Wishful Thinking

wishful-thinkingFinally Arthur sat down. With walking stick clenched in his hand and face turned toward the brilliance of morning, he rested on a moss-covered tree stump. A scent like fine tobacco and fresh melon drifted on the breeze, and leaves like discarded candy wrappers swirled at his feet. Beads of moisture dotted his forehead. He removed a handkerchief from his vest pocket and ran it over his face, pushing it up under the brim of his bush hat.

He signed and scanned the open field on the edge of the woods from which he had emerged moments ago. The sound of birdsong greeted him and nothing more. Arthur couldn’t remember how long it had been since he last saw the group, since Sherri the activity director’s nasally voice kept calling to him to hurry up, stay with the group, quit lollygagging. She hustled them along the trail like a herd of ancient elephants.

Arthur’s cheeks swelled with the childish, naughty thought that he had slipped the leash. His lips parted, and his unrestrained mirth escaped, startling the birds to silence. A weathered hand quickly stifled his laughter; he didn’t want to alert Sherri and risk recapture. He didn’t even feel guilty as he imagined her panic when she discovered he was gone.

Outdoor trips were rare, and Arthur planned to enjoy every moment of his freedom. His body, usually stiff with pain, found comfort on the craggy stump. He stretched his legs, licked his lips, and whistled the songs of the birds he’d heard when he first sat down. The sweet symphony further cheered his heart. Being lost pleased him.

But he wasn’t really lost. He was right here, right now, living life to its fullest in the simplest of ways.

“Arthur. Ar-thur! Quit daydreaming, and please find your seat on the bus. Everyone is waiting for you.”

Sherri’s nails-on-a-chalkboard voice cut through his reverie. She stood before the wicker rocker where he sat in front of the door at Bayberry Assisted Living, fists on her hips, tapping her foot. Arthur lurched forward with a grunt and a groan, pushing himself upward from the unsteady chair. He shuffled toward the bus full of residents staring at him with blank eyes from the smeared windows.

Today, today I will find a way to get lost, he told himself.

Gold Plated

The following short story was based on the visual writing prompt of the swamp.  While everyone in my writing circle wrote lovely stories, mostly fantasy, that would delight readers of any genre, I took one look at the picture and decided upon a different tale.  I’ll withhold my comments on why I wrote what I did until after you’ve read this piece.  I want your unbiased opinion toward the story, so please be sure to leave feedback in the comments section.


Golden Swamp

Gold Plated

Zach stomped into the clearing and threw his book bag on the ground with all the force he could muster. He proceeded to kick it hard, heedless of the laptop inside. Two more kicks landed the black canvas satchel on the edge of the marsh.

Frickin’ parents,” he screamed, straining his chest with the force.  It was the closest his upbringing would allow him to swearing.

He collapsed on the damp leaves, his legs crossed awkwardly beneath him, the sound of blood rushing in his ears, and sat perfectly still until his heart stopped racing and his ragged breathing slowed.

Feelings of self-pity began to sting Zach’s eyes, but he refused to indulge in tears. Instead, he stood to retrieve his book bag from the water. Soggy homework, folders, and the papers he had stolen that morning from his father’s desk were removed and littered across the forest floor. He inspected his laptop for damage. Moisture hadn’t seeped into the computer case which had been shielded between his algebra and chemistry books. The books had not fared so well; water leached an inch into the pages, darkening the edges all around.

“Whatever,” he mumbled, stuffing the laptop and ruined books back into the bag.

Zach slung the bag over his shoulder and took several deep breaths. For the first time, he observed his surroundings. The beauty of the golden foliage sickened him.

“Looks like freakin’ King Midas has been here. Too bad it’s so wet. This place would look great going up in flames.”

His mouth curled upward in a lopsided sneer, and his fingers caressed the lighter in his pocket.

The blaze would have been spectacular. Even though there wouldn’t be any witnesses, these events had a way of producing detailed accounts. People would be enraged when their forest succumbed to destruction at the hands of an unknown arsonist. They would swear they had seen the culprit and go so far as to describe him. Ripped jeans, a dark hoodie, both arms tatted up, and multiple piercings would be just a few of the descriptors they used when speaking with the local media about the tragedy. They would mention the exact brand of designer sneakers worn when the vandalism took place. Someone would inevitably mention that drugs were involved…probably.

The worst liars would make subtle remarks that cast aspersions on the perpetrator’s possible ethnicity.

Zach sighed, his anger spent. He brushed leaf litter from the front of his school blazer and swiped the sides of his mud-crusted dress shoes in a patch of grass. Then he pulled his iPhone from his pocket to check the time. He still had an hour before he had to meet Kevin at the library to study for the AP Chemistry test.

One more deep breath enabled him to set out for home where his parents, oblivious to his delayed arrival, would be absorbed in their own pursuits. The scent of decaying leaves reminded him of a smell somewhere between the cherry tobacco in his father’s pipe and his mother’s compost heap. A small flame of resentment flared in his heart, but Zach refused to let it take hold.

“Let ‘em divorce,” he said. “See if I care.”

Night Flight

9c019efa-62b4-49a3-8d25-06bde493c6e7The rhythmic drumming of hooves from a single horse is followed within thirty seconds by the chaotic stampede of many horses. Branches slap the riders’ faces as they race beneath the low branches in pursuit of a lone horseman.

The forest reverberates with the sound of man and beast: leather saddles creaking, hilted swords rattling, shouts from the pursuers, and powerful blasts of breath from their steeds. All of it fading, fading into the distance as the last of the leaves disturbed from the branches glide silently to the ground, touching earth without so much as a sigh.

Belsante leans her whole body against the wet bark of the tree behind which she hides; her dress draws the moisture like a man dying of thirst. She presses her palms and cheek into the bark until it imprints her skin, but still she does not move. The rasp of her breath, steel against whetstone, swells and recedes in her ears.

Theobald left her with the promise of return and a scrap of cloth, the corners cross-tied into a knot, wherein he had placed a chunk of bread and a leather flask of wine. He barely had time to kiss her goodbye before he mounted his stallion, Saracen, and led her father’s retainers away from her hiding place.

They agreed that Belsante should make her way to the very abbey where her father planned to have her imprisoned upon learning of her desire to marry Theobald, a mere merchant’s son. It’s not that Belsante isn’t devout toward her faith or unwilling to attend the needs of the poor; she simply wants to marry the man with whom she had fallen in love and not the aging Duke her father had chosen for her. Furthermore, her father would never think to look for her there.

The Abbess, a kind woman with a progressive mind, doesn’t believe in making a girl serve against her will, no matter how generous the endowment from said girl’s father. The young lovers trust her to help in their plan to escape France. Where they’ll go and how they’ll make a living afterward is anyone’s guess. Theobald had proposed selling Saracen, the only thing of value he possesses, but the couple doesn’t know how to go about doing so without attracting attention.

When she can no longer hear the sound of hooves hammering the ground, Belsante peeks around the tree trunk. Twilight and mist dim the woods; she will need to hurry if she wants to reach the abbey before she is caught. The threat of wolves hastens her steps.

The young girl travels throughout the night, and as dawn approaches the horizon, she sees the walls of the abbey on the edge of town. She also sees her father’s men leading Saracen, his mouth flecked with foam, his sweat-glistened sides heaving. Theobald does not sit astride the majestic, black horse who limps as he walks.

Belsante cannot hear the conversation between her father’s men and the Abbess, but she can tell from the determined shake of the Abbess’ head that she is aware of the night’s events. With much hand gesturing, the elderly woman encourages the men to leave, convincing them that Belsante is not within the walls of the abbey.

Again, the distraught girl must hide among the trees until the men leave. She emerges to see the Abbess waiting for her; a gentle beckoning draws Belsante from the woods. The Abbess’ arms are open, and the weary girl falls into them, weeping.

“His mount threw a shoe. They overtook Theobald before he could escape,” the Abbess says.

“They rode him down like a dog,” Belsante cries, her voice anguished.

“What will you do, my child?”

Belsante lifts her tear-streaked face from the Abbess’ ample bosom.

“Do you know where they have laid my love?”

“His body has been returned to his family. He will be interred in the cemetery of the town where they reside.”

Steel stronger than any blade enters Belsante’s body as she stands before the Abbess, shoulders rigid, head held high.

“I will take holy orders. My life will be given to serve those among whom Theobald lived.”

The Abbess’ eyes look down and away; she knows the impetuousness of young women often fades once the hardships of life in the abbey become apparent. When she looks into Belsante’s face, she observes strength born of loss. The old woman nods her head in agreement.

“Welcome, my child.”

Simply Walking

Blue-white diamond sunlight filters through the meager canopy of branches. Wet leaves dampen the sound of Rachel’s footfalls and cling to her bare feet. Her arms embrace each other, hands rubbing away her shivers and prickled flesh. The salt trails of her tears dry on her face leaving her skin taut.

5077bd7e-718c-42b8-b79a-0092083d321eStars littered the sky when she walked away from the house full of grief-stricken people; so many family members and friends sitting shiva for her parents. Her little brother, Bartholomew, huddled in an overstuffed armchair in the corner of her grandparents’ living room. His wide eyes searched the room for the hugs and kisses that never came. Eventually, he fell asleep.

The forest stands in stark contrast to the house she left. In the stillness of the woods she can hear her own heartbeat, her own breathing, and the rhythmic sounds soothe her. If she had brought Bartholomew, he would have peppered her with the endless questions of a five year-old. “Are Mom and Dad in Heaven? Who will we live with? What color was the truck that hit them? Was our car wrecked? Why aren’t you wearing any shoes, Rachel?”

And like she has done for the past five days since her parents were killed en route to the pediatrics conference in Florida, she would say, “Yes, Bartholomew, they are in Heaven. We will stay with Nana and Papa. It wasn’t a truck; it was an RV. We’ll get a new car in two years when I’m old enough to drive.”

As for the last question, she would have encouraged him to remove his socks and dress shoes, to feel the cool earth beneath his tender feet if only to distract him from his sadness. But he isn’t with her, and her sorrow hangs heavy in the dewy morning air.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: