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

 

 

The Grimace

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Photo: Silas Baisch on Unsplash

 

It was not quite a smile.

It was born not in joy

Nor in any enchantment,

But in desperate

Hope

To forestall

Shame

As it loomed,

A storm

In the fast shrinking distance.

 

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Grimace in 33 words

 

 

The Proposal

Photo prompt: Sue Vincent

 

“You might as well open your eyes now.”

His gravely voice was somewhat amused but carried in it the edge of impatience she’d recognized from her own father. A dismissive tone that simultaneously mocked and tolerated females’ flair for the emotional while also warning said females to not mistake momentary patience for leniency.

Muriel swallowed any sign of sigh. Her body ached from three days rattling on wooden wheels over rocks and gravel and muddy ruts and unexpected pits. To make matters worse, the girl-servant who’d been her companion since childhood, hadn’t been allowed to accompany her, and the rough hands of service women who did not know her, had tied her stays too tight and left the knots digging at her ribs and the small of her back.

She’d closed her eyes in part to manage the ever present nausea of travel forced on her at the opposite direction of movement. However, a goodly bit of it was in order to allow herself at least a semblance of private space in the confines of the carriage. His eyes undressed her either way, but at least she could pretend to not see it.

Her time for privacy was up.

She forced her eyes open and nodded the politest smile she could manage at the man who would be her lord and father-in-law (and if his leering told her anything, also the master of her body, son or no son).

He scared her and his eyes were cruel, but she’d learned at a young age to hide revulsion under a lowering of lashes and to nod compliance as means to reduce inevitable harm.

“You are a girl-child, Muriel,” her mother would soothe and scold her as she gently rubbed salve onto what new welts and bruises another lashing had left on the child. “No matter what they do or ask of you, you must not disobey.”

And yet even her mother, the mistress of the manor, who embodied the balance of stately conduct and humility before her betters, sported the occasional split lip from her husband, Muriel’s father, along with other wounds in areas best left unmentioned. All a female could do was walk the tightrope in attempt to limit scope and frequency of pain.

Muriel raised her eyes to meet the heavy brow of the man who occupied the seat across from her. She calmed her voice so it not reflect her fretting mind.

“Have we almost arrived, My Lord?”

His eyes flicked to the window and she leaned to look through the opening, acutely aware that this brought her body perilously close to his lap.

The lake sprawled at the side of their conveyance, the water undulating lightly in the breeze as afternoon clouds gathered. Into it grew a spit of rock and on top it a castle, stout in stone and strong in somber presence. It was far larger than the house she’d left behind. Gloomier and more glorious, too.

She wondered how long it would be before she could once again see it from this or any vantage point. Some lords did not allow their women to leave their rooms, let alone the courtyard. Especially not the newly arrived, who might attempt to steal a path out of marriage by seeking the luring company of nymphs at the bottom of lakes.

She let her gaze linger on the castle before straightening.

“It is beautiful, My Lord,” she said.

His eyes narrowed then relaxed and she was glad she didn’t need to lie about it. He’d probably know if she had.

“Your new home,” he noted, almost kindly.

Her stomach lurched. Home or jail, there may not really be a difference. Still, as the carriage continued toward the future that this man had proposed and her father had accepted, she felt she may have passed some test that if she managed to maintain the credit of, could bring her — if not safety or protection — then perhaps a lesser measure of misery.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto challenge

 

Chew On This

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

He had never been so hungry.

Not even when he’d gone without food for three days to win a dare. Perhaps because at least then the food was there, available to him had he gotten too weak or ravenous enough to render the challenge unappetizing.

He’d won that bet. And the mountain bike his friend was cocky enough to suggest as the prize.

The same bike — and all his gear atop it — that now lay twisted at the end of some ravine he had no hope of reaching. The bike that would have dragged him down to the same end had he not, in some unknown reflex of survival, thrown himself off the seat and against the rocky walls of what he’d thought was a sort-of-trail.

It first it was the abrasions that caused him the most suffering. The skinless arms and cheek. The raw wound on his shoulder where his shirt had ripped.

Then night came and it was the cold.

And the next day, the hunger.

He had nothing on him. No knife. No phone. Not even a lighter. He’d been so proud to dress the bike with a complicated harness to carry everything he needed for his week-long trek. Now he was naked of supplies. Bare of any protection or wherewithal, alone in the wilderness, and ignorant of how to make do without the gadgets he’d never given a thought to the possibility of not having.

Ignorant, too, of the consequences of veering off the path “to test the bike’s capabilities.” He had told a couple of friends he was planning to go for a bike ride, but he had planned to surprise them with his accomplishment post-trek, and in his hubris did not notify them when, where to, or how long for.

Off the trail and into the “uncharted.” He’d felt strong. He’d felt courageous. He’d felt the braggadocio reverberating underneath his ribs.

Now no one knew where he was.

Or when to expect him.

Or that he deseprately needed aid.

He’d never been so hungry. Or so tired. Or so hurting. Or so scared.

He couldn’t help thinking of how someone would one day find what was left of him. That is if some animal did not find him first.

He stopped to rest when the new blisters on his feet had burst and the pain of another raw place was too much to manage.

His shoulder throbbed. His head. His hand where it had slammed against the rock and left two of his fingers black and unbending. He checked the sky and realized a third day was about to end and he was just as lost as he had been the ones before. And hungrier.

He cried a bit. There was no one in front of whom to be ashamed.

Or so he thought.

He woke to warmth and thought he’d died already. The weight of something on his torso must have been the earth, though he couldn’t bother to try and consider who’d have dug a grave.

Then a smell wafted to him and his stomach clenched in painful hunger. Surely not even hell would torment so in death!

He cracked open an eyelid to the view of a lively fire and a shadowed figure stirring something over a corner of coals. He blinked. The figure was still there. He swallowed, and his mouth was not as dry as it should have been. There was a taste of sweetness on his tongue, as well. He coughed just to hear his own voice.

The head swiveled toward him and he could not discern any of its features against the brightness of the flames. A hand reached back into a pack and rummaged, then the legs straightened and the person unfurled and stepped toward him. He squinted but still could not see the face. He wasn’t even sure it was a man.

“Here,” the voice confirmed. A woman, and not a young one. Not warm but by her actions so far, not unkind. “Jerky. Chew on this until the stew is done.”

 

 

 

For Linda’s SoCS challenge: Chew/Choo