Flash: Harvest Time

Photo by Tikkho Maciel on Unsplash.com

Photo by Tikkho Maciel on Unsplash

I pen these words, looking out the window at October’s cold landscape. Though the wind does not carry threat of snow or ice, the leaves on the trees have turned dozens of colors and the forest looks like it is on fire. Walnuts and acorns are falling like raindrops and our late-season almonds are ready for their trees to be shaken one last time before we send our young novices climbing.

I spent the day in the dairy while others of my order are scatted throughout our farm and helping the serfs in the nearby village. The spring-born calves are just about weaned (the kid goats long detached from their dams), therefore the last bitter milk is being turned into hard cheese for the long winter. It doesn’t matter if winter stays for a single month, like it does for our sisters in the south, or five, as the chilly abbey I transferred from experiences; time without plentiful food is always long. And only God knows if next summer will come for certain.

Meat has become plentiful for a short time as cattle are slaughtered to match the surviving herd to the hay and grain we must miser for them through the winter. Tomorrow, my turn at the cauldron will be the even more loathsome stench of lard preparation; boiling milk for cheese is more pleasant in the spring. If I could but wave a hand for one task to be done, changing fat to lamp and cooking oil, grease, candles, and soaps would be my choice. The scent clings through the night interfering with my prayers.

I would vastly preferred to be helping with the fruits. The apples are being prepared dozens of ways for the winter – stored in sawdust for whole fruit, cut into slivers and set in the sun or by the fire to dry, and, the abbess’ favorite, adding chunks to last year’s wines. But no farming task is without its portion of Adam’s curse. Blackberries need to be picked off the bushes with bleeding fingers; berries and bramble thorns are inseparable by God’s design.

I will tend to my stirring without a word of complaint passing my lips. Sister Cecilia provides a squash mash in the morning which carries us from dawn to dusk in the harvesting. Empty bellies will come soon enough, and our chores, Lord willing, should keep those days few.

Those more skilled than me in gardening have trimmed back the herbs and hung the trimmings in the rafters to dry. I will need to confess when the brother visits, and I write my shame here so I do not forget. The kitchen sisters stripped the plentiful mint leaves from their stems and left them in bowls to make tea leaves. I did grab a handful of mint leaves to chew and keep my mouth moist while stirring over the fire.

A few more days and I shall return to my primary duties in the scriptorium, and I think everyone will be happier. Even the novices who have been running the leaks, garlics, onions, and many of their relatives into the primary root cellar step wide around me the last few days. I am not suited for kitchen or gardening duties; let others work God’s creation and allow me to paint it.

Ah, full dark and the dinner chime has sounded. Tonight’s meal is beef cooked in beer with some mushrooms and other harvest Sister Cecilia saved for larder instead of storage. Beer for the drink as well; we are not drunkards in the convent. Those barrels need to be emptied by the end of the week because winter mash must be started. It is a task set to the entire convent, a welcomed one at the end of the hard harvest days.

(words 632 – first published 10/15/2017)

Flash: Evendalson’s Cave

Stock Art Winter parka

Photo by Talgat Baizrahmanov on Unsplash 
(Cropped and color adjusted by Erin Penn)

Old Man Winter sat heavy on Evendalson’s shoulders as he stared into the dark cave. If he stayed outside, he would surely die a quiet death. Already his limbs felt as cold and heavy as the grave. But the cave was sacred to the local fae, may they sleep well into spring. He knew little of its holiness; parents only taught children to stay away from certain sites within a day’s walk of the village.

With four moons until his name day, Evendalson’s was adult enough to bite back the curse rising from his gut as he debated what form of death to embrace. His mother had little choice in accepting Greger’s proposal since Evendal’s brothers had not extended arms to their brother’s widow.  A proud warrior, Greger was willing to take on the cost of a woman and her two daughters, but shunned accepting a boy with someone else’s name.

For a full moon Evendalson had survived being outcast, but winter gusts promised further ice and blind snow. His bed of leaves and sticks stopped holding heat days ago.

The wind ripped his fur-lined hood from his head, driving crystals hard into his face. Determination to survive goaded the young man into the cave. He grabbed the unbraided blond hair the Dod-vind had tried to steal, tucked it under the cloak, and pulled the hood back up. Outside the wind spirits howled at the loss of heated prey.

But the Dod-vind stayed the other side of the threshold. The still air of the cave held no warmth, but took none either.

“Blessing upon the fae and faekyn,” beseeched Evendalson as he continued away from the entrance. He smelled moisture and needed some badly. The creek had frozen over days ago. Melting snow with his hands traded thirst for cold; a trade he made for two mornings but dared not make at night.

A breeze bearing water instead of spirits guided him further in, aiding him in choosing splits and turns once darkness had swallowed all. The dark pressed on his eyes. Strangely the rocks Evendalson expected to trip him never reached out. No injury sought him; though maneuvering through the black wrought its own exhaustive wound.

After untold time, water clung to his face and hood.  Earthen soil below the hoarfrost allotted the air warm. Evendalson pushed the hood back and removed the two-finger mittens from his hands. He tucked them into his belt for safe keeping. His youngest sister, Hanne-grandottir, had knitted them in a red so bright the color hurt the eye even after several washings. Agnete-dottir’s socks were equally treasured through the cold days of his outcast, though their green often dyed his feet.

With the hood removed, trickling water could be heard. The walls were still dry under his fingers, but Evendalson knew he would find true water soon. He wiped the sweat from his face.

The dark grew even more complete, to the point Evendalson swore he saw light. Deeper he went until he discovered the light was not false. Eventually he made out a turn where the glow seemed as if firelight dancing in a doorway.

He firmly pushed back the urge to run. He was in a fae place. Despite his thirst and a desperate need for light after blackness had tried to steal his eyes’ memories of the sun, he approached the turn carefully.

(words 563 – originally appearing at Sunday Fun on Breathless Press 1/6/2013 – I do not know the copyright of the photo which inspired the story, so I did not copy it.; published on the old blog on 1/6/2013; republished new blog format 5/14/2017)

 

Flash: Love on the Line

A gay couple dancing at the Chelsea Arts New Year’s Eve Bal

A gay couple dancing at the Chelsea Arts New Year’s Eve Ball. Photograph by Tony Linck. London, January 1947

Fran dragged Leslie onto the dance floor for the Chelsea Ball. It worked despite Leslie being taller, stronger and having a military background for two reasons. One, Leslie was overwhelmed by being in the middle of all the money, fame and demented people that showed up every year for the artist gentleman’s club New Year’s Eve Party, and, secondly, Leslie was not letting go of his hand. He was on shore for the holidays and did not want to miss a second with Fran.

Fran curled into his lover’s arms, ignoring the stares. Enough of the artists had brought their lovers to the party that one more gay couple did not matter. The stares were for Leslie being a sailor. Some artists were anti-military, but the majority of London still remembered the sirens. Only a year had passed since the war ended. Most were staring because they were trying to figure out a way to approach Leslie to thank him for serving.

Unconsciously Fran clenched Leslie’s hand tighter. They had met during training, but Fran’s family money had gotten him an officer position on shore and a quick muster out after serving his time. Leslie’s more plebeian descent had him on the front for over five years. Fran did not want to remember how often he nearly lost the love of his life. Ships were safer than ground pounding, but it also meant everyone died on the same bullet instead of an individual.

One more tour and they could be together forever.

Fran hoped that Leslie’s flamboyant style will allow him to overcome the status differences. Fran cared less about his personal wealth, but sometimes, like tonight, Leslie was clearly intimidated. The duke, whose title allowed him to disregard certain social requirements such as introductions, did express his gratitude to Leslie and had left his lover speechless.

The artist part of Fran’s mind started thinking about how to capture both an ostentatious and terrified attitude in one painting. On first pass, they do not seem to go together, but anyone who has been on the front could tell you both the sheer terror and the pure courage needed to be there.

***

Leslie guided Fran off the dance floor towards the bar when the song ended. He recognized the look that had seized Fran’s face. They would need to get home soon to Fran’s paints.

Leslie squashed the green monster from long habit when jealousy tried to sneak in. He only had two more days before pulling out and he had nearly ten days of Fran’s undivided attention. When he got back next time, he would need to decide if he could live as the second love of Fran’s life.

(words 449 – I believe the copyright on the photo is expired. If anyone knows that the copyright is different than public domain, please inform me – first published 12/30/2012; republished new blog format 12/11/2016)

Flash: Head Bowed

Young Male Stock Photo

Image Courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Icy sweat dripped down Vincente’s spine as he waited, head bowed before Ubel. He prayed the overlord would extend his left hand so Vincente could kiss the ruby thumb ring.

In public, everyone said Ubel was strict but fair. In places where whispers will not be repeated, Vincente had been told Ubel destroyed all who crossed or disappointed him.

The stone floor stole away heat from Vincente’s knee, where it braced him before the steps leading to the throne. He kept his eyes trained on the hem of Ubel’s black fur mantle. The supplicant could feel Ubel’s eyes bore into his back. The bastard’s fingertips no doubt were steepled as he considered Vincente’s report. How often had he seen others in this exact position and laughed internally at their foolishness, seeking mercy from someone with none?

He never mocked them, like some of the court did. Ubel tolerated no other assuming his power. Only he granted life or death, kindness or abuse.

At long last, the cloth in front of him shifted. He felt Ubel’s hand rest gently on his head. Vincente started to raise his head and hands so he could grasp his salvation, when his head was shove so hard it continued until it met the stone steps.

Before he could recover, Vincente felt a nailed boot pressing down between his shoulders. Standing facing his audience, grinding the cleats deep into Vincente’s back, Ubel asked, “What shall I do with this dog?”

(words 244- first published 4/14/2013; republished new blog format 7/10/2016)

Flash: The Girl at the Window

Painting: A woman at the Window by Henri de Troulouse-Lautrec

Painting entitled: Woman at the Window

 

“I would like to go outside.”

Eleonora startled but managed to control her movement to complete stowing the dried dinner china on the shelves. After taking a moment to control herself so she would not overreact to the miracle of words, she turned around to face her emancipated daughter. Years of sitting by the window watching other children play had taken their toll.

“Are you sure Merritt?” Eleonora hated to discourage the first sign of life her daughter displayed in years. “It’s dark out.”

A beatific smile molded the young woman’s normally blank expression into something exalted, melting Eleonora’s heart with terrifying hope while her daughter responded. “The world is smaller at night.”

A shudder at the unnatural way the child interpreted everything was quickly suppressed. Grasping at straws to untangle the broken paths of her daughter’s mind, Eleonora searched the painted silk wallpaper just above the child’s blonde head rather than meet her expressionless blue eyes. “And being smaller is important?”

“Of course, mama.”

Sagging against the stays in corset, Eleonora surrendered another battle in a war she lost when her daughter was four. Fifteen words would have to be miracle enough for the day. “Very well. Please keep to the backyard and don’t go beyond the creek.”

Her youngest child blinked once; her face reformed into the nothing mask. Carefully placing each foot directly in front of the other, heel to toe, Merritt walked to the door, stopped, looked down considering the knob, lifted a hand slowly, grasped the doorknob firmly, and tried turning. The doors between her bed room and the piano room and the bath room were always left open. After failing to rotate the knob far enough one-handed, she raised her left hand and added it to the twist, releasing the door slightly. Stepping back, pulling the door with her, she opened it enough to take three heel-toe sideways steps to go outside, meticulously closing the door behind her.

Eleonora released her breath. Merritt hadn’t been outside since their one attempt to attend primary school. After a day of screaming and crying ending with a rocking fit lasting until the next morning, the teachers accused her of coddling the youngster with unnatural and unhealthy affection and demanded she leave the child in their care for the rest of the week. Merritt didn’t even respond to her name when Eleonora fetched the child over Clement’s and the school objections. Bruises from canings and small burns covered her body.

She didn’t play the piano or any other musical instrument for another year because she wouldn’t leave her bedroom. Instead she sat by the front window, wrapped in a blanket day and night…watching.

A cough took Eleonora, choking her throat. Shoulders and legs shaking, she sunk to the wooden floor, skirt floating around her, tears coating her face instantly. Sobs heavy enough to sink a steamship erupted. Exhaustion ceased the outburst long before the emotions had ran their course. Standing up by grasping the counter, Eleonora made her way to the sink. She leveraged the pump, priming it, until water flowed and washed her face before taking the stairs to the master bedroom where Clement was already asleep, careful not to wake her husband.

(words 536 – first published 5/22/2016)