The Instructions

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Photo: Luma Pimentel via Unsplash

 

“I’ve written it all down,” she’d said.

“Anything you need to know is there,” she’d promised.

“It’ll a breeze,” she assured me, one hand already on the door handle. “I won’t be too long. It’s just a short gig. A few hours at most. He’ll likely sleep right through to my return anyway.”

But the baby slept through about five minutes and then would not stop crying and I had no idea what half of the terminology for baby-brand stuff meant or what “up to the spoon line” was supposed to be when I couldn’t find any spoons with lines, and no clue how to “keep a hand on the baby at all times” while also needing two of them just to untangle the tabs on the darn diaper and another two to keep the baby’s feet from kicking it away … And the clean bottles came separated from nipples, which had multiple unrelated parts that needed assembly like an Ikea cabinet from hell … And what on earth is a spit-up cloth and how is it different than a towel or a blanket?

Speaking of, how does one swaddle a baby without dislocating something in the process of making it into a mummified burrito?

And did I mention the baby would not stop crying?

 

“You’re a saint, Rick!” she’d said. Even kissed me on the cheek like I was some long lost brother and not the neighbor who happened to live next door and perhaps smiled a few times at the baby on the elevator.

“I know it is last minute but I’ve been waiting months for the opportunity … I’ll make you dinner,” she’d promised, and her relief at having a solution for the baby was so palpable that I felt guilty extricating myself from what she’d misunderstood as “yes” when at the very most I’d meant “maybe, but not really.”

 

“It was a breeze,” I said.

“He woke up but is now sleeping like an angel,” I assured her, ignoring the baby’s heft on my desperate bladder. I hadn’t dared to move, lest the baby woke again.

She looked tired and worried and sad and a little worse for wear, and I wondered how the gig went but didn’t want to ask after she appeared to hold back tears when I’d asked if she had a good time.

“Did the instructions help?” she asked instead.

I nodded. “Perfectly.”

 

 

 

For the SoCS Prompt: Instructions

 

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

 

Blessings and a Whisper

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

Lush grass now grew over the span of stones, though none had grown there in the many years when the passage of feet had mowed and flattened any seedling that had found a crack in which to nestle.

The water gurgled as it had, though, flowing like a ribbon of careless abandon underneath. Incoming. Through. Not one look back. Away.

She wondered if the fish silvering in the stream were the descendants of the ones who’d flapped among the rocks and dove out of the reach of all manner of two-legged hunters. Their instincts certainly remained the same.

Like hers.

Honed by years of flight, and generations of bare escape from calamity and disaster and all manner of two-legged hunters’ spread of misery.

For centuries the stones of the old bridge had been the thoroughfare of goods and news — both good and not — from isolated farms to the town’s market and from the town into the farms, and in that order. It had withstood war and fights and blight and playful dares and cruel shove-overs. It streamed with rain and baked with sun and creaked with ice and endured more than one direct hit of lightning. It had heard the laughter of small children and the cries of same, sometimes not much later after. Where rugged wheels and heavy hooves had carved ruts of rattling passage, now weeds took hold to cover any sign of man.

It stood deserted, and perhaps relieved, since the new and wider bridge was built a bit further downstream. The modern pathway accommodated simultaneous travel in both directions as it carried the weight of the machines that belched dark stains onto its tar.

She’d been warned against attempting to put any weight on the old bridge. They all were. “It’s held by no more than blessings and a whisper,” her grandmother had cautioned. “One step onto the wrong stone and it could collapse.”

And yet, it had outlasted both Grandmother’s life and Mother’s and seemed poised to outlast hers, as well. Perhaps blessings and a whisper were better mortar than the speeding up of time.

“And you don’t have much long to wait to outlast me,” she murmured as she walked to the water and bent to dip her palm. Cold.

As she would be, sans blessings or a whisper, before much more water churned indifferently along, passed under the bridge, and was gone.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto Challenge

 

Therefore

dream catchers OsnatHalperinBarlev

Photo: Osnat Halperin-Barlev

 

It has come to her before.

The message that had felt like lore

And made a home

Inside her core.

It ricocheted in her heart

Amidst the four walls

Of her soul.

Her spirit knew it,

And therefore,

She left her door open

For more.

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS challenge: For/Fore/Four

 

 

When She Leaves

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Photo: Mahima on Pexels.com

 

When she leaves, there will be time enough for all the things that should have happened and yet didn’t. When she leaves, a space will open to allow what was yearned for but manifested not. When she leaves — in a week or month or year or decade — a leaf would turn to let the newness grow.

When she leaves.

Yet for the time being she remains.

She has no choice. Or not a real one.

She plods along the rutted path made by the heavy feet she’d dragged so many times before. She does what must be done. She smiles. She nods. She cooks. She holds.

She finds in every day a small reminder of the hope. A sliver of a dream. A memory of what is yet to come.

It sustains her.

It has to.

It’s all she has.

Until she leaves.

 

 

 

For the SoCS writing prompt: Leaves

 

 

Cryptography

https://crimsonprose.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/no-junk-mail-1.jpg?w=640&h=427

 

“How would this work, exactly?”

Jason shrugged and bent to scratch a bug-bite on his ankle, shaggy mane covering his face.

Mark narrowed his eyes. “Seriously, Man, who’d put a mailbox on a crypt?”

Jason straightened, and not for the first time, Mark couldn’t help but think of puppets with too many strings and too few fingers to operate them. Everything about Jason was too long, too lanky, too loose. It was as if someone had forgotten to tighten the screws in his friend’s joints. He’d known Jason since Second-grade, yet something about seeing his classmate’s movements in this setting, woke a bell of alarm in Mark’s belly.

He moves like a mummy, he realized. Shuddered. Shook it off.

“My Granny says some use it,” Jason replied, oblivious.

“For real?”

The tow-headed boy nodded. “Requests for revenge, mostly, she says. After all, it is the crypt of a mass-murderer.”

 

 

For Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

The Winner

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Photo: Wesley Eland

 

It was never about the money, or the endless calculations, or the disappointment she learned to expect and accept. The odds were against her. She knew that. Everyone said so. Many laughed.

And yet …

She could scarce believe it when she saw the numbers and date and words line up, when she knew that for once — in the way that mattered most — she was the winner.

She rubbed her eyes. Checked everything again.

She called to double check. Her heart thrumming in her chest.

She wrote down every detail: The place. The time. The plan. The day when her life would forever change.

Or had it changed already?

That night she tossed and turned and even though she finally fell asleep, she woke before dawn with her heart aflutter, and gazed into the ceiling till the morning brought with it the first few rays of sun.

A day reborn. Herself, perhaps, as well.

Nights will never be the same, she thought. Nor mornings.

Nor any other time in any other hour. Winter or summer. Light or dark.

She counted down the days, excited beyond words and somewhat frightened — should she tell? Who to? How much to share? How much to keep to herself?

Eventually she’ll have to. …

Oh, there will be a celebration! She could list in her mind the friends who’d rejoice with her. She could also note the dread of recognizing those whose green-eyed-monsters might awaken. Will she lose friendships over this? Will jealousy taint what she’d never quite dared to believe would be awarded her?

“I won the lottery,” she whispered to herself, holding the bit of paper between shaking fingers. “They’ve checked it out and they’ve agreed. It’s approved. Two more weeks … I won’t believe it till I’m there. Till after. Till I’m back home with a new life in my hands.”

She pulled out the photo. Drank it in. The ebony chubby cheeks. The dimple in the elbow. The eyes. These eyes …

“I’m coming, Bomani …” She kissed the picture that the orphanage included with the adoption papers. “Mama’s coming for you, my little son-to-be.”

 

 

For V.J.’s Weekly Challenge: Lottery

 

Not Disappointed

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Cape Disappointment (Photo: John Westrock on Upsplash)

 

The damp timbers creaked under her feet as she wondered if the fog would lift. She half-hoped it would not.

She was still small and timorous when her uncle had brought her here for the first time. “And you won’t be disappointed,” he had laughed, the lines about his eyes creasing in merriment.

It was only later that she understood his joke. It still made her smile.

Indeed, she loved Cape Disappointment. Even in the fog. Perhaps especially in the fog, in its unique magic. She’d read that almost a third of a year’s hours are spent in fog on the headland, masking rivers, hugging sand.

A gust of wind dripped cold into her collar and she laughed. Her uncle used to shake a branch onto her. This felt like a gift.

“You were right, Uncle,” she wiped a tear. “This place did not disappoint. Neither did you. Not once.”

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Cape Disappointment, Washington, USA

 

 

The Look

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“It is looking at me.”

“What is?” I was dozing off in the delicious sun on the first dry weekend we’d had in a while. The lush grass under me felt springy.

I thought the word was so apt. Springy. The double meaning of the season and the bouncy vivaciousness of it all.

“It is looking at me.”

I inhaled slowly with more resignation than irritation. I might’ve known this would not go as I had envisioned. While I was content to lie still and let the sounds of the birds and the hiss of the breeze and the faraway whir of a tractor in someone’s field fill and nourish me, Marlee had been tugging on grass-blades and clucking her tongue and shifting positions every three seconds.

She’s always been flighty. A flit-bit full of frown and furrow, forever on the edge of tumbling from one thing to another.

I loved it about her. She was the counter-weight to my molasses and the engine to my stasis. Her hypervigilance also made my idea of a relaxing afternoon where we do nothing, an utterly foreign thing.

Perhaps an even frightening one.

I opened my eyes. “What’s looking at you?”

“That.”

I raised myself on an elbow and scanned the field. There was no one there.

Marlee sat, violin-string-tight, eyes glued ahead.

I followed her line of sight. Nothing. Not even a bunny. Just a tractor that most likely belongs to the farmer whose land we might be trespassing on. I squinted against the glare – the cab was empty – there was no one there.

Marlee did not move.

Resigned now, I sat up and stared harder. A caterpillar undulated up a flower’s stem by my knee. A bird dove at the tractor, perched momentarily on a mirror, and flew away.

“The bird?” I chanced.

Marlee shook her head but her eyes remained trained on the vehicle. “The tractor,” she said. “That thing has eyes. I swear it blinked at me.”

 

 

 

For Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

Home Idyll

Belize InbarAsif

Photo: Inbar Asif

 

She leaned against the painted wall and exhaled a sigh of relief.

She was finally home. Hardship over. She was free. All was going to be as she needed it to be.

The freshly laundered whites fluttered in the sea breeze and the rush of waves sang in her ears. A dun puppy yipped at a bird. The baby slept at her feet.

“Have you eaten?” Grandmama called, a loving voice on the wind.

“I’m coming,” she smiled and bent to lift the bassinet.

 

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Idyll in 84 words