Thursday, February 26, 2015

#120 The Mark of Water 9

The south wind tried to get to its feet, but wherever the flaxen thread tangled around its body, it couldn’t move. Furious, it pawed at the ground with its one free leg, rolling and struggling, until the end of the thread cut at Jill’s hands. When the wind found that it couldn’t break loose, it began clawing and biting at the threads, until it was able to free its right shoulder.

Not enough thread! Jill didn’t have any more, and she hadn’t been able to bind the south wind with what she had. Soon it would be free, this huge and terrible beast made of sand and air. Its struggling sent stinging blasts into her face, and Jill tried to pull her shawl over her head without letting go of the thread.

Her shawl. Jill had her shawl, the one her mother knitted for her. It was made of thread.

All of a sudden, the south wind turned on her, engulfing her in a blinding sandstorm. She could not see, she could barely breathe. She wanted to wrap her shawl around her to keep the stinging sand from her skin, but instead she blindly picked out the thread at one corner and knotted it to the strand of flax in her hand.

Jill felt rather than saw the shawl unraveling, row by row, faster and faster as the south wind howled around her. She covered her face with her hands and curled up on the ground, trying to protect her nose and mouth from the choking grains. Gradually, the wind began to slow, and the sand whipped less furiously around her, and then, at last, as the final strand of her shawl left her fingers, the wind fell still.

Jill got up. Her dress was in tatters and she felt as if she’d been clawed by a thousand angry cats, but the plain was empty. The south wind was gone.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

#119 The Mark of Water 8

The sun set and the moon rose, and Jill walked along the dry course of the river through the desert, seeking the south wind, though she did not know what to look for, nor exactly what to do once she had found it. How could she bind the wind with a thread? All around her the only sound was the hissing of sand, and starlight poured down from the depths of the sky.

When the moon stood nearly overhead Jill came to a place where one lone dune lay in the middle of a flat expanse. It seemed to shift in the wind, rising and falling as if with breath, and as Jill drew closer she could shapes in the blowing sand. Huge paws, a long, twitching tail, ears, nose, a mane of blowing sand, a great lion stretched before her, eyes closed, fitfully asleep.

Jill crept up to it. Even lying down, the thing towered over her. All made of sand, constantly shifting in hot air currents that whirled around it, the lion gave a great yawn, then rolled over and settled again, spraying Jill with a blast of sand and hot air.

Was this the south wind? It must be, but how was Jill to bind it?

Jill took the spool of thread in her hand and walked all around the south wind, not daring to touch it or to make a noise. At last she put out her hand to touch the very tip of its tail. The sand crumbled away in her fingers, then formed again into a tail shape with a wisp of wind. How could she bind something that was made only of sand and air?

Jill looked back the way she had come, thought of the water creature waiting for her, and wondered if perhaps she should go back and ask, but oh what a long weary walk that was. While she was here, she might as well try everything she could think of.

She unrolled some thread and let it fall at her feet, thinking perhaps to try tying it to the south wind’s tail, but as soon as the thread touched the tail, Jill felt a tug like a fish on a line, or a kite in the sky. The thread ran off the spool, pulled by the wind that shaped the lion of sand, and wrapped itself around and around, first the tail, then the hindquarters, then the body and shoulders and one of the legs. Jill saw the thread was almost out, so she quickly grabbed onto the end of it before it flew out of her hands. And there it was, the very end of the thread, but the lion’s head was still free, and so too one paw.

The lion raised its head, looked back at Jill, and roared.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

#118 The Mark of Water 7

Water rushed over her, tore at her, threatened to fill her mouth and nose. Jill buried her face in the creature’s mane of tentacles to keep the water from burrowing inside her. She held her breath until her lungs ached and burned, and still the water rushed around her. Did the creature know she couldn’t breathe under water? Would she drown? Jill gripped tighter, and her heart pounded louder than the roar of the water in her ears.

The water released her and fell away, and now air whipped Jill’s wet hair. She sucked in a breath, filled her lungs so full they ached, and raised her head in time to see ripples coursing over a woodland pool behind her. That must have been where they had come out. Now they wound low over the course of a stream, dodging trees and boulders. There was no drought here, wherever this place was. The stream became a river that flowed through wide valleys and past great mountains, and at last came to the ocean.

Jill cried out as they left the land behind, but the creature kept on swimming through the air, low enough over the water that the highest waves soaked them with spray. Jill watched the mountains fade away in the distance behind her, then watched the horizon ahead while the sun sank low in the sky.

At last a range of black peaks rose up from the sea ahead, and the creature wound its way up a sluggish brown river between them. Here there were no forests, only a few strange trees along the river, and on either side nothing but sand as wide as the sea. The creature took a fork in the river and followed it until the water vanished into the sand. Then it landed, just as the sun was setting.

“This is as far as I can take you,” the creature said. “You will find the south wind if you follow the dry course of this river.”

Jill looked out over the hills of sand and asked, “What am I to do when I find him?”

“Bind him,” the creature said, with a nod at the thread in Jill’s hand. “See that you take care not to wake him.”

Monday, February 23, 2015

#117 The Mark of Water 6

“You were told I would come?” asked Jill, confused. Her sore throat reminded her how she’d screamed when the villagers threw her down the well. It seemed days, ages ago.

The monster nodded, its heavy, shaggy head dipping low in a bow of respect. “You are the one who will bind the south wind and end the drought.”

Jill had no idea what the creature was talking about, but she didn’t move, didn’t speak, didn’t dare deny it. It still might decide to eat her.

“Do you have the binding?” the creature’s face moved close to her own. It smelled like sweet spring water. The twin-moon eyes glowed so bright it hurt to look at them.

“Binding?” Jill asked.

“Ah, yes, there it is,” the creature’s long snout nearly brushed the spool of thread in Jill’s hand. “But why have you left so much of it in the tunnel?”

“I-I… I wanted to be sure of finding my way back,” Jill said.

“You will need all of it,” the creature said. “You must wind it up again.”

“But…” Jill began, glancing back to the dark tunnel behind her.

“Wind up the binding,” the creature ordered.

Jill thought about crawling back down the tunnel to collect all the thread, and then coming here again, and she could not bear it, to traverse that unending darkness two more times. Instead, she went a little ways down the tunnel, where she could still see the light of the creature’s eyes behind her, wound up the thread as far as she could, and pulled.

The thread was strong, and would not come, not until Jill pulled with all her might. Then she felt it snap, and she began winding the dusty strand onto the spool. When the broken end finally appeared, Jill knew there had been a great deal more thread before it was broken. She hoped the creature hadn’t meant that she would need all of it. How could it know how much thread had been there to begin with?

Keeping the spool hidden tightly in her hand, Jill went back to the room with the pool.

“I have the thread,” Jill said.

“Now climb on my back,” the creature’s long body snaked out from the water and coiled in a loop at Jill’s feet. When Jill sat behind its head her feet no longer reached the ground. Its scales were wet and cold, like a fish, and it had no arms or legs, only a long tail and rows of narrow fins down it’s side, and a long glowing stripe all down its back. Jill gripped a handful of the gleaming tendrils that waved like a mane around its head.

The creature dove into the water, and Jill, startled, let out a breath of air.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

#116 The Mark of Water 5

The very faintest light shone in the distance, and Jill’s eyes, hungry for it, fixed on it as she crawled forward with the spool of thread in her hand. It could have been daylight reflected off the wall far ahead. Yes, Jill decided, it was daylight, and she would be coming out of this awful tunnel at last. Faster she scrambled over the rough stone as the light grew brighter and brighter in front of her. When she grew nearer she saw that the light seemed to flicker and dance, perhaps there were trees or bushes moving in the wind by the opening. It was taking so long for her to get there, to feel the open air again.

Now the end of the tunnel was near, and the light was still so pale Jill decided it must be night, and there was a moon making a silvery glow, but strangely the glow seemed to come from below, and what she first took for tree trunks were stone pillars, and for a dark landscape was only a wide cavern with a bright pool at the bottom.

Feeling more trapped than ever, Jill stood up, searching the cavern in hopes of seeing a way out. Stone above, stone, below, stone all around. High on the walls, a white coating showed where the water had been when this room was filled. It would have stretched high over her head, covering the opening to the tunnel where she had crawled in.

It was no moon making the light, but something in the pool. A glowing line, like a coiling rope that tangled and tumbled around itself. Curious, Jill crept closer, then jumped back when the line stirred. She held her breath until it stilled again. Was this water safe to drink? She hadn’t had a drink since she’d left home that morning, and this pool smelled so sweet and clean.

Jill reached out her finger to touch the surface of the water. Her fingertip glowed where it dipped beneath the surface.

Two bright orbs, like twin moons, flashed deep in the pool. Eyes, they were eyes, and now a terrible head came rushing up through the depths. It broke the surface, and opened wide a mouth filled with knife-like teeth. Sure of death, Jill threw up her arm to cover her face.

She waited, but nothing happened. She slowly lowered her arm.

The creature had closed its mouth, narrowed its eyes. Glowing white tendrils waved in the air around its face, as if stirred by a breeze only it could feel.

“You bear the mark of water,” the monster hissed. “I was told that you would come.”

Friday, February 20, 2015

#115 The Mark of Water 4

Jill’s voice was gone, but in her mind she was still shouting. What will you say to my mother, Anna Baker? I’m so sorry, Widow Mead, but we’ve thrown your only daughter down the well. What will you say to my mother, Col Smith? Where’s Jill? Why, we threw her down the well and though she begged and pleaded, none would fetch her out. What will you say to my mother? The chant went on in her head as she crawled forward, with her fingers groping at the rough stone, sometimes up and sometimes down, always keeping the spool of her mother’s thread in her hand, letting it play out as she went. Anger filled the darkness, made it throb and press on her until she stopped to beat the rocks with her fists and howl though it made a knife of pain go down her weary throat.

Then, exhausted, the anger left her, and Jill moved forward again, each second expecting to find a dead end, or a sudden drop that she could not reach the bottom of, but each second discovering that she could still go on, deeper and deeper into the earth, until she felt as if perhaps she was going down the throat of a great stone creature that had swallowed her. Now the darkness filled with fear, like needles, like a wall of thorns, and an agony of terror shook Jill’s limbs and made her sob. The weight of all the stone above her seemed poised to crush her flat, like a vast hand coming down on a tiny ant. She curled up against the fear, but it only bound her tighter and tighter. She would die down here, all alone, where no one would ever find her bones.

Another breath of air, this one stronger than the first, came drifting by. Jill raised her head in the blackness and breathed it. Water, it smelled of water. There was water somewhere down this tunnel, and she was so thirsty.

Numbly, blindly, Jill crawled on. Her eyes had seen only darkness so long that now her mind made red and blue shapes dance across her vision. Sometimes they formed faces that leered at her, sometimes odd creatures that lurked at the edge of her vision, sometimes dazzling patterns like mother wove into her rugs that she used to make before the drought came. Some were so bright and so real that when Jill finally saw a hint of light ahead she dismissed it at first. There’s my eyes playing tricks again, she thought, but when she looked away and looked back, the light was still there.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

#114 The Mark of Water 3

Jill stared into the black opening at the base of the wall, searching for some sign of how far it went back. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the dark, until she could see the memory of water in the dark coating on the stones. The top of the water had been higher than she could reach if she stood.

Here, in the well, there was light, if only a little, but no way to escape. There before her, the opening might lead… somewhere, but it was dark. So dark. How could she leave the light and go groping in that narrow crawl-way? How far could it go before it stopped, or worse yet, grew so narrow that she became trapped, gripped in the bowels of the earth, unable to be rescued.

A sharp sting of betrayal jolted through her heart. These were no strangers who had thrown her down this well. She knew every last soul in this village, and they knew her and her mother. The pain of it flared into fury, and Jill got painfully to her feet, her heart pounding so hard she thought she could hear it echoing off the walls of her well-prison. She shouted to the blue-white circle of sky overhead, called out to the villagers by name, begging them to let her go.

No one appeared.

At last, Jill’s voice gave out, and she sank down with her back against the wall, curled up with her arms around her knees, and wondered how long it would take for her to die.

A faint breath of air brushed her arm, pulled at her hair. It smelled of water. Jill raised her head and faced the low opening again. The movement of air tickled her cheek, and then was still. It had come from the hole, like an invitation, a beckoning. This was no dead-end shaft, it went somewhere.

Jill took up her shawl and pulled it around her shoulders. She still had one spool of thread in her pocket. She took it out, looking for something to tie the end to. She found a loose rock in the dry dust and knotted the string around it, then rolled the spool ahead of her as she crawled forward into the darkness.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

#113 The Mark of Water 2

Jill crouched, stunned, her hands in the cool, dry dust of the bottom of the well, her head against the rough side, her breath coming in ragged sobs. Ignoring the pain in her ankles, she forced herself to stand and reached high over her head. A small, pale circle of light shone down from above, eclipsed by the dark, round shapes of heads. They were black and faceless against the bright sky behind them, moving in and out, crowding each other to see.

“LET ME OUT!” Jill shrieked. The scream ripped from her throat, leaving it stinging, burning.

The heads grew more still, only a few watching now.

“Please?” Jill croaked, groping with her fingers against the rock wall.

Overhead, something blocked the light, and at first Jill hoped they were sending something down to lift her out, like a bucket or rope. Then her shawl, covered in dirt, fell lightly onto her upstretched hands.

The dark shapes above faded away, leaving only a round light like a pale blue moon gleaming down on Jill’s tiny prison.

Jill threw down her shawl and struggled to find hand-holds in the wall, to climb back to the light, but the smooth stone wouldn’t bear her. Her shoulder and arm began to sting. Her head ached, and when she fingered the sore spot she found blood trickling down the side of her face.

Slowly around the side of the well she moved, feeling in the darkness, until in one spot she tried to put her toes against the wall and her foot met nothing.


Jill bent down, feeling with her hands and seeing with her eyes a low, black opening at the very bottom of the wall. If she pressed herself against the opposite wall, it was just large enough for her to squeeze in head-first and crawl on her elbows.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#112 The Mark of Water

Jill held her shawl over her face as a gust of dry wind pelted her with dust. She used to enjoy going to the village, back before the drought, but now she hated it. Death seemed nearer here, the people more desperate. They huddled together in the shade of their huts, watching her pass with their hungry, hopeless eyes.

The wind made her arm sting, and she glanced down at the angry red marks. Her mother had scolded her for splashing the hot oil, loosing those few drops into the dirt floor and against her dry, cracking skin. The burns had left three tear-drop shapes on her wrist. She tried to pull her sleeve down over them, but it didn’t stay.

Jill passed the well, sorry that it had gone dry, for she sorely wanted a drink of water. She had a little with her, but she would save that for her walk home. When she reached the market and went to the place where she usually sold the fine flaxen thread her mother made, she wondered if anyone would even care to buy thread when they were dying of hunger.

There were a few people in the market, moving slowly among the nearly empty stalls. Jill spread her shawl on the ground under one of the tattered canopies and set out her rolls of thread. A long time passed before anyone stopped to look.

“All three for this,” the old woman said, holding out a single egg.

Jill agreed, and reached for the precious egg, but before she took it the old woman gasped and grabbed her wrist.

“The prophecy!” The woman shouted. “She has the mark of water!”

“Let go!” Jill tried to free herself. “What are you talking about?”
A crowd of people formed around them, more hands grabbed her, lifted her to her feet, began moving her through the market. Her arm was thrust into the air.

“See? Do you see?”

“The mark of water!”

“The prophecy!”

Jill’s burn seared with pain, exposed to the dry wind. “It’s only a burn!” She shouted angrily. “I got it yesterday! Get off!”

Someone in the crowd lifted Jill off her feet. She kicked and fought and screamed, but the current of dusty, bony limbs carried her along, eyes too hungry to see, too desperate to care.

And then she fell.

A jolt of pain jarred her whole body as she hit the cool, dark bottom of a deep shaft. The well! They’d thrown her into the well.

Monday, February 16, 2015

#111 The Harp Maker's Apprentice

The boy came every day to the shop. Every day, he would make the same circle around the room, stopping at the harps, one by one. He always held his hands tight behind his back, as if afraid that if he didn’t he might be unable to stop himself from running his fingers over the smooth wood, or plucking the shiny brass strings. He knew every harp in the shop, for if one was sold, the next day he would stand and stare at the empty spot with a sadness in the slump of his shoulders. Then he would move on to look at the next harp.

After he had circled the room he would come and stand by the work bench. Not too close, for if the harp maker noticed him, then the old man would shoo him out of the shop. At least that’s what would happen at first. After a few weeks the boy seemed to have become invisible, and he could stand for hours and watch the slow movement of the tools as they shaped plain wooden blocks and boards into something magical. Something that could sing sweeter than a bird or roar louder than a thunderstorm.

What the boy liked best was when someone would come into the shop, looking to buy, and take a harp from the shelf or sit down beside one of the larger ones on the floor and play. Then his eyes would grow wide, and sometimes even shine with tears. He would hold his breath, lean forward, as if his ears were hungry for the sound. And then, if the harp was sold and taken away, the boy would stand at the shop door in a sort of farewell.

The harp maker had grown to regard the boy as something that was always there, like the mice, or the shadows, not causing enough harm to be worth driving away when there was work to do. So it surprised him one day when the boy came into the shop and instead of drifting around the room like always, stepped right up to the counter.

The boy placed a few coins on the counter and said, “What sort of a harp would this buy?”

The harp maker studied the boy as if for the first time. He was eleven, perhaps twelve. His clothes were plain but clean. There was some craft to them, just enough that the harp maker could tell his mother knew her sewing.

Without a word, the harp maker turned and went to his stock of wood. He selected a few boards and pieces, then set them on the counter.

The boy frowned at the pieces, confused at first, but then he seemed to realize what the harp maker meant. He stuck his chin out stiffly, his eyes shining again, and started to collect his coins.

“You’ll have to earn the strings by tidying up the shop,” the harp maker said. “Have you worked with wood before?”

Confused again, the boy shook his head. “Only a bit of whittling, sir.”

“Then you’ve got a lot to learn. Come around here and let me show you how to hold the plane.”

The boy sucked in a quick gasp of surprise, then bobbed his head with a breathless, “Oh, thank-you sir! Yes, please.”

The harp maker smiled.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

#110 Country Gas Station

A handwritten sign stuck on the pump said, “CASH ONLY please pay inside.” The pump had a credit card slot, one so old the plastic was chipped and the keypad numbers were wearing off. I guess it was broken.

“Could I get twenty dollars on pump 2?” I asked the girl behind the counter. She jabbed at the cash register until it spat out a little white piece of paper.

“Here you go,” was all she said.

I hadn’t done that in years and years, gone inside to pay cash for gas. It threw me all the way back to when I was in high school, driving the big blue boat my dad had bought for his teenage driver, and I used to always put five dollars of gas in the tank on a Thursday to get her to the end of the week when Dad would fill it up the rest of the way. I remember trying to figure out some way to get the hood ornament off the car without Dad noticing. Couldn’t he tell that things like that mattered? There was not a single other vehicle in the entire high school parking lot with a hood ornament.

A scrawny red hen with a pack of fluffy chicks crossed my path as I walked back to the gas pump. It felt strange to just pop the gas cap cover, unscrew the cap, pick up the dispenser and start pumping. I was used to having to swipe my card. When I picked up the dispenser, gasoline spattered everywhere. Some hit my sandaled feet, and burned cold there while I fitted the end of the dispenser into the car. I squeezed the lever and the machine beside me set up a rattling whine. Every second or so a loud thump shook the hose, making it twitch like an angry snake. Alarmed, I raised my eyes to the underside of the canopy that covered the gas pumps. Dangerously rusted panels showed pipes with cracked paint visible underneath, like someone on the operating table with arteries exposed. It looked like the whole thing might fall down on top of me.

Was I going to die pumping gasoline at a tumble-down country gas station? Was the pump going to burst? Catch on fire?

A couple of women in a huge red pickup were pumping at the pump ahead of me. Their pump was thumping right along with mine, and they didn’t seem to care. Maybe they pumped gas at this station a couple times a week, and it hadn’t fallen down on them yet. While I watched the pump for any signs of spewing gas or mechanical failure, the digital numbers on the display ticked up steadily until they reached 19 dollars. Then the pump slowed and came to a final shuddering stop at $20.00.

Would you like a receipt? The digital letters ran across the little strip of screen over the keypad.

I pressed no.

The message continued to play, unresponsive, Would you like a receipt?

Grateful to have my gasoline, and that the pump hadn’t gone to pieces, I climbed back in my car and drove away.

Friday, February 13, 2015

#109 About the Cake

He found the piece of cake in the refrigerator, lonely, forgotten. He piled it high with ice cream and berries, then took it to the table, which was still cluttered with dinner’s dishes, and ate it.

She noticed, but didn’t say anything until he was done.

“Did you eat the last piece of cake?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said, a little warily, but with no regrets.

She didn’t say anything more until hours later.

“About the cake,” she said, then paused, sorting through the possible words, trying to find the right thing to say. “It would have been nice if you’d asked.”

“We’ve had it for days. I thought everyone who wanted some would have had a chance to have some.”

“Or maybe if you’d just said something,” she said. “I’m going to eat the last piece of cake, is that okay? And then I would have said, yes, please, eat the last piece of cake.”

“I didn’t know you were saving it for anything,” he said.

“It wasn’t that I was saving it,” she said. “Maybe it was because you were eating it in front of everyone else, and hadn’t offered to share.”

“There was only one piece,” he said.

No one was feeling any better.

She gave up. Trying to explain it, to find a reason, was just no use. “It bothered me that you ate the cake,” she said, and she wasn’t sure why.

But it was probably because she had been hoping to eat it. Later. When no one else was around.

He didn’t have anything more to say.

* * *

“You didn’t save any cookies for me,” he said.

“Oh,” she said. “I gave them to the children. Their friends came over, and so I pulled them out.” And then they were gone. Very fast.

“I only made them yesterday,” he said.

They had been his favorite kind.

Maybe now he knows how I feel about the cake, she thought.

“I’m going now,” he said, and left.

I know how he feels about the cookies, she thought.

Maybe tomorrow, when he was away at work, she would make some more cookies and surprise him.

Why wait for tomorrow? He’d be gone for at least half an hour. Plenty of time to make more cookies.

She snapped on the oven and flipped through the cook book, searching for the recipe, then threw a bowl and ingredients out onto the counter, and mixed them up quick, racing the clock. She broke off large balls of dough and even rolled them in extra sugar.

The cookies had just come out of the oven when he got home.

“I smell cookies,” he said.

“Have some,” she said. “Sorry I gave yours away.”

“Sorry I made such a fuss about it,” he said.

No one said anything about the cake.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

#107 The Herbalist's Diary 8

The next morning, Mother’s fever had broken, but Brother Amos did not come back.

With Mother resting quietly for the first time in days, Lyssa felt the worry slowly leave her, but in its place came a dread at what she had done to her precious diary.

Lyssa opened the back page and took out the crushed potato sprout. She flicked it into the fire, but a stain remained on the pages, one she couldn’t sponge out with all her careful work. Poision! But how could she have known that what would poison a living person would have any effect on a ghost.

She hoped he wasn’t still suffering somewhere, babbling strange Latin words or seeing his abbey burn down over and over. The pain of what she’d done to her friend bore into her, softened only a little by seeing her mother gradually recovering. Sometimes Lyssa thought that Brother Amos would surely forgive her. Other times she thought he must have gone away and not come back because he was angry that Lyssa had been so selfish.

It was a week before Mother was strong enough to get out of bed. In that time, caring for the household kept Lyssa so busy she hardly had time to sit down and rest. But then the time came at last that Mother was her old self, singing over the morning kettle and scolding children who would rather play than do their chores. Then Lyssa had some time to herself to sit by the fire in the evening and look through the diary again.

Last fall, Brother Amos had promised to teach Lyssa to read when winter came. Of course he hadn’t known what would happen. Lyssa missed her friend, but it was a comfort to her to look through his book. She could almost remember the sound of his voice, reading her the words on the pages.

Sage. Snapdragon. Lyssa paused and looked again. Those two words began with the same sound, and she could see on the page that their words began with the same symbol. Eager now, she found another pair, Yew and Yarrow. Another symbol, another sound.

Maybe Brother Amos could still teach her to read after all.

In the spring, Lyssa would take the first leaf of green sage and place it between the pages, and maybe Brother Amos would speak to her again. She would beg his forgiveness, and ask him if he could please continue to be her teacher. But even if he didn’t come, she still had the diary, and maybe, just maybe, she knew enough already that she could come to understand the rest of it on her own.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

#106 The Herbalist's Diary 7

Lyssa stumbled through the door of her own home near sundown, the wooden box from Brother Amos’ hut clutched tight to her chest.

“Lyssa!” Addie ran to her. Lyssa could tell she’d been crying.

Gradually, Lyssa unwrapped a frozen arm from around the wooden box and put it around Addie instead. She let Addie tow her into the tiny bedroom where mother slept. From Addie’s tears, Lyssa was afraid that she was too late, that it had taken her too long to cross the snow-covered hills, fighting the wind all the way, and Mother had lost her own battle while she was gone.

Lyssa watched the still form on the bed until the covers rose and fell, just once. A breath. Mother was still alive, though the day seemed to have aged her twenty years.

“You brought medicine!” Addy seemed to notice the box for the first time.

Maybe, Lyssa thought. Without a word, she set the box down on the shelf by Mother’s bed, then opened the diary.

“Dona eis domine. Dona Eis requiem. Requiem aeternam,” Brother Amos chanted in a low, pained voice. Lyssa didn’t know the words, but they frightened her. “Requiem!” it became a plea, “Requiem!”

Lyssa wanted to slam the book shut to silence it. A wild thought of throwing it into the fire, putting an end to the ghost voice forever, came into her mind. No, she needed him. She needed Brother Amos to tell her one more thing.

Holding the diary open in one hand, she lifted the lid of the box with the other. The clean smell of fresh herbs filled the air, cleared her head.

“Ah,” Brother Amos said,“There it is. It was here all along.”

“Which one should I use?” Lyssa asked, deciding not to try and explain to Brother Amos that she’d spent all day trudging through a snowstorm to get it. If he had already forgotten the journey, then there was probably no way to make him understand. She opened the packets one by one, laying them out carefully on the shelf beside the box.

“That’s the one,” Brother Amos said when she opened one that contained a gnarled white ball of woody roots. “Make a strong infusion, and give her a spoonful every hour.”

“Thank you,” Lyssa said.

“I must be returning home, I’m afraid it’s getting dark out,” Brother Amos said, his voice fading until it was no louder than the wind.

“Will you be coming back?” Lyssa asked.

“I’ll come and check on you in the morning.”

Lyssa closed the book.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

#105 The Herbalist's Diary 6

Lyssa searched the hut, her numb fingers clawing through the shelves. Last spring when she had first seen the hut with its herb garden grown wild she had been afraid it might be haunted. She hadn’t gone in until she’d spied the little leather-bound book on the table, then she’d darted in and snatched it and brought it back out into the sunshine.

The drawings inside were the most beautiful she’d ever seen. Perfect leaves and blossoms, just as if she were holding a garden in her hands and not a book. She’d laid a sprig of sage she had plucked from the wild herb patch between the pages, and discovered that it was not the hut that was haunted, but the book itself.

Now a mad ghost babbled behind her as she searched.

“They burned the abbey,” Brother Amos sobbed like a child. “All the books gone, gone to ashes! All our work, all that knowledge, oh, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”’

“Brother Amos?” Lyssa pleaded, “You said there was a root that could cure my mother, Do you know where it is?”

Brother Amos wasn’t listening anymore. Perhaps he couldn’t hear her. “Do you like my garden?” he asked. “You really shouldn’t be here, though.”

That was true enough. Lyssa hadn’t known Brother Amos was going mad when she’d left home this morning. She’d trusted him, but now she wasn’t sure of anything. Even if she found something, even if he told her it was what she had come for, would she dare use it?

Under the broken frame and tattered matting that had once been a cot in the corner, Lyssa found a sturdy wooden box. Anxious, she pried the lid up and found it full of paper packets. One by one she unfolded them to find carefully dried leaves, strips of bark, and at last a tangle of reddish-black roots.

“Is this it?” Lyssa asked, “Is this what we’ve come to find?”

Monday, February 9, 2015

#104 The Herbalist's Diary 5

Lyssa didn’t know why she thought there would be anything here in the old, abandoned hut. It had seemed desolate and empty when she’d found it last spring. Now snow had crept in over the floor, coming in through the broken door and the open window. Deer prints marked the floor, and there were smashed jars and open cupboards.

“It’s rather untidy,” Brother Amos’ voice said, unsteady. “Let me see if I can’t tidy up… oh… well, no I can’t.” He sounded surprised, as if he’d forgotten he wasn’t really there,  at least not in body.

“You said there was some medicine here for my mother,” Lyssa tried to keep her voice from shaking. The cold, the disappointment, were both making her tremble.

“Your mother,” Brother Amos echoed. He’d forgotten again, Lyssa could tell by the way he said the words.

Outside, the wind blew a fresh flurry of snow against the hut with a sound like so many needles being flung against the stones.

“Brother Amos, what’s wrong?” Lyssa asked. “You’ve never been like this before.”

“Well, I can’t help but think,” he said. “It seems there was something off about the sage. If you don’t mind I’ll just sit down and rest my eyes for a moment.”

Sage? Lyssa opened the back page of the diary. There hadn’t been any sage. The only fresh growing thing she could find here in the dead of winter had been a sprig of potato from the cellar. The juice of its thick stem was now staining the inside of the back cover.

Potato greens. Poison.

Shaking harder, Lyssa closed the cover of the book. “Can you tell me where to find the medicine? If it were still here, where would it be? What would it look like? You said it was a root.”

There was no answer.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

#103 The Herbalist's Diary 4

“Where are we going?” Brother Amos asked apologetically, as if he knew he ought to know, and felt badly that he didn’t.

“To your hut,” Lyssa said, out of breath from walking as fast as she could in the bitter cold. Brother Amos had always been a little forgetful, but this frightened her. “You said you had a root there that could cure my mother.”

“Yes, yes, I remember now,” he said. “Roots and herbs can help us, but healing is a gift from God.”

A light snow began to fall, making the empty white world seem even whiter.

“Strange,” Brother Amos said with a baffled laugh, “I don’t feel the cold.”
It’s because you’re just a book, Lyssa thought, though she didn’t say anything.

Lyssa reached the top of the hill where she expected to see the old abandoned hut hidden in the dell below, but there was nothing there.

“Are we going the right way?” She asked, half to herself.

“A little farther, and we’ll be there,” Brother Amos said, strangely cheerful.

Lyssa couldn’t see where the sun was for the thick snow clouds, but she felt that the morning must be gone already. She hadn’t remembered the hut being so far, but that had been in the spring when walking over these grassy hills was an easy thing.

“Do you like my garden?” Brother Amos asked, though there was no garden in sight.

“Your garden?” Lyssa asked.

“It’s so nice of you to come. I must go out and tend to the goats now.”

“Brother Amos, are you all right?” Lyssa asked. He seemed to be wandering in mind, like Grandfather in the months before he died.

Brother Amos didn’t answer for a moment, but then his voice came breathless and frightened. “What are you doing here? The fire! You have to get out! The abby is burning! It’s burning,” he finished with a sob.

“Brother Amos?” Lyssa said gently.

“It’s a lovely garden, isn’t it?” he said, and this time he sounded young, not much older than Lyssa herself. “Brother James is teaching me about all the plants here. I’ve started a diary, see?”

Over the next hill, Lyssa finally caught a glimpse of stone wall tucked away in a small stand of trees. “Is that your hut?” she asked.

“Yes,” and now he sounded old, weary, and sad. “Come, let’s find that cure for your mother.”

Friday, February 6, 2015

#102 The Herbalist's Diary 3

I pushed aside the curtain and ducked into Mother’s tiny room. The scent of herbs had faded, and the room was growing chill.

“Addy,” I ordered my little sister, who was huddled next to Mother, holding her pale, thin hand. “Take that pot and heat it over the fire until it's boiling again.”

Addy gave me a frightened, pleading look, “Is Mother going to get well again?”

“Yes, but she needs that water boiling. Quick!”

Addy heaved on the pot handles and with a grunt lifted the black iron pot. The water sloshed on her a little as she carried it out of the room.

I knelt close to mother, keeping Brother Amos’ diary cracked open in my fingers.

“Poor woman,” said his voice in my mind. “She’s very ill. It’s so good of you to care for her.”

“This is my mother,” I said. Brother Amos should know that. What was wrong with him?

“Ah, I see,” he said slowly, as if confused.

I touched Mother’s forehead, watched her struggle to breathe. Brother Amos had to know something that would help her. “Do you know how to cure her?” I asked in a whisper.

“There is a root,” the voice came haltingly.

“A root? Yarrow? Snapdragon?” My mind combed through the ones he had taught me last summer.

“No, none of those. I can’t recall its name.”

“Try,” I said. “Please!”

There was a long silence.

“I am trying,” Mother whispered, opening her eyes and giving me a weary smile.

She thought I was talking to her.

“I know,” I smiled back, with all my love and strength, wishing I could make her well just by loving her enough.

“It’s rare,” Brother Amos said, “We did not see it all last summer. But I have some stored in my hut.”

I ran past Addy, tying my shawl over my head and tucking Brother Amos' diary in my apron pocket. “I’m going out to get mother some medicine,” I told her. “Keep that water steaming, put the pot near her where she can get some good from it. Watch over her until I get back.”

“Lyssa?” Addy protested. Her eyes begged me not to leave her here alone.

I hugged her tight, “I have to go.”

Outside the world was white, the sky as white as the snow-covered ground. Only a few dark smudges marked the landscape. The low stone wall at the end of the sheepcote, the trees by the river down in the valley, the distant smear of gray and smoke that was the village. I turned my face up into the hills, into the icy wind that scraped at my cheeks. Up there, in the hills somewhere, was the abandoned hut where I had found Brother Amos’ diary last spring. I hoped we could, somehow, between the two of us, remember where that hut was.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

#101 The Herbalist's Diary 2

Lyssa opened the back cover of the diary and carefully peeled free the sprig of sage she had placed there last spring. The leaves were black-spotted and yellowed, they crumbled and stuck to the paper in places. She took the corner of her apron and cleaned away the stains as well as she could.

From the kitchen rafters, away from the fire and from drafts, hung her rows and rows of plants and herbs, the ones the diary had taught her to pick. There was sage there, dry but still a healthy gray-green color. She reached up and snapped off a brittle sprig. This would work. This would bring him back.

Pressed in the back page of the diary, the sage cracked and crumbled into tiny dry flakes that fell out onto the floor. Lyssa snapped off another sprig, and this time shut the book on it very gently, handling the leather cover with only the tips of her fingers. Please, she whispered, please tell me how to help Mother.


If only she hadn’t neglected her studies, as he’d called them. She could have easily put fresh sage in the back of the book last fall, before the frost, when she’d cut it from the garden. That would have lasted until now. But she’d been so busy with the harvest, and then after the snows came she had forgotten.

Did it have to be sage? Maybe she could find something else. Something still green and alive. She thought of the onions in the cellar, the pumpkins and apples, maybe there would be green leaves on them still. She threw up the wooden hatch and hurried down the ladder.

In the potato barrel, one small potato had sprouted and begun to grow. A green stem, a pair of tiny leaves, that was all. Lyssa snapped it off and pressed it in the back cover of the diary.

“Did you have a question?” the old monk’s voice sounded distant, and a little confused, but he was there again.

“Oh, yes,” Lyssa almost sobbed. “My mother has a fever and a terrible cough. None of the things you taught me have worked. Is there anything else I can try? Please?”

“Let’s go and see her,” he said. “I’m sure we can… there must be something. Oh, my head! Sorry, but I’m a bit dizzy. It will pass, I’m sure.”

Lyssa climbed the ladder, cradling the diary carefully in her hands.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

#100 The Herbalist's Diary

In the morning, Mother was worse.

Lyssa hadn’t opened the diary for months now, not since the snows began. There were no herbs to collect now, and the ones she had collected she knew how to use. But this fever of Mother’s wouldn’t respond to any concoction she had tried. Maybe there was something else, there had to be something else, she could do.

The soft leather cover brought back memories of walking over the hills in the sunshine, listening to Brother Amos' gentle voice name every plant and flower. Lyssa hadn’t realized how much she’d missed him. She opened the book and turned the page to the pale winter sunshine coming in through the chinks in the window covers.

Silent. He wasn’t there.

A sick panic grew in Lyssa’s stomach. Had he gone? She flipped the pages, one by one. The drawings of the plants she recognized, but the words there she could never read. She needed him to tell her what he’d written.

"When the snows come, perhaps I can teach you to read," he had said. At the time, Lyssa couldn't think of any reason she would want to learn such an impossible thing. But now...

“Where are you?” Lyssa asked. From the other room, she heard her mother coughing. A desperate, deep cough that made Lyssa tremble. She rushed to get a cup of hot broth, and in her hurry she splashed a few warm drops on the open page.

After her mother had swallowed a few spoonfuls and fallen back asleep, Lyssa returned to the book and picked it up.

“Lyssa?” The voice was so soft, she thought she might be imagining it.

“Are you there?” Lyssa said. “Can you hear me?”

“It’s been so long. I thought you’d lost me,” the faint voice had a hint of gentle laughter in it.

“I can barely hear you! I need you! Mother’s sick. Please!” Lyssa felt the tears start in her eyes.

“Fresh sage? Can you get some?”

Sage? That wouldn’t help mother, Lyssa thought. Then she remembered the day she’d found the diary in the abandoned hut, and the leaf of fresh sage she had put between the pages. That was when he’d first begun to speak.

Where to get fresh sage in the middle of winter?

“Will dried do?” Lyssa asked.

There was no answer.

On a wild hope, Lyssa ran out into the garden. Maybe in some corner, by a wall, sheltered from the snow, there would be a tiny new leaf growing. Perhaps in the barn, where the animals kept warm, or by the dung heap where the steam would rise on frosty mornings.

There was nothing. Nothing but bare stems. Dead and bowed down under the snow.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

#99 Where's My Bike?

“Bye. Mom!” I’m going to school!”

“Bye,” Mom waved without looking up from watching my little brother spread jam on a piece of bread for his lunch. I hitched my backpack a little higher on my shoulders and headed for the garage to get my bike.

It wasn’t there.

“Mom, where’s my bike?” I asked.

“What do you mean, where’s your bike?” Mom came and stood next to me by the side door of the garage. I just stared. My older brother’s big red bike, my little brother’s black one, and the spare blue junkyard bike leaned against each other by the wall, but my bike just wasn’t there.

“Where would it be?” Mom asked.

I gasped. “Did you pick me up at Kyle’s house after school last Friday?”

“Yes,” Mom said, trying to remember.

“Did we get my bike!”

“No,” Mom moaned.

“It’s still at the school!”

“All right, you’ve got two options,” Mom said. “You can take the blue bike, or we can drive.”

I glanced at the blue bike, with its rusty frame and peeling paint. “Drive,” I said.

Mom told my older brother to lock up the house when he left, and herded my younger brother into the car. “I hope your bike is still there,” Mom said.

So did I. My old bike had been stolen just before Christmas break. Had I lost my new one too?

“Did he lock it up?” My younger brother asked.

“I locked it,” I said.

“Your bike’s been sitting at the school for three nights. Someone could have come along with a bolt cutter and cut the lock.” Mom said. “If it's gone we’re not going to replace it. You’ll have to ride the blue bike the rest of the year.”

Imagining myself creaking to school every morning on the rusty junkyard bike, I rode silent the rest of the way until we got close to the school. Then I leaned forward in my seat and stared past Mom to the chain link fence.

My orange bike leaned against the fence, misted over a little by the dew.

“It’s still there!” I cheered.

“Hooray!” My little brother shouted.

“You’re a lucky boy,” Mom said.

Monday, February 2, 2015

#98 The Brine Shrimp

Once upon a time a tiny brine shrimp drifted out in the middle of the vast, blue ocean, somewhere between the sunny surface and the dark, cool depths. He drifted and swam, lazily moving with the current, until all of a sudden, he saw a huge octopus coming straight for him.

The brine shrimp was scared. He was sure the octopus was going to eat him! It wasn’t any use trying to swim away, so he puffed himself up as big as he could and yelled, “You better get out of here, octopus! You don’t want to mess with me!”

And would you believe the octopus didn’t eat him? No, the octopus just swam right on by.

Now the brine shrimp was feeling pretty good about himself, and he kind of swished when he swam in a tough-guy sort of way. He’d scared off a big, hungry octopus! But it wasn’t very long before the brine shrimp caught sight of a gigantic shark coming straight toward him!

The brine shrimp was terrified! That shark was going to eat him for sure. With his teeny heart pounding, he shouted out, “Better steer clear, Mr. Shark! I scared off an octopus not ten minutes ago, and I could whup you too!”

And would you believe it, the shark didn’t eat him. No, that shark just swam right on by.

Now the brine shrimp was feeling mighty fine. He had scared off a hungry octopus and a hungry shark all in one day. He sure was one fierce creature of the sea!

But then off in the distance the brine shrimp saw a great dark shadow, slowly getting closer, and closer. It was a monstrous whale! This time the brine shrimp wasn’t even worried, not one little bit. “You wanna eat me, whale? Well, tough luck! I already scared off an octopus and a shark today, so I’m not afraid of you either! Come on and try!”

And would you believe, that whale swam right up to the brine shrimp and ate him. Because that’s what whales do.

The End.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

#97 Spy Copter 2

We ran for it.

The gate was a seriously long way from Anjeli’s house. We had to keep stopping to catch our breath. Then Curtis would make a kind of agonized wail and start running again.

“We’re going to visit the Wights!” Curtis panted as we hurried past the guard in his blue-gray uniform and cap. The guard stared at us, clipboard in hand, as if wondering whether he should stop us or not. In the end, he just shook his head and turned his attention to the car that was driving up to his window.

I’d never been inside Anjeli’s neighborhood before. The houses were unreal. Some of them didn’t even look like houses. Grassy hills rolled. Trees teased into strange, artificial shapes grew in the yards of miniature castles. One house looked like a fancy, oversized log-cabin, another one had a front with white pillars three stories high.

Anjeli’s house had a big round window a story above the double front doors. Instead of just a doorbell, there was an intercom box with several buttons and a speaker. From inside,  we could hear Anjeli and her friends making disgusted sounds, and then all together they suddenly burst out into uproarious laughter.

Curtis didn’t know which button to push, so he slammed his hand against all seven of them.

The laughter just kept on going. Curtis raised his fist to bang on the door, but before he could reach it, it swung open.

When Anjeli saw Curtis she had to try really hard to hold back a laugh.

“I’m sorry, I was flying my quad copter around by the woods back there and it accidentally flew into your tree. Can I get it back?”

“Some accident,” Anjeli said. “Stay right here, I’ll get it for you.”

Curtis and I stood on the porch. I peeked in, dazzled by all the polished wood inside. Every time the girls set up another round of howls of laughter, Curtis’ face changed color.

At last, when Curtis had gone from red to blue to green, Anjeli came back with the copter in her hand.

“I need the… oh, the card is still in the camera,” Curtis said, nearly falling over with relief. “I was afraid you might be…”

“oh, we watched the whole thing,” Anjeli said with a big, nasty smile. “I made a copy. We need it for evidence.”

She shut the door in our faces.