52 weeks – Week 4 – Rapture in Reverse

Rainbow colored light sits on the horizon under dark clouds and above a dark sea. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2016.

4. A missionary in a remote village

Include: orchestra, finch, aim, development, ex, bold, old-fashioned, gut, brassy, sharp

Read Bridgette’s Tale of a missionary and a village.

Rapture in Reverse

October 30, 2043

We set sail today from Barcelona. While it won’t be a long journey–we’ve come so far already– I’ve decided to write it all down in hopes of sharing it with what is left of the World. I like to joke that I’m the Darwin of our trip, a joke not everyone seems to find funny, considering what we have all been through in these last few years.

We are on a research vessel, 60 of us. It is called the Bold Adventure. It’s an old-fashioned ship, but it has what we need to get where we are going. The scientists are all gone now, they disappeared in the first day. Don’t get me wrong, there were scientists left, but they were the scientists that put the Bible first in their beliefs. We do have scientists on board, but the majority of us are missionaries working to bring the final peace to our world. We also have the captain and his crew – all believers – as well as a small orchestra made up of missionaries. It helps us pass the time and we thought it might “sooth the savage beast” as was once said.

It didn’t happen exactly the way we all thought it would happen; the rapture, that is. There was an expectation that the day would come and we would be lifted into the clouds to meet Jesus.

It didn’t happen that way.

We woke up the morning of Ascension Day; May 30th, 2041. It was a Thursday and about 75% percent of the world’s population was just gone. It wasn’t random though. There were church communities entirely intact (missing a few teenagers and the occasional spouse) with other parts of the world being completely empty. The Middle East, much of India and Northern Africa saw almost complete disappearances of their people. The United States lost about 60% of it’s population with cities often dramatically affected and rural areas often untouched.

Jesus didn’t arrived, or if he has, we don’t know how or when. We’ve come to believe that we still must bring the remaining few to him. In the time that has past, we’ve come to learn that those who are left are specifically of the Christian faith, and deeply devout. There was another population left, they are the indecisive. They haven’t decided on one path, one belief, or another. We’ve come to believe that we must convert them, and only then will Christ come and begin his 1,000 year reign.

When the rapture first happened, communication, the internet, travel, all halted. There just weren’t enough people to manage the systems. However, churches around the world quickly were able to communicate and there has been a new peace among denominations and ideologies. Many of the larger churches had private jets and pilots who were not taken and a system of trade and organization began. There were still enough people in major industries to bring technology and commerce back online. We got the aviation industry working, although it takes much longer to get from place to place. Because of the population decline, aviation has created a system of short hops. There is no longer an LA flight to Europe, rather all the European flights are out of New York. LA services Asia and Australia and New Zealand.

The air, however, has cleared since the world’s population has declined. There are no longer traffic jams and animals walk the streets in the more deserted areas. There is plenty of oil and the world governments, at least in this moment, are all still willing to share; probably because the oil rich nations are mostly deserted. Because those of us who are left are predominately Christian, the Bible has taken a central focus of all governments. We know that these are the End Times, we just have to figure out the final bit. We all lost someone. Some of us lost many. Some lost everyone they knew.

Well, I’m going to go meet the others for dinner. I haven’t even gotten to the reason for our journey. I must have patience.

The Rock of Gibraltar, leaving Barcelona/Anna Loscotoff

October 31, 2043

One full day of sailing. Our first stop is to deliver supplies in Tenerife and it should take us another 3 to 4 days, depending on the weather. The Canary Islands, still an extension of Spain, were hit especially hard with the tsunamis. I know, I haven’t explained the tsunamis, but I’m getting there.

Much of the population of the Canary Islands had been Roman Catholic when the rapture came and the islands themselves only lost about 20% of their people. However, then the tsunamis hit and killed possibly another 60% of the population. It has only been six months and there just aren’t enough people left to really have a good count, or to even find help. Those that survived did so because of their ability to get up Mount Teide. Other islands, such as Fuerteventura and Lanzarote, which are predominately at sea level, are just gone.

The tsunamis hit almost every country on the Atlantic Ocean, to varying degrees. The water levels had already risen so much from climate change, that people had continued to move inward and upward on all the continents. Development had been away from the coasts when the rapture happened, which saved more people than we would have predicted with the tsunamis.

On March 27th of this year, it was Good Friday and we were meditating on the sacrifice that Jesus made to save us from our sins, when there was an earthquake. It was felt almost everywhere in the world. Cities fell, no country was left untouched. And then the tsunami’s started. They hit all the counties which lined the Atlantic Ocean; from the Northern parts of Brazil and the Caribbean, the full eastern coast of the United States, Newfoundland and Quebec to the tip of Greenland, down the European west coast from Ireland to Spain and Portugal, as well as the north-west coast of Africa. Our focus had been on the revitalization of humanity, of converting those left behind, and of building society back. But having lost so many of the greatest Scientists and not committing to the maintenance of warning systems, many nations were caught by surprise and lost many of their communities to the sea.

It was quickly discovered that the quake had come deep from the Atlantic Ocean, along the mid-Atlantic ridge–the Atlantic Rift specifically around the 35th parallel. We still had access to satellite information and there were airplanes. We soon found that a new island had formed. Well, not an island, exactly. More like a continent, perhaps? And it sat directly along the ridge. You’d have thought that people would send scientists out immediately to better understand what had happened, but we didn’t have the scientific population anymore. Also, we were all dealing with the catastrophes of the earthquake and the tsunamis while still grieving those we had lost in the rapture. We waited and helped as much as we could within our own communities, not knowing if more earthquakes would come. Plus, this was a new island, and we assumed that there would be no people or animals, not for years anyway. Not until the governments of our individual countries were strong enough to spare the manpower.

But there were people. And that is why we are headed there now. People, perhaps in need of help. Certainly in need of God.

I’m off for today. Tomorrow, November 1st, is All Saint’s Day, and we will spend it in prayer and music. The day after that, we expect to arrive in Tenerife. I will continue to write when I can.

Sunset over Tenerife/ Anna Loscotoff

November 3rd, 2043

On Sunday, the 1st, we spent our day in prayer, honoring the Saints. There was music and devotion.

Yesterday, Monday, we arrived in Tenerife. I have a difficult time describing the desolation there. Once a thriving port city, the buildings have fallen and the people are afraid. Missionaries there were thankful for the supplies we brought. I wish we could have given them more, but we need enough for our own trip to the new land. They gave a warm welcome. When we left the island at sunset, God showed us the beauty he created.

We expect another 5 to 6 days before we come to the island. Continent? I’m not really sure how to refer to it. It’s not small, perhaps the size of Hawaii, if all the islands were connected, but we don’t know the extent. It seems to keep growing, based on satellite images. Every report is different. The few ships that have gone out, have not come back and there are no places for an airplane to land on the island. There is nothing close enough for a seaplane to refuel. Nothing is close enough for helicopters, unless they take off from a ship, but when so many others are in need right now, this has not been a priority.

There have been flights over portions of this new land mass and the reports are unsettling. Images of people walking around in a daze. Even more unsettling is the description of ruins. When this island appeared, it was assumed that it would be volcanic rock, desolate, some new form brought forth from the bottom of the sea. But the buildings, ruins really, that are being seen tell us that it was once on land. Unless, of course, there was some underwater kingdom that, despite technology, we never saw. The ruins appear almost Greek or Roman in structure, with columns and what have been described as temples, amphitheaters, and coliseums.

There is a growing consensus, that somehow, this is Atlantis.

November 4th, 2043

Atlantis.

Is it really even a possibility? Plato talked of Atlantis as an advanced civilization that sank somewhere around 9,600 BC. However, most of us believe in the Young Earth creation theory where God created Earth and man some 10,000 years ago after 6 days of creation. Creatio ex nihilo, creation from nothing. There is no mention of Atlantis, or anything of that sort, in the Bible. However, some theories have been discussed as Plato’s writings talk of the Athenians going to war with the island of Atlantis after they conquered parts of Italy and Africa. This would place Atlantis 350 to 400 years before the birth of Christ, which makes sense in our understanding of the Earth’s timeframe. Now, did Atlantis sink before or after the great flood? Was it swallowed when the waters rose? Was there a great earthquake or a volcano that caused it to sink?

Obviously, we don’t have any idea if this is Atlantis and what will greet us when we arrive. What we do know is that there are people there. And if the population dates back to before the time of Christ, then they will not know the word of God. We must share the good word and bring them to the faith. Only then will Jesus come and his reign begin again.

Our aim is truly the development of a Christian Community, one that can grow and thrive.

Sea Bird in the Atlantic/Anna Loscotoff

November 9th, 2043

It is like the Garden of Eden! We have not gone ashore, not yet. We want them to grow accustomed to us. We are sitting just offshore, but we can see the land. It is so beautiful. I thank the Lord for giving me this opportunity to share his word and to see his beauty in Creation.

A bright blue finch landed on the deck this morning and sang the sweetest song. More arrived in shades of blue and green and we fed them bits of bread from our breakfast. I don’t know how they arrived here so quickly, a place that was only just ocean six months ago. I don’t question it, can’t question the glory of my creator. Other sea birds are flying close to the ship and they have the most beautiful shape. It makes me think of Noah and the dove of peace. These birds give me hope for our future.

We can see that the land is covered with thick, lush foliage and bright spots of what appear to be flowers. The water here is perfectly clear and we often see dolphins playing around us. The people on shore move about and, through the telescope they appear to be as innocent as Adam and Eve, without shame or cover. We cannot yet make out their faces. We hope to approach slowly, to not scare them.

We play our orchestra on the deck of the ship and hope that our music tells them that we are not here to hurt them. After the quiet of the ocean and the simplicity of these people–I think of them almost as a long lost tribe–I worry that our music is perhaps too brassy and loud. But we are some distance and hope that the sound of the music is lovely and new over the water.

We think that a few of us will take one of the dinghies to shore tomorrow, just to make contact. I pray that this will go smoothly and know that God is watching from above.

Sea Bird/ Anna Loscotoff

November 10th, 2043

Oh God. Oh God, oh god, oh god. I have to stop. I can’t take his name in vain. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Lord. But, oh dear God, save us. Save us.

Save me.

What have we done?

We took the little boat. There were eight of us for this first trip.

We saw them wandering on shore and they didn’t pay any attention. It was if we weren’t there. And so we brought the boat up onto the beach. And they just continued to wander.

We watched for a bit and finally got out, stepping through the clear water.

It was beautiful. The sand was black and it was lined with shells unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Slowly, we approached them, but their eyes were empty. Their skin was swollen and greenish and… torn. Their hair was tangled with seaweed.

We thought it was shock, shock of whatever they have gone through. I should have known better. I didn’t know.

One of our group–I don’t even know which of us–reached out to touch a young man’s hand. We didn’t know. We didn’t know!

How could we have known?

Their teeth are so sharp. And they bite.

I was the only one who made it back on the dinghy. But not before… Oh God, oh god, oh god.

I can’t tell anyone. I don’t want to tell anyone.

I got bit.

I told them that I was fine, that the blood was from the others.

But I got bit.

I watched them tear the others apart. Once they realized we were there, they weren’t quiet anymore. Their eyes became focused. Focused on us.

And they are fast, oh god, they are fast.

It bit my leg as I tried to get back in the boat. I didn’t pull my feet in fast enough. I kicked. I kicked it away and it let go.

The others are gone. I saw them tear them, their insides on the black sand. Their guts, stretched between them. Once they ate, their eyes became clear.

Oh god.

November 11th, 2043

I cleaned the wound yesterday and wrapped it well. I’ve started taking antibiotics, although I still haven’t told anyone. I don’t feel well.

We are still sitting on the ship and there is debate on what to do next.

They ask why I’m limping and I’ve told them that I twisted my ankle trying to get away. They don’t press me. They are scared and fighting.

There are some who want to return to the beach, but I’ve told them we have to leave.

I think anyone who arrived before us is probably dead now, and that is why they never returned. Why there has been no correspondence.

I’m so tired. Please God, help me.

November,… ?

I’m don’t know the day. The ship is moving now. Back. I think. I need sleep. Must pray.

Nov. ?

So hot hungry.

can’t tell them

have locked the door

when I see them, I crave them I want them.

why god why did you put me here

November 16th.

My brain is clear. God brought one of them to my door. It was a gift. I feasted and I feel strong again. I threw the body overboard so they wouldn’t know.

His thoughts became my thoughts. His memories became mine. I know everything he ever knew.

I am still hungry, but there must be enough of us to reach the mainland.

To share the gift.

To return for the others.

Rapture, the beauty of a bright yellow sunset
Rapture over the Atlantic/ Anna Loscotoff

Notes

When I first saw the prompt for this week, I started thinking about a non-traditional missionary and what that would look like. I tend to think of missionaries as being of the Christian or Mormon faith and had to do some research on the differences between the two. What would happen if the remote village was Christian and your missionaries were perhaps Pagan? What festivals would they bring and how would they promote their view points?

I sat with this for a bit and then began to wonder what a remote village would look like in our world today. Does that still exist? Remote villages, yes–but I don’t think there is anywhere in this world that has been untouched by modern civilization. So where could we have a remote village? Space? Could this be more science fiction? And then I thought, well how great if we thought we were bringing wisdom to some alien race only to have them eat us like a snack?

Clearly this lead me to think about zombies. Zombies and brains. I didn’t need any kind of new planet for zombies; zombies will do just fine on earth. So how do we get zombies in a remote area of the world, and what would mislead missionaries to think they need to spread their religion? It had to be something of a surprise. Atlantis rising from the vast depths of the Ocean. But if Atlantis rose, wouldn’t there be scientists researching and studying? Wouldn’t they get there before the missionaries?

This is the train of thought that turned into the rapture but in reverse. What if, instead of the all the Christians being taken, all the followers of Christ (no matter the specific sect or branch of Christianity) were the ones that were left? What if they saw it as Revelations, but it didn’t quite go the way they expected. Instead of them being taken, they were the ones left to create heaven on earth, and what if their mission is to convert everyone left, all the in-between people, in order for the time of tranquility to begin? All the scientists are gone, so when Atlantis rises, the missionaries are driven to bring Christ to the Atlantans. But the Atlantans have been sitting at the bottom of the Ocean, so they make great zombies!

Now, I do understand that there are scientists who are also Christian, but whether they were taken in this “blip” would, I suppose, be where their beliefs lie. Are they paleontologists who believe in evolution and God’s hand in evolution? They would disappear in this story with the other scientists. I certainly don’t believe in finite boxes, that you are either one or the other, but for the sake of the story, scientists who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible would still be here. (Here’s a link of 34 great scientists who were committed Christians.)

Now, you are probably wondering if I made up the information about how Atlantis might fit into the church. I know we can find anything on the internet, but I actually found a site about Atlantis and how it relates to Genesis in the Bible. If you’re curious, you can find it here and in my links. (Seriously, this is a deep dive link and will suck you in as you contemplate the stories around religious ideology.)

If you liked this story, please share!

The Atlantic Ocean/Anna Loscotoff

Join us next week for our 52 week journey.

5. A teenager whose parents have unwelcome news

Include: comic book, battery, crumbly, apartment, angelic, breach, shooter, soda, engineer, substantiate

I spent a lot of time researching this week. I’ve included most of my links here in case you want to dive as deeply as I did.

Atlantis Research – History Channel

Atlantis Location – Wiki

Religions and % of Believers in the World – 2020

Christianity vs Mormonism – Differences

34 Great Scientists Who Were Committed Christians

Darwin’s Papers

Research Ship – NOAA

Religious States in the United States in Maps

Canary Islands

Sea Level Rise Map – NOAA

Calendar 12 – Ascension Day 2041

Calendar 12 – Good Friday 2043

Christian Festivals – University of Bolton

Mid-Atlantic Ridge – Atlantic Ocean

Did Atlantis Exist – Answers in Genesis

BBC Religions – Christianity: Creationism and Intelligent Design

Creatio Ex Nihilo

Crossing the Atlantic/Anna Loscotoff

My 52 Week Challenge Journey

What is the 52 week short story challenge?

Week 1 – Avalon

Week 2 – The Rifle

Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

52 Weeks – Week 3 – The Cardboard Prince

3. Mash up two classic fairy tales into one story

Include: fireplace, sword, grove, stroke, underbrush, mourn, seven, friendship, cardboard, giver

My partner in words, read Bridgette’s Tale for this week.

The Cardboard Prince

“Must I scrub the floors too?” said Sylvie with a dramatic roll of her eyes. “Perhaps you would like to throw lentils into the fireplace, and have me pick them out for you?”

“Sylvie, it’s just the dishes. And it’s your turn.”

Sylvie sighed the all too familiar, all too dramatic sigh, of a 12-year-old going on 20. She slammed her fork onto her plate and stared at her mother across the table.

“Not tonight, Sylvie. I’m tired. I’ve worked. I’ve cooked. It’s your turn.”

Sylvie brutishly pushed the chair away from the table with her body, grabbing her plate and placed it a bit too harshly in the sink. They both heard it crack and there was silence between them. Sylvie kept her back turned to her mother at the sink and slowly heard the chair slide out from the table, tired footsteps moving away.

“I suppose the evil step-mother will punish me for breaking one of her dollar store plates?” Sylvie said it under her breath, not thinking her mother would hear her, but still hoping she would. The footsteps stopped and there was a great sigh.

“I wish you would stop calling me your evil step-mother. I wish you would stop calling me step-mother.”

Sylvie was silent and listened as her mother walked away.

There really weren’t many dishes, and Sylvie wasn’t sure why she was being so combative. She just didn’t want to do them, it was a waste of her time. She threw away the broken dish, finding a bit a of satisfaction, knowing she had been the one to break it. Did a quick wash of her mother’s plate and the two forks. She rinsed out the glasses and set them in the drying rack. All that was left were the two pots–one for pasta and one for sauce– and the pan for the garlic bread. She hated the way the sauce clung to the inside of the pan, it made her want to gag.

She hadn’t done a good job, but it was done and she really didn’t care. She turned and made a point of stomping as she moved through the kitchen and then the front room where the TV was quiet and dead. She stomped past her mother’s door, making a point to slam her feet harder onto the floor.

She stomped up the old stairs and heard the creak of her mother’s door. Sylvie kept her back turned but stopped mid-step.

“Sylvie, do you have…”

“I KNOW! I’m doing my homework!”

“Sylvie…”

“What.”

“I love you.”

Sylvie chose not to respond.

“I remember when I found out I was pregnant with you. I was so excited to meet you.”

Sylvie turned and stared again at her mother.

“I didn’t ask you to have me.”

Her mother looked down at the floor and slipped back into her room.

Sylvie continued up the stairs and threw herself onto her bed, looking over at the cardboard prince standing in the corner.

“I bet you never had to wash dishes and do homework, did you Bradley.”

The cardboard prince was a life-sized cardboard cutout from that stupid princess movie that had come out last year. But it had starred Sylvie’s favorite actor, Brad Hastings. She found it in the dumpster behind the theater when the movie had been a flop. It was laying on top, a little bent up, not really damaged. She’d drug it home and he’d stood in the corner ever since. Her mom hadn’t said a word when she’d carried him through the house, tucked up under her left arm. Her mom had continued to ignore him every time she came into Sylvie’s room.

Sylvie laid in bed a few minutes before getting up and grabbing her backpack. Seventh grade was the absolute worst, she thought. The boys either all looked like babies or had weird squeaking voices. The girls all talked about each other behind their backs, but were generally very sweet face-to-face. Sylvie knew the truth; she was nice to people’s faces too and then said horrible things to anyone who would listen. It made her feel better to be mean.

She scribbled through her homework, not really caring what was right or wrong. If it wasn’t finished, she’d get sent to detention, so she did it. But they couldn’t punish her if it was all wrong, she’d just play up the idea that she didn’t understand it and it was too hard. They wouldn’t give her detention for being dumb. Maybe they would even pity her.

She threw her books back in the bag and went to brush her teeth. She changed into her dad’s old t-shirt, torn and stretched. They hadn’t heard from him in years, neither she or her mom had any idea where he’d disappeared to. She went and stood in front of the movie cardboard cutout, looking up into Brad Hastings pale green eyes.

“Goodnight my sweet prince,” she said, standing on her toes and giving him a kiss on his cardboard lips.

She crawled into bed and fantasized about high school, where the boys didn’t squeak when they talked and they all looked like some variation of her Brad, with light green eyes and dark hair. Soon she was fast asleep.


Sylvie’s alarm didn’t go off the next morning. She was awoken to gentle pressure on her lips. She was coming out of a dream, a dream where she was being kissed by Brad Hastings. She didn’t really want to wake up and so tried to stay in that in-between world as long as possible. The pressure on her lips didn’t change. If anything it became stronger, the pressure more intense.

Sylvie slowly opened her eyes to find a shadow over her, it’s face pressed to hers.

“Woah! Wait a minuet! Stop, stop, stop!”

Sylvie found herself scrunching lower into the hard bed, twisting away from the shadow while also pushing whoever it was away with both hands. The figure stumbled backward, awkwardly, when a golden beam of light traveled across his face.

Sylvie froze.

“Brad? Brad Hastings?”

The figure froze, the light shining off the brilliant green eyes and shiny black hair.

Sylvie realized she was absolutely not in her bedroom. The brick walls surrounded her in a circle and the ceiling was peaked. There was a single door which stood behind the young man and a single tall narrow window to his right. It was open, without glass. It reminded her,… but that was silly, she thought. It reminded her of a room at the top of a tower.

The bed she laid in was hard, like laying on top of a cardboard box. The sheets felt like paper. And when the boy who looked like Brad turned his head, Sylvie screamed. He was flat. Flat as a cardboard cutout.

The Cardboard Prince put out his hands, as if to show he was no danger to her.

“Please, sweet princess, do not be afraid.”

“You, you,… you’re flat!”

“Whatever do you mean?” he responded and stepped towards her.

“Stop! Stop right there.”

He did as she said.

“Who are you and why were you kissing me and where am I and why do you look like Brad Hastings and am I dreaming?”

Her words, rapid type, fell in the silence of the room.

“Well, say something.”

“To answer your questions,” he said, “if I can remember them all. My name is Prince Bradley. Prince Bradley of Hastings and I am here to rescue you! Because I love you and want to make you my princess.”

“I don’t know you!”

“Well no, of course not. We’ve never met.”

“Then how in the world do you love me! I’m 12!”

“Because you are a princess, in need of saving!”

“I don’t need anyone to save me!”

“You have been stuck in this tower, and so I traveled through the magical grove and through the poison underbrush to battle the dragon that has kept you for so long in this tower. With a single stroke of my sword, I cut him down.” And he pulled his cardboard sword from his cardboard sheath, reenacting the battle.

The Defeated Dragon. Photo credit, Anna Loscotoff, 2022

Sylvie watched him twist and turn, appearing to disappear when he would turn sideways, and yet fully there when he faced forward. Finally, his pretend battle won, he returned his sword to his hip.

“Why did you kiss me?”

“Because you were asleep, and that is the proper way to wake a princess.”

Sylvie found herself sliding out of the backside of the bed, the paper blankets tangling around her shoes. Shoes? Sylvie looked down at her feet and saw that she was wearing cardboard high heels bedazzled in plastic gems. Her dress was thick paper, printed like fabric.

She pressed herself against the brick wall and realized that the brick was only printed on and flat and smooth under her hands. She moved sideways against the wall, sliding to the window. The Cardboard Prince stood in the middle of the room watching her, but he did not move. She passed the window and saw that the wall was only as thick as a single sheet of corrugated cardboard. She moved to the door, the Prince turning and watching. She saw that his fingers folded like the bend of a box and that as his head turned, it twisted like paper. He remained as thin as a cutout.

Standing next to the door, Sylvie saw that the stairs were made of cardboard boxes that twisted down and out of sight.

“Thank you, Prince Bradly, but I have to go now.”

She turned on her cardboard heel and began to run down the stairs which spiraled around and around. The shoes were terribly uncomfortable and rubbed against her heels, but Sylvie didn’t want to stop and allow the prince to catch up. She could hear a patter from above, and so continue her downward escape. Suddenly the heel of her right cardboard shoe punched through the cardboard stairs and Sylvie found herself stuck and tipping forward. She lost her balance, her foot pulling free of the shoe, and she tumbled the few remaining stairs. Being of cardboard, they dented and caught her fall, and she found herself sitting on the floor of the tower, slightly dazed. In front of her stood an open drawbridge, painted to look like wood with the brown cardboard showing through. She still wore the left shoe, but the heel had crushed and her feet were red and tender. She tossed it into the corner.

Standing on bare feet, she ran out onto the middle of the bridge and looked up. Far at the top of the cardboard castle, she saw the Cardboard Prince looking down at her. His head was resting on his cardboard folded hands and his expression was pained.

Sylvie turned to continue her escape before turning back and yelling up to the Cardboard Prince, “Thank you for trying to save me! I just didn’t need saving!”

The Cardboard Prince gave a half hearted wave and disappeared back in the the cardboard tower.

On the other side of the cardboard bridge, Sylvie found the remains of the dragon, flat and painted, torn to bits. Cardboard flames lay next to a cardboard eye, the size of her head. Bits of cardboard scales lay about; shredded pieces and brown dust.

Beyond the dragon was what Sylvie supposed was the poison underbrush, but it was simply cardboard that had been cut into points and the tips had been painted red. As Sylvie crawled under the bramble, the cardboard bent and moved away at the slightest push of her hands.

When Sylvie finally pushed out from the underbrush, she found herself surrounded by tall cardboard trees; what the Cardboard Prince must have called the Magical Grove. It didn’t look so magical to Sylvie. Each of the trees had a cardboard cross at it’s base which allowed it to stand with stability. The trunks were printed with bark and the leaves appeared to be green photographs placed together in a collage. A cardboard squirrel chattered to Sylvie from a branch. A path had been worn into the cardboard ground which led Sylvie into the trees. She followed it for a bit, until the trees gathered closer together and the ambient light began to darken.

It occurred to Sylvie that she had not seen a sun and was unsure where the light was coming from. It darkened quickly, more like someone turning a dimmer switch than the natural progression of the sunset. Sylvie found herself in the darkness, unsure where to turn. While the trees were thick around her, she could see pinpricks of light in the sky. To her, they looked like a black sheet of paper in which pins had been stuck through in an unnatural pattern with a light shining on the opposite side. It allowed her to make out the shapes of the trees, but nothing more.

Noises began to fill the dark air and Sylvie slowly walked deeper into the forest, unsure on where she was headed but also afraid of the sounds and what would happen to her if she stopped. In the distance, she heard what sounded like the howl of a wolf. She began to mourn the comfort and safety of her bed, although she gave her mother very little thought.

Far into the distance, Sylvie thought she saw the shimmer of light. It was off to the right and so she headed in that direction.

Soon she came to a little cardboard house, lit up from the inside, windows cut all around. It was surrounded by a broken cardboard fence and what appeared to be tufts of the tops of vegetables in a garden. She trailed her fingers along the top of the fence, thin to the touch, until she found the gate. It folded open like a book page and a plain cardboard path led to the front door.

Despite the darkness, Sylvie could see that this house seemed undecorated in it’s entirety. It looked like roughly cut cardboard with no care for decoration; no patterns or paint adorned it’s surface.

She knocked at the door and the sound was very hollow, the cardboard bending beneath her hand. There was no answer. She peeked in the window next to the door, there was no glass, only empty space, and could see that the inside walls were as unadorned as the outer walls; just plain brown cardboard. The lights appeared to come from wires which stuck through holes cut through the peak. In the center of the room sat a long cardboard table, with three paper bowls on each side and one at the head; seven bowls in all. The bowls appeared to be steaming and Sylvie’s tummy rumbled. She wasn’t sure how long it had been since she had eaten.

She knocked again and waited.

“Is anyone home?” she called out. There was no response.

She tried the door and it pushed open on it’s cardboard crease. The room was empty other than the table and the bowls and the lights.

Sylvie walked to the bowl at the far head of the table. She hovered her hand over it and could feel it’s warmth. She lifted the heavy paper bowl to her nose. It smelled familiar, but she couldn’t figure out why. Her stomach grumbling, she lifted the bowl to her lips and drank.

“Ughh! Gross!”

Sylvie spit the gruel back into the bowl. It tasted like paste. Paste and paper, mashed together and heated to a coagulated lukewarm mush.

“What is this?” came a low growl to Sylvie’s left. She jerked her head upward from the gruel and saw a face, low at the base of one of the open windows. It’s teeth were long and pointed and it’s eyes were painted red. It’s flat face seemed to be painted with cheap tempura.

The door burst open and there stood another. It had a long cardboard beard, dirty and gray and it wore a little red cap on it’s head. It stood maybe three feet tall and carried a cardboard axe.

Sylvie dropped the bowl and stumbled backward. Arms came through a window behind her and wrapped around her elbows. The fingers were thin and flat, but they were strong. She pulled away and heard the sound of paper tearing and a scream of anger and pain.

Sylvie looked to one of the open windows, hoping for an escape. At each window there was a face. Their eyes glowed and their teeth were long. Some appeared old with scraggly flat beards and at least one had no beard, his cheeks a rouged red. They growled and threatened and Sylvie thought that perhaps this was the end for her.

The old flat dwarf at the door slowly began to walk towards her, the table in-between them. Behind him appeared another, this one shorter and fatter and carrying a pickaxe. Together they split and began to walk up each side of the table.

Sylvie could only see the one exit with the dwarves descending upon her. She ran straight forward and climbed up on table, the two flat dwarves swinging their axes at her at she ran down the center. She could feel the cardboard hitting her legs and she could feel the sting, but she continued forward. She jumped off the end of the table and just as she arrived at the door, another dwarf stepped in to block her. She pushed with all her strength and he bent over backward, a bend in his neck, so that his head hung upside down.

Sylvie ran into the dark forest, avoiding the silhouettes of the trees until her lungs screamed at her and her legs refused to move. For awhile, she heard the dwarves yelling through the forest. Soon, however, it became quiet. She found a large tree and curled up between the sections of the cardboard stand. Her legs stung from the strikes, but soon she fell asleep.

When she awoke, the light was bright. Her legs still stung and she saw that the paper dress had been torn and her legs had thin red cuts.

“Papercuts?” she said. She traced her finger over the thin scrapes only to stare at her hands in horror.

Cardboard Tears. Photo Credit, Anna Loscotoff, 2022

“No,” she said, almost under her breath; turning them back and forth in front of her eyes. While they still had some roundness, they were starting to flatten. She realized that the cuts on her legs were more like drawings than actual scrapes and that her feet were narrowing.

Sylvie began to cry but the tears did not feel wet as they rolled down her cheeks. They seemed to fall with a plunk on her lap, and she saw that she could pick them up. Perfect little cardboard tear drops.

“No!” she cried out.

Not far, she heard a voice call back, “Everything okay?”

“Umm, yeah, I’m fine!”

From between the trees, a boy appeared, leading a white cow. He had reddish blonde hair and freckles on his nose. He didn’t look much older than she did. He was flat and cardboard and had a very simple smile.

“Hello,” he said.

“Hi.”

“I heard you crying, is everything okay?”

Sylvie noticed that while he looked only a bit older, his voice didn’t have the squeak she had become used to in junior high.

“It’s just, I got lost. And I don’t know where I am. And I seem to be changing.”

“They say people change in the Magical Grove. My name’s Jack, what’s yours?”

“I’m Sylvie.”

Jack held his hand out to her, as if to help her up. When Sylvie reached out, she saw that her hand had flattened further. She gasped and began to pull it back.

“What’s wrong?” asked Jack.

“Nothing, I suppose,” said Sylvie. She smiled; a smile she hadn’t felt for many years.

“I was just heading to market, hoping to sell some fresh milk from my best cow. Would you like to join me.”

“I think that I would.”

In time, and it did take time, Sylvie, always a selfish girl, became more of a giver. She did not live happily ever after, but few do. She found her place in the cardboard world and her friendship with Jack grew. He was a bit of a thief, but she learned to love him anyway.

Photo Credit, Anna Loscotoff, 2022

The alarm sounded, a horrific sound, completely unexpected. The Cardboard Princess had anticipated a kiss; probably by the horrible Prince Bradley of Hastings. But she was a princess and had been raised to be a queen–raised to marry the first prince that told her he loved her.

She looked around for the terrible sound and saw that it came from a little black box next to the bed. She picked it up, turning it over in her hands, hitting it. Finally it stopped making that horrible noise, although she wasn’t exactly sure why or how.

Finally, there was silence and the princess had a moment to think. The bed was warm. She had never known what that actually meant. Her hands felt different. She held them up to her eyes and saw that they were round and soft.

Then she gave a little squeal–there was someone standing in the shadows in the corner. She pulled the sheets back up over her head before peeking out. Whoever it was, they weren’t moving.

She slipped out of bed and found that her feet were bare; she’d only ever felt uncomfortable heels. Her round feet felt the soft texture of the carpet between her toes.

“Who are you?” she asked.

There was no response and no movement.

Her eyes adjusted to the shadows.

“Prince Bradley of Hastings?” she asked in surprise.

He did not respond.

She went and stood right in front of him. She’d found him tedious at best and so she pulled back her arm and punched him, right in the nose. The cardboard cutout fell backward against the wall. The Cardboard Princess, no longer cardboard, began to laugh.

She folded the whole thing in half and put him under her arm, walked out the door, and down the stairs.

Sylvie’s mother sat at the table drinking her coffee and looked up when she saw the girl.

“You’re up early.”

The princess was silent, not knowing who this was or how to respond.

“It’s too early for the silent treatment, Sylvie,” said the woman, a tone of exhaustion in her voice.

“Oh, um, I’m sorry.”

The woman looked back at her in surprise.

“I’m not sure you’ve ever apologized to me, Sylvie. Do you feel okay?”

“Um, I think maybe I just slept weird?”

“What are you doing with the Cardboard Prince? I thought you loved him.”

The girl looked at the folded shape under her arm. “I definitely don’t love him,” the girl said. “And I definitely don’t want to look at his face.”

Sylvie’s mother looked surprised, but then she smiled.

“Getting too old for fairy tales?”

“Something like that” the girl said.

“Tell you what, since you’re actually up when you are supposed to be, if you can go get dressed, I’ll drive you to school and we can pick up doughnuts on our way. I’ll take your prince out to the trash.”

The princess had no idea what doughnuts were. For that matter, she had no idea what school was, or what it meant to drive. But she was willing to learn.

“Thanks… I’m not sure what to call you.”

The woman’s face changed for a moment, and the defensiveness returned.

“Well, I’d like you to call me mom, but clearly I can’t make you.”

“Oh! Mom! I just… honestly, I had a weird night.”

The woman’s face relaxed, and she smiled.

“Go get ready.”

“Okay,… mom.”

The princess left her cardboard prince by the door and ran up the stairs. There were things piled on the floor that looked like clothes and when she opened the doors on the wall, she saw things hanging. She’d never actually had to put on clothes before, and it took a bit to figure out how.

As she came down the stairs, the woman looked up at her and her forehead wrinkled.

“Well that’s an interesting choice,” she said. “I’m not sure that I’ve seen you wear pink in years. I didn’t even know you had that in your closet.”

“Is it okay?” the princess asked, looking down at the pink dress.

“I like it. It gives you color.”

“Thanks… mom.”

Together they walked out of the house and the girl saw the cardboard feet of the cardboard prince sticking out the top of the trash.

They both felt it. Today was the first day of their happily ever after.

Princesses and Princes, Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2011

Notes

On the surface, this one seemed fairly easy until I got to the word “cardboard’. Cardboard??? In a classic fairy tale??? Cardboard was invented in China in the 15th century (seriously, you can read more about it here) and began production in England in 1817. The use of this one words throws off every single aspect of what to write because it automatically forces you into more modern times.

So then I had to consider, how can I use it in the past without throwing the reader out of the story? Or do I want to create a modern fairy tale in my mash up? What I realized is that I needed to make the cardboard an actual character in the story. (This happened last week as well with The Rifle, in that the rifle itself was the important word that stood out and needed to be written about.)

So how do I get my character into this cardboard world, and how do I get her out again? Do I want to get her out again? And if I leave her in the cardboard world, what happens to her mom on this end? What’s the twist? I don’t want her to just wake up and it’s all a dream, that feels like cheating.

How would you have used the word “cardboard” in a mashup of a classic fairytale?

Did you like this story? Please share it with someone you think would enjoy it.

Next Week

Next week’s prompt for the 52 week short story challenge:

4. A missionary in a remote village

Include: orchestra, finch, aim, development, ex, bold, old-fashioned, gut, brassy, sharp

52 Weeks – Week 2 -The Rifle

Art by Anna Loscotoff, 2022. Pen and Ink drawing. Close-up of a boy standing behind a fence. There is a forest behind him and the yard in overgrown in font of him.

Content warning–this story is grittier and the language may be rough. The words for the prompt lead to something darker and it may not be for you. You can read more about my thought process, concerns, and insecurities after the story. If you need more of a warning, skip down past the final full image of the boy in the yard to my notes.

2. Anonymous gifts start arriving at the doorstep

Include: teenager, camouflage, birch, harmony, rifle, screen door, wrinkle, dive, pick-up, sticker

Bridgette’s Tale for Week 2

The Rifle

The door bell rings.

The teenager sits in his grey underwear, scratching his crotch, a bottle of his parent’s vodka nestled in the cushions next to him. He’s staring at the screen, the dumb box, his fingers tapping on the remote in his hands, the figure on the screen shooting.

“Wha thu fuuu.” He wipes the wetness from his lips and stumbles to the door.

“Whoos there?” he calls out, leaning against the dirty paint, years of oily fingerprints have turned the frame black.

There is no response.

“Fuuuu…” the boy grumbles, the world spinning. He looks down at his almost nakedness and starts to laugh.

“Whatev.”

He opens the door fully, hoping to see a look of surprise at his skinny hairless chest and sees… no one.

“Anyone there? ANYONE THERE!”

A few birds take flight from the overgrown weedy land in front of the stoop, but everything else is silent. Beyond the yard there is a fence and beyond the fence there is a pitted dirt road. Beyond that are trees and forest and Frankie feels the weight of someone watching.

He throws up his middle finger and starts to shut the door when he spots a small square box on the step. There is a sticker on top. A sticker with his name. Frankie. He opens the tattered screen door and leans out, picking it up.

Only his name. No return address. No stamps. Just a plain brown box and a plain white sticker. His name is scrawled in permanent marker and the handwriting is familiar. His leg hairs prickle and he looks back up, into the woods, before turning and stumbling back into the house.

Sitting on the couch, the cushions stained and sunken, he takes a swig of the vodka and licks his lips. It burns going down, but he likes the burn. He rips off the top of the box and drops the torn cardboard to the floor. Inside are black binoculars. He picks them up, raising them to his eyes, delighting in how the images on the TV screen are suddenly close, pressing against his vision. He looks around the room and can see a fly sitting on the wall. The kitchen is behind him and he turns to look at the pile of dishes molding in the sink. Little bugs are swarming in the air above the faucet. He can’t make them out even through the binoculars, but he can see them moving. He looks down, fascinated at the idea of looking at the bulge beneath his underwear, but he’s distracted by a note laying folded next to the box.

He unfolds it. It’s torn from a lined notebook, it’s edges rough, dirty fingerprints on the paper.

“Keep watch” it says and the boy looks from it back to the binoculars.

Another knock at the door and this time the teen is curious.

Art by Anna Loscotoff, 2022. Pen and Ink
Art by Anna Loscotoff, 2022. Pen and Ink.

“Hello?” he calls to the door, slowly getting to his feet.

No response.

He peeks out again and this time there is a larger box, fat and square. He looks around, but sees no-one. He looks out into the trees, the white birch bark standing against the shadows of the denser evergreens.

This times he waves to no-one, to the forest, tentatively, as he opens the screen and picks up the cardboard box.

This box is thicker and the top is tacked together with a single strip of clear tape . He peels the tape and folds back the cardboard wings. Inside is a camouflage coat. Under that are camouflage pants. They are slick and waterproof and the boy immediately pull the pants over his dirty feet. They fit his waist perfectly, sitting comfortably at his hips. He puts on the jacket over his bare, hairless chest and buttons it up. It is cold on his skin.

He turns to a cracked mirror with flaking gold in it’s frame. The boy who looks back is dirty and his eyes are hollow. His dark brown hair is too long and tangled and his skin has turned sallow. He has grown tall and gangly in this last year, the shadow of a mustache on his thin upper lip. But the uniform looks good.

Another knock on the door pulls the boy from his reflection. Frankie wants to catch the person now, to know who they are.

He swings the door open wide, not pausing, knowing they can’t get away so quickly.

No one. Only a heavy shoe box with the image of boots printed on the top. He opens them right there on the stoop, glancing up at the trees, listening for some sign of his patron.

Military boots, camouflage beige, leather and nylon, triple stitched. He rotates them in his hands, his jaw slack. Stuffed in the top of the right boot are thick brown socks, ribbed and cushioned. He sits down, there on the threshold, the screen door propped open by his legs. He pulls on the socks. He’s never had new socks. His are always worn through the toes and the heel; hand-me-downs and yard sales and donations from Goodwill. Then he pulls on the boots, his feet feeling snug and soft. He laces them up.

“Thank you,” he mumbles to no-one in particular, to whoever is leaving him these gifts, unaccustomed to the way it feels on his lips.

He steps inside the door but chooses to wait, to hide just on the opposite side of the hollow core; fist holes through the surface showing the cardboard inside.

This time when the knock comes, he is ready. His hand is on the handle, ready to pull it open.

At the first knock, he throws the door open. The knock has not even finished, and yet there is no one standing on the stoop. No one running down the path to the forest. No one on the dirt road. He steps over a long narrow box on the ground and walks to the right of the porch, looking around the corner. He walks to the far left of the porch and looks around that corner. There is no one.

He walks down the steps, through the weeds to the broken fence, looking down the road through the trees. He sees nothing. He turns back to the house and for just a second, he thinks he sees someone looking out at him from the kitchen window. Someone who looks like him.

He runs back up the path, up the spongey stairs, jumping over the long box, pulling open the screen and feeling it tear even further. He pushes open the door, wanting to catch the intruder. There is no one in that main room or kitchen. Attached to the main room is a tiny hallway that leads to 3 doors; a bathroom which is open and the toilet running, no curtain on the shower, no place to hide, his bedroom and his mother’s. His door stands open, trash and dirty clothes lie heaped. His mattress is crooked on the floor. His closet doors were removed long ago; the closet is empty other than a few broken hangers.

Then he turns to the closed door across from his. It’s been months since he opened it, the smell has faded in time. Whoever he saw in his window, if they’ve gone to hide in there, will know what he’s done.

His stomach drops. It was only a matter of time.

He knocks.

“Hey mom, comin’ in.”

He cracks the door, unsure.

There is his mom, lying on the bed.

“Hi mom.” He’s quiet and looks at his feet. “You ain’t seen anyone, right?” He’s trying not to sway.

He doesn’t want to look at her and so he looks around her. No one in the corners. No one standing over her in horror. The closet door is still half off the hinges. The smell isn’t so bad anymore.

The bed is black in his peripheral vision. There are splatters on the wall and he can see a shadow of her humped form.

He turns on his heel and stumbles out the door, shutting it with a click before vomiting down the wall; mostly vodka.

He walks back to the front door, grabbing the bottle from the couch on his way. He drains what is left, perhaps a full quarter of the bottle, and throws it against the wall. It shatters, the glass pieces lay sparkling on the floor.

He remembers the box, the long narrow box, sitting on the front step. He opens the front door and there it sits with a tiny red bow on top; the self-stick kind from Christmas. It is flattened and creased. He bends to pick-up the box, but it is heavy. Surprisingly heavy.

He steps out, look around, still feeling the weight of someone watching, but not knowing where. He picks it up, the balance awkward, heavy at one end. He brings it in, setting it on the couch.

The pleasurable spin of the vodka has begun again, making him want to close his eyes, but the box comes first.

He slides off the top and when he sees what is inside, he gasps in pleasure.

A Winchester .44-40 rifle sits in that box, lever action. He caresses it as he has never been caressed. The steel barrel is old but clean. The wood of the stock is polished black walnut. He lifts it carefully, reverentially, never having seen something so beautiful in his life. On it’s right side is an indented area and he understands that this is where the bullets go.

Bullets. He wants to stick a bullet in that chamber. He wants to pull down on the trigger and hear the explosion. He wants to feel it kick back against his shoulder. He wants to pull the lever and feel the rush of the spent casing as it flies past his ear. There is nothing left in the box.

“Sonofabishhh,” he grunts, just as another single knock sounds on the front door.

When he opens it, he doesn’t look up for a person, he looks directly to the ground for the one treasure he has left. There they sit, a box of .44 caliber bullets.

On the top is a note, in the same corse handwriting, “Use them wisely.”

He grabs them greedily and pulls them inside, cackling drunkenly. He counts them.

20. Use them wisely.

He begins to slide the bullets into the chamber and only gets to number 6 when the shooting starts.

The window in the kitchen explodes inward and Frankie looks up from the gun dumbly and sees the broken glass spread out across the sink. He doesn’t feel afraid, not yet. He sets down the gun on the couch, when the TV behind him seems to explode backward into the wall. A hole punches through the front door blasting inward and he is showered with bits of wood and cardboard. He dives to the floor. Shocked and angry, but not afraid.

The shooting stops and he waits for a moment, spotting the binoculars now disappearing behind the flat cushions. He reaches up and grabs them, remembering the words, “keep watch.”

He crawls across the floor, low and on his forearms with the binoculars in his left hand, the right hand trying to stay away from broken glass. His goal is the door. Time has stopped as he waits for the next bullet.

The door still stands despite the large hole at the top. He reaches up to the handle and twists. It unlatches, but he does not open it. He waits, wondering if whoever is out there has seen the movement. Then he inches the door open, only enough for the lens of the binoculars to peek out sideways. Before looking through the lenses, he uses a single eye to peek between the crack, to see if he can find his foe.

A boy. Another teenager, like him, stands in the middle of the dirt road between the cracked wooden fence and the forest. He’s wearing camouflage and beige boots. He’s holding binoculars up to his eyes. He has a gun, a Winchester .44-40 strapped to his back.

Frankie presses his eyes to the turned binoculars and finds through them the boy who is holding him hostage. The outside boy lowers the binoculars and smiles. The smile is empty, just like his hollow eyes. The boy who looks back is dirty and his dark brown hair is too long and tangled and his skin has turned sallow. He is tall and gangly and the shadow of a mustache stands out on his thin upper lip. His uniform looks good.

The outside boy holds up his hand and moves it minutely, some sort of wave. Then, faster than Frankie could think possible, the boy grabs his gun and points it directly at him, firing.

Art by Anna Loscotoff, January 2022.  Pen and Ink. Drawing of a boy silhouetted in a doorframe, edges of the journal can be seen.
Art by Anna Loscotoff, January 2022. Pen and Ink.

Frankie flings himself backwards just as the door jamb bursts inward. He crawls backward frantically, not noticing the glass and shards of wood that are embedding into his palms. He grabs the Winchester .44-40 and uses the couch as his barricade.

“Hey yuh, Frankie! Whatcha doin’ in there?” The voice calls from outside, closer than the fence.

“Who-er you? And wha-the-fuck do you wan?” Frankie yells back.

“Don’t you recognize me, Frankie? Don’t you recognize your own handwriting?”

Through the haze of the alcohol and his bitter anger, Frankie suddenly realizes why the handwriting was familiar.

Now, finally, he feels afraid.

“Lea-me-ah-lone. LEA-ME. THU-FUCK. ALONE!”

“Are you scared, Frankie?” The voice is closer now, perhaps at the base of the steps. Perhaps on the porch.

“Donchoo come in here!” He is shaking and that pisses him off even more.

The door still hangs on it’s hinges despite the large hole at the top and the jamb missing below the knob. Frankie can see the edges of a shadow beyond the door. He positions the butt plate tightly against his right shoulder, holding the rifle steady with his left hand, his right hand trembling on the trigger.

“We are harmony, Frankie. You and I. Don’t you see it?”

The door slowly begins to creak open.

Frankie pulls the trigger without thinking and the bullet goes high; into the plaster above the door. Dust and plaster fall to the floor.

The boy outside laughs. Frankie wets himself, just a bit, the urine running down his leg. He knows that laugh. He hears it every day inside his own head. He pulls the lever down on the .44-40 and the spent shell flies back over his shoulder.

“I miss’d on purpose, ya-asshole! Don-come any closer.” He hears the shake in his voice.

Again, that laugh.

The door opens, and there the boy stands, framed in the outside light.

Frankie stands from behind the couch, knowing this is his only chance. He can not miss. He will not miss.

He pulls the trigger.

The gun throws itself back into his shoulder. The sound is sharp and quick. The boy in the doorway opens his arms to the bullet, he holds no gun now. He is only a teenager, with dark brown hair and sallow skin, grown too tall.

He is struck in the gut and Frankie sees the shape hunch over into a ball.

“I gotch-you! I gotch-you, you bassard!”

As he says these words, the boy in the doorway looks up. He is smiling. He straightens and Frankie see that boy who is him is whole and unharmed. His eyes are not so hollow after all, they have a gleam.

“I diddin’t miss,” Frankie states. “I diddin’t miss!”

And he was right. He didn’t miss. He feels something wet around his mouth, wiping it with the back of his hand. It is red and bright. He can not feel his legs. He looks down and sees his life puddling on the floor. Puddling the way his mother did when he killed her with his knife. Puddling the way the animals did, when he was curious how they looked on the inside.

Sobriety comes a moment too late as Frankie realizes his stomach is plastered on the wall behind him. The boy in the doorway smiles.

“We are harmony,” he says, “just a little wrinkle in this beautiful world.”

Art by Anna Loscotoff, January 2022.  Pen and Ink.
Art by Anna Loscotoff, January 2022

Notes

Growing up, I was a huge Stephen King fan. I still am. I read my first Stephen King in 4th grade when I snuck “Pet Sematary” off my parent’s book shelf. It terrified me and I loved it, hiding under the sheets with a flashlight. I wanted to be a writer like him.

Recently, I reread his short story collection “Skeleton Crew” and I was struck by his story, “Cain Rose Up” which was originally published in 1968 for Ubris magazine. It is the story of a college student who starts shooting from his dorm room. I kept thinking, I don’t think he could write this story anymore. I think this story would be problematic in today’s world.

Then I got these words for Week 2, and it brought up all these questions about what can I write about? What is allowed? Stephen King never had a content warning, do I? Can I make this as graphic as I’d like to? The answer was no and I held back certain parts of the story because I was afraid of going too far. What does that say about me as a writer that I don’t feel safe telling the story I’m pulled to tell? Does it make me too cautious or does it make me realistic in today’s world?

How free can we really be? When do we cross the line? Can Stephen King be more honest with the words he wants to use because of his reader’s dedication? Yes, I think he can. And he’s earned it. Can I? It’s a great question and I don’t know the answer yet. Maybe I won’t ever.

Notes on Possible Endings

I had a hard time finding the end of this story. I had a hard time figuring out who the shooter was. I had no idea that the mom was dead and he had killed her until I wrote it.

One thought was that we never find out, that the bullets always just come from the forest and it remains a mystery. That felt a bit cheap though, like an easy out.

Then I considered, what if the shooter was the ghosts of all the other children he had tortured in his life. What if they surrounded his house and he had no escape from all the pain he had caused. Then I thought about all the pain he must have as this tortured soul, and that lead to the story you read here.

Once I decided and was headed in this direction, I found another ending that I may try in the future. I was very temped to change but wanted to find where this current narrative would lead me. In the other ending, instead of the gifts he receives here, the gifts are all items carried by soldiers in Vietnam (or WW1 or WW2 or Afghanistan). When the shooting starts, Frankie runs from the back of the house into the forest. As he runs, the environment begins to change, the sounds begin to change. I was considering Vietnam, so we hear the sounds of a helicopter and the air becomes humid. He starts seeing other soldiers through the tropical plants. I liked this possibility, in theory, but it felt too big for a week’s short story. Plus, it brought up the issue I had above… how does it end? This ending felt more Twilight Zone than King.

About the 52 Week Challenge

In case you are stumbling upon this and wondering what the 52 challenge is, please read about it here and here! (First link is mine, second link is my writing comrade Bridgette.)

We are using “Write the Story” by Piccadilly Inc. for our prompts.

Our words for next week…

Week 3 – Mash up two classic fairy tales into one story

Include: fireplace, sword, grove, stroke, underbrush, mourn, seven, friendship, cardboard, giver

Please join us and share! We’d love to read your stories.

52 weeks – Week 1 – Returning Home

52 Weeks – Week 1 – Avalon

A girl in a white dress stands in a ring of stones surrounded by mist. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2022.
  1. A new take on the Arthurian legends

Include: Avalon, crossbow, orphan, list, comrade, corruption, lake, enfold, disgraceful, grass

What is 52 weeks?

Bridgette’s Tale of Week 1 (my writing partner, and collaborator on this project.)

Returning Home

The fog swirls around my feet as I walk along the edge of the lake. There are shadows, swirling in the mist, light that moves and fades.

It has been so many years since I have seen the shores of my home, of Avalon.  I was made priestess here; the blue woad has faded from my brow and I no longer remember how to call the little men on the barge.  I don’t remember how to lift the fog.  

When I came to the water’s edge, I thought, perhaps,I would find the words to lift the veil.  I have only gotten myself further lost among the grasses and the reeds. Perhaps Avalon itself will take pity on me and allow me to slip, unnoticed, into the village of the maidens where I can sleep among them one more time in this life.

I am no longer a maiden.  My hands are swollen and can no longer weave or embroider.  I rub them together, trying to bring some warmth into my red and angry flesh.  My fingers have become tight and brittle, crone hands. I have lost those I loved, made an orphan through my own anger and stubbornness.  

The mist moves before me and I see the shadow of a boy standing at the edge of the lake.  His hair is golden and there is a glint of excitement in his eyes.  He turns to run back into the fog and I call out to him, trying to run after him, but my feet are slowly being suckled by the mud.

“Wait, boy!  I am lost!”

The boy stops.  I can see him just on the edge of vision.  As he turns back to me, I see that he is not a boy at all.  He is tall and strong and wears the antlers of the stag upon his head.

“Arthur,” I whisper.  

Arthur, my brother, grown young again.  Arthur as he came to me when we knew each other not.  When we performed the rites of the ancient people.  When he was made King.  Arthur, the son of my mother who was dedicated in her love to Uther, not her children.  So I was his mother.  His mother until we were each taken to be raised as our position dictated;  me in the land of Avalon as a priestess and Arthur as a foster in a trusted vassal’s home. Arthur was the only child of a contested King, his life lay in a delicate balance, and even he was not told who he was.  He was light and I was dark; him the son of the Pendragon, me the daughter of Roman rule and the old bloodlines.  

His tunic is covered in blood.  Is it that of the great stag or of my maidenhood?  I stagger towards him and when I am within reach, I see that there is a deep gash across his forehead and the blood on his tunic is coming from him.  His stomach has been laid open.

“Why did you kill me, Morgaine?”

“Oh my brother!” I cry and stumble forward, falling at his feet.

“Forgive me,” I say, “Forgive me the sin we committed.”

I look up at my brother but he is no longer the stag, no longer the youth I loved as both brother and partner in the great marriage to the earth.  Now he is King.  His eyes are lined and his hair has gone grey. The great sword of Avalon hangs in the scabbard I fashioned for him long ago.  I worked magic into that scabbard; magic that kept him from ever losing more than a drop of blood. And then I took it from him, took it when he refused to keep his promise.  Took it when he put the Christian god before the Mother, whom he had sworn to protect in all things.  

“How,” I asked, scrambling away from him, cowering.  The mud squished between my fingers through bundles of grass, wrapping around my hands like wool on the wheel. “I took the magic back!  I threw the sword into the lake; gave it back to the lady.”

Arthur pulled the sword from the scabbard and held it to the sky.  I heard the bells of Glastonbury, the Christian bells, coming though the mist.  I was blinded by the sound and when I opened my eyes again, the sword was melting away in the swirling white.  Arther clasped the wound in his side, blood pouring like a fountain between his fingers.  He fell to his knees and reached out to me, his blood mixing with the earth.  

“Why did you kill me, Sister?”

His words fill my head as his human form begins to dissipate, translucent and non-permanent.  My brother, the great King of the land, the King of legend.  The father of my only child was but dew on the grass. 

The silence of the fog surrounds me, deafens me, pressing inward.  I find my feet and stumble, straighten, and continue along the edge of the lake.  I am lost in the swirling silence of the fog, hoping to perhaps hear those bells again—the Christian bells—to know that I  am still of this world; to know that I have not wandered into the world of the fairy as I did so many years ago.  

Something is laying ahead of me, half buried in the mud, peeking out between the rushes, faint in the fog.  It is a crossbow, broken at the lathe, the cord unraveling.  There are muffled sobs echoing in the dense air.

“Who’s there?” I ask.  

The cries go quiet.  There is no response.

I step over the crossbow, tentatively, wondering what the mist is hiding from me.  

The shape appears from the fog; a form huddled on the ground, laying over something large.  A shuddering cry fills the air and I see the shadow shaking.  A man, bent protectively over a giant deer.  I see it’s antlers, a massive stag.  The stag is struggling to breathe but an arrow pierces it’s chest and it’s life blood is puddling around the knees of the figure.  

The man wails, the sound haunting as it seems to come from everywhere at once.  I feel his grief and begin to shake.  I want to give him his peace and turn to walk away.  I want to comfort him and so take no steps at all.  I am afraid to go back to where I have been.  I am afraid to leave the shore and never find my way from the fog. More, I am afraid, terrified, of this man crying over the stag.  I take a single step away and he hears the sound of my feet pulling from the mud.  

“Mother?”

I turn back to look at the man on the ground. My son, my Mordred. 

He turned his face to me, rage written around his eyes and mouth.

“Why didn’t you love me, Mother?”

In that moment, everything else disappears.  There is no fog, no lake, no stag.  There is only me, my son, and his utter hatred. 

Tears run down his face and drip to the stag as it takes it’s last shuttering breath.

My son.  The child I almost died in birthing.  The child I should have given to the fairy folk.  The child I saw as my own corruption, lets out a wail and my heart shatters.

“Why did you make me kill him, Mother? Why did you birth me if my only role was to kill my father?  Why did you refuse to raise me?  Were you so disgraced, Mother?  My comrades trusted me and I betrayed them, because of you.”

I reach out to him, the words stuck in my throat.  I wish I had been able to love him.  Perhaps, if I had, it would have made the difference.  Perhaps I would have had a voice in Arthur’s ear instead of that insipid Guinevere; always speaking of their Jesus and their piety.  How she looked at me.  How she punished Arthur when she learned of our sin. 

Sin!  What is sin?  Was I such the silly child that I could not see how the Goddess had placed me on a path to keep Her in Arthur’s court?  It was not sin, only the Great Marriage.  I did not know Arthur to be my brother then, only that he was the King of the land by the rites old and new.  

“Mordred,” I whisper as he cries over the flesh.  His body swirls in the mist and he is wrapped in a shifting white shroud; he and the stag disappear before me.  

I lower my arm, not knowing if these are the ghosts of Avalon or only the tricks of the mist on my ancient eyes, now cloudy and grey. 

I begin to walk again, my old legs trembling, past what has been my son, now only shadow.  I hear a bird’s call echo from the lake to my right. 

“Morgaine.” 

The voice is lilting, feminine, haunting.  It fills me.  I look for it’s source, but see nothing through the dense white air.  It is etherial and forever.  It brings a memory from my youth, one that I cannot quite grasp.

“Morgaine, have you finally come to the land of the fairy?  Have you come to your home?”

I am overcome with exhaustion and slowly feel my legs give way beneath me, collapsing into the mud.  

“Is that you, Lady?  The Land of Fairy was never my home.  Why should you say it is so?”

“You have always known you are of us, Morgan le Fay.”

“But I am of Avalon as well, and of this earth, while you have gone beyond the mists.”

“Perhaps it is so,” answers the Lady.  “It has been many years since you have come to our land.”

“Long ago, you asked to take my unborn son and when I refused, you told me to cast him out, for he would cause only hurt and harm.  I should have listened to you, but the fates intervened.”  I see a flash of her blue-dyed tunic through the shifting light. 

“Dear Morgaine, do you wish to join us here?  The sun shines on this side of the veil.  And while time does not run backward, you will have no pain.  The well is sweet and you will be treated as a queen.  When your death comes, it will be an easy one.  But it will not come soon, for you know the time in fairy runs long.”

I see her then, before me on the path, as she steps toward me extending her hand.  She is still young and blindingly beautiful.  Her hair is long and dark, her face unlined. 

I think about life with her, life in the land of fairy, life full of pleasures.  I think about my death, how I would simply fade away like winter, the snow of my life to water the fields.  

“No, Lady,” I say.  My voice is cracked and ancient and it hurts my throat to speak.  “My home was never in the Land of Fairy.  I will find my way to Avalon, or I will die in the fog along these shores.  It will be soon.  I know that now.  I do not want to simply wait in your world for it to come.”

She steps forward and touches the spot between my eyes where I once wore the blue sickle. 

“Bless you child, may you find what you are looking for.”

She steps back into the fog, leaving me crumpled and old in the wet mist. 

The cold moisture sinks deeply into my knees; the wet mud saturating the wool of my overdress.  Sleep is calling me and I lay my head on a pillow of reeds, looking up at the swirling white above my head.  I can see light shimmering through the fog and slowly, the shape of the full moon appears, bathing me in it’s silver light.  She calls to me; mother, goddess.

A new voice, grounded and strong, come through the mist.  A voice of my youth, of my soul.  

“Morgaine,” he says, and I see the man that I have loved in this life and the next, Lancelot.  He slips through the mist with assurance and kneels at my side, lifting me into his arms.  He is grey and lined but still beautiful.  He holds me in his arms like a baby.

“You have always been like a tiny bird, Morgaine.”

I lay my head against his chest and hear the living beat of his heart, strong and confident.  

“Will you take me to Avalon,” I say.  My voice is no longer my own, it is the voice of time; of unused memories.  

“I am taking you home,” he says.

He carries me along the bank, the fog beginning to thin.  A large white crane watches us from the edge; there is a splash as a frog leaps into the still water.  Pink light begins to replace the silver light of the moon in the mist.  

I feel stronger now, and when I try to speak, my voice is clearer. 

“I can walk now, Lance.”

“You were the only one to ever call me that.”  

Gently, he sets me on my feet and it is true, I can walk.  My legs feel strong. He keeps his hand in mine and I feel it’s power.  I feel his calluses against the palm of my hand. I feel his warmth moving up my arm.  

We are no longer at the shore, we are climbing.  

I remember.  I remember this place and they day we climbed the Tor.  I remember how I had wanted to give myself to him, give him my maidenhood.  Had he asked, I would have, even though I had sworn myself to the Mother, to wait until it was asked of me for divine purpose.  

If only I had given of myself freely, I would not have been used as a pawn in Lady Vivianne’s game of chess.   I could have ruled next to Arthur as the Lady of the Lake instead of hiding my face in disgrace in that oh-so-Christian court.  The list of my life would have followed a new path. 

My legs are stronger now and Lancelot turns to look at me.  He is once again the boy I remember, his eyes laughing.  My hand in his is no longer knotted and my hair which hangs about my waist is no longer grey and brittle; it shimmers like black silk.  

I meet Lancelot at his side and surpass him, laughing joyously, letting go of his hand as I run up the hill. It is still misty, but I see the predawn light in the east.  

He runs to keep up with me and when we reached the tor, he pulls me down into the grass, pulls me down at his side, and covers my face in his kisses.

This time, I choose to kiss him back with full longing; longing to finally make the choice that had been taken from me so long ago.  He buries his face in my hair and I feel his tears on my forehead.  I feel his body, strong, against mine.  This time, I do not shy away. 

I give of myself freely, opening to him, the merging of the Goddess and the God.  I give myself to the earth, to the mother, to my fate. 

After, enfolded in each other’s arms, we watch the sun as it lingers on the horizon and then begins to rise over the tor. The tattooed snakes of a time long before, wind about his arms, wind about mine, as I have only seen in vision.

It is as if we sit at the edge of time, the edge of existence, looking out over our fates.

“Will we have to do it all again?” he asked.

I smile, kissing him deeply.

“Yes, I suppose we will. Until we get it right.”

Notes

I was working on my story, unsure on what to use as a photo, hoping to get a drawing done, when the fog slowly enveloped the hills, swallowing our home. I ran to my daughter’s room and bribed her to put on this vintage Gunne Sax dress from my college years. The fog was biting and the wind was whipping through her.

Avalon – Avalon, for me, is directly connected to “The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley. It is, and will always be, one of my favorite books. For me, Avalon is a place that centers of the wisdom of the early pagan beliefs. It is woman centered, it is focused on not losing the early religions to the mists, not losing the pagan traditions to the rising tides of Christianity. It is magic, but not in a fairy tale way. It is magic the way the moon is magic, the way fog seems to make things closer yet further, it is intuition and connecting with the inner self, it is maiden, mother, and crone.

Crossbow – War and hunting are what come to mind. To me, the crossbow feels more masculine. It’s not the act of archery, archery has a long history in use by women, but rather how the crossbow was manipulated to make it stronger, faster, and more deadly. It is more of a war machine. I am also influenced by the 2011 film, “We Need to Talk About Kevin” in which the crossbow become an important character of the film.

Orphan – To be alone. To lose everything you love at some point in your life. We often think of children losing their parents, but I think it goes deeper to times when we people have no one to turn to, they’ve lost their support systems.

List – Ordered, numbered, sequence, things we need to remember.

Comrade -Often reflected on as Russian, or fellow soldiers, but also friends and companions, those you have a bond with.

Corruption – Illegal, dishonest, especially in positions of power where the behavior is used to put others at a disadvantage while raising their own interests and giving themselves the benefit.

Lake – A still body of water, a place that is peaceful for me, although tension is under the water in that there are things we can not see or know. Symbolically, it is emotion.

Enfold – To wrap, to surround.

Disgraceful – Something which has brought shame upon someone.

Grass – Growth. I pulled an oracle card just this morning, and the message was growth and the image and word it used was grass. The card and the word seem to be working in my direction around my writing. I love a beautiful field of grass, the tenderness of the growth.

Initial thoughts–The body of Arthur lies beneath the lake, holding on to the sword of the lady. He lies in his chainmail and Morgain finds herself orphaned, wandering the shores of the lake, his ghost in the fog. She is visited by Lancelot, a ghost himself. Perhaps she will enfold him in her arms as she chooses to go to her own death? Enfolded by the fog?

Facts and History of Crossbows

Next Week’s Prompt

Week 2 –

Anonymous gifts start arriving at the doorstep

Include: teenager, camouflage, birch, harmony, rifle, screen door, wrinkle, dive, pick-up, sticker

Prompts from  “Write the Story” by Piccadilly Inc. 

About me…

The 52 Week Writing Challenge

My daughter and myself in a house of cardboard, Little Houses, 2012

Back some 15+ years ago, when my daughter was little, I met another mom at a mother’s support network. We became friends, casually at first, then closer, then many years when we didn’t hear from each other at all. We both believed in magic and mothering and nature and raising our children gently, surrounded by love.

In the last few years, we’ve found each other again. Through the start of the pandemic, we discovered our shared interests in writing and began to cheer each other on. In time, we’ve become writing partners and close friends. We decided this year to take on a challenge; 52 weeks, 52 short stories.

We are using the story prompts from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly Inc. and will be sharing each of our stories on our blogs as well as sharing each other’s work. You can find Bridgette at bridgettetales.com and I will link her version of each story with mine; same prompt that diverges in a wood, both of us beating our way through the branches and forging our own paths.

There are words we must use in our stories, weaving them in as naturally as possible. We agreed that we could change the tense of the word, if needed. I will keep my introductions simple, giving only the prompt, the words, and a link to Bridgette. Any thoughts I have on the words or experiences they bring up will be shared after the story itself.

If this sounds like a fun challenge and you’d like to join, I will post the next week’s prompt at the end of the current week’s challenge.

, Bridgette and I, summer 2021.

Oz – day 15

Day 15 progress, 2021, traveling through Oz.

So the Woodman took his axe and began to chop down small trees to make a raft, and while he was busy at this the Scarecrow found on the river bank a tree full of fine fruit.

L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Thoughts

This chapter is really more of a transition chapter where not a lot happens. It’s the calm before the storm. That honestly made it a lot harder for me to write–I fought my way through this chapter. In the original book, the transition from the Kalidah’s to the Poison Poppies is only half a page. A half a page! I just couldn’t leave it at that. It felt like nothing was explained, building the raft was glossed over, and nothing happened in those few paragraphs other than they prepare to cross the river. But these characters have souls and I wanted to honor that in whatever way I could.

On a personal note, this raw writing took place on November 15th, 2021, day 15 of NaNoWriMo. It is now the beginning of January as I prepare to post this blog. I used the end of November to finish NaNo and was successful in my 50,000 words. I didn’t finish rewriting Oz (and didn’t expect that I would in that time) and I am certainly not up to date on sharing the chapters I did write; there was just too much to tell. December moved quickly, as it so often does, amidst family and holidays and bringing things to a close for the cycle of the year.

I will continue posting the raw writing from NaNo 2021 through the coming months. I hope you will join me as we get to know Dorothy and her friends; one of my favorite chapters is coming up and doesn’t resemble the original story at all. I will be working on finishing the story–Dorothy has been locked in her room in Oz, dressed in green silk, since the end of November. I think she’s waited long enough. Happy 2022.

Day 15 – Coming to the River

Dorothy began to shake as they continued through the forest.  She felt so tired and could hear the echo of the Kalidah’s screams behind her.  She had seen them fall to their deaths; she knew they were dead, and yet their voices rattled through her memory. She had almost lost the Lion and the Woodman at the first divide. She had almost lost all of her friends at the second.  She kept seeing the Kalidah’s as they fell and the tears on the Woodman’s face, wishing that he did not have to kill.  She began to weep quietly as they walked, looking only at the ground.  Her pace slowed amongst the giant dark trees of the forest.

“Dorothy?”

Dorothy opened her eyes and found that she was at the edge of the yellow brick road, the tips of her silver shoes in the dirt, trees just before her eyes. The Scarecrow, the Woodman, and the Lion had all stopped and were staring at her.  Toto sat at her feet looking up at her with devotion.  Dorothy realized that she had been walking half asleep, lost in her visions of the day.

“I’m so tired,” said Dorothy, turning back to her friends.  “I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.”

The Lion laid down upon his haunches.  “Get on my back and I will carry you.”

“No, I can walk!  Really I can.  I don’t want you to have to carry me.”

Lion gave a little growl that was almost a purr. “Get on my back, Dorothy.”

Dorothy relented and climbed upon his back; the Scarecrow and Woodman helping her from each side.  She wrapped her hands into the Lion’s mane and laid forward on her belly.  Feeling safe and warm, she fell fast asleep.

She awoke when the pace of the Lion slowed.  Opening her eyes she saw that the trees had thinned and there were blue skies stretching to the horizon.  There was a large and swift river which roared before them. The yellow brick road traveled down to the river’s edge and disappeared beneath the swirling currents, reappearing at the far side.  

On the other side of the river were open rolling hills covered thickly with deep scarlet flowers.  The brick road on that side was lined with fruit trees; the fruit dripping like jewels in deep sapphire and ruby and gold.

“It’s so beautiful!” said Dorothy, sitting up on the lion’s back. “I can walk now, Lion.”

 The Lion stopped and lay on his haunches and she slid to the ground.  The trees were tall and willowy here and the Woodman and the Scarecrow stood back among them, talking quietly and looking at the river before them. Dorothy watched as the Lion and Toto lapped up water from the river’s edge and she realized how dry her throat was. She carefully made her way to the edge and cupped the water into her mouth, delighted at the cold as it wet her parched throat.

When her thirst was somewhat satisfied, although not completely quenched, Dorothy felt the grumble of hunger coming from her empty belly. She found a grassy spot near the edge and began to snack on the nuts from her pail.  Soon, a gloved hand came to rest on her shoulder and Dorothy looked up into the Scarecrow’s torn face.

“The Woodman can’t cross without rusting,” he said. “How ever will we get across?”

Dorothy realized that she had given no thought to how they would actually cross the river. She stood and turned to look at her companions; the Woodman looked mournfully at the water.

“Do you think that he could ride on your back, Lion?” asked Dorothy.

“Let me see how deep it is,” responded the Lion and began to wade into the water.  A few steps in and they could all see that the water deepened quickly, the current wrapping around his shoulders and pulling at his mane. He seemed to stumble as he turned back to the shore.

“It is possible that I could swim it, but it would pull me downstream some distance.  The water is much faster deep under the surface, even near the edge, and it pulls the river bottom out from under my feet. Anyone on my back would have to hold on tightly, and even then, I am not sure that I could keep them above water.”

Again, they all looked at the river as it tumbled past.

The Scarecrow turned to look at the tall, narrow trees around them, dotting the landscape. If Dorothy hadn’t known that the Scarecrow lacked a brain, she would have been sure that he was contemplating something. Finally the Scarecrow said, “Woodman, can you build us a raft?”

The Woodman looked at the thinning trees around them, many of them were young and narrow.  

“I can cut them down and perhaps make a raft of these, but I will need something to help tie them together. Vines or long grasses that can be braided.”

The Woodman began to chop. Scarecrow walked down the river as the water flowed, looking for anything that might help bind the logs.  Dorothy and Toto walked up the river, seeing what they could find to tie their raft. Lion stayed with the Woodman and carried the logs in his mouth, lining them up side-by-side on the shore. 

Dorothy found beautiful stones and delicate trees, but nothing like the Woodman described.  Toto sniffed and dug and jumped and played, but discovered nothing that would hold the logs together.

By the time she and the little dog returned, she found Scarecrow sitting next to the cut logs, braiding together long vine-like branches that were soft and pliable. The Woodman was at his side, twisting the braids around the logs, weaving the strips in and out. Sitting where she had left her bucket of nuts was a pile of fruit in various shades of purple.  

“Scarecrow!  Did you find these for me?”

“Yes, Dorothy. They are just beyond the curve of the river, and it seemed that you would like something after only eating the dry nuts all day.”

Dorothy took a deep bite and her taste buds prickled as the sweet juice ran down her chin.  She hadn’t realized how hungry she was for something fresh.  She ate three of the round, plump fruit, choosing those that were the deepest colors. They were soft to her touch, neither too hard nor bruised nor squishy.

Lion was laying away from the rest in tall grass, his head upon his paws.  

“Lion,” said Dorothy, “while Woodman finishes the raft, would you like to take Toto to find some food?”

Toto jumped up, having heard his name and ran to the Lion, running in circles around him.  The Lion stretched longly and said, “Thank you, Dorothy.  I believe I smelled deer not far from here.” Then he bounded back into the trees with the little dog at his side.

“What are you doing?” asked Dorothy and came to look over the Woodman’s shoulder.

“Scarecrow found us these branches and stripped them of their leaves. I showed him how to braid them and now I am tying the logs together. ”

Dorothy saw that the branches were very thin and had tiny curved diamond leaves.  Scarecrow had made a pile of the leaves and was twisting the branches together to form long ropes.  

“Where did you find these?” she asked the Scarecrow.

“The tree sat right on the edge of the river, just past the fruit tree. You could see it’s roots stretching out into the water.  The branches curved up to the sky before bending down and hanging like hair.  Under the branches, it was like being in a little house.”

“Is it far from here?” asked Dorothy.

“No,” answered the Scarecrow, pausing for a moment. “It is only a little past the fruit tree.  Would you like to see it?” 

“Yes, when you are finished doing what you are doing, I would.”

Scarecrow continued his rope making and Woodman continued to weave the ropes through the logs. Dorothy lay on her back and watched the clouds pass overhead.  She ate a bit more fruit and daydreamed of crossing the river.  She imagined Oz welcoming her with a hug, his arms wide to her and her friends, happy to grant each of them their wishes.

The sun was low in the sky and the clouds were beginning to take on reds and yellows on the edge of the horizon when Scarecrow told Dorothy that he could show her the tree. The walk was much shorter than she expected and soon they were passing a tree thickly draped in fruit. Just beyond, at a curve ahead in the river, Dorothy saw the silhouette, sitting along the edge of the water. It appeared to be crying, hunched over the river, it’s roots stretching into the water as it’s leaves draped to the ground.  

Scarecrow and Dorothy crawled through the outer branches and underneath was, as Scarecrow described, like a little house.  The side which faced the river protected a calm little shallow, where fish darted amongst the long branches.

Dorothy lay on the ground away from the water and said, “Scarecrow, do you think that we could sleep here tonight?  I think that it would be warmer than out in the open.  What do you think?”

Scarecrow seemed to think for a moment, pausing in his response, and finally he looked down at her and said, “I think that that would be a very good idea.”

They returned to the Woodman to tell them their plan, only a deep purple filled the sky.  The stars had begun to blink and twinkle, and Lion was back with Toto at his side.  Toto ran excitedly up to Dorothy, happy to see her, wagging his tail and telling her all about their adventure in his way of barks and yips.  

The raft lay beautifully fashioned on the ground, tied with the ropes made of the thin branches.  It was large enough to hold even the Lion. 

“I have almost finished,” said the Woodman, “but because it is dark, I will wait until morning.”

“The tree that Scarecrow found seems like a good place to sleep, ” said Dorothy.  “It is covered and it seems warmer under the branches.  Would that be okay with all of you?  It’s not far from here.” Dorothy’s voice was hopeful.

They left the raft on the ground, for it was far too heavy to carry, and walked together to the weeping tree. 

Under it’s branches, the Lion laid down and Dorothy cuddled close into his thick mane.  Toto cuddled into her chest and fell fast asleep.  The Woodman stood guard outside of the tree with his axe held ready.  Scarecrow sat next to Woodman and watched the river flow, listening for any sounds that might mean danger.  

The night passed and Dorothy began to feel like she was home.