Crown of Moss

Crown of moss, ore, amber, and vine;

this is earth’s daughter and she has come for the cruel. 

Vera almost missed the turn-off, the tires tipping as she jerked the wheel towards the side road. Broad trees edged the way, their roots rippling the broken pavement. Vera leaned over the wheel to pat the van’s rocking dashboard in apology.

Squinting out past the light of the headlights, Vera noted the deep black between the trees. Their tangled branches blocked the stars above her. These were trees older than the road, older than the town she was trying to get to.

Like the turn off, the town itself was hard to spot. Dark windows, no streetlamps. A unlit wooden sign marked the motel. Beneath the buzzing porchlight, paper flyers covered the bulletin board behind a single pane of scratched plastic. Advertisements for the farmer’s market and guitar lessons. But mostly it was missing kids, some missing adults too. They smiled from photographs beneath block letters begging for information and promising rewards.

Vera checked into the motel and asked directions to the nearest liquor store. Vera smiled through their warnings. She could use the walk. Gravel and mud crunched beneath her sneakers. The sooner she learned what lurked in the dark the better.

More old trees watched her trudge down the road to the promised liquor store. She could smell the cold wood of their knotted trunks, their roots deep and mean beneath the road.

The liquor store was a hazy colorful destination across a field when lights began to peak through the trees just off her path. Blue silver like moonlight on snow, the small orbs bobbed in the black between the trees to catch at her eyes. Vera’s mouth went slack and she took three steps off the road, a hand rising to reach out to the dancing lures. Soft sweet music filled her ears.

Deep roots stretched, shifted, groaned in the dirt beneath her as she walked from the road. Their cracking whispers called her back. A young root caught her sneaker, sending her sprawling to the ground. The fall broke her sight of the beckoning lights and Vera shook herself out of the thrall. “Nice try,” she called out to the wisps, wise enough to mean it.

Nothing troubled her more that night beyond an overly curious liquor store clerk. The little town didn’t get visitors anymore, too many disappearances. Vera walked back to the motel sipping bourbon and thinking. Fey were tricky as they come and cruel as early winter.

The next morning Vera fished out boots from the back of her van. The fields and thick woods around the motel were muddy. She spent her days wandering hither and thither, the bundle in her arms growing with a wild harvest of whin, rosemary, and St. Johns wort. Her fingers bled and stung, pricked by thorn and nettle, but she did not tire each day until the sun did.

A week later the farmer’s market was a popular as the flyers promised. By Vera’s weather eye, most of the little town had to be in the square perusing fruit, sweets, and amateur crafts. She parked her van in the midst of it and threw open the doors. Inside hung the colors of burnt autumn, frosted with the occasional mint and moss of winter. Wreaths, bouquets, and boxwood bundles wove their earthy scents into the air and drew a quick crowd.

Vera took money only if offered and was quick to pass out free blossoms or twists of twig to the children that passed by. The market wore on and Vera’s van emptied. Everyone had something bright and fragrant to take home, many households left with more than one wreath or bundle.

The sun spread its last rays over the remains of market. Vera slid her van doors closed and went to get into the driver’s seat when a chill drilled between her shoulder blades. Vera turned. A young man regarded her with narrowed eyes. He was lithe and apathetic as a teen, though with none of the fledgling awkwardness.

“Sorry, I thought everyone had gone.” Vera smiled and touched the van’s door. “I have a few more.”

The corner of his nose twisted with disgust and the air grew colder. Vera watched his eyes turn, some nameless mundane color flashing to brilliant grey ice. The stretch of his lips wasn’t human and his words settled into her skin like snow. “Leave. Take your weeds with you.”

Vera stepped back against the van’s side before swallowing her fear. Deep beneath the stone and concrete of the square, old tree roots curled strong about the iron of the town’s bones. She listened to them grow for a moment. Vera threw back her van’s door and the encroaching night filled again with scents of whin, rosemary, and St. Johns wort. “Without a parting gift?” She asked with a bold jut of her chin.

The fey recoiled, choking on the warding herbs and swearing.  Vera planted her feet solid. “There are older things than you here and they grow strong,” she told him.

He left her with a sneer. A moment there, a moment gone. Vera only breathed once back in driver’s seat, the scents of her craft circulating through the van’s AC/heat vents. She sighed, this was as good a place as any to spend the winter. The town needed more help than she’d thought.


Little Bird

The men don’t know what is in the old mine. They don’t warn their sons away from the north road which runs down, descends with rain broken dirt, from town and through the winter trees to funnel all things into a deep mouth.

But the women, they have an idea. They pinch, and nag, and hound their daughters until the girls watch the north road with squinted eyes and unmoving feet. Girls turn to women with an idea of what waits and shifts in the old mine. They tell their daughters.

Be bold, the stories tell boys. The stories are wrong.

Be wary, the stories tell girls. The stories are right.

There is a girl, her name is Wren, who was told no stories. Her mother is gone, left, taken, somewhere else. Wren does not know where or why her mother is. Only that when she places her feet on the north road, no warning words shepherd her to safety.

Wren follows the fluttering sounds to the deep mouth, where they beat deep beneath the dirt. She walks inside, bold and unfearful, unfettered by stories, below the stone and sliding earth. Through dark warrens laced with silky veins of metal. And when she finds it, it unfolds its wings for her.

Wren does not emerge for a very long time. She greets the air with grey stone eyes and sunless skin. She unfolds her wings.

This week I challenged Raw Rambles with Thom Yorke’s Unmade. Check back in every other week for more Music Challenges, where we challenge each other to write something to or inspired by different bits of music. 

It started with bullets…

It started with bullets. Writhing sobbing men slapped down on Reid’s kitchen table. Reid removed the lead from their flesh with quick fingers. His expertise expanded, quick stitches over nasty knife wounds, overdoses, unattended kids fallen out of windows, twisted ankles running from pigs. Always bullets though. Those steady fingers, and an indifferent stomach, made Reid a name. A name he’d later put to use putting bullets in people, instead of taking them out.

But it started on the kitchen table. For those who made their tenuous livings in Brickyard and Shedtown, a trip to the hospital turned ended with one to jail. Once they got a your fingerprint on a form, or worse a scanner at your eyeball, you were done. There wasn’t a person in all Shedtown that hadn’t done something or owed someone. People like Reid were not loved so much as highly tolerated.

This suited Reid fine. It was consistent work he was good at. Aside from payment issues, either Reid or Reid’s brother sometimes had to track people down and threaten to forcibly replace the lead unless bills were paid on time, it was easy work. His brother, Vin, didn’t understand why Reid sighed heavier with each new patient.

“Well–” signed Reid after they’d ushered out the latest patient, mostly good as new. Vin pressed the same question to him. Reid shrugged, “I guess– I just don’t like helping people.”

Vin stared, then laughed his usual quiet wheezing chuckle. “Then do something else.” he signed, his fingers moving as quickly as his brothers.

“You think?” asked Reid.

Vin nodded his hand.

A Crow Amidst Blackbirds

The funeral went by in a waltz of shiny cars, black suits, and choreographed tears. From the bland service to the wordless burial, the mourners, sharp and shiny as blackbirds, arched heads and eyes to watch each other stay unruffled. A cold affair, for cold people. His mother would have approved, thought Lark, of everything except being dead.

After the dirt had been cast, dull and damp, over her beautiful casket Lark found his face frozen, his fine leather shoes rooted to the graveside. He stared into the ugly hole in the ground.

Satisfied with the performance, appearance made, the mourners left in packs. His brothers first with better things to do. Next his mother’s peers, black lace skeletons picking their way over the grass, off to starving leisurely lives. Lark’s father exited last, because he had to be last. Because when the next wife came, the whispers would be too loud otherwise.

Lark didn’t move when his father wrapped iron fingers around his shoulder, when they creased his suit jacket, when they dug between collarbone and muscle and tugged. Rooted, frozen, cold, he could not move. Lark let his mother see his sneer, the little curl of triumph on his lip as his father retreated back down the grassy hill towards the sleek cars, accountable only under the distant gaze the mourners.

A wind rolled up along the cemetery slopes. The polished cars drove away.

“Your mother would approve.”

Lark lifted sharp eyes to the other side of the grave. A woman stood there in a dark dress, her face bowed down so dull waves of black hair hung about her face. Where his mother had been petite and slender, this woman was short and bony. She looked up at him. Her grey irises were overly bright against watery red.

His aunt sniffed. Lark watched a tear get lost in the crease of her nose. She didn’t dab at it with the sleeve of the cheap knit dress, or apologize, or turn her face away. She watched him plainly with unabashed grief. Lark shifted, his feet moving again. His dry eyes stung.

“I’m not letting this lie,” his aunt slapped the words down between them. Her black shawl fluttered with her hair, snapping in the wind. “You can warn your father, or not. But know, I’m not letting this go.”

Lark weighed his options, nodded, and followed her from the graveside.

I wrote to my own prompt! I post first-line prompts every other Friday on Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie, so check those out if you need some inspiration. 

Come Home

The horse did not want to go. It fought its rider’s heels, the tight rein and the weight pressing froward on its neck towards the brambled moorland. But its hooves cut crescents into the peat, wrestled into the hills.

Its rider, a tall man dressed thickly for winter’s early bite, forced his mount towards the treeline’s cover. The forest warred with the rolling moorland, giving and taking ground between the years. Weeping moss tied the branches overhead to one another, pale green turned to white in the dappled crescent moon. He took the path over broken root, brier, and heath, ignoring the roads gentle slopes. That– that road would bring him under sight of the house.

Even tucked and darting now through the trees, its walls watched him. If he chanced a look, spared his quarrelsome mount a moment, it would be there with gold lit glass, windows beckoning him home like a lighthouse calling a ship to unseen rocks. He chose the woods, pushing his horse deeper through the thin trunks until the boggy earth sucked at its hooves.

He left the horse tied and shivering when the way narrowed, thin trails of solid ground weaving through the bog. Quick silent footfalls on the soft ground, a scout across enemy lines, he found his way again to the clearing.

The hut was gone. Black spears of charred wood rose from the ground. Destroyed, burnt out from the middle so its bones remained. The man stepped into the ruin, his fingers clenched over his palm. Even at this distant corner of his lands, someone–something had unraveled his tenuous hold, wrecking this hard-won base. The house fought to leave him exposed, wanting, desperate–  The man pulled back from the memories of its pinched halls and monstrous arches. He was not a child any longer to be terrorized and threatened away.

The man left the hut’s remains. He would find another crack in the houses armor.

Big White Dress

And my bitches with me pretty, too, they look like bridesmaids
And they all bloody gang so don’t be talkin’ sideways

“That’s kinda –”

“What Madison?” Cassie twisted to wither her bridesmaid with a stare honed with black liner and false eyelashes. Pulsing from the speaker set in the center of the hotel suite, and controlled by Cassie’s phone, the swaggering beat and lyrics strutted over them. Around the room, other young women in the same powder blue dresses milled about searching and grousing for pins, their glass, and cosmetics fallen to the tragedy of the commons.

“I was gonna say intense.” Madison held her mouth tight, jaw pressed forward.

“You have complained about each song I’ve played.” Cassie turned back to the mirror, tilting her chin to cut one way and then the other.   “Besides she’s got a point about you all.”

“That’s because this playlist is just every song that mentions bridesmaids.” Madison sucked in her breath and held it as she misted her loose curls with hairspray, brandishing the can in short angry jerks. “What do you mean a point?” She asked, barely moving her lips, eyes closed against the cloying chemical spray.

“About bridesmaids. Brides started having bridesmaids so any roving bands of bandits and jilted lovers wouldn’t know which fancy, made-up lady was the bride. Ya’ll are here for my protection. My gang.” Cassie spread her painted lips, cocksure from the song’s trailing boasts and the last few metallic notes.

Madison chortled, and went to pour mimosas, bent far away from the hotel desk to protect her powder blue uniform. Two nearly clear mimosas ready at the brim of their cheap flutes, Madison floated them over to Cassie. “Bandits can’t figure out its the bitch in the big white dress?”

Cassie burst a laugh, not taking her drink until she was able to control herself for the sake of her big white dress.

It was my turn to challenge Raw Rambles and I did so with Cardi B’s Money Bag. For every music challenge we write something to or inspired by a song. Check out Raw Rambles blog for the challenges and more. 

Portentous Star

The sun simmered red as it slunk towards the jagged horizon. Tristan opened the morning room window to the sickly gold air and leaned outside. Distant fires turned the treeline to a nebulous grey silhouette and the sun was the worst of it, a hazy swollen orb defying the prospect of rain. He frowned at the ominous star.

Behind him, three books lay open on the settee. All had failed to distract Tristan from the pinched tension between his temples. It was the smoke and ash. Even their monstrous house, impenetrable to ancient armies, civil upheaval, and seemingly time itself, could not keep it out.

An uncannily dry summer had baked the trees brown; now somewhere they burned unseen, belching black smoke into the country air like the worst factories of London. Beneath his annoyance at the ash-laden ache and ugly scenery, Tristan knew that if his neighbors estate could burn, so could his.

At the window, an itch grew in the corners of his eyes. With a fanciful but deeply ground logic, Tristan was hesitant to ignore the red portent hanging over his lands. Fate usually prepared the worst for those who willfully snubbed such signs.

“Tristan.” His name came patiently, but as if it’d been repeated. Tristan turned. Arianne had come into the morning room and stood with her hands clasped in front of her skirts. A fine sheen of sweat made her cheeks shine. All else about his sister was perfectly in place.

Tristan was down to his shirtsleeves. Decorum could only survive so long in this heat. He smiled at her, “I am quite distracted apparently. Sorry.”

Arianne moved to the window and pinched her face against the thick, burnt, air. She hustled him back and snapped the window closed. With the glass between, the haze seemed even thicker, the sun bigger. Arianne went to gather the books he’d carelessly left gaping. “The doctors already been called on account of Sally. We cannot have you falling ill.”

Tristan nodded. She was right. With the fires so close, and the sky imposing down on them, he was probably expected to do… something. He went back to the window, looking out over the alien landscape that he was supposed to be lording over. “Doesn’t it look peculiar? All the strange haze and smoke– like something from Revelation.”

“Do not say such things,” Arianne said without real reproach. From another, it would be crass, from her brother it was fancy. As it always was.

Tristan’s smile acted as apology. He did not say anymore, but as he followed her from the room, his eyes slid distant across the glass of the windows and the simmering crimson sun outside them.

This post is part of the Legal Theft Project (also the Mindlovemisery Menagerie prompt here that I run). Some thieves have stolen my first line to write their own. See if any show up below: