The Two Stones

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

She shivered in the early winter chill and pulled the woolen cloak around her. The wind whipped her hair – always unruly – into her eyes. Her fingers stung. The day was above freezing, but the cold damp still had a way of swimming through her clothing to steal away her body heat. Her face felt stiff and she rubbed her hand over her cheeks and chin to warm them.

She picked up her pace only to slow down again once she neared the stream. The slope was treacherous and she did not fancy the possibility of a dunking in the bone-chilling water. How different this was, she mused, from the summer days of her childhood, when along with friends she had raced down the slope with the absolute intention of being the first to splash in.

The stream had seemed bigger then. Wilder and yet in some ways tamer.

She did not know at the time the other stories it could hold. The risk it would foreshadow.

She was still an innocent then.

As if in answer to her mood, the wind picked up and buffeted the edges of her cloak around her legs, threatening to unclothe her. She pressed her lips together in determination and shook her head. Not here. Not now. Not ever.

Not again.

The stream was lower than expected for the time of year, but she knew the looks could be deceiving. It wasn’t just depths that could kill you. Or the flow.

She picked her way carefully to the bank. She stood a few yards downstream from the ancient laundering stones that jutted at the widening where the narrow brook burbled into a seemingly placid pool before splashing down in tiny waterfalls at the other end. The women still used the flat rocks when she was a young girl. They’d crouch on the stone to slap the fabric as the stream carried away the suds and dirt and the occasional bloody stain.

Moss now covered the stones and she knew it wasn’t just the change of season that had led to the greening. Women had laundered in all seasons. They’d break through thin ice to brave the numbing cold if they had to.

But no one had used the rocks for a long time now.

Perhaps not once since.

It had been a late summer day, the warm air filled with scents of aging flowers and over-ripe fruit and a whiff of sweat. There was the ‘thwack, thwack’ of scythes from the fields and the hum of bees and the calls of children and the wailing of a baby, cranky for the breast. The laundering stones were draped with wet fabric, the water foaming slightly with the soaps.

Then came the scream.

The rush.

The hush.

The wide-eyed horror.

Two small children, tangled in a vine, floated to bump against the rocks at the end of the pool, the current threatening to carry them over and downstream. Like broken puppets on a string.

They’d been playing and must have banged heads under water, or on a sharp rock, or on some other, less understood, thing. Their thrashing would have been noticed, but they must have been lost to the loud playfulness of others, or to the slap of clothing and the scrape of washers against stone. Or to how quickly they dropped.

She shuddered as the image superimposed itself on the empty coldness.

Everything changed after that. She only came here one other time since. And not with company.

The family of the man who had been a child at the time still wielded power in the town. She wouldn’t have been believed if she had told, that the dreamy boy who liked to twirl in the sun and who no one dared tease, had drawn a slingshot in mid-dance and used his spin to hurl small sharp stones into the children’s temples. The “thwack, thwack” was not only from scythes. She wouldn’t have been believed if she’d blamed him for the death of her pet rabbit, even though she’d seen him kill the trusting ball of fluff. Or for holding her down and poking her where no one should. She kept quiet and let the secret nibble holes in her insides.

It wouldn’t have brought the children back.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, bending to touch the water with her fingertips.

The bodies had long been buried, but their souls could not be. Not without the truth.

She rose and wrapped the cloak tightly around her. The clouds gathered and she saw a crack of lighting in the distance. A low rumble chased it, chastening or soothing, she could not tell.

She forced the air into her lungs and turned away.

She will be leaving again. The secret will remain.

 

 

 

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

 

Portal To Tomorrow

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Photo: Smadar Halperin-Epshtein

 

In the portal to

Tomorrow

Let the trumpets

Ring not

Alarm

And rush to

Harm,

But stop to the

Hubris

Of war.

In the portal for

Tomorrow

May those men

Who rashly

Spend

The life of

Others,

Know the call

Of trumpets

Often heralded

Only pain,

More gore.

Enough.

Enough.

No more.

 

 

For the Tuesday Photo Challenge: Portal

 

 

Over Barricaded

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Photo: Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

 

There was a wall in there.

A barricade against the world.

He’d built it, bit by bit, from hurts and slights and bigger woes.

And hid.

Within.

Where he thought he’d be safe, and from where he could watch from a distance, reassured by barriers and gates and locks and elaborate booby-traps that made sure no one got too close.

There was a wall in there.

And a moat.

Alligators, too. For insurance.

Only that they had become hungry with the years, as less people even attempted to get near him, and therefore there was less bait.

So that he was, in many ways, imprisoned.

He’d been young when he’d built the wall, and he didn’t plan ahead. So needy of a solid barricade he’d been, that he never made a way to unlock the gate.

 

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Barricade in 136 words

 

 

Fortified

 

They’d fortified the ceiling.

So they said.

The old structure needed periodical reinforcing.

So they said.

The thickness of the walls supported their claims. The deeply recessed windows. The heavy coats of paint on ancient plaster.

‘Twas all a ruse. Of course.

The false ceiling hid a warren of crawl-spaces and narrow hiding places. A stream of escaped slaves was followed by a flood of those fleeing Nazi persecution and thereafter a steady trickle of modern-day refugees.

The ceiling hid them all. Young and old. Broken and defiant. Desperate and bewildered. Men and women and the all-too-heartbreaking child.

Some stayed a night. Others for longer sheltering. Hilda had stayed the longest. A girl on arrival, she was almost a woman at war’s end. She emerged educated. In silence. In stealth. In compassion.

She became the guardian of those who followed.

Fortified with hope of one day needing it no more.

 

 

 

For the Crimson’s Creative Challenge

Note: Dedicated to all the heroes who — often at tremendous risk to themselves — had managed to shelter the needy, the desperate, the voiceless, and the vulnerable during times of injustice, persecution, violence, horror, and hate. To all who do so still. May we one day need to do so no more.

 

Warehoused

Photo: © J Hardy Carroll

 

The cells were small. Sturdy enough to keep them separated. Aerated enough to keep them alive. Near enough to let them marinate in each other’s misery.

What the jailers did not foresee, however, was how they were just close enough to offer comfort. Fingers laced through fencing let them hold hands. Almost.

Oh, they moved to corners when anyone came. Pretended to hate each other. Endured each other’s fake bullying that so amused their captors.

But in the silent moments they sat close, back-pressed-through-chain-to-back. Their ‘caretakers’ warehoused them like animals, but the children’s defiance held: they remembered they were siblings.

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

Slivers Of Dreams

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Photo: Marina Shatskih on Unsplash

 

All those dreams that he had

As a child

Snug

Under covers

At night,

His tattered teddy

In arms.

His dreams

Parsed out

Into slivers

When

Under stars

At war,

His battered rifle

The only thing

He could

Hug.

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS prompt: Dream

 

 

Fading

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

They didn’t tell him he’d be seeing things.

They didn’t tell him how cold he’d be, or how alone, or how desperately he’d miss even the smallest comforts. Like a hue that wasn’t on the scale of dirty-white to sort-of-gray.

Maybe he was dying.

Was this how it would be?

He’d ask.

If he could.

They didn’t tell him he’d be unable to speak. Or that the voice he’d make would go unheard, unseen, unnoticed.

He blinked.

The stag was still there.

Perhaps real, perhaps conjured by the wish to flee combined with the worry about antlers being helplessly tangled as one tried to get away.

“You watch out,” he mouthed. Or said. Or yelled. “Don’t be fooled. Don’t be like me.”

The stag stood still. A statue. Another tree?

Then in one split second it bounded, disappeared.

Come back, he whispered. He’d never been so lonely.

He wept. He thought he did. He was so cold.

He looked at his hands. They blurred. He, too, must be fading.

Eternity.

The shadows crept near. A rumble of garbled monster-speech.

He heaved.

 

“Good trip?”

“He’s kind’a out of it.”

“He said he wanted to try some!”

“Yeah, but how much did you fools dump in his drink?”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto challenge

 

 

Become Stone

Photo: #CCC48

 

She crouched and tried to still her heart and limbs so the water would not give her away in wavelets or ripples.

Her teeth chattered. She wasn’t dressed for wet and the day’s sun had little warmth, none of which reached the shaded culvert.

She strained to listen.

She did all she could think of to hide her steps, but she wasn’t likely to escape the dogs. If they brought them. Oh pray please, please, that they did not. Not the dogs.

Her breath hitched and she bit down on her lip to try and swallow the sob that rode on it. The metal taste of blood filled her mouth. She heard barking. Surely the dogs could smell it. And her fear.

She closed her eyes and prayed to become stone.

She would not feel their chains, the bites, the clubs, their touch, their lashes, if she were a stone.

 

 

 

For the Crimson Creative Challenge

 

On Delicate Wings

On delicate wings NaamaYehuda

Photo: Na’ama Yehuda

 

What had happened to you

In the short life

You knew?

Your wings’ rhythm

Aflutter

To a drum

Gone

Askew?

Your beauty imbued

By what could life

Subdue,

You flit on right

Through,

Gloriously determined,

To be you,

To be you.

 

 

 

 

For the Sunday Stills challenge: A bug’s life