Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chapter Seven

Trista felt a little sick as she watched Gaelin walk away. She didn’t understand what had happened to him today, but she squared her shoulders. Good Riddance. Maybe now I can take a bath and wash my clothing. But he isn’t gone for good, he will be back before too long. She didn’t know what would bring him back. She had no illusions that any fondness for her would make him return. Maybe Dion though. He didn’t just leave that bread for me. And something else may turn him back. The spell will hold somehow. The spirits will see to this. With a strange mix of satisfaction and resignation in her knowledge of her companion’s imminent return, she hummed and reassured Dion.

“Don’t worry, little squirrel. He is only going on a trip. He will be back sometime.”

“Back?” his tear-stained face was hopeful.

“Yes…Daddy will come back.”

Trista didn’t know why she called Gaelin that, for Dion. She had done it the day before because Gaelin had obviously told Dion to call her Mommy. She now wondered if he had been making fun of her and their situation that time too. I guess I just want him to feel like he has a daddy. That is more important.

Dion slid out of her arms to the ground. “Have to pee.” he said. She took his pants off and shooed him away, telling him to go do it himself. She figured that he could learn that well enough on his own. It isn’t like there was any great science to it without pants to worry about. She smiled, remembering memories of seeing her little sibling run around as toddlers with little or nothing on. A privilege of the young. For us older and wiser ones, we have to wait until there is no one to see. For them, they don’t realize that they have anything to hide.

She kept an eye on him while she began preparing food and feeding the fire, feeling a little like a dog-owner waiting for her charge to relieve itself in the yard. When he was done, she left him alone for a little then called him. She replaced his trousers and gave him the rest of the bread to eat. Soon the oatmeal was done and she divided it between them. While they were eating, she made a decision.

“We are going to go swimming in the stream today.”

Dion perked up at once, and she kept a steady chatter going with him through the rest of the meal. He asked her about the lobsters, and pebbles. She had to keep reminding him to eat, but when he was done, he darted out of the door and ran toward the top of the sloping path to the stream until she called him sharply to stop. When he had stopped, she quickly gathered the dishes and went to meet him.

“You were good to stop and wait, Dion. You must always wait for me or Daddy before leaving the house.” She wasn’t sure if he was really paying attention, but she had already guessed that this lesson would need repeating before it was learned. I just hope that it will be learned before he finds trouble, and not trouble from a protective parent. The stream will be a good place to begin safety training.

The reached the stream quickly, Dion skipping by her side. She noted that a trail was already beginning to be worn through the forest along their usual route. Leading Dion downstream to the pool, she reminded him again to not go near the water without her or Daddy. Reaching the pool, she set the dishes down and slipped her shoes off.

“Stay right there Dion.” Trista warned him, then lowered herself into the cold water, fully clothed. The stream was two feet deep next to the shore. Wading further out, she tested the current, then sat down in the water. She shivered and shuddered as the water found its way through or past her clothing to her skin. The current tugged on her, but not very hard. She could swim against it, even in her clothing, with a slow, steady sidestroke. She swam to the shore and called Dion to her.

“Are you ready to swim?” She reached over and pushed him gently onto his bottom so she could take his shoes off. She tossed them near hers and tugged him to his feet. He hesitated on the bank in his sock feet, looking doubtfully at the water. It probably looked a lot deeper to him than it did to her.

“Come on, it feels good. Do you want to jump in? I’ll catch you.” Trista held out her arms invitingly.

Finally, Dion screwed his courage up and jumped off the bank into her arms. She caught him and lowered him into the water. He squealed and kicked when his feet splashed into the water. Trista giggled and bounced him in and out of the water. When he seemed more accustomed to the cold water, she set him down on the bottom. He stood uneasily in the water, as it was a little higher than his belly. When she took her hand off him he turned and grabbed some grass growing on the bank.

“Aw, come on you little sissy. I’ll teach you how to be a fish.” Trista glided up to him and put an arm around his waist to half-lift and half-pull him into the deeper part of the stream. He clung to her like a burr as the water rose to his shoulders. Talking to him all the while, she pried him off her body and transferred him to her arm. She finally had him with both his hands on her arm, as she held her arm out in the stream, away from her. She told him to kick his feet and splash. When he did this, she would pull him through the water as if he was swimming. After her arm got tired, she switched arms and decided to teach him another skill. She put her mouth below the water and sipped some, then spat it at him. He found this game very fun, and before long he was ducking behind her arm and dipping his face into the water to avoid her shots. After a couple attempts, and a lot of coughing after those failed attempts, he was filling his own mouth with water to spit back.

Trista laughed with him and felt warm with their game and her success. The clever little boy was already learning things that she had seen other three-year-olds take weeks and several classes to learn: how to kick and how to put his face in the water. Soon, she would teach him to blow bubbles under water and hold his breath. When he knew how to hold his breath, she would teach him to float.

When she felt Dion begin to shiver, she helped him kick his way over to the bank and stood him up in the shallow water. He stood up confidently now, which was a big help as she began undressing him. When she had his socks, pants, and shirt in her hands, she lifted him out of the stream and told him to wait for the sun to dry him. She spread his clothing on the warm grass to let them dry.

The sun shone down on the boy and his caretaker. The young woman gazed around her, noting every detail. She closed her eyes and stretched her other senses to listen and smell. She took in her world, deliberately relaxed, and began slipping out of her clothing. First her shirt was wrung out and laid on the bank, then her bra. She had to get out of the stream to find a place for her jeans, then her panties went next to them. A very slight breeze raised good bumps on her bare, wet skin, but the sun warmed her and smoothed them down as she stood on the bank. She noticed the dishes nearby, and gathered them to wash. She did not get back into the water, but instead lay down beside the pool and reached in to rinse the bowls, spoons, and pot.
The more time she spent there in near that peaceful stream, waiting for her clothing to dry, the more comfortable she became. She felt at home with the woods and water. Her little boy, Dion, paid no mind to her state of dress. She helped him gather pinecones and built forts from them for him to knock down. Later, they tossed the pinecones into the water and watched them float down river like a flotilla of squat little boats. The time seemed to pass quickly to Trista. She began to feel hungry. When she caught Dion attempting to eat an old acorn, (“But Mommy, squirrels eat nuts,”) she got dressed and helped Dion into his clothing, promising that they would eat soon if he got dressed quickly.

When they got near the cabin, Trista couldn’t help but wonder if Gaelin would be back yet. Dion apparently had the same idea, as he tugged his hand from hers and ran to the door to look in. He came back, looking disappointed.

“Daddy not back.”

“He will be soon.”

But Gaelin did not return that afternoon or evening, though both of them watched for his return as they went about their business. Trista pondered making her jeans into a knee length skirt. It would be easier to move in and quicker to wash and dry, but it would also provide less protection from briars, insects, snakes, and the like. Perhaps Gaelin will have some idea of what would be best.

Evening became night and Trista sat up a little longer by the fire’s glow than she would have otherwise. She told herself that she was just tired from the morning’s swim and the long, quiet afternoon’s work.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Chapter Six

He had heard her crying. Gaelin nearly ran back to the cabin through the melting fog. When he reached it, he checked on Dion and immediately reeled back outside and began slapping his palm against his head. He wished he had a good plaster wall to beat his head on. His hand was too soft and the trees and rocks around here were all too hard.
I’m such an idiot! Why did I do that? It wasn’t her fault, and I just had to go make fun of her and hurt her to cover my own lousy backside. An imagined picture of Trista’s backside floated through his mind. Too hard or not, he strode to the nearest tree and knocked his head against the ridged bark. He felt like a jerk, and an immature one. So this was how he dealt with a little embarrassment? And this was how he dealt with his thoughts about Trista’s body? Gaelin paced back and forth across the clearing, wearing a line through the grass. The white fog lifted totally and the sun shone as he paced, but his thoughts did not mirror this. They swirled darkly through him.
Girls hadn’t paid attention to him at home. He was too quiet. He was reduced to watching them out of the corner of his eyes, from the sides of the room. It had never felt fair. He felt that he should follow the golden rule and do to others as they did to him. They didn’t notice him, so what business did he have looking at them? But I was never able to live up to that standard. And I still can’t treat my equals as my equals. What I said to Trista was wrong. No, the questions he had asked were legitimate. Husbands and wives should be able to bathe together. They should be able to do a lot more; he wanted to do a lot more. He had always wanted so much more than he ever got. And now look at me. I’m married and I still don’t even get to look at the woman I am married to without feeling like a pervert. What am I doing here anyway? What right did they have to stick me in this? I bet it wasn’t even legal. I could walk away.
Gaelin paused and looked at the faint trail leading out of the clearing into the woods. His body turned to face it fully, drawn by the lure of freedom. He realized that he was standing in the ring of bare dirt. The circle was still drawn, and dew glistened on a couple black-charred sticks at his feet. He took a step and kicked the remains of the fire. Anger built in him. He scuffed at the drawn circle, obliterating a part of it. He stared at the ground, focusing on erasing the ring; until Trista’s shoe stepped into his line of sight, right onto the line across the circle from him. He looked up at her, feeling guilty.
Her face was closed to him. She just looked at him, and he wondered how much she guessed of his thoughts. She was back in control, and Gaelin felt like he had been caught cheating at a test. But he still felt cheated and resentful himself.
“I want to leave.” He caught himself before he blurted out why he wanted to leave. I’m no good at this.
“I don’t even know why I’m here. Sure, it was fun for a couple days, and it was nice to meet you, but I don’t think this was supposed to happen to me.”
“You can’t leave, Gaelin.”
“Oh, yeah? Why not?”
“Because you rubbing this circle out of the dirt doesn’t change what was done.” Her own toe twisted on the ground, erasing a few inches of the ring. “We were given as a sacrifice to the land. I have heard of this tradition, but it hasn’t been done in a long time. You and I are actually lucky that we were given as much help as we were…”
“What are you talking about?”
“We have been ritually cut off from our families and left with each other to the mercy of the woods.”
Gaelin didn’t believe it. He knew of his family’s religion. He had observed the more major festivals with them, but this was insane. He had never heard of people being given to the woods. They had controlled nature, even as they worshiped it. Gaelin had been taught the ways of the woods and stars. He hadn’t cared much for the mumbo jumbo part of their faith but he had seen it work. He had seen magical cures and curses. He had seen one woman prophesy when a spirit entered her. But it had never applied to him. He only learned it because that is what his family had done for generations. But this was suddenly going way too far.
“I’m not staying here. I don’t believe this, and I don’t owe you anything.”
“You owe me an apology”
“And what about what you owe me? I have my rights as a husband, and you haven’t been holding up your end of that deal.”
Trista laughed. “I thought you didn’t believe in this. What makes you think I owe you anything a wife owes her husband?”
Gaelin swore. The corner of Trista’s mouth twisted upward. She was mad, but she had obviously enjoyed scoring that point on him.
“Fine, just fine! You don’t think I can leave? Well watch me.” Gaelin stalked past her and to the cabin. He grabbed the blanket he had used the night before and rolled it up with some flint and a knife. Taking a piece of bread left over from last night, he bit into it and crouched to tie the blanket with a piece of rope, still chewing. Gaelin was painfully aware of Trista watching him in the doorway. Anger and worse, shame, burned in him; his fingers fumbled at the knots he was tying. When he rose to leave, he saw Dion awake and watching him with wide eyes. He almost lost his nerve, right there, but Trista was still watching, and he needed to escape. He looked at the bread in his hand, and set it back on the table. He had been going to take it, but couldn’t bring himself to do that now.
With barely a glance at Trista, Gaelin pushed past her. He headed across the clearing and into the woods, slinging his make-shift pack around his shoulders as he went. For a few minutes he walked in a hot daze, then he regained his senses and began paying attention to his surroundings. He had lost the trail already. He sighed and back-tracked until he found it, but this brought him close to the edge of the woods. Through the brush, he could see into the clearing. Trista stood in the door of the cabin, Dion in her arms. He could hear the little boy crying. His gut twisted, but he turned and followed the faint trail away through the forest.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chapter Five

The woods/from brook to where/the top of the hill looks/over the fog, send up/not one bird./So absolute, it is/no other than/happiness itself, a breathing/too quiet to hear. ~ "Breathing" by Denise Levertov

When Trista woke up, Gaelin was already gone. The sun was only just rising and she shivered in the cold as she slipped from the bed. The bed had been warm with the little boy cuddled against her shoulder, too warm actually. Her clothing felt damp and grubby and she could smell herself. She wanted to wash herself, right then. A quick dip in the stream is all I need right now. Actually, it’s probably all I can handle this morning. She hurried out into the misty morning.

The world was different in the white fog, smaller and quieter. The dew soaked her shoes as she walked across the clearing and down into the forest toward the stream. Finding it, she wound her way along the bank, heading downstream. She hoped to find a spot where the water was more than a foot deep. Her feet made almost no noise in the damp leaves that were strewn along the slate, grey rock with lined the stream. In the stillness of the morning, she felt much freer and happier, nearly forgetting about her troubles of the past two days.

She was brought back to the present with a start when she came around a large tree and found a place where the water was indeed more than a foot deep. Judging from how much of Gaelin was below the surface of the water, she guessed it was about four feet deep. Caught by surprise, her foot caught on a root and she stumbled headlong and fell in a sprawl on the stream bank. Gaelin whipped around at the sound of her gasp and immediately lowered himself a little lower in the water, up to his bare chest. They stared at each other for a second, before Trista came to herself.

“Sorry.” She muttered. She could hardly speak, and she was hot with embarrassment. She scrambled to her feet and ran back up the stream until the fog and trees hid him and the pool. It didn’t stop his voice though, and she heard him laughing. She listened, too tongue-tied to make a sound herself. She heard him splash to the edge of the stream until it stopped, as he climbed out. After a while, he reappeared in his clothes. His red-blond hair looked redder, plastered with water to his forehead and he eyes danced.

“Did you come to take a bath too?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but continued to mock her. “Why didn’t you join me, pretty lady? Aren’t husbands and wives supposed to bathe together?”

She stepped back hastily when he came almost close enough for his hair to drip on her. He really wasn’t helping, and he knew it. Was he trying to make her more embarrassed?

“Just forget it, ok? And don’t you dare follow me. Get out of here” She heard her own voice get higher and higher in her anger and stress.

Gaelin’s leprechaun eyes winked, and his smile looked twisted and wolfish to her. What is he thinking? Would he watch me? She edged past him toward the pool and ran back into the fog, then stopped and listened, feeling like a hunted animal. She heard him moving off, back toward that cabin. It wasn’t reassuring. She was afraid to take off her clothes now; he might just backtrack and circle around. He had seemed so nice before, and now she couldn’t trust him. Sitting down on the bank, she curled in a ball and cried.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Prophecy

my name is rose lachenhild, and what you didn't know about me is that i am a killer. i have killed a man, and it wasn't clean or easy. i didn't have a gun, or poison. i didn't even have a blade. i only had what the lord above gave me. when i was assaulted by a man, i crushed his windpipe with my teeth. by the time i had gotten a grip he was in the midst of orgasm. i held on and his own movements helped my teeth tear his flesh. by the time it was over; it was over. half-suffocated, his throat crushed and torn, and with blood rasping in his lungs, it took him a few more minutes to die. i kept him company, as i didn't have the strength yet to move away. i might have passed out. when i could, i got up, gathered my torn and blood-stained clothing around me, and slunk back to my home. i threw away my ruined clothes, showered, and brushed my teeth. the blood taste lingered in my mouth, but it didn't matter. none of this mattered. you see, i had known for a long time that this was going to happen. merlin could see the future, but he was blind to his own future. if only he had known what a mercy this was. i was a killer for a long, long time before this ever happened.


Just to remind everyone or inform any new readers, the chapters I am putting up are for a novel I am writing during November as part of the National Novel Writing Month challenge. What you see is strictly rough draft. It has received only the most cursory editing. I have never done something like this before, and honestly, I really don't know how the story will progress or end. I don't even know what genre it will end up in, though I guess I am aiming for a young adult age group. It may be that I try a couple different things before choosing and polishing one for the final plot. Thank-you for bearing with me, and any constructive criticism is welcome. This will be edited later, so even any small points will be kept for consideration.

Chapter Four

Trista led Dion into the cabin. She began working on rebuilding the fire again. She thought about how she had naturally slipped into the role of working in the house, cooking and cleaning. She had been working on peeling and smoothing a broom handle. She wasn’t sure what she would eventually use for the broom itself, but she would cross that bridge when she came to it. That is how I will have to do most of this life. I’ll just cross whatever bridges I come to, when I come to them. But there was one she was really not sure how she would cross it. As she worked on the fire, she snuck looks out of the corner of her eye at Gaelin, her husband. She was absolutely certain that the ceremony had been binding. She did belong to him, but she didn’t have to like it. A muscle in her cheek twitched and an odd feeling crawled through her insides like a snake in her belly at the thought of him in that bed. She knew what she must do, but her stomach hurt at the thought. She shivered, in spite of the heat of the flames a few inches from her hands. I’m not ready!
Why did he sleep on the floor last night? Was he just uncomfortable with the idea of sleeping with a girl he didn’t know? Ha, maybe he liked to wait until the third date before he started getting it on with his dates. Well, he will find that I am not so easy, even if we are married. Oh gods…Why am I resisting this? It isn’t like I am going to be rescued from this bizarre dream.
She brushed the back of her hand across her eyes as casually as she could while still quick enough to hide a sudden tear. She looked around, but Gaelin had silently left the cabin again. Dion was watching the crayfish in the pot.
His hand hovered over the pot rim, looking like it might try to touch the clicking, beady-eyed creatures. She let that one slide. If he got pinched, it wouldn’t be enough to really hurt him. Trial and error would be a sufficient teacher for now for what not to do. She would show him how to pick them up herself if she had to.
She realized that having Dion to take care of actually made her feel better; not so helpless. She sighed and tried out a smile. The motion felt strange on her tense face. She stood and stretched and smiled again. It still felt a little forced. Oh well. Smiling was never my gift anyway. At least, not that anyone had ever told her.
“Ok Dion,” she said. “Let’s put some water in the pot and put it on the fire.” She took the last of the water from the bucket and added it to the pot, enough to fill it halfway and cover the crayfish. They spun in the current for a second, but as soon as they righted themselves, they came to the surface and used the extra height of the water to reach the rim of the pot and begin pulling themselves out. Oops…
Dion yelled something indistinct and slightly panicked in her ear. She brushed the creatures off the edge of the pot, but after a couple seconds they were at it again. If she tried to cook them like this they would climb “out of the frying pan and into the fire.” Literally. Now she laughed as she pushed a renegade crawdad back into the water. Dion laughed too, this had quickly become a fun game and he crowed with excitement whenever she intercepted another escape attempt. She recalled Dion’s own attempt at getting past Gaelin that morning. Where is he anyway, maybe he could break this up. We are at another impasse at the moment; I need something or someone else on my side.
Trista’s eyes fell on the bucket and inspiration struck. She poured the contents of the pot into the larger bucket. The crayfish swam around on the bottom of the bucket but could not climb the sides. She pulled herself off the dirt floor onto a stool and watched Dion lean over the bucket, fascinated again. He ventured to reach in; he had probably been emboldened by how she had been touching the crawdads with her hands.
Gaelin choose this moment to re-enter the cabin. He looked just the slightest bit furtive, and she wondered what he had been up to.
“Do you know how to kill a crayfish?” she asked.
“Um, not really. I just thought you had to boil them.” he responded. He also went to look in the bucket. “What is the problem?”
“They can escape that small pot when there is water in it”
“Do we have a larger pot?”
“Yeah, but it is much larger.” She pointed out the pot in question, which was at least three times as large as the other, probably holding over two gallons. It would be good for many things, but it seemed like overkill for two pesky little crayfish.
Gaelin apparently agreed. He nodded and suggested, “Well, what if you put them in boiling water one at a time? You could keep them in ok and it will take less time for them to die if the water is already hot.”
She agreed to try it and he left to fill the pot at the stream, since the bucket was already employed as a holding tank.
He really isn’t all that bad. She mused. He is helpful and easygoing, even reasonably intelligent. Who knows if he is actually any good, but at least he hasn’t been a jerk yet.
The boiling water experiment proved successful. After the two crayfish had cooked for a while, they turned from grey-brown to a lighter, pinker color. She strained them out of the cooking water and set them on the table to cool. While Gaelin and Dion waited for their snack to be cool enough to eat, she began working on the real dinner. She knew she really didn’t have many options at the moment. There seemed to be no meat in the cabin and no oil. Truth be told, it looked like the only dish she could really make was oatmeal. At least her family, or whoever had stocked the cabin, had supplied rolled oats.
But she could at least try a few other things. She didn’t have oil, but she had found an old-fashioned hand-mill. She guessed that it was supposed to be used for coffee beans. They didn’t have coffee, but they could make wheat and corn flour with this. She set Gaelin to work with the grinder and a couple handfuls of wheat and a bowl. Meanwhile, she arranged the fire to produce an even heat and worked on her broomstick again. When Gaelin gave her the flour, she mixed it with salt and water and used a flat drying pan as a skillet on the low fire to cook her flat bread. Gaelin helped Dion pull the tail off the crayfish and crack the shells. The meat was white and firm (Trista took a moment from her baking to make sure the crayfish were cooked thoroughly), and Dion seemed to enjoy his portion.
It didn’t seem too long before dusk was beginning to fall and they sat around the table eating bread and drinking water from the stream. Dion sat on Trista’s lap and ate off her plate. This arrangement seemed to work best for the moment, as there were only a couple stools and they weren’t high enough for the three-year-old. It had been a fairly short day, but Trista felt tired enough to go to bed as soon as possible. Dion was also acting sleepy as the meal ended. He squirmed around until she sat him facing her on her lap and he put his head on her shoulder as he had the night before. She took him outside before he dozed completely off and helped him use the toilet, then brought him back and laid him in the trundle bed. She sat tiredly on the bed. Gaelin had disappeared again, but then she noticed that he had taken the dishes she had used with him. Washing them again? And after dark? Responsible of him.
He returned presently with the rinsed dishes and the bucket filled with more water. He set this by the fire and the dishes on the table. He straightened and came to stand in the bedroom door. Trista suddenly felt a pressure on her throat. Dion was asleep in the trundle bed already. Would he want to use the big bed? She would sleep on the floor, she decided.
But Gaelin wasn’t looking at the bed, he had come to watch Dion.
“He is a good kid, isn’t he?”
“Yes, a little quiet still, but a good kid. We could have gotten much worse.”
“Do you think he would wake up if we moved him?” Trista glanced at him questioningly. He explained, “I mean, I was going to sleep on the floor again, and I was hoping to use that blanket again.”
Trista felt a weight leave her shoulders. She wondered if relief showed in her voice when she answered. “I don’t think he will wake up.”
She moved Dion to the bed and Gaelin took not only the blanket but also the small mattress off the trundle bed. It was small, he explained, but it was a little better than the dirt floor. They settled in, and he bid her goodnight as he had before.
“Goodnight to you too.”
And the shadow of the new moon rose, a black disk in the midnight sky.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Chapter Three

Trista woke with a start when she heard Gaelin yelp, followed by a higher yelp. She sat up. Gaelin was detangling himself from his blanket and already looking sheepish. Dion made a second try to climb over the incumbent Gaelin and was intercepted. In a second it was a stand-off. Gaelin’s legs were tangled in his blanket and he couldn’t get out while he held Dion by the arm. Dion tugged but couldn’t get away. They soon looked up to Trista for mediation.
“Um, is it ok for him to get outside? The fire…”
“I have to pee!”
Gaelin released the child hastily. Trista snorted with laughter but also lost no time in getting out of bed and leading Dion outside. She was still chuckling when she came back in, holding Dion by the hand.
“He just surprised me, climbing over me like that while I was asleep. I didn’t have any siblings this small.” Gaelin explained while he tossed his blanket on the bed. Trista busied herself with building the fire up again. She put some water and salt in the pot and set it on the hook over the fire. Dion wandered around, picking things up.
Trista spoke up, “Dion, how old are you?”
He held up three fingers. “I’m fwee” he said with a childish lisp. That seemed about right to Gaelin. Dion was pretty mobile, could apparently talk a little, and was at least partly toilet-trained. At least when toilets were available to him. I guess I will need to make some sort of latrine soon. Joy.
“Ok Dion, this is Gaelin, you listen to him too. If he tells you not to do something and you do it anyway, you will be spanked.” She looked firmly at the boy to back up her words. Dion looked a little nervously at Gaelin.
“Hi Dion.” Gaelin smiled and lowered himself onto one of the stools. “What do you have there?” He held out his hand and after a second, Dion handed him his current toy. It was a small hand trowel. “A shovel, and just your size too. Are you going to dig with it?” He handed the trowel back and Dion nodded, then toddled outside, probably to start digging, though Gaelin thought he would have little luck on the thick grass near the cabin.
Trista sat down at the other side of the table, within an arm’s reach of the fire and the simmering water. “He complicates this.” she said.
“Yeah. We’ll have to watch him carefully. Should we divide up the babysitting duties?”
“It’s more than that. If we are going to be here for any great length of time, and we probably will be, then it won’t just be looking after him. We’ll have to raise him, teach him.”
Gaelin felt like hitting his head on something as he began to contemplate the responsibility of the father role he would have to take. He tried to turn the topic to the more immediate and less complex question of watching Dion and keeping him safe. That kid was going to be a pain in the neck, no doubt about that.
“Well, should we start by trying to keep him close to the house and out of the fire?”
Trista added dry oatmeal to the boiling water in the pot and stirred while she spoke. “Yes, and we probably should take turns in keeping an eye on him. I never really liked babysitting, but I’m trying not to think of this like that.”
“How are you thinking of it? I don’t know much about kids, only some things about being friendly with them if you don’t know them.”
“I hope that I can think of him as a son, not as a chore. I have a sort of duty to him, and he will learn his duties to me. We can teach him, you know. We aren’t really his parents, and he will know this deep down, but I am willing to adopt him.”
Gaelin nodded, then went and looked out the door, feeling an urge to check that Dion hadn’t wandered off. He was apparently using his trowel to overturn rocks in the clearing. Trista came to the doorway and called Dion inside for breakfast. After washing his hands in the bucket, she served them all oatmeal with brown sugar, though it was really more like noon by then. Gaelin didn’t mind, and as hungry as he now was, the thick, hot cereal tasted better than it had at home. Or maybe she is a better cook than my mom.
In this way, their first day in the woods began. Gaelin offered to take the dishes to clean in the stream. After a short discussion, he let Dion come along. A winding trail down to the stream was now apparent in the daylight, so Gaelin let Dion walk behind him. The stream was shallow and not too treacherous at the place nearest the cabin, so Dion was allowed to take his shoes off and wade in the stream, collecting pebbles. Gaelin scraped the oatmeal residue from the bowls and pot with his fingers and some grit from the bottom of the stream when needed. The bowls were some sort of wood, and the pot was heavy, tough cast iron.
When did they want to send us back to anyway?1600? Earlier? From what he had seen of the stuff in the cabin, it looked a lot like that. There was rope and cord, plenty of both, but none of it of synthetic fiber or otherwise modern make. A mallet, but no nails. There was some flints, but no matches. Gaelin realized that they had been lucky to have a fire last night. He didn’t think he would have been able to light a fire with flint and steel in the dark. Not yet at least. He was determined to remedy that handicap. There were three knives of different sizes and weights; sharp, for the moment, and all with a leather sheath. Gaelin considered that whoever left the cabin should carry the six-inch blade that looked like a hunting knife. The knives were plain steel with wood handles and cord grips. There were some simple tools including a spade, Dion’s trowel, a hatchet, an ax, and the aforementioned mallet, all solid but not modern. There was a sack of wheat berries and another of corn, and a third of rolled oats. There was some brown sugar and a sack of salt. Trista had seemed moderately pleased with the cooking utensils but she tsked over the lack of meat, oil, and fruit.
I wonder how much food there is to be found around here. There must be some animals, though I haven’t seen any yet today. And I wonder what sort of things are in the stream.
His question was to be partly answered a second later when Dion cried out, shook his arm wildly and hastily scrambled out of the stream. He sat hiccupping on the bank and Gaelin investigated at once.
“What happened?”
Dion just showed him his hand, it was red with the cold of the water, but Gaelin could see a brighter red mark on a couple of the fingers. Out of the corner of his eye, Gaelin saw something crawling a few feet away. He turned, and then pounced, almost without thinking, on a decent sized crawfish. He actually wasn’t sure he could catch it with being pinched, but he batted it further away from the stream to give him more time to plan his capture. The miniature lobster raised his pincers and headed for the stream again, until Gaelin turned one of the bowls over on it. He found a nearby stick and set it on top, he wouldn’t put it past the crawfish to still go crawling into the stream, bowl and all.
Dion pointed at the trapped crawdad. “Ouch”
“Yeah, I bet that hurt, but you might have found something pretty important.” Gaelin knelt next to the boy and pointed into the stream. “Where was it?”
Dion pointed to some disturbed rocks a couple feet from the shore. Gaelin waded in, and began picking up the rocks quickly, then setting them down in a different spot carefully, trying not to disturb too much debris and keeping his eyes strained for movement. He was rewarded after a few moments with a second crawfish, which darted for a new hiding place when he lifted its rock. He tossed the rock aside and pursued it. He found it hidden partly under a stone, and after a couple tries, caught it by the tail. It curled up and tried to nip him but he tossed it onto the bank with the other one. Dion cheered. Gaelin grabbed a second cleaned bowl from the bank and trapped his second catch. His back ached a little from bending over and his hands were painfully numb. That thing might have even pinched him without his knowing it.
“Well Dion, I don’t know if we can catch enough to eat this way, but do you want to take these home to…Mommy?”
Dion nodded exuberantly, as Gaelin was expecting him to. He was already moving to get the pot. He got both crawdads in the bottom of the small pot and upended one of the bowls inside to keep them from escaping. He handed it to Dion who carried it with both hands but tried to hurry ahead. Gaelin let him, feeling rather pleased with the results of the time at the stream.
When they got to the cabin, they found Trista peeling a sapling with one of the knives. She raised one eyebrow at Gaelin when Dion toddled up to her, calling “Mommy.” Gaelin didn’t think he was in trouble, but other than that, he wasn’t at all sure what that meant. He noted the color of her hair suddenly, it was brown, neither dark nor light, but the sun made it shine red-gold on the top of her head. She smiled at Dion as he showed her his “lobsters.”
“Yes, I can cook them for you, little squirrel. I’ll start them now to make sure they are well-cooked for dinner. You and daddy can have them.”
Gaelin felt his ears turn red. He felt like she was making fun of him. Touché Trista, but I wasn’t making fun of you when I told Dion to call you that. You can be his mother, but I’m not so sure I would make a good dad. But maybe I can fake it for a while.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Chapter Two

“Golde, the first time I met you was on our wedding day” ~Tevye, The Fiddler on the Roof

She was glaring at him, and he avoided her eyes. He noticed her wrist still bleeding a little into the back of the little boy’s shirt.
“Come on…let’s get that cleaned up.” He was still dazed, but he had a feeling that that would pass and he would be feeling extremely self-conscious soon. He headed toward the cabin, glancing over his shoulder to make sure she was following, which she did after a second. He wasn’t sure what he would find in the cabin, but moving from that fateful circle seemed to be the first thing to do.
He got to the cabin and tested the door. It didn’t have a handle but swung easily inward. The room felt small and smelled sort of musty and earthy. He moved forward, and bumped his thighs into something. He felt, and found a table. He leaned on it and moved it, it wasn’t too rickety. Good. He turned over his shoulder and saw Trista dimly outlined in the doorway.
“Well, we have a table.”
He felt his way around, finding shelves with some packages. His hand found some waxy, tapered rods. Candles. He took one and hurried back out into the field. Finding the dying fire, he blew aside some ashes and coaxed a flame onto his candle. The bright light and his small success buoyed him, and he returned to the house with his precious flame sheltered behind a cupped hand. With Trista, he stood in the house and turned around, looking. There was a fireplace in one wall, shelves with packages and tools on all the walls. There were a couple stools under the table, and in one wall; another doorway. Trista entered it, and he followed with the light. He held it up over her shoulder. There was a bed, just big enough for a couple people, and beside the bed a low trundle bed. There were some old looking blankets on them, but at least there was bedding. Trista pulled down the covers of the bigger bed and laid the child, their son, in it and covered him up. He did not wake. She stood watching him for a moment, her arms drooped. Her wrist seemed to have stopped bleeding, but he still knew the blood should be cleaned away. He spied a bucket near the door of the room.
“Trista?” She looked up.
“I’m guessing that there is water somewhere nearby.”
She nodded. “I heard water off…” she paused and turned, orienting herself. “…that way,” she pointed toward the east. “while we were waiting for you.”
“Thanks.” Gaelin reached across the bed to hand her the candle, then picked up the bucket and made his way out of the cabin.
He found the stream after walking east for a few minutes. There wasn’t any sort of trail that he could see, and going down hill was sometimes tricky in the deceptive, gray light. Returning to the cabin with the bucket, he found her in the cabin with a cloth set out on the table, as well as a small pot and what appeared to be oatmeal. She had brushed the dead leaves out of the fireplace onto the floor, and was building a fire in it, using the candle carefully. She pointedly ignored his entrance, concentrating on her work. As Gaelin watched her, he saw that though she was careful with the fire, she didn’t act afraid of the small flames. Her movements were gentle and precise, feeding the fire with small twigs, then building a log cabin frame of larger branches that she had apparently gathered while he was gone.
When the fire lit the room with a warm glow, Trista sat back on her heels, then rose and came to sit at the table with Gaelin. He dipped the cloth in the bucket and offered it to her. After wiping the dried blood off her own wrist, she handed it back and he cleaned his own and inspected it in the light of the fire. The dark red line on his wrist widened and shone as it bled slowly.
“I’m still bleeding a little, what about you?”
“Yeah, me too.” She left off tossing the dead leaves into the fire and retrieved a second cloth from a shelf. “We don’t have very many of these.” She warned, but she used a knife and her fingers to carefully tear two strips from it.
“My name is Gaelin Windsor.” He said as he began winding his strip firmly across the cut and around his wrist. “I’m seventeen. How old are you?”
“I’m seventeen too, and I guess my name is Trista Windsor.”
“What is your maiden name? Where are you from?”
She didn’t answer; she was using her teeth and one hand to try to knot her bandage. He glanced down at his own untied bandaged and wondered if he could do that too. He began working on it while he waited for her to answer. After a minute, he began to concentrate on the task, but the tips of the bandage proved a little two short for him to tie without two hands.
“Here, let me do that.” Gaelin glanced up around his hand that was nearly pressed against his face. I probably look like an idiot. he thought to himself ruefully, and he extended his wrist over the table to her with some embarrassment that one end of the cloth strip was wet with his saliva. She didn’t seem to mind though; she treated the ends the same and soon had them knotted. She seemed pretty unflappable about things like fire and dirt, for a girl.
“My name used to be Trista Mackey.”
“Would you prefer that I call you that if I ever need to?”
She stared at him. “We are married.” She stumbled a bit over saying that, but continued bravely. “Didn’t you feel the power of that bond? My name is Windsor and we are bound to this land and to each…” Her voice caught and she turned quickly to the fire and began feeding the dead leaves from the floor into it again, one by one. Perhaps it was hard to tell in the uncertain dawn and firelight, but Gaelin thought he saw a flush rise from her neck to her cheeks. He thought about that bed in the other room, then shoved the thought away.
“I have been raised to know the power of the magics of the moon, and of the bond of fire, blood, and water. I guess your family is also like this.” She nodded assent. “But I didn’t know what was going to happen tonight.” She glanced up at him. “I didn’t choose this.”
“Do you wish this hadn’t happened?”
Of course don’t want this! But then, am I really in such a bad place? Yes. I’m married, without being given a choice, to a girl I never met before an hour ago. I’m in an isolated place and need to live on limited resources. We have to take care of a child. I can’t go back to my old life. But, what was my old life anyway? Still, I wish that if I had to play the Swiss Family Windsor, I could play it with someone I knew. I wanted a choice, and I sort of hoped that a woman would choose to marry me because she liked me.
Gaelin looked at Trista. Her eyes were shadowed by the fire and looked rather haunted. “I’m sorry that you got dragged into whatever this is. The main reason I wish I wasn’t here was because I didn’t have a choice, because you didn’t have a choice, and because that kid sleeping in there is not ours, so he belonged to someone else, and who knows who that is? But listen, we are where we are. I can’t really change that right now. I’ll…try to be a good…partner…and take care of you and Dion.
Gaelin turned and looked through the door of the bedroom at Dion, still sleeping in the bed.
“You can have the bed.” he told her. She looked up from the fire again. “I’ll kip on the floor, ok? Honestly, I could sleep anywhere right now.”
She nodded a little stiffly. “Thanks.” She gave the fire one more poke, then rose and headed into the bedroom. Gaelin watched her pull the blanket off the trundle bed. It turned out to be a decent sized blanket tucked around that little mattress. He took it and lay down across the doorway of the bedroom. It felt like the right place to be, even though there was little but dirt beneath him. Trista carefully climbed into the bed with the little boy. Then after a moment came those familiar words, spoken hesitantly, as if they did not like to be used in this other-worldly situation.
“Good night, Gaelin”
“Good night, Trista”
The grey dawn brightened quickly but the red sun found the two teens and the child fast asleep. Weary from the long night, Gaelin slept deep and dreamlessly until the sun was high, but continued to doze until a sudden, queer feeling brought him to full alert in a split second.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Chapter One

“This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends; Not with a bang, but a whimper.” ~T. S. Eliot

The car left the glow of the last town’s lights far behind and wound its way into the darkness of the mountains. It was getting close to one in the morning by Gaelin’s estimate. He couldn’t know for sure; the clock in the dashboard of the car was broken and showed 11:07. “Well,” he thought to himself, “even a broken clock is right once or twice a day, but not now. I wonder where we are going.
Gaelin drifted into a doze as trees flashed past in the blur of the headlights. He did not wake until the car came to a stop and the door opened, letting in a chill breeze.
“Get out. We have a bit of a hike now.” His uncle sounded for all the world like they were out on a spring picnic instead of an increasingly bizarre night trip. Gaelin obeyed sleepily. Once outside the car, he became more alert and began to take stock of his surroundings. The headlights of the car lit up the woods before them, and a small trail heading off into the trees stood out to him. His uncle and the priest headed toward it without another word, their shadows dancing starkly among the trees. Behind him, the headlights of the car turned off and the only light was the moon and the bobbing lights of the flashlights the two men up ahead held.
The dark was huge for a moment, but within a couple seconds Gaelin could see enough to walk to edge of the woods. He hesitated; this was getting weirder by the moment. The car door slammed behind him and heavy footsteps approached. The driver, a friend of his uncle, pushed a third light into his hand.
He muttered, “You’ll be alright kid,” then stumped back to the car. Gaelin found the man’s intended assurance extremely troubling, but he flicked on the flashlight and quickly followed the other two men up ahead. The trail was narrow and little used, and sometimes he lost it altogether and merely made a beeline for the lights ahead. He had just re-found the trail again after such a time when he caught up with his uncle and the priest.
“Well, it looks like they are already here.” His uncle was saying as he came up behind the priest. Now they were walking in a loose single file, each with his flashlight trained on the ground before him.
“Who are already here?” Gaelin asked.
“Some old friends and distant relatives, you’ll see.”
“What’s going on?” Gaelin tried to push past the priest to walk next to his uncle. “What the hell are we, or anyone else, doing out here?” The priest wouldn’t let him by, and the underbrush was too thick for Gaelin to want to get off the trail to get around the priest.
"You watch your mouth,” was all his uncle replied. Gaelin was feeling less and less like he was on an adventure. This was starting to feel more like walking through the dark woods with two people who were certainly not his friends. Adrenaline rushed through him, but he was willing to wait this out. It wasn’t like he could really get out of this now; whatever this was.
The moon floated overhead, the waning crescent dying slowly; turning gold and amber like a glowing autumn leaf. "Tomorrow," thought the weary boy, "there will be no moon. A new month by the druid’s calendar. Which one?" He wasn’t sure right then, but he was sure that the man walking in front of him knew. In a flash of understanding, he realized that he was being taken to do a rite of some sort. He shivered. He did not really understand his family’s ancient faiths, but he had long been taught to obey. He was told that one day he would continue the practices and arts of moon, stone, water, leaf and fire himself. "Let’s get on with it then," he thought. "I hope it isn’t much further. I know they will want to do the rites while the moon is still in the sky. "
It wasn’t long afterwards that the three came out in a clearing, overgrown with matted grass and some brambles. Gaelin’s eyes were drawn to a dark, squarish shadow of a cabin across the clearing. A few smaller shadows detached from it and came silently to meet the trio. The priest passed Gaelin’s uncle and went to meet the figures first, and Gaelin finally reached his uncle’s side. As they neared the others, the shadows resolved in the dim moonlight into the figures of three women; a young woman, a middle-aged one, and an older woman dressed in a druid’s robes.
With a few words to the older women, the priest turned back to Gaelin, then grasped his arm and pulled him over to a patch where the grass had been cleared and the soil bared and smoothed. He could only tell this by feel and by a sort of fulfilled expectation of the setting of many bygone rites. The youngest woman, a girl really, about his own age he guessed, was led to stand next to him. She was also obedient and moved stiffly with tiredness. Gaelin heard her yawn, then yawned himself. Her head cocked toward him, and he thought she might have smiled, but the light was too dim to tell.
The priest and druidess stood before them, and now Gaelin’s heart began to pound again. Whatever this was, it would begin in seconds. He jumped when the girl’s hand touched his hesitantly, but then he took it. She must have been much more frightened than he. Perhaps she knows what is going to happen. Now isn’t that a comforting thought?
First the druid sang in the old language while the priest knelt and quickly kindled a small fire at Gaelin’s feet. Then he rose and chanted his own part while the woman paced around Gaelin and the girl, drawing a circle in the cool earth, enclosing the small fire as well. That done, a small bottle of water was produced from the robe of the druidess. The light of the flames glowed on the silver. This would be holy water, thought Gaelin. The priest also drew a blade from his robes. The girl’s hand tightened on Gaelin’s. For his part, he held to the hope that the driver of the car had been telling the truth that he would be alright.
The priest, still murmuring in the old tongue, took the two by the shoulders and directed them apart, so that they were positioned across from each other with the fire at their feet between them. He took the girl’s left hand and drew the blade very swiftly across the heel of her hand, just above the wrist. She paled slightly, but made no sound. Gaelin was ready when it was his turn. The cut was shallow and stung and blood welled from it quickly. The priest drew his hand to the girls and made them clasp each other’s wrists, so that their bleeding cuts touched and a few, mingled drops fell into the fire below. The singing became louder. Gaelin felt a little dizzy. He planted his feet carefully and looked straight at the girl to keep his balance. His skin felt numb, his wrist throbbed, and the heat from the fire blazed on the underside of his arm. Silver caught his eye again as the woman brought forth the holy water and poured it carefully over their clasped hands. Drops of water, some tinted pink, fell steaming and sizzling on the fire.
As the last drops emptied from the bottle, the druidess’ voice became the only one singing, then it too died off with a sigh. She stored the bottle in her robe again as she backed away. Gaelin’s uncle and the other woman came forward, he had nearly forgotten they were there. He now saw a much smaller shadow with the woman, a child?
His uncle spoke, “You are now married, and bound to this place, Gaelin and Trista Windsor.”
“...what?!” The girl, Trista, dropped his hand as if it was a snake. It fell limply to his side.
“You belong to this earth, you belong to this water, and you belong to the moon. You will not leave this area unless you are sent for, and you will care for your son Dion and raise him. The child was gently detached from the older woman and led to Trista. She stared them, then picked up the little boy, who relaxed into her arms and nestled his head on her shoulder. Gaelin watched with a sort of curiousness, feeling as if he was watching a movie.
“So be it.” said the priest.
“So be it.” Said the druidess. The woman and Gaelin’s uncle repeated this, then they all began to walk away. Gaelin began to follow them, but his uncle turned and gave him such a look that he stopped in his tracks. He stood where he was until his uncle disappeared. They were not using the flashlights now. The moon had set but dawn was probably only an hour away, and a grey light had seeped into the air. The fire smoked and went out. Gaelin shivered, and turned to face his wife and son.


Few will ever know why I truly named this blog "The Keyhole," but I think I can make a few more reasonable excuses out of the second and third reasons that it appealed to me. There is an idea left over from a hundred or more years ago of listening at keyholes. In this sense, the keyhole is a time-honored source of information of what is happening inside the room. So I shall name this blog for what it is; a keyhole into the room of my mind.

And keyholes happen to be better for more things than just peeking and listening to scraps of conversations! If you happen to have the right key, you can open the door and enter the room itself. I have some hopes of maintaining this blog for some time, and perhaps aquiring some friends and readers. I welcome any comments and questions. Perhaps someone out there will find the right key and be able to access the room behind The Keyhole.