Frosty Woods

He wakes slowly, fluttering his eyes open. He sees sparkles in the dark. They’re high above and far away. He thinks he has seen them before, as in a dream. Closer. Or brighter. He finds himself sort of lost in a question. The stars twinkle; he blinks, blinks again. Rubbing his eyes, shaking his head, he turns, like a puppy chasing his tail, seeing a feather in his hat. Delighted, he pulls at the feather. It is a turkey feather, long and thick. He takes it out of his hat and pretends to write in the air with it. He has something to write and looks around for a place to write it. He bends down and scratches in cursive Whose woods these ar— before the moonlight shines off the snow, hurting his eyes a bit.

He has woken up in a clearing in a ravine, between two gigantic pines. They are heavy with snow. The wind blows, a large clump on top of the southerly tree falls, quickly dissipating into the wind. It’s a clear night, obviously the calm after a fresh heavy snowfall. Looking to the full moon, he lets out a wild howl, feeling alive and full of breath and light.

Looking around, briefly confused, he sees he is between the woods and a frozen lake. He breathes deep, he reaches down and swishes some snow into the wind, he giggles and twirls, and watches the heavy snow-laden trees sway with the wind. He knows he is home. With hands to hips, looking back up to the stars, he lets out a large, satisfied sigh, “Finally!”

Some of the snow from a tree drops onto his hat and nose. Now he shakes his head like a kitten. He hears a giggle. He turns around quickly, seeing a strange version of himself. He gasps, steps back. It takes him a moment before he steps forward a little, shuffles around the female, cocking his head sideways. As he takes off his hat, he realizes he needs yet to clean it off. He holds it at his chest.

“Thomas Hensen, ma’am.”

She giggles and extends her hand, “Jinny Firthbright.”

He smiles a shy, infatuated smile. A thought crosses Thom’s mind, There’s no other sound but the sweep of easy wind and downy flake.

“Ma’am, would you care for a walk?”

“You’re a funny duck. I told you, my name’s Jinny! And I’ll call you Thom,” Jinny laughs. She obviously takes delight in Thom’s strange ways.

“How long have you been here?” Thom asks.

“I woke up in the ravine last night. It’s not bad, but I’m glad I wasn’t alone for long! I like to run and race and explore, and those things aren’t as fun to do alone.”

Thom holds out his arm for her to take. They dance and twirl. Jinny takes her scarf in hand – they spin and laugh.

Later the new friends shuffle arm-in-arm exploring the woods. They come across fearless deer, a chipmunk, a river. Each is new and yet undaunting. They taste pinecones and crush winter berries to make a paste worth writing with. Thom again takes his plume and shows Jinny how to write with it, The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

Thom and Jinny talk about what they think color takes like. There are orange polka dots on her scarf. She thinks, if she could peel each one off, they would taste of morning time. Thom thinks this is the sweetest thing he’s ever heard. He says the deepest blue morning sky would taste of blueberry fudge. Jinny laughs at this so hard she rolls backwards.

They have made their way to the lake. It is first light. They sit on a large flat rock. Thom is able to see his reflection in the slow-moving water of the river joining the lake. The new friends are enraptured with the morning glow of light on their bodies – how it shimmers. They are tired now.

Thom whispers, I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

There is a moment these friends lock eyes. Thom’s eyes sadden, brighten, seem to smile, and sadden again. Jinny reaches out, they lock fingers. The light fades from Thom’s eyes. They melt completely now. The water from their bodies melds together.

“Next year,” Jinny’s voice comes softly from the mist above the water.

FrostyWoods

*Inspired by this painting, and lines taken from Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”.

 

A New Day

Kahurangi and Tui walked up the gravel path. Kahurangi wasn’t in a talkative mood. Tui had a stick in hand, letting it drag along the bottom of the red-painted fence posts: tickiti tackiti tickiti scrrrrape tack tack tack tack fwaack swaaa – the noise changed. “Ahw, fuck, boys!” Tui stopped short and looked up to see Mr. Haurangi, who tended to give long lectures about getting to school on time and not messing around so much, how they should be at every language lesson and how they missed last Saturday. 

Today he pointed to his trousers and stated simply that Tui would be paying for their repair, but then led them back to the fence posts in order to lecture them about respect for ancient property, and how the faces of their ancestors and gods are looking down upon them from the top of those poles and how their late queen would be disappointed in the youth of this generation. 

Tui looked up and said, “Seems to me Tiki is just going to pee on me with his penis sticking out like that, Sir”, looking at his brother Kahurangi, sticking his tongue out and gesturing to pee on him. Mr. Haurangi was livid, but all he could get out calling after them was, “That’s Tāne, eh! No respect…” 

Tui was still laughing as they crossed the football field which was covered in a low-lying dense fog, as it was most every morning, rolling in off the Waikato River. But Kahurangi held still, staring at a bird that dove in around his head several times, and at last had settled upon his shoulder. 

Kahurangi wasn’t afraid. He extended his arm carefully, so the Miromiro could carefully bounce along backwards, down his arm, staying near his wrist, so he could face him. He spoke to the bird without words. He knew it to be his guardian. The Miromiro sang and said, “I gift you with being a warrior”, and blew onto his face –  a wind that seemed sharp and piercing, like a thousand needles, but instantly healing and warm. 

By time Tui turned around, Kahurangi’s face was unrecognizable. “Fuck, bro!” He tried to shew the torotoro off his brother’s shoulder but couldn’t and backed away, stumbling. The Miromiro flew away, and Kahurangi extended his hand to help his brother up. With wide eyes, Tui said, “You have to see this, bro!” He took out his phone and took a picture. Turning the screen around, Kahurangi saw Tā Moko like in his grandfather’s stories about the ancestors’. The tattoo swirled up his cheekbones, was perfectly symmetrical above each eyebrow, and filled in his chin like a permanent goatee. 

“No one’s going to believe this, bro!” 

“I believe it, Tui. It’s a new day for us all.” 

 

— This story comes in response to Writer’s Digest’s Weekly Writing Prompt, “Unexpected Inking”.

— It centers around two Māori teens in the New Zealand village of Ngāruawāhia. Although it is the cultural seat of the Māori people, who were long oppressed, and have tried (successfully!) to give their language and culture a resurgence, many youth in this community still do not speak their heritage tongue. Ngāruawāhia, as a small town, is considered by many run-down and the community’s high school lacks proper education. Still, the strength of the Māori spirit is strong, and it is a new day for many.

— I am not Māori and so I apologize for any misrepresentation in advance. I studied in your land as a teenager and loved your culture deeply. I wish I had learned more when I was there! Thank you for being so warm and welcoming as a people!

The Preacher

The wages of sin is death! The Preacher’s face was turning red. To deny his saving grace is a slap in the face of our glorious! Almighty! God!  He rested his right hand on the clear glass podium as he rambled on. It had the insignia of the denomination scratched in on front – a dove descending in fire. It was scratched on in such a way that, as the stage lighting hit it perfectly, it seemed like The Spirit Himself was baptizing the Preacher’s knees when he stood directly behind it, which he rarely did. The Preacher liked to wander around the stage, yelling at the top of his lungs, yelling at the crowd, yelling in Tongues, yelling at the choir, yelling as he ran through the aisles. The only thing the Preacher liked more while on stage was to call upon an unsuspecting teen boy, or a young single pregnant woman, and bless them with the Slaying of The Spirit.

Right when she thought he might keel over – from all the yelling, and years of deep-fried okra – he called on her. She couldn’t deny that she needed healing. She couldn’t deny that she had indeed sinned. But she dreaded being called upon. Every time he called upon “Sarah” she was sure it was her turn, but these many years she had escaped this singular humiliation. Until today. Had he run out of Sarahs to humiliate and slay or baptize with olive oil? Ohhh the olive oil! It always ran down the forehead and into the eyes. And it wasn’t magical, like she hoped. Every time she went to the altar for the baptism of oil, she hoped, she prayed, it would heal her. 

Sarah, my own dear Sarah, has blasphemed The Holy Spirit! She has turned her back from The Almighty God! Sarah, come to the altar for healing oil. 

“Daddy, don’t!” she thought, as loudly and telepathically as she could, but still rose humbly out of the red, scratchy cloth-covered pew. She was in pain with each step forward, especially in her abdomen. 

His deacons made her kneel before The Preacher. He looked her in the eyes, covered the top of the Anointed Oil and turned it upside down to coat his thumb, then looking to Heaven, rubbed his oil-soaked thumb across her forehead and started yelling in Tongues, hoolostakeestumaihondah! GodAlmighty! Elreymisalvador! Xleekamohrah Almighty! Almighty! My! Almighty! God! Yes, God, xleekamohrah! Almighty God!

Sarah felt ill and wondered how long she could keep the vomit in. A woman in the third row, left of the center section, jumped to her feet, pointing first at Sarah, and then to the Heavens, screaming, She has sinned by way of adultery, and now the baby has paid the price with his life! The Preacher opened his eyes and started to turn redder than his daughter had ever seen. He gasped, Abortion, Sarah? as he grabbed his chest, faltering to the floor.

The accusing woman in the crowd came closer, still screaming about Sarah as an adulterer and pointing. She began ranting about the Sanctity of Life and how Sarah was murdering her own father with sorrow, how she was shaming her Heavenly Father and would pay on Judgment Day.

Sarah was saying over and over I swear, Daddy, it wasn’t adultery! I swear! Brody’s here with me – he’ll tell you. It’s a miscarriage, Daddy! God will heal me! Come back to me, Daddy! Bless me and my baby!

Her husband came running from the very back of this 1,000-seat auditorium. He tried to pick Sarah up, by gently lifting her elbow and wrapping his other arm around her waist. Sarah, please! Sweetie, this isn’t worth it! He looked at the backside of her dress. Oh my god, we need to take you to a doctor. She saw that her dress was covered in blood. 

As Brody walked Sarah through the mega church, covered in blood and shame, The Accuser was still following her, screaming shrilly, in a mix of English and Tongues. The Preacher reached for the stain-glass sky light, whispering, Take me, Sweet Jesus, and heaved his last breath. 

The Snap

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There’s no good way to say it. I’ve been on a deserty road for far too long. Alone. Mostly alone. Alone with two souls holding my hands. So not alone but very nearly. Or that just sounds ungrateful.

At first it was me bleeding on the ground like I had been pushed out of an airplane broken in a thousand pieces trying to gasp through the noise of the engines fading off quickly, to see through the pain and sand in my eyes, to feel or stand or scream or lay quietly. None of it happened. All of it happening at once. When the dust settled and a few of my bones were set in place I could see my husband was on road in the parallel lane in the same broken shape. There was no space between us but for time we had been distanced for miles. We linked hands. Washed each others wounds. Looked in each others eyes.

I heard music like an irritating scratch I couldn’t pinpoint. Felt people’s presence like pressure on all angles. Wanted to break and scream and curse and hate. And I did. And it hurt. And it was cathartic. And then it died down. And rose back up. It was a great sea of swells that I couldn’t predict. I left. I came back. I hurt others. I would repeat. And repeat and repeat.

The desert road was far too long. I had to mend in the midst of thrashing heat sweltering confusion injury infection rejection. Pain. Just so much pain.

There was a wisp of fresh air that fluttered by now and again and sometimes too often. Sometimes too distant too infrequent. As the air cooled I sensed a sweetness. I had these two. In the midst of dank empty horrid hurt on the road of sandstorms scrapes landmines and scorpions I had these two. Nearby.

As I limped as I ran as I fell and dug trenches and prayed to die escaping man and animal and finding food loosing sight building hope I found others. Others who had not traveled far but were coming undone as well. Or others yet who were fearful and saw I was no longer afraid. If I had fallen from an airplane and dragged my body along a hundred miles through desert rain mountains beasts of many kind then they could take my hand they could trust again.