The Night We Saved the Moon

Art from

It was just past midnight when the moon fell from the sky.

It landed in the lake south of our barn and slowly began to sink below the surface. I saw it from my place at the window.

Lately I have been unable to sleep and lie in bed beside my husband until his breathing changes to soft snores.  Then I move to the chair beside the window from which I can study the night sky.

It seems to me the Universe surely has all the answers hidden somewhere.  All we need to do is to look in the right place, ask the right questions, and our little piece of the eternal puzzle will be revealed.

This farm and this life and this man are what I chose. Now I study the stars and wonder— is this all there is?

The life has become harder, the farm has struggled through crop failures and now flooding and the man…..well the man and I appear to have fallen out of love.  Or so it seems.

So I sit up at night and look to the sky for answers.

Although the rains have stopped much of the country around here is flooded.  Rivers have spilled over their banks and culverts and gulleys run with water.  Our lake has risen right up to the barn.

Tonight the muddy lake water has turned to a beautiful fiery gold.  It has gathered up the moons’ shine and multiplied it out from the center to reach as far as the water spreads.  It is so beautiful I sit and gaze at it for a long while before i notice that the moon is sinking.

I dress quickly, calling my husband’s name as I pull on jeans and a sweatshirt.  It takes him moments to wake but when he looks out the window he doesn’t question me, just begins to dress as fast as I.  Downstairs we yank on coats and pull our clean mud boots from the closet.  In minutes we are standing on the lake shore, wondering what to do.

As the night sky rotates towards dawn we try different solutions.  Pulling it with a rope does not work, in fact it causes it to tip and slip further beneath the surface.  After three failed attempts I turn to my husband and see the same feeling of despair written on his face.  This seems so important to us, so vital for us to do together.  There is no thought of calling others to help.

He drags our row-boat from the barn and throws the rope into it.  Together we push-off and sail to the middle of the lake where our moon waits patiently.  Together we use the rope to lift it easily into the boat .  Together we hold the moon up and maneuver back to safe ground.

When we roll the moon out of the boat it lifts gently up into the air and glides back into the night sky.  I find myself holding my husband’s hand and when he leans in for a kiss it is the best kiss we have ever shared. I melt into his arms and in the morning I’m still there, snuggled close beside him in our bed.

“What an odd and beautiful dream,” I think and wonder if that is why everything feels so much better this morning.

The love of my life is still sleeping when I tiptoe downstairs to start the coffee.

It will be hours before I notice the muddy boots dropped haphazardly by the door.

Solace Forthcoming

Homesickness - by René Magritte
Homesickness – by René Magritte

Where we love is home.  Although we might leave, our hearts do remain.  Sometimes they call us to return.

Michael stood on the bridge overlooking the river’s relentless flow into a golden sunset.  He could feel Mixael behind him but refused to turn.  The problem seemed simple enough to him – only one of them could go back.  Obviously it should be him.

The day was too warm for the heavy black suit he wore.  Little trickles of perspiration gathered around the base of his wings.  Although the four-foot wings were invisible to the human eye they felt like a drag on his back, anchoring him to the here and now in a way he had not felt before.  He sighed and squinted into the sun.  The whole world felt too heavy for the human body he wore.

He flexed his wings and waited for his feline companion’s argument.  It didn’t come.

“You know it should be me, Mixa,” he finally thought at the lion. The response he felt in return was like a huff of warm air in his brain, full of stinging bees.

“Don’t be like that,” he thought.  Lions don’t feel homesick. Additionally you know one of us must stay to see things through. You don’t need me for that, you can do it easily. In fact it is something you have accomplished in the past in your own bodacious, awesome, indomitable, sassy, valiant, lionhearted way!” he thought.

The stinging inside his head grew worse. Michael blinked and turned to face his partner.

“Alright, I’m sorry – I was just trying to inject a little levity into the situation,” he thought.

All at once his mind was filled with visions of a lush jungle teeming with beautiful animals and abundant plant life.  He was running through this bounteous landscape towards verdant plains and a sparkling waterhole.  Then suddenly a brilliant light dazzled and He appeared. Although the light was too overwhelming to see clearly it was simple to know it was Him; the love emanating from His presence felt like no other.  It was the same love Michael longed to feel again upon his return to Heaven and home.

“Oh!” he thought.  “I see.  You too.  Well this is a quandary then, isn’t it?”

The vision of the jungle faded into his companion’s view of the bridge and river.  It looked sad and lonely despite the lovely golden light.

“I know,” thought Michael.  “Me too.”

 

This was written as part of the latest writing challenge at Grammar Ghoul Press where the prompts were the word “bodacious” and the artwork by Magritte.  Click the badge above to see how other folks responded to the challenge!  

Casting Stones

Runes

My first memory is of crouching by the fire, watching my mother throw rune stones.  The woman who had come to see us kept her face covered but my mother called her by name as though she could see through cloth.  Perhaps she could.

I was fascinated by the runes and longed to feel them in my fingers but I knew to do so would be asking for punishment, swift and sure.  Once, and once only, I had touched those runes, gently taking the one which looked like a star  into my hand.

“Ior,” my mother said, carefully taking it from me.  Then she slapped me hard across the face.

“You do not ever touch my runes,” she said. “They are mine, they carry my energy and to defile them with yours is to put me in danger.  Do you understand?”

I stared at her silently, willing the tears away.  “I want to learn,” I said simply.   She narrowed her eyes and peered at me closely.

“Ior,” she said again.  “The water beast.  It represents the World Serpent  which circles the world at the bottom of the ocean.  The Serpent is a dangerous beast; when it moves it can cause the earth to shake and the waters of the ocean to drown the land, ” she said.

 “And yet, it is necessary, essential to the growth of crops, the cycle of birth and death, the entire continuation of the world.  Even if it could be destroyed the void which followed would be worse than the Serpent’s continuing existence.  What does that tell you?” she demanded.

I had not thought to be questioned and took a moment to ponder.

“That Ior has two natures, much like the beasts of the water who also walk on the land.”

There was a pause while my mother studied me.

“So wise for one so young,” she said. “Ior symbolizes the unavoidable hardships and problems with which we must learn to live so that our lives can be tolerable. When it appears it is a reminder that we should not worry about things we cannot change. Sometimes a loss can be transformed into something new.”

Many nights followed that first one as I sat at my mother’s knee while she taught me the art of reading the future.  I learned to predict when babies would arrive, how close an approaching raiding party might be and how many would die when they arrived.  I predicted storms, and crop failure, and marriages.  Many years went by and I became even better than she at reading the stones.

As her health failed I gradually took over her duties in the tribe.  Late one evening she called me to her bedside and asked that I  read for her.  I drew a circle on the dirt floor and cast the runes into it.

“What do they say?” she asked.

“Once more,” I said, and cast again.  Then again. And again.

When the Death rune continued to fall from my hand  I knew that she did not have much longer among us.

I did not see the rune for Transformation which fell behind it every time.

The rune stones did not show my fate on the night my mother died.  But when she rose from her death bead and took them away from me,  I read it in her eyes.

Celestial Mixing Bowl

Skeleton Leap by FrostFoto on Flickr
Skeleton Leap by FrostFoto on Flickr

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!”

 

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Shadows Dire

Arthur Rackham - Comus Calling Shapes, Beckoning Shadows Dire
Arthur Rackham – Comus – Calling Shapes, Beckoning Shadows Dire

“Billy.”   It was barely a whisper.

“Billy…..” At least I thought I  heard a whisper.

“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.

I looked.

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.

“Billybillybillybillybillybilly!”

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.

I looked.

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.

I looked.

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.

I looked.

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.

I looked.

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.

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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! 

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Blood Moon

Velasquez
Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X

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.

It’s likely he screamed for all eternity.

 

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 This was written in response to the challenge over at Grammar Ghoul where you can find many other fabulous stories.  Take a look! 

 

Crossroads

Crossroads 3

I have always lived here.

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

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The Taste of Lilac Ice Cream

Spilled Lilac Ice Cream 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. 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!

Neon Noir

Neon Valet Parking
Neon Valet Parking from Flickr Tadson Bussey

The days of the week lined up like buckets, ready to catch whatever fell in. Most weeks it was nothing much. This week it looked like it could be something else.

My morning started out fairly busy for a Monday – lost dogs, a wandering grandma, husband philanderer….still, nothing out of the ordinary. But by lunch time I figured I needed more sleep, I needed a cold beer, and I needed to hire a secretary. What I had were stiletto heels, crimson red lipstick, and a hat with a stinking cute little black veil. I put them all on and headed for the door. On the way out I grabbed Jerry’s gun.

The new client wanted to meet in the park. Ok by me. He said he’d be on the bench by the duck pond.

I hate ducks. But – probably I could avoid the little bastards. The client wanted to talk romance. Just what I needed on a Monday morning. I wondered why I had only downed one cuppa java as I wandered through the park avoiding ducks and looking for the client. Sure enough he was sitting at the Duck Pond. Or at least someone was.

I wandered over and threw some corn in the water. The little misbegotten freaks converged on it immediately and swallowed half the pond whole in order to consume it all. The guy on the bench laughed.

“You want to sit?” he asked.

I sidled over and sat at the far end of the bench. “You wanted to meet?” I muttered.

“I have a job – for someone who thinks romance stinks,” he said.

“That would be me,” I responded and emptied the bag of corn at my feet.

Big mistake. Dozen of the little bastard ducklings swarmed around me – some of them even stepped on me with their hideous nugatory webbed feet. I kept shuddering and pretending I wasn’t.

“I need someone to do a job. Tonight,” my contact breathed.

“What kind of job?”

“My brother….a dare – you want the job I give you the details.”

I thought about it for a minute. “Yeah, sure,” I said.

“Let’s walk,” he said.

* * * * *

After our conversation I felt relieved. Almost guilty even. This would be too easy. Still, it was what the client wanted to pay for and who am I to judge? I thought the guy was as nuts as a pair of yodeling monkeys but I liked him.

I rolled into the Oxley Hotel lobby at exactly 7:08 as planned. Punched the elevator button for the 5th floor and settled in for the slow rise. At room 503 I knocked briefly and wasn’t surprised when the door drifted open underneath my knuckles. The client and his brother sat stiffly on the sofa. There was blood on the floor in front of them.

I came in gun drawn and a hideous snarl making a mockery of my face. “Who the hell are you two,” I demanded and knocked the brother’s chin with the business end of my gun.

He responded appropriately and I winked at my client. Seemed we were headed down the right path.

“I’m looking for Jon Jacob Joseph Jones,” I declared and dared them to snicker under the ferocity of my eyes. “You know where I could find him?”

“NO,” my client said and motioned towards the door. His glance back to the blood-stained carpet told me something had gone wrong.

“What do you want him for?” the brother asked.

“Murder?” I hazarded a guess. “His.”

The two brothers exchanged a glance. I walked farther into the darkened room and took up a position by the window. The room was lighted only by the incremental flashes of neon from a sign hanging just outside the hotel window. Red, white, green…red, white, green….the lights flashed their message.

“Listen you guys,” I started. “I know why you brought me here. Someone has to take the fall. Because there must have been something deep inside you from the very start that let you do this thing, but there’s always been something deep inside me that would never let me do it, – and would never let me be a party to it.”

The brother turned to my client, “Do you have any idea what she is talking about?” he asked.

“Not a clue.”

The neon flashed. We all turned to look out the window. I decided to try again.

“Tell me about it,” I snarled.

The brother broke first.

“We never planned it!” his voice was as shaky as a glass of gin on a teetotaler’s tray. “The guy shows up and says he’s in love with my girl. Wants to marry her! Tells me to bow out of the picture.”

My client interrupted with a cough. “The guy shows up half an hour early and brings a gun with him,” he says. He gives me a look.

“What do you mean early?” the brother asked. I cut him off.

“So what did you tell the swell? You bow out on your girl?”

“Hell, no! I told him to get lost, that I loved her and if anybody was marrying her it wasn’t going to be him!”

I looked at my client and nodded. “So he bought it,” I said.

“Yeah but, then the guy pulled a gun. We didn’t talk about guns so I told him to put it away.” The client wiped a hand over his face which was sweating like a pig on safari.

“So I jumped him,” the brother said. “Tried to get it away from him.”

“Then I jumped both of them – I didn’t plan for anyone to get hurt,” my client said. “The gun went off – damn fool had even loaded it! He went down, dropped dead on that spot,” he said pointing to the bloodstain.

“Where is he now?” I asked

“Closet.”

I opened the closet door and peeked in. He was lying in a fetal position, still clutching the gun with both hands. Dead as a door nail, all right.

I looked back at the brothers. They were arguing in whispers. I guessed the jig was up.

“Either one of you touch the gun?” I asked.

“No – I had him in a stranglehold and genius here tackled both of us.”

“So now what?” my client asked.

“Now we leave.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. It was an accident – no need to be part of it, that just gets messy.”

I started for the hallway. “Leave separately. Unseen by management – don’t walk out through the lobby. And for Christ’s sake don’t tell anybody about this!”

At the door I paused.

“One more piece of advice, gents. Don’t meddle with romance – it never works out.” I looked at the brother. “And if you really love her – marry the dame.”

The stairwell was right around the corner. The window on the landing looked out over the neon sign. Red, white, green.

I wondered if I would still get paid.

Unusual Harvest

Demeter mourning Persephone by Evelyn de Morgan 1906
Demeter mourning Persephone by Evelyn de Morgan 1906

“I’ve come to love the silence,” she thought and immediately felt surprise. When had that happened and how was it even possible?

She, who would give everything in the world for just one more hour of her daughter’s laughter, how could she have come to relish silence? She remembered the squeals of delight which echoed off the palace walls and bounced up and down the scale of glee. She remembered also the hasty whispers of innocent secrets, the growl of tantrums, the breaths of wishes now left unfulfilled. Oh to hear any of those sounds again instead of all this – nothing! How had she come to love the silence?

Perhaps she had grown weary of the sound of weeping. Her own tears flowed silently. But the cook, the dove-keeper, the maids and footmen, the coach driver and the stable boys – even the palace guardsmen all wept loudly and long. When she could stand it no longer she sent them out again, searching. No matter that everyone had searched for days and days after the girl went missing. No matter that she had sat in her window night after sleepless night crooning all the old familiar lullabies in hopes that somehow her child would hear and follow the sound home. No matter, no matter, no matter. Searching was all they had left. So search they would.

It was the end of the following day, just as the all-seeing Sun was dipping towards his bed, when she saw the shadow of a young girl on the edge of the forest. She stared at it for too long before she realized what it was and turned to question the Sun. He had nearly disappeared before she turned back and watched the story play out in shadow form – Persephone picking narcissus, the ground opening and Hades riding forth in his midnight chariot. His shadow seemed darker than all the rest and as he sprang from the chariot and wrapped his arms around the girl it appeared as if he were the forest itself, entangling the girl in his branches. Demeter could not help a startled groan when the tree-man plucked Persephone’s shadowy form from the hillside and carried her down below the earth. Then the Sun set and all was dark, the story finished.

At that moment Despair walked beside her for the first time and she gave up wanting to live.

She had already departed her body when something began to tear inside it. A surge of feeling without a name washed over her. It was stronger than memory, stronger than regret or fear. She recognized it as the pulse of an enforced loss, delivered by the wrenching away of that which she held most dear. And nothing in the world mattered any longer.

She began walking and as she walked the earth died around her.

Grass shriveled, leaves dropped sullenly from the trees and entire fields of crops withered where they stood. Vegetable gardens and beds of flowers became lush with decay and the bubbling streams and giggling brooks grew silent and dark. She did not notice.

She went into the Palace of the Gods and she shut the door behind her.

This is part two of a retelling of the Persephone and Demeter myth which I started last week. You can find the first part – and a brief explanation – here: https://splendidsass.wordpress.com/2014/09/10/six-little-seeds/