Prisoner

To Amelia, the passing of time was important.

She stood proud as you please in the center of us, pointed her finger toward a blue sky we could only imagine, and declared: The eyes of posterity never blink. It knows who turns the keys in these locks and it will remember who shoveled dirt onto the bodies of our men.

The bit of illumination she followed was long and thin, taunting us through an arrow loop in the donjon wall the way guards sniggered through the iron bars. Long after the rest of us let go, she held on, tightly squeezing blood from welts and knife wounds to make one demarcation for dawn and another for dusk.

Dawn was easiest, not only for her but for all of us. The light would suddenly be there. Brilliant, even though without warmth. Tantalizing, even though unreachable.

Nightfall was harder, was always harder. Crying grew louder. Shrieking echoed off stone. Screams couldn’t be unheard no matter what we used to seal our ears. Amelia sprinkled a few drops where she thought the sun vanished. Coming back each day to scatter more, over and over. Loss of her drawing medium was never issue. What scabs dried and fell off one day would quickly be replaced, until finally she shouted triumphantly: Here. Right here. This is where day ends.

The next morning, they took her away. We sat quietly, watching the track of sunlight creep over the dirty, bare floor. They never brought her back.

I ask you: Does it matter where the shame lies, once the righteous are lost?

WATER WITCH

She rolled them in and out around her fingers, rubbed them between her palms. Small like stones, but not stones.
 
Nearby the octopus pressed between the wire wall and the cage floor, oozed onto the first shelf then the second then the third. She set the shark teeth on the counter and lifted the creature.
 
“Sweet, little thing,” she murmured, cradling it the way most would hold a baby. “Dear, sweet, little thing.”
 
Once the mollusk calmed, she used one hand to remove the hot cauldron lid then tossed the octopus into the boiling broth. Not everyone could hear its death scream, but she knew the sound was there, echoing over the rocks to the water, enchanting the sea. Next in were the shark teeth, then tiny flakes of barnacled hulls, followed by scrapings of mortar and bricks she’d collected the night before. Finally, she selected a tin canister from the array displayed on the counter, tipped it sideways and rattled dozens of bones from the toes of sailors into the mix. She gave the brew a thorough, final stir, raised her hands into the steam and repeated the ancient incantation in a language that was already old in her great-grandmother’s time.
 
She didn’t turn to the window to watch the results of the spell. She was confident that behind her the lighthouse slowly disappeared: First the base, then tamper, the stairs and living quarters, and last of all, the warning lantern, all of them gone.
 
At least, gone for the ship careening toward shoreline. The fishing vessels, dinghies and row boats could all see the beacon just fine. Only the man of war was blind. Only the man of war would rip apart on the rocks.
 
Before the fog lifted and the lighthouse returned, she hurried along the water’s edge with a sharp knife and sturdy basket.
 
The villagers would come, determined to save anyone who could be pulled from the wreckage. As they rounded the base of the cliff and came into view of the beach, she would call to them, “Hurry, this one’s alive.”
 
They’d run faster. They’d cry out, “Thank you. Thank you for helping them.”
 
They’d never think to question the missing toes.

Holy Prince

It’s an honor. I can’t believe how lucky I was. They choose 32 others before they even thought of me. Not even 32 – they picked the 33 Sacrifices but somebody refused; I wasn’t told who, but technically that makes me 34. I can’t imagine why anyone would refuse, but they did, and now here I am; talk about being blessed. The old ritual hanged the Chosen by wrists and ankles, but lower is easier for the Sacrifices. Our legs are strong, especially the back two, but they aren’t very long. Between that and dipping our heads to aim, we often missed and ended up gouging off a leg, sometimes both legs, and the Chosen bled-out during the ceremony.  After that happened enough times, they started sitting them directly on the ground. Most of them scream. Some cry. A few fight and run. Not the prince. He crossed his legs and steeled his back as if having 33 horns ran through him was the most natural thing in the world. His face was like stone except once when 17’s horn caught on something inside and wouldn’t go through. The prince’s face paled; blood pulsed from the wound in long spurts as 17 pulled the tusk back out. Warriors grabbed the prince’s arms and held him immobile while 17 impaled him a second time. What an incompetent buffoon — 17 didn’t even make it to the sacred circle before dying. That won’t happened to me. I’m not embarrassing myself like that; uh-uh; no-way. My parents are here somewhere; they promised they would be, but my vision is too blurry to pick out anybody in this crowd. It’s such a huge turnout. Wait, wait, I’m next. Okay. Deep breath. Deep breath. Here goes. For God, the Empire, and Eternity within the Holy Prince!

#FlashFiction
Based on the National Geographic photo that goes with this article: http://bit.ly/2yKnQ8A (Admittedly a flight of fancy)

Transport

 

The hook flew up, down, in and out. 

She watched the white-haired crafter as the bus shuttered and grumbled. Up. Down. Wrap the yarn. In. Out.  She wondered how the woman could focus.  Her own head throbbed. Hip-hop roared from some punk’s headphones.  Two sisters, well, they looked to be sisters, animated a loud conversation with gestures and laughter.  A small child chanted, “Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the water spout” in a shrill singsong. She could barely think and all she had to do with sit there. Yet here was this old woman working away; her hook blurring in a purposeful, methodical rhythm.  Up. Down. Wrap. In. Out.  The bus jolted to a stop as the driver avoided colliding with a light-colored Kia which had suddenly braked.  The driver blared on the horn.  She couldn’t see what difference it would make. Clearly the Kia’s operator was just as trapped as the bus.  Up ahead she spotted billowing smoke swallowing the horizon.  From somewhere behind the all the stopped vehicles, she could hear the whining of a siren and see pulsating lights. The fire department, she guessed, and wondered how they would traverse the traffic jam.

A young couple, possibly students, rose and navigated between commuters to reach the front of the bus. “Would you let us out here, please?” the young woman asked. The driver shook his head. “Not safe.” “All the cars are stopped. We’ll make better time walking,” the young man said more persuasively.  “Nope,” the driver responded.

            The couple shrugged and headed back to their seats.  She thought she heard the young man swearing but couldn’t be sure. His shoulder slammed into the guy with the headphones, knocking him nearly off his feet. “Sorry” he mumbled.

“What the fuck?” the punk said. As he regained his footing, he pushed the young man backwards causing him to fall into his girlfriend who tumbled across the two sisters.

“Hey,” the sisters cried out in unison. “Be careful.”

“What do you think you’re doing,” the young woman shouted.

“Your boyfriend needs to watch where he’s going,” the guy sneered.

The young man swung his right fist at the guy, missing him by only a couple inches. The guy with the headphones grabbed the man’s shirt and slammed him against the fire extinguisher.

She glanced toward the front of the bus.  The driver was watching everything in the rearview mirror.  The old woman continued crocheting: Up. Down. Wrap the yard. In. Out.

“Driver,” she called out. “Can’t you do something?”

Just as he unbuckled his seat belt and climbed out from behind the steering wheel, a loud crunch jolted the bus, sending all the standing passengers to the floor. An SUV hit the rear of the bus while trying to get out of the way of the fire truck.  The bus, in turn, crushed into the Kia causing the driver to pitch into the metal fire extinguisher case.

“Shit,” several people said at once.

“Fuck,” several other people said at once.

She righted herself, located her belongings and looked around. The punk with the headphones and the angry young man scrambled over passengers to reach the injured driver.  The sisters and the young woman helped people get up from the floor. 

The small child howled.

She stood and made her way to the priority seats where the old woman slouched with her chin against her chest.  The woman looked up at her when she spoke, touched the back of her hand to her bottom lip, and shook her head as if to clear her thoughts.

“I’ve phoned the police,” a voice said from the middle of the bus.

“We’ve got people back here hurt,” another said.

“The driver is unconscious,” the student said.

“Let’s get him onto the floor,” the punk suggested. Together the two stretched him out in the center aisle between the rows of seats. 

The old woman looked around as if she had dropped something, then spying her yarn on the floor, leaned forward to pick it up.

“Here, let me,” she said.  “You stay where you are.  I’ll get it.”

Her boyfriend retrieved it and passed it to her then she gave it to the woman.

A police officer pounded on the front doors of the bus, so the punk with the headphones located the mechanism and opened them for him.

 “Everyone sit tight,” the officer said. “We need everyone to stay on the bus and remain calm until we get things sorted.  EMT’s will be here shortly.”

“As soon as they can make it through all this traffic,” someone said and everyone laughed. Then, satisfied that the danger was past, they exhaled a collective sigh of relief. 

The old woman picked up her yarn, looped in around the fingers of her left hand to maintain the tension and began to crochet again.  Up. Down. Wrap the yarn. In. Out. Up. Down. Wrap the yarn. In. Out.

###

Rush Hour

Not many folks were in the park. Most massed on the sidewalk waiting for the light to cross onto Winter Street – that’s where I was headed myself. I clipped through Boston Common as quickly as I could without actually breaking into a run and getting my Hugh Boss sweaty. Light Gray. Skinny legs. Nice. Behind me was a chubby black girl, maybe 18 or 19; too much make-up and a hoodie. She carried an iced coffee and listened to music on her phone. Ahead of me tottered an old woman who had a battered backpack slung over one shoulder and a plain, metal cane in her right hand. She progressed so cautiously that I wondered why was she even out at eight in the morning, I mean, when the rest of us are trying to get to work. Surely, Granny could run her errands another time. After studying the area as if trying to get her bearings, she turned to swing around Brewer Fountain. I quickened my pace to pass her, and as I did, the cane skidded sideways on a patch of uneven bricks. She plummeted face-first but managed to bend her elbows so that her knees and forearms took the brunt of the fall. When her backpack slid free, a wrapped sandwich tumbled out. She glanced my way with a pleading look on her face. Clearly, she was struggling to get up and needed assistance. Noting that blood trickled from one of her skinned knees, I thought about my new suit. As I hesitated, the girl with the ear buds and lipstick called out, “Are you all right?” Thank God, I thought to myself then darted onto the Tremont Street sidewalk just as the light turned.