Sunday, August 12, 2018

THE WIND

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.




By R. Peterson

Melania watched as Otis, together with his weeping-wife, Emeretta, a half-dozen chickens, a barking skin and bones mutt named Lucky, and ten barefoot youngsters piled into and under a tarped ‘n tied Ford flatbed. The children waved goodbye. Melania covered the bottom part of her face with the ragged corner of a flower-print flour sack, squinted her eyes against the blowing grit, and waved back just before she ran toward the house where the porch provided some scant shelter. A lump formed in her throat as the smoking truck piled high with a lifetime of accumulated treasures lurched and chugged through the barnyard gate. It was still dark outside and before long, even the pinprick red glow of the truck’s rear lights could no longer be seen through her tear blurred vision.  The Johansen’s were the last of the hired hands to leave … and they were good people. Damn the unrelenting wind!
Neither Melania, her brother Parley, nor her mother Jesska blamed the working families for wanting to find better jobs in California. Montana crops had failed last year and the year before that along with the crops of almost the entire Midwest of the United States. This year, nineteen thirty-six, looked no better. There was hardly enough scraggly vegetables growing in the parched garden behind the house to feed three people … scarce water … and no cash money. Melania removed the rag from her nose and sneezed as she forced closed the kitchen door behind her. She took a deep breath. If only it would rain!
Melania’s mother was placing wet strips of twisted burlap around the window frames to keep out the invasive sift. An oil lamp flickered on the table. “Did you hide the bags of flour and sugar in their truck?”
            “Yes,” Melania said. “In the box with the pots and pans. Emma will find them when she starts supper.”
Jesska turned clear black eyes toward her daughter. “You should have run away with Joseph Callahan when he asked you. There are better things in America than taking care of an old woman like me!”
Melania laughed. “That was years ago! I’ll be sixty-six years old … come April nineteenth!”
            “You still look twenty … and that’s all that matters,” Jesska smiled at her daughter. “The clocks of life all run a little slower in our family.”
            “With a little help from Ombré!” Melania pointed to the carved recipe box sitting on a splintered board - next to a red and black can of Juno cream tarter. “I swear if firewood weren’t in such short supply around here, the good and respectful citizens of Cloverdale would tie you to the closest fence post and burn you at the stake … and I might even supply the matches!”
            “If you think I’m just an old strega then don’t be afraid to say it!” Jesska felt an argument with her only female offspring coming on and she secretly smiled … mother and daughter bonding!
            “Witch! Witch! Witch in a ditch!” Melania sang as she lifted a broom from a corner and pretended to fly about the room all the while eyeing dirt around the door she’d just came through. “She’ll cast a spell to make you itch. Stuff your bed with a yellow snake …”
            “… and comb your hair with a garden rake!” Jesska finished the taunting rhyme for her daughter as she flicked precious water from her fingers back into the bowl. The thirsty carrots in the garden would get what was left.
“Honestly mother,” Melania said as she leaned down and swept dust onto the cover of Liberty’s March 1936 issue. “I wouldn’t mind you using a little magia … if only you could get this blasted wind to stop … and maybe get us some help in the fields! Who is going to haul our barrels of water from the river?” Melania shook her head. She thought Clark Gable’s face needed a good washing if he was going to have a new romance in his life. She carried the magazine to the corner and emptied the dust into an apple crate lined with old Vanishing River Tribune newspapers.
            “I’ve been thinking of trying a new recipe,” Jesska said as she took the carved box from the shelf above the sink. “But I wanted to wait until we were … only us.”
            “Why is this spell dangerous?” Melania walked over to look as her mother lifted yellowed papers from the box. Each hand-painted illustration had inked words written in Latin on the back.
            “All magia is trouble,” Jesska said as she sorted through the Tarot.

-------2-------

            Melania sat at the kitchen table stuffing straw into empty feed-bags  and sewing colored cloth pieces for eyes nose and mouth onto the bleached white material. “I don’t know why we need a half-dozen scarecrows,” Melania called to her mother who was outside attaching a large bell to a rope and pulley mounted high above her on a tree branch. “I haven’t seen a bird in days … they must have followed everyone to California.”
            “You’ll have to speak louder my timid daughter …. I can’t hear anything with this wind!” Melania gazed out the window. Her broomstick-thin mother wearing her long homemade dress looked like a rippling blanket caught on a fencepost. Melania got up and opened the door.  “I said there are no crows left to ….”
            The bell clanged once as Jesska hoisted it into the air and the wind abruptly stopped. The silence was eerie. Melania’s ears popped and she could hear foundation boards creaking under the house along with frightened rodents scampering for cover. The Roland Rolfs’ Tall-Clock, ticking in the parlor, sounded like a robot lumberman chopping wood.
            “Where did you get that bell?” Melania gasped. In the stillness, it sounded as if she were shouting. Morning sunlight showed the words Mary Celeste engraved in the tarnished brass.
            “From a dead ship’s captain,” Jesska said as she tied the taunt rope to a tree branch. “No one knows the secrets of the wind like a sailing man.”
Melania carried the scarecrow head she was sewing out onto the porch. Clouds in the suddenly blue sky were rushing away in all directions and twelve rows of corn in the field to the east slowly spread their leaves outward after days of being tightly bound against the wind. Bessie the milk cow took three steps from the barn and bellowed loudly … obviously terrified by the sudden change in her environment.
            “There are posts leaning against the chicken house,” Jesska said as she gazed about the farm. “Plant them in the ground at the far end of the field – one between each row of corn. They must be deep enough to hold a Tattie-bogle … at least for a night.”
            “Shouldn’t this be a job for Parley?” Melania asked as she picked up a shovel and walked toward the chicken coop.
            “Your brother is tending to the sick in town and will probably sleep in his office if his non-paying customers allow him to,” Jesska said. “Tonight is the full moon and the wind will not hold its life-giving breath forever … bell or no bell!”
            “What are you going to be doing while I’m digging post holes?” Melania called over her shoulder. “Drinking tea and spreading jam on that last slice of bread?”
            “I’ll be cleaning your brother’s gun,” Jesska said, “after I have my tea of course. Creazione spells are often unpredictable … and always dangerous!”

-------3-------

Melania woke up when her mother tapped her shoulder. “Wake up child! The moon is looking down at us and it’s about to shed the clouds it’s wearing.”
            Melania sat up and yawned. “What time is it?” As if in answer the Tall-Clock in the parlor chimed twelve times as she rose and dressed.
There was still no wind on the porch, but the air outside had a strange frostiness that made goose-bumps appear on Melania’s naked arms. Jesska sat in a rocking chair with her brother’s double barrel shotgun spread across her lap. She was staring at the corn.
            “Really mother!” Melania yawned again. “You expecting a raid on the chicken coop?”
            “I don’t know what will come … only that something will.” She pointed to the rope tied to the tree branch. “Ring the bell three times when I drop my hand then get back here behind me as quick as you can. Don’t bother to retie the rope. Dent and dirt on an old ship’s bell will hopefully be our only trouble!” Melania walked to the tree and carefully untied the rope. She could hear her own heart beating as she waited for her mother. Jesska raised her hand high in the air and waited for the last clouds to leave the moon. There was a sudden bright light that created dancing shadows under the trees.
            “Dio del vento ascolta le mie parole!” the oldest woman in America chanted. “Abbiamo bisogno di vostra grazia alla vita nuova forma. Favore attende tutto bene mentre doom deve cogliere il male. Portare avanti il tuo respiro ora!” Jesska dropped her hand and Melania pulled on the rope.
            Clang! The ground shook beneath her feet and Melania almost fell.
            Clang! Green leaves fell from the trees and covered the ground like a blanket.
            Clang! The river stones cemented around the farm’s well caught fire and began to burn.
“Run!” Jesska screamed to her daughter. The tone of her mother’s voice acted like a shot of adrenaline. Melania hurdled onto the porch holding her breath until she was safely behind the rocking chair. Then she waited.
After several minutes of silence Melania began to breathe normally again. “I don’t see what the …”
            “Shhhhh,” Jesska whispered and pointed toward the corn.
Two scarecrows, moving slowly with great caution, peered from behind the tall rows of corn. At least one more could be seen hidden in the leaves. The red and gold circles of fabric Melania had sewn on the scarecrows for eyes were gone and in their place – a glimpse of pale white flesh and powder-blue eyes peered outward at a new world. Both the apparitions smiled timidly … and Melania smiled back. “Put that gun away Mother,” Melania said. “These creatures …”
            “Momett,” Jesska corrected her daughter. “I have created Momett!”
“These Momett are nothing more than children!” Melania said, and crept from the porch, crooning, “Don’t be afraid …. We won’t hurt you!”
            “Come back!” Jesska screamed. Melania was halfway to the corn when a loud boom, followed by another, then another resounded from the end of the field. The ground shook as three enormous black monsters two on each side and one in the middle of the field came thundering toward them, towering over rows of flying and uprooting corn. These scarecrows were at least twice as large as the ones Melania had stuffed. “Get inside the house and lock the door!” Jesska yelled as she stood and leveled the shotgun.
            “What in the Hell?” Melania shrieked as she ran past her trembling mother.
            “Hodmedod!” Jesska gasped, “But Hell is not a bad translation.”
Melania was just turning to pull her mother inside when the old gun blasted. Flames shot from the end of the rusty barrel and illuminated three sets of murderous black eyes as the monsters burst up the stairs and onto the porch. Bits of cloth and burning straw flew in all directions. The support post on one side of the structure shattered and the shake shingle roof covering the porch collapsed. “Mother!” Melania screamed as she reached for the door. Dust, debris and death filled the air. Clawed fingers made of rotted straw-becoming-flesh, clamped onto Melania’s arm … just as the shotgun fired again.

To be continued …


Sunday, August 5, 2018

DRAGONFLY part 6

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.




By R. Peterson


Fran relished the exhilaration of riding a dragonfly alone for the first time. The rushing wind ripped her long blonde trusses behind her in contrast to the glowing green hair tones of her friends. Siltlin, Donone, Gebae and Lendoria flew with her in tight formation soaring just above the tree tops of Motha Forest for a while then skimming the ground or breaking bubbles rising from a stream. “I know I’m growing larger,” Fran yelled to Siltlin, “but I hardly notice when I’m moving this fast!”
“The effects of the Sinker Berries wearing off are most pronounced when you’re at rest or sleeping,” Siltlin told her. “Doing something exciting actually slows down the growing process!”
“I wish I could stay this small forever.” Fran laughed. “You all have such a larger world to play in!” She was glad she was with friends … if she was alone she would have been lost long ago.
“It takes eating large amounts of Sinker Berries every day for at least a moon cycle for the shrinking effects to be permanent,” Gebae said. “The Sinker bushes are becoming harder and harder to find.”
“Bonetta is responsible for that!” Donone said. “She burns every bush she can find inside Motha and then nurtures the ones close to her house … trying to lure us into a trap.”
“I’d like to see that creaky old witch try to catch me!” Lendoria sped up her mount and was flying circles around the others. “She’ll pay for keeping my father a prisoner in her dirty dark cellar and for turning my mother into a frog!”
“You certainly have desire!” Siltlin tried to calm the queen’s daughter. “But you must learn patience. It’s going to take time to acquire all of the ingredients for the recipe that will reverse the spell make your frog mother a human again.”
“Are you any closer to finding Motha Bear claws or blood from both the queen’s offspring?”
“I’ve hidden a vile of my blood under a thorn bush behind Bonetta’s shed,” Lendoria told her, “just in case I’m not around when the potion is cooked.”
“I’ve thought about flying through handsome Billy Martin’s open window on one of these hot summer nights while he’s sleeping,” Gabae said dreamily. “I could make a small cut on his ear and he’d think it was only a mosquito.”
“If my brother thought a mosquito was biting his ear he’d slap you faster than you could say splat,” Lendoria told her. “No one in my family gives up their blood easily!”
“I’m most worried about getting our hands on the Motha Bear Claws,” Siltlin said. “Those ferocious beasts haven’t been seen roaming the forest for years!”
“How many of the claws would the recipe take?” Fran was trying to remember all the hunters she knew that lived in Cloverdale.
“Just a sliver of one really,” Siltlin said. “This is a very powerful ingredient!”
The expanse of trees below them ended and they were flying over an open meadow. Fran was surprised to see men, women and children all wearing sewn white cloth bags over their heads. They appeared to be working and playing around a cluster of thatched-roof huts. “What a strange group of humans,” she gasped.
            “Those are Momett,” Siltlin said. “They are the main reason Sean O’Brian established the Motha Preservation Trust and the reason the forest and all its magic and life forms are protected. Rumors say these living scarecrows were first created during the 1930’s by the white-witch Melania Descombey.”
            “I understand that wasn’t all she conjured up,” Donone added. “The scarecrows called Hodmedod who live to the East are as violent and war-like as the Momett are peaceful and placating.”
            “Two different creatures from one spell,” Fran pondered, “that’s amazing!”
            “There is balance in all things,” Siltlin said. “And dreams always come before reality. We’re getting close to Bonetta’s house now … let’s try to be as quiet as possible!”

-------2-------

Samuel watched as clouds of wasps landed in the tree branches behind Bonetta’s house and then crowded into the nests. They were followed by an equal number of the shadowy Boog which he and the witch had dug from the ground. A low buzzing sound made all the leaves on the nearby trees tremble. “How many of these blasted things are there?” Samuel swatted at a few stragglers that had flown too close to his face.
            “More than enough to destroy the Nich’s hidden city when we discover its location,” Bonetta said glancing at the sinking sun. “Quick! Let us hide inside my house. Our visitors will be arriving shortly.”
Samuel hated the smells inside the witch’s house but he was too afraid of Bonetta to disobey her. He crouched behind some boxes so he wouldn’t be seen even though the windows were covered with grime. He was next to a rotted stairway that descended into the darkness. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, Samuel noticed the boxes were filled with whiskey. He took a bottle from one of the crates and began to drink … careful not to let Bonetta see.
            The witch put a finger to her lips and there was sudden silence. It was so quiet inside the house Samuel could hear his own heart thumping. Suddenly from below came a low moaning noise and what sounded like a man’s voice begging for water. “What was that?”
            “Just a human rat I keep inside a cage,” Bonetta said. “If you don’t do everything I say I’ll put you down there to keep him company!”
Samuel touched his tender ear where the witch had pinned him to a tree with a salad fork. “I swear on the good b… err on my mother’s name … that I’ll never betra …”
            “Quiet you nitwit!” Bonetta hissed. “They’re almost here!”
The witch rubbed a circle of grime from the window with her boney fingers then pressed her crooked nose against the glass. She beckoned Samuel to look with her. Five dragonflies had just landed on a tree branch near the sagging front porch. “The fools are doing just what I want!” Bonetta whispered.  She exhaled a low giggle that turned into a mean snigger just before she ran out of breath.

-------3-------

            “I don’t see anyone about,” Siltlin said as she gazed at the Sinker bush next to the dilapidated porch. “Bonetta the Demo must be resting after all the evil she does every day.” All five dragonfly riders looked around in all directions.
“Donone, Gebae and I will fly to the bush and pick as many Sinker berries as possible while you and Lendoria stay here. If there’s any trouble, or if we’re caught both of you fly back to the city and bring help.”
            “Why do I have to stay?” Lendoria protested. “I’m a better flyer than any of you. If there’s going to be a fight I want to be in on it!”
            “I’m not sure Fran can find her way back to the city alone,” Siltlin said. “If you’re chased you’ll need to be fast and smart enough to lure your pursuers in a different direction … and as you said yourself …” Siltlin raised her hands in the air as if surrendering, “you are our best flyer!”
Fran and Lendoria watched as their three friends flew to the bush. “Being the best dragonfly rider is quite a compliment,” Fran told her.
            “She’s just afraid that I’ll be hurt and my mother will be angry with her,” Lendoria grumbled. “It’s too quiet in this place … something isn’t right …”
They both heard Donone gasp. She had landed on one of the bush leaves and her dragonfly appeared to be stuck. The poor creature wiggled and thrashed trying to free its legs.
            “Stay where you are and we’ll pick you up!” Siltlin whispered.  It was too late, Donone had slid off the dragonfly’s back and now her own legs were stuck. Siltlin and Gebae hovered in the air just above their fiend trying to free her from the glue. Suddenly the door to Bonetta’s house burst open and Samuel charged out swinging a homemade fly-swatter in each hand. The witch followed close behind brandishing a broom. “It’s a trap!” Siltlin screamed at Fran and Lendoria. “Escape while you can!”
Fran and the queen’s daughter both became airborne at the same time. Fran turned toward the forest but Lendoria flew toward the porch. Fran remembered the long flight over Motha. There was no way she could find her way back alone. She turned and followed Lendoria to the fight.
Siltlin, Gebae and Lendoria were expert at evading Samuel’s swatters and the witch’s broom. They swooped and dove around the flaying arms until Samuel finally struck the witch across the face by accident. Fran’s stepfather’s face was as white as a sheet and his eyes looked like two moons. “You ignorant lout!” the witch screamed as she broke her own broom over his head.
            Samuel collapsed in a heap on the ground and for a moment Fran thought that with Bonetta vastly outnumbered they might be able to free Donone from the glue and escape.
A deep rumbling drone came from the back of the house. It turned into a roar as storm clouds of wasps ridden by shadowy creatures only visible in moonlight came from both sides and over the top of the dwelling. In an instant, there was nowhere to maneuver. Siltlin and Gebae were covered with a mass of stingers. Lendoria, obviously sensing the impending doom, broke away from the storm cloud and disappeared over the tree tops pursued by thousands of Boog mounted on the wasps. Fran was just turning to follow Lendoria when the witch’s broken broom knocked her off her mount. Several of the bristles caught in a tree branch or Fran would have been smashed.
            Fran tumbled through the air and landed on the rock foundation of the old house. She was dizzy. Several of the rocks and mortar were broken and Fran slipped into a large crack just before the witch slapped her broomstick down again. Fran was falling, falling … down … down until there was only dirt, dark … and a deep sleep.

-------4-------

            Fran Dressel opened her eyes. Her mother stood over her crying. Fran was aware that she was large again … and naked.  “Where am I?”
Edith Dodge took a blanket from another woman and draped it over her daughter. Fran was suddenly aware that the dirt floor room she was in was full of people she knew. “You’re in Bonetta Sharpstone’s cellar,” her mother explained.  “And you’ve got a nasty bump on your head.” Fran looked around the room and jumped when she saw her stepfather seated in a chair having his own head bandaged by a nurse.
            “Oh Fran! I’m so sorry!” Her mother began to cry again. “How could I ever have married this monster?” Fran stared at her stepfather. Sheriff John Walker was making him stand up and placing handcuffs on his wrists.
            “Samuel has been holding you and poor Mr. Martin in this cellar for who knows how long and for what immoral purposes.” Edith stroked her daughter’s dirty hair. “If we hadn’t found the beast passed out from alcohol under that tree outside we might never have discovered you!”
            “Where are the fairies Siltlin, Donone, Gebae, Lendoria and the witch,” Fran moaned. “Where are they, mother?”
            “My! You’re as delusional as poor Mr. Martin,” Fran’s mother said. He claims to have seen Bonetta Sharpstone too … but everyone knows the poor woman has been dead for years.”
Edith motioned to the nurse who walked over with a large hypodermic needle. “My daughter needs to sleep,” Edith said. “She needs time to forget this whole awful affair!”
Before Fran could object she felt a sharp pain in her wrist and then there was dark … only dark.

-------5-------

            A week later, at her mother’s urging Fran climbed from the hot tub she’d been soaking in and began to dress. “We have to hurry!” Her mother was excited. “William Martin and his son have invited us to supper as a kind of thank you for his rescue!”
            Fran thought her mother was quite infatuated by Billy’s father and she had to smile. If her mother only knew Mr. Martin was married to a frog!
            “Billy is becoming quite the hunter,” Edith continued as Fran brushed her hair. “He and a friend even shot a giant Motha bear on one of their hunting trips … quite rare these days I’m told. I’m sure he’ll show you the carcass. I understand he’s planning to have it mounted for display by a taxidermist.”
            “Remember that Mr. Martin is a married man,” Fran told her mother as they climbed into the wagon. “Mrs. Martin is gone …. But she will eventually return.”
Edith laughed. “She’s probably living happily in a Chicago tenant building with some slick-as-oil haired used-car salesman!”
            “Or reigning over a group of fairies from a pond lily pad,” Fran muttered as she placed the glass veil and a tiny knife in her apron pocket.  Billy would agree to go for a moonlit walk after he showed off his bear claws … he wouldn’t miss just one.  During the passion of their first kiss he’d hardly notice the tiny prick to his ear.
            Fran had spent the last three days wandering in the woods around Bonetta’s house. The Sinker berries were still there by the porch and the glue was no longer any problem. She had also found a clump of Trumpet Vines by the stream … and had noticed all the dragonflies hovering over the water. Bonetta wasn’t around and Fran thought the old witch might be hiding … or perhaps directing a far-away battle.
Fran stared at the face of Bear Mountain looming on the horizon inside Motha Forest as the wagon rumbled around a curve in the road. The sky was dark there … as if some terrible storm were raging …  

THE END?



Sunday, July 29, 2018

DRAGONFLY part 5

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.




By R. Peterson

Fran was more than aware that she was growing. The yellow rose-petal gown she wore was rising above mid-thigh and to her embarrassment she received several wolf-whistles and cat calls when she walked past a group of boys unloading thistle-pods next to a corral filled with Koots (Gnat larva). She blushed and felt a certain degree of embarrassment but she found herself smiling a little … it was good to be noticed.
Siltlin was taking clothes from a woven-basket made of spider-silk and carefully placing them on several bushes inside a fenced area that looked like a leafless garden gone dormant. She waved and beckoned her friend to come to her. Fran thought at first her friend was hanging the clothes up to dry but none of the flower-blossom apparel appeared to be wet. “Oh! This is tedious work but it has to be done,” Siltlin sighed as she removed a full-length evening gown made from a single peach-colored orchid petal from the basket and smoothed out several wrinkles. Fran watched her carefully stretch the material over the bush and then attach the seam (stem) in the dress to what looked like a newly formed bud sprout in the top of the bush. Fran hadn’t noticed before but as she looked at her own dress she realized that each article of clothing worn by the Nich had a stem running through the center. “What on earth are you doing?”
“Laundry!” Siltlin laughed. “When our clothes get dirty we attach them to these surrogate bushes. In just a few hours, the clothes which are mostly made from flowers become alive again. The plant repairs any damage to the petals and cleans them. In return the bush is able to gather energy from the scant sunlight coming into our city built inside the mountain. It’s what keeps our clothes soft and pliable.”
“It sounds like these bushes do all the work!”
“Well … we have to remember to take them off when they’re clean and repaired,” Siltlin said. “If we forget and leave them attached too long they begin to grow and our clothes are suddenly too large for us to wear.”
Fran laughed. “Humans have the opposite problem. Most people find that when they leave some article of clothing in their closet too long it becomes too tight to wear … but it’s the people eating too much and getting larger … not the clothes getting smaller.” A sudden thought struck her. “But how do you manage to grow such fantastic plants inside a mountain?”
            “We have created our own sunlight.” Siltlin pointed to the ceiling high above them. Fran glanced up and dazzled, glanced quickly away. It was just like looking at the sun when she was outside so she had never noticed before.
            “Two Nich manning water reflectors are stationed just inside the city entrance and capture light from the sun or the moon and reflect it into a giant cut and polished diamond hanging from the ceiling. The prism-like qualities of the crystal disperse the reflected light from the sun or the moon to all areas of our city.”
Fran was stunned. “Wow!” was all she could say.
            “Our spectacularly large jewel makes this place a danger for human exploitation too,” Siltlin said. “At more than one hundred carats, our energy source is over twice as large as the world’s fabled Hope diamond.”
            “Where on Earth did you get such a fabulous gemstone?” Fran had a new appreciation for the artificial light in the city.
            “Sean O’Brian is our biggest human supporter and benefactor,” Siltlin said. “As well as establishing, maintaining and enforcing the Motha Forest Trust which keeps humans from exploiting the diverse magic in this part of the world, he also smuggled the largest diamond ever found out of South Africa and brought it to us so that we might have light in our city. Some say the man is a mobster, but he has always treated us with kindness.”
Siltlin looked at Fran and shook her head. “Let’s go have some breakfast and then we’ll do a raid on Bonetta’s Sinker Berry patch. If we don’t leave soon and get you shrunk back down, all you’ll be wearing … will be a smile!”
Fran and Siltlin sat at one of twelve long tables made from split twigs. The Nich were filling tall stem-cups with yellow nectar and laughing and chatting merrily as they passed around bowls made from seed shell halves filled with tiny pale blue orbs. Fran thought they must be a type of fruit. After eating several handfuls she smiled. “These are delicious,” she said. “What are they?”
            Decludes … what you humans call Earwig eggs,” Siltlin said. “I’m glad you like them. Eat up! They are very nutritious!”

-------2-------

Samuel Dodge considered throwing a few things into a wagon and leaving Comanche County forever. Fran’s mother was the problem; she wanted her daughter back and suspected Samuel knew more than he was telling. “You’re sure you looked everywhere?”
            “I looked in every part of the woods this side of Motha,” Samuel told her, “and I’ve talked to all the neighbors five miles in all directions … ain’t nobody seen her!”
Samuel needed to get in the wood shed; he thought he might have an extra homemade fly swatter in there …  Bonetta demanded at least three. Samuel’s new wife blocked his way with her fisted hands dug deep into her robust hips. “Samuel Robert Dodge you look me in the eye and swear on the Good Book that you don’t know where Fran is!”
            “I swear I ain’t seen her,” Franklin almost shouted … his eyes blinked several times.
            Franklin gritted his teeth … he knew what was coming next. “Did you look inside the Bonetta Sharpstone house?”
            “No one in their right mind would go in that place,” Franklin insisted. “Bonetta Sharpstone is supposed to have been dead for years … but then why do honest people keep seeing her on moon lit nights?”
            “I don’t care if the woman is spook, spirit or spin stress I want my Fran back before the sun goes down … I’ll not spend another night waking up with red eyes and a wet pillow.” Edith Dodge approached her husband and shook a calloused finger in his face – something she had never done before. “You bring my Fran back tonight or so help me God I’ll send for Sheriff Walker in Cloverdale!”
Franklin was so furious at his wife he almost didn’t see the two homemade swatters hanging on a nail just inside the woodshed door. He heard the back door slam behind him and decided he might have to delay Fran’s beating another week or so and that made him even angrier. Bonetta said Fran would show up just before nightfall … he hoped she was right. After all, if you can’t trust a witch … who can you trust?

-------3-------

            Fran followed her Nich friend into the flower garden. “I think it’s time that you learn to fly,” Siltlin told her.
            “I was wondering where you kept the dragonflies.” Fran noticed several of the creatures hovering above the flower blossoms.
            Siltlin laughed. “These are just a few stragglers the main herd is in a meadow not far from here … but these will do.” Siltlin broke the stems off from two trumpet vine blossoms and carefully unrolled the coiled fibers inside. “These are called Moros,” she said. She handed one of the trumpets and a Moro rope to Fran. “Blow on the trumpet … don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear any sound. The audio waves are far above our hearing range. When a dragonfly lands near you, attach the Moro to the hook-shaped nodules on each side of the thorax between the wing pairs. The dragonfly picks up your thought transmissions through the Moro rope held in your hands and obeys your commands. But be careful …” Siltlin laughed.  “If you believe you’re going to crash … then you’re going to crash!”
            Fran blew on one of the trumpet blossoms and for a long time nothing happened. She was about to blow again when suddenly a large dragonfly landed near her. The two sets of transparent wings were moving so fast they appeared as a blue/violet blur. Fran was at first afraid to approach the insect but with Siltlin’s urging she finally attached the Moro and climbed aboard. She waited … wishing she hadn’t agreed to do this … and nothing happened. Siltlin was already soaring high above near the city’s ceiling. “You have to think about flying,” her friend called down as she made a pass overhead.
Fran closed her eyes and imagined the wind blowing through her hair as she swooped and dove through the air. It felt so real … nobody was more surprised when she opened her eyes and it was really happening.
Together they made several passes over the city. Fran’s fear was gradually replaced by confidence and a sense of stupendous exhilaration. They were on their last pass over the city when they were suddenly joined by Donone and Gebae also mounted on dragonflies. “You wasn’t going to leave without us were you?” Donone joked.
All four fliers were almost startled off their mounts when Lendoria appeared grinning impishly. “Does the queen know where you’re going?” Gebae demanded in mock sternness.
Lendoria pulled back on her dragonfly’s Moro rope and made the creature do a kind of silly dance.
“Of course not,” she said. “If my mother knew what I was doing … she’d croak!”
All five dragon riders flew out of the mountain city and a minute later were soaring over Motha Forest … their raucous laughter rustled the carpet of leaves below them like birds courting before a storm.
-------4-------

Bonetta wasn’t inside her house and when Samuel looked out back the old woman was dragging a bulging burlap bag to a spot under a large Poplar tree where he’d hung scores of wasp nests. He followed her noting with satisfaction that the Sinker Berry bushes were all covered with the witch’s special glue. The ground exhaled a rank-sweet odor like rotting fruit that made him gag. Bonetta opened the top of the bag and stepped back. A swarm of black somethings poured from the burlap … an unseen battalion of marching legs. Samuel could only see vague shadows but he felt them under his pant-cuffs crawling upward. “Waaagawwwggg!!! Get then off!” Samuel began to stomp his feet and beat his fists against his legs and midsection.
                “You ignorant lout!” Bonetta raised one finger and Samuel was flung across the yard his entire two hundred pound body frame smashing into a tree trunk. The furious witch dug boney fingers into an apron pocket and produced a rusty salad fork which she flung at Samuel with deadly accuracy. The tiny trident pinned Samuel’s ear deep into the tree bark with a loud twaaaang sound.
            “These are my allies the Boog,” Bonetta said, scooping armfuls of the marching black masses and placing them on tree limbs next to the wasp nests. “If you have harmed any of my wasp riders I’ll let them seek their own revenge when this night is over.
Samuel was trying to extract himself from the tree trunk when a sound came from the East so horrible and terrifying that he freed his ear with one bloody yank. “What the Hell is that?” Samuel hadn’t cursed for years but his righteous church days as a respected member of Reverend White’s congregation now seemed like a distant memory.
“It’s the wasps arriving just a bit early,” Bonetta said gazing at the moon just coming over the horizon looking like a wagon-light for the black mass following. “Many thousands I guess by the sound!” She grabbed a shovel leaning next to a tree and tossed it to Samuel. “We’re going to need more Boog … a lot more!” She carried a stack of burlap bags as she led Samuel, holding his torn and bloody ear, to a clearing in the woods. The ground was covered with freshly dug trenches each about two foot deep. “There,” Bonetta pointed her finger at tiny holes barely seen under a carpet of dead leaves. “Those are their breathing holes … dig carefully … we don’t want them angry and tearing off our skin for revenge!”

To be continued …

Sunday, July 22, 2018

DRAGONFLY part 4

Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.




By R. Peterson

            Fran followed Siltlin to the sleeping quarters. They passed by a magnificent waterfall emptying into a pond surrounded by bushes filled with fragrant flowers. A group of female Nich were frolicking naked in the water. There was so much splashing and laughing going on Fran had to smile. “What are they doing?”
            “They’re supposed to be bathing and getting ready for tonight’s festivities,” Siltlin said. “But every time they get near these waters they act like children!”
            “Is that such a bad thing?” Fran gave her friend a wiry glance.
            “Not at all!” Siltlin laughed as she shoved her friend off the path they were walking on and down into the water. “You could use a bath yourself!”
The pond in this spot was deeper than she’d thought and Fran was completely submerged. Tiny bubbles saturated every part of the water and seemed to stimulate her as she swam through them. “This feels wonderful,” she gasped when she broke the surface. “What is it?”
            “A kind of natural carbonation,” Siltlin said as she removed her own clothes and then dove in. “Most all the water sources in Motha Forest have some magical property. The stream above us tickles the young and invigorates the old … or is it the other way around?”
            “Are my clothes going to be ruined?” Fran noticed she was still wearing the yellow tunic made from rose petals and the red shoes made from poppy-seed halves.
            “All of our clothing is made from natural growing things and moisture is actually good for them, but take your clothes off and hang them on those bushes. You don’t want to show up for the party in wet things.”
            “A party?” Fran was beginning to like this place more and more. Her stepfather never allowed her or her mother to go to any parties.
            “To celebrate Lendoria’s homecoming,” Siltlin said. “No matter how angry the queen acts, she is delighted to have her daughter back.”
            “I haven’t seen the queen’s daughter since the rescue,” Fran said. “Where is she?”
            “Probably locked up in the dungeon,” Siltlin said. “Her majesty is so afraid harm will come to her daughter she keeps her almost on a leash. She was furious when Lendoria snuck away and went with us on the mission to collect thistles near the witch’s house. I’m afraid that since she didn’t know you, she thought you were somehow responsible.”
            “Does Lendoria do this kind of thing often?”
Siltlin laughed. “All the time. I used to think I was trouble … but the queen’s daughter makes me look like a church bug!”
A gasp went up from all the Nich swimming in the pond. Several were pointing to the rock cliff on one side of the water. Since the city was built inside a mountain everything was surrounded by sheer rock walls. Fran could just make out a tiny speck climbing far above them. “Who’s that?”
Siltlin shook her head. “Lendoria of course, speak her name and she makes an appearance.”
            “She’s so high up! Isn’t she afraid she might fall?”  
            “When she gets as high as possible she aims to dive.” Siltlin and the others were moving to the edge of the pond; Fran did the same.
            “Is the pond deep enough for so high a dive?” Most of the pond was just barely to Fran’s chin.
            “There is a place in the center that’s at most three times deeper than the rest,” Siltlin said. “Lendoria has to strike the water perfectly and in just the right spot to survive!”
            “Why does she do it?”
            “She knows her mother is helpless in the fight against Bonetta,” Siltlin said. “I think she must constantly prove herself because she knows one day she’ll have to face the witch and defeat her, if she wants to free her father.”
A hush fell over the crowd watching Lendoria. She was no longer clinging to the rock cliff but standing on a precipice with her arms out-stretched. “Not there!” Siltlin screamed. “You’ll never make it to the center of the pond!”
The crowd gasped as Lendoria suddenly leaped from the rock, moving her out stretched arms in graceful motion as if mimicking the flight of a butterfly. Fran wanted to close her eyes. Siltlin was right. The queen’s daughter was going to land well short of the center of the pond. It seemed as if Lendoria fell forever but it was actually only a few seconds. Just before she struck the water she stretched her arms and legs and appeared to glide. There was a giant splash. Fran couldn’t be sure where exactly in the water Lendoria had landed. The crowd held their breath. Three seconds … waves becoming ripples. Ten seconds … ripples almost gone. Twenty seconds … the pool was calm … no motion at all … another thirty seconds passed with agonizing slowness.
            “I told her … I told her not to dive there,” Siltlin moaned. Several of the Nich were lunging through the water toward the center of the pond. Two had begun to swim toward the center with frantic strokes … when suddenly with a loud laugh … Lendoria broke the surface of the water.
            “I could drown you myself,” Siltlin thundered. “You had everyone scared to death! What took you so long to come to the surface?”
            “I thought the water was probably deep enough,” Lendoria said as she began to swim to shore. Fran thought her strokes looked awkward and wondered if she might be hurt. “I forgot about all the mud at the bottom …. I’m afraid I got stuck!”
When the queen’s daughter climbed from the water she was covered from the chest down with sticky brown goo. She saw Fran and smiled. “I saw what you did on the back of Siltlin’s dragonfly … you risked your own life when you gave up your seat for me.” Lendoria stuck out her hand and then blushed when Fran looked at her in surprise. “Guess I’d better wash up first.”
            “It’s just a little mud!” Fran took the slimy hand in her own and shook hard it sending splatters of mud over the crowd. “I don’t know about you but I could use another bath!”
Everyone laughed as they all piled back into the water.

-------2-------

            The party was even more magical than Fran could have ever imagined. The event was held in the lake in sight of the queen’s lily-pad island. Dozens of giant fish with tables and chairs mounted on their backs were herded to a place in the lake where an enormous ring of plant material had been spread in a circle. They grazed like cattle as the festivities went on.  Something far beneath the floating armada was producing hundreds of multicolored bubbles which broke the surface and then floated into the air. A half-dozen Nich with spears made from thistle thorns popped the bubbles as they floated above the crowd. Each color of bubble made a different musical tone and the Nich musicians were so talented that delightful music sounding like a symphony filled the air. Most of the food was various seeds prepared in hundreds of different ways …. Fried, dried, chopped, pulled, mashed, mixed, baked, sliced and diced. Each course was unique and to die for delicious. Drinks were served in clear goblets that resembled raindrops with one end cut level. “I’ve never seen cups like these,” Fran marveled.
            “A magical tree grows in the forest,” Siltlin said. “It’s called a Juhar and we dare not use any of the wood because the numerous enchantments are so powerful. Each fall an abundance of sap runs through the tree as clear and clean as rain. Each time a bubble of this sap falls from the tree under moonlight it becomes as solid as glass before it lands on the soft forest floor. We gather each hollow drop in the fall, cut the ends with saw-grass and make them into our celebration cups. They are one of our most prized possessions.”
            “I love them,” Fran said, holding her goblet up to lamp light. “Each time the musicians play a note it makes my cup vibrate … and it tickles a different part of my body.”
            Siltlin laughed. “I think that’s probably more of what’s in the glass than the glass itself! Or perhaps a little of both.”
Fran held her empty goblet up just as a waiter came by with a platter filled with pitchers of a pale blue liquid. He filled her up with a smirk.
            “It’s a special type of nectar,” Siltlin told her. “A little bit is fun, but too much can make you and me do foolish things.”
            “You don’t have to worry about me,” Fran shouted as she stood up and began to dance to the music. “My stepfather raised me to be proper and good … a good girl.”
After the meal the music became louder and everyone began to dance. A good looking boy with an impish face and flowing green hair asked Fran to dance. Fran was shocked when they began to dance on the surface of the water. Millions of tiny bubbles were rising so quickly they kept her from sinking …. and they tickled her feet. Fran was laughing so hard she was almost glad when the musicians finally took a break. One of the oldest Nich Fran had ever seen came out and began to tell jokes about Bonetta as everyone either laughed or groaned.
            “Do you know how to make the bad woman of the woods helpless,” the old man asked.
            “How?” the crowd answered.
            “Hide her wart cream,” the old man answered to groans and a few chuckles.

            “Do you know why Bonetta’s house is always dirty?”
            “Why?” the crowd asked.
            “She can never remember where she parked her broom.”


Later that night, hundreds of different species of fire flies, each a different brilliant color, were released into the sky from hollow milkweed stems. They burst upon the night like fireworks.

The moon had sunk into the western horizon by the time Fran finally made it back to her dwelling. She fell asleep almost instantly. It was late the next day when Fran finally opened her eyes. “Oh dear,” she moaned. “I know I was supposed to do something important today, but I don’t remember what!”
            She stood up and started to leave the tiny cottage when she bumped her head. “I don’t remember the door being this small,” she moaned. Fran looked down and noticed her rose-petal dress that had come almost to her knees before was now mid-thigh. “Oh my goodness … I’m growing!”
            Siltlin was outside her door when she went outside. Siltlin put her hands on her hips and stood looking up at Fran.
            “I was supposed to do something important today but I just don’t remember.” Fran shook her head.
            “Whatever it was will have to wait,” Siltlin told her. “We’ve got to find you some more Sinker berries or you’ll soon be too big to stay here.”
            “But that means we’ll have to go back to Bonetta’s house,” Fran moaned.
            “Don’t worry,” Siltlin said. “All we have to do is find her wart cream and hide it.”
Both girls laughed but Fran felt awkward … foolish and a lot bigger.

-------3-------

            Samuel Dodge had been working all day and all night. He was exhausted but still too afraid of the old woman to run away. Hundreds of wasp nests hung behind Bonetta’s house from her porch and trees. His tormentor insisted that they must not be seen from the front. This whole bad business was Fran’s fault.  Samuel finished hanging yet another nest from a tree and trudged back to the shed staring at the witch as she stirred a large pot over an open fire. There were at least fifty more nests piled inside the tiny building …. The witch woman wanted them all put up before dusk. “Hurry you Lunkbutt!” the old woman called out. “When you’re finished I have another task for you!”

It was mid-afternoon when Samuel finally finished. He thought about running but didn’t. The old witch poured the liquid from the large kettle into several smaller jugs. “When this cools,” she cackled. “I want you to pour it over the bushes yonder … the ones offering the red berries with green spots.”
            “What is it?” Samuel sniffed the liquid but could smell nothing.
            “A hoof of this … a hoof of that … a sticky tongue … a tail of rat.” Bonetta held a wooden spoon toward the sky as if conducting an orchestra. “Glue without sniff … luster or soot,” the old woman went on. “To catch fast an arm … finger or foot.” She began to laugh. “When you’re finished you can go home … for a short time.”
            Samuel brightened. Maybe the witch was going to release him … then he remembered.
            “For a short time?” Samuel was deflated.
            “You swat flies at your house don’t you?”
            “Sometimes,” Samuel stammered.
            “What do you use? Not those big filthy things you call hands!”
            “I have a square of thin leather tied to the end of a forked stick,” Samuel gulped. He remembered the times he had used it on Fran when she was just learning to walk.
            “Bring it with you and a few extra,” Bonetta commanded.
            “I don’t see any flies,” Samuel looked around stupidly.
            “The dragonflies will be here along with your stepdaughter,” the witch told him.
            “Fran is coming here?” Anger rose in Samuel. But the thought that he might catch the girl who had caused him such problems and punish her brightened his day. He would beat every inch of skin off from her bones.
            “Yes,” Bonetta laughed, “and I think you’ll find she is not such a large a problem as you once thought.”     


To be continued ….