Soft laughter filled my ears. Still choking on the dust, I looked up to see a pair of moccasins. I followed them up until I found Sage’s face. She was laughing at me. The longer I laid on the ground, clutching the now furious lizard, the harder she laughed. My face flamed with humiliation, but I wasn’t about to give up. I struggled to my feet, holding my hands out to her. “I caught…” I gasped, “this… for… you.”
Sage raised her eyebrows, her laughter turning to scorn. “No you didn’t.”
“Yes!” I insisted. “For you. Look!” I opened my hands to show her the lizard, but it was gone. All I held was a handful of dirt. It slipped through my fingers like dry rain.
Sage shook her head.
Shame washed over me. I couldn’t meet her mocking eyes. “I’ll… I’ll try again.”
“Oh, Rider,” she said. But her voice had changed. I looked up. She wore Rachel’s face.
I blinked and she disappeared. So did the desert. Now I stood on the mountaintop where I’d given up on my vision quest.
The wind whistled across the snow-covered peaks, whipping snow into the air. It stung my skin. I shivered, my teeth chattering. What was I doing there? How had I gotten there? I crouched, tucking my body into a ball, trying vainly to stay warm. Even with the snow obscuring my vision, I knew I was alone. I felt it in my bones. No, it was deeper than that. Pure isolation. I was hollow inside. Like I’d lost even myself. Despair filled me and I didn’t have the will to fight it. Let it take me. I was nothing but a failure anyway. No one would miss me.
“Rider.” It was barely a whisper dancing on the wind. Blowing close enough to tickle at the edges of my hopelessness and then darting away again.
“Rider.” A little louder this time.
I lifted my head, straining to see through the blur of white. I thought I saw someone moving away from me. Someone familiar.
“Mother?” I called. The wind stole my voice and threw it far away from me.
There was no way she could have heard me and yet she paused, glanced over her shoulder at me, then continued on.
I straightened my stiffening legs and forced them through the deep snow, hurrying after her. Only a few steps, then I fell. Everything turned dark.
THE LAST ROSE
Rose glanced down at herself. She’d been thin and beautiful like Laila once. But that seemed another lifetime ago. Now, her body was tired, it sagged and wrinkled. Her legs were lined with blue veins, her hands arthritic and malformed. She ran shaking fingers through her hair that had long ago changed from black to white, and was now short instead of the long hair Garth had loved so dearly.
She is so much like I was. Like I was when it all began. I will not have her bear what I’ve known.
“I was fourteen when I killed my first man.” Rose waited for the realization of what she’d said to sink in. She knew when it did. Laila’s body stiffened and she sat the glass down hard on the bar top.
“What did you say?” She turned to look Rose in the eyes.
Rose let her mind drift back to that day. “It was 1914. I was mucking out our family horse stables. He came out of nowhere, a German solder with a rifle slung over his shoulder, and a pistol strapped to his waist. When he unbuckled his belt, I knew what he was about to do. I tried to run but he grabbed me around the waist.”
“Dear God, Gram. What did you do?”
Rose cocked her head to the side and gazed at the girl staring at her. She’d never noticed how much she resembled her best friend. As if on cue, Monet appeared at Laila’s side appraising the girl with a look of approval.
The sting of unshed tears forced Rose’s eyes closed. Everything was crowding in on her. The memories. The pain. The fear.
“I managed to get his pistol out of his holster and I shot him. Papa came running. He was so angry at me. ‘What have you done, daughter?’ he asked. Did he care that that man had stolen her virtue? No, all he cared was that the whole damned German army was going to come and murder them all.” Rose swallowed hard, fighting back bitter tears.
“What the hell was a German solder doing here in America?” Disbelief clouded Laila’s eyes. “No, Gram, you’re mixed up.”
“Foolish girl. Our farm was outside Paris. Papa trained and stabled horses for the rich families in the city.” She sat back against the window sill and glared down at her rose garden below. Wandering among her roses were the ghosts of those not welcome inside her home. How could something so beautiful, be a reminder of such horrific memories? “If you want to hear, I’ll tell you about my life. Your father has asked me hundreds of times over the years to tell him, but I wanted it to go to the grave with me. But now, now I know I have to let it go. Your life may depend on it.”
“Gram, I’m calling the doctor.” She managed to get a few feet away from the door when Rose began.
“Papa had been worried about the chance of war since July after news had reached France about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife the Countess Sophie by a group called The Black Hand. He’d been right. The German’s declared war on France in August that same year.”
She took a deep breath and glanced at Laila to judge her attention. “Papa sent me away after we buried the soldier. He told me I was never to come back. When I arrived in Paris WWl was all around us…….”
HER NAME IS ANNE
“Just faint. Don’t try to bring both them pails up at once. One at a time and mind you don’t spill!”
When Pog had gone, she knelt by the divan and pushed back the front of the man’s great coat. Underneath, he was wearing evening clothes. Dressed like a gent indeed. A very young gent. His skin was smooth as a girl’s and there was little sign of a beard on his long, elegant jaw. His hair dropped in luxuriant fat gold curls over his forehead.
It was a familiar face. Where had she seen it? Yes! At the Royal Academy. Not this face, exactly, but in a painting. Once, Miss Sara had taken her there and they had both stood transfixed before a painting of a knight in armor.
“He looks more like one of them angels in the church than a knight,” the girl had said.
Miss Sara had given her one of her thoughtful looks. “That’s just what he was,” she said. “He was an angel knight.” And she told the girl the story of Galahad. Miss Sara knew so many stories like that.
But this Galahad was proving a problem. If he was badly hurt, she would have no choice but to call for a policeman. She was no nurse and there was all of the work still to be done. The dough needed to be set to rise a second time and then the baking, not to mention all of the fancy goods she hadn’t even started. She had no time for nursing a sick man, a stranger, no matter how beautifully angelic he might be.
And so with hands strong from hours of kneading bread dough, she wrestled off his great coat and evening jacket. Underneath, the left shoulder of his white shirt was red with blood, the fine linen slashed through. She sat for a moment, staring. She had seen blood before. Had seen wounds and she knew what this was. A knife wound. So he had fallen among thieves as the carter said. Why then would he refuse to involve the police? And why had the thieves not taken the watch that still bulged in his waistcoat pocket along with its heavy gold chain and the row of gold studs down his shirt front that looked to be set with real rubies?
The girl picked up his coat and jacket. The knife had run through all three layers of his beautiful clothing, but she didn’t have time to mourn the damage. Instead, she ran her hands through the pockets. She had no idea men’s coats had so very many pockets. Inside the breast of the jacket, she found a flat leather purse, tooled over in a complicated geometric pattern, surrounding the initials CEE. The men who searched him in the alleyway must have felt it. Why hadn't they taken it? It was full of sovereigns! But no identification beyond the initials.
She tried again. Inside a tiny breast pocket, she found a crushed pink flower and a small cache of presentation cards. Each card bore the same four words: The Earl of Dorincourt
So. An earl was bleeding all over the old divan in Mrs. Brown’s bakery.
I AM WILLA
by Michelle H.
A name for a cartoon character
or a dog
or someone's grandmother.
But not for an eleven year old girl
who only wants to be
or a Sarah
or a Katie.
CAN I GET A WITNESS?
I punch my shovel into the compacted clay and dig until my muscles ache, force the blade downward, again and again, until a crack-line runs the length of the handle. Then I drop to my knees, eyes blurred by a sea of salty wet, and paw at the earth until it crumbles.
The hole yawns wide but shallow—wide enough for the rose bush I’m planting in her honor, but not deep enough for the tangled web of secrets. Shrouded by her death, they eventually come to light, and I am the one who disinters them.
by Neva F.
I arrived at her yellow and white clapboard house, she greets me at the door. Her bright hazel eyes still lively, while twin dimples peeked through her crevassed cheeks. “Just lug the durn things down to the living room, I’ll do all the sorting. Most of it will have to tossed in the garbage anyway.”
I pull the frayed rope that lowers the trap door in the ceiling. The ladder extended to the floor and I start the steep climb up the wobbly rungs. The narrow, musty attic is crammed with Gramma’s precious memories. My nose burns with each cautious inhalation and I search for a place to begin. Beyond the mildewed cardboard boxes, I spot a large, pockmarked copper kettle filled with yarn and beside it looms an old, high-domed trunk.
Fascinated, I raise the heavy lid while the rusty hinges protest at being disturbed. On the top shelf I find black high-top shoes, a wide brimmed prairie bonnet and a musty Bible.
Underneath I discover a folded quilt wrapped in delicate tissue paper. The quilt consists of various patches of material and I marvel over the thousands of tiny, hand-made stitches. Holding it, I feel objects tucked deep inside. From within the folds I fish out an egg-sized lump of black coal and a small book.
I run my fingers across the ancient tooled-leather binding, embossed with the word journal. Scrolled on the first yellowed page, in old-fashioned penmanship, is a date and name.
April 24, 1861 – Miss Alexandria Roselyn McLeod
Our Trials and Travails to Oregon
I know this name. She is my grandmother's grandmother.
Deciding to take a few minutes to examine the intriguing memoir, I clear a spot on the floor, sit upon the quilt and open my newfound treasure. For the first time in weeks, I forget about the cancer and step into another place and time.
I’m in an unfamiliar classroom, a piece a chalk moving on its own against the chalkboard, writing over and over again: Run. The screeching sound makes my skin crawl.
Seated in a chair-desk combo, my feet and butt feel glued in place. I try to stand, but it’s impossible. The writing on the chalkboard gets faster, sloppier, like an urgent warning of impending doom. I shake the desk and try to wiggle free again without success.
Outside the classroom windows, the sky grows sinisterly dark, a whirling wind whipping against the glass. I hear lockers slam open in the hallway, a wind of some sort thrashing through it too. Still prisoner of the chair, my heart hammers in my chest as panic finally settles in.
Overhead the lights flicker on and off. The word run grows in size as it reaches the bottom of the blackboard. The last time it’s written, it’s large and bold, written with harsh strokes. The remaining chalk falls to the ground with a crack and suddenly the room is eerily quiet.
The lights cut out completely and the classroom door bursts open, the hallway dimly lit with red emergency lights. The chair and floor release me and I jump up out of it before it can capture me again.
I stare at the door, unsure if I should leave the room or hide. When the desks start squealing against the floor, converging on each other against the window, I choose the dimly lit hallway. I’m cautious as I step out into the red light, looking both ways, though I see no end on either side.
Instinct tells me to turn right and I hope my gut’s leading me in the right direction. I walk slowly, for a long time, the darkness in front and behind me always feeling the same distance away like I’m making no progress at all.
Footsteps that don’t belong to me bring mine to a stop. Without my glasses on, I strain my eyes as I glance around, willing them to see whoever approaches. When I face forward again, there’s a hallway to my left that I’m certain wasn't there a minute ago, and with it, the echo of footsteps, walking away from me.
My legs take me down the new hallway without thinking and immediately regret the decision. Behind me the walls shift, closing in on the hallway I’d just come from right before my eyes. Once closed, the walls in this hallway move closer too, slowly narrowing in on me. The sound of morphing metal and wood makes my heart feel like it will explode.
I run, faster than I ever have, until the checkered linoleum floor beneath me starts to feel like quicksand. Ahead of me, I hear the footsteps again and scream, “Help!” They change course and I run towards them, doing everything I can to keep from getting stuck in the floor.
Just as a figure comes into view the floor stops trying to swallow my feet and the red light’s eaten by darkness. It leaves no time for me to see who they are before we collide.
An arm snakes around my neck and pulls me backward until we’re flush with the moving wall. I’m shoved into what feels like a closet, through a door I didn't see before. A raspy voice growls, “Wake up!” before shutting me in.
And I can’t be sure, but it sounded a lot like Harper.
THE WORLD THROUGH DEXTER'S EYES
by Vickie M.
But of course they came back for me. I might have known. I should learn to trust. I need to learn self confidence; self worth. Then I could have made the best of the situation. You can't live in fear. (But they could have told both me and Izzie what was going on.) When they returned, I realized their departure had nothing to do with hurting me or Izzie. And it couldn't have been that they were fighting, either, because when they came and got me, they were smiling. I hadn't eaten, and Mom said they could hear my barks, right through the vet's brick building. Thank goodness, I won't be going there, again. It was so good to be home, and Izzie was there, too. We wrestled and played a bit. I later found out that they went to Chicago to look at a college with Megan. (Megan's just not gonna quit until she finds a way to leave home.) What I don't understand is, why they didn't take me. Or Izzie. Well, I got on my favorite kitchen chair to ponder all this a bit, and then did something I never did before. I . . .