The Faces of Ardune

                The mountains of Ardune have faces carved upon them.

                Three faces. One turned up to the heavens, eyes wide in wonder. Another looking down to the plains below. And the last with eyes closed and mouth open, green forest flowing like hair from the snowy peak.

                The faces sit, still and silent, on the mountainsides. In the dusk, the cavernous mouths spit black swarms of bats, and the rains of spring fall like rivers of tears from the pitted eyes.

                If a mortal hand carved them, it was long before ships came into the bay of Ardune. When Ardun the Mariner first sailed into the bay, the great faces glared out over the forests, and the sailors cowered in fear, thinking they had strayed to the land of the old gods. And the eldest of Ardune still speak in their thin voices of the siege, when the black ships of Korthyk covered the water, bringing steel and fire and death. A tempest rose that night, and when dawn came, the waters were clear and blue again. They say the mountains drew in the breath of the wind and blew them from the bay.

                But of all the legends of Ardune and the faces set there, none is more well-known than that of Selkan. Selkan the Heretic some call him, and they say that the eyes of the mountains glowed red in the setting sun on the day he stepped off the great ship Riverwrath onto the teeming docks of Ardune.

                When he came ashore, he asked one of the sailors who had been on the Riverwrath with him where he could see these faces he heard so much about.

                “There,” the sailor said, pointing over the uneven roofs of Ardune to the looming mountains.

                Selkan studied them a moment, turning his head first one way then another. “An interesting trick of the light,” he said at last. “Though from the tales, I had expected more.”

                And he set off into the narrow and winding streets of Ardune. He was a traveler and spoke with pride of his knowledge of the dry expanses of Erid and the tall forests of Arbur, though he never spoke of his home. Whatever his origin, he was the kind of man who, seeing a great mountain, saw not a shadow to be lived in but a thing to be scaled.

                “Why do you not mine the mountains?” he asked the folk of Ardune, and the tavern where he had come to spend the night fell silent.

                Farmers and sailors, those who knew to fear the land’s fury, turned their shoulders to him, staring into their beer. When Selkan was told the mountains were held in reverence, that none took even a pebble, he laughed.

                “Rock and boulder!” he cried. “You freeze in houses of lumber when you could have stone.”

                Others had tried. But none who had set out to cross the mountains and see what lay beyond had returned. A light came into Selkan’s eyes when he heard this, and he took up a challenge that hadn’t been given him.

                “I will go,” he said. “I will stand in its mouth and take a stone from its belly. Then you will see that you’ve been afraid of nothing more than a shadow.”

                The next day at dawn, he set out across the open plains, down the thin lanes between the fields, and into the deep forests, toward the great peak of Ardune where the black mouth stood open. And those who watched him go shook their heads.

                In the dead of night, two weeks after Selkan’s departure, the ground began to shake, throwing dishes from the shelves and stirring the waters in the bay so that the ships swayed. A great roar rose from the mountains then was still.

                In the morning, the people of Ardune saw that the stony mouth had shut. The mountain was sealed. And if Selkan yet lives, no soul in Ardune has seen him, but if asked, they will say that it was the mountain that swallowed him.


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Image by DarkmoonArt_de from Pixabay

Little Red – Part 2

If you missed Part 1, find it here.


               Only the brightest, most fragrant, most perfect blossoms would do, and the sun had passed its peak in the sky by the time Little Red continued down the path, downy stems clutched in her hands and the basket on her arm. Her stomach was beginning to grumble, and she hurried now, eager for the biscuits and jam carefully wrapped up in their basket. Around the last curve, the cottage came into view, and Little Red stopped and stared.

               The trees grew tall and close, lacing their green hands together over what looked more like a worn barn than a cottage. Rotting leaves blanketed the uneven roof, and furry, green moss crept up the water-stained wood. Little Red struggled through tacky mud, past a dilapidated well, to the door, stopping for a moment to examine the tracks next to her muddy shoes. A line of shallow paw prints ran from the door into the trees. Wondering if her grandmother had seen the wolf too, she hurried inside.

               Quilts hung over the windows, and the hearth was cold. Little Red stood a moment in the dark doorway before she noticed a figure in the cot against the wall. “Grandmother?” she whispered, timidly drawing closer.

               The figure stirred, turning, and the drawn face of her grandmother gazed up at her. “Red?” she murmured hoarsely. “You… you shouldn’t be—” A ragged cough shook her body.

               Little Red anxiously smoothed back the tangled hair streaked with gray. “I brought flowers,” she said, laying her small hand on the flushed cheek.

               Her grandmother clutched it, pulling it to her lips. “So… hungry…” she moaned, drawing a rasping breath.

               Little Red yanked away from the tightening grip, horrified to find both her and her grandmother’s hand coated in drying mud. “You need to wash up,” she said, pursing her lips. “Then we can eat. I’ve brought biscuits and jam.”

               Leaving the basket and the flowers heaped on the table, she hurried to the well, the empty water pitcher in her hands. The rope was rotting, blackened and stiff, and it bit into her hands, but she held on tight, her feet sliding in the mud as she struggled to heave the water up from the blackness. She had watched her father pull water from the well in the village. He had crouched down to look her in the eye, telling her never to use a well alone or to lean over the edge to look down, and she had solemnly promised she wouldn’t. But now there was no one to help her, and her grandmother was very sick. As carefully as she could, she leaned over the crumbling wall to dip the pitcher into the bucket before jumping back as the rope buzzed against the stones and the bucket landed with a splash.

               Water in hand, she turned back to the cottage, but she stopped in the doorway. The figure in bed was moving. The blankets shifted against the darkness, writhing, thrashing, contorting, growing larger and bulkier until the cot buckled beneath it.

                Little Red’s voice shook. “Grandmother?”

               Two glowing eyes blinked back at her. White teeth glistened through the shadows, and the wolf, the same wolf that had followed her on the path only seeming much larger now in the small room, leapt from the bed. A white nightgown tangled around its legs, and it crashed to the floor. Thrashing and snarling, it clawed at the fabric, sending the table flying and scattering the flowers, then it was back on its feet, advancing on Little Red, bared teeth dripping. The pitcher of water crashed to the floor.

               With a shriek, she ran, slipping and stumbling in the mud, and the wolf bounded after her. With a snap, its jaws closed on her cloak. She tried to scream, but the world pitched, the air driven from her lungs, as the wolf shook her. The fabric in its jaws gave way, and she tumbled into the leaves. Her head slammed into rough bark. The wolf advanced, claws raking furrows in the dirt, fur bristling, fangs dripping. With a snarl, it leapt.

               Little Red clenched her eyes shut, clamping her muddy hands over her eyes, but the bite never came. There was a dull thud and a sharp yelp, and when she looked up, a familiar figure stood over her, axe in hand.

               “Father!”

               He dropped to one knee, pulling her into his arms. The wolf struggled to its feet, but its legs shook and it crumpled back into the leaves with a shallow whine. Little Red’s father carried her into the cottage, setting her on the bed and anxiously checking her over, folding his handkerchief to press against the gash on the back of her head.

               “Stay here,” he told her, moving her hand to hold the handkerchief.

               He strode out the door, a quilt in one hand and an axe in the other. When he came back, her grandmother was beside him, huddled under the quilt, her face pale and bloodied. Little Red ran to her with a sob of relief, but her father snatched her up.

               “It’s gone,” her grandmother said, her voice thin.

               “For now!” He gripped the axe tightly, backing toward the door. “How long until it comes back? Until it’s brave enough to leave the forest?”

               She sagged onto the edge of the bed. “It’s… so hungry. I’ll leave. I’ll go further away.”

               “What good will that do?” he yelled. “This has to stop.” He pulled Little Red closer, leaning his forehead on her hair. “I can’t let this continue.”

               Her grandmother stared at him, eyes wide, before she sighed, shoulders sagging. “I know. But please…” She held out her arms. “Let me see her.”

               “No.”

               Her father left the cottage, striding down the path, Little Red still clutched in his arms. Behind them, her grandmother stood in the doorway, the quilt around her shoulders, hand over her mouth, watching, until the forest swallowed her up. Down the winding path and back through the dark mouth, they went, to where Little Red’s mother stood waiting, baby in her arms. Her face paled when she saw the tattered and muddy cloak.

               “What happened?” she cried, stroking Little Red’s bloody hair.

               “A wolf ate grandmother,” Little Red sobbed. “Father had to cut her out.”

               Her mother turned to him with questioning eyes, but he said nothing, guiding them away from the forest.

               The next day the meadow stood empty and the stream that ran along the dark wall of trees murmured to itself. Little Red sat next to her father on the bench outside their tiny house as he sharpened his axe, the whetstone grinding against the blade. Leaving a kiss on her head, he set the axe on his shoulder and strode down the road toward the forest.

               “Where is your father going?” her mother asked, stroking Little Red’s hair as she sat on the bench next to her.

               Red gazed out at the dark wall of trees, to the darker mouth and the path that wound through it. “To kill the wolf.”


Photo Credit: Painting by Fleury François Richard (https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Little_Red_Riding_Hood.jpg)

Little Red – Part 1

I didn’t intend to make this a two-part post, but life happens. This is the portion I was able to edit in time for today’s post. The conclusion will be posted soon.

This story is an altered re-telling of the classic fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood.” In his MasterClass, Neil Gaiman encouraged writers to take a fairy tale, dissect it, ask what parts didn’t make sense, and write a version with those questions answered.


                On the edge of a brooding forest, there stood a little village, and in the village, there lived a little girl. She spent her days running through the flowery meadows that skirted the village and skipping from stone to stone in the stream that trickled along the dark wall of trees. In that dark wall was a darker mouth where the meadows ended and a dirt path fringed with ferns snaked beneath the towering trees. The little girl often peered down that path, wondering what lay around the curve where the mossy trunks swallowed it, but she had been told never to wander the forest alone. So she sat and watched and wondered, and when the sun began to set, she ran home to the village, to the small house where she lived with her family.

                On a day near the end of summer, when reds and yellows were just beginning to stain the leaves, she met her father as he strode along the road toward home, and he swept her up onto his hip. “Hallo, Little Red,” he said, tugging the scarlet cloak she always wore down over her eyes. “Have you been good today?”

                “I caught a frog!” she exclaimed and pulled the wriggling thing out of her pocket to hold up to his face.

                With a chuckle and a kiss on the head, he set her down by the gate outside their little house. “For your mother’s sake, let’s leave the frog outside, eh? Or there’ll be no dinner for either of us.”

                Little Red hurried along the fence to where the grass grew thick and green and the frog would be safe from trampling feet. She left it there with a kiss on its lumpy head. “Be good. Don’t wander off or there’ll be no dinner.”

                Inside the little house, her mother flitted between the fussing baby and the pots steaming on the hearth. She shooed Little Red to the washbasin and shook the little scarlet cloak free of dirt and grass with quick hands. They ate together as the sun sank below the horizon. Only the fire lit the room now, and the village outside was dark. Little Red filled her pocket with crumbs and scraps for the frog, but when she tried to go back out, her father shut the door and locked it tight.

               “The door stays shut after dark,” he said, bending down to look intently at Little Red.

               She knew there would be no arguing, and so she was left to wrestle stubborn peas from their pods by firelight as her mother cleared the table and her father paced the room, a crying baby on his shoulder.

               “The village blacksmith was by today,” her mother said to him, stacking up the dirty dishes. “Asking after your mother’s house. His son found a wife, and they need a place to live. I told them they’d just have to keep looking, that she would need it when she came back.”

               “She won’t be back,” her father said quietly.

               The dishes clattered back onto the table. “She can’t intend to stay in the forest forever! What—”

               “She’s taken ill. She won’t be back,” her father said with the same stern tone he used when he told Little Red to stop knocking her feet against the legs of her chair.

               Little Red, who had been listening intently, accepted this answer, but her mother stood still, dismayed, wiping her forehead with a thin wrist. “But the harvest, and winter, and then third one on the way.”

               Her father took her hand in his. “We’ll make do.”

               Little Red had never questioned why her grandmother lived in the forest instead of in the clattering village. She often thought that she would like to live at the end of a winding path herself someday, so it all seemed perfectly logical. But she was concerned to hear her grandmother had taken ill. The next day, she begged her mother to let her go visit. Her mother, who had been all morning trying to spin a basket full of wool into yarn and weed the neat garden rows while shooing the chickens out, all with a fussing baby on her hip, finally, tiredly, agreed.

               “Stay on the path,” her mother said, her hand tightening on Little Red’s as they walked together to the edge of the meadow. “Go straight to your grandmother’s and straight home. And don’t speak to any strangers.”

               Little Red bounced excitedly, swinging the basket of biscuits and jam her mother had packed. She stopped once inside the dark mouth of trees to wave before skipping down the path. The clatter of the village faded. The leaves whispered above her, the trees creaked around her, and everywhere birds chattered.

               At first, she rounded each curve in the path eagerly, but finding only more trees, she started paying less attention to the world around her and much more attention to the one in her head. She was so engrossed that when she saw a wolf loping along the path behind her, she didn’t pause to consider whether it was a real wolf or an imaginary one but instead greeted it cheerfully.

               “Hallo!” Fancying the wolf asked where she was going, as she guessed all polite travelers did, she said, “I’m going to visit my grandmother. She lives in a cottage right down this path. Perhaps you’ve seen it. Why, I bet you have, and—oh!”

               Little Red drew up short. Through the trees, she had caught a glimpse of sunshine on golden flowers and butterflies flitting from blossom to blossom. Her mother had told her not to leave the path, but only a few trunks stood between her and the clearing. Certain that a bunch of fresh flowers would cure whatever ailed her grandmother, she waited only a moment before darting into the sunshine and gathering up as many blossoms as she could hold. Once, she looked up to see the wolf sitting at the edge of the clearing, just beyond the circle of sunlight, but when she looked again, it was gone and was soon forgotten.

(Part 2)


Photo Credit: Painting by Carl Olof Larsson (https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carl_Larsson_-_Little_Red_Riding_Hood_1881.jpg)

The Fall

               The mountain rose out of the clouds, a silent island adrift on white sea-billows stained crimson and violet by the setting sun. Limbs shaking, weak from exertion, he dragged himself onto the rocky ledge. Jagged black walls surged up to the rugged peak, looming over him. For three days he had climbed, driven by desperation, clinging to the bare rockface as desperately as he clung to his last shreds of hope. Now, without wings, he could go no higher.

                “Is anyone here?” His voice shuddered against the rock, lost in the whining wind. The mountain stood silent. “Please!”

                A flurry of wings beat against the wind, and he turned to see a great bird, cloaked in scarlet feathers, alight on a boulder at the edge of the shelf. Golden talons gripped the rock, and golden eyes peered out over a golden beak. He knelt in the creature’s shadow cast by the setting sun.

                “I come to make my plea to you, wings of the mountain.” He fought to keep his shaking voice steady. “I have heard that a request may be granted to those with the strength to climb and the courage to ask.”

                He awaited the bird’s response, but it only turned its head to fix its golden gaze upon him, and around them, the wind wept against the stones.

                “Please!” he cried, beating his fist against the passive mountain.

                The bird clicked its beak, and he fell silent. “Many come,” it rasped. “Seeking power. Seeking riches. Peasants, beggars, kings, and lords of men come to make their pleas. Which are you?”

                “I have little gold and less power. But tell me your price, and whatever I have, I will give.”

                The bird shook its crimson feathers, beating its wings and throwing its head to the sky. Its harsh, barking cry reverberated off the mountainside. “What use is gold to a mountain? or the word of men, fleeting as the clouds?”

                “Then tell me the cost. There is nothing I would not do!”

                The bird examined him before turning to gaze out over the darkening clouds.

                “Jump.”

                “I’ll die,” he protested, but the bird gave no response. He stood, walking to the edge and gazing down to where the wind stirred the clouds over the rocks. Frustration overwhelmed him. Three days he had climbed, three days wasted. “I have scaled the mountain!” he yelled over the wailing wind. “I do not have time for riddles or tests! Tell me your price!” The bird only stared to the horizon, its feathers ruffling beneath the fingers of the wind, and his shoulders sagged in resignation. “If I do this, will I be granted my wish?”

                The golden gaze turned upon him again. “There is no courage in the asking, only in the taking.”

                Staring into the gathering darkness, he willed himself to leap. It was that he feared, not the fall. He had only to jump, to force his feet from the rock, then there would be no turning back, only the inevitable embrace of the earth. And even if this was the price, he couldn’t turn back now. Closing his eyes, clenching his fists, he jumped.

                Nothingness surrounded him, the wind whistling in his ears. He waited for the jarring end, but when it didn’t come, he opened his eyes. He stood in the meadow at the foot of the mountain, the peak lost in the blanket of clouds. The breeze that stirred his hair was only the wind that rushed through the valley and past the tossing trees. His legs gave out, and he fell to his knees, all strength leaving him in his despair. He had failed. The mountain had refused his offering. He pressed his forehead to the earth, ripping at the grass, his wail of anger lost in the wind. The sun disappeared behind the trees and the shadows lengthened as he lay in the grass, hollow with grief.

                Pulling himself up, he turned his feet toward the small house at the edge of the meadow. The last light of day faded as he passed through the low door. Inside, his wife sat in the shadow of the dying fire, her head bent, weeping, the cascade of her hair hiding the small bundle in her arms, and his heart crumbled within him. He knelt next to her.

                “I’m sorry,” he choked, his hands shaking. “I tried.”

                When she lifted her face, he saw that she wept not from grief but with joy, with relief after long suffering and the passing of a shadow after lingering in darkness. In her arms, the tiny face once flushed and mottled was clear, and the dulled eyes were bright. Her sob choked with laughter as a tiny hand reached up to her chin.

                He sagged to the floor. The mountain had heard his plea. He tried to wipe the tears from her cheeks, but his hand passed through her as through a fog, and when he called her name, she paid no more attention to him than the rustling of the trees. At the flutter of wings, he turned to see the bird perched on the foot of the bed, its crimson form immense in the tiny house.

                “Is this death then?”

                The bird cocked its head, the pupil black in its unblinking golden eye. “Does it feel like death?”

                He remembered the darkness that had come over him at the foot of the mountain, when all hope had vanished and he had tumbled into the blackness of despair.

                “No,” he said, his cheeks wet with tears.

                He kissed their foreheads as best he could before passing back into the shadows of night. As he walked to the mountain, the great bird wheeled far above him, glinting crimson in the moonlight, and behind him, upon the windowsill, lay a single crimson feather.


Whatever I’m reading tends to seep into my writing, and this week is certainly no exception. I’m halfway through Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. The writing adventures continue…

~ R. E. Rule

Photo: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Charity_red_feather_(29251735662).jpg

The Monkey

                Oranges were the only thing that damn monkey would eat. The lettuce and apples were flung away, but the orange he’d take in his wrinkled feet, retreating to the highest perch he could find. There he’d sit, ripping off hunks of the rind with his fangs and spitting them onto the floor, his piercing gaze fixed on me.

                The dealer had parked in the dusty parking lot of an abandoned building and was lounging against the side of his unmarked van when I pulled in. It was the kind of van you thought twice about parking next to, with dark curtains pulled over its barred windows, but a friend of a friend told me he could get you any pet you wanted, no questions asked. Calm and low maintenance, the dealer assured me, pulling a cat carrier out of the back of the van. Through the mesh door, I could see a small mass of brown fur curled up in the corner, the thin ribs etched into its fur heaving. He looked so fragile, so frightened, so vulnerable. I handed over my envelope of cash without another thought.

                I set my TV to play jungle sounds and talked to him whenever I was home, acclimating him to the sound of my voice, but I was given little reward. He refused to play or groom. His fur grew matted and frayed. He only sat and stared at me, lurking in the highest corners he could find, and as the weeks went on, it began to drive me crazy. Everywhere I went, he eventually appeared: on top of bookshelves, huddled under furniture, always staring, until I felt like I was being hunted in my own home. If I tried to get near him, I was greeted with glistening fangs, and bristling fur, and that black gaze prickling up the back of my neck.

                I tried taking the oranges away, to force it to eat something else or better yet to take its precious oranges from my hand, but it would only angrily fling away the undesirable food before retreating to its perch. It would rather starve to death than come near me. I shut the oranges away in the refrigerator with a slam. I had given it food, water, toys, ropes to climb, and a place in my home, but the ungrateful thing wanted nothing to do with me. It left claw marks in the refrigerator while I slept.

                The dealer said it needed time to adjust, like all animals put into a new environment. He laughed when I said it was staring at me, whispering into the phone as I met the black gaze. He wouldn’t take it back. He even had the gall to suggest I get another one of the vile creatures. ‘Company,’ he called it.

                The thing moved closer now. I hurled slices of apple at it, screaming at it to stop staring, jumping, thrashing my arms, trying to chase it away. But it never flinched. It gazed blackly, unwavering, its tiny fists clenching.

                Tomorrow. Tomorrow it would stop staring. A black trash bag would see to that. And I shut my bedroom door to keep the creature out.

                I woke to the light from the hallway spilling through the open door, illuminating the face of the monkey perched on my chest. Black lips curled back to reveal glistening fangs. It peeled my neck like an orange.

The Fog: Revisited

I thought we’d dip into the archives this week. Please enjoy The Fog, first published in March 2020. For more stories, visit my archives here.


The tiny village nestled in a valley carved between two rugged mountains. Forest blanketed the rocky slopes stretching endlessly away from the small clump of huts. For as long as she could remember, a heavy fog had laid over the land. The residents of the village moved always in a hazy mist, their clothing and hair wet and limp from its cloudy blanket. White sheets hid the tops of trees, and she moved through the forest as if through a great hall, with a ceiling of cloud, pillars of wood and bark, and a soft carpet of moss, damp and silent, beneath her feet.

She tugged her furs more tightly around her shoulders and readjusted her grip on the leather-wrapped handle of her bow. Since the first gray light of dawn had filtered down through the mist, she had been out in the forest hunting. With any luck, she would return with a few hares or grouse, their downy and feathery coats dark and slick with moisture.

The sound of steps on leaves floated through the trees, and she froze, crouching in the underbrush. The steps stopped, and she held her breath in the silence as neither hunter nor prey moved. A soft chuffing floated through the trees. Deer. Her grip tightened on her bow. Scents hung heavy in the mists, and deer usually avoided the forests near the village, but a harvest like that could feed them for days. The chuffing stopped, and the steps resumed. Through the mist hanging between the trees, she could see a dark form moving slowly up the slope. Antlers glistened white in the occasional flicker of light that filtered down to the forest floor.

Her arrow would never reach its target through the thick undergrowth, so she quietly followed, drawn forward by the occasional chuffing and the sound of hooves on damp leaves. A soft breeze brushed her cheeks as it floated down the slope toward her, carrying her scent away from her prey. The stag moved slowly onward, occasionally stopping to lift its great head to the wind and inhale, its grunting breaths making her hold her own until their journey resumed.

The ground became slick and the air heavy the further up the slope they went. The fog grew thicker until she could barely see the wet leaves beneath her leather shoes. An occasional snort and the sound of shifting undergrowth through the fog led her forward with timid steps. The heat in the air grew stifling, and the mists swirled around her like phantoms. She was about to turn back, giving up all hope of bringing down the stag, when the rushing roar of water caught her attention.

Curious, she fought her way onward through the mist, the roar growing to an earth-shaking thunder. A loud snort rang out behind her, and she whirled to see the stag watching her. He turned and darted back into the fog. A gust of wind sent the mist swirling away from her revealing a deep chasm carved into the earth, the edge inches from her feet. A rush of water cascaded into it. She grabbed a nearby tree branch and leaned out to gaze down into the pit, the scorching mist burning her face. At the bottom, dizzyingly far below, a red mass heaved and spat as the water poured into it. Billows of steam belched up toward her. She stared into the heart of the earth until her eyes ached with the heat.

The stag had seen her, and the morning had long since passed, so she turned her steps back toward the village, searching for the steady decline of the ground under her feet. Her hair hung loosely around her face, and her furs were drenched. She shivered as the air began to cool around her, chilling her damp clothing. The trees grew tall around her again, but she recognized none of them. She fought her way onward, more and more disoriented, until she had little hope of finding her way back to the village.

She stopped to free a pebble from her shoe, and when she looked up, the stag was standing at the edge of the swirling mists, staring at her. With a loud snort, he spun, rushing into the fog. She stumbled onward drawing up short when she saw the stag again standing at the edge of the fog. With another snort, he retreated into the white mist, and she found herself led onward by its ethereal form, the ground gradually sloping away beneath her feet.

The trees suddenly ended, and she stumbled into a familiar clearing. It was the spreading field of browning grasses around the village, their blades wilted beneath the heavy fog. The stag stood at the edge of the trees, watching her, the tall undergrowth brushing the wet fur of his belly. Dropping to one knee, she notched an arrow and drew back her bow with cold fingers, the tip trained over the creature’s heart. For a moment, they stared at each other before she let the string loosen and dropped the bow to her side. With a snort and a toss of his head, the stag galloped back into the forest.

Day 65

Day 65

The wind uncovered another bunker today, and Elder Simon found some paper inside. He gave it to me and showed me how to use it. I’m supposed to write down what I see so we won’t forget, but I don’t know what there is to forget. There’s only sky and sun and sand. I keep it wrapped up in my blanket when I’m not using it so the wind doesn’t try to take it. Isaiah wanted some, but the Elder said he’s too young.

There was food in the bunker too, the kind wrapped in metal, and Xav has to break it open so we can eat. I asked the Elder how it was done, but he didn’t know. Someday I’ll find the edge of the sky and maybe the answer will be there. Xav says there is no end to the sands. He remembers more than I do of wandering through them, so maybe he’s right, but sometimes I think I see shimmers of purple on the horizon.

It’s been 65 days near as I can tell since we came to the camp. We wandered through the sands for I don’t know how long before they found us, half-dead and burned from the sun. They say Isaiah must be my brother since our eyes are the same color, but they don’t know about Xav. We don’t remember either.

Day 67

They gave the new bunker to Xav, Isaiah, and I so we don’t have to sleep out on the sands. They put sand over it to block it from the sun, and it stays a little cooler inside. Every day Xav has to push the drifts away from the door so we don’t get buried inside.

Day 70

There was a cloud in the sky today. I stared at it for so long that giant spots hovered in front of me the rest of the day, and I wondered if I would have to wear a cloth tied around my eyes like Old Marga. I don’t think she’s that old, but the sun made her all dry and wrinkled. Last week Xav told me my face was going dry like hers. It didn’t feel any different! But I couldn’t see to tell, and I started crying. Elder Simon yelled at Xav for making me waste my moisture on the sands instead of putting it in the filtrator. He made him haul all the buckets out to the edge of camp. Xav didn’t say he was sorry, but he brought me a rock he’d found and said I could use it to hold my papers down so they didn’t fly away.

Day 74

The filtrator broke down today. Elder Simon is teaching Xav how to repair it. He’s the youngest man in the camp next to Isaiah, but Isaiah is just a kid.

Day 78

Vita walked into the sands today and didn’t come back. Elder said it was selfish, taking her moisture with her. I can’t blame her. Maybe she wanted to know what the purple haze was too. Xav got angry when I told him I wanted to go and said he’d shut me in the bunker if he had to.

Day 79

They found her. They wouldn’t tell us what they did after they brought her body back to camp, but that night Xav told me they emptied her moisture into the filtrator. I’m glad. It was a good thing to die for: keeping us alive. It’ll be easier with fewer of us needing water. They took her back out into the sands and burned her body. I hadn’t seen fire before. I watched the flames flickering late into the night until they died away. We can’t bury our dead. The wind refuses to let them rest. Isaiah found a skull half-buried in the sand once, and it scared him so badly he wouldn’t leave my side the rest of the week. Xav finally hauled him, kicking and screaming, back to the bones to show him it was nothing to be afraid of.

Day 81

Xav kissed me today. He brought me some water and said he hated it when I cried and that my face wasn’t dry. I forgot what he was talking about at first and had just remembered when he grabbed my face and shoved his lips against mine. I stood there with my mouth hanging open, and he ran out the door. I told Old Marga when I was helping her beat sand off the tents. She laughed and said I should let him, that the camp would die with me if I didn’t. I didn’t know what that meant, but it scared me. I told Xav what she said later that night. His face turned red, and he said he wouldn’t do it again if I didn’t want him to. I told him I guess I didn’t mind as long as he didn’t run away afterward. I liked it a lot more the second time.

Day 84

The filtrator broke down again. It took them most of the day to get it working. Xav looked pale when he came back from helping, but he won’t tell me what’s wrong.

Day 85

Xav woke me in the middle of the night last night and said we were leaving. He won’t tell me why, just that I had to be quiet. We took Isaiah and started walking.

Day 86

Xav stole the water from the camp. I was furious and told him we had to go back, but he won’t. He dragged me until I realized I wouldn’t know how to get back even if he let me go.

Day 87

The wind stole most of my pages. I only have this one left. We’re hiding under the blankets from the sun. The wind covers us with sand and that keeps it cooler. Xav makes us walk through the night, no breaks. Isaiah started crying, and Xav slapped him. I wish he hadn’t, but it made Isaiah stop crying. Xav won’t tell me where we’re going. I don’t think he knows.

Day 90

Isaiah won’t wake up. Xav keeps carrying him anyway.

Day 92

We left Isaiah in the sands. I wrapped him up in my shawl. Xav yelled at me, saying I would need it against the sun, but I won’t leave him to become the bones that scared him.

Day 93

The purple haze is back on the horizon. I saw Xav cry today. He was looking down at a little green spiral in the sand and fell to his knees, sobbing. I don’t know what it was. He took my hand and made me walk until the sun started to creep over the horizon.

Day 95

Water. There’s so much water. It stretches out like the sands that lay behind us. But it’s all salty. Xav curled up in the sand for a long time after we tasted it. He won’t speak. He doesn’t have to. Our water is gone. Tomorrow we’ll try to follow the coast, but for now, I’ll give this page to the wind then sit with Xav and watch the sun come up. It’ll be time to sleep soon.


The writing prompt for “Day 65” was provided by Reedsy.com: write about another day in a heat wave.

Butter & Honey

Butter and honey spread thick on a flaky biscuit. It tasted like memories. Like gingham table clothes and the smell of an old house. Like legs swinging furiously against the rungs of heavy wooden chairs. Like mysterious cupboards and closets filled with a lifetime of memories to be peered into and poked with sticky fingertips.

Childhood was always so sticky. Sticky hands. Sticky faces. Sticky, like the golden rivers of honey running down onto hands and wrists, shredding paper napkins, and we had to scrunch up our faces while she scrubbed at them with damp towels. Floral towels. Towels always cradled those biscuits in their basket, and we unwrapped them like a present, crushing them in the overeager grip of children.

It was some sort of magic the way she threw ingredients into a bowl and biscuits appeared, steaming and edged golden brown. Only an explosion of flour on the counter with a few clumps of forgotten dough remained from whatever spell she’d used. Biscuit recipes now were arduous, and they didn’t come out of the oven smelling like innocence or the sleepiness after play on a summer afternoon. They were lopsided and dry, crumbling away to nothing. Even honey couldn’t hold them together.

So the basket sits empty on the table, a towel crumpled up inside. Empty. But maybe if one spent the day trouping through the forest and ran through the door with muddy shoes and carefully pulled back the corner of the towel with sticky fingers, one last biscuit might be found nestled inside.

Date Night

            “God, my hand still smells like s**t!” I scrubbed violently at it with lavender-scented soap for what felt like the hundredth time.

            “I said I was sorry,” Veronica sniffled. “I don’t understand! The website said it was fun!”

            “Don’t cry,” I sighed, drying my hands on a dishtowel. “It’s not your fault.”

            She started crying anyway, and I tugged her into a hug, making sure to keep my soiled hand well down-wind of both of us.

            “I’m horrible at planning dates,” she moaned, burying her face in my shirt.

Four Hours Earlier

            “Is this it?” I asked skeptically, gazing up at what seemed to be an abandoned factory. The brick walls were crumbling, the windows had been boarded up, and a giant condemned poster was plastered across the gate. “This doesn’t look right.”

            “It’s supposed to be spoooooky,” she crowed, holding her flashlight to her chin to throw grotesque shadows across her face, and I smiled reluctantly.

            She confidently led me through the squeaky gate to one of the vacant doors. Her flashlight beam illuminated dark and silent hallways, moisture stains creeping across the cement floors.

            “Hello?” Her voice echoed through the empty rooms.

            “Are you sure this is the right place?” I asked, edging closer to her. “Shouldn’t there be… staff or something?”

            “There’s like a billion doors. We probably just came in a side entrance.”

            She took my hand, and we started down one of the halls, peering through dark doorways into darker rooms as we went. That hallway soon branched into others lined with more doorways or shattered windows. Our footsteps shuddered against the cement walls as we walked.

            “Whoa, they really went for realism,” Veronica laughed.

            A giant X of faded police tape hung across a doorway, and inside a dark stain had soaked into the floor.

            “Are you sure this is the right place?” I asked, glancing around nervously. “Why haven’t we seen anyone else?”

            Veronica shrugged. “It’s a big building. What’s wrong?” Her face twisted into an infuriating grin. “Scared?”

            “No,” I snapped.

            “Ooooooooh,” she moaned, tickling the back of my neck.

           “Stop!” I writhed away from her, swatting her hand away.

            She burst out laughing, but I quickly shushed her.

            “What was that?”

            A faint rustle floated down the hall.

            “Finally,” she sighed, dragging me toward the sound.

            We stopped at the end of the hall, but there was only darkness in every direction. The rustling had stopped.

           “Huh,” she sighed, turning around. “We must have taken a wrong turn, but I swore it came from in he—”

           A black figure lurched out of the doorway, and she let out a bloodcurdling scream. I grabbed her hand and sprinted down the hall, dragging her behind me. Empty doorways flew by as I ran blindly through the maze of hallways. We burst through one of the side doors into a bathroom, rows of stalls lining one wall, and I slammed the door shut behind us. Veronica started laughing hysterically.

            “What’s so funny?” I demanded, sagging back against the door.

            “Oh my god! I nearly peed my pants,” she gasped between peals of laughter.

            “How is that funny?! I thought you were about to be murdered!”

            She fell against the stalls, a crazed look on her face. I was starting to wonder if adrenaline and fear had caused her wild laughter, not amusement, but the hair on the back of my neck stood up as a muffled sound floated through the door.

            “Do you hear footsteps?” I hissed.

            Someone was making their way down the hall. She sighed in relief.

            “Finally! We should—“

I frantically held my finger to my lips. Scraping joined the heavy footsteps, pausing and restarting, pausing and restarting, like metal dragging against the cement walls, silenced by each open doorway. I dragged Veronica into the farthest stall, locking the door behind us, and we huddled into the far corner. I valiantly placed myself in front of her, though it might be more merciful to let her die first. The footsteps paused for a moment then continued down the hall. Scrape. Pause. Scrape. Pause. It slowly faded to silence, and I let out the breath I’d been holding. A violent crash reverberated through the building, echoed by a soft splish behind me. I turned to see Veronica staring in horror at the toilet.

            “What happened?”

            “I… I jumped and I… I dropped the keys.”

            We both stared into the murky depths of the porcelain vat filled with what looked like vomit from the depths of hell. With a resigned sigh, I handed her my flashlight and rolled up my sleeve.

~~

            She’d finally cried herself out against my chest and was sitting miserably, her shoulders shaking with tiny hiccups.

           “I’m leaving them a horrible review,” I sighed. “They should be shut down.”

           She pulled up the website and slid her phone to me. I stared down at the screen.

            “This is the place?”

            She nodded miserably, blowing her nose.

            “This place? Right here?”

            “Yes!” she snapped.

            “52 W. 16th Street?”

            “No, it’s W. 60th Street.”

            “That’s… not what the website says.”

            “What?” she snatched her phone and stared down at it, horror growing on her face. “Oh my god! OH MY GOD! Where did we go?! Wait, where are you going?!”

            “To disinfect my arm.”


The prompt I used said to write a story based on the last text I sent. Any guesses what it was?? I use it verbatim in the story.

More soon!

~R. E. Rule