Summit – #Writephoto

#writephoto image: Sue Vincent

The cane wobbled. Its tip slipped, wedged between two stones, and stuck. Morten grumbled and shuffled up a step. His grandson was born with the brains of a turnip if he thought an old man could climb the steep path in a day. “A sacred site, pretty view, and perfect breeze,” the boy had explained. Morten would need to grow wings to reach the fort’s grassy summit before nightfall.

He thrust out his cane, planted it, and heaved himself up another step. The voices behind him grew louder, the crowd gaining on him. Resigned to his predicament, he twisted aside and backed up to the low wall flanking the path. His balance akilter, he landed his bony rump on the flat rock, lucky he didn’t tip backward and tumble down the hill. His cane clattered on the stone pavers.

The younger folk—his seventy-year-old daughter and her husband, his gaggle of grandchildren and stampede of great-grandies—hiked up the path. His daughter stooped to pick up the cane. “What is dad’s cane doing here?”

Her husband patted her shoulder. “Someone must have dropped it. We’ll bring it up.”

“Ahem!” Morten protested, but the troop resumed their march, paying him no mind and stranding him where he sat. He leaned forward, rocked, and pushed to his feet. With a grunt of effort, he straightened up, though “straight” was purely a matter of perspective.

He shambled farther up the path, knees creaking and fingers inching along the top of the wall. The breeze felt good, and the view was spectacular even though he hadn’t reached the top. After a short distance, the path smoothed and seemed less steep, and he abandoned the security of the wall. He took a few confident steps, and satisfied, added a bit of spring to his gait. He swung his arms and inhaled a deep breath. His pace increased, a renewed vigor thrumming through his heart.

He considered dancing a merry little a jig but dismissed the thought as overzealous. Instead, he picked a handful of summer flowers from the bank and waltzed like a groom on his wedding day. His wife appeared at the path’s peak and laughed, the clouds framing her like downy wings. He winked at her, smiling like a fool in love, surefooted, his life in bloom. The urge to run tickled at his toes, and he leapt into a strong lope, the muscles in his limbs stretching, his arms pumping, his vision clear and soul awake.

His wife opened her arms and received him. At the summit, his grandson smiled as a gust of wind gathered up the ashes from the lifted urn.

***

The image is from Sue Vincent’s Thursday #Writephoto prompt. Join in the fun.

Conflagration #Writephoto

Photo by Sue Vincent

Conflagration

Carnelian skies burnish the dying day just so

On the cusp of our years we awaken

Narrowed to a sliver of brilliant flame

Faithful to the fires sparked in a child’s dream

Longing for dismissed choices, second chances

A conflagration of wishes whirling, urgent

Grieve no more, my heart

Retrace your rubbled path and behold

A sacred branding of the soul

Trust that love mattered

In the final hours as

Our whispered farewells

Nudge us into ash

 

Thanks to Sue Vincent for the beautiful Thursday #Writephoto prompt. 

Descent #Writephoto

image by Sue Vincent

Thank you to Sue Vincent for the lovely #writephoto prompt. I couldn’t resist cheating on this one and only slightly modified a scene from The Sorcerer’s Garden. I hope you enjoy!

***

Dustin waited at the base of the sweeping stairs, the heaviness of his mail hauberk welcome beneath his light leather armor. He carried his recurve bow and quiver, his sword sheathed, knives tucked in his belt and boot.

The palace lay in darkness, candles snuffed and lamps doused. Only a shimmer of powdery moonlight glided through the stair-hall’s tall windows and polished the curved marble treads. He’d ordered the King’s Guard to double patrols on the walls, leaving the palace eerily vacant.

Soft shuffling feet accompanied whispered voices above. A black hood drawn over his white hair, Tristan drifted down the stairs, no more visible than the shadow of a cloud across a night sky. Behind him, the short, square form of the queen descended, her face hidden by her cowl, a pale hand gripping the banister. She turned briefly to gaze upward at the solitary king who peered over the rail above, a ghostly specter if not for the forlorn eyes glinting in the moonlight. She raised a hand, reached briefly with her fingers in a final farewell.

The princess trailed behind the queen, her cloak open, cowl thrown back. The onyx beads encircling the hem of her black dress swept the steps with a soft hiss. Stately, defiant, she refused to acknowledge her rescuers, and Dustin wondered if she believed the dreamer’s prophesy, if her starched back signified valor or fear. He couldn’t help staring at the woman, the lines of her cheekbones, her dark eyes, and the wisps of raven hair framing her face.

Before she reached the bottom of the staircase, she too paused to look back at her father. Dustin glanced up as well, only to see the king touch his hand to his heart at the gallery rail. The woman’s gasp was little more than a whisper as her fingers returned the final gesture. The doomed king retreated, and her step faltered on the stair. Dustin reached for her arm to steady her, and for a heartbeat, their eyes crossed paths. Then hers, moist with tears, disappeared as she drew her cowl over her head, and whispered, “We must go.”

Ancestral Portals #Writephoto

image by Sue Vincent

Inspired by Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt.
And by my DNA results from Ancestry.com

 

Ancestral Portals

Infinite portals illuminate the hollows
of forgotten origins, lost migrations
my fingers sift through foreign sands
seek the spirals of phantom generations
I wander the helices’ halls of time
and stir ancestral dust

I am of the taiga’s endless twilights
ribbons of color on midnight snow
a land of trolls and crescent cliffs
of the highlands’ merlin and castle ruins
from heathered moors to seaside charm
legends of stone and spring, an Avalon king
I journeyed with giants through emerald hills
by sacred rowans and fairy wells
where Eirinn’s magic veil lay thin

I am of wooden shoes and stepped roofs
creaks of windmills over tulip fields
a place of dikes and storms restrained
of Aegean’s islands and sun-bleached shores
a pantheon of gods where the acropolis soared
and Odysseus sailed through Homer’s tales
I hail from bullrings and faith and flamenco
terracotta rooftops scaling the hills
where towered cathedrals pierce the sky

I am of the crossroads of trade routes
temples, mosques and fairy chimneys
a chiseled warren of underground cities
of endless beaches and mangrove forests
tea gardens embroidering hills of jade
rickshaws, sampans, and floating markets
I lived by golden mountains and volcanic waters
an icy wilderness of pillars and geysers
clouded in the City of the Dead

Through ancestral portals ancient mothers
threaded strands of mitochondrial pearls
protozoa and bacteria, single-celled organisms
beyond the Earth and sun’s formations
I trailed my fingerprints
to the dust of stars

The Optometrist and the Dragon #writephoto

photo compliments of Sue Vincent

A man of science, Irvus the optometrist didn’t believe in enchantment. But a dare was a dare, and he wasn’t about to cede his convictions to a bunch of old-timers at the Pickled Sow. It was the 5th century, for Heaven’s Sake. The last known dragon had gone extinct a hundred years ago.

The climb up the scree to the cave was steeper than it appeared from a distance. His borrowed twin-bladed battle-ax weighed a ton, and if the rusted iron weren’t strapped to his back, he would have abandoned it on the dirt track below. Sweat dripped into his eyes and plastered his hair to his scalp. He renewed his determination to begin exercising, again… maybe.

Then he spotted the old skull.

His boot crunched on a human spine twisted like a skeletal snake. Farther up, a rubble of sun-bleached bones littered the loose stones below the cave’s gaping maw.

Irvus paused, tongue idly exploring the gap in his front teeth. A bear or a mountain lion, surely. Had to be since dragons didn’t exist. He wrestled out of the straps crossing his back and hefted the intimidating ax, his pluck rallying with the weapon in hand.

Other than the racket of sliding and tumbling stones, he crept silently up to the cave and peered inside. His breath hitched.

There, bathed in shadow, sat the princess that the wrinkled fellows at the Sow had dared him to rescue. A genuine princess with a perfectly forlorn face, pink lips, and crown of golden curls. She rested on a chunk of stone, her delicate frame draped in azure and emerald silks.

No dragon in sight, he hissed at her. “Psst! Over here.” She jolted up, eyes flashing with surprise. He beckoned with a frantic hand.

She glanced behind her and tiptoed toward him, careful to avoid the sunlight. “Are you a prince?” she whispered.

“No, I’m an optometrist.”

“Oh.”

“I’m here to rescue you; I think.”

“Indeed, you’re very noble. But for me to escape this horrid place, you must first slay the dragon.” She tilted her curly head toward the cave’s interior.

He arched a skeptical eyebrow. “A real dragon?”

She nodded, tears glittering in a pair of startling and beautiful gold-burnished eyes. “I’m trapped by an enchantment, captive here for all eternity or until a brave soul sets me free. Are you truly he?”

Irvus considered her predicament and decided that the whole situation was rather implausible, but there she was, an honest to god princess. She seemed sincere, and so far, he hadn’t seen anything more menacing than a rabbit. Best of all, she’d implied he was “brave.”

He sucked in a breath, stepped into the shadow, and halted. A deep snuffle of warm breath wafted over him from the black of the soot-smeared cave. His eyes adjusted rapidly due to his exceptional vision care, and he gasped. A dragon slept curled in a nest of straw among the jagged rocks.

A magnificent beast, its scales glistened in hues of azure and emerald. A serpentine tail curled around its body and webbed wings folded against its back. Curved claws glinted like shards of ice, and scimitar spikes thrust from its spine. With each restful exhale, puffs of smoke snorted from a horned snout.

The princess threaded her arm through his and gazed up at him with those disconcerting golden eyes, eyelashes fluttering like feathers. In all his years of optometry, he’d never seen eyes so… avian. “Please,” she murmured. “Slay it, free me, and you will win my heart.” She rose onto her toes and pressed her lips to his sweaty cheek.

He swallowed, kissing a pastime sorely absent from his hectic life. He gathered his faltering courage and inched toward the dragon. The slumbering monster shifted and sighed, blasting him with heated air. His hands tightened around the haft of his battle-ax, and he glanced behind him, chewing on a lip. “Maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea.”

The princess winced at the pun and crept up behind him, her eyes alight with a strange glow. She waved him onward and pressed her slender hands to her heart. He faced the beast, raised his ax to his shoulder, risked another step, and kicked a stone. It rolled and clinked against a deadly claw. He froze.

The dragon’s eyelid quivered and rolled up. In a tremendous surge, the colossal beast reared. Wings unfurled and thundered against the cave’s ceiling. Its scaled tail uncoiled and swept the cave’s debris, flinging stones and raising the dust. It bared its fangs and blew a stream of fire over Irvus’s head as it scrambled back against the wall.

Irvus shrieked and turned to run. The princess met his charge and heaved him back toward the dragon. “Kill it,” she screamed. “Slay it now! Kill it.” She blocked his way out, stalked toward him, hands raised to force him into a fight. “Kill it, or I’ll be trapped here forever. You can’t leave me here.”

He thrust the ax at her. “You kill it.”

“I can’t,” she cried, shoving it back. “The enchantment won’t permit it. It must be you. Please.”

He faced the dragon, sweat drenching his body, his hands slick on the ax. The dragon writhed against the back wall, massive chest heaving. Its tail thrashed and slapped the rocks of its nest. Fire flared with each breath, burning the walls. It extended two sets of razor claws, poised for an attack or… Or warding one off?

“Kill it,” the princess urged over Irvus’s shoulder.

Irvus hesitated, mesmerized. The dragon blinked at him with wide doe eyes, the most beautiful nut-brown, liquid eyes he’d ever seen. The beast probably had a family history of healthy eye care, a diet rich in dark leafy greens and fatty cold-water fish. The smoke wasn’t good, but the cave’s shade provided protection from the sun’s damaging rays.

“What’s the matter?” the princess cried. “Kill it! Hurry! Don’t leave me here. Break the spell.”

He hefted the battle-ax. The dragon looked at him with those soft chestnut eyes. The heavy ax head slipped in his sweaty hands. He tightened his grip and raised it over his head to fling at the beast. As much as he cringed at the thought, he couldn’t forsake the princess to a cave-bound eternity.

“Yes,” the princess hissed behind him.

The dragon shuttered its sublime eyes, lowered its scaled head, and stilled as if awaiting the fatal strike.

“No, I can’t.” Irvus’s arms relaxed. Suspended behind his head for the killing blow, the heavy weapon sagged. The weight of its iron blade pulled him backward. His balance teetered, the haft slipping through his fingers. He lurched over the stones, struggling to find his footing, and the weapon slid free. A gasp and thump behind him loosed a shudder that rattled his bones.

He spun around and gaped at the dead princess, the ax blade embedded in her forehead. He slapped his hands over his mouth in a panic.

Then her body began to bloat, clothes splitting at the seams. Irvus stumbled backward as scales erupted on her skin and a spiked tail snaked from her back, elongating across the rubble. The princess’s fingers lengthened, joints swelled, and nails curled into crystalline claws. Her face contorted, nose and jaw jutting into a horned snout. Limbs bulged and crooked, every inch of her transformed except the sightless golden eyes staring at the ceiling.

“Thank you.”

He yelped and pivoted. A brown-eyed woman sat on the black stones of the dragon’s nest, her human nakedness wrapped in a blanket of glittering azure and emerald scales.

“You broke the enchantment,” she said. “You set me free.”

“You’re the princess?”

“A librarian,” she said. “Are you a prince?”

“No, I’m an optometrist.”

She gathered the serpentine skin around her and stood. “And the kindest man I’ve ever met.”

He smiled, puffed up his chest, and offered his hand. “Are you ready to go?”

They walked to the sharp rim of sunlight at the cave’s entrance where he rearranged the dragon’s pelt to shade her face. The gray-beards at the Pickled Sow might accept his tale about accidentally slaying a dragon, but they’d never believe those perfect brown beauties, not until they spied them with their very own eyes.

***

This rather long and silly story was inspired by Sue Vincent’s Thursday #writephoto prompt: Shelter

 

Dusk: #writephoto

photo from Sue Vincent

I dreamed this story Saturday night in response to Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt. Something a little different.

***

I can’t remember much bout that time, cept for the crazy animal fear. Like you weren’t in yer body but thrashing around outside yer skin, a thing gutted and clawing at some god to lift yer sorry ass outta there. Bombs pounded on our camp, and the screaming lay over the roar and rumble like I was trapped with a flock of gulls, and a pack of wolves were tearing at our throats, only it was worse than that.

And the reek of all them loose shits and us pissing in our pants, including mine. We were burrowed deep and bunched like rabbits, and it was blacker then death with yer eyes pinched shut. Already buried alive, I think. A funny thing how that situashun was better than being out there—tho I weren’t laughing. No, not at all.

Mason kep talking in that flat, butter voice of his thru the whole thing like he was telling lullaby stories come lights-out. I think Mason’s stories saved our asses on those days. Powerful stories bout life after the Reclamayshun, after the killing is worn out and we can go home.

Then my ears is ringing, and I’m breathing dust like I’m drowning. Some little kid’s keening so shrill it slices thru the exploshuns. And my heart is jumping on my ribs hard, and I know I jus gotta get out a there. It’s real bad, that feeling. My mind is so beat on like an old rug that it comes to me clean and clear—I got no choice in this life but where I’m gonna die. And I don’t wanna die jammed in a hole.

Then it all stop. All of it stop. The bombing and screaming and coffing up dirt. Mason makes us sit for seems a week until we gonna die from jus sitting still, already buried in our grave and starving to boot. When he say to give it a go, we dig out, and the world don’t look the same at all. It’s a hell place like the devil took a shovel and turned up the whole land for spring planting.

Mason stands atop the wreck and stares up at the dusk sky. There ain’t one single bomb raining thru the air. Little white puff clouds look fresh-washed and soft on that gold and blue, like a summer dress on a pretty girl. The world ain’t all broken up after all, and I think maybe Mason was right when he was telling us stories and promising hope.

Sanctuary #Writephoto

I shook off the transportal’s disorientation and trembled with the cold. Authentic cold. Maybe not what I’d expected, but a clear signal that I’d arrived. I’d grown sick of my shipbound existence, the sensory constancy, the monotony of routine, the same faces, same pastimes, same food. The same, same, same. After six cycles, the head of Assimilation approved my placement. And here I stood.

Time to face my new world, my chosen sanctuary, I squared my shoulders, hauled in a breath, and marched through the gray arch into a landscape felted in white. I halted. Warning bells clanged in my head and reality punched me in the chest. Something had gone wrong.

In a panic, I checked my chrono. I had minutes before the ship barreled out of range. Hands fumbling, I opened my comdeck, desperate for a connection.

“Connection established. Audra receiving. You have one chron before communication terminates.”

“Audra, this is Cloe. There’s been a mistake. You need trans me back to the ship.”

“Cloe? Give me a second.”

“Hurry!” I pleaded. A gray-haired alien in a charcoal coat strolled between the white trees, and I turned my back, hiding my dread.

“Your entry was a success.” Audra’s voice crackled with interference. “…didn’t show one irregularity. What’s the matter?”

“This planet,” I whispered, “it’s not the one I approved.” Tears blurred my vision, and I couldn’t stop shivering. “The locators guaranteed an 89% match to my parameters. I saw the images. They sent me to the wrong place!”

“I’m sorry, honey. You certified your choice. The portal’s closing.”

“Audra, you have to help me. Don’t leave me here!”

“All right, I’ll try. Tell me what’s wrong with it? I’ll issue a…” The comdeck fizzled and died.

I throttled the useless thing and smashed it on the stone steps. Face raised to the milky sky, I shouted, “I wanted colors! You sent me to a black and white world.”

The gray-headed alien in his charcoal coat glanced up from where he threw black seeds on the white ground. Gray-feathered birds pecked around his black shoes.  “That’s what you get for arriving in winter.”

I frowned at him. “Winter?”

He angled his head toward the gray buildings in the distance. “They didn’t tell me either. Let’s get a cup of coffee, and I’ll fill you in on something called spring.”

***

Another gorgeous photo and fun Thursday prompt from Sue Vincent. Join the fun. 🙂