I Am The Earth

0231 - The Earth is Such a Mother - via Flash Prompt

 

I cry.

You fill my great waters with your cast-off plastic, my streams and rivers with toxic chemicals.

You complain that the water is no longer fit to drink.

You wonder why the fish are scarce and the grasses withered and brown.

I bleed.

I shed my heart’s blood for the animals left homeless and undernourished, the starving polar bears, the treeless birds, the hooved and pawed beasts cut off from their homes and food sources by barbed wire, burning highways, electric fences, and projectile weapons.

I express my rage.

I send hurricanes, blizzards and the occasional volcano eruption.

I whisper my truths into the inner ears of those who would protect me.

They understand: to protect me, is to protect yourselves.

You forget, you see.

You oh-so-conveniently forget that I was here before you, and I will remain long after.

You might not recognize my evolving form.

You might resent the changes I must make to ensure my own survival.

You might shiver in fear at what I’m likely to become.

And yet, you do nothing to stop me.

I am the flood and the fire.

I am the coppery blood of all things, living and dead.

I am the earth.

And I can be maternal.

But I can also be a mother.

Morning Mist

224 - Retreat in the Woods via flash-prompt

 

She’d always thought of herself as a city girl, or at least suburban, picking her living spaces as much for their distance from a good café – anything over half a mile was too far – as for the state of the kitchen, the size of the bathtub, and the amount and quality of natural light.

Still, she loved her husband – was still madly in love with him after twenty-three years, so when he asked her to spend a week in a cabin in the woods with him, she couldn’t refuse. After all, he’d been on innumerable trips to the beach for her.

On the drive up, she made the requisite jokes about the dark forest being the perfect setting for a murder mystery or horror movie. “You’re not planning to chop me into pieces and hide them under a carpet of pine needles, are you?”

“Of course not,” he’d replied, blue eyes twinkling at her when their gazes met in the rear-view mirror. “For one thing, this isn’t a pine forest.”

“So. Not. Reassuring.” She sing-songed the words.

Their first two days were sodden with rain, but her husband kept a fire burning in the Franklin stove and lulled her into a good mood with endless cups of gourmet coffee and the soft strumming of his acoustic guitar, classical music alternated with folk – her favorites.

On the morning of the third day at the cabin, she woke before him, and set the coffee to brew. The rain had finally stopped, and the first rays of sun were beginning to penetrate the morning fog. She brought her mug of coffee with her to the deck that surrounded the cabin and lost herself in the view.

Birds called to each other in the trees and she glimpsed a couple of squirrels playing on a nearby branch, making her smile, but it was the light on the trees that really entranced her. The play of sun and fog, brightness and shadow. She almost believed that if she could just stretch far enough she could catch a piece of morning mist on the end of her finger, like cotton candy at the firemen’s fair.

She didn’t hear him come up behind her, but she knew he was there even before his rusty-voiced “Morning, babe,” tickled her right ear.

He slipped his arms around her from behind, and she leaned back against his chest. “The rain stopped,” she said, as if he couldn’t tell.

“And?”

“It’s not the beach…” she began.

“No, it’s not the beach.”

“But it’s kind of magical in its own way.”

He didn’t respond, not with words. Instead he squeezed her just a little tighter, and then released.

Together, they watched as the forest fully embraced the new day.

What We Do to the Faeries

0212 - Faerie Coffin via Flash Prompt“Where have all the faeries gone?”

 

It’s an innocent question, tumbling from the lips of your child.

 

“Faeries live in a special place called our imagination,” you say, looking over the child’s head so that you aren’t looking into those luminous eyes, the ones as-yet-untainted by harsh reality and hard truths. “You can enter that place whenever you’re playing, or dreaming, and the faeries will sing you their songs and teach you their games.”

 

“Do you sing with the faeries?” Your child asks this and a thousand other similar questions.

 

Finally, you provide a half-truth because you can’t bear another lie. “When you grow up, your imagination changes, and faeries don’t visit it anymore.”

 

“That’s very sad. I’m sorry.”

 

Your child’s sweet sympathy burns like acid, because you know – you KNOW – that the faeries aren’t gone, they’re imprisoned. They’re stuck in the ground in so many lead-lined cement boxes, boxes with just enough tiny fissures, designed intentionally, to let faerie magic seep into the soil of the old forest.

 

You remember when you were told that It Was Time and you were Too Old to Believe, and you were forced to stuff your own faerie into one of those prisons (coffins) in a line of so many others, marching down the lane of the forest like stepping stones.

 

A part of you, the part that feels guilty for what your people have done, wants to end the cycle. Tell your child the truth. Take them to the row of boxes and help them unlock each one.

 

But you don’t. Because this is how it Is, and this is how it has Always Been. A child’s faerie comes into the world with their first bubble of laughter, and when the child reaches puberty, they make the ultimate betrayal. They stuff their faerie in a box and lose the last of their innocence.

 

“But why?” your child will ask, as they realize the horror of what they are doing.

 

“Because it is the Way. Without faerie magic the trees would not grow tall and the river would not run clear and sweet, and the air would taste like ash.”

 

“Can’t we just ask them to help with those things?” They will press on.

 

And for a moment you wonder if they would, just as you did when it was your faerie being locked into the darkness.

 

But you know the truth. It’s been too long. Too many generations. Too many years – decades – centuries – of betrayal.

 

And you will give the same non-answer your parents gave you: A sad shrug and a shake of your head.

 

But… those harder questions are years away yet. And you want to ease the trouble in your child’s eyes and smooth the worry from the tender, young brow.

 

“Sometimes,” you say. “I can almost catch a glimpse of my faerie, in my imagination.”

 

Your child studies your face, looks deeply into your eyes. You wonder what new old-young words will fall from those lips, still sticky from jam at breakfast.

 

But there is no response. The child re-focuses on the crayons and tablet on the table between you, and you finish your coffee in silence.

 

It’s only later that you realize what your child has drawn: The old forest, the lane of cut trees replaced by cubes of cement and lead.

 

In the back of your head, you hear your faerie laugh, but it’s not the sound of playful joy.

 

It’s a cackle, full of malice and revenge.

 

Waltzing in the Woods

Dancing with Ghosts via Flash PromptIn the piney woods above the beach, when the moon was full, and the fog bent the beam from the lighthouse just so, Isabelle and Henry would relive the first and last dance of their wedding.

 

It had been ninety-three years since the old Goose and Turrets Hotel had burned to the ground. Some said it was the fault of a dry winter. Fallen pine needles and the casually discarded butt of a cigarillo invariably resulted in conflagration.

 

Others were certain it was arson, the hotelier’s last-ditch effort to avoid getting caught selling liquor. True, the law turned a blind eye to Society folk sipping champagne at parties, but it was known that Rick was moving more than the occasional bottle of bubbly through his wine cellars.

 

Either way, the place was ablaze before midnight, and the new day dawned on ash and rubble.

 

Henry had died inside, they said, rushing into the wood-framed structure again and again to help others get out.

 

And Isabelle?

 

She’d been seen wandering the beach early in the morning, barefoot, with the train of her silk-velvet bridal gown so laden with wet sand it was nearly the same color as the smoldering ruins.

 

They never found her body, but she’d been walking below the waterline, and the morning high tide hadn’t yet come to wash away the scattered shoes and bags of those who had escaped the island on boats.

 

And everyone knows that you shouldn’t wade while wearing velvet. It soaks up the water and drags you down to the bottom of the sea.

 

The cold, dark Atlantic is unforgiving that way.

 

Still…

 

Teenagers who go to the beach to make out in the moonlight claim that when the fog rolls in and the arc of the lighthouse beam swings leeward, you can see the outline of the old hotel, standing stalwart on the cliff, and you can hear the waltz music underneath the sound of the waves.

 

And folks who live in the cottages (mansions, really, but the pretense is maintained) tucked among the pine trees say they often catch a glimpse of a bride in white velvet, seaweed in her hair, and a skeletal partner gently leading the form of a waltz.

 

It’s Isabelle and Henry, they whisper, for fear a loud voice will disturb the timeless lovers. It’s Henry and Isabelle having one last dance.

 

May they rest in peace, when the song is done.

Kill It With Fire

0169 - Kill It with Fire via Flash Prompt“Take this” she told the mission commander. “We offer it to you in remembrance of this visit.”

I tried to warn him. Tried to tell him that accepting living fire from an alien we hadn’t fully vetted was a bad idea. But did he listen?

No.

Caught up in the thrill of an (apparently) successful first contact scenario, he accepted their gift, brought it back aboard our ship, entrusted its care to me.

At first, I thought the fluctuations in the power grid were a result of the ion storm we’d passed through. Then I realized that the living fire was also fluctuating.

I took a couple of specialists down to the engine core, and that’s where we found them. An entire pod of the same chalk-white aliens.

Reynolds and Morris never knew what hit them. One minute they were flanking me, weapons drawn; the next they were dead, and the chalk people were sucking on their bones.

Me, they kept alive.

I’m not sure if it was because I’m a woman or because they’d never seen rainbow-colored hair before. Maybe both. But they made me their liaison.

Please if you get this message, do not let my ship approach your world. The chalk people use living fire as their portal. It’s how they conquer other races, how they spread their seed into the cosmos.

Our weapons have been destroyed. Our crew – what’s left of it – is being fattened for an Arrival Feast.

I beg you. Destroy our ship. Destroy it in orbit. Make sure it’s blasted to bits and then consign the debris into the sun.

Kill it.

Kill it with fire.

Capturing the Catbird

0185 - Catbird - via Flash Prompt“Professor Shadingstone, I presume?”

The older woman raised her gray-haired head from her laptop and peered at the younger. “Good god, Lumley, must you use that tiresome greeting every day? It was mildly amusing once. Now, seventeen days from semester break, it’s lost the little charm it once had.” The professor paused, letting the other absorb her annoyance. “Now that you’ve interrupted my work, you might as well tell me why.”

Lumley stepped closer to the desk. “I was out in the Green Woods over the weekend. It started as a hike. Nuñez, the TA who works for Professor Clardin, invited me on a picnic and a hike. Only, he’s quite handsome, and we’re both applying for the Gossey Fellowship. And –

“Have I not asked you not to ma’am me?”

“- sorry, sir – “

“Lumley.” Professor Shadingstone never yelled when she was angry. Rather, her voice became quiet, dark, and full of warning. “Get. To. The. Point.”

Lumley handed over a photo-cube. “I’ve found it, ma – er – sir – er – Professor. I’ve found proof. The Caprican Catbird. It exists.”

The professor activated the photo cube and watched as digital images sprang up before her in holographic glory.

“This is a stray housecat, Lumley. Probably the one Dean Ferrington lost last fall.”

But Lumley held her ground. “No, Professor, it is not. It’s a Catbird. Watch.”

Shadingstone flipped through the collection of photos, her gnarled fingers flicking out as if she were catching flies. “Photoshopped,” she accused.

“I didn’t. I swear.”

“Tangible evidence?”

Lumley handed over a clump of black animal fur, something rather like a peacock’s tail feather, and a data flimsy with a lab report.

“The DNA in fur and feather is identical, si – ma – Professor.”

Shadingstone read the report once, then a second time. “Could you find the location again?”

“I set a beacon drone after it. One of the new dragonflies.”

“Which means the entire biology department will be swarming the Woods.”

“Never that. The beacon is set to your private channel. And it’s password protected.”

Shadingstone set the cube aside, letting the photos continue to cycle, tracking the newfound creature’s metamorphosis from black cat to peacock and back again. Centering her computer on the desk, she instructed it to locate the drone Lumley had indicated and receive video data.

“What’s the password, Lumley?”

The younger woman hung her head. “Only, I wanted it to be memorable, so it’s kind of silly.”

“Lumley…”

“It’s… ‘tomfowlery,’ Professor.”

“Tom… fowlery?”

Lumley’s reply was somewhat sheepish. “I’m afraid so.”

Shadingstone stared at the eager young woman, the biologist in training, and did something no student, and few faculty, members had ever witnessed.

She threw her head back.

And laughed.

Daedalus, Diminished

0189 - Icarus via Flash-Prompt

 

He’d been a maker, once.

Architect. Designer. Engineer. Dreamer. He’d done it all.

Create a labyrinth suitable for the great beast enslaved by the king?

Sure, no problem. Make it twist and turn, winding back around itself until even he, the one who planned it, couldn’t guarantee a speedy exit.

Or any exit.

Build an animatronic bull that would fool a goddess?

Yeah, he could make that happen. Use real skin, paint the hooves so they’re not too glossy, capture the musky scent of rutting animal and spray it underneath the taut hide. She couldn’t help but fall for it. Good thing she was into the strong, silent type, even when mating in bovine form.

Find a way to fly?

(To fly, to flit, to flee.)

Wax and feathers on a wire frame. Powered by your own muscle, guided by your own mind. Biceps and triceps needed to be strong, but don’t overlook your core.

It’s all about the core.

And his son’s core was soft.

Not the physical one.

The part that governed common sense.

The part that listened to his father’s wisdom.

The part that followed the old man’s instructions.

Those parts, those core strengths, those were the bits that had been black and mushy. Neither capable of maintaining balance nor strong enough to persevere.

Well, his son was free now.

Free from earthly constraints, free from human laws, free from the need for blood or breath or bone.

And himself?

He’s trapped in a labyrinth that has no exit, because it exists entirely within his mind. His minotaur isn’t a raging half-man, but a monster made of grief and guilt. It chases him down nightmare lanes, night after night, always ending in the heat of fire, the hiss of saltwater, the bitter tang of loss.

He was a maker once.

Before.

But now?

Now he’s just an old man with nothing left to live for, wandering the deserted beach of his own, sorry, soul.

Flip the Switch

FliptheSwitch via Flash PromptFlip the switch.

(Don’t flip the switch.)

 

The voices follow her everywhere. She hears them in her apartment, on the subway, in the elevator. They’re a constant undercurrent whenever she listens to music.

 

A subliminal message of indecision.

 

Turn it off. Turn everything off.

(No. Leave it on. Let things happen as they will.)

 

It’s been a week, and then two, and she still can’t decide, and the voices – the whispers of her own subconscious – grow louder, more persistent.

 

Ordinary switches – lights, power strips, her computer – seem to be urging her toward a greater choice.

 

The simple act of turning off a light is exhausting.

 

Cut the power.

(Keep the power on.)

 

She walks through the rain, holding the pink umbrella she’s has since childhood, imagining switches everywhere. On car doors, on mail boxes, on the sides of buildings.

 

Finally, her soggy feet carry her inside the tall building, to the private room at the end of the hall on the seventeenth floor.

 

“Any change?”

 

The attendant in lavender scrubs shakes his head. “No; I’m sorry.”

 

She sits on the side of the bed, staring at the monitors, listening to the steady beeping and the machine driven intake and outflow of air.

 

“Can you call the doctor, please?”

 

The attendant nods once and disappears.

 

She lifts the still-warm, wrinkled hand of the man who has been her lifelong constant, providing her with a pink tool set, a Fisher-Price car, petite garden tools so she could work along-side him.

 

“Pop-pop?” She uses her childhood nicknamefor him. “I know you never wanted this. I’m sorry. I should have listened.”

 

Her tears wet his skin, roll into the crevices of hands that could braid hair or hang a tire swing with equal finesse.

 

“I found my old fishing pole in the garage. You taught me how to bait my own hook, and how to stun the fish we caught. I hope… I hope there’s fishing in heaven.”

 

She knows he can’t hear her words. She understands that there’s no longer any THERE, there.

 

But she keeps on talking.

 

The attendant returns with the doctor in tow.

 

“It’s time,” she tells the woman in a lab coat over a blue suit. “Let him go.”

 

It’s a solemn moment and yet it’s also mundane. The doctor flips a switch.

 

Silence falls.

Bridge Traffic

BridgeTraffic via Flash PromptIn zero point three kilometers make an upward turn onto Higher Sixth Avenue.

 

“Mommy, is it true that in the olden days, cars could only go left or right and not up or down?”

 

“Yes. I remember when I was your age, taking long drives to the beach, and being stuck in bridge traffic for hours.”

 

“What’s bridge traffic? Does it have to do with that weird card game Gramma and Grampa play?”

 

“Card ga – oh! No! They play Canasta.”

 

“Canasta sounds ca-nasty.”

 

“It’s really not, sweetie. It’s just a card game.”

 

“Oh.” The child took a beat. “You were going to ‘splain me about bridge traffic.”

 

“EXplain,” her mother said. “And yes, I will. When I was a little girl, the only way to cross the river to the road that ran along-side the sea wall was to go over a bridge. That’s a road that’s suspended above water.”

 

“I KNOW what a bridge is. “

 

“Well, this wasn’t just any bridge, it was a draw bridge.”

 

“So, there was traffic because everyone stopped to draw the bridge?”

 

“A draw bridge has a section that gets lifted up when a large boat has to go up or down the river. Some boats had masts that were too tall to go under the bridge when it was down. So they’d crank up the center, and traffic would stop and wait.”

 

“That doesn’t sound ‘ficient.”

 

“Efficient, sweetie, and no, it wasn’t. But we didn’t have cars that could go up, or Aerial Highways that went to the Tiers, so we had to wait.”

 

“I don’t think I’d like that.”

 

“Oh, it wasn’t so bad. We didn’t have guidance systems and TotalGPS like we do now, so sometimes we could turn down – “

 

“But you said you couldn’t GO up or down!”

 

“You’re right. We could turn ONTO a street we weren’t familiar with, and just see where it took us.”

 

“You mean, you could dev’ate from your set Travel Plan?” The little girl’s voice was full of wonder.

 

“Deviate. And we didn’t file travel plans. We just went wherever the road might take us.”

 

“And you weren’t afraid?”

 

“No… it was wonderful. Any trip could become an adventure. Sometimes we’d find parks or playgrounds or just neighborhoods with cute houses we didn’t know existed.”

 

“Do you miss it?”

 

“Very much. I wish you could experience it, sweetie. Life was so much more relaxed.”

 

“Even the bridge traffic?”

 

In one point three kilometers turn Down, then merge into the exit flow for Mid-level Forty-fifth Street.

 

“Yes. Even that.”

 

Something About Jessie

Photo Source: Flash Prompt Facebook GroupIt was common knowledge that Jessie was one of the Special ones. Billy was four years younger than she was, but he’d known her all his life, so he knew stuff.

Like, he knew that no one ever catalogued the ways in which the wispy little girl with the rats’ nest of dishwater-blonde hair was Different; but whenever something strange happened, she was likely to be at its center.

Not that her oddity, her Otherness, was bad, mind you.

But there were little things.

Like, when you played Tea Party at her house, the tea in her doll’s cup would disappear a little at a time, even though you never saw her lift it to steal a sip.

And when you were playing Freeze Tag there were moments when you’d swear she’d frozen with her feet above the ground instead of on it.

And any time a dog or cat went missing, you were stupid if you didn’t ask Jessie to help you find it. You didn’t have to look into the luminous gray eyes that seemed so huge in her pale, pointy-chinned, freckled face to know the girl had a Way with animals.

Her Strangeness made her the favorite among the school children. Playing with her was like inviting Magic home.

But as the kids in her year edged toward adulthood, and belief in such things faded, Jessie was left alone, more often than not.

At thirteen, Jimmy from the other block hadn’t yet begun demanding to be called Jim, but he had a kind of quiet authority that he wore like a cape. If he thought something was a Bad Idea, even the worst bully would back off from whatever-it-was and go do something else.

It made sense, then, that Jessie and Jimmy would gravitate toward each other. They were both Different, even though neither was showy about it.

Billy knew this, because he was Jimmy’s little brother, and couldn’t help it. When he saw his brother and the Curious Girl leave their bikes by the side of the road and go walking down toward the pond he had to follow.

So, there was a witness when it Happened.

It was one of those days when summer hadn’t quite let go of the daytime, but fall was taking ownership of the night, and Jessie and Jimmy stood in the place where the fog curled up against the water’s edge.

“Set them out, in a circle like,” Jessie said, and Billy watched his brother take instruction from another, and a girl at that, arranging mason jars with twine around the tops.

“Good?” the older boy asked.

“Good,” the girl whispered back. Seemed like Jessie only ever whispered. As if, maybe, using her voice came at some kind of cost. “Now wait.”

Billy had been catching fireflies all his life, just like every other kid in their town, but he’d never seen the bugs just Come, the way they did for Jessie.

She held out her hand like she was catching raindrops, and every few seconds one of the jars would start to glow, the insects inside offering their Light instead of having it taken from them.

Billy wasn’t surprised when he realized the jars were hanging in the trees without actually being attached to them. Stuff like that seemed normal when Jessie was around.

You didn’t expect it, exactly; but you weren’t shocked, either.

He also wasn’t surprised when his older brother leaned in and pressed his lips against the girl’s. Billy was only nine, and mostly thought girls were gross, but there was Something About Jessie that made her more like a faerie than an actual girl.

Truth be told, Billy kinda wanted to kiss her too.

Maybe.

Or maybe not.

‘Cause Jessie was still a girl, after all.

Billy slipped away while Jimmy and Jessie were still mashing their lips against each other’s, and he was pretty sure they hadn’t seen him.

He crept quietly down the track that led to the street, past where Jessie and Jimmy had dumped their bicycles, and then ran hell-bent-for-leather back toward home, in the door, up the stairs, to his room, and slammed the door.

When he saw the twine wrapped mason jar, hanging above his bed and glowing with firefly light, maybe that should have scared him.

But Billy looked at it, swinging in mid-air, attached to nothing.

And he smiled.