Mask – #Writephoto

The dreamer’s room faded. Stars pricked holes in the velvet darkness as a crescent moon sailed over the restless sea, a bat with silver wings. Tucked between the shore’s boulders, twigs of cedar snapped in the nightfire, scenting the salted air with smoke. The plaintive calls of dragons whispered across the waves.

The crone peered at her latest visitor through slit eyes. Unafraid, the dreamer stood before her circle of flames, silent and sound as the distant mountains of home.

At the fire’s edge, the old woman sat atop her weathered stone, swaying, rocking, singing to herself, chanting words from ancient mouths, words lost, though their power she retained. The fire cracked and cackled, shaking fingers, sending sparks curling, singing, reeling into unsteady darkness. Soon the sea-rains would gray them, rise over cowled peaks and fall with the wind, heavy cloaks of snow coating her magic in ice. Her runes called, choose, choose, the time has come to choose.

The World spun faster, drawing the sky down, the earth up, bidding the waters to eddy and ripple in overlapping circles of light, bringing the forest to sing low and hum, smelling of leaf and loam. Expectation swelled with the tide and clawed at the sand, beckoned her to choose. From the embers’ bright edge, she drew a rune and studied the markings. The sea stilled, and she read the stone:

A call from the sliver moon and realm of imaginings. A strange Way gapes open, make ready for new beginnings. Resolve old myths to seed the soil for deliverance. Ah, the World transforms; emerge from the chrysalis, casting off false faces and old forms of knowing. Prepare for release from time-worn forces. Surrender and soar to the revealing of the World.

Peace – #Writephoto

In the end, I returned to the sanitarium. This time by choice and without the reams of commitment papers, the hustling of orderlies, and motherly coaxing of nurses. The baby-blue walls and polished linoleum shine with familiarity, and the bars feel less restrictive than I remember.

I wander the halls with a certain air of freedom, considering my state. The same doctors make rounds in their cliched white coats and spectacles. Clipboards hang on hooks bolted to metal doors, and fluorescent lights hum in group-counseling like a chorus of wasps.

Despite the harsh glare of the world inside these walls, I’d found healing here. It came with compassion, by listening to stories with a crack in my heart, by risking a touch, a tear, an act of kindness. Not toward me, but toward others. Healing wasn’t about banishing my demons, a goal that had led me astray for years. It was grounded in the audacity to love, and I’d found my courage like a tidal wave.

I pass through the locked doors into the yard, and no one minds. The heat doesn’t bother me anymore, nor the cold, though today’s a brilliant day. At the rear of the grounds, a leafy glade snuggles up against the stone wall separating us from a less forgiving world. It once was a place for smoking or sex, but cameras curbed that urge, and now a bench offers a place for solitude and reflection.

This place suits me, and I plan to stay. I could travel anywhere in the world I wish, but my calling is here. Alone on the bench, I wait.

A woman heads my way. She’s thin, her skin sallow and eyes so tired they appear bruised. One arm wraps her body, and fingers twitch on chapped lips. She doesn’t see me, but I witness a cloud of despair encasing her like a thunderhead and a soul as bright as the sun. She sits beside me, and I enclose her in my arms, sate her need for love and peace. I open a crack in her heart.

In doing so, I receive more than I give and begin to heal my last regret—that my life’s purpose manifested with such sublime clarity only upon my death.

**

Thanks to Sue Vincent for another wonderful Thursday Photo Prompt.

Tunnel #Writephoto

Azalus teetered on the bluff’s edge, warded sword wheeling for balance against the brilliant sky. The mountain beneath his feet offered no reprieve, a sheet of obsidian sleek as spilled oil.

Below him, the massive dragon shot up along the mirrored wall, its neck and talons extended. Slit reptilian eyes reflected the inferno erupting from its throat. The beast blasted through its own blaze, and its maw gaped, scorched shards of the last armsman wedged between rows of serrated teeth. In a heartbeat, chances of escape had dropped from doubtful to dismal.

Gaylen’s whip coiled around the vambrace shielding Azalus’s forearm, and he clasped it as his feet slipped into the heated air. His body slammed against the rock wall, and the dragon altered its flight to pick off the newly dangling prey.

“Dragon,” Azalus shouted to his fellow fugitive and pointed the tip of his sword at the ascending beast. Jade scales glimmered like sunlight on still water, and webbed wings beat with the snap of wind-caught sails. Beautiful and deadly.

Above him Gaylen hauled. “Reavers are closing.”

Suspended on the whip, Azalus kicked against the cliff’s sheer face. Gaylen heaved, and when Azalus reached the lip, he thrust his sword arm across the rock, fighting for leverage. Movement at the forest’s rim caught his eye. “Reavers. Behind you!”

Gaylen staggered. His face morphed into a fusion of disbelief and despair as his flesh yielded to their enemy’s iron bolts. The whip’s stock eased from his hand. Azalus slipped into the air.

The monstrous dragon’s throat yawned, jaw bones split, and fangs hyperextended. Azalus straightened, arms overhead, sword in a two-handed grip. The beast’s gullet stretched open, air drawn in for another explosion of fire. He speared between the teeth, slid over the forked tongue, and descended into darkness. The welling heat and sulfurous reek burned his lungs as he glided down the blackened throat. With a vengeful howl, he thrust the blade forward and carved as he fell. Steel sliced through flesh, thudded against bone, and blood gushed, dousing the rising flame.

Azalus’s careening descent ceased, or the dragon plummeted with him. He braced himself against the blood-slick wall, sword jammed deep between the vertebrae. The creature writhed and spasmed, and Azalus swallowed his gorge as they plunged toward the vale.

He woke with a gasp, disoriented, heart pounding. His body felt trampled, but nothing of his pain foreboded death. He gulped a breath and listened, willed his nerves to stillness. The dragon lay motionless, he lodged in its throat in a pool of congealed blood. Rising to a crouch, he yanked his sword free of the flesh, and with fingers tracing the throat’s charred wall, he staggered down the tunnel toward the light.

**

Thanks to Sue Vincent of The Daily Echo for another fun #writephoto prompt. Check out her site and join in the weekly fun.

Inside-out #writephoto

“You will wed Nallea,” Lord Rydan commanded. “It is already agreed. This is not a lad’s game.”

“She’s seven!”

“In eight years, she will be fifteen. I will not argue this with you.”

“I don’t know her. I have no idea who she will be!”

“That is of no consequence, Raze. You will be Lord of Vestrelle. You bear responsibilities, duties to the land, a future in the kingdom. Do you think these puny provinces will remain under separate rule? Do you believe our rivals will idle contentedly within their walls?”

Raze curled his fingers in silence, any reply wasted breath. “What about love?”

Rydan’s eyes tightened into pale slits, and he faced his son. “Love will follow.”

“Did you love my mother? Did she love you?” The questions had barbs, and Raze would use them to pull his father’s heart inside out. “Was your marriage forced upon you against your will?”

The Lord waved away his argument, but his jaw softened. “No, it was not.”

“Did you wed her for love?” Raze would force an answer. Even if it made no difference, his father would acknowledge the unfairness of his demand.

Rydan retreated to the window that peered over the rose garden pruned and dripping in the squalling rain. Its glory had turned brown and brittle during the bitter months of snow, love’s blooms reduced to thorny canes with sharp tips. A corner of his father’s heart had remained faithful to his mother, tenderly caring for her roses, his affection for the delicate petals a stoic confession of love and longing.

Four years ago, she’d drowned on the winter sea, and though they’d all, more or less, moved on with their lives, they each saved a sacred place for her. She had carried a piece of their hearts with her when she died, and the wounds had yet to heal.

“Yes, we wed for love,” Rydan said. “There is your answer.”

***

Thanks for Sue Vincent for her Thursday #writephoto prompt.
Check out her site and join in the fun.

Obelisk – #Writephoto

The horror on my mother’s face earned her a compromise, and I hauled my keepsakes into her attic. The rest I sold or trashed—all my belongings, from my gabled home and rusted car to my laptop and half-squeezed tube of toothpaste. Then I emptied my bank account and donated every red cent to the cause. I wouldn’t need it where I headed, and it would help spread the word of salvation among those left behind.

We gathered by the obelisk, thousands of us, believers young and old, some in homemade robes but most in jeans and rolled up sleeves. Anticipation crackled in the air and prickled the nerves. The sun dipped toward the burnished sea and the sky turned to brass. The moment was nigh.

Some fidgeted and grasped at fleeting minutes with fretful yearning. Others reconsidered the wisdom of their choices, whimpered their regrets, and lobbed breathless pleas to the ether with white-knuckled fingers, but not I. My veins pulsed with intrepid hope, dreams of pristine worlds, a homecoming with my ancestors, a vibrant vision of a future among the stars.

The sea shaved slices from the sun and the horizon deepened to green. The moment passed and our ship never came. I watched faith peel from the devout like onion skin, tearful and pungent, the betrayal palatable and mutating faces with grief, anger, and despair. A few backpedaled with delicate reasoning; others scratched for ways to undo what they’d done. Most vowed vengeance. The buses had departed hours ago, and as twilight faded, the horde of disillusioned started the long walk to town.

My back to the obelisk, I waited as night drew up its coverlet, not the only one to remain on the rocky point but one of few. The sea lapped on the shore to the rhythm of my breath, and the stars winked on. The prophet had promised us a life of spirit and relieved us of our worldly possessions for the start of our journey. There never was a ship, intergalactic or otherwise; I knew that now. But he hadn’t betrayed me. He’d done as he promised—freed me of the heavy trappings that weighted my life, and set me on an altered path. I faced a new future. Like it or not, I was reborn.

**

Thanks to Sue Vincent for her Thursday #Writephoto prompt. Visit her site to see other creative entries.

Empty #Writephoto

Empty

Sable and bristle brushes
clattered into the waste
between crinkled tubes of paint
gone her linseed and turpentine
she surrendered her easel to anger
and snapped her palette
in oily hues of cerulean blue
ochre and umber.

With room to spare
she stuffed the black bag
with false smiles and laughter
a whore’s fawning
over gallery Johns in tuxes
of mars and titanium
she discarded
the remnants of hope.

She left the bag at the corner
for dawn’s trash man
in a twilight of cadmium yellow
and alizarin crimson
her bitter heart she held close
bleeding against her chest
and doused the muse with spirits
watched sitcoms like an automaton
in ultramarine blue
she dreamt she was drowning.

In the watercolor morning
she ran breathless to the corner
her life collected and recycled
she rifled through her junk drawer
for her child’s dried up colors
a frayed synthetic brush
and on a whitewashed canvas
she sketched out her emptiness
and painted her soul full.

**

Special thanks to Sue Vincent for the beautiful photo prompt. Consider joining in!

Bridge #writephoto

beneath-the-bridge

I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, which is why I never told my mum about the man below the bridge. She wouldn’t have tolerated him with his frayed coat and dirty fingers. His eyes had a little shine in them, even in the shadows, as if he’d left a light on inside his head.

After my chores, I’d ask mum for jam sandwiches, biscuits, and a sliced apple for a tea party with my friend under the bridge. She thought the old fellow was a fairy child, flitting in my imagination like a moth, and she liked me out from under her feet.

My doll, Miss Penny, and I would tote our basket down the hill and tiptoe across the stepping-stones. My friend waited in our castle’s cool darkness while I propped Miss Penny up against the wall and brewed pretend tea. We’d share our feast and sip from invisible cups as proper as the queen. Miss Penny always smiled, enjoying the party as much as we. Then he’d tell us stories of his travels to India and Africa, of riding elephants, and diving for pearls, and climbing mountains in the snow. One day, Miss Penny decided to stay in the castle under the bridge to keep my friend company.

Then, my mum packed us up, and we moved to America.

That was forty years ago.

My husband is golfing with colleagues, and I have a precious morning to wander through the old haunts of my tender years. I rent a car for a drive into the country. The old home is still there, smaller and empty. The roof sags and ivy consumes the sunny walls. But it isn’t the home I’ve come to visit. I tote my basket, my jam sandwich, biscuits, and apple down the hillside and tiptoe across the stones through the stream.

I know my friend isn’t there, but the eight-year-old child inside me hopes anyway. I hear his stories whisper from the castle beneath the bridge, in the brook and trees, in summer’s heated air, and I find his bones, Miss Penny still smiling in his arms.

**

Thanks once again to Sue Vincent for her wonderful Thursday photo prompt. Visit her at The Daily Echo and join the fun.