Write On Edge: The Road Ahead

  Write on Edge this week provided a quote and a photo, and I decided to use both for my response to the prompt.  click the link above to go to the prompt page.  Submit your own story (500 words or less), or read some of the other responses.  The quote and image are below.  The picture, I have to say, gives me the willies.  There was a time that farmed lumber could be planted in neat and tidy rows.  It isn’t allowed any more in Canada (I think, anyways), but there are a few such old plantings you might walk through in provincial or national parks – it gives you the oddest sense of wrongness, as every tree in all directions abruptly lines itself up perfectly with every other step you take.  That’s what the prompt this week reminds me of.

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”~ L. P. Hartley: The Go-Between (1953)

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

“The past is a foreign country.”  Marta smiled smugly down at her sister from her perch on the wagon seat.

Natalka scowled and stomped her foot.  “That doesn’t even mean anything!  When you were my age, you got to go to market with Papa, it’s unfair!”

Gregor swung her up in a bear-hug.  “Oh, my little girl, the woods are much darker and more dangerous than they were back then.” he said, “You’ll stay here and keep your mama safe, eh?”  He set her down and swung easily into the driver’s seat and gathered up the reins.  “Remember the rule, my lovely?”

Natalka rolled her eyes and sullenly replied, “always stay behind the fence.”

“Good girl.”  He set the massive draft horses off with a flick and a shout.  As the wagon rumbled through the gate, Marta leaned out of the wagon and stuck her tongue out at her younger sister.

***

Natalka hummed to herself, winding her way through the woods and picking a bouquet of wild flowers.  Intent on finding just the right one to complete her bouquet, she hardly noticed the fence until she hit upon it.  She scowled through the wooden bars, at woodland that looked just like the woodland on her side, but more… something.  There were the same types of trees, the same ferns and shrubs and vines.  The same squirrels and mice rustled the underbrush, the same birds fluttered above, though none would cross the fence.  

And yet, in comparison, the world within the fence seemed drab and gray.  Natalka sighed and chucked a branch over the fence.  Even it seemed more… something… there.

Off in the distance, she heard her name.  Forgetting her anger at being left behind, Natalka squealed in delight at her father’s early return and turned towards the house.

His voice again, calling her name, but this time clearer, and more clearly coming from behind her.  Natalka peered through the slats at the greenery on the other side.  In the distance, she could just make out the road to town, and on it, an occasional glimpse of the cart.

“I’m coming, Papa!”Natalka laughed and slipped through the slats.  She ran through the underbrush, towards his booming laugh.  She was breathless and flush when she stumbled out into the roadway, empty but for a path of logs laid out in a perfectly delightful wave.  Perfect for a little girl to balance on while dreaming of daring adventures.  Her papa called again, and she hopped onto the logs and skipped off in search of him.

***

Marta cried and struggled as she was dragged back to the house.  “I can hear her!  She’s just over there!” she shrieked, clawing at the strong arms wrapped around her.

He set her down gently.  “You only hear what you wish to hear, my little one.  You mustn’t follow the voices, you’d break your mother’s heart.”  Fat tears trickled into his beard.  “Losing you both is more than I could bear.”

A Light in the Darkness

Write On Edge: Red-Writing-HoodWrite on Edge’s Red Writing Hood prompt this week was a combination of a picture and a song.

Candles and Iowa

Follow the link to see the picture, hear the song, read the submissions, or submit your own.

Having never been to Iowa, the song made me think of the prairies – rolling low hills and vast expanses of emptiness, and farms, of course, because isolated homesteads are the kind with candles flickering in the window, a light you can see for miles.

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**

She looked in at the flickering candle-light with a kind of longing.

Daddy figured she was probably attracted by the food-smells.  He took to carrying the old shotgun when he went out to the barn in the early morning hours.

Momma stood vigil at the kitchen window, watching her through the chintz curtains.  She had this look in her eye, predatory and ferocious.  Daddy treated Momma like she had to be protected, but I knew better.  Grizzly bears don’t need protecting.

She never came past the fence-line, like she knew she wasn’t welcome.  To me, she seemed worn down by the weight of the world, weary and too-thin.  In a distant way, I knew that a drought-filled dust-bowl summer and an early, bitterly cold winter were to blame.  With her sad golden eyes tugging on my heart-strings, I tied it all back to the things Momma and Daddy talked about late at night, whispered conversations about money, bad crops and our best milker running dry.  Me and Momma had done the canning in half the time this fall – and that wasn’t a good thing.  Times were hard, for us and for her.

An old stew-bone here, a carefully hoarded egg there, I did what I could.  She didn’t exactly fill out, but I could see a new spark in her eye.

Will to live, Daddy called it.

Orneriness, Momma said.  I didn’t tell her that that’s exactly what Daddy said Momma had sometimes.

I just smiled and made sure she got that last biscuit, and a bit of cold stew.  Something to keep the spark alive.

Desperate and starving, men came from the woods when Daddy was two days gone on a trip to town.  We didn’t have much, but it was more than they had.

Momma’s eyes glinted grizzly-bear fierce as she loaded the shotgun, smooth and confident as Anny Oakley.  I hid in the cupboard.  You didn’t back-talk Momma when she had that look in her eye.

She said desperation makes a devil of a foolish man, but her Daddy taught her to shoot.  Men never expect women to put up a fight, and that’s their mistake.

I guess they didn’t expect the wolf, neither.  Between the crack of buckshot and the hair-raising growls and evilly glowing eyes in the darkness, we ran them off.

Daddy came home, wagon rattling with the few things he’d been able to barter for, hopefully enough to get us through the winter.  He was pretty rattled to hear about the incident, snarling about yellow bellied curs, eyes glinting with rage.

I made a nest of blankets for her on the deck, but she wouldn’t stray close.

Daddy said she was a wild animal, and while she liked us, she liked her freedom more.

It was a hungry winter, but she never lost that spark, we made sure of it.  She left with the spring, off over the low hills.

Momma just rolled her eyes when she saw that she took a chicken.