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

 

 

 

Out Focus

Photo prompt: © Ted Strutz

 

He wanted to take the glasses off but it was not allowed.

The penalty was devastatingly permanent.

True Focus was reserved for a selected few. A privilege. Stealing it would result in losing all sight. Both eyes.

He blinked and tried to calm the nausea that came with the distorting lenses. He never got used to the dizziness. Or the headache.

He didn’t think they were meant to.

“Loyalty above clarity; Fealty, not facts.”

It was chanted. It was law.

A disoriented population was the goal.

He grieved for the realities that had been ignored when freedom still had hope.

 

 

 

For Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers

 

 

Delicate Rest

ButterflyRest R.RZ

Photo: R. RZ

 

Take a moment

To rest

Ere you once more

Take flight.

Let the weariest

Parts

Lean their weight

With foresight,

For the breath

That will come

Delicate

In the light.

 

 

For the Tuesday Photo Challenge: Rest

 

 

The Error

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Photo: Daniela Holzer on Unsplash

 

She hadn’t intended for it to go this way.

She’d taken pains to be intensely selective of what she allowed. She’d researched every step, scoured barely legible ink on faded notes and prepared for every eventuality. She had kept her eyes peeled for any red-flags that should not be ignored.

She was careful.

And yet. There it was. Completely different than intended.

Her error.

She already repeated all the steps and realized her mistake. Her wonderful mistake.

It did not turn out as she’d expected.

It turned out fantastic instead.

She bottled it.

The aromatic error that will become the star perfume of the age.

 

 

 

For the RDP Monday challenge: Aromatic

 

Good Fortune

xinhua county wikipedia

Photo: Xinhua County, China (Wikipedia)

 

It was the busiest time.

His loneliest.

He sought good fortune in small things. Mostly because it was absent from the big ones. There was always some disaster to contend with: illness, sorrow, loss.

He was born unlucky. His mother pushed by the side of the road because he’d come so quickly. He was blamed for his rash emergence. For her illness. For her early death. Blamed in the not-so-subtle ways that used words like blades.

“You always were impatient,” his grandmother would say. “Show too-little respect.”

He knew his grandmother resented his emerging like a peasant in the dirt when she had clawed her way out of the rice-fields. He had no response.

“Be grateful that you have enough to eat,” she’d frown. “Unlucky boy.”

Xinhua offered work. He fled.

The letter said that his grandmother had died.

New Year approached. His good fortune was to spend it alone.

 

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Xinhua, China

 

 

 

Shattered

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Photo: Jamie Street on Unsplash

 

 

The hammer rose, the gavel dropped

As justice found no peace.

Corruption forced doors closed

And barred.

The records sealed.

The future scarred.

And through the shards

Of looking-glass

Died efforts made for

Governance.

The People found

Their oaths destroyed

By those fawning

Over naked

Emperors.

The tatters of longstanding laws

Reduced to rags under the feet

That now dance

Only to

Heil deceit.

 

 

For Sammi’s Weekend Writing Prompt: Looking-Glass in 64 words

 

 

Choosing Dandelions

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Photo: Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

 

I wake and turn my back on the clock and seek the comfort of the dream that is still floating like a bubble, already fragile, above my head. It pops and disappears and there is nothing but a vague sense of something lost. I wanted to go back into it … and yet the choice, when it was made in some subterranean neurological net within my mind, was that sleep was to escape.

The day to unfold.

Still, and throughout the mundane tasks of morning, small search-parties like tentative roots into hard-packed sand, send shoots into my consciousness to try and capture whiffs of the dream. A hope that perhaps a fleeting dandelion seed of recollection will find purchase and regrow a stalk.

A place of in-between. Perhaps a corner of my mind is still in slumber. Perhaps if I find it, I will come across the dream, robust in puffy bubble-hood, still tethered to my insides, waiting to be seen.

Sometimes writing helps.

I have too much to do.

I will ignore.

Will choose to sit and breathe and let my mind and fingers wander where they may, the sands of time, the depths of grief, the dawns of days, the fluttering delights, the warmth of recognition, the sorrows of injustice. Currents of discovery of what’s already there. A sea of tethered bubbles like a field of hot-air balloons, straining at the anchors to let loose.

I wrote of a blimp just the day before.

Was that the origin or the reaction to the imagery of bobbing thoughts and fullness so tangible it turns air into rising power? Was the blimp the source or the reflection of the fragility of any skin if pulled too tight, of the leaking deflation if seams are untended, the world upended as it spirals out of flight?

I write. I breathe.

I look pointedly away from the pink sticky notes and the open documents holding forms awaiting filling for a speaking engagement and another for an upcoming presentation and a list of emails needing a response.

I make a choice.

To chase a dandelion.

 

 

 

For Linda Hill’s SoCS Challenge: Choices