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Colder

Colder than the ice caps

Colder than the sea

Colder than the shriven cornstalks

Shivering ‘mong the scree

Cold now is our country

Cold now are our men

Colder are the children

Cold as a dying breed

When women walk the coldness

And their husbands walk away

When children haunt the houses

That shiver and cast away

Then colder than the coldness

Are frozen hearts and ears

Then colder than the darkness

That wails when nobody hears

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RISE

With a glance behind and gaze to fore

I pushed myself beyond the door

Door that closed upon my past

And now the future die is cast

Cast to breaking on the shore

Shore that’s breaking on the floor

Floor of deep embedded beads

That time has wrought to sandy seeds

Seeds mix and jumble up inside

My newfound person stepping wide

Wide the round and fertile earth

a promise – a paean – of rebirth

Birth from inner sin and woe

upon the mortal shore I go

Go crawling and pushing upon my knees

Until enveloped in the balmy seas

Seas roil and billow and drown my soul

till my old life has met its toll

Toll on, yea bells, of troubled mirth

Your laughter ends with final birth

Birth anew, a raging clutching pain

And I, defenseless, cast upon the main

Mainly, you know, I’ve struggled and run

to find myself at last a conquered one

One, rise! Oh divinely mortally met

And in thy threesome bosom I am set

Set at last, on softly wafting shores,

And closed, behind, the sinful, mortal doors

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Flames

The world erupted in flames. It was a small world, barely any bigger than your backyard. In fact, if you grabbed a measuring stick right now and went out to your backyard, and measured it furlong by furlong, you’d find that the flaming world was actually ever so slightly smaller.

So for most people, it really didn’t matter that it went up in flames.

While you watch the news about the bombings in France and the terrorists in Syria, while you go about your daily life, while you eat, dress, work, and talk, while you read this little vignette, her little square of space is now smoldering down into ashes – and do you care?

But it was her world. She cared. We always care when it is our world.

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Weirdly Whimsical Words

As I was falling asleep the other night I ran through words to help me fall asleep, and I was using the letter W.

What came out ended up being a lovely vignette!


Why worry when

The woman begins

To wield the weirdly words?

A whimsical charm

A mystical yarn

That reveals itself to the world.

 

 

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Her Charism

Once upon a time, there was a girl who was very bad at being sad. Life was often sad for her, as it is for everyone, and she would reflect on the sadness, let it envelop her, and accept it. But she was a little too sanguine to do it well.

When she spoke of her sadness, loneliness, or her cage, she thought she was being wise. Yet everyone around her was brought not insight, but pain. Not swift understanding, but depression. They felt sorry for her, in an aimless sort of way, because her sad words brought them no direction.

Because her charism was not to be sad. It was not to reflect on the melancholy truths of life. It was not to stay confined in the bars of her cage.

No! For it was to find beauty, in even the darkest moments. It was to find joy, in even the grimmest disappointments. It was to find hope when hope seemed out of reach. Because when she was alone, she was never alone. And when she was in pain, it was a redemptive pain. And when she was trapped, it was a nurturing cage.

And when she was happy, the world was happy also. And when she was joyful, then people rejoiced with her.

And when she was healthy, she swept them up in a tide of glorious living, and carried them with her, through the bitterest of storms. This was her calling. This was her charism. And it was this that she set out to embrace, accept, and spread.

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The Barren Garden

Where barren bones bring no life to straggling gardens, some seeds new and vibrant should be planted.

But where do we find such soulful seedlings? Where should we plant our special plantlings?

Plant and do not worry, for yesterday has passed away. Plant and rejoice, for tomorrow has a way of coming.

Plants aplenty come and go, some regal and some low, but without today last years would be a myth. With today, tomorrow’s a gift.

Rejoice and cry out, “Today is a bounty!” Rejoice and exclaim, “Tomorrow’s a harvest!”

Hope from death and death from hope. Seeds from plants and life from dust.

We harvest what we plant, we plant what we harvest. So plant anew and plant it better, there’s no such place as a barren garden.

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A Murder in the Chicken Yard – A Tale of Attempted Cannibalism

By Elizabeth Russell

A few years ago, my family briefly lived on a farm, and besides giving our chickens very weird names, we learned many odd things about the species that we had never realized before. One was that chickens are gruesomely fond of eating each other after one is dead. Here below is a brief thought experiment about what goes on in the chicken yard and in the empty, blood-thirsty minds of the chickens.

Amidst the incessant clacking that daily erupted in the chicken yard, there was today a new sort of clucking gossip.

Said Dude Jr. to Ugly Duckling, while she was joyfully gobbling down grain, “Come quick! There’s been a murder.”

Said Darth Vader, running as fast as her short legs would carry her, “Well, my dear, it’s about time. So long as it isn’t Gorgeous, I think it’s a positive development.”

“Oh no Vader, Gorgeous is quit all right – the tall man has chosen Fluffy.”

“Ooooh!! How lovely!” cried Crooked Toe, as she ran up alongside them. “He’s such a terribly mean rooster, and quite tasty, I’m sure. The mean ones always are.”

“I’ve been in the mood for meat for awhile,” agreed Dude Jr.

They neared the picnic table, from which arose the bloody aroma that promised a scrumptious meal. The tall man, which his red beard and blond hair, was hunched over the wood, plucking and scattering feathers. Ugly Duckling and Weird Al were already amongst the group that clustered clucking around the table.

Said Dude Jr. to Weird Al. “Why is everyone just milling? We haven’t missed the feeding, have we?”

“Can you believe it?” cut in Chiquita, spreading her feathers in indignation, “that human man has kept Fluffy all to himself! Anytime anyone gets near him, he shoos us away!”

“Hah! That’s just like last time!” cried Dude Jr.

“Well how do you like that?” asked Crazy Dave. “First they steal our eggs, then they steal our chickens! What do they do for us? Hmm? I’d like to know!”

Gorgeous was pecking the ground a little ways away, and they all ran over to him.

“Keeping us away! Won’t let us in!” The ladies all cried in unison, “The nerve! About time someone showed him a lesson! Ooo! Is that grubs?” And as the tall man disappeared into the farm kitchen with the bald, dead chicken, they were all happily pecking the ground again.

The End

Transfer

In my blue jeans and tan boots, with my blonde hair pulled into a neat ponytail behind dark glassses, I found myself deposited out of Union Station and blinking in the bright twinkling lights of Chicago. 

Encountering one Christmas tree building after another, all lit from base to tip, I walked the three blocks to Ogilvie. 

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Union Station is old and under renovation, so that it’s impressive build is shrouded in an ugly cloak right now. 

But Ogilvie!

This station’s open, curved entrance, full of reflecting glass and white painted steel, steals my breath. 

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It’s an amazing thing – architecture. We take it for granted, walking next to it in the street without even noticing. Not stopping to think about how it got there, the history behind it, the intricate workings inside.

But now I stop to think.

All those loads of metal and wood and natural materials stacked together to support staggering weights. 

Sometimes, I marvel that a scale, a tiny little object, can hold me. 

But I’m nothing compared to a normal house on a thin foundation.

And what about a skyscraper?

Nothing forces us to stop and consider more readily than a skyscraper, with its steel intertwining arches soaring to the heights. 

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I lean against a high cafe table and admire it. But soon, as usual, I’m overthinking. 

It’s a modern fad, of architects, builders, and business people, to show off the bare bones of a structure, to seek to elicit this reaction of admiration from us. This praise to the feats of man! And it works. It did in the days of the cathedrals, and now it works in the days of a connected world: airports, train stations, business structures that tower to the sky like Babel. 

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What a monumental achievement of man! What a hero of the world! What a remarkable certificate to his ability. 

They think they’ve discovered all the natural wonders of the world – the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest, the frigid caps of the north. As the world has been conquered and the earth seen, there is naught left but to build our own wonders. 

My heart clenches and I frown in frustration.

Why, when I look upon magnificent structures of humanity, after the first flush of admiration has cooled, do I feel such cynicism? I want to admire, respect, and feel uplifted as the architect intended. But I feel only shame at the hubris of man, and despise those who made the structure. Is this a fault inside myself, separate from any intent of the architect, that makes me feel ashamed? Or could it be another modern fad, the one about respecting nature, living in harmony, and not condescending in our arrogance to “master” it?

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Maybe I’ve bought into both fads somehow. 

In my mind, my rational part, I believe in a unity between mastery and respect, but what does that mean?

A waiter interrupts my musing to tell me he has to bring in the tables and chairs to lock up, and we smile at each other. He wishes me a good night and bids me stay safe. 

I descend to the lower levels below the exposed beams, where once again, enshrouded in covered structures, I take architecture for granted. I sit down at empty tables and reflect.

In our democracy, the word “master” has taken on a derogatory connotation. But it was not so originally. A master, a good master, is not a micromanager or a slave driver. He does not force things to work against their nature. 

When I stop to think about it, the true meaning of “master” relates to one who works in harmony with others. Ultimately, he is the guiding force behind a group of people. He brings them together for the benefit of their endeavors, to help them to achieve the greatest results of which they are capable. He connects them. 

This is a true master. It is the mastery of which we as human beings, with intellects and a will to work, can relate to the world. We are not meant to dominate, we are meant to nurture.

Relieved, I return to admiring the magnificence of humanity’s achievements. The first step toward harmony with the earth, I think, is not to tear down’s humanity’s achievements in my mind, but for me to understand and live the true definition of “master.” 

Shame never constructed anything. 

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Bidding farewell to Ogilvie, I board another achievement of man and leave the towers of the city behind me in the night.

The Smoothie Bar

I was leaning against the counter in a smoothie bar, waiting to meet up with a friend. It was his college campus, not mine, which is why we were meeting in a public place and not a dorm hall or classroom building. I suppose we could have rendez voused at the Newman Center, which is where we originally met, but he was currently avoiding a beautiful, cold-hearted girl who frequented there – drama, dram drama… I shook my head.

The shop was bright, with white and azure-blue tiles lining the walls. The counter was clean pink lacquer, and the floor a dizzying array of green, pink, and stone white tiles. A display of frozen yogurt decorated the wall behind the counter, and accents of fruit dotted about the room were a nod to their main advertised product.

Leisurely waiting, and with nothing else to do, I stared at the tv screen suspended on the ceiling. Five women flashed across it in an ad, over made-up, over-frizzed, and over-frilled.

 

They looked like women from the cover of W or Harper’s Bazaar. Meant to display five different types of fashion styles and personalities, to me, they all looked alike. I shuddered and commented to the girl behind me, before quite turning around, “Do any of those fashions appeal to you?” To my horror, when I turned all the way around, she looked just like the women on the screen. Blue lips, dark, heavily-rimmed eyes, pale face, and grunge/punk clothing that hid and revealed her body in all the wrong places.W_Magazine_June_2014_Cover My face burned with embarrassment, and I gaped a moment, but then she answered me. I have a habit of not sounding sarcastic when I actually am, and to my relief, she had taken me seriously.

“Yes,” she said in a quiet, uncomfortable voice. Hearing her discomfort, I saw through her appearance to the person beneath. Her voice sounded bored, tired, and lonely, and rather than just seeing the liner around her eyes, I saw the deadness inside them. “The…” she made a movement on her chin, obviously trying to communicate one of the styles, but I was lost.

“Which one?”

“The…” She did it again. I shook my head, and she repeated, “The…; the artist one. I like that.”

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By Elizabeth

“Ah.” I smiled at her, trying to remember which one that was, but failing. They all looked the same to me. “So, what are you doing tonight?”

“My boyfriend’s picking me up. We’re going to a club.”

“Oh fun! That’ll be nice.”

She shrugged languidly. “Hm. We go every night and stay out till morning. I only woke up a few hours ago.”

The bar had cleared out so there was only the two of us left, and the guy behind the counter leaned over to take our orders. But he paused and remained to listen when he heard our conversation.

I was suddenly very frustrated with a world that would suck girls down into a void, where they felt they had to be sexy, dead, and numb to be recognized. This girl – I felt in my bones – did not have meaning in her life. What made her tick? What gave her a reason to get up every…afternoon? I leaned over intensely, the way I get sometimes when I passionately want to save the world and everyone in it.

“What do you think it means to be good?” I blurted out. “You know? I feel like no one talks about that anymore. What does it mean to be good? Not just polite or nice, but genuine goodness. What do you guys think?”

The boy leaning against the counter had a longish blonde crew-cut, clear, handsome blue eyes, and a defined oval face. He looked wholesome, but I had met enough clean-cut young men who turned out to be empty shells. You can’t judge anyone by their cover. I was genuinely interested to hear what these two people had to say about my question.

I was surprised to see that they were both thinking about it; the girl in a sluggish, hazy sort of way, and the boy with a wrinkle and crease in his forehead.

“My girlfriend and I say something to each other a lot.” He spoke up. “We both try to sacrifice.”

I gazed at him in admiration. He wasn’t an empty shell after all.

“I love it!” I exclaimed. “That’s exactly right, I think. Sacrifice. You mean, like, for each other?”

“Yeah. It’s the only way to not think about yourself all the time.”

I basked in this bit of truth, then whirled on the girl and demanded an answer with my passionate, exuberant gaze.

“Well,” she mumbled, and it was hard to hear her, “I guess it has something to do with entertaining people.” At least, I think that was what she said, but I definitely heard the word ‘entertaining’.

The young man answered her. “But isn’t entertaining just pleasing ourselves?”

She shrugged, and I made a wild stab in the dark to help her out.

“Well, but entertaining can be about the other person. I think that if we entertain well and graciously, we show that we notice and care about people. That you value them. Is that what you meant?”

She nodded and shrugged. Then they both looked at me.

I thought hard. Then laughed in embarrassment. “I feel like you’ve said what had to be said. Anything I think of seems to fall into either of your categories: sacrifice or valuing people. But I need to give an answer; I’m sure there’s more to goodness.” After another moment, I had a thought. “We can’t take life for granted. It’s good, or goodness, to live each day as if it were our last. To try to leave something behind for posterity. Sometimes it’s something sacrificial that’s hardly noticed, and sometimes it’s noticing a person for who they are, and letting them know. But I think it goes beyond that. We have to leave a mark behind us, something that says, “I’ve been here, and I hope I left the world a better place because of it.” For me, it’s my writing and storytelling. For parents, it would be their children. I guess it’s something different for everyone.”

They nodded. Then the boy laughed heartily. “You don’t hear conversations like this every day. I’m glad you girls came in tonight. Smoothies?”

 

We ordered, and soon my friend showed up, so I left. And, I suppose her boyfriend came soon after, to leave the boy behind the counter alone with his pureed fruit. I liked to think that they would both go home that night with a changed view of the world, but then I realized it didn’t matter what they did. I had no control over that. I had control over me. Would I go forth, from that brightly-lit, frozen drink bar, to think about myself, entertain myself, and live for myself? Or would I have a new lease on life, and go out to sacrifice for others, entertain and value men and women, and leave something behind to posterity, to let them know that once upon a time, a girl lived here, and she cared about making the world a better place?

Ruth and Boaz – Part 4 (The Final Part)

Start with Part 1 here

Confused, nervous, uncertain and scared, I ring her doorbell and it is the enigma who answers.

“We had begun to think you would never return,” she says to me.

We do not know each other, but I know of her, and she of me. I know she is a rare woman of true virtue, deep love, and profound penetration. I know that the one I love more than anyone loves her more than she loves me, and I have learned to accept that. I can see, by the full sadness, hope, and mother-bear protectiveness behind her eyes, that she had heard of me from two sources. One from her step-daughter, whom she loves as her own heart’s blood; and two from the village, which has presented such overwhelming evidence against me that she cringes to have such a man stand on her doorstep.

“She’s been waiting for you.”

“I know,” I admit, “but I’ve actually come to speak to you.”

“Really?” To my relief and surprise, her demeanor softens, and she lets me in.  “And to what do I owe this honor?”

“To Naomi, actually,” I laugh a little and the sound, even to my ears, comes across as unhinged. I have pent myself up so tight for this encounter, and now, with her goodness and maturity daring me to meet it, I am swiftly coming unwound. “I’ve been reading the story of Ruth and Naomi, and I wanted to tell you about it.”

“I know the story,” she says calmly. “Please sit down.” She leads me to a chair, actually guiding me as if I am a child, and I realize how much of a wreck I must appear. I am a wreck. After all the months of endless, unending tossing upon waves of deadly force, coming in the end safe into port, I have been cast a wreck here, upon my own home shore, before the woman I most fear. And her kindness is fast undoing me.

“Why did Ruth love Naomi so much?” I demand, my breath whooshing out as if I have been holding it since I left.

She smiles sweetly and gives me a cookie from a jar. Somehow, a cookie is better than an answer, and I slump back in my chair, defeated.

“Why does anyone love anyone?” she turns my question against me. “Why did Boaz love Ruth?”

I do not have to think about the answer to that. It is written, as it has always been written, in my soul. “Because she completed him. He couldn’t help it. And if someone else was better for her, he would have accepted that. If she had been better off with Naomi, alone…” I paused. I was not Boaz. I was not a man of integrity. Had Boaz been me, then Ruth might very well have been better off without him. “He would have let her alone. He wanted what was best for her.”

She stands up and goes to the window; I watch her carefully and finish the cookie. “When my husband died,” she says, “he left a part of him behind, and that part has become more precious to me than anything ever has. She is like my own daughter, and I love her so much my heart aches. I couldn’t give her up to someone who loved her less than that. How could I? Not willingly.

“I can see that your love for her tortures you. And it should! You are a man with a past more terrible than she can yet understand – she is too young and innocent to really know the ways of the world. You can lay it all out in a list and you can warn her all you like, but in the end, she will not really know until she marries you. That is the way for every girl.

“I am not jealous in my love, you know. Naomi always wanted what was best for Ruth, and how can I want anything less? I have only feared you were not worthy of her.”

“I’m not.”

“You were a proud man, and vain; a villain who stole from other women when you should have waited for her. And you were just a boy. I wanted you never to return, because maybe then she would be spared the pain of learning that you could never change.”

My heart is breaking and I sit broken before her, bent beneath the burden of her blame, but I accept the chastisement. If she is better off without me, then I will accept it. I left to see if I could change, and I had fooled myself into thinking that reflection was action. I have proved nothing. I have not changed enough.

Suddenly, I feel her warm hand on my arm, and I stand quickly, eager to show her I am not a wreck anymore. That I can stand tall, even in adversity. That I can be a good man, no matter the reward or loss. I want her motherly eyes, the kind of eyes I have not seen in many, many years, to look on me with pride and approval.

And they do. Blown away, I see that they sparkle with new love. Her look, if I dare believe it, tells me she has found a son as well as a daughter.

“You have changed,” she whispers, filling me with hope anew, and smiling with the eyes of a mother. “Go to her.”

With her confidence and love behind me, with my new self within me, and with my everything before me, I go out into the garden to find my Ruth.

The End

Read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of Ruth and Boaz

Read the original story here

Ruth and Boaz – Part 3

Across the shifting sea I have voyage, to far ports and distant shores. I left not to forget, but to remember. To remember the way I was as a child, not the way I have grown to be a man.

I wrote her a letter and sent it on the first ship we crossed. Brief, I told her my intent, and left it at that. To find myself. To learn to love. To remember.

After a year of port to port, island to island, praying to God at night and rising for her in the morning, we arrived at the small Caribbean Island called Eye of the Mother. Named so for the pile of rocks that crests the topmost cliff, a stone chipped statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary resides at the top. Her arms, poised as if waiting to rise to her maker, are spread wide toward the earth, and her gaze is bent to the wide island vista.

I acquire permission from the captain and climb the crumbling stone path that leads with crude steps to the foot of her shrine. Breathing hard from the climb and sweating in the cold breeze that bites into my bones, I kneel in awe to contemplate her face.Ladylebanon

But soon, I grow nervous. Her innocence is not that of inexperience, and I cannot hold my own beneath it. Flustered, I shift my gaze to one of her fingers.

It is pointing to the earth, and idly curious, wanting to escape her eyes, but finding comfort somehow in her presence, I investigate as an excuse to stay. Beneath her finger is an orange patch of dirt – molding clay. Suddenly inspired, I dig with my fingers and take out fistfuls. I pour my water bottle into my hand, and with the mixture began to shape and mold.

Presently, I know not how long my task has engrossed me, I find a child sitting on the cairn of rocks above me and contemplating my actions with wide eyes. Delicate pale wisps flutter around her face, stirred delicately by the breeze.

“What are you making?”

I glance down at the sculpture in my hands. A woman. It isn’t her, like I thought it would be; nor my mother, which might have made sense; not even a replica of the Virgin that stands above my head. I hand it over to the child, who takes it with her tiny hands and looks it all over.

“I’m in love with my best friend, you see,” I tell her. “I’ve always wanted to love her, but I don’t really know how, so mostly I’ve just wanted her to love me. But she told me a story – a story about why she refuses to love me…”

“What was the story?”

I have poured over the book of Ruth ever since setting sail, and I know it now by heart. “Once upon a time, a girl named Ruth married a handsome man named Elimelek–”

The little girl erupts into giggles. “That’s a funny name!”

I smile at her. “Yes, I suppose it is. Well, Elimelek had a mother named Naomi who was a very wonderful and holy woman. But soon, Elimelek died and Ruth was a widow. Ruth now had nothing to do with Naomi, no connection to her, you see, but the girl didn’t see it that way.Ruth and Naomi Instead of drifting away from her, Ruth clung even closer and chose to love Naomi more than anyone else, even more than her friends and relatives.”

“Why?”

I blink. “I don’t know. I guess they were both lonely – they needed each other. Anyway, because Ruth loved Naomi so much, she was able to meet the love of her life and marry him in the end of the story.”

“Emmylack?”

I laugh so hard tears come into my eyes. “No, he died remember? The new guy was named Boaz.”

“They all have funny names!” she laughs. “Are you Boaz?”

“Sort of. I – I hope so.”Wynfield, David Wilkie, 1837-1887; Ruth and Boaz

She sticks out the sculpture at me, now deformed beyond recognition by the fondling of her tiny fingers. “And she is Ruth, the girl you love?”

I sigh deeply. “Actually, no. She is a woman I don’t understand. The woman Ruth loves. She’s Naomi.”

The girl wrinkles her face at the sculpture, confused and dissatisfied with my tale. “Are you going to marry Ruth?”

I am too confused. And now, standing at the foot of a mother, I am too afraid. There is too much symbolism. I have opened my heart to love, and find only symbols. The little girl before me seems to represent my friend as a child, and the Blessed Virgin is her new mother. One is too young, and the other – too old. One too bereft of experience, the other loaded with too much. If I dare to presume to ask for her hand, would innocence repel me? Would experience condemn me? I fear it.

“You should marry her,” she finally pronounces when I am silent too long. She declares it confidently. “Naomi wants Ruth to be happy…. Right?”

Story Continued…

Ruth and Boaz – Part 4

Ruth and Boaz – Part 2

The silver light dances across the white tiles of the empty hall. I am brooding, my hand clenched around a statue of dried clay, my gaze fixated unseeing upon the unfinished mural before me.

I have not set foot in this room for seven years, and apparently, neither has anyone else. The dust lies heavy upon the floor mixed with dirt and stone and dust, and cobwebs of lonely spiders straggle the corners of the mighty pillars.

I ran from my heart last night; I retreated from the starlit fantasy of a man I might be, and my mind will not leave me alone. All morning, in unending parade, memories of the woman have marched across my vision, refusing to cease their haunting. Not the pretty girl in the drawing room, nor the woman she loves more than me, but my own neglected mother.

My shadow. How she clings to my true self, and how I yearn to break free! At last I have fled to this place, the one place she cannot pursue me, because I have, in the end, come to her.

And now I find myself here, leaning against a makeshift scaffold, free of the ghosts and brooding like a haunt myself.

The mural is large and beautiful, of a meadow that my mother and I both loved. It was in this meadow that she met my father, and it was to this meadow that she would bring me and my small friend when we were young and unaffected. How we three loved to play and run and love each other there, and how she joyed to be mother for both of us. We decided to create our own paradise in the giant hall of my mother’s castle, a castle that was old, crumbling, and forgotten; a hall that reminded us of decay and loss, and we decided to transform it to a spring of hope and renewal. I was a sculptor, my mother a painter, and my friend a gardener, and between us we began the transformation, watching the magic unfold.

But in the midst of our building, of claiming a paradise on earth, of claiming a future of perfection for ourselves, she left me.

In the prime of her life she fled. In the midst of creating her greatest masterpiece, she quite. In the very process of raising a son into manhood, she died.

God took her in his infinite providence. And two weeks later, in his unending mercy, God inspired my best friend’s father to send my one companion abroad for an education.

And so naturally, after that, I shut up the hall and transformed my home from a sanctuary into a place of revelry, just to defy God. But I kept it respectable on the outside, just to defy society – let them think they know me; let them invite a son of the devil into their homes, to their tables, beside their daughters. I was a carefree, untamed, debonair scoundrel, just to defy my pain.

But the pain is there, it was buried deep, but I have not forgotten. And love is there, but that I had forgotten.

I stand and pace the long hall, running my hands along the unfinished painting, brushing my knees against dead plants that crinkle and turn to dust as I pass, and my fists are clenched and my knees shake from anger.

When I saw her last night, my heart tightened into a knot. And the moment she saw me, I knew she still loved me. But I have learned to shut out the world. I have learned to mask myself, and I lied to her all night.

All night, until the moonlight. And then I couldn’t.

And I do love her! I stand back to look at the mural, full of untamed flowers, birds, and wind. I look at the dead potted plants  – one of the roses has dried on it’s stem. I look at the half-formed clay statue of a mother with two children, and then words from last night swim to my consciousness: “She must be my love, you know. For now.”

My mother had always been our love, our guide, but now my friend’s father has given my friend a new mother to love, but I only have the old, the dead, the forgotten. Rough as it is, my stone sculpture reveals my mother’s features – she had such hope for us – for me.

I approach with reverence and take the stone hand that she stretches out to me. I look into her eyes that plead for me. I look at her arm that encircles both children in an overflow of love, and she has reached me.

“I will make you proud,” I whisper to her. “I will learn to love again.”

Then I leap to my feet and without a glance at the halls of revelry and debaseness, I flee my home and my village forever. I descend to the seaport docks, hire myself out as a sailor, and depart on a schooner to the wide world.

To Be Continued…

Ruth and Boaz, Part 3

Ruth and Boaz – Part 1

The soft light of candles flickered across her shadowed neck. The forgiving darkness of night enclosed the swirls of her skirt. The filmy swirls of hair adorned her bowed head.

She was too innocent to be sensual and too sensual to be innocent. Just old enough to know the ways of the world, and just young enough to not have experienced them.

I watched the way her dew-drop earring dangled against her flushed cheek, the way her painted nail ran along the paper on the desk, the way her mouth pouted prettily as she read the printed words.

I came up beside her. “What are you reading?”

She glanced quickly over her shoulder at the parents sitting near the fire. I was a good four years her senior and she felt the difference. I was old enough to have experienced the ways of the world, but not old enough to regret them.

“It’s an old bible of Mr. Derry’s,” she explained. It was his house we were at. His living room in which we stood. His book we were reading. But it was her hand that glanced across the pages.

“It’s the story of Ruth and Naomi.”

“Oh? Not the story of Ruth and Boaz?”

She looked up at me where I towered close, half a head above. Her face, at this angle, did not catch the lamplight. I was standing closer than she thought was proper, but though she wrapped herself in caution, she did not pull away.

“Ruth loved Naomi first, above herself,” she explained, “and that was how Boaz learned to love her so much. Above himself, above anything. It is first a story about Ruth’s love for Naomi.”

She was firm, and I was surprised by the layers of her speech. Though she was young, she was not naive. She knew what I wanted, and I knew she would not give it to me. But still I did not move.

In my turn, I glanced back at the adults. The same fair hair that piled richly on the head of the girl beside me gleamed brightly on the head of her mother, who laughed lively among the others.

“She must be my love, you know,” she whispered while I looked. “For now. It will keep me modest, and teach a man how to love me.”

“Tied to her, are you?” I jabbed.

Now she stepped away, more in contempt than discomfort. She walked into the hallway and meekly, I followed; the long panels of oak gleamed darkly out here away from the lamps, reflecting only the moonlight streaming through the wall length windows. She turned suddenly back to me.

“Haven’t you ever loved anyone?” she pleaded, her voice deeply trembling. “Haven’t you ever loved me –  for who I am?”

She wanted the truth, not pleasant niceties. Had she wanted me to lie, she would have remained in the civilized parlor; but no, she had led me to the natural light of the honest moon, and I could not lie here in this shrine. I did not respect man, I did not know God, but I loved natural beauty, and she knew I could not lie here – not when she pleaded with me.

So I simply sighed and looked at the floor. I was fourteen again. Confused, honest, yearning. “You know I haven’t,” I whispered. “You know I’ve only ever loved myself. You’ve known that for forever.”

“I know. But I thought you were only immature. I thought, when you grew up, I thought you would change. I came back with that hope – I came back to meet you again for the first time, but you were only a dandified version of who you’d always been.”

“Well that’s your fault you know. I never pretended to be anything else.”

“Oh, I know! I know! That’s what’s so pitiful about it. Did I fail you?” she asked after a painful pause.

“You could never!” Without noticing, I had darted forward and grasped her hands. I was closer now than before, yet she was not uncomfortable. But I was. I suddenly backed away, looking anywhere but at her, mumbling an apology.

“Why? Why make excuses? Why pull away?” Her voice shone with hope for me. Hope I could not answer or fulfill. “Don’t you realize – oh, don’t you know that this is your real self? The self you hide so well, no one but me has ever seen it. This is the man you were born to be!”

Without another word, I turned about, took my coat from the rack by the door, and let myself out into the dark night.

“Self-Portrait of a Man over Thirty” by Elizabeth Russell

I was told to write a self-portrait. Yes, write one. It’s an amusing thought, I think…after all, artists paint self-portraits all the time, so why shouldn’t writers write them? These were the questions put to us this afternoon at my bi-weekly night art class with Jane Caulfield. She, a middle aged woman with three children and as many smile wrinkles around her eyes, prodded us to look carefully at our features and dig deeper into our view of ourselves.

“You can learn a lot from a face,” she told us. “It goes beyond the auto-biographies authors are so key to pen. It delves into the soul behind it, revealing, like a Monet, the garden beneath. If you look at a face at just the right moment, you’ll uncover more of the mystery in them than you ever thought possible. So study your own face, see what it looks like, and ask what it is telling you about yourself.”

I’ve got the mirror propped up in front of me right now, and I’ve been staring at my face for a half hour or so, trying to uncover secrets. It’s really just my face – I look at it every morning when I shave, and every evening when I rub the light, comfortable stubble and ruminate on the events of the day…

Very well, I suppose I should write something. First, a critical and forgiving technical analysis.

I have an oval, angular face. It juts into a small, strong jaw at the bottom and curls into a full, jaunty cowlick on top. Jaunty, what a fun word. I wonder if that describes something deeper. Am I jaunty?

My eyes are large almonds, possibly more of a rectangular shape. They’re deep, brown wells with a lot of hope behind them. I’m pretty hopeful, I guess. Some crow’s feet around the corners reminding me that I’m over thirty. Funny, there are exactly three lines on either side, probably one for each of my failed relationships.

Ok, I just smiled at that, and it really changed my countenance. The heavy paunch of my cheeks lightened and firmed into a more youthful glow, and my eyes, even though they scrunched on the bottom, grew bigger somehow. It seems almost as if my face finds smiling more comfortable and is more used to it. I suppose that means I have an easy smile. That’s good. I like how I look when I smile.

I think I’m a pretty likable person…so why am I still alone? I know that if I found someone to share my life with, I’d dedicate all my energies to their happiness. But I have no one…no one to give that energy to. I’ve only ever had three relationships in the span of my thirty-two years. What’s with that? I smile easy, I’ve got nice eyes,  I’m full of hope – just all round good guy.

The closest I ever get to flirting with anyone is Jane Caulfield. She flirts with me a little once in awhile. She is a beautiful woman in the prime of life, comfortably satisfied by her husband and, what’s more important, her husband is satisfied by her, so she can afford to be a little flirtatious. It’s fun sure, and harmless sure enough, but I want something that’s not harmless. Someone I can dive deep into and come up either buoyant or scarred. That’s what I want.

I would have thought I would be terribly lonely by now, but it’s surprising how much you can get used to and comfortable with. Maybe I don’t want to find someone?

Ok, maybe I veered too much off topic. But that’s my self-portrait. I sure hope Jane doesn’t ask us to read them aloud in class.

 

Photo Credit: Fred Herzog (http://www.equinoxgallery.com/artists/fred%20herzog/art/22013)

Dani

Dani had had another fight with her mom. Screaming over her shoulder that no one understood her and no one ever would, she stormed into her bedroom and slammed the door. Lying on her bed face first, chest heaving and hot tears stinging her eyes, the late light of the sun slanted in slits through her window blinds and painted a pattern of striped shadows across her back.

Why is everyone so stupid all the time? she railed in her mind. It felt good to say ‘stupid’ since her parents always told her not to use the word. It made her feel bad, and she wanted to feel bad right now.

She looked down at her fluffy pink sweater and green jeans and decided she looked much too sugary cute right now. Pulling them off, she went to her closet and pulled out her spaghetti-strap black dress. Mom always said she couldn’t wear it without a shirt underneath, so reveling in her defiance, she pulled the velvety material over her bare back. She tugged her black hair out of its side braid and let it hang loose about her round face. Now she felt sufficiently dark and mysterious.

Like the mysterious goddess she was, she went to her bed and laid down upon it, idle and staring at the ceiling. Mom had told her to stay in her room until she was ready to apologize, but since she knew she never would, she determined to stay there forever.

I will die on my bed just like this. They will find me, pale and thin from hunger, lying on my back, with my hands crossed over my stomach like this. That thought gave her great satisfaction. Won’t they just be sorry then? she exulted.

She rolled over, pulled out her second-hand ipod that used to be her father’s, and plugged it into the speaker. Slow, moody piano music began to play, and as she settled herself back into her death-prepared pose, she felt sufficiently funereal.

She closed her eyes and let the music take her on a wild voyage. First, it was just a tinkle, a simple melody reminder of sadness and loss. She thought of how her mother had carelessly lost her affections through her strict, demanding regimes. Serves her right because now she’ll learn. But it’s too late – she can never win me back.

Story Prompt #48

Then the tune suddenly exploded into dramatic misery, violins and trumpets soaring into a riotous blend of weeping. She responded and pathetic tears rolled down her cheeks, catching in her ears and tickling them warmly. Perhaps my face will still be wet when they find me. But when she reflected that she wasn’t even hungry yet, let alone starving, she wiped them away. No point wasting good tears, she thought.

She had missed the transition in the music and listened again. It was now floating softly over a moonlit lake, resigned to its sad, lonely fate and welcoming the gentle lull of stream, wind, and quiet sky. She could see herself there, floating between earth and heaven, gazing at the gray clouds above with peace and hopelessness. Life is not a fairy tale, she declared to herself, and the tragic romance of the thought lifted her spirits. It is a miserable, literal place where people expect you to be normal. I am a princess really, but no one knows it. I am a saint, but no one sees it. I will be ground into course mediocrity just like my parents. Just to make them happy, I’ll marry some guy I met at a church function who claims to love God, but really fights with me once every day. Then they’ll be sorry when they realize I’ve ended up just like them. Don’t they want me to be special? Isn’t that what parents want for their children? Why do they want me miserable?

The music had grown urgent, intense, demanding. Her heart had responded, throwing insistent questions into her brain. They claim to love me but how do they show it? By not understanding me, that’s how. They can’t understand, in their benumbed brains, how all my actions stem from real purity. All I want is to be good and change the world. Why can’t the world see that? I’m not like any of them – I’m special!

Reaching its dramatic climax, rising in pitch, intensity, and noise, hurling its last great defiance into the void of the universe and expecting no answer, the music suddenly ceased. But then slowly, softly, it entered the final stages of the piece. No longer did it defy, no longer did it bewail, and no longer was it hopelessly resigned. Like a hammock rocked by the wind, it rested and swung, accepting the misery and pain but forgiving it too. Gently, it remembered the other facts of life – love, hope, patience, and quiet strength. Briefly recalling all the themes from before, but with a new note of healing in each, the piano was left alone again at the end. Richer for its journey and hopeful for the future.

Dani sat up and turned off the speaker. Her stomach was growling. She pulled off the dark dress and put back on her sweater and jeans. After all, it was kind of chilly inside. She went to the door and cracked it open. The smell of beef roast penetrated her nostrils. Well, she couldn’t really stay up there forever. Mom wasn’t stupid after all. She regretted calling her that, even in her thoughts. Quietly, she stepped out of the room, closed the door behind her, and went downstairs.

Image Credit: AK47 on tumblr – http://ak47.tumblr.com/post/75368829942

Elves and Concrete

Once a little boy was born at the bottom of a long line of other boys and girls. Because he was the very last, all the traits, good and bad, of all the previous children funneled down to him, and filled his little body with all kinds of creativity, ingenuity, naughtiness, and sweetness.

This little boy was peering down at the concrete when we were stopped at a red light the other day. He causally remarked that the street had cracks in it. “I don’t know why it has them,” he said.

“You don’t know?” I asked. I could have told him that as the weather grows colder, the molecules in the concrete freeze, expanding and pushing against each other until finally, the road heaves up and falls back down again, divided. I could have told him that, but instead, I told him the truth. “Well, there are little tiny elves with little tiny pickaxes who come out to mine the concrete. They collect the rocks from it to build their castles.”

Baby with car @mybabydom“Hm,” he said, accepting the truth as only a child can. He was silent for a long while, before he asked me to explain exactly how small the elves and their pickaxes were.

“Oh, I’m not sure. Pretty small, I would imagine, since we can’t see them. No one has ever seen them, you know.”

“I can see them,” he said, looking out the window and at the street.

I was surprised. I’d never known anyone who could see them before. “You can? Well, how big are they?”

He sized them up. “About the size of penguins.”

This was bigger than I had expected.

When we were leaving the store a half hour later, he stared at the ground as he held my hand across the parking lot.

“There are more cracks here,” he said, but I didn’t hear him. I was distracted by other things. “There are more cracks here,” he repeated, tugging my hand.

“More cracks?”

“Yes, the elves have been here, too.”

“Ah, yes!” I said, remembering. “You’re right. We just can’t see them.”

“Because they’re black.” He climbed into his car seat.

I thought I understood. “Oh! So they can blend in because the road is black.”

He looked at me from the corner of his eye, then double-checked the road to make sure nothing was wrong with his own sight. “No.” he corrected me when he had made sure. “The concrete is purple.”

I saw that he was right, and I shook my head as I drove home. I had thought I had all the answers, but it was clear now that he was much more in touch with reality than I.

child looking at car

Images courtesy of LJHolloway Photography, @mybabydom, and nos.twnsnd.co/search/child+in+car

Evangeline

I had never seen her in the bookshop before, but she looked like she had always been there. I almost didn’t notice her this time, and I thought, maybe I just missed her other times, like a spring flower you never saw before because you weren’t looking close enough. The straining light from the blue glass window glinted against her mousy brown hair, and silhouetted her sharp profile. Receding chin, jutting nose, and pursed lips…she was an introvert, I decided. And she probably doesn’t have any friends.

I didn’t mean that in a mean or debasing way, just an observation. In fact, she would probably grow up to be successful, outgoing, and confident – she had that look about her: in the intelligent stance of her casual legs and the carefree way she clasped her hands behind her back as she leaned in to squint closely at the titles before her.Story Prompt #5

After a moment – and in that moment I captured her in my mind, locked and sealed away for remembrance, as I occasionally liked to do with fascinating patrons – she swung herself forward, picked up a selection from the shelf, and in the same fluid motion, pulled back and twirled toward me.

CaseyChilds_LightAndShadow_16x10_5_oil_web

She brought only that one book to the counter and I was surprised. Most girls like her would come with their arms laden and overflowing, staggering beneath the weight of centuries of words, fully intending to one day read every book under the sun, and buying as many from me as they could, as if to get a head start. But she had only the single volume.

“Rembrant?” I asked. It was a good choice – one of the best biographies I had ever read, and I told her so.

CaseyChilds_Reticence_35x28_5_oil_webShe was leaning her elbows on the counter, her feet at least four feet away, and her toes on one foot musically tapping the old wooden floorboards. “Mmhm,” was her tiny answer accompanied by a tiny smile. Her eyes were hidden behind dark glasses, and I suspected they weren’t seeing me or anything around her. They were penetrating the leather and cardboard bindings surrounding us, transporting her into worlds and lives beyond our own.

“Have you read it before?”

“No, but he’s my next case study. I do case studies, you know.”

Such an answer was too wonderful and casual not to pursue. I purposefully took my time filling out the paper receipt. I loved not having to mess with ipads and swipers and glitchy apps: my eyes and hands were good enough for me. “What do you mean by that? What do you study?”

“Oh, artists, poets, musicians, politicians, and religions.”

“Wow! And you’re making your way through Rembrandt?”

“He’s the next one, yeah. I just finished Palestrina.”

I blinked. How many young people today knew of Palestrina? “That’s quite a jump, isn’t it?” I asked. “From Palestrina to Rembrandt? About a hundred years, I’d say.”

“Rembrandt was born only twelve years after Palestrina died. Not too big of a gap. I don’t think time and history are as long and disjointed as we like to pretend.”

“A lot can happen in a hundred years.”

“But a lot stays the same, or else just keeps moving in the same direction.” She was still leaning against the counter, but her head was perked up now, and her brown eyes, CaseyChilds_Sunbath_10x8_oil_webmagnified by her thick lenses, were looking deep into me, as if I was the book cover, hiding deep secrets inside me. “I’ll bet Rembrandt heard Palestrina’s music and was inspired by him. I think we spend too much time thinking about the negative things that influence people. But what about the beautiful things? Those have just as much influence, don’t they?”

Instead of answering, I asked her how old she was as I stuffed the book into one of our custom-made cloth bags.

“Fifteen. How old are you?” she shot back.CaseyChilds_FishesofMen_15x10_oil_web

I told her I was thirty-four. “But I was asking,” I continued, “because I think you’re going to change the world someday, and I wanted to know when I should start looking for your name in academic circles.” She almost blushed, but instead tossed her long, straight hair over her shoulder with a flick of her head. “By the way,” I said, “I have a magnificent illuminated copy of Rembrandt’s paintings in the back. I’d give it to you for half-price. Or, you know what, you can have it. It deserves to be with someone who will care for it like you will.” Before she could answer, I went to the back and brought out one of my treasures: The Collected Works of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. It was old, heavy, and large, and as she gathered it into her arms, it seemed to swallow her whole. But in a good way, as if Rembrandt’s works, shut up and hidden inside the hard-cover binding, had illuminated her with beauty and truth.

Girl at a Window - Rembrandt
Rembrandt’s “Girl at a Window”

Though she looked nothing like his “Girl at a Window,” she was her in that moment. Innocence, potential, darkness and light, shadow and depth, and for one moment of eternity, I was captivated. This – she – was at once a Madonna and a mortal, a goddess and a girl.

 

She thanked me with awed breath, and turned to go, and just as she reached the door, and I had returned to my place behind the wooden counter, she looked back, fearless and buoyant, and declared, “My name is Evangeline Nova. And you can look for me in ten years.”

CaseyChilds_Henna_14x18_oil_web

Artwork copyrighted to Casey Childs. Check out her amazing artwork at caseychilds.com

Black and White

When a small child gazes with star-filled eyes to the universe beyond her little sphere, she sees briefcases filled with glittering treasure, vacations to exotic places, and good, righteous people who are pitted against corrupt, greedy, monolithic tyrants.

She does not understand what is hidden away in the shiny, leather black bag, so she assumes it is something wonderful. Now, the world is her playground, and who is to stop her from exploring it when she is no longer tied to mother’s apron strings? Most of all, she knows that good people are great people! A good person does not work a mediocre job, and a good person would never be lulled into working for something evil. Adults know evil, the small child knows, for evil’s is a frightening visage, and though the young child herself may be fooled by his offers of candy and sweet treats, she knows the adults are far too wise and understanding to be deceived by him.

Ah, for the eyes of a child! If only her faith in us were proven true. What if evil were so cut and dry, and not hidden away into the recesses of the best person’s heart? Then we could meet and fight against it.

We would conquer and purge the world, until it shone as glistening as the child’s wondering gaze. We would carry magical things in our shiny black briefcases, filled with more than tax reports and market slogans. We would safely and freely wander over the whole world – and yet, somehow, never lose our wonder at it.

As buried as the evil, or probably even further down, lies hid in our hearts the eyes of a child, hurt and disappointed by our mediocre lives. Her fantasy is disillusioned, but still she clings to it with desperation, afraid to let go and face the tangled, gray-scale world, where black and white is few and far-between.

We keep her there because we do not want to teach her. We keep her there because we do not want to disappoint her. We fear that if we face her, the world will be too tragic.

But she is a brave little girl. Let her out!

Take her hand and teach her your trade. Show her the briefcase, the little vacations, and the messy, funny people in the world, and you will be surprised. She will not run and cry and bury her face in her hands. She will not break down and cease to function, or die altogether, starved of wonder and joy.

No, for she will reinvent those dreams she once had, accustom them to your dreams and hopes and loves, and with the boundless energy of youth, she will remind you of what you never knew as a child: that no fairy-tale, to those who lived within them, was ever black and white.

The Bird Who Would Not Fly

IMG_E5413

Once, there was a little bird who did not want to fly.

“Why don’t you want to fly little bird?” I asked, crouching down with my hands on my knees. I had to do that because he would not hover in the air before me.

He chirped, “I have two good strong long legs and what else are they for but to run with? Everyone I know sticks to the status quo, but not I!

“All the other birds can soar like an eagle, zoom like a plane, or hover like a helicopter, but I choose a different destiny!

“I will run like a leopard, walk like a tractor, glide like a Mercedes! That is my dream!”

I smiled at him. He was so full of the fighting spirit. But then I thought of something. “What will you do if a cat tries to eat you?”

“Oh, my. Oh goodness gracious. Oh darn! I hadn’t thought of that…

“Ah ha!”

“I will clad myself in armor so that if he eats me he will find me indigestible and will spit me back out again!”

“What a brilliant idea!” I told him. “But what about if a car almost runs you over? Surely you would fly away then.”

“Never! I will be like a tornado and speed across the road!”

“All of that sounds very nice. And very good ideas. But I have only one more question. What will you do when winter comes and you must migrate south?”

Now he looked very sad, and his head fell down to his toes. “I suppose I must give it up and die from the cold, or break my resolve and fly again.” He looked up at the bright blue above us.

“But then I will miss so much of life! I will not see the details of the flowers blooming in the crisp of April. I will not amble slowly past a lilac bush and breathe in its fragrance. Life will fly past as fast as I fly, and I will not be a special little bird.”

He looked so downcast at the thought, and his reasons for walking suddenly sounded so noble, that I impulsively lifted him into my hands. “Little bird,” I said; “Brave little two-legged bird who will not fly, you will come home with me. I will keep you warm in the winter and safe from predators, and at your own slow pace, you will be the bird who would not fly.”

The End

“My Wolf Friend – The Final Part” by Elizabeth Russell

Start with Part 1 here

David“There is a boy in my castle. He is my friend and is waiting for his enemies.” I knew this was what Andrew was saying as he told the allies of my fate. He would bring soldiers to fight for my cause – I knew he would. But why did he not come? The night kept getting later, and still he did not come back to me. There were crashings and growlings outside the gates, a terrible roaring, snorting, and stamping and I trembled at the approach of my enemies. The oak door shivered on its hinges and I knew Andrew would not return before it crashed down. I looked around the courtyard and found my sword and shield, which were hanging where I had put them when we built the high walls, and standing guard in the dark, I got ready to meet my enemies.

With a mighty crash they rushed my castle, and there were more wolves than I had ever seen. I slashed with my sword and slew as they approached, but there were always more, and I slew again and again, crying out into the darkness, “Back, you foul beasts. Hiya! Take that!”

Alone, I fought those animals. Their blood had bathed me but still I did not falter, and all night long, I fought them. When there were at last too many, and I could not stand my ground, as they yapped at my bones to drink my strength, I finally ran away.night

The wolves were breathing heavily at my feet, tearing at me with their teeth as I disappeared deep into the woods. How would Andrew find me now?

I did not know it right then, but he had gone straight to Diane when he left me, and without hesitation, she had leapt from her bed and run to the castle. But just when she got there, she saw me disappear into the woods. So she followed me into the woods to take me home.

All of a sudden, I felt her warm arms around my chest, and I fell into her. My chest heaved but I fed on her strength and she gave me all she had. “I’ll give you the energy of my pumping blood,” she whispered, “If you will be the bones. Give me your endurance.”

“Let’s be wolves,” I whispered, “howling at the great white moon.”

“There’s no moon tonight,” she said.

“There never is unless the wolves howl at it,” I explained, surprised that she did not know this. “But they’ve all become enemies, and Andrew is not enough. We have to be wolves and light up the night.”

I couldn’t see her face, but I heard the smile in her voice. “You and me light up the sky? What a beautiful idea.”

I could hear the barking and growling coming closer – we were running out of time. “Quick!” I cried. “Howl!”

We lifted our faces to the dark sky and lifted up a howl of sharp beauty. Our voices trembled and blended, soprano notes floating high into the night. There was a faint glow, a silver disc shimmering like a reflection in water, and I was excited. It was working!

But then the wolves caught us. Her blood was on my bones, and I fled. I thought she was beside me, but when I looked back, they were carrying her away. I was too tired without her strength, and could not fight anymore. I sank into the ground and fell asleep.

I awoke to the sound of my dreams. Uncle was yelling at Andrew, telling him he couldn’t go, it was crazy, it was impossible, it was too much. When I opened my eyes, it wasn’t a dream because they were both standing in front of me. It was the first time I had woken to yelling and not thought it was my father.running-dog-2185090_1280

“They kidnapped her,” growled Andrew. I had never seen him mad before, but he was now. “They took her so you would save her.”

“So it’s a trap,” uncle said it like it was an excuse.

“They are your enemies, and you left David and Diane to face them alone. If it hadn’t been for your fears we would have returned in time to save them.”

“Andrew?” I whispered and they both rushed to my side.

“David, oh David!” cried Andrew, and I felt his warm tears running down my cheeks as he bent his great head over my face. “Are you really alright? We thought we’d lost you.”

“There was so much blood,” whispered Uncle, who had fallen to the ground in shock. “We thought…we thought…”

“We thought they’d eaten your heart,” supplied Andrew and uncle shuddered. He didn’t understand war talk like me and Andrew.

“No,” I said, “but they drank all my blood and took my strength.”

Andrew nodded. He knew what I meant, but uncle was confused so my friend explained. “David cannot fight anymore. I must stay to protect him, and you must go save Diane.”

“I told you I can’t do that! I don’t know how to fight. Besides, it’s a trap – they’re standing in wait to kill me.”

“Uncle,” I said, “we all know how to fight. You’ve just forgotten. Here, take my sword. You can use it to save her.”

Uncle stood above me large and whole, and I lay beneath him beaten. But I saw now it was the other way around.

“How can I face my demons?” his voice shuddered from him in a moan. He was not asking us, but was facing away into the forest. “Oh, Melissa. You were my strong sister and I was your valiant warrior, but now I have forgotten how to fight. You left me to protect your child, and I am too weak. I stand alone in the darkness and hear the echo of my breathe, and though you may be the one who is dead, all I see is my ghost. I am shaking like a leaf – with all my flaws and all my faults,” he fell to his knees, clasping his hands before him up at the stars. “I am a wreck.”

My eyes followed his clasped hands up to the shining sky above us, and I saw the archer. But it was different this time. This time, the archer was my father. Then I saw the twins there too, and now it was my mother and uncle when they were children. The entire heavenly menagerie gathered behind them, ready for battle.

“Andrew,” I whispered to him so uncle could not hear. “Where are our allies?”

“Oh, David, I’m sorry – they would not follow me. They need a man to lead them.”

“David,” uncle’s voice startled us. “David, I have failed you. I left you to fight both our enemies all alone. I don’t know if I can defeat these wolves, but I will go save Diane.”

Then with my sword gripped tight, he ran away into the forest. As soon as he was gone, I jumped to my feet. I had energy again! Andrew quivered with excitement and stood ready.

“Come on, my friend!” I yelled. “Let us ride together, one purpose, one fight, one wolf in the night!” Then we flew through the land, calling upon all creatures to rally to our cause. We found the queen of the bees and she flew before her subjects. We met the prince of the foxes, and he gathered his army. We met the baron of the bears and his large family armed themselves for our cause. The sound of trumpets filled the forest, trembled the trees, and roused our hearts. Our blood boiled freely and we howled like the wind.

We descended upon the wolf den where uncle was slashing his sword and slaying his enemies and Diane was urging him on as she battled her captives. I thought to myself that she had the heart of a lion. We fought those wolves until the sun lit up the morning sky and the stars faded from view. We saw that the battle had brought us to the door of the castle, and we were standing on the drawbridge. Our allies left us to go back to bed, but Andrew, Diane, uncle, and I stayed.

“Look at that river,” Diane marveled. “How it rushes wild in the moat. This is a true castle, David.”

“There may be more enemies it will have to face,” said Uncle, “and foul weather.”

“It is made well of heavy stones,” declared Andrew. “Heavy stones do not fear foul weather.”

child-1835730_1920Uncle came over and put his hands on my shoulders. “I will never again leave you to face your enemies alone, my little one. You are my prince and I am your knight, and I am going to build an empire for you.”

“Let us be wolves!” I cried. “And howl at the moon.”

Uncle started to protest that there was no moon, but Diane put her hand on his shoulder. “Just trust us.” Then we all howled at the brightening sky, and it was not just soprano tones, but vibrating baritone and wild, deep throated calls that rose together in a complete sound beating against the sky. And just in the last moments when it was visible, the moon was a lacey, silver disc against the blue.

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The End

 

This story was inspired by a playlist my brother compiled called Wolves.

It included songs from:

Of Monsters and Men

Mumford and Sons

and The National Parks

Photo of moon by Breno Freitas on Unsplash

“My Wolf Friend – Part 2” by Elizabeth Russell

A voice called my name from far away. I usually wake up in the middle of the night thinking that my dad called me. If he ever does call me again, I want to make sure I hear him.

But when I opened my eyes to the orange glow of the nightlight, it wasn’t my dad calling me. It was Andrew. I hadn’t realized before when we were outside just how big he was. He was gigantic! The whole room was full of his gray and white hair, and his eyes looked like full moons in the darkness.

priss-enriquez-180336“David, get up,” his deep growl rumbled urgently. “We have to escape before your enemies arrive.”

“I saw one earlier, peeking at me through the window.”

“That was their scout who they sent ahead. Soon, the whole pack will descend upon you. Quick, get on my back and I’ll take you somewhere safe.”

I stood up on my bed to reach his mighty back, nuzzled my legs into his thick hide, and felt the rise and fall of his warm breathing beneath me.

“Are you holding tight?” His words vibrated through me. “Very good, here we go.” With a mighty leap, we rose out of the house, above the weather-cock of the barn, and into the dazzling stillness of the stars.

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Dad told me the stars are a menagerie. I love that word, ‘menagerie’. I had to practice it fifteen times before I could say it right, and now I just say it to myself sometimes because I like it so much.

“Do you see the cluster right there?” Dad once asked me, pointing to the sky from our favorite spot by the backyard fence. “That’s an ox. And that one, it’s a scorpion. If you’re ever lonely, you just have to remember the heavenly menagerie.”

Now, flying through the air on the back of my friend, the scorpion reached out his claw to me, and I touched it, smiling because I knew his tail held no poison. The bear bellowed and Andrew howled back. I laughed because I couldn’t understand the words, and liked not understanding.

Andrew’s leap had taken us so far up in the air that I had forgotten about the ground, but as we descended, I remembered my enemies.

“What will we do about them?” I asked him.

“Your enemies will not stop until they have destroyed you,” he said solemnly. “We must mount a defense.”

He landed beside our wooden castle with its turrets and moat. Bounding across the entry, he slid me off his back in the courtyard and turned the lever to raise the drawbridge. “That will deter them for now. We must form a plan.”

I was ready to fight. I clenched my fists and took my prepared stance. “Let them come!”

Andrew laughed at me and shook his majestic head. “You are a true warrior, David. But you cannot face this pack alone.”

“I have you.”

“And you always will. But we are not enough. I am going to go find you allies.”

“What are allies?”

“Friends. People to fight with you.”

“But you’ll leave me alone.” My heart dragged me down and I fell to the floor with my head in my hands. “Please don’t leave me alone. In the dark.”sad-child

He sighed sadly and nudged my hands, then licked the tears from my cheeks. His breath was warm and comforting, and I buried my face in his coat. sad boy“I don’t want to leave you, you’re my best friend. But I am not enough to protect you. If I don’t find more defenders, they will rip down the doors and I will fight to my dying breath – they will not touch you so long as I live.” His words, fierce and emphatic, tore from his chest. “But they will kill me, and then they’ll kill you, and I cannot let that happen. I will not! So I must go, and I must leave you alone. You will be safe here for awhile, and I’ll come back – I promise.”

He parted from me as Moses’ mother must have done when she put him in the Nile, and leaping over the turret walls, disappeared into the night.

“My Wolf Friend – Part 1” by Elizabeth Russell

“There are wolves in my backyard,” I told my uncle this morning. “Some of them are my enemies.” He seemed to find my statement humorous, so I said nothing more about it. After all, some people just don’t understand.

When I finished the Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich he gave me, I headed out to the little dip in the property behind the house. It was my uncle’s property, but he didn’t seem to know much about it. He didn’t know about the rabbit warren beneath the root of the third biggest tree, he didn’t know about the abandoned fox hole in the hill, and he didn’t know about the fallen tree limb that was big enough to build a fort behind.

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It was while I was building the fort that I met Andrew my wolf friend. He is gray and silver with a streak of brown on his back and he liked my fort.wolf-2096652_1920 “I will help you build it,” he told me. “We must make it strong enough to keep out your enemies.” When we finished the fort, it was bigger than a castle and surrounded by a twelve foot moat. I tried to show uncle, but he was busy working, and he couldn’t see the tall spires around the warehouse that jutted into the peninsula of his property. “I’ll see it later.” He handed me his oily rag that he rubbed all over the tractor spokes. “Put this in the shed and then get ready for bed.”

I think the night is a little scary and a little exciting. Mom says it’s the same world only more magical, but dad says it’s God’s way of reminding us everything must end. When uncle came to put me to bed, I asked him what he thought the night was, and he said it was when the earth turned around so the sun was on the other side. I don’t think he understood my question. Uncle sat on the bed with me and read from The Blue Fairy Book, but he doesn’t do it like mom. He doesn’t give them voices. He listened to me say my prayers, and when I asked what he wanted to pray for he said, “Nothing. Just say your prayers.”

“Do you want the nightlight on tonight?” he asked from the doorway.

I said no.

“Do you want the door open?”

“No.”

He closed it so that I was completely enfolded in the cold darkness. I lay staring at the varied shadows on my ceiling and thought about mom. Finally, I dropped my stockinged feet onto the carpet and padding across the room, stretched up on my tiptoes and flicked the nightlight switch. It was an orange light with a revolving shade casting shadows of animals onto the walls. One of them was a wolf.

I opened my door a crack and then went to my chair by the window. When you go to your window when it’s dark outside, at first all you see is darkness, but if you stare long enough, you start seeing things. Usually, I see the tree line behind my uncle’s property with the white lights of the city casting a haze above them. Sometimes the moon is out and makes it so I can see other things, but tonight it was dark and black, and even the city seemed asleep. The only thing I saw were two bright lights staring at me through my window. I stared back until they blinked at me to show they were eyes, and I jumped a bit. I opened the window, but they were gone.dog-647528_1920

Although I should have thought it was Andrew, I didn’t. I knew it was a different wolf, and my spine prickled. Maybe my enemies were coming for me.

My uncle’s slow, sad voice drifted from the kitchen and around the crack in my door. “…makes up something new every day. It’s still two months until school starts and he has no friends. I don’t have time for him. He plays all alone all day behind the back lot.”

The back lot. That was where I played. I tiptoed along the wall until I stood just outside the kitchen door, then brought my chin down to my knees and listened.

“I don’t know what’s good for him, Diane. I don’t know what to do with him. Sure, yes, he’s a good kid. He never does anything wrong. That’s not what I mean, that’s not the problem. He never,” he paused, like there was a half-hiccough in his throat. “He never talks about them. Instead, he talks about wolves and enemies and castles. No, don’t say that. Yeah, well, I don’t want to hear about it. If he is stunting his psychological development, then so be it. He’ll grow up demented and insecure, but what can I do about that? Don’t go there: we’re not talking about me, we’re talking about him.”

He kept talking but I wasn’t interested. He was talking to Diane about somebody, and getting upset about it. I liked Diane. She was uncle’s friend who came by every day, and sometimes she brought us food. She had long legs and long hair, and I always thought about the word tight when I saw her. She had tight riding jeans and boots, and a tight pony tail. I asked her to live with us yesterday, but she laughed at me. I didn’t mind; sometimes you don’t mind when adults laugh at you.

“Between you and me, David, I wouldn’t mind that. But your uncle’s a bachelor and used to it, and it’ll always be that way.”

Even though I wasn’t sure what she meant, I nodded. I was too busy that day searching for a place to build my fort to listen to adults explain things. It was that afternoon that I found the fallen tree limb behind the warehouse.

“David.” I looked up at my uncle standing tall above me. “David, why are you out of bed?”

His face was haggard and his large hands hung limp by his sides. I knew he was too tired to punish me. I stood up to save him the trouble. “I’ll go to bed now.”

His voice paused me half way down the hall. “Wait, did you hear what I was saying to Diane?”

“Uh-huh.”

“What do you think about it?”

“About the good kid?”

His mouth twitched beneath his short beard. “Yeah.”

“Is he your friend?”

His shoulders dropped even further. “No, he’s not my friend.”

“I think he needs a friend then or he’ll be lonely. I was lonely until I met Andrew.”

“Ok, go to bed David, and stay in this time. I’ll see you in the morning.”