Quite Simply

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Photo: Zane Lee on Unsplash

 

“Quite simply,” she said,

“The very times when some in power

Are seeking to perplex you,

Are the times when you best make sure

That you are not at all confused.”

 

“For when what should be simple

Is deliberately made unclear,

And what’s logical is spun

Cheaply to cost dear,

It ought to signal your eyes

To remain widely open,

And your ears to insist on holding only

To the truth.”

 

She sighed and touched the blue print

Faded on her arm,

Seared like yesterday

In her heart and mind.

 

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Challenge: Perplex in 90 words

 

 

Flecked History

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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

 

 

Kultuk

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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

 

 

A Slowly Fraying Memory

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Photo: Free-to-use-sounds, on Unsplash

 

 

From the hollows of despair, they fled.

The shirts on their backs and the children

In their arms, all they could manage to

Take.

Even the abysmal shelters they had recently

Been made to call

Home,

No longer gave any protection or

A chance at repair or

Reform.

They left, dodging death and finding

Further fright to

Flee,

And in their hearts they held on

Tightly

To the slowly fraying

Memory,

Of days when life was softer

And beds were warm,

And babies slept

Well kept

Safe from war and hate and

Harm.

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Abysmal in 93 words

Note: Dedicated to all displaced, terrorized, pressed, oppressed, persecuted persons everywhere, and to the many millions who had, throughout history and in recent memory and in today’s times, been forced to further risk their lives by leaving what had once been home and safety behind, for the unknown.

 

Sentry Sign

 

“Can you believe this weather? The sun is …” she stopped cold, her jaw frozen in mid-sentence. Her heart thundered, threatening to escape the confines of her chest.

“Mauve?”

Eric’s voice sounded as if filtered through molasses. Someplace in her stunned mind she noted to herself that she finally understood why cartoonists slurred speech and movement into agonizing slow-motion during moments of high-drama. It was as if the world itself spun differently. Time simultaneously lingered and lost all definition.

Her finger labored against a suddenly-too-heavy gravity. She pointed at the gravestone.

“The swirls,” she managed, her tongue was a parched brick in a desert.

She forced herself to breathe and swallow. Paradoxically the motion released some moisture back into her arid mouth.

“It is the mark of my ancestors,” she whispered. “A sacred, secret, rarely-used Sentry Sign. I’d only seen it once. I didn’t even know they’d been to this land.”

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

A Visit From Paul

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Milford, Delaware (Photo: Ray Hennessy on Unsplash)

 

“He comes to visit,” a man’s voice jarred her out of her reverie.

She’s been watching a waterfowl in the sparkling water. It’s been staring back, she felt.

“The bird?” she turned. The speaker was a frail-looking man who still managed a bearing that stated “military.”

“If it is that.”

She glanced at the crane. The oldster sounded neither confused nor joking.

“Tell me,” she rose to make room on the bench.

The man extended a hand to shake. “Smith. US Navy.”

“Marcia,” she returned.

They used to build ships in Milford, he told her. Built the four-masted Albert F. Paul, too. Launched it from the Abbot shipyard in 1917.

“174 footer, she was,” Smith sighed. “I would’ve been onboard, you see, if I hadn’t been injured. Would’ve gone down with my mates when the Germans torpedoed her in 1942.”

“The fallen seamen,” he lifted his chin toward the bird, “they visit me.”

 

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Delaware

 

What Could Not Be Untold

 

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Golden Gate Highlands National Park, South Africa (Photo: redcharlie on Unsplash)

 

“Is that where we’re going?” the boy pointed at the road snaking below. He squinted, hoping to see a car. They’ve walked long. He was tired.

“There,” his father’s finger angled higher, at the cliff. Beyond.

The boy scrunched his lips but kept quiet. Time with his ntate oa was precious. Also, at eight, he did not want to be seen as a baby who should’ve been left home with the women.

The father nodded approval. His son was growing to be obedient and mindful. It was good.

“What’s there?” the boy adjusted the Basotho blanket over his shoulder. He hadn’t been  happy to be told to bring it earlier, but was now that the sun hid.

“Rocks. Earth. Bones. Your ancestors’ homes.”

Khotso nodded. His father was a man of few words, and Khotso knew he was being trusted to understand the power of what could not be untold.

 

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Free State, South Africa

 

 

Allegiance

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

They called her Allegiance.

Contract and insurance, she was. Revered and guarded, both.

So well revered and so well guarded, in fact, that with time she became almost forgotten and had turned more a symbol than a soul. She sometimes wondered if she was in that way not too dissimilar to many of her kind through time, even if they had been so for far shorter spans.

Women often were made ornamental. Used as symbolic pawns, utilized as cementers of allegiances, then blamed for those that broke.

It helped her feel less lonely, knowing that even in her immortal isolation she was still in some way a member of a community of others who’d been perched into positions, as she was, without much of a choice. Possessions and producers, keepers of the continuity of power, serfdom and thrones.

They called her Allegiance.

And she sat in her fortified tower, aware of the two rows of guards: One row looking out against any who may get it in their minds to sabotage, the other row looking in against any indication that she may get it in hers to leave.

They needn’t have worried. At least not about her.

There was enough of misery without adding heads to spikes in any kind of rebellion, where those most likely to be harmed were those least likely to have been given part in the decision.

She accepted her place. A figurehead to keep the heads of others firmly on their shoulders and their children’s hearts safer from the sorrows of orphanage and war.

So she stayed.

As centuries passed, those who’d placed her there took less care with guarding her and the promises she’d represented. The tower crumbled. The guards played cards and drank and slept and grew lazy, and she took comfort in knowing that at least this meant they weren’t in battle. Even if she shivered, windowless, her walls crumbling all around.

Perhaps, she thought, as winds whistled and the stories of her had become lore printed onto metal plaques for tourists to ignore, it was all as it should be.

Perhaps one day there will not be a need.

Perhaps one day allegiances will be built-in, rather than built-up and set with guarded fences that time and lassitude and apathy were certain to erode.

Till then, Allegiance waited.

For the moment, the ruins of her tower stood.

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

Up In Smoke

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Minsk (Photo by Anton Rusetsky on Unsplash)

 

“These stacks look like a hand,” Bella rested her chin on the window’s ledge and gazed at the golden hues of sunset over Minsk. It was beautiful.

“A hand with six fingers.”

Bella scowled into the glass. In her mother’s tone she heard challenge, dismissal, and disdain. It stole the luster off the previous moment’s calm. She resented the coldness with which her mother marred everything during this visit. It felt like a smudge she could not wipe.

So she was surprised when her mother came to kneel on the bed by her, close enough to touch. Close enough to feel the trembling. Her mother rarely cried.

“Six fingers for the six millions,” her mother whispered. “And these clouds like burning souls against the evening sky. Everyone my mother had known. Our whole extended family. Burnt. Dead. Gone. This city will never be free of them, Bella. They speak on.”

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Minsk