A Net of Ents

Grimm AmitaAsif

Photo: Amitai Asif

 

“I am not going in there!”

Maxim sighed. “We must. It’s the only way.”

Stringer shook his head. “That place is haunted. Ghosts and goblins and who knows. I bet all the creepy things from the Underworld hide here, too.”

“The Underworld isn’t real.”

Stringer gave his friend a searching look. Maxim’s voice sounded a bit less certain than Stringer would have liked it to.

“Why does it have to be us, anyway?” Stringer pouted. Every cell in his body told him to flee, to leave, to get as much distance as he can between himself and this brooding, mossy, drippy, dark, tangled, creepy forest.

“Because.” Maxim lifted his chin, exposing a scrawny neck that had only gotten more birdlike in recent weeks. “Look, I’m scared, too, but even Mathilde said it was the only way.”

“She’s just an old crone,” Stringer scratched at a scab before glancing around guiltily and lowering his voice (one never knew if she might be listening and he did not fancy ending up in a cauldron), “and a witch.”

“Exactly.”

Stringer sniffed. He hated it when Maxim got the last word and even more when Maxim was right.

Mathilde was gnarly and bent and more than a little odoriferous (whether it was lack of bathing or the miasma of whatever it is she must be concocting in that iron pot that was forever perched over the fire, he didn’t know and didn’t dare ask). She was the oldest person he’d ever seen. Indeed if anyone would know about the procedure for removing spells, it would be her … and she had been clear that the one they sought to have lifted was beyond her skill.

“Only Ents,” she’d croaked and hacked up something Stringer was certain was more than just phlegm. “Ten of them. If there are even that many left. Only they can undo an enchantment net. And only if they agree, which they don’t always. Best keep your wits about ya when ya enter Old Growth. Tear a leaf and ya’d well end up lacking a finger.”

She’d stirred the pot, giving the quaking boys a full view of her three fingered hand. “That is,” she’d added, “if ya exit there at all.”

The whole way to the ancient forest, Stringer and Maxim avoided discussing the meaning or implications of Mathilde’s words. Giving it voice was too scary and they were too excited. The hunger had taken someone in every house, and winter was poised to enter empty pantries. All they could think of was what would follow if the hex broke: bowls of broth and bread and beans and oats.

Their stomachs spoke louder than their worries.

Now the edge of the forest stopped them cold.

“Did you see her hand?” Stringer tried.

Maxim nodded.

“Do you think …?”

Maxim’s tunic rose as he shrugged. “Maybe it was frostbite.”

“Yeah.” Better that. Frostbite was awful and utterly non-magical.

“Though …” Maxim’s voice shook, and still he bent resolutely to tuck the edges of his tunic into his leggings and retie his belt so it did not flap. “Best make certain we don’t accidentally trip or tear a leaf or snap off anything.”

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS writing prompt: Ten, Ent, Net

 

 

 

The Apprentice

The monochrome image shows the base of a tree with a hole, like a doorway, through its base...

Photo prompt: Sue Vincent

 

“It requires one step through.”

She squinted at the trunk. “I can see the other side.”

“So it would seem.”

She circled the tree and peeked through the opening. “It is as I said. I can see your legs.”

“I’m sure you believe you can.”

His calm voice infuriated her, but she knew that getting riled up will only lead to another long lesson in teaching her self-control.

She breathed.

He nodded.

She turned away from him and breathed again and then counted to ten for good measure. She could almost imagine him chuckling, though she knew he probably would not give her the satisfaction of seeing him react that way. Still, she could feel his amusement. It had been the hardest thing for her. His mild dismissing mockery. It was a constant reminder that she was a mere neophyte swimming furiously upstream in hope of getting even the smallest measure of trust, let alone recognition.

Why did he take her on when he had so little regard for her?

She circled the tree one more time. In part to move some of her agitation, but also to use the trunk as some shelter from her mentor’s scrutiny. She knew what her eyes told her: A hole in a tree, a gap she could toss a pebble through (not that she’d dare, now that he told her what it was), certainly of no size to fit a person.

She also knew that eyes can lie.

Still she resisted.

“Perhaps you aren’t ready.”

In spite of herself she felt her fingers clench. She hated when he did that. It made her feel like a child to be goaded.

Perhaps I am not, she retorted in her mind.

“Indeed, perhaps you’re not.”

Her eyes flew to meet his. She had suspected for some time that he could read her mind, and it felt like someone’s wandering hands rifling through her underwear drawer.

“I could read it in your eyes,” he noted, confirming rather than reassuring.

“What if I go through with it?” she sighed. She felt not so much resigned as she did defeated. He always got his way in the end. She could flail about and delay and prolong the path and belabor the process, but inevitably he got her to do things as he’d wanted. Half the time she thought his goal was to get her to where she would no longer resist him, while half the time she felt that the day she ceased rebelling would be the day he tell her that she’d failed completely.

Even now he did not answer till she asked again.

“You will see what there is for you to see.” He lifted his hand to indicate it was time for her to suspend all judgement, ignore her perceptions, and walk through the tree that he said was a portal.

“Is this the last test?” she fretted.

At that he chuckled. “It is never the last test …”

As she turned toward the tree she heard him add in a small voice that perhaps was made with mind, not larynx, “not for you, not for me.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

Mr. Stormled’s Undoing

 

SPF 09-23-18 Fandango 2

Photo credit: Fandango

 

“How long does she have to be here?”

I’m sure Martin’s eyebrows would’ve reached the ceiling if they weren’t tied together in a unibrow.

“Mr. Stormled said, at least a month.”

Martin twisted one side of his mouth to bite the corner of his lip, and I knew there were many words he wanted to say and wasn’t. Afraid, perhaps. Many were. There was something about people – if they were people at all – who controlled such things.

Stewart Stormled didn’t frighten me, though. At least not more than most things did. I bent to straighten the small pillow.

“Making her comfortable?”

“Can’t hurt.”

“Dad won’t like this.”

Martin had a point, but Dad wasn’t in charge of this any more. He’d given up that right when he dabbled in what he shouldn’t and left us to clean his mess. Like always.

A moment trickled by.

“You think it’ll work?” For once, Martin’s voice was small.

I sighed and traced the handle of Mr. Stormled’s broken wicker chair. “Yeah. Or Mama will remain a branch forever. Julie says that’s what happened to Grandma … last time Dad tried to use magic.”

 

 

 

For the Sunday Photo Fiction challenge

Jujus

magic all around you

Photo: Samantha Mars

 

She dragged her book bag up the stairs.

Step, bang. Step, bang.

“It looks heavy,” I noted.

“Yeah,” she huffed and paused to frown in the direction of the patchwork of princesses on the backpack. I found myself wondering whether she was directing discontent at her idolized figures not using their royal powers to, at the very least, summon genie help to manage gravity.

“Want me to help carry the bag for you?” I offered.

She raised an eyebrow as if the mere thought of my definitely-not-princess hands handling her bag was beneath the Disney figures that dignified it.

The first-grader lugged the bag another step and stopped, perhaps to reconsider if there are times when commoners’ help is better than none at all. “Yeah,” she nodded.

I walked down to take the bag from her. The thing was heavy!

“What do you have in there?!” I asked. “Rocks?!”

“Aha,” she nodded sagely, skipped a few steps up ahead of me and swiveled her head to look back at me. “Come faster. I want to show you.”

I lifted the bag (and an eyebrow) in her direction and she giggled. “Sorry… Thanks.”

Once upstairs she indicated I was to clear space for whatever that was, then ceremoniously unzipped the top of her school bag and pulled out a succession of boulders. She placed each with care onto the desk. Several pounds of them.

I waited. The lot looked to me like run-of-the-mill New York stones: mostly dark gray schist dappled with a bit of quartz glint.

She leaned back in her chair and waited. Clearly a reaction was warranted.

“That’s a lot of rocks!” I managed.

“Not regular rocks,” she admonished. “These have magic.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah,” she proclaimed. “They have real magic. And gold, too. Inside.”

I tilted my head a bit to one side and nodded my interest.

She narrowed her eyes at me, weighing the merits of talking to grown ups about matters of magic and gold. “They can even make your wishes come true …”

“But … ” she regarded me before adding, a bit haughtily and perhaps to punish me for my lack of immediate awe, “you do have to believe in them, so they’ll only do the magic for me.”

 

 

For The Daily Post

Conjure Hope

Light IlyaRashap

Photo: Ilya Rashap

 

Conjure hope

From odd bits

Of despair.

Recall the magic

Of compassion

Summoned from thin air.

Remember how small light

Brightens

Everywhere.

 

 

For The Daily Post

Still Mystified

foggy paths

Photo: Amitai Asif

 

There is magic

In remaining

A bit

Stumped

By life.

Bewilderment may well

Reverberate

The strings of

Myth

Enough to generate

A perch for

Understanding.

 

 

For The Daily Post

A Sentry Till Spring

winter is closing in soon by Gunnar Gestur on Flickr

winter is closing in soon by Gunnar Gestur on Flickr

Find a moment of magic

where the air

meets the sky;

where the light

holds back darkness

and the sun

twirls a ribbon

to the frost

swimming by.

Find a moment of magic;

breathe a lungful

of peace.

Brace your heart

with warm knowing:

There will be light on

all winter

standing sentry

till spring.

Paths of Gold

Found on listofpictures.blogspot.com

path-in-autumn-reghin-romania Found on listofpictures.blogspot.com

There is gold

in the air

ruby wealth

underfoot.

There are showers

of ocher,

breathing fairies

and wonder,

sprinkling mist

on cool weather,

building paths of

true splendor.

There is magic

to tread through,

parting leaves

end of season,

mixed with dazzling hues

of the richness of nature

spilling forth

onto you.