The Key

Photo Credit: Sue Vincent

 

Practically everyone but the real-estate agent had been against him purchasing the place.

“That heap of rot is a death trap,” his friend Tomas had said.

“It is haunted,” Fran had shuddered. “You’ll get murdered in your sleep and become another ghost, just like them.”

Others hadn’t been much subtler:

“The place is a wreck!”

“This monster will eat up all your money and spit you out broke and homeless.”

“Are you out of your effing mind?”

“Gosh, Dude, you need a shrink!”

To be fair, the last two statements were probably true. … Not that this stopped him from finding ways to manage all these years without a shrink. Not that there weren’t times during the first year in the house, when the old thing seemed intent on falling about his ears and his bank account skied a Black Diamond toward zero, when he didn’t wonder whether his mental health was sliding south just as precipitously.

But he’d held on to his bootstraps and soldiered on. In part to not lose face but mostly because he had indeed sank so much of his limited assets into the house that there was no way out but through. He gave up his rental apartment in town and erected a tent in the middle of the mansion’s living room where the roof leaked the least. He uncovered the well and hauled out buckets of muck before clean water once more found purchase. He cleared paths through the overgrown hedges and the man-height weeds that overtook what had been a lawn around the house. He scraped moss and mold off of stone walls. He evicted pigeons, rats, squirrels, countless spiders, and a skunk that made sure her discontent lingered. He discovered woodwork under paint, a carved gate under briars, a clubfoot tub under rubble, and a door to a hidden passageway behind a rotting cabinet.

Here and there a friend would agree to help with this or that, and twice he’d hired someone with engine-muscle to lug out things that needed more than human-power. But most his friends couldn’t help (and some refused to ‘enable’ what they declared an insanity), and hiring anyone ate big bites out of a budget that wasn’t hefty to begin with. So he buckled down and did much of the work himself, making small but steady dents in a mountain he did not think would ever yield to order. The list of things left to do only kept growing: parts of the roof needed repair, the kitchen floor needed replacing, the electric lines were too ancient to hold power, the pipes leaked, and the sewers were more roots than flow. The work was Sisyphean.

And still … between moments of sheer desolation and utter despair, he realized that he was actually sleeping soundly for the first time in his life. A smile would sneak onto his lips as he sanded this or patched up that or cleared another mess of spider webs or thickets. He hummed an ear-worm for a whole weekend and no one shushed him for not being able to carry a tune.

It was as if he’d accepted the house and its flaws, and the house in return had accepted him. He felt happy. He felt at home.

The realization stunned him.

Though he wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, he came to understand that the reason he had been drawn to purchasing a run-down estate with overgrown grounds in the middle of a god-forsaken forest, was in part because of memories of another building surrounded by a tall stone fence: the “Home” that never truly was one and yet had been the only model he’d had.

He’d accumulated more moments of abject misery in the “Home” than he ever wanted to recall. Countless nights yearning to be old enough to leave … even as he’d feared the day he would be made to do so.

This long-neglected house with its aged stone fence and beautiful wide gate, was his. No one could tell him he’d aged out and could not stay. No one could tell him that his bed is needed to make room for someone else, or that it was time for him to fend for himself and no longer rely on the charity of others to feed and clothe and put a roof over his head.

It didn’t matter that the repairs would take years and that most of the rooms would not be usable for just as long. It didn’t matter that he didn’t have a clear plan for what he’d use all these rooms for. What mattered was that this old place was real. That it was full of history and memory. That it stood firm onto the ground and offered to be the roots he’d otherwise have no way to lay claim to. This house was him. Healing it was the key to who he could become.

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Write Photo prompt invitation

 

Crowned Castle

Castle SmadarHalperinEpshtein

Photo: Smadar Halperin-Epshtein

 

“It doesn’t matter where you live,” they said.

She knew they lied. It most certainly did!

When rain leaked onto your mattress and the wind snuck in through the window and mice crawled over your cheek in the middle of the night, it more than mattered.

“The only thing that matters is who you are,” they said.

Perhaps. But what good was it being a princess if your room was drafty and the tower creaked and the stairs were grooved with age and slippery with sloshed-over chamber-pots?

She’d swap her chamber for a page’s pallet by the hearth, if she could.

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Castle in 100 words

 

Good Enough

PHOTO PROMPT © J.S. Brand

 

“Do you really think you can do it?”

I nodded into my coffee but my heart fluttered an I-don’t-know.

“You’ll ruin the whole thing.” Stacey stuffed the last bite of bagel in her mouth and grabbed her bag, leaving me the clean up. How symbolic.

I rinsed the pot and the grounds swirled like time into the sink.

My eyes gazed out the window. We hadn’t touched Dad’s stuff. The almost-finished totem. His tools.

“You’re good at this,” he’d once said.

His praise had sustained me, but was I good enough to complete the carving that now he never would?

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

She Checks, Mate.

PHOTO PROMPT © Jeff Arnold

 

Matt tapped his lip and danced his foot but I knew it had nothing to do with planning his next move.

“Is your mom home?” he grumbled.

“Yep.”

“So?”

“She’s not going anyplace,” I answered.

“Not like she understands any of this.” Matt was too proud to admit that her presence affected his concentration.

“Tammy’s staying.”

He scowled but must’ve heard the edge in my voice, and dropped it.

No one messed with my little sister. Nonverbal doesn’t mean stupid. Also, Tammy was memorizing all his moves. She’d show me, and next time Matt and I play, I’d win.

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

Dastardly Display

IMG_1432 (2)

Photo Credit: Rick Spaulding

 

“Which one’s yours?”

Mary shrugged.

“C’mon, which one?”

There was a moment’s hesitation before she shrugged again, and I grinned. Perhaps she wanted me to guess.

I took another look at the display. Mary was talented enough to create any of those pumpkins, but she wasn’t one to think outside the box. So maybe not the clown or minion. Did she even know about ninja turtles? I pointed at the shark.

She shook her head, and I was about to guess again when I noticed how tightly she held on to the edge of her blouse. Mary was taciturn but not prone to nervousness.

“Is everything okay?”

Her chin was halfway into a nod when she paused and her upper lip trembled.

A ball formed in the center of my chest. She’s scared, I realized as my body mirrored hers. Suddenly all I wanted was to get her out of there.

“Forget the silly display. Let’s get some air and you can tell me what happened.”

“But it is the display,” Mary murmured, her eyes darting to the table. “I’d made a unicorn. I came early to set up and…” she shuddered, “… I saw the clown eat it.”

 

 

For the Sunday Photo Fiction Challenge

An Arrow Spent

boats trees SmadarHalperinEpshtein

Photo: Smadar Halperin-Epshtein

 

She used to splice the water like an arrow, undeterred by swells.

She’d always been better than him, though he never admitted it and she was too proud to brag and sometimes too overconfident.

They pretended playful competitions but those inevitably turned into dogged races that left them near exhaustion. Luke even capsized once, far from shore. He was upset by her gaining on him and so tired that all he managed was to slap the water with his oar and spin his boat into the wide belly of a wave. Nearly spent herself, she barely managed to help him into hers.

She’d give everything to race him again.

She gazed into the bay. She could no longer row. Her boat rested, overturned. Perhaps it kept her brother company. He, too, was beached, six feet below.

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Arrow in 135 words

 

 

Sail Away

PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

 

It was taking so long.

His uncle had instructed him to not leave the hall till he returned. He knew better than to defy the order.

He circled the room and looked at the paintings. He imagined conversations among sailors on the merchant ships, between soldiers on the frigates. He polished the marble counter with his sleeve. When he tired, he sat against a lamppost and pretended it was a smokestack.

The hall echoed emptiness.

He was getting cold. He was growing hungry. He needed to pee.

Only when night fell did he finally cry.

His uncle had sailed away.

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

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

Bayou Bridged

City Park (New Orleans) - Wikipedia
City Park, New Orleans (Photo: en.wikipedia.org)

 

They always met in the park. There were spirits there, too, of course: The drowned. The lost. The desperate. The abandoned young. However, these tended to be the milder spirits, mellowed by moss and rain and the freedom to roam on whispery winds. House spirits were harsher, meaner, and angrier. They carried histories of rape and whippings and the smaller everyday murders that chip at a soul until there is nothing left but agony and bitterness.

It was better to meet in the park, on a bridge between this world and the other, chiseled by masons, anchored by time.

She lowered herself onto the top stair and waited. She’d hear him come, but she would not turn. He did not bear to be looked upon.

“I will take him across,” he’d said when they last met. And he had. It was a gentle death.

Now it was her mother’s time.

 

 

For What Pegman Saw

Bottomless

Bottomless lake NM Photo-New Mexico Tourism Department

Photo: New Mexico Tourism Department

 

“Which one was it?” Mark peered into the screen and jiggled the joystick for the drone.

“I don’t know,” Jake panicked. “It looks different from the ground.”

“We really should call 911,” Sherlock fretted.

“Shut up and live up to your name, will ya?” Jake snapped. Worry and guilt made him mean.

Sherlock turned beet red. In two months he’d finally be old enough to rid himself of this kick-me-name. Not that he trusted it’ll matter to those who already knew him.

Mark maneuvered the drone over the blue circle. He scanned the rocky edges. Ted was only supposed to pretend to jump in, so they could post it online for the new “Dive In” Internet challenge, but he either lost his footing or decided to show off.

A ripple in the watery surface had him zoom in closer.

The drone tilted, wobbled, splashed into the sinkhole, and disappeared. Like Ted.

 

For What Pegman Saw: Roswell, New Mexico