What Pegman Saw : A bitter offering

Today Pegman takes us the the lovely island of Mauritius


 

‘What about this one?’

Atia surveyed the stone in her brother’s hand. She shook her head. ‘It must have a flat edge and a sharp point opposite.’ She looked up to the mountain. ‘You see? Like that.’

Felix looked, but the peak was wreathed in smoke, a lazy coronet often there on still days. He thought of his friend Cato who’d caught a beetle the day before, big as his palm, black as a thunder cloud with branched horns on its head like a stag.

‘I want to see the beetle, Atia.’ The sun was making him hot and whiney.

‘We must leave a stone for Venus -‘

The ground shifted under him, throwing him down. His knees hurt like bee stings. ‘Atia?’

She grabbed his hand, dragged him to his feet. ‘Run! Run to tata!’

The air stung, tasted bitter, dust filled his eyes, his mouth.

‘Lares help us!’

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, a prompt based on Google Streetview.

Of course, having a history degree that touched on the Classics, once I saw the smoky mountain top all I could think of was Vesuvius and what might have happened, had a brother and sister been out making offerings to the Gods on that day in AD 79.

Notes

Lares were household gods, small and personal ones, possibly guardian ancestors.

Venus was patroness of Pompeii, hence the children leaving a token for her.

It seems Roman children called their fathers tata as often as they did papa.

One last thing …

It’s thought Pompeii was engulfed by pyroclastic flow, a volcanic eruption where rock behaves more like water. To see what the Pompeiians might have seen before the end, see here.

 

And for the dormant Goth inside me still …

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What Pegman Saw : The value of nonsense

Gran had two china swans on the rail of her porch, heads dipped as if staring at the  bleached grass in front of her house.

There was a bench on the porch with a patchwork cushion, the fabric soft as felt from years of washing. I would sit on that cushion and squint until the swans softened and shimmered, until they seemed to drift on the hill opposite, swimming amid the treetops.

I once told Gran about the swans, how they swam in the sky, how the leaves parted before them, swirled in eddies behind.

The peas she was shelling plopped glossy green into an enamel bowl. ‘If nonsense was worth money, you’d be the richest of us all,’ she said, shaking her head.

She willed me that old wooden house and I left it to hollow out and flake to splinters.

I kept the swans.

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Streetview as its starting point. See here to join in and to read the other stories. This week Pegman returns to the Western Hemisphere to take us on a tour of Littleton, West Virginia.

What Pegman Saw : Becoming

This week, Pegman takes us to the Sambor Prei Kuk Temple in Cambodia.


 

Thursday 4th April 1901

The sun is setting. Naive European as I was – not now, after everything that’s happened – I imagined the evenings would bring some relief, some respite in which energies could be restored. Now, when I lie under my roof of sagging canvas – mosquito nets hung around me like a cocoon – I feel the nights are as hot as the days, hotter even. No respite. Never that here.

It is at night that the forest yearns to overtake the temple, snaking back over the leafy ground and that circle of bare earth cleared by Chanda and the other men. I imagine her – the Forest – sending out her lieutenants – gibbons, snakes, that velvet pawed assassin the tiger – to reclaim what I have stolen.

The men are gone. Have I written that before? I am losing track.

It occurs to me – if the nets are my cocoon, what am I becoming?

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, a lovely prompt using Google Streetview as its source. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

 

What Pegman Saw : The flooded orange grove

The space is cramped, the air hot enough to snatch the sweat before it pearls on his skin.

Below breakers crash, hiss to silence before building again, a sound that fills his dreams with frilled waves and sharpened rocks. He used to dream of home, of orange groves and trees speckled with flowers, a thousand stars in a sky of polished emerald leaves. But each crash of the sea has stripped an inch of his past until there is nothing but the fort, the rocks, the waves.

He will die here.

It’s a certainty that he doesn’t know so much as feel, a knowledge hammered into his bones, a thread spun through every tendon and muscle.

Night begins to fall, the cold beam of the lighthouse a lance subduing the sun until it retreats below the sea.

The waves crash louder in the darkness.

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, a writing prompt using Google Streetview. See the pic and wander. Go here to join in and to see the other stories.

I saw the fort, saw the little turrets on the side called garita or bartizan and wondered what it might have felt like to be a soldier in there, looking out on a foreign sea.

 

 

What Pegman Saw : A curtain pulling shut


 

When I was four years old, my father left the family home to be a lumberjack.

He’d grown up in the brick canyons of Manchester, under the long shadows of the cotton mills, every breath he took speckled with coal dust. He started work aged seven as a scavenger, plucking cotton threads from under the looms. Thunder with jaws, he called those machines.

It was foggy the morning he left, the smoke twining with the fog so the two hung solid along the twisted alleyways. I watched from my bedroom window as he slipped away, smog closing behind him like a curtain pulling shut.

Years later a postcard came. On the front a painting – mountains with snowy, pointed hats, thick-fringed with trees too many to count. On the reverse a message.

The air is clear and smells of pine

I did not recognise the hand.

 


Written for What Pegman Saw. Go stroll through Google Streetview with them and find a view that inspires. See here to join in and to read the other tales.

What Pegman Saw : Bloody Meadow


 

The snow was falling harder, building on the frozen ground, settling on shoulders.

‘There was a vision,’ said Tom.

Davy hunched lower. Flakes fell on the back of his neck, a cold serpent of meltwater trickling down his back.

‘An angel,’ said Tom, ‘a bright torch of hope in her hand. A sign of our victory.’

Davy adjusted his cap but the flakes kept falling. ‘Do you have a crust? My gut’s afire.’

‘Did you not hear me?’

Shaking his head, a drift of snow dropped from Davy’s cap into his lap. ‘God’s bones, I shall freeze before an arrow’s shot. Tell me, could the lady not be for our enemies encamped over the brow of the hill?’

‘Well-‘

‘Could it not be the Lord of Flies promising a swift death and a short drop below?’

Tom stared at his hands.

‘Believe in iron and your wits. And pray the Lord take you.’

 


 

Written for What Pegman Saw, the prompt that uses Google Streetview as its starting point.

I saw the sculptures of the soldiers led to war by some seemingly supernatural bugler and recalled similar medieval instances – visions and portents of victory or supernatural protection. Strange that despite this supposed protection, hundreds of men would still die …

And the snow? Well, the medieval battle that always sticks in my head is the Battle of Towton, fought during the Wars of the Roses. Supposedly the bloodiest battle ever fought on English soil, it was fought in a blizzard on Palm Sunday 1461. The site of the battle was afterwards dubbed Bloody Meadow.

 

 

What pegman saw : When the old devil calls

This week Pegman takes us to Wroclaw, Poland


 

I huddle under the sign of the Blind Beggar, the first flakes of snow snatching at my coat as darkness reclaims Alms Street. A pair of bangtails scurry from the rookery, shawls pulled tight to keep out the chill, their conversation shrill with drink.

I don’t see the child until a tiny hand slips into mine. A boy – I think – no more than four, eyes too-wide in a narrow face, like a creature adapted to the night.

‘Says he’s ready.’ The voice is faint, a hiss through narrow pipes. The child vanishes into a low alley, bare feet silent on the cobbles.

The only sound is the shush of falling snow as I follow Old Noah’s messenger into the slum. When the devil calls you come, but fear has me like a hook, trying to pull me away to anywhere but this place, this night.

 


Written for What Pegman Saw, a writing prompt using Google Streetview. See here to join in and to read the other stories. I saw the statue above the doorway with her blank face and clapsed hands and the rest came from there.

Bangtail – Victorian slang term for a prostitute

Rookery – Victorian slum reknowned for crime and prostitution, the most notorious of which was the Old Nichol.