Liz sat at the kitchen table. The tea pot was still full, the tea cold.
Open on the table was a brown paper package with an illegible postmark. Instead of bubble wrap, the wadding was sheep’s wool, the lanolin having left a greasy film on her fingers.
The packet had contained a single giant seed, rounded at one end, pointed at the other, curled like a speech mark. The seed was enamel hard, the surface patterned with oily rainbows as if it had lain for years, burrowed deep inside the mouth of a hungry oyster.
At first she’d cradled it in her left palm, coming to terms with its weight, the heat of its skin.
Then the seed shivered. Lay still. Shivered again… As if a tiny heart beat inside.
That was when Liz decided she didn’t want to hold it anymore.
Over the weeks of my recuperation, as my bruises faded and bones mostly healed, I considered alternatives – River, Brook, Flow… Shimmer had a certain ring. But Culvert. Culvert fits.
Three months ago, I stepped into the shallow waters as one thing – a good but conventional mind, a man who looked both ways at an intersection, had cut sugar from his diet, paid his taxes.
Hours later, I was dragged out… Changed. Now red lights are a challenge to my sharpened reactions. Dietary advice I leave for those who need it. And taxes… Well, let’s say, any tax collector only visits my office once.
My time in the water diverted my old self and something new was built over the top. The babbling brook that was me is still there, buried under new, hard layers.
The ground was autumn-crisp with leaves despite the heat. The oaks along the rivers’ edge black fingers, bare as winter.
‘Not right,’ muttered Clem, knocking the underbrush with his boot.
A fir cone tumbled through the dead leaves and came to rest against a fleshy crescent of Maid’s Bane fungus. Bluebell spikes shivered.
‘World’s turned on its head,’ said Clem.
The sheepdog, Tab, looked up at his master, uncertain.
Gramma Cora – all gums, mottled scalp and whiskers – had told tales when Clem was small. When winter takes summer’s hand, when spring lifts her skirts and dances autumn’sjig … He frowned how did that old rhyme end?
Tab came suddenly to heel, his flank quivering against Clem’s leg.
‘What is it, lad?’
A feather of snow fell on the back of his neck. Soon the ground was white, the air a haze.
‘The Final Winter shall fall,’ he whispered.
Written for Crimson’s Creative Challenge. It’s a pleasure to join in this week to help Crispina celebrate a year of CCC. Do visit here to join in – it’s huge fun.
Flames shine through the stained glass – red, blue – the colours falling on my cowering children, faces lit with fire and ice.
Our attackers have stopped beating at the door. The night is hushed, aside for the whimpering of the children. Jack’s eyes are wide, cheek crusted with blood. His sister wriggles in his arms, reaching for me. The men would have killed them – will still kill them.
The stink of burning grows sharp, smoke billowing soft under the door. A pyre for me. Those men – mule eyed, calf faced – how solid have they grown imagining flames licking my neck, devouring my hair? They will share grim smiles – the ones who brought the proud witch down.
I close my eyes against the blinding smoke. Red and blue vibrate inside me, pulling together, hard as ice, unforgiving as flame.
The jailer’s cap was pulled down, his oily beard gingered with dropped snuff. He signalled with pinched fingers. ‘Fourth one along.’
The stench was unbearable, the path slurried with leaves, the emptying of slop buckets. I lifted my skirts to keep the hem free of filth. I stopped, called my love’s name.
A hand appeared between the bars, the wrist too slender to be his, the nails once trim now long, torn, black. A moan drifted on the wind, a sound that was almost my name.
I’d imagined him slender, grubby, downcast but still with shining eyes, still himself. The creature that clawed and thrashed at the stone was not him, not the him I wanted to remember. My basket fell to the ground, bread tumbling, bottle thudding to the muck.
It’s quiet now, that clock, that bell that chimed the hours of our young lives away, that ticked the minutes off and struck the hours dead.
Ivy blinkers the windows, clogs the door that swallowed us each morning, that spewed us out just as the best of the day was done.
Here we learned of times tables and the alphabet, of continents and rivers, of brash kings and silent queens. Here too we learned of friendship, of power, of kind words and harsh words, the meaning of betrayal.
The world moves on and the pupils are grown, gone to practice what they learned within school’s rough walls.