The Iron Writer Challenge #196
2017 Summer Solstice Challenge #2
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Authors names will be posted to their stories next Thursday, after the voting is concluded.
Remember by Nilsson
A scorched map
A white lace handkerchief
Lady Eleanor seemed faintly amused at my tirade of angry words and curses.
We were five weeks into our expedition, five weeks of hacking and slicing our way through dense tropical jungle. I had discovered the map quite by accident, while researching the location of ancient Atlantis. Beyond any doubt the artifact was authentic. It pointed the way to a hidden valley that contained the tombs of many Aztec kings and holy men.
Despite my better judgement, I had agreed to allow her ladyship to accompany me on my quest. I had little choice. After all, she was providing the finances for the journey up the Amazon, first by dugout canoe and then on foot through the rain forest.
Now I was paying for my foolishness. Not five minutes ago Lady Eleanor had held the precious parchment in her delicate, white lace gloved hands. moment’s later it was aflame in the camp fire. I tried in vain to rescue it, burning both of my hands in the process. Now I held all that remained, a scorched, ruined, illegible piece of scrap.
I was beyond angry. I was incensed. Despite my cursing and roaring, Lady Eleanor just smiled, as if her carelessness was of no consequence.
“My dear James, whatever’s the matter? she said. “It’s only a piece of parchment, after all. It’s of no real value.”
Despite the sweet, calming scent of wild jasmine growing all around the camp, her words only acted to increase my rage.
“No value… No value? Ma’am, without it, we are lost. All is for nothing. We may decamp and begin the long trek home.”
She responded to my outburst with an even wider smile.
“Remember is a place from long ago. Remember, filled with everything you know” she said, with a mischievous glint in her dark eyes. “Remember, I have a picture perfect memory, James. Tomorrow, I promise you, I will lead you to your long lost valley.”
Lady Eleanor’s words did little to calm me. After a restless night twisting and turning in my cot, I awoke to the smell of fresh coffee mingling with the scent of the jungle and the sounds of wildlife all around. Monkeys screeched and birds chirped in response to the roar of some wild cat.
My mind told me to pack up and return to civilisation. My gut told me to follow the instincts of my beautiful companion. My gut won the argument. Soon, I was once again hacking my way through steaming jungle, swatting away voracious insects, determined to have me for breakfast.
We followed an incline, that grew steeper with every step, until after several hours we climbed onto the summit of a majestic peak. Through breaks in the low cloud that swirled around us, I cast my eyes down to a lush valley, nestled between mountain ranges.
My Lady had been true to her word. The valley was home to terrace after terrace of striking pyramids, resplendent palaces and mighty ramparts. An entire city lay below my feet. Undisturbed for centuries, it now beckoned to me. Remember, remember, life is but a dream.
Brakes squealed in protest as the big rig rattled and jerked to a stop. The headlights cascaded flares across her vision. She took the white laced handkerchief she had used to flag the vessel down and cupped it over her mouth, gagging from the diesel exhaust. The door opened and she was greeted by the beaming smile of a scruffy 60-something year old man with yellow teeth.
She stepped back, eyeing the monstrous vehicle. She looked down the winding road that curved and disappeared into the gullet of the night.
“I’m sorry,” she squeaked, “I’ll take the next one.”
The man bellowed heartily. “Ain’t no one going to be coming down this road till morning sweetheart. It wouldn’t be right to leave you out here. I ain’t gonna hurt you.”
She hesitated at the door of the rumbling rig. Her gut told her he was telling the truth, but it didn’t really matter if he wasn’t.
She climbed onto the torn vinyl seat and she almost preferred the diesel to the smoke-laced musky scent of the cab. He extinguished another cigarette against the roadmap on the dashboard and turned on the radio. Remember by Harry Nilson played softly.
“Martin.” He offered.
“J….Jasmine,” She responded.
“Where to Jasmine?”
“Hamilton Station,” she whispered.
His lips pursed. “Only cause people have to go to Hamilton Station is fer the train or to toss ‘emselves off the bridge. And the train stopped running an hour ago.”
She sat and fidgeted with her handkerchief.
After a moment of awkward silence, Martin turned the radio up and sang along.
“Remember, life is just a memory…”
“You don’t know how hard I’ve had it,” She said
“I ain’t judging, though I’d be happy to drop ya anywhere else Miss.”
The rest of the drive was silent until they reached Hamilton station. The station itself dark except for one porchlight. Across from it, the steel bridge that crossed the river. The truck hissed to a stop, and she tried to open the rusty door. Martin hobbled out of his seat, bones crackling and his frame swaying as he came around and opened her door. He watched her step out and walk over to the railing.
He hobbled over to her. “Train’ll be by in a few hours if you change yer mind.”
She didn’t answer.
“No? Ok. Just be sure to veer left. There’s a buncha rocks straight below. You’ll shatter yer legs and lay there a day before you die. Trust me.”
Appalled, she looked up. He took his fist and knocked on his knee, which crackled and rocked as if there was no weight on it. Martin bellowed out a laugh and vanished into the air. Stunned, Jasmine turned to find the truck gone as well. She gasped, released her handkerchief and watched it drift down into the belly of the darkness below.
She trembled, and stood motionless in the silent night for a moment, before running over to the station. Martin’s voice rang out into the night “Remember… close your eyes and you can see,
Remember, think of all that life can be…”
Map in a Bottle
“Jasmine for Jasmine! It’s definitely meant for me!” she chuckled, before noticing the paper protruding from the fragrance-cap. “That’s a funny thing to be inside a perfume bottle.”
The rustling of paper unfolding, got his attention.
“We have to follow it!” she said, without looking up.
“No way,” he said, moving beside her, glancing at the opened map. “Some things are better left alone!” He pointed to the warning inscription: Follow at your own risk. One never knows what one may find…
“Don’t be silly, scaredy-cat, don’t you wanna know what treasures lie in wait?”
“Give it a rest,” Drake said, “we’re not going on another adventure, Jasmine.”
She was always getting into some sort of trouble whenever she ventured out to satisfy her curiosity, and she usually took him with her. He wasn’t falling for it again.
Hours later, they were packed and ready to leave on the new mission. Her glowing face was all it took for him to give-in to the madness, and he secretly thrived on the thrills of their little escapades, but he wasn’t going to tell her that. However, this time things seemed a little weird. He thought back to the warning on the withered map and how convenient it was, that Jasmine had been the one to purchase the Jasmine-scented bottle. Was it really meant for her? And what of the shopkeeper?
“Ah Jasmine!” he had exclaimed as they entered the shop. They were startled as he handed her the fragrance from the shelf. “For you,” he said.
Shrugging of any doubts, Drake grinned as he climbed into the running cab.
“About time!” she teased.
He couldn’t bring himself to mourn at the funeral. Because, she was still alive and well in his heart. He would not accept her death. Not yet.
They said it had been a hydraulic-oil leak. But Drake had known otherwise and he knew that she had seen it too – an exact replica of Jasmine herself, standing in a bloodied dress, on that highway and reaching out towards the car!
Jasmine tried to stop the car then, slamming on the brakes but something was wrong – it would not stop. Instead, it veered into the oncoming lane, even while Jasmine tried to steer away. Her side of the car had collided into a truck which knocked them over, causing the tumultuous accident. Everything happened so fast and in an instant, they were tumbling into the air. The car landed back onto its wheels after flipping over. Drake tasted dirt in his mouth, bewildered he took hold of Jasmine, trying to calm her. Crushed beneath the metal – she breathed her last then, in his arms.
As he stared into the roaring fire, hot tears rolled down his cheeks. The radio bounced off Harry Nilsson’s, Remember. The melody echoed his somber mood. His eyes danced watching the wisps of smoke that hovered from the remnants of the scorched map. He covered his face with a white, lace handkerchief. Her tears had long since dried up from it, but he took comfort in knowing that they had become one with the fabric now.
We sat by his bedside in the hospice, and I couldn’t bring myself to hold his hand. Laura did it for me, though I don’t think he noticed.
“Your dad looks stormy,” she said.
“Stormy? He’s in a coma.” My words came out more acidic than I intended.
Her soft look told me she understood. “Like he’s upset. Or trying to remember something.”
“Remember,” said my father, the word a papery whisper.
My wife and I drew in breath together. I pushed past Laura to be near his face. “What is it, Dad?”
His eyelids still closed, his lips twitched. “A place from long ago.”
Laura and I exchanged a glance. She asked, “Where is it, where are you?”
He let out a breath, deflating. I thought it was his last, but he filled his lungs with a deep breath and said, “Remember that pirate movie I took you to when you were a teen, kiddo?”
I smiled at the old endearment he’d called me for over forty years. “Yes, dad. Our favorite. The Goonies.”
He wheezed and barked a cough, and his eyes cracked open, though he stared unseeing at the ceiling. “Know how they found the treasure cave?”
Laura handed me her lace handkerchief. I wiped at tears I didn’t realize I’d shed, and said, “That old map, from the attic.”
A smile crinkled the corners of his eyes. “Wish I had that for you. Your ship come in, taken care of for life, kiddo.”
I still could not bring myself to reach out and touch him. The old man never was touchy-feely. “It isn’t like in the movies. I’ve made my own ship, I have my own treasure,” I said with a glance at my wife. “You taught me how, dad.”
Now his eyes fixed on Laura. “Yes. Yes, you have, kiddo. You’re both so pretty, you’re your own treasure.” He took in another breath, through his nose and breathed, “Jasmine. Like your mother used to wear.”
Laura laughed. “I know it’s her favorite. And yours.”
His eyes met mine, the soft light of the room gathered to two sharp infinitely brilliant points, and memories of those eyes looking at me in all emotions in all parts of my life came flooding through me, and I did reach out to touch his face with the tips of my fingers.
“Remember,” he said, arching an eyebrow.
The laugh, at his Trek reference at a time like this, escaped me, even as I dissolved into blubbery tears. “Really, dad?”
He nodded and waited.
“Of course I’ll remember, dad.”
He held my eyes with his, and the light went out of them, and the body on the bed wasn’t him anymore.
Laura held me, the scent of jasmine filling my world, bound to those memories welling up with the tears.
“I should have told him I love him,” I wailed into her soft shoulder.
Her fingers twined in my hair and she whispered in my ear, “You did, love. You did.”
Remember the Still
“What are you doing? Idiot!” Will grabbed the map from Robbie’s hand and shook the flames out.
“I thought fire might reveal something. You know, like in the movies.” Robbie was a little surprised that the idea didn’t really work.
Will frowned and simply shook his head. They had been searching for the whiskey still for hours. The woods were heavy and thick. The smell of it was tangled up in a big mess of smoke, stinkweed and jasmine.
“I ain’t got time for your dumb skull, numbskull!” Will took out his white handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He took the moist cloth and then wiped the charred edges from the corner of the map. The ashes scattered in the underbrush.
“Well, we ain’t havin’ much luck no other way yet” Robbie said.
“You ain’t looking in the right place. You think Daddy used to make that shine from nothing at all? You numbskull. No, there was a still back here alright, and that sum-gun ain’t never been found by no one- ever.”
“It looks like we ain’t gonna’ find it either Will” Robbie said.
“We gonna’ find it now. We got the doggone map that you nearly burned up for no good reason. That’s something.”
“I don’t even know if we can make it back to the house” Robbie said. “The dark is coming up mighty fast.”
“Well, I’m findin’ it, even if I got to stay out here all night” Will said.
“What you goin’ do with it when you find it? You don’t know nothing about stilling no whiskey” Robbie said. “I seen you try to boil a hot dog before.”
“Makin’ whiskey’s different you numbskull. Daddy used to home make it, and we can too. It’s in the blood. You either are born to make whiskey or you ain’t born to make no whiskey. You understand that?”
“You ain’t never made no whiskey. Do you even have a recipe? You got a formulization for it?”
Will was a little taken back by Robbie’s fifty cent word. “You look that word up or something?”
“Maybe we ain’t found no still cause we wouldn’t even know what the heck it is if we did find it” Robbie frowned.
“Everybody’s got to start somewheres, Robbie, and I’m startin’ today. You think Colonel Sanders knew how to fry a chicken when he was a youngin’?”
“Chicken he knew. He had to figure out how to do that franchizing deal? That’s what took him so long to figure out.”
“Well, we ain’t gonna’ do no franchizing, I just want to make some whiskey dammit.”
It was about that time when Will fell over a spool of copper tubing nearly completely covered in pine straw. There was a nasty bruise on his shin, but he was too excited to pay any mind to it.
“Well I’ll be” Robbie said. “We actually found it!”
“Remember Robbie, life is just a memory.”
“We actually found it” Robbie said it again in disbelief.
“Remember Robbie, think of all that life can be.”
“Stop singing that stupid song and give me a hand, will ya?”