What Pegman Saw: The grieving widow

The room was unassuming, the furnishings plain but clean, old but well kept, very much like the landlady, Mrs Hollis.

‘A month’s rent in advance,’ she said. ‘No lady visitors in the rooms, please. We’ve had unpleasant moments. In the past.’

My gaze lingered over the sloped ceiling, the low window that looked over a square of clipped lawn, gaudy sentries of begonias and geraniums.

I paused, feeling her watching me, enjoying her confidence shift into uncertainty.

‘Is everything to your satisfaction?’

‘Everything, Mrs Hollis? No, not everything. But the room? Yes.’

A little sigh escaped her and I felt glad I’d made her wait for my approval.

‘May I ask, is there a Mr Hollis?’

‘He passed.’ She shook her bowed head. Not a bad imitation of a grieving widow, though I’ve seen better.

I turned my attention to the shadow behind the door.

Mr Hollis, I presume.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its inspiration. This week we visit Delaware.

I tried to be inspired by the location itself, read about Maryland and Delaware and this house – Great Oak Manor – that has been host to John F. Kennedy and Ernest Hemmingway in its time.

I’m afraid, though, my mind is too tied up with ghosts to shake them off and Mr Hollis jumped out at me at the last moment.

What Pegman Saw: Her past beyond the curtain

Image: Google Street View

Mila peered through the mesh of net curtains, frustrated by the hazy view. If she pushed them aside she might see better, but then she risked being seen and the very thought made her forehead damp with anxiety.

‘Jaap?’ she called behind her.

A pan clattered in the kitchen out back. Jaap’s way of telling her he was too busy to come running.

‘Jaap, that child’s in the street again,’ she called.

A boy of around seven or eight years of age. Dusty red and blue striped tee shirt, skinny legs poking from wide shorts, the knees sticking out like knots in lengths of string. He’d come every day for a week, stood in the middle of the dirt road for an hour before leaving.

A cupboard door slammed. ‘What do you want me to do about it?’

‘Tell me it’s not him,’ she muttered.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting off point. See here to join in and to read the other stories.

Friday Fictioneers: His fortune in a globe

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

Joseph made it a habit to check the flower bulb hidden in the inner pocket of his coat each day, even when the sea was craggy with waves, or the crew limp as windless sails in the overheated air. And every day of the eight weeks it took to reach Portsmouth, the globe remained hard as a pebble, the papery skin sweet smelling.

As his hammock swung in the humid crack of darkness below deck, he imagined the fortune he could charge the plant collectors at Kew, the dresses he would buy Mary, the house he could leave his son.

***

Written for Rochelle Wisoff-Field’s Friday Fictioneers. See here to join in.

I saw Josh’s lovely image and thought of all the plant collectors through history who often risked their lives on long sea voyages to find unusual and unclassified plant specimens and take them home.

Sometimes these adventurers would return to fame and fortune, like Joseph Banks or the tulip bulb collectors in 17th century Netherlands.

I wonder if my Joseph will experience success or failure.

NB – Kew is Kew Gardens in London, one of the most prestigious botanic gardens in the world since it was founded in 1759.

Weekend Writing Prompt #139 – Devour

Piotr didn’t notice the hunger at first.

Since he’d become wealthy his opinion was required on any number of subjects such as who should pay for the upkeep of the jail. He’d assumed the authorities would, but the council and guilds decided the populace should meet the bill, as it was they who languished within the prison walls most frequently. The wages of the constables, the maintenance of the stocks and the gibbet were added to the charge through the same logic.

As Piotr listened to the learned men of the town debate, he wondered why the contents of a man’s purse should determine how closely he was listened to. He didn’t recall being asked his opinion before he was wealthy, back when he was the one sitting in the stocks, the one pelted with wormy cabbage hearts and green potatoes.

He almost suggested the populace pay for a cushion for the stocks – he remembered the seat being very hard – but it probably wasn’t the sort of thing a powerful man should concern himself with.

The banquet after the meeting was the first time he noticed.

He’d grown used to the rich food, the range of wines and ports and Madeiras. He was admired by his fellow worthies for his slim frame, the bones still visible at his wrists and collarbone, where their’s were masked in fat. He smiled, flushed, assured them he would soon put on weight.

But as he picked at the feast, he realised something – since having money he had never felt full. When he was poor and ate a large meal (a rare occurrence) his stomach would swell and harden as if he were a sheep suffering from Bloat. Now he could eat and eat – gorge, even – and was never full.

Always the rat of hunger gnawed at his belly, scratched at the back of his mind.

He tried every food on offer – thick cut meats heavy with Burgundy sauce, glazed fig puddings pocked with chestnuts… Even the pea pottage that had once been his only sustenance left him hollowed and bony.

Hunger filled Piotr’s every waking hour, his every thought, his every dream. He took to chewing pine twigs between meals to busy his jaw, to stop him gnawing at his own fingers. His nights became restless, his days sluggish. He took to walking the country after dark, snaring and eating wild animals, searching for something that would fill him.

One evening he walked abroad. A Hunter’s Moon swelled behind thin cloud, the land clean and grey beneath it.

He paused to drink at a brook and that was when he saw it – a hump he’d at first mistaken for a rise in the earth but as he drew closer resolved into a man. The body lay on its front, hands beneath it, head slumped forward into the water. Ripples formed and broke about the right cheek and jawline, water tumbling into the ear, rushing back down on itself.

Piotr’s first instinct was to haul the stricken man to dry land, to have him washed and laid out for burial.

He bent to grip the man’s wrist. The flesh was surprisingly soft and cool, the muscle tender, relaxed in death as it might never have been in life. A calm knowledge washed over Piotr…

The next night he slept well and the night after that. His restlessness would gradually increase but a night roaming the country setting his traps, devouring his prey, would sate him.

Piotr no longer remembers the discomfort of the stocks or the taste of pea pottage.

***

Written for Sammi Cox’s Weekend Writing Prompt #139 – Devour. Come and join in here.

Don’t ask me where the idea for this came from, only that the word Devour suggests not merely hunger but desperate hunger and from there I imagined a man who might never be satisfied.

What do you think Piotr has become? Merely a capitalist exploiting the poor? A psychopath or something much darker?

What Pegman Saw: As the tanks rolled in again

Aliena stared through the window to the street below.

‘Yes, yes, I know,’ she said, absentmindedly stroking her cat, Mika. ‘We should have left months ago.’

Pulling at the balding, leathery ears, she smiled. She’d so loved Mika that when he’d died her husband, Dimi, had the creature stuffed. How long ago? Too long to remember.

A tank rumbled past, shaking the glass. Wehrmacht. Once it had been Soviets, later the Poles. She and Dimi had watched it all from this same tiny window.

Before that, when they were a young married couple, it was the Cupid bronze in the communal garden that had drawn them to the place. ‘Keeping guard,’ Dimi had said. ‘A good omen.’ He’d smiled, kissed her.

‘Where are your omens now, old man?’ she said.

But she spoke only to the air and to a stuffed cat.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we visit Minsk, Belarus. See here to join in.

Minsk has been at the centre of various conflicts for centuries, overrun by various nations. I saw the Cupid statue, that little window overlooking it and wondered what they’d both seen over the years.

See here to read more about the history of Minsk.

Crimson's Creative Challenge #61: Burrowed deep inside

#CCC61

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.

***

Written for Crimson’s Creative Challenge #61. See the pic and join in here.

And if you’re wondering how I came to write a story about a giant, pulsating seed… Well, the image looks like a giant hothouse to me.

What Pegman Saw: The Desert Kin

Image: Google Street View

The shack had been the post office of a mining town, now deserted. Sunbleached boards across the windows, tiles missing from the roof like a reptile shedding scales.

‘This it?’ Roddy’s usual cocky smile had slipped as we’d driven further into the desert. Now he was a fifteen-year-old boy again, arms tight folded, fear skulking behind his eyes.

‘It’s okay, kid,’ I said, smiling. ‘Soon have a fire going. Go fetch the bedrolls from the pickup, would you?’

I scanned the plain, the distant ridge of smoke grey hills. At least we’d see someone coming. Any vehicle would kick up a dust trail and as long as we were vigilant –

Something cold brushed the back of my hand. Instinct made me look, but there was nothing. Of course not. You don’t see the Desert Kin. Not unless they want you to.

‘Roddy, I’ll take first watch,’ I called.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Street View as its starting point. This week we visit Cloverdale, New Mexico. See here to join in.