The First Stanza of the above poem is actually the original Scottish prayer, in its entirety; a portion of which is referenced in the Yeah Write prompt for this writing challenge. I have taken the liberty of expanding upon the original in the next six stanzas.
For more fabulous responses to the prompt go to http://yeahwrite.me/fiction-poetry-writing-challenge-185/
The Day of the Dead was supposed to be a celebration.
However, it appeared that no one had informed the skeleton who was glaring at us from across the void of the empty graveyard. Its bones glittered in the silver moonlight as it raised an arm in warning. Universal gesture: do not come any closer.
“Hey, it worked!” Toby said in astonishment. “It’s walking….it’s um, alive?”
“How could llama blood and ancient herbs mixed inside a dog skull NOT work?” Lucy sneered. “Who thought of that, anyway?”
“I did,” I said. “And I told you – anything would have worked as long as it was mixed inside a skull on this night in this place. I just so happened to have the dog skull and llama blood….”
My friends exchanged a look. The skeleton tipped its head with a questioning attitude then shrugged.
“Skulls have long been used by alchemists in their work of transmutation,” I continued. “That’s why you always see them in pictures. The alchemist uses a skull as a sort of ‘mixing bowl’ when preparing something. Skulls were thought of as reservoirs of life, the seat of the life force of both body and spirit at the highest level. ”
Our skeleton raised a hand to its head and tapped lightly on its temple with an index finger.
“See?” I asked. “Even he agrees!”
“Well, let’s see if he wants to go dancing,” Toby said.
We all looked at our now animated friend in the moonlight. The creature tottered forward on unsteady legs. He didn’t look like much of a dancer.
“There’s a party…..” I told him tentatively. “And I need a date. A spectacular date. I think it’s you. ”
He stepped closer and bent down to the ground behind a tombstone. When he straightened he held a perfect blue flower. With a tiny bow and a great waving of his arms he presented it to me.
“I think he said yes!” Toby said. We all laughed and I tucked the flower behind my ear. It went perfectly with my fairy costume.
The skeleton tapped me on the shoulder and tentatively did a slide shuffle to the right and then to the left. He turned his head and looked at us with that charming ironic smile. Then he broke into a tap dance time step, followed by a flawless line of boot scootin’ boogie and ending with the mashed potato. I could practically hear Monster Mash playing inside his head.
“I think he’s good to go,” Lucy said and stepped forward to hand him the tuxedo we had brought along.
After he was dressed the four of us headed for the cemetery gates.
“This is going to be the best Day of the Dead party ever!” Toby exclaimed.
The skeleton twirled once or twice then grabbed me for a perfect tango pass.
I paused to adjust a top hat on his beautiful skull. “I bet he wins the costume contest,” I said.
“Yeah, ” Lucy agreed. “Especially after he takes off the tuxedo!”
“Psssst! Billy!” Maybe it was just the sound of the breeze through the leaves.
“Billy Boy! – over here!” the whisper said. I couldn’t help but look. I didn’t want to, I really didn’t.
But I had to.
I had to look.
There was nothing.
So I kept on walking, going deeper into the wood.
The trip into town had taken far longer than I thought it would. Selling the cow was harder than I thought too. Finally the baker bought her and I was able to start back home. We live on a small farm on the other side of the wood. I had already missed dinner and it was growing darker by the minute.
The trees seemed to be throwing their limbs around against the darkening sky, especially right above the path where I was walking.
“Biiilllllllllyyy,” The sound began to echo inside my head . I walked faster.
“Pssssst! Billy Boy! – over here!” the whisper murmured. I couldn’t help but look. I didn’t want to, I really didn’t.
But I had to.
I had to look.
There was nothing. Only shadows.
So I kept on walking, going deeper into the wood.
Probably my Ma had saved supper, was keeping it warm under a nice clean napkin at the edge of the stove. The dog would be waiting for me and after supper I would read by the fire until it was time to climb into the warmth of my bed.
“Billy.” “B-B-Billy?” “Billy!” “Billy Billy Billy.” “B-Billy???” “BillyBoy!!!”
Now it seemed there were more voices, more whispers.
The path appeared fainter, even by lantern light, and the trees were crowding closer.
“Psssst! Billy Boy! – over here!” the whispers coaxed. I couldn’t help but look. I didn’t want to, I really didn’t.
But I had to.
I had to look.
There was nothing. Only shadows, wavering in the golden glow from my lantern. Skittering up the walls of the forest in strange writhing shapes.
So I kept on walking, going deeper into the wood.
Tomorrow I would take the money I earned from selling the cow and buy Widow Miller’s old wagon. Then Ma and I would spend the day filling it with the extra from our summer garden, hitch up the plow horse and drive it all into town. When we drove back home this time tomorrow night we would have supplies for winter and seed for spring.
“B…i…l…l…y.” Was it my imagination or were the whispers becoming louder? “B…I…L…L…Y.” “B I L L Y!!!”
There were crows in the trees now, a whole murder of them, crows everywhere.
Why did it seem they were watching me, following me, flitting from tree to tree overhead?
“Psssst! Billy Boy! – over here!” the whispers demanded. I couldn’t help but look. I didn’t want to, I really didn’t.
But I had to.
I had to look.
There was nothing. Only shadows, wavering in the golden glow from my lantern. Skittering up the walls of the forest in strange writhing shapes; distorted shapes of horned men-like creatures beckoning to me, enticing me with their macabre dance.
But I kept on walking, going deeper into the wood.
A fork in the path ahead was barely visible along the edge of my circle of lantern light. To the left, only a short distance away, lay our little farm, almost close enough for me to see the open front door with Ma watching for me. The right-hand fork led deeper into the woods, into parts I had never explored before. The crows seemed to be filling the branches above that path.
“Billy!” “BILLY! BILLY!” “B I L L Y…B I L L Y…B I L L Y !!!!!!”
The entire forest, all of the shapes, all of the crows, were calling my name now.
“Psssst! Billy Boy! – over here!” the whispers harrowed. I couldn’t help but look. I didn’t want to, I really didn’t.
But I had to.
I had to look.
There was nothing. Only that right hand path, covered now in beautiful shadow shapes, each of them calling my name and beckoning for me to join them.
So I kept on walking, going deeper into the wood.
Written for the Grammar Ghoul Press writing challenge #3 here: http://www.grammarghoulpress.com/gg-writing-challenge-3/ Be sure to stop by and read all the fantastic stories!
She looked deeply into his eyes. He was seated across the table from her, a sputtering candle chaperoning between them.
“Is this your first time?” she asked kindly.
“How did you know?”
“You look nervous. ”
“I am. I’ve never done this before.”
“It’s alright,” she said. “It’s easy and I’m here to take care of you.”
“Thank you. But I don’t need taking care of.”
“Oh, I know. It’s just that – the first time you don’t know what to expect. And I’ve done this……well a lot.”
“You must think I’m so incredibly naive.”
“Not at all. I think you are sweet. It was kind of you to come at such short notice. ”
“No one ever asked before,” he said with a little embarrassed laugh. “I guess I’m not very suited to this, this, er….performance?”
“Don’t be silly,” she said. “You will be wonderful – I can tell.”
“So – what happens next?” he asked.
“Myra!” a strident voice interrupted them. “What is he saying? I know he’s here, you are obviously talking to someone!”
She turned to the rather large woman sitting to her right. “He is asking what we want to know, Mrs. Hamilton.
“Well!” huffed the other woman. “Clearly we want to know if he can contact my husband! Is this personage a dolt?”
Myra cringed and shot a quick glance across the table to see if Charles was offended. He sat calmly, hands folded in front of him.
“Can you hear her?” she whispered.
“No. Is she talking?”
She tried not to allow the relief to show in her voice. “She is asking if you can contact her husband.”
“And I am supposed to know her husband? Because all dead people know all other dead people?” he said.
She couldn’t help laughing. “I shall inquire.”
“Mrs. Hamilton it will help my Spirit Guide if you could tell us something about your husband,” she said. The other woman smiled.
“Well, he was very handsome……and very successful……and left us all too soon,” she murmured. “Also I’d like to know where he left the will? His children – my step-children – are going to contest my ability to inherit anything and it would be such a help if Ernest could just let me know where the will is. He promised me I would inherit everything, you see.”
“She wants to know where Ernest left the will.”
“Ernest?” Charles asked. “Ernest have a last name?”
“Ernest Hamilton. I’ll just ring him up, shall I?”
“Look, Charles, I don’t know how to tell you to find….”
“The will was never written.” Charles intoned in his best sonorous voice.
“He never wrote a will. He lied to her.”
“How do you know?”
“Trust me. I know. Tell her.”
“There is no will, Mrs. Hamilton. Apparently your husband made that up.”
“I KNEW IT!” the other woman shreiked. “BASTARD!”
A long silence settled on the room.
“How we doing so far?” Charles asked
“Ummmm, good, really good. You’re a natural at this.”
A murder of crows swooped across the face of the moon. There were seven of them winging together which was unusual – but it was an unusual night. Their shadows flickered through the forest below, briefly touching on the shape-shifter before disappearing into darkness.
In the orange moonlight the shape-shifter considered his options. A wolve’s four legs would carry him to the palace faster. But once arrived he would have to return to human form in order to gain entry. And lately that was becoming more and more difficult. He feared becoming trapped in animal form when his advancing age finally caught up to the enchantment and he could no longer change at will.
With a sigh he began the long walk in human form. His feet hurt, his knees ached and there seemed to be a new catch in his breath. This was sport for a younger man. But how he loved it!
After an hour’s walk through the night he came upon the Papal Palace. It glittered in the moonlight from atop a steep hill. The thought of climbing that cliff wearied him further and he sat for a moment at the edge of a pond and considered changing his mind.
It was a cruel joke and the damn fool deserved it. “Ye reap what ye sow,” his granny always said and this Pope deserved every bit of the reaping. But the damned hill was so high and it had been an exhausting walk through the forest. He hated getting old.
Finally he gave in and decided on a cat. A sleek, thin, muscular cat which could spring up the hill without exertion, that could slip in and out of the hollows of shortcuts and if he was lucky even slip through the gates and around the guards before he had to change back. The familiar tingling began in his ears and worked its way rapidly from side to side to meet in the middle and course through his body. He watched the world grow larger as his body mass shrank in size. A glance in the pond showed him, not the sleek muscular feline of his dreams, but a rangy old tom cat with torn ears and matted fur. He grinned. It was an apt transformation – and he felt stronger now.
The hill was nothing to his four legs and the bars of the south gate were wide enough to slip through easily. Inside the palace he ran directly to the Papal Throne Room and stopped before the ornate floor length mirror. As the familiar tingling took over his body he watched his image transform into that of the Pope, robed officially for greeting important guests. He moved to the inner door which led into the Pope’s private quarters and threw the bolt to lock it securely. Then he took a seat on the Papal Throne.
Someone tried the inner door and began pounding on it when they found it locked. The Pope’s personal body servant scrambled into the room from the public antechamber, frantic with haste and frightened out of his mind. “They have arrived for the secret audience” he said. “What have you done?” he screamed. “Run! They have arrived!”
The doors of the audience chamber burst open and every imaginable creature from hell poured into the room. It took only seconds for them to tear the servant’s body into thousands of bits. Some used their teeth. Their stench was enormous, the air shimmered with heat and the ungodly sounds of endless suffering which accompanied them. They surged forward towards the throne but none dared to touch him yet.
A voice from the demon crowd called out “Cower, god-lover! You have been judged and deemed wanting. Now is the time of settlement.”
The shape-shifter felt the blood drain from his face as he realized his horrible mistake. This was not the secret audience he was expecting. Where were the politicians come to curry favor?
He attempted to rise but found that he could not move from the throne. As the demons slowly advanced he shifted his shape and shifted again but his body remained the same. His worst nightmare had come to fruition – he was stuck.
And the demons wanted far more than he could have ever imagined. He began to scream as they drew closer and closer still. He screamed and screamed again.
I tried to forgive them. Every year, I tried to forgive them. Until this year. This year I decided to do something about it.
The people who live in the house on Hanford Street are not nice people. They are mean people. They are stingy people. They are maybe even dangerous people.
Something needs to be done about them. And I’m just the kid to do it! This year. Maybe.
You see, even though their house sits out more or less in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by other run-down buildings and weedy grass, it is located in prime Trick or Treat territory. On account of because it is the only house on a really special block. A block that connects the two neighborhoods with the best candy in the whole town. Kids have been known to entirely fill up their pillowcases just by walking back and forth between those two neighborhoods.
But you have to go past the house on Hanford Street to do it. So, of course, you have to dare your buddies to go knock on the door.
We’ve been doing this since I was about six years old. It’s always Charlie that starts it.
“I dare you to go ring their doorbell,” he said that first year. Me and Remy looked at each other and then at him. “YOU go ring their doorbell,” I challenged him back. Of course he wouldn’t.
But some older kids came along then and walked right up on the porch like it was nothing Rang the bell. The door opened. We couldn’t exactly see inside but we saw the kids hold open their pillowcases and they were laughing when they ran by us.
So we got up enough guts to try it. The three of us, all together. We walked up the creaky steps and even when a rat ran across the porch we didn’t scram. We lined up in front of the door and I watched my finger jab the doorbell. The door creaked open and candy fell into our pillowcases. But it was kind of weird, none of us actually saw who put it there. I was so busy looking at the full size Hershey bars (two of them!) going into my stash that I never even looked up.
The next year it was scads of Milk Duds and the year after that Milky Ways AND Snickers bars. A handful each of the little ones – which still adds up to a lot of candy. But the year after that it got strange. They gave out little homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If my Dad had still been walking the neighborhood with us he never would have let us eat them – there were always news stories about nutcases poisoning kids or slipping razor blades in candy bars. We wolfed the sandwiches right down and didn’t die but it was still disappointing. That’s when I started trying to practice forgiveness.
The year after that it was grapes. About four each. Even worse than sandwiches but we ate them.
“It’s like these folks suddenly got on a health kick!” Charlie complained and of course we agreed with him. I thought the grapes tasted sour.
Last year it was hard-boiled eggs. We threw them out as we ran down the front walk. They made a satisfying splat! sound — which gave us an idea.
This year we brought eggs with us. Raw eggs. A lot of them. These folks needed to be taught a lesson so they would go back to the days of full size Hershey Bars. We egged the whole porch, the front window and even the front door. Then we stood there with our pillowcases and rang the doorbell.
The door opened. A bit of fog curled low around our feet. It was dark inside but somewhere way in the back there was flickering lights, like firelight. It smelled funny, kind of like when you open the garbage can after rain leaks in. And the air was so cold and damp it made me shiver. But not as much as I did when I saw the claws on the feet in front of me. For the first time I looked up at who lived in the House on Hanford Street.
And gosh, to this day I sure wish I never had!
I keep trying to get the badge code to link back but no luck. This also happened on my last post over at Suzanne’s Grammar Ghoul Challenge. I recently changed themes and I’m wondering if somehow that is affecting why I can’t get the badges to link back. So sorry !!!
The Elders brought me here when I had breathed free of my mother’s body for less than one rotation of the sun. I remember being hot and hungry then cold. I don’t remember passing over. Just that I was here, and then I was still here but no longer hot, no longer hungry and no longer cold. As I am now.
I have heard that if a babe is not “accounted for” by both mother and father it is given to the crossroads. There was no doubt of my mother. She was barely past a child herself, of 13 years and as innocent as I. But my father – well, even my mother did not understand what they wanted from her when they asked about my father. And he for certain did not come forward.
So they gave me to the crossroads. It is an old custom.
This is my haunt then. My charge: to guard I suppose. To….judge mayhap. To guide, for certain. Do ye choose the north wherein lies the enemy? Do ye choose the west wherein lies the sea? I try to point the wanderers eastward, there is peace there, and prosperity. The south calls to some and they cannot be dissuaded – ’tis a mighty call.
The most powerful of times is at dusk – ’tis the rare soul that can resist me then. Caravans pass and stop to sacrifice an ox, a sheep or a speckled goat. Some try to draw meaning from the cries and flight of birds, especially those of doves for they are the messengers of the gods and their hearts are free.
It is at the crossroads that women place the first fruits of the harvest and sacrifice white hens for the souls of their dead children. No one sacrifices for me. I wonder sometimes what happened to my mother.
Men encounter their fates here, and set their destinies in motion. Some reap consequences as well. Thieves and suicides are often buried in the unholy ground at a crossroads; their graves unmarked save for an empty road sign which at one time might have pointed the way.
There is magic here especially during the depth and silence of the night. Many are the revelations to be had. Ancient oracles pass through, whispering their prophecies. Sometimes manifestations appear. These I avoid, it is far too difficult for one such as I to discern which are benevolent and which are….not. Women who call themselves witches hold Sabbat meets in the space where the roads cross, drawing on the sacred energy created there. Some carry away handfuls of the dirt for use in later spellmaking.
This is my place, my tiny hold on the world of the human and I was not pleased the night they brought another into it.
Close on midnight two of the Elders appeared bearing between them a bulky burlap sack. At the northeast corner they upended the sack with little ceremony and a full grown man fell out. The gaping wound in his chest told me he was dead, the dark, nearly black blood oozing forth told me his death had been very recent.
“Here’s another one won’t be stealing from the village no more,” one of the men muttered and spat into his hand. The other one grunted and began digging a shallow grave. As I watched it occurred to me that if they left the man’s body here his spirit was likely to be tied here as well. I couldn’t have that so I stood over the body and slowly materialized into a being they could see. I did not choose a pleasing shape.
As expected, the men dropped their shovels and ran hastily towards the safety of their homes. I regarded the body and wondered how I might now dispose of it elsewhere.
Then it moved – or rather, it seemed to move. What I actually witnessed was the spirit detaching itself and floating into a standing position in front of me. We regarded each other silently and a cold feeling of dread began to overtake me. I somehow knew this other – there was a tiny silver strand which attached our two spirits together. He felt it too.
“Well – ’tis true then,” were his first words to me. I stared at him. “Come on then, son,” he said and handed me a shovel.
And so it was that I came to help my father bury his dead body.
This story was written for the inaugural writing challenge of Grammar Ghoul Press which is a new writing site created by Suzanne of Apopletic Apostrophes. Check out the other wonderful writing by clicking on the left badge below The crossroads image is a painting by Brent Cotton, a contemporary artist who paints in the Tonalist/Luminist style made popular in the late 1800’s
In the span of a breath, everything changed. We were enjoying a late Manhattan afternoon during the crisp early days of autumn when the city is at it’s finest. One moment she was holding my hand and the next she was running towards an ice cream stand on the opposite side of the street. My heart stopped at the exact instant that my brain registered she had just dashed into heavy traffic. Cars honked and swerved but the truck driver must not have seen her. I screamed her name again, again and then again. There was nothing else I could do.
Sometimes it is the smallest decisions that can change your life forever. We could have stayed at the library a little longer, or left there half an hour earlier. In either case the truck would not have been barreling down the right lane at the exact same moment in time my Emily chose to let go of my hand and run into the street. We could have stayed home that afternoon, baking cookies or puttering in our little garden which took up most of the back yard around the lone scraggly, wildly bent tree. Making mud pies maybe. Emily loved mud pies from the time she could first toddle into a puddle on her own.
But we chose the weekly trip to the library with a promise of ice cream afterwards. We had a game we played on each visit called “Flavor of the Week.” The rules were simple: never choose the same flavor twice. The previous week Emily had tried Peach for the first time and I snuck in an old favorite – Lime sherbet. While we waited on our double scoops I noticed an intriguing new flavor had been added to the list of choices. A handwritten word was scrawled between Lemon and Lime on the menu board. It read: “Lilac.”
“Do you suppose it really tastes like flowers, Em?” I remember asking her. And her excited response “Let’s get it next week, Mama, both of us!” So that was our plan as we walked from the library with another week’s worth of picture books. Lilac Ice Cream for two before we hurried back to the apartment to see Daddy when he got home from work.
It is sometimes necessary to forget in order to survive. But I remember everything about that afternoon. The way the late afternoon sun slanted through the spaces between buildings and glimmered on the traffic, the warm and somehow comforting smell of exhaust fumes and the swizzling sounds of tires swooshing across the pavement. I remember seeing my daughter’s laughing face turn back over her shoulder to call to me “Come on Mama!” as she runs blindly away. The distance between us grows while her golden curls bounce in the wind. Her chubby cheeks are flushed from the walk and her tiny white teeth are bared in a delighted grin.
In this moment of total joy she is almost transcendent in her happiness.
I can’t stop my tears and lately I don’t even try. It could have been so different.
I remember the sound of horns and the squeal of brakes from passing cars while Emily ran on. She was already past the truck and into the other lane of traffic when that truck suddenly swerved around her and stopped abruptly, acting as a barrier between her and the oncoming traffic. She reached the opposite curb and turned back to me, her frightened face finally registering a realization of the danger.
I have no memory of how I crossed the street to wrap her safely in my arms. But I will always remember the taste of Lilac Ice Cream.
Well, I missed the Speakeasy deadline again – this time by a full day! I’m finding my writing process (read: slow) and required daily obligations (read: job) are interfering far more than they used to. So, not wanting to waste my little effort I’m posting it here for your reading pleasure. Comments most welcome!