Carve The Cliffs

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

The calls of people searching for him reached his ears but he ignored them. They’d find him soon enough, and there would be punishment for him whether he answered or not. He preferred making good use of his time till then. Listening to other things.

The gulls dipped and screamed above the crashing surf. A rain-cloud hovered over the water, advancing like the searchers toward an inevitable drenching of the shore. It was his perfect weather. This mist on air. The colors. The expectation.

Did the cliffs welcome the rain or dread it? Sometimes he wondered whether for the rocks, perched above the ocean, there was relief in showers washing like tears down their stony cheeks.

He could see those. Tears. Cheeks. Faces. Hidden in the rocks.

Others mocked him for it. They said he was loose in the mind. Lacking logic. Too dreamy. Insane.

They tried beating it out of him. Did they think their thumps and slaps and lashes could drive away who he was, the way a kick sometimes dissuaded a stray dog from nosing near the chicken coop? There were times he’d wondered, curled in sobbing misery, whether it would not be better if they could.

Yet as soon as the sting subsided and the tears dried and a new morning dawned, he would feel the itch inside his soul awaken, stronger. It could not be squelched. It would no be ignored. There were spirits in those mountains. There were faces in the cliffs. He saw them. Heard their call.

An arm grasped his shoulder. Shook him. Slapped his head. Angry words garbled at his ears. He let the scolding drip to the ground. He let himself be led.

When he was grown, he vowed, he was going to carve the cliffs and release the stone-people from the prisons of ancient overgrown rock. He was going to help, so the rain could wash, freely, down their liberated cheeks.

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

The Wait

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

In the days of old they’d walk out on the water at high tide, appearing to float atop the waves.

It was a sign of trust.

Also of recognition. For they’d come from the water, after all. Their bodies might have forgotten how to live in it, but their cousins — seals, dolphins, whales — still held links to what was possible. And they spoke of long swims and deep dives and frolicking, and of how one day they’d all come home again.

And so they hoped.

And let themselves be carried by tentative feet on mossy rocks built far in and well past the breakers, all the way to the beginnings of the depths.

First as children whose hands were grasped by others’. Then as youngsters showing off their balance and their fearless speed (and perhaps a bit of memory from within their cells, of swiveling agility and joy being in of itself a kind of swimming). Then as new adults, saddled with fuller understanding and big bellies or wrapped by legs and arms of small ones holding tight around the waist and neck. Then as elders, wary of a fall and fearful even more of a child letting go of their hand and drowning. And at the last, as age counted no more, carried, offered, sent home to the sea.

Yes, in the days of old they’d walk out onto the water.

In celebration. In commemoration. In passage. In ritual and prayer and courage and communal hope.

Till they forgot.

And the waves licked the rocks till very little path was left, and dolphins and seals and whales no longer were spoken to and had moved on, and the earth and depths curled tight to wait.

For the people’s lungs still ached for the swim, and their heart still beat to the rhythm of the surf as they slept, and they still made a bit of ocean in their eyes, especially when they wept.

 

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Write Photo

 

 

Man In The Straw

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

“And the man in the straw danced and danced …”

“Till the morning came and changed his chance?”

Thomas stroked his granddaughter’s head. She never tired of the story. Her favorite, and she knew it by heart. As he knew her many expressions, the myriad of small sounds she made as she dreamed each night.

She was his favorite. His only, but still his favorite. No one could convince him otherwise.

“Grandpa?” the child burrowed deeper into her blankets.

“Yes, Pumpkin?”

“Do you think the man in the straw ever wanted to be something else?”

He felt his eyes widen as he glanced down at her. Her eyes were open, too. Gone were any traces of the soft daze of moments before sleep.

“What do you think, Pumpkin?” he returned the question, uncertain whether what he’d read into it was indeed in the child’s mind, and unwilling to insert his own assumptions into what may well be a different query altogether.

There were many things to wish were different. In the folktale. In life, too. He often wondered if she so loved the old story exactly because it spoke of vulnerabilities and challenge, of facing fears and finding fault and making do and fighting on. All things she’d know more than enough of.

The child nibbled momentarily on her lower lip. “I think maybe he sometimes wanted to be the man in the spiral. Or Fire. Or the mask. Or the stag.”

“Hmm …” he nodded, hoping she’d say more, wondering if she would. There was a depth to the child. Currents he did not always understand or believe he ought to. An Old Soul, his beloved Mara had said of the newborn even in the few days she had with the child before the angels called.

“But,” the little girl sighed, curling up so her back rested against her grandfather’s thigh as he sat on the edge of her cot. “I think he knew he was the Man In The Straw …”

The pause lingered. The child yawned.

“… and that he was meant to dance and dance …” she whispered, her breath deepening, her eyes closed. “… till morning came and changed his chance…”

 

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

Pathfinders

crown SueVincent

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

They filed into the toothy circle, a long double line, holding hands over the green strip that split them apart.

The stone pillars stood, immobile, ever present, waiting.

There have always been golden fields in all directions. Wild, then cultivated. The rustling of the ripened plants replacing a hush that would otherwise feed unease.

For there will be no voice heard.

No word.

No song.

No shout.

Nothing said.

Just a long line of humility, stepping up the path and through the eye of the ancient circle. Waiting to be cleansed.

To be whole.

To be seen.

To walk on.

Ahead.

Out the other side and down the second path where a widening triangle fanned into the distant horizon, mirroring the measure of relief.

And from the far far spaces, well beyond the hills, the sound of voices, whispers freed, a humming on the breeze.

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

No Known Gnome

homeless-gnomes CrispinaKemp

CCC #69

 

No matter how much he tried to recreate the last exchange he’d had with The Tall, he couldn’t wrap his head around how he ended up in the predicament he now found himself in.

Open-eyed-blind, blunted, turned away from everything and everyone. He was but a nub of his former self.

It never should’ve come to that.

He didn’t think such drastic measures had ever been taken before against any of the garden folk. Certainly not against a gnome (shorter and tricksier than most or not). Sure, there have been tales of persecuted fairies. Of elves’ homes trampled. Of spirits sent to cemetery quarantine. Perhaps the less-than-fair Fair-Folk had to sometimes be kept in check. But gnomes? Why would anyone get even with a Grandfather of Gardens? Gnomes were made to evoke trust and smiles, not fury.

And yet. There he was. Exiled. Helplessly turned against the blank, black wall.

 

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

Kultuk

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Nikiski, USA (Photo: Elijah Hiett on Unsplash)

 

“The spirits of water and sun fought with the spirits of snow and ice well before the white man came to this land aiming to tame them.” The old man spoke softly, punctuating his words with silence. “Our people did not fight the spirits. Birth and death. Light and dark. The Tinneh accept them as they do life.”

The elder’s story was met with quiet nods of respect. There was no need for sound when another was speaking. A log crackled in the fire and the hush of waves sang on the shore instead.

“Our Tinneh ancestors have lived here ever since Walrus and Whale were born from the womb of Water Spirit. The white man calls this place Nikiski. It is a fine name, but not as fine as the name it already has. Just like the seal that swims unseen, Kultuk still lives under the new name’s ice.”

 

 

 

For What Pegman Saw: Nikiski, Alaska

 

 

Sentry Sign

 

“Can you believe this weather? The sun is …” she stopped cold, her jaw frozen in mid-sentence. Her heart thundered, threatening to escape the confines of her chest.

“Mauve?”

Eric’s voice sounded as if filtered through molasses. Someplace in her stunned mind she noted to herself that she finally understood why cartoonists slurred speech and movement into agonizing slow-motion during moments of high-drama. It was as if the world itself spun differently. Time simultaneously lingered and lost all definition.

Her finger labored against a suddenly-too-heavy gravity. She pointed at the gravestone.

“The swirls,” she managed, her tongue was a parched brick in a desert.

She forced herself to breathe and swallow. Paradoxically the motion released some moisture back into her arid mouth.

“It is the mark of my ancestors,” she whispered. “A sacred, secret, rarely-used Sentry Sign. I’d only seen it once. I didn’t even know they’d been to this land.”

 

 

For Crispina’s Crimson’s Creative Challenge

 

 

 

New Born

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

He was born on a blustery night to a woman who huddled on the exposed slopes with naught but the protection of three wide backs to block the worst of the wind. The men crouched, arms linked and heads down, their eyes averted from what was taboo to watch, as they hummed the low sounds of incantations meant to shield the woman and babe from the demons and their own ears from the muffled cries.

There was no midwife.

The other woman had died not a full moon prior. It was a bad omen.

There was no spirit-guide. Their leader, too, had died.

Bad omens, all.

There was only the woman, panting desperately in the dark. And the three of them: One of whom in whose hearth she’d grown, one whose hearth she shared, one who’d preceded her in her mother’s womb. And a girl-child of barely eight winters. Pale and shivering and wide-eyed, she knelt before the woman, one hand on the swollen belly, another cradling the opening for the magic and terror that no man was allowed to look upon. But she would. She was too young. But there was no one else who could.

As the night stretched and the panting shortened, he was born.

By morning, they moved on.

A fresh mound under a rock marked the space where the smell of blood still lingered. The men had dug the hole, even though it was women’s work. A concession to their circumstance. They could not wait till the girl, or woman, gathered sufficient strength for the task. It was paramount that one put distance between oneself and the afterbirth, lest the demons seek to lug the babe back into the dark. The mother, too, sometimes.

They left all that behind.

He lived his first days in almost the same darkness he’d been made in. Cocooned inside his mother’s wraps, lips close enough to her breast to suckle, rocked by the same thunder and gurgle of her heartbeat and innards.

Sometimes, much later in years, he’d remember the indistinguishable. How inside and out did not differ by much other than air and hunger and the momentary cold that blanketed him when he was whipped out to be held above the ground to release his waste.

He might’ve stayed cocooned for longer had they not found the cave.

The old man saw it first. A black tooth in the mountain-side. Large enough to fit.

They waited two days to approach it. Demons have been known to skulk in the back of dark hollows, waiting to pounce. They were too few to risk it. Let alone with a helpless morsel who couldn’t even cling.

When nothing bigger than a ferret emerged from the entry, and when hares were spotted munching languidly nearby, they knew that whatever demons might have lived there once, had since long gone.

They brought an ember to the cave. And stones for a hearth. And moss and boughs for bedding.

The girl carried water from the spring. The woman made the tea and cooked the grain from her ceremonial parcel. They ate. They drank. They slept.

By morning the men came for the baby.

They held his naked, squalling form, indignant in the cold exposure, and passed him from man to man at the entry.

His life-force squealed vitality. His lungs breathed their collective previous misfortunes to the wind. His face, first reddened then purple with rage, summoned the sun to rise and fall. Someplace a wolf returned the howl.

It was a good omen.

They called him New Born. The reincarnation of Born, the spirit-guide they’d lost along with what safety they’d had where they came from. This New Born was a cameo. He was their future. Their hope in this new home.

 

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

Allegiance

Photo: Sue Vincent

 

They called her Allegiance.

Contract and insurance, she was. Revered and guarded, both.

So well revered and so well guarded, in fact, that with time she became almost forgotten and had turned more a symbol than a soul. She sometimes wondered if she was in that way not too dissimilar to many of her kind through time, even if they had been so for far shorter spans.

Women often were made ornamental. Used as symbolic pawns, utilized as cementers of allegiances, then blamed for those that broke.

It helped her feel less lonely, knowing that even in her immortal isolation she was still in some way a member of a community of others who’d been perched into positions, as she was, without much of a choice. Possessions and producers, keepers of the continuity of power, serfdom and thrones.

They called her Allegiance.

And she sat in her fortified tower, aware of the two rows of guards: One row looking out against any who may get it in their minds to sabotage, the other row looking in against any indication that she may get it in hers to leave.

They needn’t have worried. At least not about her.

There was enough of misery without adding heads to spikes in any kind of rebellion, where those most likely to be harmed were those least likely to have been given part in the decision.

She accepted her place. A figurehead to keep the heads of others firmly on their shoulders and their children’s hearts safer from the sorrows of orphanage and war.

So she stayed.

As centuries passed, those who’d placed her there took less care with guarding her and the promises she’d represented. The tower crumbled. The guards played cards and drank and slept and grew lazy, and she took comfort in knowing that at least this meant they weren’t in battle. Even if she shivered, windowless, her walls crumbling all around.

Perhaps, she thought, as winds whistled and the stories of her had become lore printed onto metal plaques for tourists to ignore, it was all as it should be.

Perhaps one day there will not be a need.

Perhaps one day allegiances will be built-in, rather than built-up and set with guarded fences that time and lassitude and apathy were certain to erode.

Till then, Allegiance waited.

For the moment, the ruins of her tower stood.

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s WritePhoto

 

 

Embers Hot As Coals

Photo prompt: Sue Vincent

 

She could feel them.

That’s why she came.

Why she took every opportunity she could to escape the drudgery of sewing and hoeing and weeding and feeding and washing and threshing and mending and tending and all the multitudes of tasks that never seemed to end and somehow only multiplied.

“It’s life,” her mother had sighed, when as a young child Mayra had burst into tears of fatigue and frustration when yet another basket of wash needed to be scrubbed. “We rise, we work, we eat, we sleep.”

Mayra, a dutiful daughter, had just nodded and sniffed and bent to her work. But inside her a restlessness rippled. She was expected to grow up to be like her mother: solid and stolid and capable. The capable part she was on path to mastering, if painfully slowly. But solid she wasn’t, in her wispy willowy frame, and stolid she could not be, when her feelings and thoughts bubbled in her mind like an ever boiling pot that used embers as if they were coals.

She would boil over. She would.

If she didn’t manage to find a chore that allowed her to put some distance between herself and the village and to reconnect with the souls amidst the stones.

They calmed her. They reached around her with fingers as wispy as her hair and plucked the edges of too-sharp words and smoothed rough irritation off of her being.

Most people avoided the stones. “They are haunted,” they whispered, as if that was a bad thing.

Mayra said nothing. Perhaps it was something in her that needed ghosts to sooth the places that she felt would otherwise burst and cause harm. Perhaps her difference drew her to what others knew to keep away from.

Still she came.

In secret. To avoid blame.

It was only when she was about to wed that she realized it had been her mother who’d conjured errands out of thin air for her, so the child could manage some relief.

“For some, this is life, too,” her mother smiled.

It was a rare transformation of the face that often showed so little beside focus on the thing at hand, and suddenly Mayra saw the girl her mother had been, reflected in the sky-hued eyes.

“You, too?” Mayra whispered.

Her mother’s eyes twinkled. The berries. The mushrooms. The bark. The herbs. The kindling that could not wait till the morrow to collect. All those times when her own pot was set to almost overflow atop life’s embers, hot as coals.

“I did, and I do. It is our grandmothers there, helping you.”

 

 

 

For Sue Vincent’s Write Photo challenge