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

 

 

Not Much

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Photo prompt: © Jennifer Pendergast

 

There was nothing left to stay for.

Not much to pack, but still he managed to stuff the duffel with odds and ends. More for feel than for utility.

He won’t be coming back.

The empty cars stood, cooling, on the rails. There was an echo in his bones even with no movement. Even without any sound.

He scanned for danger. One never knew, and he had had enough surprises.

When nothing stirred, he climbed aboard. The metal floor smelled of pee and rats, but at least he’d sleep with a wall at his back tonight, a door barred shut.

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

 

Toppers

tall-frames CrispinaKemp

 

It wasn’t an easy thing for a Bottom-Feeder to achieve Topper status. Most born to the Lower Gradients remained in the dank shadows of the towers, foraging for what could be found.

But Bronson never took the easy route. Not in birth, where his footling position had almost killed his mama and had left him only one usable hand. Not in growing, when he was often the last to be fed and the first to be beaten. Not in young adulthood, when he decided that wit and perseverance would have to do what his physique could not.

He lurked. He flattered. He kept abreast of Toppers’ visits to the LG’s for the vices, and used his nonthreatening appearance to offer guidance, and sometimes, services.

When Lorena’s ankle broke on twisted pavement, he lent a shoulder, led her home, and stayed. Life was better at the Tops, even as a pet.

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

 

One With The Herd

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Photo: Keith Kreates

 

It was never about the things he wanted to do.

It was never about where he wanted to go, what pasture he preferred, which direction he wished to head.

Conformity. Yeah, he knew all about it. How it was the only way to herd.

Still he found small ways to rebel: He’d lie down when others were grazing, chew his cud while the Head Honcho was patrolling, turn his backside to the wind when it went against every custom to do so.

“You will get yourself kicked,” his mother, who has long given up on instructing him but still couldn’t help herself from trying, lowed in his ear.

“Or eaten,” his sister, grown and soon to mother her own, added.

Their mother’s eyes were sharp horns of disgust at the sacrilege. One did not talk about becoming prey where one was already primed to be the hunted.

He shrugged and refused to turn his nose into the wind, though he could not control the small twitch of his ears, flattening to try and discern danger.

The cows, one young, one old, left to graze at the edge of the parched field.

He remained with his head petulantly bowed, feigning disinterest in any thing ahead. He’d been born to the herd. Without it, he’d be dead.

But it did not mean he had to be one with the herd.

 

 

 

For Kreative Kue #249

 

 

Wingspan

 

“I will not have everyone out in the cold!” Mrs. M’s hands were planted firmly on her hips, and when Mrs. M’s hands were firmly on her hips, any who knew what was good for them knew to nod submissively, back up slowly, and give up.

Not Tim.

Sometimes I wondered if he had no survival reflexes or if he confronted the headmistress exactly because he didn’t care to survive.

“We don’t have to be out, out,” he argued.

Mrs. M’s cheek twitched. Oh-oh.

I backed up just in case. If she reached for the switch it would be best to not remain within wingspan.

“We can use the hot-house,” he pressed. “Sunlight and no wind. We’ll be fine.”

The twitch stopped. I held my breath.

“Most panes are intact.”

Mrs. M nodded.

I gaped.

Tim won.

Cramped orphanage or not, he found a way for outdoor play in wintertime!

 

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimsons Creative Challenge #61

 

 

 

Going to Avalanche

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Photo: Keith Channing

 

The sky was blue when they headed out. Crisp, cold, dry, and sunny, it was the perfect day for some easy back-country skiing.

They planned to be home by lunch.

They did not plan on the weather turning. On clouds so low and so fast that they’d reached zero visibility in almost no time at all.

Joshua could see that Daniel was two steps away from panic. That would not do. Not with the children with them.

“Take the rear,”  Joshua ordered.

If Daniel frowned at his bossy tone, the heavy fog covered it. Joshua stood his ground, literally, till Daniel maneuvered his skis so he was behind the two youngest. Good enough.

Joshua took a breath and tried to get a read from the weather. It was probably best to shelter in place till the fog lifted, but if the weather was about to get worse, it was better they got back before conditions deteriorated further.

There was no way to know for sure, but his gut’s tightening signaled that the latter option was the one to take. His hand tightened around the compass hanging from his pocket. He’d need it.

“Mark! Sally!” he cupped his hands and called for the two older children who, true to form, used any break in skiing for a snowball fight. The wind snatched his voice and he realized that it, too, had gotten worse in the last few minutes.

“Daniel, get them!” he shouted. “Timmy, Ronny, Sid, and Shirley, stay close to me.”

Shirley nodded and clung to his arm. “Are we going to Avalanche?” her voice shook.

“Avalanche isn’t a place, honey,” he replied over the thunder in his chest. “It’s when a lot of snow slides down the mountain. We’re not in an avalanche zone, so you don’t need to worry.”

“But it’s all white,” she sniffled, “and I’m cold.”

“I know, little one. The weather turned on us. We’ll get everyone in line and we’ll get moving and you’ll soon get warm. Timmy, Ron, and Sid, you okay back there?”

The boys nodded unconvincingly.

Daniel herded Mark and Sally closer to the rest and sandwiched them between the younger children and himself.

“Let’s go!” Joshua yelled, his voice barely audible in the whistling wind. “Keep your eyes on the person in front of you. Daniel, use your whistle if you need help.”

Daniel lifted his ski in response.

Joshua concentrated on the compass, on the next few steps. Everything he loved in this world was behind him. The white settled all around and he felt small. Like when he was ten and the world had come down around him in a tumble.

He shook the memory away.

This time he was not going to Avalanche.

He was going to get them — all of them — home.

 

 

 

For Kreative Kue 239

 

 

Cruella De-Guile

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Photo: Martin Adams on Unsplash

 

She was queen of artifice. The mistress of malicious.

She made rules that made no sense yet claimed to be officious.

There was no way to do right by her. Even flattery was suspicious.

She’d lay down her law with harsh demands. Her punishments were vicious.

“Beware the dragon,” many warned. “For she is capricious.”

Those who did not heed soon realized that her attentions weren’t auspicious.

She was queen of cruel decree. Her requests often lubricious.

They learned to lay low and wait. Salvation would not be expeditious.

But the day came when he arrived, beautiful, seditious,

And turned the draconian,

Propitious.

 

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Draconian in 103 words

 

Lost Halos

Photo prompt © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

 

She’d been surprised to find out there was property overseas. Grandma raised her, yet no word was ever said about it.

“You should go,” Abe said. “Check it out. See about selling.”

She took Daniel with her. Heritage for him. Distraction from grief for her.

The small apartment above the Shuk was dank and cramped. Her grandmother had bought it decades earlier. Investment in the Holy Land.

“We couldn’t pay much,” the ancient tenant said, tears and wariness in her eyes, blue numbers on her arm. “She was an angel. Kept saying we were doing the mitzvah on her behalf.”

 

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

 

A Roof Over Her Head

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Photo prompt: Michael Gaida @ Pixabay.com

 

It looked deserted from the outside, and if someone risked a broken neck to view the inside from the roof, it did not look all that more promising from that angle, either, which was exactly as intended.

It would not do to broadcast the availability of shelter when there were more who sought to ruin what was left than wanted to actually have a roof over theirs.

Better it appeared abandoned and on its last legs already.

The rules were clear: You do not venture out of the pits without permission, and never in daylight. No light allowed during nighttime. Night-vision goggles only. The internal covers at the bottom of pits, which obscured the actual bunker, were to be drawn only after the scopes ensured no one was in the perimeter. The motion sensors were examined weekly. The roof’s latches every other. They could take no risks.

Few had a roof over their heads since the cataclysm, and those who had been fortunate to find or be allowed under one, did best if they kept a low profile or they were certain to lose it. The roof. And the head.

Dingo knew all that.

He also knew that Marlee was out there somewhere, and that the only way for her to find him was for him to plant a signal she would recognize.

How, though, when he was still a Probational and wouldn’t be trusted to come topside without escort for another month?

He tossed and turned on his berth until Steven threw him out, ordering him to go jog on one of the treadmills till he got sleepy.

The common room was empty. The airlock doors blinked slowly to indicate the pit covers had been opened.

It won’t take but a moment to leave Marlee a sign.

 

 

 

For the FFFC photo prompt

 

A Stranger’s Eyes

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Photo: Conner Baker on Unsplash

 

Her hand clasped the steering wheel and she fought against the tears that threatened to blur the road ahead.

The wheels whirred over miles and miles of black as the stars spread a rotating canopy over her car. A bug atop a line drawn in the sand, she was. A smidgen on the wide expanse of life under the heavens.

She won’t go back.

She could not allow it.

He had her squelched under his thumb for so long that she did not recognize her own face in the mirror. Her eyes had become a stranger’s.

“There are times,” her mother once said, “when a woman must believe herself. You may think yourself broken, but you will love again the stranger who was your self.”

She’d thought it cryptic at the time, melodramatic.

She understood now. “I’m coming home to myself at last, Mom.”

 

 

 

For the dVerse Prosery prompt: Love after Love in 144 words