Winter Song

~Tales of Fantasy and Adventure

Where the road bent away the sidewalk was bright and cold, and where the sun reflected back from the snow the road trapped noon shadows cast by winter’s oaks. Parked cars lined one side of the road. The road curved away and up out of sight where it forked between the old brick houses with roofs made bright from the sun on the snow. Bare tree limbs glistened and shed freezing clear droplets of moisture onto the cars lined up below. Plumes of white exhaust escaped a car coming to life down the road. It was cold and bright from the snow.

He waited, leaning against the hard metal cross-bar of the bike rack with his feet planted in a crust of old snow. The bike rack sat in the shadow of the cafe he had been inside a few minutes before, it was warm inside the cafe. The snow…

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Nuuk and Maarit – Episode Three

~Tales of Fantasy and Adventure

Cymbals

“Where are you?” Words escaping bursting bubbles of confusion.

Brass trumpets accompanied by the percussion of sheet metal hi-hats and splash, a calliope of rattle-trap crowing and thin-tin bells ringing. Indeed it was time…time to wake up. Maarit’s alarm clock turning gears and dancing across swift currents of grain in her bedside table. Where the wood cried and Maarit lay fatigued from her journey. Having a rough time now waking from the warm blanket trappings of deep blue sea.

Good morning,” words to herself, reaching a naked arm out to calm down the new day’s reminder as it continued to waltz. The brush from the side of her hand about toppled the glass there filled with fresh water. Early morning rays try at prying open the fine fabric and slats of her blinds. Needing and then finding the toggle of her desk-lamp switch and to brighten the room…

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Babylon

Pixabay Free Image

Flush with colours of the season for Carol J Forrester, Writing and Works  September Speculative Fiction Prompt.

Looking back through time” David Gray, Babylon.

Green falls from bright washed walls cut and shaped from the earth. A bas-relief, nightshade the cover. Beneath the folds, cedar eyes pierce the burst of evening blue and red to look upon the North Palace. What grows here in this garden nourished by the greywater. Sweet and dusty fragrance.

Winged beasts dance between long shadows thrown off date palm. Brushstrokes of muted bloom and fruit fleeing from the balconies and climbing warm stone stairs. Olive, fig, and grape from the other lands not shaped by wind and sand. How the garden breathes in the sun and out the hopes and dreams.

And she looked upon her creation, cedar eyes beneath the folds and wry wrinkles came at the corners, pleased with what she had sewn.

Passager

William is one of my favorites…descriptive prose with ease.

William Michaelian

With practice, there comes trust and confidence in one’s own footing; a rocky path and its frequently changing grades is a joy and a meditation; there is no need to survive or prove or conquer; there is only the path, and there is not the path, but a kind of spirit-communion and spirit-passing; a presence, and not a presence. The same may be said of drawing and writing, or of sitting with one’s dear old mother, after her mind has flown. There is talk in the room, and there is silence; a smile; a groan; the breath to carry on.

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Stringers – Final Wave

Late evening mist hung above the slate grey sea, giving the impression of water boiled, then set to rest in the cool of the approaching twilight. From a distance, the length of light blue fiberglass and foam appeared as nothing more than part of the post-storm debris field. A contribution to the flotsam knocking about, and rocking in time, with the persistent nudge of the incoming tide as it lapped its way up the gentle slope of the now serene beachfront. Gouged, cracked about through, only a fragment of the leash remained to keep the lone surviving fin company. Caspar’s board had come to rest on the beach over a mile south of where he had first paddled out.

Silence filled the space vacated by the storm, the first indication that the tempest had finally exhausted itself. Throughout the afternoon the wind had raged as the sea battered the coastline, tossing drift logs about like toothpicks. Trees, torqued against their grain, moaned under the lashing delivered by the force of the gale. Time, measured by the steady beat of Canoes stood still.

She waited, cross-legged on the cool damp sand, arms relaxed and resting across her lap. Chin tucked into the folds of a warm woolen scarf, her mind occupied with thoughts of Caspar as she absorbed the waves of radiant heat that escaped the smoldering fire. In the end, it was the gulls that disrupted her reverie as their cries took turns filling the silence.

Massaging the stiffness from her legs and back, she prepared to leave the shelter and continue her vigil on foot. Removing the scarf from around her neck, she donned the hooded sweatshirt she had placed in her pack, the sweatshirt left behind by Caspar. Leaving the campfire to burn itself out, she pulled the hood snug and marched south in the wake of the storm looking for any sign of Caspar. A mile of raw barren beach had passed under her feet when the first bit of color caught her eye with its striking blue contrast.

Beached at the height of the incoming tide, the board lay motionless, adorned with a garland of seaweed and kelp, dead if a surfboard could be dead. Her head sagged with the burden of cold weighty thoughts, any hope for Caspar’s safe return waned, the damage was extensive. Dragging what remained of the board well clear of the surf, she claimed a spot on the sand, where she sat hand in hand with the final two hours of daylight and the breath of a gathering of fog.

As the girl watched the sun dip ever closer to the horizon, she looked away as the elements conspired to ignite a blinding effusion of orange and red, a refraction of light and kaleidoscopic azimuth.

Either a trick of the light, or the play of the fog, but when she turned her head back to look upon the sea, her eyes immediately came to rest on a dark shapeless form. Unsure how she had missed something so obvious, she raced to the water’s edge where the body lay motionless.

Dropping to one knee she grabbed two handfuls of the protective rubber suit and heaved with all her strength, rolling the body towards her. Torso now rotated and facing the sky, Caspar’s back arched as his chest convulsed with the rush of incoming air. Expelled from his lungs, a stream of thick cloudy sea water…as he forced a wet “I’m alive?”

What Caspar heard in reply as he watched the sun fade through a filter of black feathers were not the words he expected.

“Yes Caspar, you are very much alive.”

Smoke – Eight

leave no trace

Clear skies, not a hint of fog, the fracture of dawn. Soon the sun would be shining down on the picturesque little tourist village as it prepared for the evening salmon bake, an annual celebration of the area’s heritage. It was a neighborhood that beamed. Homes in spotless condition, lawns and landscaping manicured.  Cars washed, boats and trailers stored out of sight. Sounds of children and their dogs at horseplay.

Red and black whale totem patch displayed on the left shoulder of his uniform, Chief Rithy Jims of the Quinomish Tribal Police was first to arrive at the vehicle. Fifty yards or so from designated public parking, the car sat askew the rough scrub of the gravel shoulder, resting on its undercarriage, rear wheels hanging over a drainage ditch, front wheels in the street angled to the left in complete disregard for the ‘No Parking’ sign.

“No one walks anymore,” mumbled Chief Jims.

Inspecting the vehicle it was always the same, empty beer cans, junk food wrappers strewn about, full tank of gas. Sad state, but in his mind Jims smiled thinking about the five-hundred-dollar impound fee that would add to the tribe’s coffers. He made the call to dispatch requesting a tow truck stating that he would wait with the vehicle. It was a clear, warm and sunny morning with a hint of breeze through the trees, he would be happy to wait. He did not notice the map resting on the car’s dashboard.

West-facing, looking across the hood of the car, Chief Jims could see the trailhead, marked with an authentic cedar canoe propped atop two stumps carved with the likeness of paddles etched with elaborate xylography designed in such a way that in the fog the effect would be that of a canoe floating downstream. Youth of all shapes and sizes had manned the canoe with everything from garish department store manikins to a full-grown bull moose, an odd capriccio. Today it was a raccoon dressed as a pirate. This landmark lead to the trail that would reach the ancient village site, a popular attraction, a place of numerous ceremonies, rituals and festivities.

Taking a deep breath the scent of salty dampness laced with Western Hemlock, Sitka Spruce and fertile decay sweetened the breeze. And for a moment he imagined the smell of salmon pinned to cedar stakes cooking on an alder-wood fire beneath the sounds of dancing, singing and drums. Rumbling up from behind the tow truck snapped the Chief from his reverie.

Within moments, the car hitched, the winch pulled the nose of the vehicle upward, gravity took control of the map and it slid from the dash, floating to the carpeted floor mat, slipping beneath the driver’s seat coming to rest atop several forgotten coins, the feather from a young grey owl and a gas station receipt from 1979.

the end

Smoke – Seven

extinguish the flames

A thickness of trees to the right parted providing a glimpse of filtered light as the fog thinned, a momentary weakness in the armor. With caution and relief the couple slipped from the vehicle ready to retreat at the first sign of danger. Feet planted as firm as nerves would allow the sounds and smells of human activity graced their senses.

Straining their sight as the moisture-laden air began to gather once again they caught sight of an archway, a portal through the fog in the direction of light and sound.

*****

Compelled by the need for survival the couple made for the opening, ducking under what passed for a dugout canoe suspended in mid-air, crew of one scurvy raccoon bearing a pompous grin and a blue velvet tricorn. A cocktail of light, fog and fear playing tricks.

Time no longer existed as the couple followed the sounds and smells of hope across the rolling contours of the forest floor, a springboard of dead wood, dry leaves and pine needles. As the sounds became the beat of a drum and the signature of a voice, and the light became the heat of a fire and wink of burning embers, the curtain of fog withdrew presenting the awe-struck pair with surreal imagery.

Several outsized shapes, each upwards of one-hundred feet in length and twenty feet in height fanned out before them. Longhouses, made of heavy cedar planks, shallow roofs dusted with bark, smoke billowing from the chimneys.

With a calm brought on by the steady drumbeat and meditative quality of the singing, a map began to unfold. A village lay before the two, indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. Scattered before the longhouses were numerous cone-shaped fires, smoke curling and reaching skyward as it swirled about the salmon staked to cedar frames infusing the air with wisps of metaphysical quality. Tending the fires, natives cloaked in colorful robes, some wrapped in cheerful blankets.

Eye contact made and even though no words spoken, thoughts heard, the two visitors were welcome, in fact, needed for this ceremony.

The couple taken, escorted away from the smaller cooking fires and lead to the hub of activity. Central to a ring of dancers, singers and drummers was a flaming pyre casting spirit like shadows across all faces and form. Leaping and hooting about the fire was a giant grey owl features distorted by mask, smoke and contract.

A ceremony the couple knew to be honoring the life of a young son now gone, struck down the evening before. Silence, stillness, all merriment ceased allowing the circle to open. Eyes now clear and bright, the old lady from the convenience store reached out with forgiving hands, accepting the couple into the circle.

to be continued…

Smoke – Six

come on baby (or) light my fire

Blind, no meaningful orientation, the first house slipped into view, then one after another between loose herringbone fingers of fog, an endless parade of shambles.

Homes vacant, windows broken, fractured eyes staring, lawns un-mowed, unbalanced uneven, gardens untended, weeds wilting, paint peeling, scared and blistered, roofs collapsing, beams sagging, sections of siding stripped away exposed as if whale bones cracked and bleached. Boats scuttled with gaping holes, impromptu dry-docks where no one was working, registration numbers missing or sanded away. Cars, campers, trucks, no doors no wheels, no engines, dormant on cinder block chocks. The ‘Res’, abandoned except for the dogs.

Dragging a six-foot length of heavy gauge iron chain, the first of five thick-necked canines lay in the street in front of the car. Blood orange, blood brown and blood black with the soulless eyes of an empty shark. Two more born of the fog threw themselves at the passenger and driver’s side doors, clawing and biting at the glass, a fourth now on the roof unleashing a thunderous assault on the roof rails. The fifth launched itself on the hood focused on the two occupants, slobbering and spraying an iron colored viscosity across the windshield.

In the throes of escalating jackal-like laughter, jerking the car back and forth, slamming, grinding the stick-shift between gears to escape what seemed an inevitable breach in the security of the automobile, the car lurched to a grinding halt. Engine revving, wheels spinning, rotating and then not. Stalled, trapped and out of gas in the grip of dead silence. And now no dogs. Several minutes passed as the couple teetered, balanced, if on the razor’s edge.

to be continued…

Smoke – Five

made of sticks

“Not where you want to be in the fog,” warned the old lady

With the old woman and her shop in the rearview mirror the couple broke into the beer and Oreos.

“Did you see the old lady’s eyes,” from the woman over a lick of aged cream center filling.

“No way she was blind.”

*****

Driving on in silence, not noticing that as morning drifted along it was getting darker not lighter.  The fog was not burning off, but settling in, getting tight, getting cozy.

Thickening by the moment, the fog was moving faster now as it traced the course of the river. Moving faster nearer to the surface, peeling off in gauzy wisps that spiraled up into the cedars and firs, so many ghosts gathering in the treetops, collective, weighing down the canopy. Bringing the car to a standstill the couple focused on the choice before them. 

At the crux, planted in a festoon of giant spiked fern leaned an old plywood signpost propped up from behind by a tangle of tree trunks and branches, epiphytes, plants feeding off other plants. The billboard itself raw unpainted wood. Two black symbols tattooed on the board; crude arrows, one pointing right, the other left.

To the right a bridge stretched out into the fog spanning the river below, the landmark noted by the blind shopkeeper. Dead quiet now, visible through the swirling fog, glimpses of movement, a menacing hide-n-seek of shape and formless dance as an owl sounded nipping a bite out of the silence.

Bleeding out to the left, a dotted line on a map.

*****

Suspended in the sidereal, the winged horse was a welcome sight. Forty-five feet up caught in the diffused pink cast from a fluorescent incandescence, the proud red logo of Atlantic Richfield. They were not lost after all. Brief elation soured in an exhale of disappointment. Pulling up close, keeping a machine to the left, the price in the pump’s cracked window read .79/Gallon.

There had not been any gas here for at least thirty years. Rolling down the window to get a clear look, to make sure he was seeing the correct price, the hum of electricity heard riding atop the ticking sounds of a gas pump meter as if dispensing fuel. Normal sounds, the sounds of life at a gas station

“Lookin fo u beash…,” Janis Joplin like voice straining out of the mist.

“Hey there!” came the relieved reply, “Gas first, then the beach, you work here?”

Floating out of the fog, a young woman appeared dressed in soiled clothing, face and arms speckled with painful looking scores. When she opened her mouth to speak, gapped and fractured teeth. A small malnourished looking dog cradled in her arms, shivering, burying its nervous little head to her chest.

“U ga hea…”

Nodding, he got it, no gas, understood.

Running on fumes, the afternoon drifting along with the fog, the couple discussed their options.

“Go back?”

“And run out of gas”

“Keep going then?”

“And run out of gas”

“And the beach?” the driver called the window on its way up already half closed.

“U wa…” Janis straining her neck and pointing with her forehead, hands securing the small dog from getting snatched and lost to the fog.

“Ca ageh a rye…” moments too late and unheard.

to be continued…

Smoke – Four

gather wood

“Six!” The first words screamed, but not from the lungs of the startled couple. Rather a thick stump of a man, dressed in green-brown safariflage and knee-high muck boots, whose appearance and command settled the mad bull of a Mastiff hidden from sight in the shadow cast by the coolers in the back of the Ford.

“Sorry guys, Six is mad protective of his food.”

“Food,” from the man and woman in unison still stunned, thoughts spinning.

“The coolers, bear meat, packed on ice.”

“You feed it to the dog?” queried the man.

“Real deal, loves it.”

Hustling clear of the truck and the beast and the stump the two crunched across a new layer pea-gravel that lead the way to the shop’s snapping door.

“Have a nice day, mind the fog,” trailed after them and into the dim lighting of the store.

Half-stocked, thick wooden shelves caked with dust traced the same angle and slump as the floor. A touch of brine infused the stagnant air that filled the empty spaces between the rafters and aisles. What spaces displayed the odd carton and can held the promise of a junk food breakfast. Unseen was the old woman standing alone and silent behind the counter.

Upon closer inspection, all the expiry dates on the packaged goods indicated months and days of seasons past. Outlines of previous visits left vacant in layers of dust. In the end, Oreos and light beer in white cans selected; if Oreos did expire stale weak beer would mask it. While paying for their breakfast and still a bit shook, gas and the map about slipped their minds.

Spreading the map out on the thick glass countertop the woman inquired about the closest gas station while her husband studied a window behind the old lady. Reflected back a faint visage of the cashier and framed by a rough cedar casing an obscure view, a threat swaddled in gathering fog.

Placing the tips of her fingers on the map the old woman smiled and was able to pinpoint where they were now and without hesitation the nearest gas station. Seven miles along a dotted line, a line that began eleven miles from where they stood now. 

*****

They would reach a bridge that crossed over the Quinomish, a bridge that would lead to the Tribal Center. They were not to cross the bridge, but keep left and a few miles further on they would find the gas station. Apprehensive when asked about beach access the old lady made it clear that once they went beyond the gas station they would be on the ‘Res’.

to be continued…