All About Writing Prompt: Lady in the Park

Prompt 342

Ranger Percy took her duties seriously. She followed a routine that began with first light and ended well into the dark. It was a routine that most new mothers are accustomed to having:

Coffee,
Change the babies,
Feed the babies,
Out the dog,
In the dog,
Feed the dog,
Prepare for the charge of the babysitter,
Out the door,
Coffee.

She loved her job, creating a safe haven for those who needed to touch nature. Everyday, she followed the park’s trails looking for the beauty she could point out to others. Somedays the park was quiet, and those quiet days were filled with the sights of fawns, ground hogs, bald eagles, osprey. Other days were filled with activity, crowds surging to the river with their churches, earnestly baptizing rogue elements and bringing them back under the banner of the church, praying for the devil to be gone, and sharing an open barbecue with any who wandered near. Or perhaps it was the weddings that were held under the white picnic shelter where everything was new and clean, that fit into her fancy. Somedays the park was filled with rain and wind or snow that caused the gates to stay locked. On those days she poured extra coffee into herself and watched the antics of the deer under the picnic shelters. Safety first, she would think at the deer. Then she would smile at the idea that the deer were so well-trained they avoided the drifts and acted like tourists.

Logs washed up on the riverbank with the changing tides. Ranger Percy would wander among them along the beach selecting interesting driftwood from the boring logs. She saved them for a local woman who wandered through the park, talking to herself, who would paint them with scenes of fish underwater or goblins lurking and then leave them like a sacrifice to the wild. Percy would load them into her vehicle and put them on display at the Visitor’s Center.

Lunch,
Coffee,
Walk,
Second equipment check,
Drive the parking lots,
Return to office,
Read mail,
Call babysitter.

The windows of the Visitor Center filled with steam as the class on batiking for teenagers flowed on. She wandered over to the gift counter and rubbed the steam from the window, only to move rapidly out of the center to the walkway that led up and away from the building. Her homeless woman, the one she left the driftwood out for, knelt on the ground mumbling to herself. She had knife in one hand which she raised over her head and then plunged into a bundle of flannel.

“This for your heart.
This for your hands.
This for your feet
To travel to different lands.”

“Come, my dear, for
where you bleed, is here
in the present and a gift
To succeed. Travel through the smoke…”

Then she lifted the knife and held it over her head saluting the sky. A bag lay on sidewalk, close but not touching her.

“Are you okay, lady? I haven’t seen you around much. Is something wrong?” Slowly Percy moved toward the lady. She kept her handgun in its holster, preferring instead to calm her and keep her from injuring herself or another.

The lady looked at her blankly for a moment, then shook her head. “No, I’m not okay. I will never be okay. I am not sure I will make it through the day, let alone the night. Nothing will be the same.”

“Would you like to have some tea with me? We could go to my office in the Visitor’s Center, it is a lot warmer there too.”

“Why should you care? The world left me long ago. No one will remember me.”

“Come with me. I’ll show you something. I’ll make us some tea.”

They rose together.

Pours cup.
Shares cup.
Smiles.

“Thank you, but this is only tea. Nothing can leave my place filled when I’m gone, and I will be gone.”

Breathes deeply.
Reaches inside.
Holds door.
Ushers.
Follows.

“This is the room I made for you. You left these behind you. I was so surprised to see how they all went together, a mural. Is the display all right with you?”

The bag was opened. The flannel set to one side, with the knife now out of view, and the before the ranger’s eyes was a small wooden figure carved so carefully that it seemed alive. With a sudden intake of air, the figure opened its eyes and reached out to her.

The lonely old lady was gone.

Schedule change…

 

 

Caucasian? White? To Blame?

If you are Caucasian, they
don’t give you the right to color.
You are branded by incandescent
Light bulbs which bleach and leach the
Color out of your existence.
“Be remorseful, for this is your done deed.”
But I’m not remorseful, no, not me.
I’m not a defiler, derider, denier.
I am the daughter of the 60s, born in the 50s,
Sent into the future, now past, to be.
Yes, to be liberal, caring, sharing.
Don’t blame my color for the criminal’s
Crime. I fought for us, the social bottom.
Where my eyes have always been open,
My family fought to insure their message would survive.
I’m not to blame for other handheld knives
In throats blameless and innocent.
There is a knife in my throat, exposing me
As red blooded human in the act of surviving.

Microfiction Challenge: Isle of the Dead

I didn’t intend to write this story. I had something else in mind. But as I looked at the isle, something hit a dark place in my mind. The Isle of the Dead is where an atrocity had to have happened. The music that goes with it, well, it just pushed me to write. A harsh challenge to take on.

https://janedougherty.wordpress.com/2016/10/28/microfiction-challenge-20-isle-of-the-dead/

They called it the Isle of the Dead, but no one was sure why. Townsfolk from the nearby town wouldn’t talk about the island, nor would they venture near it. Being a stranger on vacation as a change of venue, meant to help me overcome the malaise that haunted me, I didn’t understand the hesitation that followed every enquiry I made about the island I had seen from the plane upon landing.

“It’s not a fit topic, lady, for someone as young and beautiful as you. Best to avoid it. Best to find something else in this town to occupy your mind. Just let it lie.” My landlady was the first to give me that advice. She wasn’t the last.

I wandered through the town’s market, a strange combination of “Made in China” and woodcarvings. The buildings of the town were straight from a tour brochure. White stucco houses with red tile roofs contrasting with the business section where the colors alternated between yellows, blues, creams, and pale greens. It was all organized. The creams were restaurants, yellows were full of odd local creations, blues were clothing venues, and pale greens were all of the artsy stores. With each store declaring it’s originality, they were all the same.

I saw the painting in the window of the very last green store on the left as the road went back into the residential section. It contrasted with the soothing color of the store. A slim man dressed in white being ferried to the island. Grays, blacks, whites gathered together like storm clouds on the horizon and created a chill that went up and down my spine. I’d never fully understood that cliche until that moment. Taking a deep breath and gathering what nerve I had left from living a daily life so boring as to be insignificant, I entered.

“About that painting in the window? Is it for sale?”

“No.” That was all the clerk said, meeting my eyes with a hostile look.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend. I’m from out of town. We flew over the island when we arrived and it’s striking in its natural beauty. But no one will tell me about the island, they just hush me and tell me to move along in my thoughts to something cheerful. Can you at least tell me what the painting is called?”

“The Isle of the Dead.”

“So it’s like that story with Charon and his love from the world of the living?”

The clerk sighed, her disappointment in yet another tourist etched across her forehead. She fumbled behind the counter for a moment, then produced a tablet, brushes and watercolors.

“That will cost you 250 Euros. Your shuttle to the island will leave tomorrow morning at 6 am. Are you sure you need to know the story?”

“Wait, you run a shuttle to the island? Why did no one tell me about it? I’ve asked all over.”

“Do you want the tour or not?”

“Yes, I guess I do. What are the paints for?”

“You must be an artist to be permitted on the island. You are an artist, are you not?”

I paid the money, gathered the bag of supplies and my ferry ticket to the island and left. For the rest of the afternoon, I wandered the galleries, but found no other paintings on the subject.

Dinner was somber at my accommodation that night. My landlady had seen the package I carried tucked under my arm. She had asked what was inside, but my answer had left her with a haunted look. Lamb, potatoes, green peas, leaks, and a desert of peach strudel filled me, but the silence emptied me as quickly. Finally, pouring a glass of wine for the two of us, all of the other tenets having retired for the evening, she broached the subject.

“So, you decided to pursue the matter. You have the tour in the morning? You mustn’t go. Keep the paints and tablet, but keep your sanity, as well. Don’t go. Don’t get on that ferry for any reason, I beg you. I’ve seen the results all to0 often.”

I didn’t listen. The power of the unsaid mystery had gripped my soul, and it wasn’t letting go.

Gray mornings, the light just before dawn, had always delighted me. The morning would sneak in, one little strand of the sun’s rays at a time, the color would return to the world. I had forgotten how much hope the early hours had given me. Life in reality ran into the dark for me, this was a pleasant change.

The boat wasn’t a ferry, but a skiff. There was one crew member who took my ticket, shook his head and pointed me toward the last seat in the skiff. He untied the ropes mooring us, pushed us away from the dock with his oar, and off we went. Waves don’t bother me, and that day there weren’t many. The man said nothing until we were well away from the town’s dock. Then he began to tell a tale in time with the thrusts of the oars that carried us swiftly out into deep water.

“It used to be called the Island of Hope, back before the war. Youngsters would go camping there, their parents staying overnight on a yacht that was more a hotel that a sea going adventure. Newly married couples from all over Europe would come and stay overnight, and when they left the island the next day, they were more in love than when they had arrived. The Isle put roses on their cheeks. Then the war came. and the Isle became troubled. Youngsters complained of hauntings, of chills, and of noises that struck the soul numb. We laughed it off, there in the village. A bad wind calling, a wave that struck the rocks in the distance cracking against them whiplike, or maybe it was the tucker that the youngsters filled themselves full of before they arrived. A bit of seasickness compounded by a stomach plagued.”

I was fascinated. He never looked at me, telling the story as if to himself.

“Was there a haunting?”

“Ain’t no such thing as a ghost, Miss, ain’t no such thing.”

“What caused the change in the visitors to the island?”

“Now, Miss, if we knew what started the change, I’d tell you. But listen on, there’s more story than this.”

I nodded, spellbound like a child in the reading circle at a library.

“The Nazi’s came, of course, bringing with them their particular breed of fear and loathing. We tried to live our lives with them observing everything we did, oh dear God, we tried. But the suspicions they sowed between us, the hatred of all good, the theft of all that was ours being sent off to one of them storehouses that evil man created for his great museum, it was more than a fellow’s intellect could handle.”

“But that was before your time, surely. You don’t look a day over 45. Is this a tale from your grandfather’s time?”

“No, no, I was there. I’m the last one who was there. They brought a bus full of old timers down to the docks, said it was a trip to celebrate their age. The town was all for that. Giving some old folks a trip to the sea was worth the effort to prepare them a picnic lunch and a few of the fisherman’s boats for a holiday. It was a present of goodness out of a fearful black existence. We were such fools then. I was a boy, fourteen and barely grown into my legs. I was a good looking boy, too. I had the tousled hair from the wind, a deep brown, brown eyes that could see the frigate birds in the distance and  the occasional kite. I loved working for the fishermen. School had never filled my head with the excitement being at sea gave me. So, I helped rig the sails, then I dropped down with the Grandpas and Grammys and gave them a cheerful story of escaping school and falling in love with a girl whose nutty brown skin and green eyes had captured my interest for all times. The sun was up, sky was blue, and how could anything be better in the world.”

“So it was wonderful then?”

“I’ve already said to much.”

He focused on his oars, turning the small skiff into the wind, and the island came into view. Breathtaking would be an understatement of what I saw. There was one other skiff anchored six feet offshore. No one was to be seen. The gray of the morning had risen to be lemon yellow behind the island, and the rocks stood in grim contrast to the sun’s cheerful face.

“I’ll set you out on the sand then. Just wave to me when you are ready to leave. One other thing, be careful. There’s things out there you don’t want to find.”

Taking my shoes off, I stepped out of the skiff and waded the three feet to shore. Pines grew on the island, junipers with that biting aroma treasured in candles. The beach was white sand, created by pounding waves against coral. Warm and soothing though it was, I rinsed my feet and put on my shoes. There was a trail that led into the island and I took the tablet out, sketching a quick view. Wandering down that trail led me to an area that was blackened by a great fire. Nothing grew there. The rest of the island was full of life trying to climb above the rocks, but not here. No moss to soften to jagged edges of rock. Looking closer, I realized that the rocks were cracked by the heat of the fire.

As I stepped onto the first of the burned rocks, there was a cry of sorrow and fear. There was no one in sight. I took another step and a soft cry of sadness rose to blend with the other sounds. With each step I took, the cries became more. First a duo, then trio, a quartet, an ensemble, a symphony of sadness.

I noticed a glimmer of something on the far side of the area. Stepping carefully between rocks and soil, I found a small bracelet. It was engraved.

“I forgive you.”

Astounded, I looked around to see if there was anything more. In my haste I set the tablet and paints to one side. For the next two hours I searched, finding two wedding rings, a broken locket with a badly weather picture inside, and a lapel pin.

Noon brought with it a reminder that I was hungry and thirsty. I walked back to the beach and waved at the captain of the skiff. He rowed to shore for me.

“Is it lunch then?”

“Yes, I found the strangest things.”

“Where is your tablet?”

“Oh dear, let me run and get them. I set them aside as I explored. I only started one sketch.”

Back I went, picking up my things and returning to the skiff.

As he poured me a cup of water and opened the sandwiches for the tow of  us, I washed my hands in the sea. “Salt water to cure anything ill,” my grandfather had said.

“So, what did you find?” A question to pass the time with.

“There is a section of the island, behind the pines and below the mountains, that was subject to a terrible fire at some point. The rocks themselves cracked beneath the heat. I walked out into the area and found that some soil had eroded between the rocks. I found this.” I showed him the bracelet. “I was so excited by the find I put the tablet down and kept looking. These wedding rings, engraved with “Forever and Always” on each. The bracelet, look it says “I forgive you.” Who would give a gift like that? and I found a tie pin. It looks like the one my grandfather wore for his toastmaster meetings, but it isn’t quite the same, it’s…take a look. I’m not sure what it means.”

The man sat there silently for a minute. “You should take these back after lunch. They belong to the island.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Take back my new finds?

“Take them back, young lady, you have no claim to these.”

“Okay, but why?”

“The Nazis arrived after the picnic was finished. They sent us to the fishing boats, but the promised the old ones a walk. We never saw them again. No one has entered the island since the fire the Nazis ignited on the island. We should have done something.”

I put the items down on the skiff’s seat and moved to sit on the same seat as the captain.

“I don’t see how you could have done something without endangering your whole town. Those days lacked hope for a reason when the nazis came.”

“I should have done something, anything. By not doing anything, by not protesting, I sold my soul. Now I carry passengers to Hell in my skiff as my penance, and I will continue until the sun no longer shines in our world.”

“That can’t be true. There’s no such thing as a curse. You must forgive yourself.”

“Go put the things back.” So I did.

I returned to the skiff, but the captain was gone. While I waited for him, I opened my tablet and looked at the first sketch. Someone had finished it. Color had been added, people added, and joy added. I turned the page to look at the backside, seeking a note from my collaborator. It was blank, but the next page was filled with scenes of a picnic. The page after that had scenes of the boats moored close to shore and there was a drawing of a boy, maybe fourteen years of age, with legs that were just a bit to long for him. He matched the description that my escort had given of himself. I wondered how many trips this man had taken to the island. I turned another page, and the sky turned red with flame against black mountain. The theft of the items the old folks carried was the next photo. The horrors continued.

My captain didn’t return. As the time passed, I began to wonder how I was going to be taken back to town. The ocean was getting rougher, the sun was now setting. Still my captain was missing.

I was lucky that evening. Eventually a fisherman, returning with full nets and lots of gulls, saw me waving at him. He sent a young man, legs just a little to long, to get me to his ship. I told the fisherman my tale, but he said the skiffs had been abandoned many years ago. I told him of the tablet, and his face grew clouded with sorrow.

“An emotional wound of such horror leaves a mark on the world. That man you saw sounds like my great-grandfather. He died in 2000, bitter at the world. May I see the tablet?”

“I found a bracelet there. It had engraved upon it, ‘I forgive you.'”

“I hope she has.”

Good endings

 

Could it have ended any better? Perhaps, but when you adopt a little old man hitchhiking by the side of the road, a good ending is the most wonderful thing of all. He pulled me over by sheer force of will. His thumb extended, his blue eyes immediately boring a hole into my soul, and I was hooked.

“You’re late,” he said, while climbing up in. “I’ve been standing on the corner praying for an angel. What kept you?”

“I’m not sure. Where are you heading?”

“I need to get a prescription filled, I fell down the stairs last night. The emergency room wouldn’t give me them, because no one would give me a ride home. I’ll give you twenty bucks for the ride.”

“I’ll take you, and angels don’t accept money. It’s bad form.”

I was his chauffeur that day and for many days which followed. His son had stolen his money from savings, the title to his house, and all of his investment accounts. His family wanted his money, but not him, and he wasn’t dying fast enough. I learned his story, became angry, and when I get angry, I take action. I got him a pro-bono lawyer, hearing aids, and painted furniture in his garage, because that bastard of a son had stolen all his furniture, too.

I met the lawyer for the first time while we were painting furniture for his kitchen with a blue stain. He needed a table and chairs to have company over. The lawyer walked through the house, took the notes I had prepared for him, and said that his son was suing for custody of the old man. Bill exploded.

“I worked for a living starting at age 8. I picked up coal from the sluice fields and saved my family a winter’s worth of warm. I worked every day during the depression, and I don’t resent giving the money I earned to my mother. I saved 20% of every payday. I served in World War 2. I saved enough money to buy my sister a condo and move her from Pennsylvania. I manage my own bills. I have health care and I pay for it. I know what day it is and I know who is running for president. Why is he suing me for custody? He’s a thief and a pathological liar.”

“Any proof of that?” the lawyer asked.

Oh, there was plenty of proof. His son had a history of exploitation. It had soured Bill’s marriage. He had beaten his wife and baby son, so that they ran away. When the divorce went through, he was ordered to pay child support and paid absolutely nothing. His wife was so afraid, she went into hiding. Bill and his wife never saw their grandson again. That was one of the reason’s his wife gave up and died. She smoked and drank herself into her grave to cover the pain.

His son had tried to weasel himself back into the old man’s grace, had pretended he was sorry for all he had done. Bill believed that even his son deserved another chance. As soon as he moved in with Bill, the verbal abuse and pushing began. He coerced him into a nursing home, stealing everything he could.

He went to court to take the old man’s driver’s license. That’s when Bill checked out of the nursing home and went to his bank to find one dollar left as a balance. The bank refused to act on the theft of $75,000 dollars. That was the only thing his son got away with. I made sure of that.

I met with his investment banker, set up a lunch date and drove Bill there. His broker immediately acted to protect Bill’s money. I got a lawyer to fight the title change of Bill’s home, and he succeeded in regaining the title. Bill was protected now, and with the money from the sale of his house, he bought a condo near his sister’s. The only thing he asked was that she visit him once a day for lunch or dinner.

She called me and told me to find a nursing home, that she couldn’t stand her brother any more. Then she left on a vacation he had paid for. Nice?

We put the condo up for sale. I asked him where he wanted to go to live.

“The only place I’m welcome is your house, Gabby dear. Will your husband mind?”

My husband is saint. He didn’t even question my decision, although he might have questioned my sanity.

Bill lived with us until the age of 91. I took him on cruises, stayed with him when he was in the hospital. I drove him enough miles to drive across the United States. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner together. John Wayne movies were permanently etched into my memory.

The night he died, his bedroom had been flooded with golden light from the sunset. We watched The Quiet Man, who wasn’t very quiet. He dozed off and I snuck off for a moment’s rest. At three in the morning, I woke. Something was off. I went to check on Bill and he was awake and lucid.

“We had a good time, didn’t we, Gabby dear?”

“Oh, we raised some eyebrows. You’re my best friend, Bill.”

“Your husband only fusses when he’s worried about you, Gabby. No more tears over arguments, just tell him you love him.”

“Okay, Bill.”

“I really did vote for a black man for president. Who would have thought an old racist like me would have had all his help come from people of different colors. Why did you help me, Gabby?”

“There was something you needed to learn, God wasn’t done with you.

“Have I learned it yet?”

“Almost.”

“I feel strange. Will you say the Lord’s Prayer for me?”

I panicked. Then I sang the Prayer from Bernstein’s Mass. His face looked flushed.

“Gabby?” Pause. “Gabby? I’m forgiven.”

 

Desporpa

The hunt began at dawn, like most hunts. Mother’s first warning was a shotgun blast over the water. The enemy were coming. They came in droves. She whirled gathering her children, feet muddy from the moment of peace by the water where she had brought them for their daily chores. They ran together, the youngest in her arms. Her oldest pulled the middle child, firmly determined that they would not face the sorrow, the useless sacrifice again. This family had suffered too much in earlier hunts.

There was a platform standing on the top of the hill. It filled slowly, giving the prey time to lose their way, to blunder.

It was time for older prey to gather as many of the young they could find and shepherd them to places of safety dug into the ground, tunnels thirty and forty feet long. These tunnels were destroyed by rangers when found, but new ones replaced old, and here was kept the center of their society. Here oral histories were passed down. Here grandmothers prevailed still, preaching love, and understanding. Preaching hopes needing to be fulfilled. They couldn’t believe how many years they’d been hiding. According to their mothers, it had been 200 or more.

“Sometime these others must come to their senses. We pray for it to happen, to end this senseless butchery. They promised us sanctuary.”

The men of the clan scoffed, and left the mothers and young. They felt themselves too valuable to be killed in a run. They were small in number, after all. If they died, the hiders would die out.”

Homo sapiens sapiens, of the greatest God-fearing country on Earth, rushed to the platforms. It was Winter Hunt Time, time which shouldn’t be lost. They arrived laughing: armed with their picnic baskets, bottles of beer, soda, water and milk bottles for the babies. They brought cameras, cell phones, electronic tablets and recording devices. Adults, their parents and preachers turned out for this mid-winter hunt. Family time.

They brought drums to be beaten, trumpets to shout, and the fine town’s leaders all hung in finery warm. They were waiting for the first victims to run, for then they would cheer. They brought out their shotguns, their rifles, their bows, with ammo designed for one purpose below. Something would die today. More than one would die. They would celebrate that night with presents and dinner with toasts. The excitement grew, and so did the boasts.

Laughing with joy at a kill shot, they took turns turning the soil to red. They were a powerful people, opening their arms to refugees worldwide, giving homes to some while others disappeared, or were labeled terrorists so they would not be missed. Glorious leaders of this strong nation kept it all in check, using mass rallies of their glory, and corrupt political policies, too. Their godlike speeches belied their intentions.

During the growing time of Summer, the prey were joined by runaway natives who tried to learn languages, record stories and take them back where they were labeled fiction and unprintable. The journalists, teachers, advocates and writers were vanquished to the kill zones. The government thought that a rat trap was a good place to hide all of the rats.

Mother ran, her heart beating so loudly she was afraid it would be heard. Her eldest murmured words of encouragement, taking the lead away from her mother and trying to turn them all deeper into the woods. That’s when the closest gunshot became loud and real.

The baby exploded in Mother’s arms. She had time to gasp “no” as the bullet continued through the child and into the mother’s heart.

Eldest child threw her brother into the underbrush with a whisper.

“It’s under the rock. Find it,” she whispered. She had a plan.

He wiggled and dug in the earth pulling an old plastic bag from beneath him. She snatched it from his fingers and whispered again.

“Stay here, in the ground, until they have gone home to celebrate. I have something to do.”

Aged six, her brother understood the action that was needed. He wiggled under the leaves, into the mud, out of sight and mindful of the killers as Eldest bolted away toward the platform. As the trees thinned, she stood tall. She opened the bag. The gun in her hand had been dropped from the platform as an insult when the killers had killed her grandmother and her father. She had taken it.

She moved through the bush and gathered her cold sense of honor. Her actions gathered the attention she sought.

“Look, a small one begs for more attention from you, Hunter. It’s only fair you should end her. She won’t survive without her breeding mother and is almost old enough to start breeding herself. Just an animal.” They laughed the hunter back to a spot on the wall.

The hunter was smartly dressed for this celebration day. She lifted her rifle, focusing her sights on the child, and then abruptly brought the gun down.

The crowd jeered her as she succumbed to the first thought in her life involving compassion. It didn’t last.

She raised her rifle again. Two shots rang out in unison. One shot from above, and one from below. The bullet struck the hunter in the forehead spreading brains, blood and skin bits everywhere. The platform emptied screaming.

Eldest child staggered to her brother and dropped the gun. “Hide it,” she murmured.

Middle child tried to stop the blood. He was too small to treat such an injury.

Eldest child’s name was called in the moonlight by a search party of old women. They found her brother shivering and in shock. They found the bodies. They heard the child’s story. Life changed that night. They learned a lesson.

They could fight back.

 

(I wrote this after watching the news about the fears we should have in giving shelter to those in need. I thought about what might be the outcome if the Tea Party took over the government and watched the ideas being flown as flags about what Americans are and who we are. This is a last possible case senerio, aside from war. “Bring me your tired, your hungry, your oppressed…” and thinking of what use the immigrants would be to such a government. Things like this have happened in history before, hunts based on religion, cruelty, mocking the ideals of “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Do I believe us on a one way course? No, that’s why even with a corrupt government I had people trying to help these prey, even at the cost of their own freedom and life. I’m hoping for a good hopeful topic to be selected by my flash fiction group. I don’t like this place in the shadows.) Placed 5th in Linked In Writer’s Hangout Flash Fiction Contest.

Beethoven’s Sixth, on the Danube

This morning I was woken by the sound of Beethoven’s 6th, the Pastoral Symphony, stealing through the window blind. The morning light was full of tangerine oranges and wispy blues all singing softly, tempting me to dress and climb the stairs. I peeked through the blind, the light stealing my heart leaving me breathless. Shoes, I needed those and pants. I pulled things from the dresser and my suitcase manically. I didn’t want to miss this. Black leather jacket to top the list, black cap on my head and my mother rolling over in bed in protest.

“You’re nuts.”

“Mom, it’s Beethoven. Wake up! Your camera is calling you.”

“It can call me after breakfast.” She closed her eyes and refused to be part of the morning.

The Danube was a dark brown; streaked with white highlights showing the rocks below. Mini-rapids, the place where small fish lose sight of their direction and rise to the surface. Duck weed seems to be more precious that rubies, flocks settle their wings and puff their feathers to keep out the cold. Ducks, swans, geese and cormorants called huskily to each other,”It’s come, fall has come. Look, the ship has stirred the bottom of the river. It’s time to fish.”

Small houses lined the shore, but the water level was four feet lower than it should be. The cormorants squawked and protested the riverboats passing. I was transfixed. The sun had just hinted of its arrival. “Wait for me,” it called. “I won’t be long now.”

Yellow trees stood holding their leaves in protest of the chill. Their stylish coats alternated with the brown of duck blinds and cottages. Fog wound itself out of the ground. The teasing of an orderly morning to come was just the beginning, for the clouds overhead had decided to dress in short swirls and gaudy whites stood out from the early blue sky.

I stalked the elusive photograph, looking for that special moment of perfection. Swans descended from the sky calling the morning hours. Church bells rang the hour in the distance. I could feel Beethoven, see Beethoven, and touch Beethoven. The symphony rose in my heart with the sun. “Believe in me,” the sun sang. “I haven’t forgotten you.” Beethoven would have been amused that an older lady dreamed of watching him walk.

I pass the pilot house where the Captain is at the helm. He is good man, knowledgable of the river, with a crew who seem more a family than employees. I remove my hat and salute him. He waves and smiles at me. The morning is rising, the fog lifts and the reflections on the water are colorful: yellows, greens, browns, and blues. I am overwhelmed. I can see the dreams of those who walked while composing. The music is in my head, I am the only one on deck waltzing to Strauss. The music broadcasts itself through my bones, echoes in my toes, and leads me from port to starboard. I was born to be here, listening and looking.

My camera clicks on its own. The sun is over the woods and the deck of the ship promises coffee. The crew of the ship have finished their morning cup together and head to the galley to feed all of the guests.

I lower the camera and bow to the sun. Tomorrow I will flirt with the clouds, winds, rain, and cold again.

The Sword

The sword is a romanticized weapon of extreme sharpness, beauty, and brutality. It brings death face to face. The skill and training are the indicators of noble truths. The sword is a lie.

The rifle takes the personal interaction between enemies and makes death more impersonal, less brutal, and more deadly. When Earth’s UN Council on weapons met, rifles and technology were banned. It was thought that the sword would humanize the battles between country and country, race against race, and religion against religion. What the council did not count on was man’s love of brutality, power, and hatred. Unarmed planet-wide, governments began to fail. Assassins were honored as heres for the deaths they took. The planet’s government fell to extremists.

“You didn’t attend your class on self-defense today. Why?”

“Granddad, I don’t want to kill or hurt others. I know you mean well, but if we keep weapons of any kind, we will always be a target of violence.”

Granddad turned a virulent red, coughed into his handkerchief and sputtered, “Don’t be a damn fool. If someone comes through that door, you will become mincemeat or worse. I’m not hanging on to life just to make you unable to take care of yourself.”

The coughing fit continued as Annie hurried to the sink to get a glass of water. The nozzle on the sink prevented water from being wasted, but it slowed the amount of water available. With the glass finally half full, she hurried back to her Granddad.

“Come on, Granddad. I have the water. Take a sip.” His coughing fit gradually stopped. “Granddad, why do you think we have a bullseye painted on our family? What happened in the past that no one will talk about?”

Granddad just sipped his water, tears forming in his eyes and escaping down his cheeks to his neck. The coughing ended. His memory filled with the blue eyes of the woman he had loved who had been murdered over an empty purse. The murder had been bloody and made the headlines. Eventually the murderers were found and prosecuted, but the hurt lingered, always hovering in moments of dreams, stress, or despair. She had been beautiful, his wife, always on the run to do something good for someone who needed it. Now his granddaughter, an orphan, was his greatest worry. Three family members hacked to death, one precious and kind granddaughter left.

“Granddad, the world is supposed to be kinder now. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.”

She tucked her granddad into his favorite chair with his favorite blanket. Watching him drift off to sleep, she counted the minutes until his first snore. Sneaking out of the room, Annie went down into the basement. Behind the freezer were three long narrow cases. She quickly opened each, removed the rifles from their resting spots, and made sure the ammo was loaded and ready. Locking the cases, she took them up to the second floor master bedroom. The room had been decorated so that there was no way anyone could access it without paying a steep price. She turned on her blue tooth, short wave radio and scanner. Listening, she heard the scanner report a rape at the entrance of her neighborhood. It had been done at the edge of a sword.

Changing clothes to blend in with night colors, she opened the rifle case and took her M-16 out. She had a job to do. All she needed was an animated cartoon and a super hero persona. Later, when the police arrived to question her as part of their evidence collecting, they told her of a strange tale. A man who had been armed with a knife and sword, had been found handcuffed and tied to a tree. There was a thank you note attached to the collar of his shirt.

“Thank you, officers. We appreciate the effort you put into keeping us safe.”

Granddad coughed and reached out for his glass of water as the news came on. Annie sat next to him on the sofa.

“Look, girl, that happened just down the street. Go to your lessons from now on.”

“Okay, Granddad.”