The Skulls: Microfiction

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Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

The princess was awakened in the night by rough hands and gruff voices.  Her attendants were killed, and she was thrust into deep hole, a dungeon known only to few, while her captors decided if she was more valuable to them alive or dead. She was a pawn in dynastic feuds.

She lay there in the dark, too stunned and fearful to think or do anything. A rustling in the fetid space around her, finally got her attention. Somehow she knew the sound came from beings, not only rats–though they probably would come looking for a piece of her to chew on soon.

“Don’t be frightened,” she said. “Someone will help us.

My mother used to tell me stories. Shall I tell you one?”

More than a little frightened herself, she began speaking, telling a tale of magic and light, of music and sunshine, of finding a way home from the darkness. Gradually, figures appeared, glowing spirits. They hovered around her, listening to the tale and illuminating the dungeon with their light. She was now able to see that all around here were piles of bones and skulls, the remains of men, women, and children who had been left here to die alone. The princess told these lost souls story after story, until she, too, was near death.

But the princess did not die. One of her attendants had hidden under the bed and survived the slaughter in the bedchamber. This loyal attendant had run for help, the kidnappers were captured, and the princess was rescued–but she did not forget the lost souls in the dungeon.

Eventually she became queen. Shortly after her coronation, she returned to the dungeon. Ordering her guards to remain at the entrance, she walked down the dark steps alone. She sat there in the dirt and told a story of magic and light, of music and sunshine, and of finding a way home from the darkness. She rose then and told the spirits she would build them a new home.

Before long a section was added to her palace. It was called Hope’s Annex, named for the Queen, who had taken the name Hope. The bones from the dungeon were gathered, sorted, and placed there. The building was filled with light from large windows and glass doors, which were opened to the flower gardens in fine weather. It was furnished with comfortable seats, tables, and bookcases crowded with books. People visited, day and night. They read the books, had concerts, and told stories. And the spirits were happy, at last.

 

This is for Jane Dougherty’s Sunday Strange Microfiction Challenge.

The prompt is the illustration above, which is certainly strange. I have no idea what the original fairy tale was about.

 

 

Light in the Darkness (The Rescue): Microfiction

 

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By Virginia Frances Sterret, Old French Fairy Tales, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Esmeena knelt on the cobalt blue tiles in her long, azure gown and gave the small deer a hug. He had just come from patrolling the castle’s grounds.

Then she stood, and said to the cat meowing plaintively at her feet, “Honestly, Reggie, I am working on it.”

He was her brother, and she had accidentally turned him into a cat while trying to cast a spell. “I’ve had a lot of responsibility since Mother’s been gone.”

Their mother was at a Council Meeting of Orwan chiefs. The Council was trying to decide if they should intervene here on Earth, now that humans seemed bent on destroying it. Wars, demagogues, fracking—the list of horrors and craziness seemed to grow daily. Thousands of years ago, the Orwan had come to Earth from the Planet of the Blue Ponies, (which was why they loved blue so much). They generally kept to their own realm, invisible to humans.

“I’m sure it’s not all that terrible,” Esmeena continued, “there is that female cat who seems to like you. And after all, you do still have all your. . .um. . .parts.”

At that, Reggie tried to spring at her, but he miscalculated the width of the table between them. With all four legs stretched out wide, he slid right over the table and crashed onto the floor on the other side.

“You are the least graceful cat I’ve ever seen,” said Esmeena.

Just then the massive castle door was flung open. Their mother entered, wearing a midnight blue cape and a frown.

She looked at Reggie, muttered some words, snapped her fingers, and he returned to his normal form. He rose from the floor, all gangly arms and legs.

“Esmeena, what has been going on here?”

“I was trying to reinforce the barrier,” Esmeena said.

“Didn’t you think I would check on it before I left? But why did you think a sparkling rainbow-colored barrier would make the castle invisible to humans?”

“Everything is so dark now. I just wanted to make something light and cheerful.”

“Child,” said her mother, “I can see I still have much to teach you. Don’t you know the light is within you? We carry it in our hearts.” She touched her chest, then picked up a candle that now glowed brightly in the darkness of winter night.

“Come,” she said to her children, “the moon is humming. It’s time. Let’s go celebrate the solstice.”

This story is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge.

The prompt was the painting above.

 

 

 

 

 

The Red Tree: Microfiction

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Virginia Sterrett (Old French Fairy Tales (1920)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Dove was tired of rules telling her how to dress, how to behave, how to think. She tore off the black cloak that covered her from head to ankle and threw it to the ground. She took the pins from her hair and let the breeze toss about her long, golden brown curls. She removed her shoes to feel the grass, slightly damp, on her bare feet. Then she walked to the red tree with its fruit of many colors, and defying the laws of her people, she picked a purple one and took a bite. She didn’t die; she didn’t feel any ill effects at all. In fact, the forbidden fruit was delicious. She continued to munch on it as she strolled home, ignoring the gasps and murmured prayers of the people she encountered.

Within an hour, the council summoned her. Though her parents begged for leniency, Dove was unrepentant, and the council banished her from the village. She hugged her parents and left her homeland.

She walked for days and nights until her food was gone. Wrapping herself in the hated cloak, she cried herself to sleep. In the morning, she woke to see the bright, rosy-pink dawn, and she was filled with hope that something good would happen that day.

She brushed the dirt from her clothing and continued her journey. Before long, she came to a town. As she approached it, she heard the most glorious sound.  She stopped a woman and asked her what the sound was.

“It’s the town choir,” the woman said. “Come, I’ll show you.”

The woman took Dove to the town hall. There Dove saw that the sound—music—came from a group of men, women, and children dressed in colorful garments.

That is how a rainbow must sound, thought Dove.

In time, Dove discovered that she had a voice, too. All she had to do, was open her mouth and let it out.

This was the first of many discoveries Dove made. She soon realized that the people of her homeland were not protected, they were trapped there by their ignorance and fear. She took a new name, Violette, for the purple fruit she plucked from the red tree, the fruit that set her on her journey of discovery and knowledge. Eventually, she fell in love and gave birth to a daughter. They named her Aurora as a reminder that dawn always comes, even after the darkest night.

 

Although I went way above the word count, this fairy tale is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge.  The prompt was the painting above. I have no idea what old French fairy tale it is actually illustrating.

 

 

 

Chosen: Microfiction

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Ilya Repin. “Choosing a Bride for the Grand Duke” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Once long ago, as the full moon glowed in the sky, a line of maidens stood in brilliantly colored gowns and feathered headdresses. They chattered and peeped like exotic birds, as they waited for the king to arrive to choose one of them to be his bride.

Katerina alone was silent; she comforted herself with the thought that she was unlikely to be chosen. She had nothing against the king in particular—he seemed pleasant enough. But marriage to him meant a life of seclusion in the women’s quarters, a gilded cage, a life spent producing babies and little else.

Katerina’s mother had convinced her father that reading was a skill that would allow Katerina to assist her future husband. So as she stood waiting in the Great Hall, Katerina read. When the trumpets sounded, announcing the King’s arrival, she quickly tucked her book inside one of her wide sleeves.

As the king strode down the line, each maiden curtsied before him. When he stood in front of Katerina, she bent low, and as the king took her hand, the book slipped from her sleeve and dropped to the ground. The onlookers gasped, but the king merely bent and picked up the book. Glancing at its title, he smiled, commenting that philosophy was an unusual choice for a woman. He handed the book back to Katerina and walked on. Throughout the night, the king talked to all of the women, but he kept returning to Katerina.

At dawn, the King announced he had chosen Katerina to be his queen. As a result, carrying books—even if they were not read–became a fad among unmarried women. Over time, Katerina adjusted to her role as queen and to life in a “gilded cage”—though she had to admit that it was a luxurious, gilded cage that many would envy. Using her position, she convinced the king to let her teach all the women at court to read. A generation later, all of girls in their country, as well as the boys, were permitted to go to school. Finally, after many decades, on another moonlit night, a woman became the leader of the nation. She was also named Katerina, after her distant ancestor, the queen who made books and reading fashionable.

 

This fairy tale was written when I was feeling hopeful. It is for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge—though I am again stretching the meaning of the term “micro.”  There were two possible painting prompts, I chose the one above.

 

 

 

 

Isle of the Dead: Microfiction

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Arnold Böcklin, Isle of the Dead (III), [Public domain], via Wikimedia Common

Iona sailed her ship across the sun-dappled sea to save her beloved from the underworld. Iona had to rescue him tonight, for Halloween was the one night when humans could travel there. She traveled for hours, and as twilight descended, the Isle of the Dead appeared in front of her, shrouded in mist. Within that shroud she saw spectral figures, the stuff of nightmares, with misshapen bodies and eager, bloody mouths.

Iona ignored them and sailed into the cove. As she stepped upon the shore, a dragon appeared. Fire and smoke burst out, as it opened its massive jaws to roar.

With trembling legs, Iona approached the beast and sang in a voice that faltered at first, but then rang out, loud and pure:

Beast, stand down

Beast, do my bidding

Beast, reveal now

what is hidden

As she finished her song, the air shimmered. The dragon became a dog, red as flames. It licked her hand, and followed at her heels, as they walked to the cave—its opening now revealed.

They walked down steep stairs carved into stone, farther and farther under the earth. Iona carried an oak wand given to her by a Wise Woman. It glowed and lighted her way. She looked neither left nor right at the spirits around her, but traveled down, down, down. As she reached the bottom, she saw Dermid. He stood rooted, with no expression on his face.

She remembered the Wise Woman’s words, “Your courage and determination will get you to the Isle, but only true love and faith will save Dermid.”

She clasped her arms around his waist and held tightly as he turned into a huge snake, but she held on, and he turned into a lion, but still she held him, and finally he turned back into a man. Her man. With tears streamed from her eyes, she helped him journey up the stairs.

They climbed up and up for hours, it seemed, racing to get back to the surface before dawn. They reached the surface just before the sun, and as they climbed into Iona’s boat, they saw it rise pink and orange above the sea. The Isle disappeared.

Dermid said to her, “Thank you for saving me.”

Iona replied with a smile, “I thought our baby should have a father.” Then looked down, “and a dog.”

 

This is for Jane Dougherty’s microfiction challenge.  The prompt was the painting above.

I’ve stolen, quite shamelessly, from many myths and tales, and once again gone over the word count.

 

 

 

If Not Happily Ever After

 

 

The soothsayer paused, not wanting to say / I was a princess,

watching, and on edge because / once upon a time

people demanded proof / there was magic

no more razzle dazzle now / now I live

like Sleeping Beauty       / on the streets

awakened with a kiss      / and hoping to score

a bit of bliss, if not happily ever after / just one good dream, till tomorrow

 

This poem is in response to Secret Keeper’s Writing Challenge.  The prompt words were

Watch/Edge/Proof/Pause/Sooth

I wrote a cleave poem. The left side is one poem, the right side is another poem, and both sides read together form a third poem.

 

 

Once Upon a Time: The Rider

 

 

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Once upon a time, there was a prince riding in the moonlight

He rode under a cobalt sky

with soaring stars and watchful moon.

He wandered over mountains high

seeking the princess and her tune.

 

Lance at hand to slay a dragon,

his shield and bridle from a king,

and for the thirst, wine and flagon,

to shatter war’s curse, she must sing.

 

Strapped to his back, he bore the gift

to ease the conflict in their land,

tirra lirra, go fast and swift,

his horse galloped across the sand.

 

The journey seemed to last a year,

the urn of peace, well-locked, kept dry

till he came to her castle, here,

riding his steed ‘neath cobalt sky.

 

The princess sang and shattered urn,

the prince journeyed on, far and wide.

And so war died, did not return,

Now peace is here, and will abide.

 

Here is another peace poem. This one in response to Jane Dougherty’s Poetry Challenge. The prompt was the painting above by John Bauer, which carries the caption, “Once upon a time there was a prince riding in the moonlight” that I used for my opening.

The prompt words are: Star, gift, wander, soaring, cobalt.