Posts Tagged With: WPLongform

Blue Bird

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The area we live in is rural.  It seems like it shouldn’t be because the Trader Joe’s is less than two miles from the house, and the nearest Target only ten minutes by car.  There is a Starbucks down the street.  But our neighborhood is bordered to the south by a fancy drainage ditch dug in the 1820s called the Mill Creek Zanja that is rimmed with eucalyptus.  There’s an empty field beyond.  To the west, we’re bordered by the orange grove side of the University of Redlands campus.  Add that to the manicured but still wild hiking trail, and it’s prime territory for critters.

We had gophers in the yard all last summer until I put chicken wire under the raised beds.  There is a hawk that makes his home in one of the eucalyptus trees nearby.  We had a family of doves try to nest in our tree last spring until they decided they didn’t like how often we used the front door.  Birds both brown and blue hop on our backyard fence. The hiking trail is forever littered with berry-filled coyote scat, and occasionally a white-tailed bunny will hop ahead of you into a bush.  House cats roam the streets. Occasionally you can hear the coyotes hunting one.

When I went out to go to work on Friday, I noticed a feather near the grapevine in our yard.  It was vibrant blue.  In fact, there was a stack of them, a pile of tiny down underneath.  No body, but obviously something got caught and torn to pieces in our yard – a bluebird.

I don’t know if it was a cat or the hawk, and there was no actual body to contend with nor any blood or gore.  But what struck me was how beautiful it was, that blue, blue pile of feathers.  The tips were striped black, and the ridge in the middle was pristine white.  They fluttered just a little in the breeze, scattering out of their neat pile and moving into hieroglyphics across the cement walkway, exposing the gray fluff underneath.

The detritus is still there.  I don’t have the heart to pick it up, and some small part of me likes to see the blue feathers, cheerful and not at the same time.  It makes me realize that even a small and unknown bird can leave something behind after it’s personal end of all things.

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Piano Lessons

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There are pictures of me in every album, at every age: fluffy white-blonde hair sprayed into submission, floral dress over white tights or frilly socks and black mary janes, smiling at the camera with the black and white keys of a piano stretching to my left.  In some, I bow with my knees locked straight.  In others, my face is in profile while my hands lay static on the keys.  Sometimes there’s a patient smile on my face as I look up from the bench, that my song has been interrupted by someone I’m fond of for pictures.

Piano was a religion for me.  3 hours a day, waking up in the mornings before school to sit and force my muscles to remember that tight, fast fingering on the right hand in in Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turka; or stretch my left palm a little farther to get a cleaner octave in Joplin’s Entertainer.  I spent hours poring over theory books and listening to intervals.

It centered me.

And then I was doing it less.  And then I wasn’t doing it at all anymore, my fingers putting up a revolt when I tried to pick up a piece after six, maybe eight months absence.

I missed it less than I thought I would, though I still missed it.

“Do you remember?” Brian asked me about a month ago.  “You once showed me a few chords on the piano.  It seemed like it made sense.  It seemed easy.”

It is both easy and hard.

“Would you teach me?” he asked.

I remembered, fifteen years ago, when I was thinking of giving lessons for extra cash.  “Just get a book,” Christine, who had been teaching me since I was 4, said.  “Work through it in order.  Someone who wanted to be a serious musician would eventually need more, yeah, but you could definitely start someone off.  And a lot of experienced teachers don’t take anyone who can’t read music.  You’d be a great in-between.”

So I said “Sure,” to Brian.

We walked to a practice room at the college where Brian works.  The music building is one of their oldest.  It’s at the end of a tree-lined lawn, frescoes in the eaves of violins and flowers in a vase.  Inside a tiny room on the second floor was a beat-up Steinway upright that was still mostly black.  A grimy window looked out onto the quad beyond, the fronds of an evergreen brushing the panes.  There was no place for a teacher to sit.

I stood.

Our lesson went so quickly, I couldn’t believe it had been more than an hour.

I have never seen myself in someone I wasn’t related to.  But last night it struck me with a vengeance, the way Brian gravitates towards foreign pianos even in public places now, wanting to feel the slick white keys under his fingers, to fool around with the notes for just a moment.  The way he taps his hands on the table, a look of concentration on his face, both hands crossing at different times like they should.  “I had a bad day, but I practiced tonight and I feel fine again,” he said last week.

I don’t know what changed, but I watched him sit there, the negative of the image I used to be: long denim-clad legs tucked over the pedals, the cowlick in his dark brown hair standing tall, the black and white keyboard stretching before him, look of concentration on his face.  Somehow the universe seemed to re-orient itself into new tiers of importance.  This was at the top.  Not Brian, exactly, or even the piano, but the knowledge, the sharing we give to each other as we move through existence.

I grinned.

“What are you smiling about?” Brian asked.

“Nothing,” I said.

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Granite Point

I thought I might post some, you know, actual Writing on the blog in celebration of getting something published.  But most of the things that are fantasy-esque are being shopped right now and I can’t put them up.  I remembered, though, that I had written a few practice essays in my black Moleskine, and that some of them were pretty good.  So I typed one up for you. This was from a Steering The Craft exercise that was supposed to be full of lavish description.  When I think purple prose, I always think of the beach.

It’s a little bit maudlin, but I’m posting it anyway because I think it’s evocative. And I’m sure you can forgive me for being self-indulgent for an entry.  The happenings are true, but I don’t feel that dramatic about it in every day life (I’m really mostly a pragmatic person and would probably have made the same decision to sell.  I get it).  I’m the kid on the left, and that’s the cottage in the back.

Here it is.

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Granite Point:

There is a place in the east where the world is both gray and vibrant, the verdant forest rooting into brown fingers of granite which, in turn, grab hold of the blue, blue sea.  In between the tall fronds of marsh grass and the slap of ocean on the soft, gray sand is a brown road and a row of houses.  Two of them are red; one small and one large.

Round the corner in your car, past the black and white boulder and the green cottage it hides.  Slip from the shade of the trees, your tires crunching on the gravel as you press the car forward, and it’s laid out before you: the flat grasses, the pools of brackish water, the line of round trees in the distance where the forest coalesces again, the white heron standing alone, bright on the muddy landscape, the row of houses opposite.

Only the two red ones belong you; one big, one small.  The houses, the land they stand on, is your birthright.

The big house is the Juanita, says the black and gold sign.  Named for the whitest of great grandmothers, the most puritan on these puritanical shores.  The small house is nameless, and under the wooden floor in the tresses are too many nails where your uncle hammered them in distraction while Grampy built the house and raised the walls around them both.

There used to be a mansion on the headlands, out there where the silver beach ends and the granite grips the sea.  There used to be a mansion where the waves rush, unthinking, onto the rocks and their spray splashes at the sky.  See?  Says your mother as you walk on the point just before the sun sets.  See?  That house has borrowed the old foundation.  That is where the mansion existed, though it doesn’t anymore.  Consumed.

What happened to it?  It burned in a fire that swept along the shore and took the cottages with it.  The Juanita was saved because Juanita saved it, watering the roof with a garden hose and brushing burning embers onto the grass with a kitchen broom until she had to leave, before the forest started burning too and there was no way to get through the slim forest road.  The little cottage with no name hadn’t been built yet.

Juanita saved it for you.  She saved it so you could put your finger through the rusted bolt on the domed granite tent rising from the sand like an island and try to imagine a toe-headed boy named Bobby tying his boat here.  But it’s impossible to imagine white haired, red cheeked Grampy as anything but a grandfather.

She saved it so you could slip on the rocks, tearing up your shin on the barnacles, your red blood mingling with the waving seaweed.  The small green crab comes to investigate and you move your toes away from his pinchers.  The salt water stings.

She saved it for you so you could jump from tall Elephant Rock, squealing as the air rushed around you and your heart leapt to your throat, your ankles shuddering on the wet gray sand below.  You egg your cousins on, daring them to take the higher ledge, afraid to take it yourself.

She saved it so you could all visit the mudflats in your pristine matching bathing suits on picture day.  You find the mud under the slim layer of sand in the shallow water, like overbaked brownies but slick.  You slip, and your arm is half slime, your bathing suit brown.  You scrub in the salty water, but the mud stays as though it knows you belong to it.  Your transgression is immortalized when you grin, crouched next to your cousins on Bobby’s Tent while grownups flash away, the mud a stripe barely visible as you cheat sideways to hide it.

She saved it so you could rush around the house in the gathering storm in your pajamas, closing the windows on the driving rain, the wind wuthering around the corners of the house.  You pull the plush chairs, stuffing mounting an escape, up to the wide windows and cuddle beneath the ancient crocheted blankets with your mother and sister.  You watch the lightning strike over the sea and count for the thunder.  You think of the black divot in the rock, the size of a kitchen mixing bowl, where a lightning bolt burned the granite ages ago.  That happened when I was a girl, says your mother.  Did you see it happen? You ask her, dreaming of a great burning flash, sparks flying, a smoking, steaming hole left behind.  No, she says.  I wasn’t at the beach that night.  You fall asleep in the chair to the sound of the rain.

And yet, a hose, a broom, and determination have only done so much to save this place.  The ages pass and the flame of taxes in tourist country rise, sweeping the old cottages off the beach one by one.  The Juanita falls this time, razed for a new gray mansion that matches the others new millionaires have built on the shore.  The small cottage still stands, disguised by gray paint and manicured hedges that screen it from you. Consumed.

Your birthright didn’t last.

The puritans passed away from the gray but vibrant shore and left only the sand and the rocks for you to remember them by.  But sometimes you think that maybe this is enough.  After all, you do remember.

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In Search Of

I’m feeling super-lazy today.  This weekend was fun, but a lot of work.  I made 2 kinds of jam and some mushroom ketchup, as well as dissected the structure of Madeline L’Engle’s “A Ring of Endless Light.”  Not the exciting stuff that blog posts are made of.  It has dawned on me, though, that I haven’t posted any writing in a while.  And so here you go: this is 1/2 of a story  I’ve been finessing the ending of before I start shopping it again.

A.A. Milne

In Search Of:

“Do you think she wanted to drop it, or do you think it was an accident?” said Jack to Fritz.

“Does it matter?” said Fritz. “We still have to find the bloody thing. And if you thought the proverbial needle in the haystack was bad, try the golden apple in the miles of mud. We’ll never get back to Olympus, you know.”

The green khaki they both wore was stained with dry earth, their leather boots caked, their round helmets just covering their eyes. The helmet was just for looks. Even if someone dropped a grenade or a bomb into the pitted, broken earth of no man’s land, it wasn’t likely to harm either of them. Or not for long, anyway.

“Speak for yourself,” said Jack. “This war can’t last forever. We’ll find it. I have confidence.”

“I had confidence last year,” said Fritz. “But I don’t anymore. You’ve heard of the hundred years’ war, right? Doesn’t have to stop any time soon, brother.”

The land he and Fritz were walking over was nothing but violent pits of loose earth that undulated like waves, barbed wire fencing stuck between.

It had been almost three years since they frog marched him and Fritz down the mountain top and told them not to come back without apple in hand.

The golden apple. It had been so long, but Jack still remembered the way the thing reached into his mind and implanted its own memories, all of them horrifying. The desire that came with it, the wonder, the need to own it, to look into its precious golden surface forever. The urge to cut the eyes from anyone else who wanted to look too.

The size of a fist. Perfectly round, glossy, tantalizing, with a thin silver leaf reaching from the spindly, ideal stem.

“Come on, put your German on,” said Fritz, nudging him. “This is the spot – whole bunch of shelling, no movement either way. Looks promising.”

Jack shrugged and then touched his hand to his helmet and his sleeves, and then to Fritz’s. A faint, sweet smell of ozone rose from his palms and the flags on their uniforms turned to black, white, and red stripes. The holes covered over with green. Their boots gleamed.

“Which story are we trying?” said Jack.

“I dunno,” said Fritz. “Inspecting the troops in the wake of the General’s visit?”

“Sure,” Jack nodded.

Fritz made the vehicle out of the clouds that coalesced in the gray sky. He beckoned them down and encouraged them into the shape of an armored car, German flag on the door and flying from the side mirrors. They both got behind it and walked it up to the trench camp, and they both made sure to step out of it via the illusory door Fritz waved into being. It looked good unless someone tried to touch it, but Fritz parked it far enough back that probably no one would.

They had learned after Fritz took a bayonet to the thigh in the Italian camp almost 2 years ago. Blood everywhere and a whole week lost while his hamstrings knit back together.

The scene before them looked like all the other trenches they had been to. Broken earth, barbed wire, a deeper wound on the pitted earth that was the fissure these men fought from. The round helmets of a few men in the distance peaked over the wound, scanning the bare earth beyond for the siege of men that would come crawling over the top; if they weren’t the men crawling over the top of someone else’s trench instead. Every few hundred feet stood a machine gun tower.

The sentry nearest them raised a hand.

“Guten Tag!” Fritz called.

“Guten Tag,” said the sentry, saluting. “What brings you both today, Majors?”

“You will point us to your Kapitän.” said Fritz, in fluent German.

“Right away, Major,” he said. “Lars will take you.”

They followed behind the Musketier, keeping their shoulders upright, their strides purposeful, their movements sharp. The man led them down a wooden ladder, and then through the muddy trench made of piles of sand bags. Jack could touch the walls on either side if he reached out his hands far enough. Dark stains dotted the top row of bags.

Inset into the back of the wall was a framed doorway, which led into a hole with a desk in it. The walls here were wooden.

“Men from the Home Office to see you, Kapitan,” said the Musketier, saluting.

Jack blinked, closing his lids hard. When he opened them, they had adjusted to the darkness as if it was day. The room had a bare bulb swinging from the ceiling, and had been wallpapered in something floral that might have once been cheery but was now dust like everything else.

The Kapitan rose and saluted to them. Jack and Fritz soluted back.

“Nothing confidential,” said Fritz. He handed the Kapitan a folder. Inside it was the page he had encouraged weeks ago to appear like an official telegram.

He let the man look it over for a moment before he spoke again. “We are to bring you this news, and also to inspect the troops ourselves, as a precursor to the Generalleutnant’s arrival. He will be here in two days. Plenty of time for you to prepare your men.”

“Certainly,” said the Kapitan. “Should I call them now?”

“No rush,” said Jack. “We will spend most of the evening with you. We know there isn’t much room and won’t claim a bed, but part of our orders also include bringing back any requests for equipment you might need, or additions to these accommodations.”

“We are hoping not to be here long,” said the Kapitan. “Within the next month, we will take the next trench ahead from the Americans.”

“Certainly,” said Fritz. “But you will, of course, still hold this trench. We are not speaking of great things. Perhaps reinforcements to walls and frames?”

“Of course. We always need additional sandbags, but could also use whatever wood can be spared.”

“So we have your permission to go where we will and see if there is anything else we think you could benefit from?”

“The Generalleutnant orders it,” the Kapitan shrugged. “I will muster the troops for inspection just before evening mess, and then you must dine with me.”

“We would be honored,” said Fritz.

“With your permission?” said Jack

The Kapitan nodded and stood again. “You are dismissed.”

They traded salutes.

#

Out in the trenches again in the dark earth beneath the drab sky, they were alone except for the men on the top of the wall who looked only to the horizon. Jack took a deep breath and inhaled. Nothing but the faint traces of molasses ozone that came from their uniforms, and the piece of paper that was still inside the office.

He shook his head. “I can’t smell it,” he muttered.

“Of course not, idiot,” said Fritz. “None of them are pretending right now. They’re alone. There isn’t any fake to smell yet. You try this every time.”

“One of these days, we won’t have to stay until dinner to figure it out,” said Jack.

“Smell anything else, though?”

Fritz was talking about the smell of the golden apple, cloying and metallic.

It had been too long since either of them had seen the golden apple sitting under a crystal dome on Olympus. It was so long ago that Jack couldn’t remember the smell. He just knew he would remember it when he caught a whiff, that it was unlike anything else he had ever smelled. It was gunpowder and desire; honey and hunger; sex and blood.

“No,” said Jack. “None of that, either. It isn’t here, but we still have to ask.”

“Bloody unlikely that’ll be any help,” said Fritz. “Thousands seen it, no one’s grasped it. Come on, let’s get this ‘inspection’ going. The sooner we can move on…”

“Yeah, I know,” said Jack.

#

The Kapitan mustered the men just before dusk duty. They stood at attention, backs to the walls of the earthen trench, chests proud and muscles taut. Jack walked behind Fritz and breathed in. They got to the middle of the row before Jack smelled it; the ozone smell gone wrong, sweet rain with undertones of phlegm, the lie.

This one had the sickness.

He was pretending pretty well. The smell was not overwhelming, so maybe he only had obsessive thoughts of home now. But soon the Apple would take him, and he’d be at the mercy of what it chose to show him: cannon fire raining from a ship, pelting the walls of a seaside fort, men falling from the ramparts into the water; A woman plunging a knife into a man’s back, he gasps a sucking sound before falling to the dirt.

It would eat him. It ate anyone who was mortal.

Jack made note of the soldier. Blonde hair too long, escaping from his helmet. Grimy moustache above his lip. He may have been fat once, but now his cheeks hung from his face. His attention pose was looser than the men around him.

“Very good, Kapitan,” said Jack. “You have an impressive force here.”

“Thank you.”

#

Jack snuck out during dinner. He excused himself from the table and then made his way to the barracks. His calculation was right. The rest of the men were at mess, but this one had stayed behind. He was staring at the wall, hand poised over a piece of paper as if he was writing a letter. But the paper was filled with apples, the lines of them frayed and round.

“What is your name?” Jack asked him.

He startled. “Rolf,” he said, covering the paper with his arm.

“And you have seen the Golden Apple?”

“Is that what this is?” he said. He picked up the paper and held it out to Jack, hands quivering.

“I don’t know,” said Jack. “Tell me.”

“I was on patrol with – a friend. Oskar. Oskar Berger. And the Americans started shelling. A wave of dirt flew up and something landed next to my shoe. I thought it was a shell. But it didn’t blow. It was gold, and it brushed against me. But another shell hit, and this time it was a real one. It hit Oskar, and it… the earth and his body, his… it all thrust me aside and knocked me out.”

“Where?” said Jack. He could taste the apple now, the metal and cake. But it was the ghost of a smell, the memory of it.

“Oskar. Oskar Berger. Another faceless man lost to this…”

“Oskar Berger. We both remember him now,” said Jack.

“When I joined this war, I was so…” said Rolf. “All we saw was uniforms and glory, the heady shock that reverberates through your arm when you shoot a rifle, the glee that rises in your throat. We didn’t know what happens when the bullets hit their target, what your throat feels like then.”

A sob caught there, Rolf’s Adams-apple bobbing, keeping it in with a sucking sound.

Rolf swallowed. “I don’t know,” he said. “It was months ago. We weren’t even in this trench back then. I don’t know where I saw it.”

Jack sighed. “No, no. Of course you weren’t.”

“If you find it…?”

Jack shook his head. His answer was always the same. “You’ve touched it, and your mortal brain couldn’t handle the strife it’s been through,” he said. “Once you’ve been touched, it never lets go. That’s it. You will have to learn to manage as best you can.”

“No,” said Rolf. He closed his eyes, and the silence surrounded them. He opened them again. “And when will this damned war be over?”

“When I have found the apple,” said Jack. “Have faith, brother. I’m trying as hard as I can.”

Would it be another hundred years? Two?

Rolf covered his face with his hands and turned away. Jack went back to the bleak Kapitan’s quarters to finish his meal.

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An Office Behind Toontown

I always have worked best under deadlines.  Which is why I’m excited to have one for Blue Gentian now (entering it into the Other Half contest).  It intellectually feels weird that I will re-write 4 more chapters and then call it done.  I’ve been working on this thing for 5 years now.  But creatively, it feels almost done.  I’m even sorta proud of it.

Is it wrong to admit you like your own work?

I have just 3 weeks for those chapters, so I’m plugging along at a rapid pace.  No thought space for the blog, just for fires in churches, archers in empty buildings, a dancing queen, and a surprise murderer.

So, to tide you over is this essay I wrote a bazillion years ago about my job at Disney, as an assignment for my very first creative writing class.  I’ve been gone from Disney for 3 years and I’m sure it’s all different there now.  But this is a good approximation of how it was, or how I remember it was.

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AN OFFICE BEHIND TOONTOWN:

My desk is exactly three feet wide. There is just enough room for me to tuck my legs underneath the gray plastic top. I have managed to stuff a small space heater below the desk because it is always cold and I sit underneath the air conditioning vent. Between the computer and the large black conference telephone that sits on the desktop, there is room for nothing else on the surface. I brought in a lime green clock from home and hung it on the wall next to my computer screen. It is a personal item, with its cheerful tick and scrolling black numbers, and therefore it is illegal.

My desk is shared because I am a Costumer’s Assistant. The lady who trained me three years ago made it very clear that assistants don’t get their own desks. Still, I am the only occupant of this tiny island of plastic countertop. I know this because my papers are always where I left them. The stack of unfinished paperwork and the notebook with my “to do” list covers the top of the black telephone. Shiny fabric swatches that glitter in the fluorescent lights litter the base of the monitor in the same heap as the day before.

The walls around my clock are surrounded by white papers detailing how to make Costume Style Numbers, showing the Fiscal Calendar, lists and lists of phone numbers. Just above the desk are two cabinets, one on top of the other. They are packed full of empty binders. The bottom one also holds paper trays, staplers, and all the things that would be on the desktop of there was room. Behind me is a large walkway. People who don’t even work in the office go strolling in and out, staring at the Excel forms that are always open on my computer screen.

I ship costumes and fabrics to China sometimes, which requires me to leave my desk. When an order is ready to ship, I print out the checklist of everything I’m supposed to send. Then, I walk through the costume warehouse, down the concrete stairs, and into the shipping bay. Boxes stacked on pallets obstruct the middle of the room, and the walls are covered with metal racking. I go to the fabric holding rack and I count everything on the checklist twice.

The person in shipping used to save me boxes, but there’s a new girl now.

She has decorated the shipping desk with puffy stickers and her pens are planted in a lurid red cup of clay that her daughter made. The keys to the receiving bay currently sport a Hello Kitty key ring. She got rid of the boxes because they were too much clutter. Now, a box of just the right size and condition is almost impossible to find. I end up peeling off a lot of stickers and scratching out a lot of names with a thick black sharpie. Sometimes the shipment is several rolls of fabric and I don’t have to worry about a box at all. Instead, I have to drag the clear plastic bags full of cloth around and pretend I am strong enough to handle them.

My life at Disney is governed by rules, by sheets of paper that say can or can’t.

I wanted a special nametag, and so I filled out the application for a language pin.

I had to go in and take a test in the fancy yellow building where only the executives work. I walked into the hot pink lobby and climbed three flights of sprawling stairs. A man in an office with a gigantic window that looked out on a tree lined courtyard quizzed me in sign language. Once the test was finished, he handed me his business card, and a small blue pamphlet with glossy pages titled “Guest Services for the Hearing Impaired.” He informed me that I would receive my new nametag in two weeks.

Four months later, it arrived.

It is exactly the same as everyone else’s nametag, except that it has a little gold plaque at the bottom where two white hands have been inset.

The hands spell “S” and “L” in American Sign Language.

I was thrilled to have that name tag. I pictured myself strolling through the park on a sunny day. As I passed by the path near the Matterhorn, a family poring over a map, brows furrowed, would look up at me and notice the shiny white letters beneath my name and they would smile. Gesturing in perfect American Sign Language, they would ask where they should have lunch. Matterhorn is near Tomorrow Land, and the Pizza Port has great food, I would suggest. They would beam as they strolled off to Tomorrow Land and they would have a wonderful lunch because of me. It would make their entire Disneyland day.

This has never happened.

I like to attribute this to the fact that I never actually stroll through the park on a sunny day. I don’t do anything but sit at my desk and fill out paperwork. And ship things like fabric and costumes to China.

The man in the office doesn’t care that I don’t ever use my nametag as it’s intended.

If I want the plaque, I have to take the test. Those are the rules.

My boss e-mails me a list of eight different sample costumes that need to be shipped to China this morning: 1. Jelly Fish Girl, 2. Chimney Sweep, 3. Main Street Piano Player, 4. Department Store Santa, 5. Mardi Gras Showgirl, 6. Scuba Diver, 7. Thin Pirate, 8. Jungle Stilt Walker. China will look at them, paw them over, ask how many we want, and then give us a price for making them.

This can only happen if I send them to China in the first place.

I print out the e-mail list to use as a checklist. Then, I pull all the costumes off their racks, and throw them in a pile on the concrete warehouse floor. Once I have every single item of clothing on the paper, I pick up the heap and cradle it against my chest. The lump of clothes stops just below my chin. I walk down stairs to box it up, label it, and give it to the girl in Shipping and Receiving.

She prints out all the paperwork that I have meticulously crafted for her.

It has to be detailed and correct or it won’t pass Chinese customs. A box without the proper paperwork is in purgatory. It can’t go back to the United States, but it can’t arrive in China either. Instead, it waits for months in the damp warehouse on a foreign pier.

With the correct paperwork, Rocky takes it to the large shipping distribution center at Disney.

They weigh every item inside the box, note the weight on the paperwork, and then send it to China.

This is where I end and begin, in a cycle of boxes and papers, rules and regulations. The contraband clock on my wall ticks. The letters on my nametag gleam. I tape the brown box closed, I hand Rocky the paperwork. She takes the box to the shipping center and I climb the stairs back to my desk. I play my part, a cog in the works, governed by papers. I open my e-mail and the journey starts again.

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Lyra Marsh, and Camp

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Camp NaNoWriMo?  Over tomorrow.  And I realized again why I never do camp… it just doesn’t feel urgent enough.  Which isn’t to say it wasn’t worth it.  I’ve started all 4 stories and finished 2 of them (one, it turns out, is going to be incalculably long.  The other involves domestic violence and was harder to write than I anticipated).

I have decided to let myself be a “winner” by validating, though, because I wrote well over the 10,000 words I committed to.  I think I may have even gotten 2 things that are publishable out of it, though they will need a lot of work.

The one GREAT thing that came out of all of this is Lyra Marsh.  I’m not sure what kind of a thing she will eventually be, but I might end up setting her up a blog where she can write about her trials and tribulations as an undergrad at Pragnum.  That’s my first thought.  I’m trying to share more of my work on this thing, so I made an inspiration board for her on Pinterest, here.  And below are the first few of her entries as a teaser.  A HUGE thank you to everyone who has ever drawn a witchsona, because you all are inspirational and Lyra is the proof.  J

I’m sort of in love with this girl.  Picky-Picky is also my favorite.

Lyra’s Blog:

Okay, so isn’t the first post on a blog supposed to be about who you are and why you think you want to blog?  That’s what they tell me.  Here goes:

I’m Lyra Marsh, student at Pragnum College, majoring in Warding, with a minor in Charms.  I used to live in the dorms, but my cat, Picky-Picky, couldn’t be there with me.  She’s a tortie; a mostly black cat with a splotch of orange on her eye and chest and little white feet.  Which means we broke the rules, of course, and got thrown out.  Picky-Picky is a non-negotiable subject.

Oh, not thrown out of college.  Just thrown out of the dorms.  I’m not that crazy.

Besides, what else would I do?  Go to a regular college and major in Colonial Salem?  I mean, there’s only so much history can teach you about how it’s better to just shut up about magic.

You would think that Pragnum would be more understanding about familiars, wouldn’t you?  But supposedly I’m “too young” for one, as they “only come to older witches who have reached their majority.” Maddening.  We don’t all work on a schedule, Pragnum.  As someone who knows about protection, I can tell you that familiars come when you need looking after the most, not when you reach some sort of predetermined age.

All that shit about not needing protection now that I’m living in the dorms, where the school will protect me.  Nice try.

I don’t know.  Maybe Picky-Picky has too many cat like qualities to pass muster or something.

Wow.  I really got off subject there.

So, in any case.  Picky-Picky and I are looking for an apartment.  With no roommates.  I just got a job at Brew-tiful, the café down the street, and the owner is willing to work around my school schedule.  With that and the money I’m bringing in from selling charms on Etsy, it’s looking like I can afford something, anyway.  And I’m gonna ask mom to pitch in what she was paying for my dorm room.

Basically, that’s why I’m starting this thing.  I thought people might like to know the exploits of me and Picky-Picky as we adult in the real world.

With tips for living as a magic-user of course.  There aren’t many of us, but we matter too, damn it.

#

Found an apartment!  It’s super adorable, and I can’t wait to move in.  It’s tiny.  Just one bedroom, and I’d be surprised if it was more than 500 square feet.  But it’s perfect.  There’s a bowed window in the front that didn’t quite show in the photos, where my work desk will fit perfectly.  There’s also a strange, scrolling radiator in the bathroom.  The house is quiet and peaceful, with a lot of light coming in, too.  The bedroom will fit a double, I think, if I push the bed up against the wall on one side.  It’s one of those bungalows built in the 1920s that all look out on a central lawn.  There’s even a little porch.

I didn’t take Picky-Picky with me to the open house, of course, but she liked the pictures on craigslist.  She only stopped purring when she started patting at the rent amount.  Damn cat.

I can afford the rent.  Alright, so I’ll have to sell a few more charms or pick up an extra day at Brew-tiful.  I can make it.  It’s the deposit I’m going to have to ask mom for.  Which she might give me, though I’ll definitely have to sit through a lecture about my rule breaking propensities first. Again. Ugh.

I know what you’re thinking and I DID check out the other tenants before I filled out the credit check form.  Can’t be too careful.  I touched the stoop railings with my hands when I was walking past: in love; cozy and safe; kinda sad; exuberant; and placid, is what I read from all of them.  No red flags here.

And also, I gotta admit that I told the paper to make me look responsible after I filled it out.  Which is cheating.  But I really love this place.  We have to have it, Picky-Picky and me.  Have to.

#

So, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about magic, and I want to say that it works differently for everyone.  You just sort of have to learn how it goes as you do it.  For me it feels a lot like breathing, I guess.  I mean, I breathe things in and I know about them, or I can breathe words out and tell things how I want them to be.

That’s how I figured out the neighbors.  I breathed in and could sort of taste the ‘in love’ on my tongue, or the ‘sad.’  And that’s how I told the page to make me look responsible.  It’s totally controllable, when I’m using it and when I’m not.  It’s like the difference between saying to yourself “raise your arm,” but leaving your arm at your side, or actually raising your arm up.  I can tell a thing to be something without making the telling magic.

Which is why when I told my last boyfriend to go to hell, he didn’t actually go to an alternate plane of fire, just back to his mom in San Francisco.  Although…

No, I’m kidding.

There’s also like a… how do I say this?  I’m not super strong or anything.  I’m getting a little skill in warding because of all the classes I’ve been taking, but I probably couldn’t have sent Kevin off to hell if I’d legitimately tried.  That’s too big for me.  Keeping pots stirring while I’m on the phone?  Sure.  Telling my favorite shirt to come to the top of the hamper?  Of course.  But I can’t even make the busses in this damn town run on time.

The reason my charms work is because I think really hard at them while I’m putting them together, and they want to make bad guys overlook that TV set you have in the living room.  I mean, as an example.  I’ve coached them into wanting it.

It’s why I’m so good at wards and charms.  They’re subtle, and they last longer and are more potent if they think they want to do what you want them to do.  There are some kids in my class who are that “wham-bam” kind of magic you think of, but that’s not me.  And it’s not most of the folks in my major, either.

So the answer to any magic question is that it varies so much that it’s crazy.  And I happen to be the subtle kind, not the explosion kind.  But maybe you know a little more about me now?

And P. S.  No, I’m not revealing the location of Pragnum.  That’s stupid and could get me in a lot of trouble, since it’s supposed to be secret and all unless you’re a magic user.  No, it’s not like ‘Hogwarts,’ (which doesn’t exist, by the way) and you could go there if you were able to find it.  In fact, it’s pretty easy to find.  Which is why I can’t say anything more about its location.  So there.

#

Move In Day has officially come and passed.  Whoo hoo!

Except, damn it mom, I don’t need you to send me any more charms.  She’s freaking out about me living alone, even with Picky-Picky around.  And she keeps sending me these stupid amateur charms that just stink of incompetence.  I can make better stuff than that and I’m not even out of college yet.  Geez.  And does she think I don’t have any warding on my place at all?

I’m not stupid, mom.  I’m being careful.  I put the “nothing valuable, nothing magic” ward on my place the night I moved in, and I have charms at every window and door now too.  Ones I made, not that crap you sent me.  Yeah, it’s imperfect because I had to do the inside of the house and not the outside since I share a couple of walls, but that’s what the charms are for.

The place came with a refrigerator and a stove, and nothing else.  The fridge is an old mustard colored thing with a peeling sticker on the handle that’s supposed to make it look like wood.  But it cools, so that’s all I care about.  The pilot lights on the stove always stay lit, too, so I’m going to have to watch Picky-Picky.  She knows better than to bat at that stuff, but if it flickers she wants to eat it.  Too cat-like for her own good. SMH.

Mom doesn’t live around here, but Jules, my old roommate, is from just down the street.  Her parents were awesome and let me raid their garage for furniture.  I have a funky mirror, an end table for the bed I bought, and an old desk with some chairs for a kitchen table.  The desk is this huge sturdy thing that someone painted army green, and there’s one tiny drawer in it.  None of the chairs match, but all of the seats are upholstered in this awful gold brocade.  I started knitting colorful covers for them yesterday.  They’re gonna be like a patchwork rainbow when I’m done.  Granny square for the win.

I bought a mattress at Goodwill (it’s refurbished, not used.  Don’t get grossed out).  I bought my couch at Salvation Army and I LOVE it.  It’s one of those low-backed things from the 60s covered in green velvet.  Who cares if the pillows are too slouchy?  The only room that has curtains is the bedroom, and that’s also the most furnished.  I mostly just moved my dorm stuff in there, and it looks good.  Even if I am sleeping under a twin comforter on a full sized bed.  I’m the only one sleeping in it anyway.

The most important part is my work desk.  That was in my dorm, too.  Can’t go anywhere without it.  I set it in the little bowed window, and I can look out on the big tree in the neighbor’s back yard while I work.  Kinda like living in a forest.  It’s one of those Victorian roll-top desks with a thousand cubbies for all my stones, seeds, pits, feathers, wires and things.

Picky-Picky has already gotten into a spat with the neighbor cat down the street.  I told her it isn’t fair of her because she turns on the super speed and the other cat doesn’t even have a chance.  She doesn’t seem to care.  In fact, she turned her upright tail to me when I was lecturing her and cleaned her face.  I get it, brat.  Now leave the neighbor cats alone.

So basically we’re right at home.

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Easterbay

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted any fiction.  I’ve been over on Wattpad, though, discovering what a great community that is.  Writer extraordinaire Jessica Butler (https://www.wattpad.com/user/JessicaBFry) is doing a strictly-for-fun Fantasy writing competition that anyone can join.  Her prompt spoke to me, so I’ve joined the second round.  Can’t spend time in Maine without writing about Maine, right?  I borrowed names and superstitions like CRAZY, but the rest is all fictional.  It was nice to just write something easy for a minute, I’ve been plugging away on hard novel edits for so long.  I thought you might enjoy it, too, so here it is:

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Dear Jimmy,

It is full, old February here in Easterbay. The kind that is icy and brown and horrible. Wherever you are over there in France, it cannot possibly be as miserably damp and cold as it has been here. A nor’easter blew us five feet of snow, and I shoveled for days. You are not here any longer to do it for us, of course, so I am the one with the strong back to take your place. Not that it matters much if the roads are clear. We don’t have nearly enough ration stamps to take the car out anywhere. Mr. Spofford kindly cobbled together a set of wooden tires for your bicycle, and that’s how I get around these days. Everyone else either stays in or goes by boat. The Gut has frozen over, but the bay is still clear.

Why, you ask, am I out on the roads in the depths of winter? You may be pleased to learn that I joined the Coast Guard. I am officially a Spar. Semper Paratus! It is just Rudy Gamage and I in the office, and I am supposed to limit my activities to manning the telegraph machine. Or perhaps we should say womanning the telegraph machine. He gets to go out on the boat, while I am supposed to stay safely at home, say the official regulations.

When I remember how many times you and I ignored mackerel skies and even rumbles of thunder to take the boat out and pull lobster pots, I find it ludicrous that old Rudy Gamage is considered the safer bet. Especially because his love of beer has not waned with the ages. I am often left to my own devices in that office, and have taken the boat out alone a few times. Shh, don’t tell anyone. You will be pleased to know that I have never seen a German U-boat. So far, I have only rescued two sets of summer tourists trapped by the tide, and nothing since August.

I will save all the stories for you, of course. But I feel almost as if you are there with me in spirit when I am out on the ocean. And I am finally doing more for this war effort than saving cans and knitting socks. That feels good too. Stay safe, Jimmy. You have to come back soon, you know. You’re the only brother I have.

With much love,

Addy

Dear Addy,

Since you have access to your own boat now, I will give you the warning that grandpa gave me when the Lookfar became mine. Whatever the weather, whatever the circumstances, you must never take the boat out on the night of a blue moon. The bay does funny things, and it isn’t safe. Promise me you won’t, no matter what the coastguard says.

Jimmy

***

In the silence of the coastguard office, the telephone rang shrill and sharp. Addy startled awake.

It rang again.

Addy rubbed her eyes and picked up the receiver.

“Easterbay Coastguard,” she said, hoping that her voice did not sound too terribly thick.

“Addy, it’s Madge,” said the voice on the other end; Madge from the lighthouse up the road.

“What’s wrong?” said Addy. “I thought it was quiet tonight, has it…?”

“No, no,” said Madge. Her voice was tinny through the receiver. “Ocean still as glass up here, actually. But there was a boat, and a funny green flash right about sunset. I saw it over there by Witch Island.  It was dark, but not too dark yet.  Might just be the Poland boys out doing something they shouldn’t, but you know how superstitious they are. None of the local boys would take the boat out on the blue moon. It might be nothing, but it might also be… I don’t want to be remiss. There’s a war on.”

“Yeah,” said Addy. “Yeah, I’ll let Rudy know. He’ll want to check it out. Thanks, Madge.”

“Oh, anytime,” she said. “I don’t relish going out there in this cold, but like I said… someone should see to it.”

“We’ll head out right away.”

Addy hung the receiver back on the wall and grabbed her coat. She switched on the yellow porch light outside the one-room storefront that served as the coastguard office, locked the door, and put the key in her pocket. Then, she swung her leg over her bicycle and took off down the road to the Lusty Mermaid.

The lights of the bar bloomed yellow through the wide windows. The painted mermaid holding the mirror and comb on the wide sign looked dull in the darkness. Shouts and laughter spilled onto the street. Addy leaned her bicycle against the painted clapboard siding and went inside.

“Hey, hey now!” said one of the men at the bar. “If it isn’t Addy Hanna.” His words slurred together.

“Shut up, Billy,” said Pete from behind the bar. “Rudy ain’t here, Addy. Went home, oh, a couple hours ago. Said he was goin’ back to the office, but obviously… I mean,” he waved at her standing there in the doorway. “Sorry, kid.”

“No sweat, Pete,” said Addy. “It wasn’t anything big anyway. I mean, nothing I can’t handle.”

“Well, see you next time,” he said.

“See you next time,” said Addy.

She hopped back on her bike and drove back to the office, weaving to avoid the snow drifts on the side of the road. It was cold, and the moon shone bright in the sky, casting a pallid silver shadows on everything. When she got to the office again, she pulled a leaf of paper from her desk.

“Out scouting Witch Island,” she scrawled on it, and then notated the time. She closed the piece of paper in the front door so it would flutter to the floor if someone came in looking for her, and then she walked down to the dock.  The weathered gray boards rocked beneath her feet, and the only noise was the quiet slapping of water against the floating expanse of wood before her.

She scanned the bay for the Lookfar as she walked, even though she knew she would not see it  in its mooring in the middle of the bay. The Lookfar’s bright red hull was tucked on blocks of wood in the barn at home, waiting for Jimmy to come back from France. But the large coastguard ship stood floating in the white moon path that danced over the waters in the bay.

She wouldn’t take it, Addy reasoned. It wasn’t an emergency. All she needed to do was find out who was on Witch Island in the middle of the night. And if it was Germans, she would be able to zip away faster in the small, blue rowboat, her muscular arms pulling her fast through the waters she was so familiar with. She would be able to get faster help in the smaller vessel.

The rowboat rocked when she stepped into it, sloshing water toward the dock. She unrolled her scarf with her mittened hands and re-rolled it so it covered everything but her eyes. She buttoned the ends of it inside her wool coat, and then she thrust one of the oars against the dock to push away. When she hit the open water, a breeze picked up, an icy wind that whipped through the knit gloves and scarf, but didn’t quite catch the core of her through the wool coat. She shivered, and rowed on.

The coast receded behind her into a mound of trees on the horizon. She steered around the small islands in the center of the bay; too small for anything but a copse of trees and some sea lions. In the daytime their grumbles and barks filled the bay, but in the darkness it was silent. She rowed around the islands, and then she was in the open, choppy sea.

The wind blew harder, and somewhere to the north the sky turned to green swirls as the Aurora Borealis erupted above her.

Addy stopped rowing to look at it, oscillating green in the night, mimicking the waves beneath the boat as it rippled in the sky. Her smallness assaulted her, a tiny thing on the vast waters beneath the magnificent, magical heavens. She used a mittened hand to push the scarf back from her eyes, and the sky swirled magenta before the colors went blue, then green again.

Gingerly, still half-watching the sky, she picked up the oars and resumed rowing. The lump of dark foliage in the ocean that was Witch Island grew closer, into a heap of boulders dipping their fingers into the sea, a fringe of bare trees on top. Not far in the distance, the bright beam of the lighthouse swung past.

There was not a boat near the only beach on Witch Island. The bay was bare.

Addy kept rowing, pulling her small boat closer to the sandy inlet.

Still no sign of anyone; or anything.

She rowed until the bottom of the small boat grated on the sand, and then tucked the oars into the hull. When she hopped out into the water, she felt the cold of it even through her rubber boots. She leaned back and pulled until the boat slid farther onto the beach, the tiny low-tide waves lapping at the stern.

The beach was bright in the moonlight. It was easy to see that Addy’s boat was the first thing that had disturbed the sand, that her footsteps were the only thing marking the soft white swells of the beach.

She sighed, and shrugged to herself, and then floated the boat back into the water so she could hop aboard. It wasn’t a big island. The thrust of her arms pulling against the water made her biceps ache in the cold, but she could go all around the other side and still make it home again in less than an hour.

When the beam of the lighthouse swung across her again, Addy gave a wave to Madge and Bob. Madge would be able to see nothing but the dark crescent that signified a boat in the ocean from her position, but it made Addy feel less alone to pretend she had someone looking for her.  With the green swirls in the sky above her making everything into an eerie shadow, it was hard not to feel like someone in a horror movie.

On the far side of the island, without the brightness of the lighthouse, the aurora borealis leapt into fullness again. Addy scanned the granite boulders, but it was hard to see anything in the shifting light.

A huge clump of seaweed, ice gathering between the fronds, rolled next to the boat. Addy thrust it aside with her oar. It rolled, and when it tipped Addy could see that it wasn’t just seaweed.

 It was also a woman.

She sucked the breath into her throat and it lodged there. Her eyes went wide.

“Oh my God,” she whispered, and then louder; “Are you alright? Hello?”

The woman didn’t answer. Her eyes were closed, and her red hair was tangled with the brown seaweed. She was lying in the water with her torso bent, her legs disappearing into the murky waters, her arms splayed. In the green light of the sky, her skin looked blue and translucent.

Addy steered the boat closer. Whatever else was happening on that island now, she had to get the woman into the boat, and she had to get back to the coastguard office. Even if the woman was dead…

“if someone found my corpse in the water, I’d want to be pulled out,” Addy whispered again. She pulled off her gloves, steeled herself, and touched the woman’s shoulder.

It was slippery. She made to grab again, determined to gain greater purchase, but instead the woman, the thing in the water, moved. It grabbed Addy, and it’s face was no longer the dead face of a human, but a thing filled with teeth.

It smiled at her, and its red hair rose, writhing like the tentacles of an octopus.

Addy screamed. She picked up an oar and swung it at the thing like a bat. The wood connected with a sickening thwack, and then a splintering. The thing blinked and shook it’s head, and then it’s hairy tentacles grabbed Addy across the shoulders and pulled.

Addy dropped the broken oar and grabbed the side of the boat. She kept screaming, hoping that the water would magnify her sound enough that someone would help. The tentacles gripped into her skin, sucking at them, and her fingers slipped from the wooden sides of the boat, scrabbling.

 The water was cold as it submerged over her head, seeping into her coat and making her feel so heavy.  She could no longer think. All she could do was see: the bubbles rising from her mouth, the murky waters around her, the red that grasped her chest, the green lights fading in the sky.

Everything wavering.

Everything turning black.

***

Easterbay Dispatch, March 4, 1943:

Addy Hanna’s tragic disappearance the night of the blue moon has resulted in an inquiry regarding the operations of the Easterbay coast guard. Rudy Gammage was found to have been a negligent officer, and is stripped of his duties dishonorably. What that means for the current state of coast guard affairs, Easterbay is still waiting to hear. Officials in Portland are considering eliminating the Easterbay coastguard due to the small population of residents in the area, and folding patrols and operations into the larger Rock Pond division.

A coastguard rowboat washed up near the lighthouse rocks Saturday morning. Ms. Hanna’s family is offering a small reward for information resulting in her recovery in the hopes that locals will take up the search for her body in earnest.  The fact that she disappeared on a Friday night during the blue moon should not rule out other concrete factors.  Anyone with any additional information is urged to contact Jude Plummer at the police station – 0534.

 

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Six in Six: Wrap Up

So, this is the official end of Six in Six.  The experiment wasn’t entirely unsuccessful, although I didn’t “win” by the rules I set out for myself at the beginning.  One of the stories was pretty old, and they were all supposed to be new things.  Sometimes it just works like that.  If I hadn’t tried to push myself to continue writing something that just wasn’t working, or if I hadn’t caught that horrible cold half way through, maybe I would have made it.  That’s life.  No fancy new books as a reward for me.

But I have 4 stories I will polish up and use for other things.  Yay!

Speaking of which… If you haven’t perused the stories you should feel welcome to – they’re all on the tab at the top, in order from newest to oldest.  I’ll keep them up until May 1st, when I’ll pull them down.

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The Sea

Originally part of a collection of short stories, A Blatantly False History of the World, But Mostly America.

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“Make your way to the sea,” He said. “There, we can hire ships to take us back to our homelands.” He whispered it to us in the darkness, when we had stopped toiling in the streets and in the house, serving the Romans for the day. We returned to our hovels under their vast, gilded courtyards and listened to His breath in our sleep. We dreamed.  In our dreams walked the Gods of our homelands, of the green country of our birth. We listened to His words, seeping into the heart of us, and remembered.

There were houses in the north, dug into the ground for warmth during the harsh winters. Thatch stood up from the earth like tiny hills. Snow covered the ground as the seasons turned, and those living there would press together to share heat. It was companionable, looking out the door as the snow swirled, knowing that it could not take your life as long as you were with these others. We told stories there in the cold; of the magic of the moon and the restlessness of the dead.  And then the Romans came, and there were no others, but only strangers.

Not all of us listened to His voice in the darkness. Not all of us felt His words pierce our ears with longing. Some of us were snatched from our homelands so long ago that the white marble of Rome was the only place we knew. It was tempting to stay, to try for the chance to become free again, given the ultimate gift for loyalty. But that kind of freedom was at the whim of the master. The kind He was whispering to us was something we didn’t have to rely on others to provide. It was something we would gain for ourselves. And so we left with Him. At first, we were just a small band of rebels on the outskirts of the town, living in the green hills peopled with boulders. They left us alone, and like bread dough, we rose. By the time our edges seeped from the hills, we were too big and scattered for them to bother with. This is what He told us.

He told us that the sea would be our life. If we could only get to the southern shore, we could pay the Cossacks to take us to freedom. They were no friend to the Romans, and they would help us. For enough money, they would do as we asked. This is what He told us.

The hills were very green, deep and lush. Small white flowers grew in patches, even up to the heels of the boulders. We hoisted our swords and watched them shine in the sunlight, new on the horizon. It had been ages since we felt the ungiving haft of steel, cold in our palms. We walked toward the sea. We felt the blades of grass brush our toes inside our sandals, scattering dew between our toes. We felt the rough cloth blow across our shoulders as we walked across the land. The sky was vivid blue and it stretched for days and into the future.

The hills changed. They became fields of wheat as we walked, golden to the horizon. Trees broke the line of waving grass in clumps. Sometimes, a cypress pointed to the sun above us as we strode by its shedding trunk. Once, we walked by a farm house. It was abandoned in the red sunlight, but a little dog barked in the distance. Some wanted to catch the dog; to taste the savor of dripping meat. Wheat is not always the best for a marching stomach. He convinced them we didn’t have the time.

We must always press forward toward the ocean. It is salt like our tears. It is salt like the sweat we shed for the comfort of the Roman masters, or for the life of our family in another existence far away. The ocean shall be our savior, and it shall return us to those we love.

The wheat became hills again, like a song that repeats itself. The trees stayed, to shelter the boulders and the little white flowers beneath. A hawk wheeled above our heads, dark checkered wings on the blue sky, blocking the sun as it flew past. It dipped to the green grass and pulled a mouse from the earth, tail twirling as it rose to the sky.

He said we were getting close. We wondered if the hawk could see it, so much farther could it see from its height. We remembered the ocean being vast and terrible. Sometimes it was a deep, swallowing, glassy blue. It was calm and deceptive when it looked like that, biding its time and lulling its prey into a false trust. It was black when it raged, froth shuddering over the timber frame of the ship. This is how it turned, mild to murderer in a swoop of cloud, a weeping of the heavens.

We were not at the end of the song. The ground changed again, and we could hear the rushing of the sea in our dreams from where we slept. It whispered to us in the darkness a faint crash-hush. Vast beaches spread sand before us, tan and glistening in the sunlight. The ocean was aggressive only in the way it beat its fists across the shore as we beat our fists against our masters. Gulls flew above, riding the wind in clumps. The wet breeze clung to our clothes and skin, making even our hair feel sticky with salt. We licked the brine from our lips and felt the spring stirring in our bones, the great rebirth.

Three days, we camped by the ocean. Three days, the wind blew salt into our being. On the third day, a messenger came.  It was not a good omen. A rumor went around the camp. The Romans were not happy they had no one to wait at their table. We were pinned on the coast now, nowhere to escape. The army of Rome, glistening gold helmets, red manes dripping from the gold like entrails; the army of Rome was on the march. No Cossacks would come to our rescue and give us passage across the sea to our homeland. Rome had paid them not to.

He was the first to flee, our fearless leader, the one who whispered no longer. He would go back to the hillsides, to the cave we had lived in before, He said. It would just be temporary until we could try again. We scattered to the winds. But like a blown dandelion, there is a center that is not subject to the will of breath. I am that center.

There are a handful that join me; those with ballast. Sleeping by the sea made me remember many things, and this is the tale I remembered most.

It is terrible to perish at sea not because of death. Those that fall into the foamy waves do not die. The God of The Sea is too greedy for that. Whole ships are swallowed by the blackness, and they sail beneath the waves. Seafarers make weedy sails from kelp, and skim the depths for eternity. The eyes painted on the side of their ship shine like the sun in the darkness. The God of The Sea is waiting until they are enough. When he has an army, he will send them against the God of The Land, and he will be the God of Everything. Until then, they decompose in the deep.

And with that memory, fresh and clean, came another from my childhood. They had married in my mind while I worked in this land, and while I walked across it. It was of my grandmother.

She smelled of mint as she bent over me and kissed me goodnight. “I have had a premonition of you, Geric,” she told me. “It was not good. It was full of water and darkness, and you were far from home. I will tell you a story tonight and some day you will need it. You will forget this moment until you need it, but store it away for the time when winter becomes spring. It is important.”

She told me of the Sea God, and also of how the dead cannot always die. “You can turn them to your will, if you are strong enough. You can turn them to your will for a little while, and for longer if they like your cause and agree to help you.”

This was the way: I needed a bone, even from an animal, but a real bone it must be; something that was part of the living but was now stripped of muscle and sinew, of everything that made it what it was. There was a rune to carve into the shaft of the bone. It must be exact, not a twirl or hatch out of place. If the bone was perfect, and the rune was perfect, the spell could take place. Take land from where the heels of the fallen walked. Mingle it with the living saliva from your body. Say the name of the rune out loud. Shout the name to the stars, and if they bless the bone with their light they have blessed you with control. As long as you wear the bone, you will be safe. As long as you wear the bone, you can command them. They will listen for a time before the sound of eternity echoes again in their ears and they will leave you.

It would be hard to do by the sea. The men I wanted to call did not walk upon the ground, and so I could not mingle my spit with the earth. The rune was a vague memory in my mind. The smell of mint echoed through the ages. I would remember, I whispered to my grandmother in the dark. I will remember like you told me to. There were a dozen or so like me who had not given up, who were still camping by the sea. For my homeland and their homeland, I wanted to try. I could not bear to go back and give up, of another day living in the hills and waiting to rise. I could not bear the thought of crucifixion if the Roman army found me here.

I did as my grandmother told me. Instead of earth, I mixed my saliva with the sea. When the moon was high overhead, I lifted the bone. I screamed the name of the rune to the sky. The other slaves, the few of them who were left, clustered at my feet and they, too, screamed the word to the sky. The ocean crashed between my words, and their words met mine.  I told the stars my anguish and ordered the bone to live. As I screamed, a bolt of light came from the sky. It burned the flesh off my fingers, and made the rune shine. The blood from my open wounds dripped into the sand at my feet.

It was cold the next morning, and a gray fog obscured the horizon. Drops fell on the sand, making divots in the dirt, pattering around me. The others stirred in their sleep.  I went to the ocean and the others followed me. The lips of foam pounded across my knees. I took hands with the others. I held the bone aloft, as I had last night. I held it out to the sea, to the gray sky, to the blue depths.

“I need to get home,” I yelled into the rain. The mist swallowed the sound. I waited. The surf seethed in and out. The rain pelted across my shoulders, growing with intensity.  I was drenched, dripping.

The ocean began to churn, out where the sea met the fog. It turned black, and a whirlpool formed from the chaos, whipping and turning in the deep. I could feel it from the shore, pulling my legs toward it, just as the earth pulled my feet to its own breast.

A flurry of weeds flew from the whirlpool.  A mast emerged. With a sucking sound and a pop that shook the horizon, a black ship rose from the depths. The hull was covered with barnacles and slime. In some places it was black as pitch, glossy and slick. In others it was a furry green. Tendrils of seaweed dripped from the deck. The painted eyes on the side of the bow gleamed white, new as the day the ship was christened. Seaweed trailed from the masts. As we watched, a group of things, brown and upright, tossed a small boat overboard. They rowed for the shore. They came to bring me home. I stood together with the others on the shore, lined up shoulder to shoulder, and felt the waves crash over my sandals.

My hand throbbed with pain where the lightning left it raw. Tears dripped over my face as I watched the small boat row towards the shore. I thought of my grandmother, the smell of mint, the thatched huts of my homeland.

Categories: Fiction, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ordeals

It seems so odd that I’ve been writing enough to make 100 posts, but this one is the 100th, so happy milestone to us, and thanks for reading!

I’ve recently decided to apply to grad school for creative writing and in honor of that, and of the 100th post, I’m posting one of the pieces I’m considering turning in for my 25 pages worth of writing sample.  I went from having nothing at all to having a lot of potential things that could go, and I’m having trouble deciding.   I’m trying to show range, and honesty, and good story, and still make the pieces the kind of thing I usually do.  It’s hard.  I’ve picked four, and I’ll let my family help me narrow it down to three.  This is one of the four.  I hope you enjoy!

Williamsburg

Ordeals

            The wound is guaranteed to be extra juicy this time,” said Rutherford’s wife over the breakfast table.  “I just love a water ordeal.”

A flicker of flame from the open hearth silhouetted her hair in a frizzy halo around her white cap in the dim wattle and daub cottage.  Rutherford’s stomach lurched.

“I can’t stand Ordeals.  You know that,” he said.  “The way they poke at the festering wound and deliberate for hours sometimes, looking at it.  I mean, I know God is supposed to be speaking through how much the wound is healing and telling us whether the offender is guilty or not, but I just can’t stomach it.  Wounds are the most disgusting things.”

“I should knock some sense into you with my ladle, Fordy,” Gertrude said.  “It’s blasphemous to not like Ordeals, I tell you.  I mean, how else are we to know if someone is guilty or not?” she rubbed her hands together and smiled.  “I for one can’t wait to see if that Crispus Hode is guilty,” she said.  “I’ve suspected he was no good for a long time.  I heard tell he was born on a Friday, and if that’s true it’s no wonder that he grew up to be a no-account thief, taking Odo Black’s perfectly good hog and eating it for dinner.  You know what they say about Friday babes.  I mean, I suppose you have to raise them as best you can, but there will always be the devil’s streak in ‘em, and no telling when it will manifest.”  She shook her head.  “When they held his hand in that boiling water two weeks ago, you could hear Crispus shriek clear across the village, you remember.  Extra juicy this time,” she smiled

Rutherford felt his stomach churn and he dropped his porridge spoon into his bowl.  He swallowed.  “I know you enjoy these things but I’d rather not talk about it, Gerkins,” he said.  He wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his tunic.

“Well, that’s fine,” she said. “I’ll tell you one thing I can’t wait to see.  They’re picking the new head of the Witan town council at this meeting.  How long have you been on the Witan?  Ten years?  You’re the oldest of the group now, too, aren’t you?  I mean what with old Robin Miller croaking at the harvest festival and all… that was a disgrace, it was.  Face down in the pudding.”

“I’m the oldest,” Rutherford interrupted, “but I wouldn’t keep your hopes up.  No one in his right mind would make me the head of the Witan.  I just don’t have the stomach for it.  If I can’t talk about Ordeals, what makes you think I can govern one?”

“And who said anyone in this village was in his right mind?” Gertrude cackled.  “You sure are funny sometimes, Fordy.  I’ll bet you’ll be nominated for sure.  Eat your bacon, and then we’ll get to the church.  I just love a water ordeal.”

Rutherford sat in the first pew of the church with the rest of the Witan – eleven other men just as grizzled and portly as himself.  The rest of the town packed into the church behind them, leaning forward to get a better look as Burt Cooper, the current head of the Witan, unwrapped the linen bandage from Crispus’s hand.  Crispus winced as the bandage stuck and Burt gave a pull, dislodging it from the dried puss on Crispus’s wrist.  Rutherford felt the bile rise in his throat, and forced himself to focus on the floor.  There was a knot in the pine board near his toe.

The crowd gasped and oh-ed.  Crispus cried out in pain.

Silence fell across the hall, and a sticky, wet sound filled the room.

“Humuhuhnm…” moaned Crispus.  Rutherford gritted his teeth.  If only the sticky sound would stop, he might be able to bear the rest.

Rutherford felt a nudge in his side.  “Open your eyes, man.  What say you to that boil there?  Does the puss make the sign of the cross?”

“It looks more like a dog to me,” another chimed in.

“It is categorically a full moon over the rowan tree,” said another.

“Well, I’m seeing a sickle.”

The group huddled and argued.

“Oh for God’s sake,” said Rutherford, his eyes still closed.  “Just make a decision.”

“Attention all” Burt cried at last, his voice echoing in the rafters.  “I proclaim Crispus Hode not guilty under trial of Ordeal. The burn has categorically healed some.”

The crowd let out a general sigh of disappointment.  Now there would be no fine levied against Crispus.  The fun was over.

Rutherford looked up.  In the colored light of the stained glass windows, Crispus was wrapping the bandage around his hand again, wincing as the linen touched his burn.

Burt continued, “And now, as it is the 23th of March and my duty shall be over in two days’ time, the village’ll choose another head from among the twelve men of the Witan.  Happy New Year to ye all.  I would like to nominate Rutherford Thompson to take my place, but the council will hear all nominations.  What names do ye put forth?”

Sounds of people rustling, moving in their seats, filled the church.  Someone in the back sneezed.  No one spoke.

“Anyone?” said Burt.

A shout arose from the back of the crowd.  “I second the nomination!”

“Second who’s nomination?” a voice shouted back.

“What about Fiscus Walter?” another yelled.

“I third Rutherford!”

“No one’s seconded him yet.”

“Then I second Rutherford.”

“And I third Rutherford!”

It only took a few minutes for the crowd to solidify.  “Rutherford! Rutherford! Rutherford!” they chanted.

Rutherford felt his heart warm in his chest as he listed to the town chant his name.  It was unexpected that they revered his wisdom so much.  His doubts melted in the warmth of his chest.  He could see it now: himself sitting in the grand wooden chair on the church dais, meting out wise advice to the confused villagers; tending to the extra strip of field allotted to the head of the Witan; being the most important person in town, his benevolence renowned.  He rose to face them, looked at their expectant faces, and felt power course through his veins as he raised his arms and the crowd went silent.

“I, I mean… I, well yes,” he said, and listened as his voice bounced off the rafters of the church as if they were important and decisive.  The crowd cheered. Rutherford felt Burt slap him on the shoulder.

“Congratulations,” Burt said with a grin, shaking Rutherford’s hand.

Rutherford grinned back, pumping his fist up and down.  “Thank you.”

It was not until the uncomfortable hour of midnight that Rutherford realized what he had done.  He sat awake in his curtained bed, Gertrude snoring beside him, and stared at the ceiling in panic.  As head of the Witan, he was now in charge of administering Ordeals.  Every festering wound he had ever seen rushed into his mind in the darkness, wet with pus and boils, oozing blood from between the crevices of a scab, streaked white and smelling noxious.  It was his job to hold a hand in boiling water while the offender screamed.  It was his job to poke through the festering wound two weeks later and make a decree.   His stomach churned and the saliva gathered in his mouth.  He would make a fool of himself in front of the entire town.

There was only one thing to do.  If Rutherford prayed hard enough, maybe he could avoid ordeals entirely.  He would keep his head down, pray for no breaches of law, and get out of office as soon as plausibility allowed.  Everything would be OK.   One term as head of the Witan was respectable.  Visions of mutilations rose in his head again, but he forced them out.  Everything would be OK, he repeated to himself.  If he kept calm, he would get through it.  Not every Witan had to administer an ordeal.  It would all end up alright.

It was not alright.

The night was crisp and sharp as Rutherford sucked the air into his lungs.  The needles on the trees that surrounded the village were extra green in the fading light and the lingering quiet of the countryside was broken only by the sound of the crickets chirping somewhere near the woods.  The corners of the thatched, wattle and daub huts showed as sharp as the air against the cold landscape.  As the sky darkened to indigo, even the twinkling stars that poked through the sky seemed more clear than usual.  Rutherford picked up the wooden bucket from beside his front door and went outside to milk his cow.

The quiet evening was interrupted by the din of clanging pots, cowbells, tools. Metal on metal rang through the night.  Voices followed, shouting “Beware! Thief!”  Rutherford dropped his bucket and put his forehead into his hands.  The Hue and Cry meant there would be a trial for sure.  Why? he asked the heavens.

The heavens did not answer.

Rutherford picked up his bucket again, and went back into the house.  There was no sense in milking Bessie now.  On his way, he ran into Sampson Hode and Fiscus Walter.  Sampson carried a rope and Fiscus had a large rock clutched in his hand.

“You going to apprehend the thief with us?” Sampson asked Rutherford.  It was the job of the entire town to catch the offender, and as head of the Witan, Rutherford’s absence would be obvious.

“I’ll be there,” Rutherford said.  “I’m just going to put this bucket in the house.  Do we know what happened yet, or what was stolen?”

“Nope.  We just heard the yelling and came out to see what was what.  I think it came from Leo Gregory’s barn, but I’m not sure,” said Fiscus.  “We’ll see you.”

Rutherford grabbed the requisite pitchfork from beside the door, dragging it behind him as he set off across the fields to the wood next to Leo Gregory’s barn.  The whole town was combing through the trees, calling, searching.  Two hours later, his feet tired and his brain sleepy, Rutherford called off the search, stood his unused pitchfork next to the barn, and climbed into bed.

Two nights later, Rutherford found himself sitting in a hard wooden chair at the front of the church.

“I do hereby accuse Mr. Leo Gregory of raising the Hue and Cry without proper cause,” said Hubert Ward.  His beard dripped down his chin practically to his navel, and Hubert’s arm got caught in the long coarse hair as he jabbed his finger in Leo’s direction.

Rutherford sighed.  How ironic that he was forced to mete out justice for a crime that wasn’t actually committed.  “Mr. Gregory,” he said,” did anyone else see the crime take place?”

Leo shook his head.  “No!  I was in the barn and I noticed that my good Scythe had gone missing.  I looked outside and saw someone running into the woods by my house, so I sent up the Hue and Cry.  I saw it, I say! I was robbed!”

“And you were alone?” asked Rutherford.

“My wife can attest to my good character,” said Leo.

“His wife’s word is as good as his own!” shouted Hubert.  “Worthless!”

“I’ll show you worthless Hubert Ward!” a woman shrieked from the pews.  Rutherford could see her rolling up her sleeves and attempting to dive from her seat.  The crowd converged on her, pushing her back down.  The room erupted into a cacophony of voices.  Rutherford stamped his foot on the wooden floor of the church.  It was no use.

“Ordeal! Ordeal! Ordeal!” the crowd chanted.

Rutherford watched Hubert place his fingers into his mouth.  A shrill whistle bit through the air and the crowd went silent.  “That’s better, ya harpies!” Hubert said, and then gestured to Rutherford.

Rutherford stood.  Every face in the crowd was eyeing him with expectation.  He cleared his throat.  “I… uh, suppose we will have to have an Ordeal.”

The crowd cheered.

Rutherford held up his hands, and the villagers went silent.  Rutherford sifted through his mind to come up with an Ordeal he could carry out without throwing up in front of the entire town. Unfortunately, all he could think of was his breakfast.  He was doomed.  “I hereby decree that Mr. Leo Gregory’s guilt will be decided upon an Ordeal of… ah… of… baking.”

“What!” Hubert shouted.

The crowd was muttering again too.

“I was hoping for Water.”

“What in heaven’s name is an Ordeal of baking?”

“Is he crazy?”

Rutherford stamped his foot on the floor again, and this time people paid attention.  “This has been divinely inspired,” Rutherford told them.  “You should not question the mysterious ways of the Lord.  This is how the process is to be carried out.  I will make a loaf of bread, but before it shall be baked, Mr. Gregory will spit into the dough.   If the dough rises and the bread is edible, he shall be considered not guilty.  If the dough should fall and the bread be corrupted, he will admit to his guilt and pay penance to the villagers for falsely raising the Hue and Cry.  So it shall be.”

The crowd paused.  Finally, the words “so it shall be,” echoed back to him in a monotone.  Rutherford’s baking ordeal had been accepted, and he grinned.  Everything would be just peachy now.

Everything was not just peachy.

Rutherford called the bread making meeting for the next morning.  All twelve members of the Witan, plus Herbert and Leo, crowded into the tiny, wooden mill just as the sun was rising over the bright green hills in the east.  The inside of the mill was streaked with yellow from sunbeams peeking through the slats of the poorly insulated walls.  One of the sunbeams fell across Rutherford’s eye, diagonally down to his opposite cheek.  He shifted, and the beam slid to his shoulder.

He cleared his throat. “We have gathered today to ask the Lord to reveal if this man before him, Leo Gregory, be guilty or innocent in his heart of hearts.  Let the countenance of the Lord shine down upon us this day and guide us in our endeavors that we may know the truth.  Amen.”

“Amen,” murmured the rest of the room.

Rutherford took a clay bowl out of the vast pocket of his belted tunic, feeling the prickly hairs on his neck stand up as he realized that everyone was watching him.  He walked to the corner of the room where burlap sacks of flour leaned against the wall, and unfolded the mouth of one of the bags.  He reached his fist into the flour and pulled out a handful.  Streams of grit fell from between his fingers, catching the light and sparkling in the morning sun as Rutherford dumped the handful into the bowl with a whuff.  He took a pinch of yeast out of a pouch in his pocket and dumped that into the bowl as well, and sifted them together.

“Someone grab me a dipper of that bucket of water over there,” Rutherford said.  The ladle full of water was passed through the crowd.  Rutherford took it carefully from the last pair of shaking hands.  He held it out to Leo.

“Spit,” he said.

“You’ll all see I’m not guilty and I’ve been robbed fair and square,” Leo said.  He gathered the moisture up in his throat with a sickening suction noise and then spat a fat loogy into the water.  Rutherford saw it floating on the surface, greenish and horrible as it bobbed in the water.  He felt the burn of bile as it rose in his throat, willed it to stop with all of his might, and then threw up his breakfast all over the flour, all over his hand, all into the water.

The crowd was silent.  They all stared unblinkingly at Rutherford and Rutherford stared back at them.  The vomit on his hand felt warm.

From the back of the room a tiny voice said, “Does this mean he’s guilty?”

“It means he’s innocent,” said another.  “We don’t need to have the Ordeal ‘cause the Ordeal ain’t gonna tell us nothin’.”

“I think it’s a clear sign that this Ordeal is stupid!” said a third.  “Water Ordeals are the way to go.  Nobody ever heard of a Baking Ordeal, and God don’t like it.”

“I say he’s innocent.”

“Guilty!”

Rutherford stood by and watched as the room began to shout at each other.  Most of them were old, grizzled men.  Their gray hair flew through the air and the loose sleeves of their tunics jumped on their arms as they gesticulated wildly at each other.  He pounded his foot on the floor for attention but it made no difference.

“Hey!” he yelled next, but his voice just mingled with the shouts of the room.

Rutherford dropped the sick filled bowl and dipper to the floor and wiped his hand off on his tunic.  He walked over to the water bucket by the front door, picked it up, and walked back.  With a swift thrusting motion, he threw it across the struggling crowd.  The water surged over them like a sheet.  They stopped abruptly mid shout, hair and clothes dripping, and turned their faces toward him.

Rutherford cleared his throat, embarrassed. “I’ll tell you what it means,” he said.  “It means that God wants Leo to have a second chance.  Leo, I hereby find you guilty of raising the Hue and Cry without cause, and order you to pay a fine to the church coffers of ten shillings.  The sentence, however, shall be suspended.  So long as you don’t commit said crime again, you will not have to pay the fine.”

“I’m not guilty,” Leo said.  “I take offense to that remark, but I suppose it’s OK if I don’t have to pay nothing.  It won’t happen again ‘cause it didn’t happen this time.”

“And it will go on the record books as guilty?” Hubert asked.

“It will go on the record books as guilty,” said Rutherford.

“Then I’m satisfied as well.”

The rest of the men in the room began to nod in assent.  One by one, they smiled.  Burt slapped Rutherford hard on the back.  “Good work, Witan,” he said.  Rutherford found that he could not smile back.

The group was meandering out of the tiny mill and onto the grass beyond.  Rutherford watched them trickle through the rough wooden doorway.

Hubert was the last to step out of the mill into the sunny morning.  Before he disappeared through the door he turned.  “Are you coming?” he asked Rutherford.

“I’m coming, I’ll be there in a minute,” Rutherford said. Hubert stepped outside and Rutherford fell onto his knees.  He thanked God for the amicable outcome and then he prayed that he would never have to assign an Ordeal again.  Then, he took a dipperful of water and rinsed out his mouth.  He felt relieved.  After all, the hard part was over now.

The hard part was not over.

Two weeks later, Rutherford found himself sitting in a hard wooden chair at the front of the church.  The rest of the town stared back at him from the pews.

“I do hereby accuse Mr. Hubert Ward of stealing my good scythe from out of my barn two weeks ago.” Leo Gregory said to the crowd.  He glowered at the bearded man on the platform with him.

The half of Hubert’s face not covered by beard was bright red.

“And what evidence have ye to present to the court that this crime took place?” Rutherford asked.

Leo walked to the platform and handed Rutherford a scythe.  The blade shined in the light from the stained glass window as Rutherford took the smooth, wooden handle.

“This is the scythe in question.” Leo said.  “It used to have my name on it, but it don’t no more.  See the bottom of the haft where it’s rougher than the rest?  It’s also shorter.  Someone sliced my name off.  I found this implement standing up outside Hubert’s barn yesterday.” Leo turned to Hubert and waved a fist at him.  “Caught in the ACT!” he said.

The crowd hissed.  “Caught in the ACT!” a few shouted.

Rutherford pounded his foot on the ground.  “He ain’t guilty yet,” he told the crowd.  He turned to Hubert.  “And what have you to say for yourself?  Do you have an alibi?”

“I don’t need no alibi,” said Hubert.  “That was the night Leo put up the Hue and Cry for no reason whatever.  The whole town saw me out there looking for the criminal myself.”  He turned to the crowd, his arms wide.  “Did you all see me holding a scythe that night?”

The audience turned to each other and began to murmur.

“Nope,”

“I don’t think so?”

“No scythe when I saw him.”

“I rest my case.” Hubert told Rutherford.

“He was kinda late on the uptake, though,” someone muttered from the crowd.

“Don’t you rest your case yet, ya burglar,” said Leo.  “I want to bring up an incident that many here may well remember.  Old John Ward, Hubert’s grandfather, was once caught with a herd of twelve sheep that didn’t belong to him, and he was regularly borrowing things and not returning them.  How many of you loaned him a hammer or even a plow blade and never saw it again?  Stealing things obviously runs in the Ward blood.  I demand for justice to be meted out!  That ought to be evidence enough for anyone.”

The villagers began to murmur again, and out of the myriad of voices a single chant began to emerge.

“Ordeal! Ordeal! Ordeal!”

Rutherford sighed, and then held up his hands.  The room went quiet.

“I suppose we will have to have an ordeal,” Rutherford said.  “It will be an ordeal of…” would they accept baking again?  What else was nonviolent?  He racked his brain.  “An ordeal of…  Um…”

“An Ordeal of Vomitus!” Hubert interjected.

“An Ordeal of Vomitus.” Rutherford declared.  “I mean… wait, what?”

“I make you spew across the church and I’m not guilty.  An Ordeal of Vomitus.” Hubert said.

“There’s precedent,” Burt shouted from the first pew.

“That’s right!” the crowd began to murmur

“Leo made him throw up last time and he wasn’t guilty.”

“An Ordeal of Vomitus,” the crowd approved, nodding in their pews.

“Wait, wait now,” said Rutherford.  “An ordeal of Vomitus isn’t dignified.  I mean… I mean…  Really!”

Hubert smiled a toothy grin at him.  He started the chant, but the villagers joined in quick succession.  “Vomitus! Vomitus! Vomitus!”

Rutherford looked around at the villagers.  There were no sympathetic faces in the crowd.  Even Gertrude was perched in a pew near the back of the church, her arm in the air, yelling with the rest.

“I hereby proclaim an Ordeal of baking!”  Rutherford yelled at the crowd.

“Vomitus! Vomitus! Vomitus!”

“An Ordeal of water?!”

“Vomitus! Vomitus! Vomitus!”

Rutherford threw his hands in the air.  “Fine, just fine.  An ordeal of Vomitus.”

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