Lonely Pilgrim, Long Road

Winter. Frozen earth crunches beneath my boots. My breath lingers in front of my face. And the wind is bitter cold.

Bare branches reach heavenward in prayer to the blanket of clouds that promises a blessing of snow. The faintest strip of grass demarks the roadway from the woods, yet the road leads me on.

Better days I’ve left behind me. My pack is heavy on my shoulders; my soles are worn to nothing. Perhaps better days will come in the miles ahead.

Wherever I stop, people ask me where I’m going. The road is here; I’m going to follow it.

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-49. Image: Young hiker @ Gibson Ranch Regional Park. CC2.0 photo by Ray Bouknight.

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Starfall

From the day of her debutante ball, there was war in the hillsides of Darlington county. The battlefield was upper crust bachelordom; the prize, Estella.

Even when we were children, I knew she was special. With her Gram’s name, her mama’s land, and her daddy’s fortune, the man to claim her heart would rule the country club set.

All the belles were dressed in the colors of the season. Gold, scarlet, persimmon; they danced and swirled like the leaves in the wind beneath the spreading oak trees, before the white columns and black shutters of Starmont plantation.

Estella smiled politely at my lone rival, then winked in my direction. The battleground had been washed clean by the tears of the also-rans. With that alluring bat of her eyelashes, I was certain of my victory.

I never noticed her dark horse suitor, the waiter with the hors d’oeuvres tray, standing next to me.

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-48, where the prompt was Gone with the Wind, including a man v. man conflict, and a plantation owner’s daughter. Image: Oak Alley Plantation. CC2.0 photo by Corey Balazowich.

Until the End of Time

Ever since toddlerhood, when Maria opened every tuna tin, and Purrsia anointed Maria her true master, the two had shared a special bond. Maria knew the spot behind the ears where her fluffy feline loved to be scratched, and Purrsia knew Maria’s every mood.

From dim childhood memories into the bright shining future, time marched relentlessly. Tock forever follows tick, and tick tock. Little girls become young women, take fancy to young men, and promise forever. Little kittens become fat old cats, and shed fur on fancy dresses. It was the way of the world: predictable as the sunrise, everlasting as words carved in stone, unavoidable as bullets from a gun.

Maria held the hymnal open, but her blue eyes rolled off the blurred lyrics. The words failed to focus, like writing in a dream. So she mouthed along silently to the somber organ music, swaying like a metronome to the steady measure of the choir.

Alone in a crowded church, when she meant to be front and center and wearing white. Instead, her dress and veil were black like the preacher’s vestments. The sound of gunshots haunted her waking dreams. Purrsia had cuddled in her lap all morning, kneading, rubbing her whiskers sympathetically against her longtime master. White furs intertwined with black fabric such that tears could not wash them away.

The sun set beneath the stone-strewn hillside, and her heart sank into the ground. Maria had always believed there would be new sunrises, but in this marble garden she had seen her future end.

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-46, where the novel prompt of the week was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This story includes an odd cat (all cats are odd) and a theme of death. The rather neat image prompt is “Alice in Wonderland: White Rabbit – Who Killed Time?” CC2.0 photo by Brandon Warren.

Two Old Top Dogs of War

Swords drawn, armor polished, we face off across the manicured lawn. Two sovereigns who each would rule the world. Today that quest will end for one of us.

From a ragtag band of savages, I built an empire. Armed with a machete, i hewed paths through dense jungles. I turned game trails through mythic woodland into cobblestone roads. Always on the move, searching, conquering.

Move. Countermove. At every turn I find her waiting. My equal and opposite: if I am king, then she is my queen, and I her most reviled foe.

The castle walls stand stout against the onslaught of her armies. With chisel and hammer I cut these stones, then mortared into place. These walls have served me well. Every day I sat upon a gilded throne, plotting to outflank her. Each night I payed tribute in her temple, then prayed that her ambitions would not spell my doom.

In her eyes, I see something familiar. Fatigue. Despair. Like all great sins, our lust for power imprisons us. Today, thrust willy-nilly into battle, the quest will end for one of us. Swords drawn, we face off across the lawn. Two sovereigns who rule the world, but not ourselves.

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-43. The novel prompt was Shakespeare’s classic play Macbeth, with a theme of the dangers of power and a setting of a castle. Photo is Inverness Constabulary Dog Handlers, 1969. CC2.0 photo by Dave Conner.

Forever After

“Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess who met a handsome prince.”

For Suzie, visiting Gramma’s house is a special treat. Gramma never travels: Daddy says she’s been shut-in since the Reagan administration. But she and Suzie always have a smile for each other.

“One moonlit night, as spring lingered in the air, the princess climbed out her window. Down, down, down the tower she climbed to meet her prince.”

Starry-eyed Suzie listens to Gramma’s fairy tale.

“There, in back of an enchanted bulldozer, the prince and princess expressed their love for one another. But the prince’s foot slipped, releasing the parking brake. Downhill rolled the bulldozer… crash! …into the castle.”

Now Suzie’s eyes are wide.

“The king was livid! Veins bulged in the king’s throat as he shouted at the young princess, pronouncing his royal punishment…”

“And that, dear Suzie, is why to this day, Gramma is not allowed out of her room.”

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-42, where the novel prompt (appropriately enough) was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, written by the late Dentarthurdent Douglas Adams. Prompt topics include a theme of foolishness, and a setting of a house about to be destroyed. (Or having been about to will be destroyed, if I’m using my time travel tenses correctly.) Photo is CC2.0 by Maureen Didde.

Snow White and Red All Over

Once upon a time, I had it all. My parents were royalty: their kingdom was great, and I was their world. Then an evil witch cursed them, and they died. That alone was insufficient for her, so she cursed me, too. I felt my life spiraling into tragedy, until my Prince Charming found me.

He still calls me “Snow White”. When he found me, he says, he had never seen skin so white, nor lips so red as mine. Not to mention my long, flowing mane of dark hair.

This, our wedding day, is our one-month anniversary. It was a fairy tale wedding. That evil witch stared down from the tower dungeon, powerless. The King and Queen were so happy to see their Prince Charming settle down. His frequent hunting expeditions into the forest delighted the nobles, but terrified his parents.

Now I wait for new husband in our royal bedchamber. As I brush my hair, the mirror catches the reflection of two wolf-pelts hung on the wall. The brilliant light of the full moon shines through the castle window. I hear Prince Charming entering the room.

Part of me knows it wasn’t his fault. He never knew those two wolves were my parents. Another part of me, a snarling canine force within, cries out for vengeance. My prince embraces me. I wrap my arms around him and know what is to come.

My fangs elongate. My fur grows out. I let loose a primal howl at the man who killed my parents while they were under the witch’s curse. Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?

A second story for Flash! Friday vol. 3-40, where the prompt was Grimms’ Fairy Tales. This one was rushed in before the deadline and a little disorganized. (Also, I think I mixed up Snow White and Sleeping Beauty — inexcusable for someone with two young daughters!)

Image is still Three Sisters (Die drei Schwester). Public domain in the U.S.; artwork by Alexander Zick (1845-1907).

The Night Princess

When Minuella was a child, her summer days were spent laboring in the fields and tending livestock. At night she lay upon her straw mattress, with her cat Sareel curled up next to her, as Grandfather told tales of faraway lands and great kingdoms. Grandfather’s stories were the only wealth left to the family: they were Minuella’s inheritance.

One night, as Grandfather slept, Minuella grabbed Sareel and fled the ramshackle cottage. “I’m no peasant,” she proclaimed to the blue-eyed Siamese. “I want to see those great kingdoms. I want to be somebody.” She followed a star northward through the sweltering night, into woodlands that the older villagers said were enchanted.

In a forest clearing, Minuella stood in awe as moonlight trickled through the mighty canopy of leaves, freezing into solid form. Snow whirled through the summer air as the moonlight solidified into a Castle of Ice. Stars clattered to the ground to form a glistening tiara at her feet. Sareel leapt from her arms and transformed into a stately lynx.

A troupe of snow-men emerged from the Castle of Ice and bowed. “Your majesty! Take the starry crown, and claim your title as Princess.” Minuella did so. “Come, Sareel,” she said. “Our kingdom awaits.”

For a thousand nights, Minuella and the handsome lynx ruled from the Castle of Ice. “Oh, Sareel,” she confided to her feline companion one night. “My fairy tale dreams have come true. Why am I not happy?” She removed the starry crown and let it clatter to the frozen ground. Sareel licked her face gently and gave a rumbling purr.

With the first touch of sunlight, the Castle of Ice melted into the dewy ground. Minuella rushed home with Sareel the Siamese in her arms. “Come on! We’re late for breakfast!”

A fairy tale written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-40, where the prompt was Grimms’ Fairy Tales. My chosen prompt was a theme of transformation and a setting of an enchanted forest. Image: Three Sisters (Die drei Schwester). Public domain in the U.S.; artwork by Alexander Zick (1845-1907).

Cassandra Said There’d Be Days Like This

“You never take me anywhere!”

I shudder at the voice that could sink a thousand ships. “Because, dear Helen,” I mutter through gritted teeth, “the city is encircled by my enemies.”

“Excuses, excuses.” Helen primps her silky hair and checks her reflection in a palace mirror. Her handmaid fans her with a palm frond. “My first husband took me places. And our anniversary is coming up.”

I nod grimly. “Ten long years.”

“Ten months, jerk.” She scowls. “When we eloped, you promised you’d show me Paris.”

“Yeah, that was a lame pun.”

My fastest messenger arrives. “I relayed your message to the Spartan king. He said she’s your problem now.”

“Nuts!” I politely decline when the handmaid brings me walnuts. Inside the palace, the most beautiful woman in the world demands my time. Outside, the collected armies of the Greeks demand my head.

“I think I’ll take a little walk.”

This straightforward inversion of The Iliad was written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-39. (Oddly enough, the prompt was The Iliad. Image is a public domain image off Pixabay.

Canterbury Cock-a-Doodle-Doo

In April on that lonesome muddy road, two pilgrims from the farmyard met at dusk. Feather with her plumage prim and bright, and dusty Henny scratching near the side.

“What brings you from the coop?” asked Henny.

“It’s Red,” clucked Feather. “I’m leaving him.”

“Oh, honey,” Henny said. “We’ve all seen how he struts in front of the other chicks. I’m glad you dumped the loser rooster.”

“He thinks he’s cock of the walk,” Feather complained. “In truth he’s barely a bantam. I’m going to town. To the shrine, where chickens like us are worshipped. The building with the chicken on its sign.”

“Indeed, I’ll go with you,” offered Henny. “Since my poor Leghorn is gone, I’m down to scratching in the streets.”

“What happened? Was he antidisestablishmentarian?”

“No, Feather: worse than that. It seems His Majesty decided to throw a grand banquet. The farmer took poor, sainted Leghorn.” Henny hung her head. “By now he’s royally plucked.”

“Why so glum, hens?” came a kind voice. From out of the woods, a sly red fox approached.

“Ba-gawk! What say you, fox? Leave us poor hens alone!”

And so the trio rushed clucking towards town, seeking that fabled shrine of chicken-kind: the building with the chicken on its sign.

This pointless little goof tale was written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-37, where the prompt was inspired by The Canterbury Tales.