Night Flight

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

It was the island that saved her, in the beginning, in the middle, in the end.

At first it had been the noting of it. The realization that there was a place, not large and yet separate enough as to hold its own. Like herself, if she could manage it.

She wasn’t sure when exactly the understanding settled, only that she’d come to trust that if she ever had to, she could go there. To be safe.

That knowledge had held her in the years of interim. The island was the picture that she’d scanned across her mind each night as she tried to not take notice of what was taking place in her, on her, all around her. She took herself there, in a sense, long before she actually did. She nursed her wounds with the option. It was a salve onto her lacerated soul.

Then came the end.

Or the beginning.

Of other things. Of opportunity. Of a rebuilding of what she could be and didn’t until then form into a tangible possibility.

She made her way there under darkness. She’d had all the facts by then, gathered through secreted research and observation: the distance, the temperature of the water in different seasons, the topography, the places where there had been some shelters, and the times when people weren’t likely to frequent.

It rained the night she fled. A calculated risk she took and refused to worry could backfire. To stay would have been worse. She wouldn’t, anyhow.

The chill sucked her breath but also numbed her agony. She swam. She swam. She slammed laden limbs into the water and took herself onto the island and clenched her teeth against the chatter. The crossing had taken all she had. Almost. Just almost.

For from the flicker of willpower that remained, she lit a shallow fire, and the flame sustained her through the night and into dry clothes and the final ease of trembling. By the next night she slept, and by the third she made her plans for what else she’d need to be doing.

And she laughed.

For the first time in a long time.

Because she was safe.

She was not large, but she was now separate enough to hold her own. And she was strong.

He’d look for her, but he would not risk telling others, and he would not seek her where she was. She knew.

Her father feared the water, and from the moment she’d realized how the island could offer an escape, she’d made sure he believed she feared the water, too.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Write Photo challenge

 

Halfway Home

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

She never grew tired of it.

Even if fatigue had become part and parcel of her every day. Of her very breath.

It did not matter. Her fatigue didn’t, that is. At least, it did not matter as much as it would have otherwise. As much as she knew it could. As much as it had in the other place, where there was naught but white walls and white squeaky soles on squeaky clean tiles and antiseptic air and officious hands and flickering images on a screen where well-dressed persons babbled about things that did not feel relevant to her in the least.

They’d urged her not to leave.

She left.

No regrets.

Not when the trade-off was brisk air and the smell of just-trampled grass and the scent of rain and the open vistas of the world rolling down into the horizon where the sun met the mountains and the sky kissed the ground.

No regrets.

Not with the play of night and day around her, not with light that flickering on her covers and the sun licking her fingers as she lay in bed. Not with a world that breathed and changed and lived and died and reemerged. With yips of puppies racing down the lawn. The hiss of wind. The chirps of birds.

Sure, others were concerned, or so they said.

She did not share their dread.

Death did not scare her. Nor did the warnings that she’d be too far from hospital to get assistance in time if another crisis came. For a crisis was bound to come, and when it did, she knew she’d be content to face it with her face to the hills and her eyes on the valleys and the snow-capped mountains where her soul would soon roam.

For she was halfway home.

More than half, perhaps, now that most of the sand in her hourglass had been shed.

It did not matter.

She was halfway home, content with whatever lay ahead.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge

 

One Thousand Steps

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

The snow fell softly in the early hours, blanketing a brittle frost with a bridal veil.

She undid the entrance flap and shivered in the chill. Her thin underclothing was not sufficient for the cold. She retreated back into the shelter to don her clothes, lace her cloak, and pull on her boots.

Still when she emerged from the tent, her breath caught in the frigid air. She welcomed it. She needed her wits about her, today more than most.

Her feet crunched over the frozen ground as she hurried to relieve herself by a nearby tree. The warmth leaving her body felt palpable. In it there was relief and wariness, both.

She did not fold the tent but she did not know if she’d return to it. What she did not carry along might not be seen again … and she would not be carrying much. She was warned to bring naught but herself.

“You’d have no need for anything,” were the instructions.

The words could be ominous or comforting. She wasn’t sure which it was and she didn’t think she was meant to be certain about it. Or about anything.

There was some food left in her pack, but her stomach did not feel ready for any digesting. She drank some water instead. It tasted flat and smelled of the container it’s been in, but it would have to do. She didn’t know where water sources might be found and even if she saw some on the path she didn’t think she’d be able to avail herself of any.

She shuddered again. Of fear. Of cold. Of worry. Of expectation. Of trepidation. Of all of the above.

It will be what it will. She had little choice now. She’d given her word, and what follows was not for her to decide on anymore.

She turned her back to the tent and began counting paces. The location for her tent had been marked. The one thousand steps were to be taken away from it, with the rising sun at her back.

She mouthed the numbers, ignoring the breeze as it tunneled under her cloak, the errant twigs that grabbed hold of her hood and deposited wet fluffs of snow on her hair, down the nape of her neck, on her back. No one had said what will happen if she lost count. She did not intend to find out.

The steps became a meditation of intent and tunnel vision. The world receded into the yard immediately ahead. Then the next. Then the next.

Nine hundred ninety nine, she breathed.

“Turn around.”

She jumped. The sound came from the space her body had just vacated.

She turned only to be blinded by the sun’s glare, rising through the narrow branches of a sapling. The light speared her.

When she finally adjusted, she was elsewhere. The forest was no more. The world as she’d known it, gone.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

In The Shallows

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

There was beauty in the shallows.

The mirror of the skies. The crystalline water in their unabashed reveal. The bottom — old and newer bits together — inviting her to step in and stir the quiet till it rises soft between her toes to momentarily obscure all things.

Opacity reassured her.

Like the enveloping from clouds when they leaned in close in misty acknowledgment, it held reminders:

That life was often muddy.

That clarity was temporary, hard won, and easily disrupted.

That fog spread quickly and lifted slowly, leaving damp disorientation in its wake.

That even shallows could reflect upended bowls of heaven and earth.

 

As if it heard, the water summoned her and she stepped into the silt. Wavelets nipped at her ankles, snapping cold against her skin.

Her toes disappeared, and she thought how apt it was to have her foundation hidden underneath a swirl of settling.

She breathed and closed her eyes and stilled and became one with the water, one with the sediment of time and the detritus of being.

Slowly, both the lake and her mind cleared.

She heard her spirit whistle on the wind.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

Pink Sky Won’t Lie

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

There it was.

Now she knew what would certainly happen. It did not matter that the calendar had counted down the days for many weeks. It did not matter that arrangements have been made, checklists marked, letters sent, particulars organized. She suspected, she resisted, she pretended …

Till now.

“Pink sky won’t lie,” her grandfather had always said. A fisherman all his life, he’d counted on the minutia of the heavens to warn or greet his days.

She’d learned to accept his observations, no matter how disappointed she was with a last minute reversal of plans he’d made for her to go with him. “The water is no place for children today,” he’d say. And saddened though she’d be, she knew enough to respect his judgment of the weather, and knew him well enough to know that nothing she could say or do would dissuade him once he’d made up his mind.

“God may control the weather,” he’d tell her (though always well out of earshot of her grandmother, who would’ve boxed his ears for speaking heresy, grown man or not). “But to me the weather is the real God. I can’t see God, but I sure can see these skies, and I know what they tell me. I heed those clouds. I heed those waves. I heed those colors in the sky.”

And heed he had. Though heeding did not mean one could always escape the wrath of what was coming.

The waves had claimed her grandfather when she was not yet ten. A fast-moving storm that all had later said no one could’ve out-rowed. She almost stopped believing after that. Stopped taking heed.

Because if Grandfather couldn’t read the sky or if the sky could hide its meaning from him, why even bother trying? What will be, will be. Que Sera sera.

And yet, someplace, she never did stop checking the color of the heavens every morning. Somehow, she never did stop glancing out of windows, no matter where in the world she found herself, or how far from any seas or oceans.

Oh, she listened to the forecast. She had the Telly on while she got herself ready for the day. She checked the extended before she packed.

Yet she trusted few things better than what her own eyes showed her: Pink sky at night, sailor’s delight. Pink sky in the morning, means sailor’s warning.

The sky were ablaze.

It was dawn.

She considered herself warned.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge

 

Doomed

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

“I will stand here, then slowly scoot in and get us tickets. No one will notice.”

“Are you kidding me?!” I tried to keep my voice low. Fortunately, it wasn’t difficult to do, muffled as it was already.

Doug shrugged, scattering orange and yellow.

It was a bad idea. This whole thing. I never should’ve let Doug talk me into it.

“It will be so much fun!” he’d said. And … anything did sound better than being cooped up in a hospital bed, my face swollen and bruised and covered with bandages after reconstructive surgery, while everyone else went partying.

Doug’s initial idea was to bandage the rest of me like a mummy, but I wasn’t going for it. I had enough of bandages. So Doug ‘borrowed’ his brother’s bike leathers and brought along some plastic ‘armor’, a roll of fake cobwebs, and a helmet that he somehow managed to fit over my post-surgically-wrapped visage. It was a bit too snug in places and as soon as he’d pulled it on I knew I’d regret it when we tried to remove the thing from my poor head. My noggin was five tons of throb.

We’d gotten through the nurse’s station undetected, and were now trying to crash the doctors’ party at the end of a hallway off the lobby. There seemed to be tickets involved. Or invitations. Or IDs of some sort. Now what?

Music crashed against my ears. I was tired. I wanted to be back in bed. I should have gone as a mummy. Preferably in a sarcophagus. At least then I could lie down. It wasn’t even three full days since my surgery. What was I thinking?… Clearly I was not.

“This is stupid!” I hissed.

“You’ll see,” Doug, undeterred, maneuvered his wrapped wheelchair into a corner, shedding more leaves, “People don’t notice trees.”

Oh, I could see already. And more than I wanted to.

“They would notice this one,” I grumbled.

Already Doug’s stick arms and bony torso showed. Someone should have hold him that being a potted tree in fall was doomed to leave him sitting in the nude.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge

 

Perhaps

Photo prompt: Janet Puddicombe

 

The morning was overcast but the weatherman promised afternoon sunshine. “A perfect day,” the man in his not-quite-fitting suit gushed, and Lola felt protective. No one better dare mock him!

It didn’t take a doctorate to recognize what he woke in her: Her father, hiding repeated humiliations, readying to leave for yet another job interview that he already knew would likely go to someone younger and better educated, with no giveaway accent and a lighter complexion.

“Go get’em, Dad,” she’d tell him as he’d fuss over the knot of his tie or the papers in his attache.

“Thank you, Querida,” he’d say as he buttoned the jacket for his only suit, the one that didn’t fit him as it should. Or perhaps never had. He’d certainly gotten it off the rack.

She’d tried to convince him to get one tailor-made.

“I’m no big boss, Querida,” he’d always shrug her off. “Just a man looking for a job. Perhaps one day, Lola, when you’re a doctor, for your graduation, I’ll buy me one.”

She eyed his favorite flowers. Bought as she had those days, to cheer him up.

“Perhaps,” she whispered, buttoning her cape, “you’d have gotten that suit. Today, Dad.”

 

 

For the Sunday Photo Fiction challenge

 

Poke Practice

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

“I’ll flunk.”

Malinda sighed. Her brother needed an inordinate amount of putting up with.

“You’ll be fine,” she forced calmness into her voice. In part because she felt bad for him — Jerrod had always been too sensitive and too-tightly wound — and in part because she did not wish to then have even more of his perceived wounding to bandage.

“I’ve flunked it before.”

He had. Three times.

“You were younger and you were less experienced,” Malinda soothed. “Here, have some tea. It’ll calm your nerves.”

Jerrod folded his legs and lowered himself to the floor, only to spring back up and resume pacing.

“What if I don’t pass this time, either?” the youth fretted. His hair was plastered against his bony cheeks and his gray eyes appeared sunken under the woolen hood of his cloak.

Malinda took a deep breath. It was becoming increasingly difficult to believe that the morose youngster was ever the cherub-faced toddler she’d cuddled to sleep, and whose ringlets were impossible to resist poking a finger through.

Poking. … How odd that this was what her memory conjured. Or perhaps not so odd. Considering.

“Sit, Jerrod,” she repeated, putting an order behind her voice. He was not helping himself by fanning the flames of anxiety. He needed controlled calm in order to tame flame.

He sat and she handed him the wooden cup filled with steaming liquid.

“What’s in it?” his voice rose with a wariness she knew had nothing to do with the contents of the tea.

“Pine and honey. Nothing altering. You know I would not break the rules about such things.”

“Not even for me?”

His vulnerability and neediness grated. She breathed to calm herself. She could not ask of him what she did not require of herself. “Not even to you,” she emphasized. “One cannot poke fire when their own mind is on the flee.”

He blushed. He knew that. Everyone did.

“I’m scared,” he admitted, nose buried in the drink.

“I know,” she said gently. “Let the fear become the center of your gravity, then send it through your arm. Use it to concentrate your force. Fear is energy. Make it work for you.”

“Is that what you did?”

Malinda felt her eyebrows rise. People did not ask others how they’d passed their Poke Test. She was of a mind to remind her brother of the intrusiveness of his query, but she knew it would only further increase Jerrod’s sense of isolation. Perhaps others did not ask because they did not feel the need to. Obviously he did.

“Yes,” she replied, and the word brought back the trepidation she’d felt. The mix of terror and excitement, the flush of fear that became an arrow of determined indignation. She had passed. On the very first try.

She closed her eyes at the revisiting of the panic and the thrill.

She’d just completed her one-digit years and became eligible for attempting the Poke Test. To tame and manipulate fire was to be afforded the respect suitable for one who mastered the life-element they could none of them survive without. Fire was life. To know it, to master it, was a necessity and therefore a right of passage.

Some, like her, passed the Poke Test soon after turning ten. Jerrod had tried, and failed. And tried, and failed. And tried and failed again. Cowering before the flame he was reduced to tears, allowing the tongues of fire to do as they wished. He could not master it. It mastered him.

He was thirteen now. The oldest among those who were yet to conquer fire. Save for Leon, who was almost twenty but soft in the head. Even Sandra, who was blind, had tamed the blaze by twelve.

“Yes,” Malinda repeated. “I was afraid, but I turned that fear into a wand and ordered the flames to bend to my will.”

“A wand?” Jerrod’s eyes met hers, and she hoped that the glimmer she saw in them was of will-power rather than the sheen of anticipated defeat.

She nodded. The sound of bugle resonated. It was time.

“Come, brother,” she grabbed his hand and pulled him up to a stand. “Today, you pass from child to man. Go and tame the fire with your wand.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Write Photo challenge

 

 

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

 

 

Stone Face

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

She stood on the ledge and watched the edge of the world dissolve into fire.

It had been a long day, waiting. He did not come. She did not know when he could. Only that he would when he managed to get free.

As she had.

It was their place. Before. It will be their home. Now.

They’d found the small cave down the rock-face when they were still children frolicking in the waves. They’d been rolling with a large piece of driftwood one day when the currents had taken them farther than they’d expected. They’d tried to reverse course but it was futile to fight the sea. It was after reality had set in and they’d began to fret in earnest, that they’d spotted what looked like a black tooth on the jagged cliff. As Merlin tried to point to it, the log rolled, depositing the two of them into the waves and bestowing a farewell knock on Marla’s head. It had gone black behind her eyes after that.

Merlin had managed to drag her to and onto the surf-beaten rocks, scraping both of them raw in the process. He claimed the seals had helped him and she never doubted it. Nor that the seals had likely rolled the log in the only spot the two of them might’ve had a chance of getting to the shore unbroken.

They had clawed their way slowly up to the ledge, crying and more than a little frightened, only to find that what had appeared a black tooth from the sea, was in fact a cave’s mouth that was dry and deep enough to offer shelter. The marvel had calmed them enough to explore, and they’d found a precarious but doable foot- and hand-hold way to gain access up to the top of the cliff. And from there across the moors home.

They’d made a pact to never tell anyone about “Stone Face” — named for how the features could be read in the rock above the ledge. They suffered the indignities of being mocked for slipping into a whirlpool — the story they’d made up to explain their miserable condition and the lateness of their arrival home — and they endured the punishment of being forbidden from going to play in the water for the rest of that long summer, and the drudgery of extra chores.

It did not matter. Their secret sustained them. As had their rare visits to Stone Face via the barely-there climbing way. It was their refuge and all the more a miracle to them for how no one had known of it (or at least not in their lifetime, for there were signs of hearth-fires on the blackened ceiling and some stone flakes that could cut deep and might’ve been a tool in someone’s hand). It was their place of hopes and dreams and stories.

Then time came and Merlin was indentured to the Smithy, and Marla was sent off to scrub the floors and bear the fists and the bastard children of Lord Bowery, a man of no nobility in deportment or form. She tried to endure him, but the core of her rebelled against his injustices and his brutal invasions. She fled.

The Smithy’s apprentice was due to bring brackets to the manor’s door that week. She had to trust that he would find out she was gone.

And that he would come for her.

To make Stone Face, home.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto: Stillness