The Iron Writer Challenge #213
2017 Autumn Equinox Final Round
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Jennifer Worrell, Richard Russell, Geoff Gore, Dani J. Caile, Vance Rowe
Kissing a stranger without permission
A Dream Catcher
The Beast of Truth
The sound and texture of crumbling leaves woke me wet and cold. A multitude of trees loomed over, blocking my senses, with only the warm, light rays of the morning sun caressing the canopies above yet sizzling the cool dew covering the undergrowth.
A moment of disorientation caught my weak heart until the sight of the dream catcher hanging from a nearby branch calmed my soul. Tablita. Calling for him was futile.
I knelt and held the autumn leaves to my nose, breathing in their essence. My nerves spiked and I spun around to see a nymph, small, complete and perfect, standing over my crouched body.
“Hello. You have come. Good. We must hurry for I see there is little time,” she said. A half smile etched across her mouth.
“Who are you?” My voice was far from me, shallow, from an unknown life, another spirit.
“A stranger. Come, follow me.”
She moved like a breeze through the trees making no sound as I crunched and tripped, looking for balance on the unseen forest floor. I lost sight of her many times as we played cat and mouse, occasionally pausing to watch my exhaled breath warming the air around me.
She stood by a trunk, as tall as it was round, a king among nobles. “Come, It is here.”
The tree, so ancient and thick was covered with gnarled, twisting bark and patches of large, bracket fungi.
“This tree, it’s so…”
“I feel its presence.” She stepped away and motioned towards a man-sized fissure that appeared. “It is waiting.”
“What is waiting?”
“The truth.” She allowed me to move towards the tree and I looked in, trying to penetrate the gloominess inside. This was it. Tablita had warned me. I had to meet the beast head on, least suffer the consequences ahead, those which threatened to destroy my life. I stepped inside.
The blackness wrapped around and I was alone, but not. Something was here, an entity I couldn’t fathom. The truth.
A puff of breath broke the silence, a swish of fur clawed my chest. At first, a stinging sensation gripped my body and then the pain began. It had struck me. I stumbled out from the tree and fell to the ground. My clothes were wet with blood: I had paid highly for my misfortune. The nymph came closer, her eyes shining with exquisite beauty.
“The time was not right, you cannot yet handle the beast,” she said.
She hung over me as my chest weakened and pain dulled. From my heart poured a thick, sweet, red honey that flowed over my fingers. A single tear rolled down her pale, cold face and for a moment blotted out one streak of blood. With one last effort, I lifted my head to hers and kissed her cool, dead lips, causing confusion and anger to flash across her sorrowful features. I fell to the ground and watched her disappear into the engulfing darkness. The autumn leaves smelled sweet and alluring.
The creature stole silently through the night, pausing to gain its bearings, raising its head to the frigid autumn night air and tasting it with its tongue. What she sought was close. Her finely tuned sense could feel its presence. It was the first time it had visited this residence. Virgin sacrifices were all the more powerful. The expectation sent a shiver of excitement through the thing’s veins that only added to its dizzying sense of disorientation. The blackness didn’t bother her. A creature of the night, hers was a particular priesthood, one that ensured familiarity with the dark which she let drape around her like a favourite shawl.
The visitor crept onward along the hallway until she came upon a bedroom. Voluminous black eyes leered around the doorframe and fell upon the sleeping occupant inside. Outside the wind wailed mournfully through the tree branches scattering a flurry of autumn leaves that reflected in the moonlight in muted hues of reds and browns. The occupant of the room shifted abruptly beneath the covers, perhaps aware on some level she wasn’t alone. She was being observed. The visitor pressed herself back into the shadows until the rise and fall of the covers returned to a steady rhythmic tide. This was not the one. At least not tonight.
The creature continued until she arrived at last at her quarry. This was what she had come for. The scent was stronger now. Fresh. She entered the room silently traversing the wooden floorboards until she stood alongside the bed and peered down at the hapless youngster asleep below her. A long pointed tongue darted between leathery lips, tasting the air. The aroma was giddying. The child snuffled. Above the innocent’s head hung an intricately woven thread of cotton, feathers and intertwined crystals. The visitor sniffed at its futility. It would take more than that to detract her from receiving her offering.
The child’s resumed its slumber, unaware of her presence. The creature reached into a small bag tied to its dark haired wrist by a bracelet of fangs and withdrew a single coin. She turned it between bony fingers and watched, mesmerised by its flickering reflection in the moonlight before setting it down next to the bed. Long claws lingered above the sleeping child’s head before deftly sliding beneath the pillow and extracting the little ivory token, little more than a shard. The visitor smiled exposing a jagged double row of uneven tusks like semi-toppled headstones. With one swift deliberate movement the creatures tongue grasped the little tooth and filled a gap between two mismatched incisors. It smiled once more, admiring the new addition in the little mirror on the bedside table. Then the visitor kneeled until her face was almost touching that of the child before her and kissed her lightly on the forehead. The child stirred, but did not wake. Then as quickly as she had arrived, the creature skittered off the end of the bed and once more into the darkness.
Was It a Dream?
Frank woke up startled. A cold sweat covered his body. Sitting in his bed for a moment, he buried his face in his clammy hands.
“Jesus, Frank. Get a hold of yourself,” he said to himself and ran his hands over his head.
“These nightmares are getting worse.”
He swung his legs off of the bed and slipped his feet into his house shoes. He rose to his feet, stretched his muscles and walked to the kitchen.
After turning the coffee pot on, he took a shower. He stood there for a moment, leaning against the wall with one hand, allowing the water to cascade down over his body. After a few minutes of this, he washed up and got ready for the day. Being a relatively warm day for the middle of autumn, Frank decided to sit on his porch and enjoy his coffee there with the newspaper.
As he drank his coffee, he kept looking across the road to the thick forest. It was as if he was beckoned to go in there. He then decided a walk in the woods might do him some good. He was amazed at the brilliance of the different colors of the autumn leaves, as if someone painted each of them different shades of red, gold, and brown and brown. The leaves and twigs crunched below his feet and eventually he came to a babbling brook. The sound of the rushing water was soothing to him and mesmerized by it. He walked up a hill and when he reached the crest, he spotted something in the near distance.
Frank got closer to it and saw it was a log cabin. The cabin was roughhewn made and a sign on the door told him it was a Native American shaman hut and to come in. A cacophony of different smells attacked him as soon as he walked in, disorienting him a bit. There were cow skulls hanging on the walls as well as a variety of dream catchers, and other Native American décor. There were shelves that held jars of powders, herbs, and books.
As he approached the counter, he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on. Dressed in buckskins, she approached him. She placed her gentle hands on either side of his face, pulled him close and kissed his lips. She then took a dream catcher off of the wall and said, “Hang this above your bed and have no more bad dreams.”
Frank rushed home and hung the dream catcher. When it was time for bed, he wasn’t afraid to go to sleep. He awoke the next morning very refreshed and was the first time in a long time that he didn’t have a nightmare. He got dressed and rushed back to the cabin to thank the shaman but the cabin was gone. Not only gone but it looked like it never existed. The ground was not disturbed where the cabin should have been. Bewildered and confused, he walked home. Frank believed it was all a dream he had, but when he walked into the bedroom, the dreamcatcher hung above his bed.
The toe of Suzy Lynn’s sneaker connected with little Van Strowe’s groin at the same time the school bell rang, drowning out his astonished wail. His knobby knees buckled, sending him toppling into a pile of orange and yellow maple leaves. She pulled the sleeve of her sweater over her hand and raked it across her mouth, her lips glowing red with the scratch of wool.
Van was able to eke out a “Whyyy” once the bell quieted, still curled up in the fetal position. The ringing continued in his ears. A prickling ache spread all the way up to his belly. He could barely see which way was up. Was that the end-of-lunch bell or final recess? And why did the love of his life kick him in the jewels? Johnny told him Suzy wanted him to kiss her! That lying piece of—
“Why…! Who goes around kissing random girls? Who are you, anyway, you little shrimp? Aren’t you, like, a *sixth* grader?”
Suzy huffed and stomped off to where her eighth grade glass was lining up, taking Van’s shredded heart with her. “I’m telling,” he whimpered, but she probably didn’t hear.
“No, Daddy! You can’t hang it there.”
Mr. Lynne thought the east wall of the bedroom was as good a place as any to hang his daughter’s newly woven dreamcatcher, but her crossed arms said otherwise. “Why not?”
“Because I’ll wake up to dream guts all over the wall,” she said, barely able to stifle a laugh. “Hang it from the ceiling light, Daddy. Please?”
Mr. Lynne steadied himself on the mattress and wrapped the cord around the pull chain. “Now don’t go dreaming about boys,” he teased.
“*Daddy!*” She rolled her eyes and looked away, fidgeting with her skirt.
“Oh no.” He got down and perched on the edge of the bed.
She didn’t know how to start her question. Her skin got crawly when she thought about that shrimp from school. He said he would tattle, but so far she wasn’t in trouble. Why should she tell on herself? But a kick in the crotch was pretty mean. Right? Getting into fights with boys was a lot easier when she was a little kid.
“Well…” She scratched the inside of her ankle with the opposite toe. “What does it mean when a boy kisses you? I mean a boy you don’t know.”
“It means you kick the little shit in the nards,” Mr. Lynne said, his voice as tight and thin as his mouth.
Suzy threw her arms around his neck. “Thanks, Daddy.”
Living the Dream
FX : Camera zooms in on dream catcher; focus blurs; fades to a busy delivery room.
Mary takes her first deep breath and begins to cry. It’s so cold here. She shivers uncontrollably until someone brings a blanket and wraps it around her. It feels soft and comforting. A familiar voice speaks to her from overhead, “Eat something, Mary. Go on, eat something and build your strength.” She feels small and vulnerable. How did she get here? She drinks. It’s sweet and warm, so she fills her belly as the familiar voice soothes her anxiety. Sated, she falls into a deep, relaxed sleep.
Upon waking, Mary sits up in a small colorful room. She hops up and goes over to the window where the sun was shining in. Inside the fenced yard, young children are laughing and playing in the green grass. Mary sighs, turns back, and sits at a table. There lay open books about reading and writing, but she already knows everything in them, so she leaves the room and goes outside to join the children. Laughing as she runs out of the house, she discovers the children are gone. A tear forms as she stands in the playground, alone.
“Zoom!” Cars rush by in the street. Mary steps back and bumps into someone. She turns with a start. People were everywhere, walking briskly up and down the sidewalk. Frightened, Mary runs across the street, into a building, and begins to sweep the floor until a doctor shouts for her to help him upstairs. When she gets there, the room is filled with hundreds of wounded soldiers. Overwhelmed and disoriented, she runs around tending their wounds until her white uniform is well stained with blood. “So much suffering!” she frets as she sits on a bench and weeps.
One of the men she treated sits beside her, smiles at her, takes her hand, and kisses her without asking. She smiles, takes his hand, and kisses him back. They kiss until her water breaks and she delivers a beautiful baby boy. They lay him in a bed under a window overlooking a fenced yard where children are laughing and playing. Mary smiles contentedly as her son and all the other children run through autumn leaves to catch the school bus.
As happy as she can ever remember, Mary follows them halfway through the yard waving goodbye, but she stops beside the grave of her husband. Kneeling down, she weeps as the sun sets behind wispy gray clouds. It begins to snow. She is cold and alone, shivering feebly as she collapses onto her bed, feeling weak and vulnerable. Then, from above, a warm voice calls her name, “Mary.” She looks up, and smiles as she breaths her last.
Standing by her bed, Mary’s son’s focus returns from the dream catcher on the wall. “ She always thought those were pretty.” His wife smiles, “I wonder if she dreamt before she passed.” “Who knows?!” He sighs as he reaches over, takes his wife’s hand and kisses her. She takes his other hand, places it over her pregnant belly, and kisses him back.