, bringing hardship but also allowing him to speak and sing and plead and wrangle with them on others’ behalf.

“Yes, like me,” He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs replied. “A path of pain becomes a path of wisdom. If you let it teach you. If you open your heart and listen to your mind, your eyes, your hands, your scars.”

The boy lowered his eyes. He’d seen the man unclothed and he knew the many scars that crisscrossed the Shaman’s torso and that they were part made in valor, part born of harm.

 

He-Whose-Smile-Fades-Fast still remembered the evening when the old man had tapped the flap to the family’s dwelling, and poked his staff in to let his parents know who’d come. It wasn’t his mother who’d let the guest in. It wasn’t even his brother, who’d since become a man. But his father who had gotten up to greet the healer. His father who’d vacated the best seat and who’d served the steaming pine tea in the whorl cup.

The boy had gone to hide behind his mother’s back while the men talked. He curled his webbed fingers under his thumbs. He stuck his tripping, stubby toes under his mother’s furs. The Shaman scared him, and he felt it in his stomach that it was him the words concerned. He felt it in his mother’s muscles, too, tensing as she listened to a future that she must have known was his, and to the losses that she had to know were coming.

Shamans did not hunt. Shamans did not marry. Shamans did not dangle babies on their knee. They fasted. They prayed. They endured. They traveled worlds of mist and danger to bring back people’s souls. They blessed weapons and fought the spirits of famine and war and ill. They were feared and respected but not often loved. It was not a life a mother would will.

That night had been his last in his mother’s arms. He’d been entrusted to the Shaman since. For days he’d ran in tears to his mother only to have her return him solemnly, her own eyes dripping, to the feathered tent.

“You are fortunate,” she whispered to him once when he clung fiercely and her own hands seemed reluctant to release him. “Some Shamans can be cruel in their training, but he is not. He was my uncle once, in the years before he turned a holy man. He had been raised in violence and he promised he would not impart it on you. Go, my son. He will be like a father and mother to you now.”

 

The moon was born a dozen times since, and his mother had been right. He-Who-Runs-With-Crooked-Legs was firm and exacting, but he did not whip or lash or wound him, not in body, not in mind. Underneath the distancing exterior, the healer was kind.

The boy bent his head to the stick, determined. Still his hands refused to do his bidding and the sharp bone bit deep into his flesh. He blinked and breathed and wept but let no sound escape.

“The sky has a story today,” the old man said quietly. “Use your pain to wipe your inner eye so you could hear what it tells.”

The boy pressed his lips together and looked up through a veil of tears to see the sky ablaze. Darkness hovered near.

“It will be dark soon,” he said, and the echoes of the throbbing in his hand reverberated in his chest with a desolation only matched by the loneliness he’d felt during the first nights without his mother’s tent. “A dark time.”

The Shaman nodded.

“Fires spat by sticks of thunder. Cunning mouths and thieving hands …” the boy’s eyes lingered on his deformed palm and in the small pool of blood that gathered it in he saw the life of his people dissolve like a reflection distorted by a sudden breeze.

“A dark time is coming,” the Shaman agreed, oddly pleased. “Not in my time. Not in yours. But it will come and our people will discover many needs. You have cleared your eye well, and you have listened. You are young but with patience and more moons, you will become a One-Whose-Eyes-See-Time.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge

 

 

 

New Born

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

He was born on a blustery night to a woman who huddled on the exposed slopes with naught but the protection of three wide backs to block the worst of the wind. The men crouched, arms linked and heads down, their eyes averted from what was taboo to watch, as they hummed the low sounds of incantations meant to shield the woman and babe from the demons and their own ears from the muffled cries.

There was no midwife.

The other woman had died not a full moon prior. It was a bad omen.

There was no spirit-guide. Their leader, too, had died.

Bad omens, all.

There was only the woman, panting desperately in the dark. And the three of them: One of whom in whose hearth she’d grown, one whose hearth she shared, one who’d preceded her in her mother’s womb. And a girl-child of barely eight winters. Pale and shivering and wide-eyed, she knelt before the woman, one hand on the swollen belly, another cradling the opening for the magic and terror that no man was allowed to look upon. But she would. She was too young. But there was no one else who could.

As the night stretched and the panting shortened, he was born.

By morning, they moved on.

A fresh mound under a rock marked the space where the smell of blood still lingered. The men had dug the hole, even though it was women’s work. A concession to their circumstance. They could not wait till the girl, or woman, gathered sufficient strength for the task. It was paramount that one put distance between oneself and the afterbirth, lest the demons seek to lug the babe back into the dark. The mother, too, sometimes.

They left all that behind.

He lived his first days in almost the same darkness he’d been made in. Cocooned inside his mother’s wraps, lips close enough to her breast to suckle, rocked by the same thunder and gurgle of her heartbeat and innards.

Sometimes, much later in years, he’d remember the indistinguishable. How inside and out did not differ by much other than air and hunger and the momentary cold that blanketed him when he was whipped out to be held above the ground to release his waste.

He might’ve stayed cocooned for longer had they not found the cave.

The old man saw it first. A black tooth in the mountain-side. Large enough to fit.

They waited two days to approach it. Demons have been known to skulk in the back of dark hollows, waiting to pounce. They were too few to risk it. Let alone with a helpless morsel who couldn’t even cling.

When nothing bigger than a ferret emerged from the entry, and when hares were spotted munching languidly nearby, they knew that whatever demons might have lived there once, had since long gone.

They brought an ember to the cave. And stones for a hearth. And moss and boughs for bedding.

The girl carried water from the spring. The woman made the tea and cooked the grain from her ceremonial parcel. They ate. They drank. They slept.

By morning the men came for the baby.

They held his naked, squalling form, indignant in the cold exposure, and passed him from man to man at the entry.

His life-force squealed vitality. His lungs breathed their collective previous misfortunes to the wind. His face, first reddened then purple with rage, summoned the sun to rise and fall. Someplace a wolf returned the howl.

It was a good omen.

They called him New Born. The reincarnation of Born, the spirit-guide they’d lost along with what safety they’d had where they came from. This New Born was a cameo. He was their future. Their hope in this new home.

 

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

Embers Hot As Coals

Photo prompt: Sue Vincent

 

She could feel them.

That’s why she came.

Why she took every opportunity she could to escape the drudgery of sewing and hoeing and weeding and feeding and washing and threshing and mending and tending and all the multitudes of tasks that never seemed to end and somehow only multiplied.

“It’s life,” her mother had sighed, when as a young child Mayra had burst into tears of fatigue and frustration when yet another basket of wash needed to be scrubbed. “We rise, we work, we eat, we sleep.”

Mayra, a dutiful daughter, had just nodded and sniffed and bent to her work. But inside her a restlessness rippled. She was expected to grow up to be like her mother: solid and stolid and capable. The capable part she was on path to mastering, if painfully slowly. But solid she wasn’t, in her wispy willowy frame, and stolid she could not be, when her feelings and thoughts bubbled in her mind like an ever boiling pot that used embers as if they were coals.

She would boil over. She would.

If she didn’t manage to find a chore that allowed her to put some distance between herself and the village and to reconnect with the souls amidst the stones.

They calmed her. They reached around her with fingers as wispy as her hair and plucked the edges of too-sharp words and smoothed rough irritation off of her being.

Most people avoided the stones. “They are haunted,” they whispered, as if that was a bad thing.

Mayra said nothing. Perhaps it was something in her that needed ghosts to sooth the places that she felt would otherwise burst and cause harm. Perhaps her difference drew her to what others knew to keep away from.

Still she came.

In secret. To avoid blame.

It was only when she was about to wed that she realized it had been her mother who’d conjured errands out of thin air for her, so the child could manage some relief.

“For some, this is life, too,” her mother smiled.

It was a rare transformation of the face that often showed so little beside focus on the thing at hand, and suddenly Mayra saw the girl her mother had been, reflected in the sky-hued eyes.

“You, too?” Mayra whispered.

Her mother’s eyes twinkled. The berries. The mushrooms. The bark. The herbs. The kindling that could not wait till the morrow to collect. All those times when her own pot was set to almost overflow atop life’s embers, hot as coals.

“I did, and I do. It is our grandmothers there, helping you.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Write Photo challenge