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. 

Oz – Day 14

“They are monstrous beasts with bodies like bears and heads like tigers,” replied the Lion; “and with claws so long and sharp that they could tear me in two as easily as I could kill Toto.”

L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Thoughts and Questions

This part of the chapter discusses a creature called the Kalidah; part bear, part tiger. On day 7, I created a type of bird that isn’t in the original book and I called them “Keliemas”. I named it this by merging two prehistoric predatory birds, the Kelenken and the Seriemas (Kel-iemas). Was it synchronicity that these two animal names are so close or was the Kalidah name already bouncing around in my head? I did research that day into ancient birds, it felt authentic.

I wonder if, at the time, Baum didn’t have a lot of mythical creature experience to pull from. The Kalidah’s in the original manuscript feels almost introductory to the idea of a mythical hybrid creature. While they may have been scary at the turn of the century, how can I make them scarier? Also, the name “Kalidah” is a known aspect of Oz, and one thing I committed to is keeping the authenticity of the book. So perhaps I will go back and change the name of the birds? I considered creating new creatures in the place of the Kalidah, perhaps the combo of a Kalidah and a Tarasque? Kalasque (Kal-asque)? (A Tarasque has the head of a lion, body of an ox, a turtleshell, 6 bear legs, and the scaled tail of a scorpion.) But when I looked up Kalidah images, so many wonderful things come up through history, that I just don’t feel I can change it and only need to make it more dramatic.

These are all thoughts for the next draft, as the first draft is really just about discovering the story.

Day 14 – The Kalidahs

The lion laid on his side panting.  They did not want to rush him, and having come so close to losing both the Lion and the Woodman in that moment, Dorothy felt it best that they all rest.

The forest on this side of the chasm was thicker.  The trees appeared older and the branches looked like claws, stretching down to the yellow brick road.  Dorothy sat with her back to a tree looking over the divide and began to snack on the nuts that Scarecrow had collected.  Toto curled up next to Dorothy and took a little nap. Soon his feet were twitching and he made little yipping noises.  The Woodman leaned against a tree, his eyes closed.  Scarecrow hummed a tune quietly as he watched over the others.

When the Lion’s breathing finally slowed, he got to his feet and stretched.  

“Are we ready?” he asked in his low growl.

Toto woke at the Lion’s voice and imitated the Lion’s stretch. He wagged his tail and began down the road into the deep darkness of the forest.  The Lion followed the little dog while the Scarecrow helped Dorothy to her feet.  She linked her arm on one side with Scarecrow and on the other with the Woodman and together they followed the Lion.

The thick trees above them blotted out the daylight and the branches seemed tangled and bare under a high dark canopy.  They began to hear sounds deep in the forest, sounds of trees echoing as they fell and crashed.  The sounds of snarls and growls.  Dorothy pulled her two companions closer and they began to follow the lion more closely.  Toto stopped running ahead and walked only a step in front of the great Lion’s legs. 

“This is the land of the Kalidahs,” said the Lion in a whisper.  

“What are they,” asked Dorothy.

“They are terrible creatures,” he said and a shiver went through his body.  “They have long claws that are so sharp, they can cut even though the Woodman’s body.  And their teeth are stronger than mine.  They will kill me if they find me in their forest.  They will kill all of us.”

“Perhaps we should move more quickly?” asked Dorothy.

“I will move behind you all,” said the Lion. “Then I will remember that you are here if I get too terribly afraid. I don’t want to run away and forget.”

Toto moved close in front of Dorothy.  Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Woodman, began to walk more quickly.  Behind them walked the Lion, watching all sides and listening for sounds that meant the Kalidah were close.  

Up ahead, they saw a break in the trees and light filtering into the dark forest.  Once again they found themselves at a deep divide. The trees went right to the edge, their roots exposed in the walls of the cliff. It was a much further distance than the last chasm and Lion had almost not made that final leap.

“Do you want to try to make the jump, Lion?” asked Dorothy.

“I do not think I can make the jump alone, and I know that I can not make it with each of you on my back.”

They all stood and stared at the space between where they were and where they needed to be; the yellow brick road trailing off past the cliff and between the trees ahead.  

They heard a loud yowl come from the forest, answered by a deep and throaty growl. They turned to look at each other.  The scarecrow began to shake.

“We need to figure something out quickly,” said Dorothy.  “I think the Kalidahs will know we are here very soon, if they don’t already.”

Again they were silent and still, trying to figure out the puzzle of crossing the divide.

Scarecrow began to scratch his head, “I wonder…” he said quietly. They all watched as he walked to a tree which was set back several feet from the edge. No other trees stood in front of it.

“What do you wonder?” asked Dorothy.

“Woodman, when you chop down a tree, can you make it fall in any direction you want?” asked Scarecrow.

“Yes,” said the Woodman, and they all watched as he moved to the opposite side of the tree and then began to walk around it.

“Do you think,” said the Scarecrow, “that you could make it fall over the gorge?”

“Scarecrow!  That is a wonderful idea!” exclaimed Dorothy.

The Lion looked from Dorothy to the Scarecrow and then to the Woodman.  “I do not understand how the tree falling will help us?”

“If the Woodman can make the tree fall, it will make a bridge for us to cross; it will stretch from this side to the other.  Do you think that you can cross on the log Lion?” asked Dorothy.

“I am willing to try! If I did not know there was only straw in your head, I would think that you had brains!” he said to the Scarecrow.

The Woodman began to chop the side facing the gorge.  While the tree was quite thick, he worked quickly and the wood rapidly chipped away.  There was a cracking sound as the tree started to lean.  With a final chop, the Woodman stepped back and they all watched the tree fall, it’s top easily spanning the distance. A great cloud of dust rose from the other side.

“Quickly, Toto!  You’re first!” said Dorothy and Toto ran easily across the wide bridge.  

There was a low growling sound coming from the forest behind them.

“Quickly Dorothy,” said the Lion.  “They have seen us.  I will go last and keep them away as long as I can.”

The log was quite wide for Dorothy to walk on, but the curve where she walked and the wrinkled bark made her feel unsteady.  She balanced with her arms sticking straight out and focused only on Toto standing at the other side.  He stood growling and barking, his eyes focused on something behind her.

There was the sound of a wild scream from the forest behind them, but she did not turn to look.  She heard the lion begin to growl, a low tremble that seemed to shake the log itself.  Finally reaching the other side, she leapt from the log and scooped Toto into her arms.  Turning, she saw that the Woodman was right behind her, using his axe like a cane.  Behind him stood the Scarecrow, shaking , crawling on his hands and knees.

The Woodman stepped from the end of the log so that only Scarecrow was left in the middle.

“Look at me, Scarecrow,” Dorothy said and the Scarecrow’s eye’s snapped up and met hers.  “You can do this, just move slowly and keep looking at me.”  The Scarecrow did move slowly, but his shaking slowed and he looked more confident. 

Beyond the end of the log, the Lion paced back and forth, never taking his eyes from the two shadows approaching in the darkness of the old forest. He continued to growl. 

The Scarecrow finally made it to the end of the log and fell to the ground, scooting back, away from the break in the earth.

“We are all across Lion!  You must come now!” called Dorothy.

“I can not turn my back on them,” the Lion roared.  “They will kill me if I do!” He continued to pace.

Dorothy could see glowing in the darkness of two sets of green eyes as they moved closer to Lion.  

“The log is just behind you Lion, do you think that you can walk backward over it?” yelled Dorothy.

The Lion did not take his eyes from the approaching creatures, he turned to face them head on.  Then Dorothy saw that he took a step back, his hind foot feeling for the tree.  Once his foot was on it, Dorothy saw the claws of his back foot extend deeply into the bark.

The deep shadows of the Kalidah’s moved from the dark of the forest and Dorothy could see that their eyes were set in the face of what looked to be a giant cat.  Their faces were striped black and orange and they had great white whiskers that twisted and turned as their eyes followed Lion’s movement. Dorothy saw Lion put his second foot on the log behind him. 

The bodies of the Kalidahs emerged from the forest. The one on the right was smaller than the other but even still stood several heads taller than Lion

They had smalll, alert, rounded ears on the tops of their heads. Their noses were broad like the lions, but they had no mane and their stripes extended down their face and into a coarse bushy hair that hung from the rest of their bodies. 

“You are doing it!” yelled Dorothy as the Lion continued to move backward, both back feet digging into the tree.  He was not completely on the log when the Kalidah on the right let out scream and the other began to hunch, as if it were preparing to pounce. The Lion extended his strong front paw and swung at the creatures, snarling as he did.

The larger of the Kalidahs moved back a step and began to pace, watching the Lion.  Their great burly bodies did not match their catlike heads.  Their chests were broad and their legs were heavily muscled.  Their bellies were full and round and heavy. Their deep brown hair hung off of them in a shag and stood at attention along their spine.  

The Woodman whispered, “When Lion makes it here, they will simply follow him over and kill us all.”

Dorothy saw that he was right; they could not outrun these creatures, and Lion could not fight them off forever. 

Lion was now almost halfway over, walking backward, watching the Kalidahs and snarling every time they began to step upon the tree trunk.  They continues to hiss and growl, but they did not seem to want to fight on the log itself. They watched Lion closely and paced about the edge.  

Beyond their heavily muscled bodies and dark wired fur, orange and black stripes seemed to grow from their haunches and extended onto a long, feline tail.  Their tails swished back and forth in rapid succession.  It was not the joyful wag of Toto, but an irritated focus in it’s movement. 

The Lion was closer now, his back legs only a few steps from Dorothy.

As one of Lion’s feet settled onto solid ground, the larger Kalidah stepped onto the log.  Dorothy saw it’s razor sharp claws reflect the light as they extended into the wood.

Dorothy heard Lion speak.  “You must all to run into the forest.  I will fight them for as long as I can, but you must do what you can to get away.”

“We won’t leave you Lion,” said Dorothy.

“Then we will all die,” answered the Lion.

As Lion’s second foot stepped on land, Scarecrow suddenly exclaimed, “Woodman!  When Lion is off, you must chop the branch so that this end falls into the ravine.”

“But that will kill them!” exclaimed the Woodman.

“Then they will kill us,” growled the Lion, as he finally stepped completely from the log.

The second Kalidah had begun to cross and the first was almost half way, growing and snarling.

The Woodman began to chop.  He chopped just beyond where the log met the earth.  He chopped frantically and without break.

The Kalidahs moved closer, their eyes focused intently on the Woodman.

There was the sound of wood splintering and just as the log began to break, the second Kalidah crouched as if to jump.

The closest of the beasts clung desperately to the log as it fell, tumbling over and over–a yowl of outrage and anger as it crashed to the rocks below.  The second of the beasts, the smaller of the two, jumped just as the tree broke and it seemed to fly at Dorothy from across the divide.  The distance was too far and, while it reached it’s long claws to the edge, it missed and followed it’s companion to it’s death.

They all stood staring into the canyon for a long time.  When Dorothy finally looked up, she saw that the Woodman’s face was frozen in rusty tears.  She asked Scarecrow for the oil can, and together they rubbed the rust away.

“I didn’t want to kill them,” said the Woodman, when he could finally speak again.

“You saved our lives,” said Dorothy.

“I wish that I could save you without hurting anyone else.”  The Woodman hung his head and they all continued along the yellow brick road. 

Curiosity Research

How to Fell a Tree

List of Hybrid Creatures in Folklore

Mythical Creatures: 15 Of The Strangest ‘Hybrids’ From Around The World

Deviant Art – Kalidahs

All the Chapters so far


NaNoWriMo Goals 2021

Day 1 – How Uncle Henry and Aunt Em find Dorothy

Day 2 – The tornado

Day 3 – Arriving in Munchkinland

Day 4 – The Munchkins and the good witch of the North

Day 5 – The Shoes and preparing for a journey

Day 6 – The Yellow Brick Road

Day 7 – Boq and the Birds

Day 8 – Helping the Scarecrow Down

Day 9 – Scarecrow’s Story

Day 10 – Meeting the Tin Woodman

Day 11 – How the Woodman became Tin

Day 12 – Meeting the Cowardly Lion

Day 13 – The First Ravine

NaNoWriMo 2021

Writing set up, inspiration, computer, note pad

Today is the day. 

Every year, writers from around the world commit to writing 50,000 words during the month of November.  That averages out to approximately 1,667 words a day.  Every single day.  For a whole month.  The goal is a “novel”.  The NaNoWriMo website states “We define a novel as ‘a lengthy work of fiction.’ Beyond that, we let you decide whether what you’re writing falls under the heading of “novel.” In short: If you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel, too.”

NaNoWriMo doesn’t police you though.  You “win” by committing to yourself, by committing to the process of writing.  They aren’t reading your words, deciding if it’s “novel-y” enough.  Everyone can win.  

Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo

Last year’s NaNoWriMo was really hard for me.  I finished, but it was a push.  I felt lost and not ready for the story I was working on.  I succeeded in the 50,000 words, but much of it was backstory and world building.  This year, I’m looking at NaNo as a practice and an opportunity to show what raw writing looks like.  Good, bad, and ugly.

Earlier this year, my small online bookclub read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.  In his introduction, written in 1900, he talks of lore, legend, and fairy tale. He believes that the tales of Grimm and Andersen used “horrible and blood-curdling incident… to point a fearsome moral to each tale.”  He stated that because the education of 1900 included morality, he “seek[s] only entertainment… and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.”  He concluded that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz “aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-ache and nightmares are left out.”

This was my first time reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and was I struck by his sentiment of a book without nightmares.  And then I started reading.  This book is full of nightmares!  A yellow wild cat decapitated to save the life of a mouse.  Political manipulation. The subjects sprinkled through the pages are often dark and frightening.

We discussed this in our bookclub, the horrors woven through the book.  What was life like in 1900 that these chapters were childhood enjoyment? What if it could be darker, scarier?  What if Stephen King and L. Frank Baum collaborated?  What would that story look like?

That is my goal for NaNoWriMo this year.  To take L. Frank Baum’s masterpiece and make it scarier, darker. I have no idea where this is going to go.  I have nothing planned.  My outline is a classic book of public domain, one that is familiar to the world. Writing is about playing, seeing where a story may lead you.  I want to see what happens when I dive into the world of Oz and let it direct me. 

Working title, The Dreadful Wizard of Oz

I want to invite you to join me.  As I finish each chapter, I will post the raw writing here.  It won’t be pretty.  I won’t be spending time editing my grammar. There will be holes in the plot. I will introduce things in chapter one and totally forget to take it anywhere later on. I have no idea if I can even write horror?  Mostly, it will a tribute to a famous work of art, a bit of fan fiction, and a writing challenge for me.

Day 1 – How Uncle Henry and Aunt Em find Dorothy

Day 2 – The tornado

Day 3 – Arriving in Munchkinland

Day 4 – The Munchkins and the good witch of the North

Day 5 – The Shoes and preparing for a journey

Day 6 – The Yellow Brick Road

Day 7 – Boq and the Birds

Day 8 – Helping the Scarecrow Down

Day 9 – Scarecrow’s Story

Day 10 – Meeting the Tin Woodman

Day 11 – How the Woodman became Tin

Day 12 – Meeting the Cowardly Lion

Day 13 – The First Ravine

Day 14 – The Kalidahs

What does it mean to “win” NaNoWriMo?

Everyone has the opportunity to win.  

First, you get badges on the site as you upload your ongoing word count.  Last year, my first year officially trying NaNo, I didn’t realize there were badges; smaller goals to keep you focused.  There was a first day badge, for just showing up.  I didn’t show up until about day three and I missed it.  While it’s a digital badge, there is a certain excitement in trying to get them all.  There are badges for updating your progress, updating a certain number of days in a row, your first 1,667 words.  A total of 16 badges in all, with the final badge awarded for your 50,000 words.  

Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo.

Along with a wonderful feeling of accomplishment, NaNo is sponsored by some amazing writing groups and programs.  You have access to discounted tools just by participating.  You receive a certificate of completion.  There are also some winner bonus offers if you complete your 50,000 words.

More importantly, NaNo provides you a community,  There are online forums, live meet-ups in different regions, you can connect with a buddy to help keep your focus.  I am thankful to have a couple of NaNo buddies to check in with.  Last year, I absolutely would not have finished without my friend Bridgette.  Her dedication inspired my dedication and kept me moving. 

Ultimately for me, NaNo is about developing the habits of a writer.  That is my win.  

You can sign up here.  It’s not too late.  There is no age limit.  NaNoWriMo and Camp NaNoWriMo (during the summer) are open to ages 13 and up.  NaNo also offers their Young Writers Program which allows writers under the age of 18 to set their writing goals.  It also offers smaller writing challenges though out the year.  

I look forward to having you join me on this journey.  Let me know if you’re writing this year in the comment and anything you want to share about your experience with NaNo.

Let’s get writing!

Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo
Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo

Links

Welcome to NaNoWriMo

How do you win NaNoWriMo?

NaNoWriMo’s Young Writer Program

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

More about Me

Sweet 16

The birth – Part Two.

We waited.

It was the first week of October. I was around 37.5 weeks along in my pregnancy.  I had already been to the hospital, been told I was in labor, and that it wouldn’t be long.  As medication stopped my vomiting, my contractions slowed.  I never dilated past 1 centemeter and was sent home to wait. 

Over the next week, we walked along the Sacramento River.  We ate out.  We rented one of those covered bikes where you sit side by side and ride.  I had so much extra water in my body at this point, my skin would turn bright red and itch unbearably.  One day we went to PF Chang’s downtown and a bee crawled through the hole in my crocks. (Crocks were literally the only thing my giant, swollen feet could fit into.)  It stung me right on the tip of my toe.  (This was my second bee sting during my pregnancy and a part of me wants to think there is some sort of symbolism to it, although I haven’t figured out what. I haven’t been stung in the 16 years since.)  

The second week of October, I was back to my weekly appointments on base.  The doctor who had worked with us through our fertility issues basically said, “Hey, I have nothing going on on Friday.  Why don’t you come in and we’ll induce you!”  Me, knowing absolutely nothing about risk factors, anxious to meet our baby, and tired of being pregnant was like, “Sure, that seems like a great idea!”  He explained they would use a pill, Misoprostol, which would be put against the cervix.  He thought it would help me along.  I would be approximately 39 weeks. 

Gratefully, the universe had other plans.  The doctor called me Thursday, apologizing.  The base was having an air show on Friday (the 14th) and they weren’t doing any non-emergency procedures.  This baby would come when she was ready, and I think had we induced we would have had a very different experience.  While the information is mixed, there is generally the  opinion that induction can increase your chance of C-section. I didn’t want a C-section.  I really wanted to have her as naturally as possible.  (And yet, and yet, I thought this would all happen magically and my body would know exactly what to do.)

The third week of October, around 4 a.m. on October 17th, I woke to contractions.  These weren’t at all like those 2 weeks earlier. Thankfully, no vomiting with each squeeze.  This was steady and consistent.  We lived an hour from base and I kept thinking about the mom who can’t get to the hospital in time.  The mom who is birthing on the side of a road or in their passenger seat as the husband drives.  I was terrified I would be one of those which really didn’t help my anxiety. The hospital told us to wait until four minutes apart, but would that be enough time for the hour drive?  What if there was traffic on the freeway?  (This was Sacramento, there was always traffic on the freeway.)  I left my husband to sleep and went downstairs.  Madonna’s “Truth or Dare” was playing on TV and I used it to pass the time, recording minutes, walking, debating on when to wake up my sleeping husband, watching Madonna be Madonna.

I let him sleep and somewhere around 8:30, with my contractions coming closer, I woke him.  We packed and headed on our hour drive.  We had missed morning traffic and made it to base.  I was ready.  So ready.  My contractions were around 4 minutes apart.  We headed upstairs for them to check my cervix… 2 centimeters.  

What did they mean they wouldn’t keep me at 2 centimeters?  I just drove an hour to get here.  My contractions were 4 minutes apart.  I was NOT driving an hour home just so that I could drive an hour back.  But they wouldn’t let us stay.  They made us leave.

I sat in the car with Fred and started to cry.  Hysterical crying. The pain at this point was intense.  I couldn’t stand during contractions.  I couldn’t talk or walk during contractions.  And with my emotions came the vomiting.  It’s kind of my thing; get stressed, throw up.  Fred started to drive out of the parking lot with me crying.  He fully intended on driving us all the way home.  I told him I wasn’t leaving.  I was sitting in that parking lot until they let me in.  At this point, I was doubling over with each contraction. I was vomiting. Anxiety and fear were my companions.

Fred parked the car and up we went, back to labor and delivery.  In the time I spent crying in the car, I had gone from 2 centimeters to “almost” 4.  Despite their rules on only admitting at 4 centimeters, they let me stay.  Probably something to do with my propensity for throwing up.  

Art by Anna Loscotoff, 2008

They didn’t even ask if I wanted an epidural.  I guess my pain levels screamed “get this woman the anesthesiologist!” They got me checked in, and within minutes, the anesthesiologist was at the door.  They checked my spine, immediately noted the slight twist, and unlike every other spinal tap I’ve had, they easily got the epidural in place.  It was like a wave of peace floated down over my body.  The vomiting stopped.  The pain stopped.  I could speak and breath.  What I couldn’t do was walk.  At this point I was confined to a bed, but my body could finally rest.  

I think I was lucky on my epidural.  I could still feel my legs, nothing was numb.  I could still feel every single contraction, but there wasn’t pain associated with the epidural, just squeezing and pressure.  Checking my cervix, however, was still tortuously painful.  

At 7 centimenters, my labor began to slow.  Apparently this is a thing with getting an epidural too early, it can cause issues with the progression of labor.  And as I know now, one intervention almost always leads to another intervention which then leads to another.  My first intervention was the epidural.  My second intervention was their need to give me Pitocin to get my labor moving again.  But labor with Pitocin is stronger, the contractions are harder and last longer.  The stress on the baby increases as the contractions are medically strengthened.  Suddenly, I’m starting to hear comments about stress on our baby and the possibility of C-section.  They are telling me she needs to come soon, as if I’m somehow not birthing fast enough? As the hours had passed, the sensation changed.  The overwhelming pain in the upper part of the uterus was numbed by the epidural, but the sensation moved lower and lower until the contractions became sharply vaginal, perhaps pain within the cervix itself.  

We had arrived at the hospital that morning around 10 a.m.  At midnight, as the 17th turned to the 18th, they finally wanted me to start pushing.  “Am I at 10 centemeters?” I asked.  “No,” the nurse responded.  “You’re about 9.5, but the doctor wants you to start pushing.”  Wait, don’t you push at 10 centimeters?  Another thing I have come to learn is that the rate of C-sections increase as doctors come to the end of their shifts, and midnight was the end of his. So he wanted me to start pushing, regardless of what my body was ready to do. 

Laying on my back, our baby was also still really high.  She hadn’t dropped the way one would expect.  And so, with every push, you could see my belly lower, and on every break, she would move back up into position. The nurses commented that I didn’t seem to be making much progress and she seemed really high.  This is where laying on my back probably didn’t make too much sense.  Gravity would have been my friend.  A birthing chair, walking, squatting, these all would have helped.  But I lay on my back, pushing with each contraction, my energy fading.  My husband held my left leg, but no one held my right.  I had to hold my right which felt really lopsided and horribly exhausting.  Isn’t it enough to push?  Do I also have to hold my right leg continually up by my ear?

The first photo, October 2005

Some people might say labor feels like it lasts forever.  I started pushing at midnight, my contractions were right on top of each other due to the Pitocin, one on top of another on top of another.  My nurse monitored me the whole time, talking me through every moment.  Fred holding my left leg, me holding my right.  Finally, after 2 hours and 10 minutes of pushing, she was born.  (The male doctor literally walked in for the last 2 minutes and caught her, had Fred cut the cord, and the doctor walked out.)  I don’t know if you remember me saying that I first suspected I was pregnant on my birthday?  February 10th, 2-10, 2:10, the time of my daughter’s birth.  She was always going to be born at this time.  It didn’t matter if that doctor started me pushing at 2am, 2:10 is when she had decided.  While I certainly never questioned that she was my baby, that somehow cemented the idea that she was my daughter, the one we had been waiting for.   She was born on a full moon, and if you go back to the day I was born, so was I.  

First time holding my baby, trying to nurse. October, 2005.

Through all the pushing, she had passed meconium (the first bowl movement) and so they rushed her to another table to vacuum her mouth and nose.  Meconium, if inhaled, can lead to lung problems and even death in newborns.  She was strong, healthy, and had a beautiful wail of rebellion being pushed into this world.  7 lbs, 5 oz.  19 inches long.  A birthmark by her left eye.  Thick, black hair.  They cleaned her up and gave her to me, and almost immediately she tried to nurse.  So that one thing I actually researched and planned, it happened naturally. 

Sleeping at the military hospital, October 2005.

A few notes on our experience… Despite being 7 lbs, 5oz, the military hospital seemed to think she was heavier than she should be and were concerned about diabetes, pricking her foot to check her sugar.  I think maybe this was just their go-to to draw blood.  In the United States, the average birth weight is exactly 7.5 with normal being in-between 5.5 and 10 lbs and boys often being a bit bigger.  Because of the meconium and their concern on her weight, we had to stay an extra night, which was fine, she stayed with us in the room.  Within 24 hours, my milk was already changing from colostrum to mature milk.  Normal is usually 2-5 days.  Fred, after 2 weeks of waiting, had to go in to work on the 18th, which is why we have photos of him asleep in his flight suit.  As for me, despite the labor and hours of pushing, I wasn’t tired.  I must have been riding an adrenaline high for a few days.  All I could do was look at our beautiful daughter, mesmerized by this human I had been waiting to meet.

It’s 16 years later.  I had a daughter.  The one I envisioned and the only child I would ever bring to term.  She’s amazing.  And terrifying.  And smart, and honest, and complicated, and loving, and funny, and sarcastic.  I love seeing her everyday and know as she prepares for her life, the one where I don’t get to see her everyday, that I’m going to miss her desperately.  At the same time, I’m so excited for the life she gets to have, whatever direction it takes her.  One of the things that I was told when she was little, something I still hold on to is, “It’s all a phase.  The bad stuff, the good stuff.  It’s all a phase.  Know that the bad stuff won’t last forever, but the good stuff won’t either.  Appreciate it all.”

Happy Sweet 16. October 2021.

I have a passion for birth stories. I love hearing the experience that other women have gone through.  I think it’s important that we support each other through this process, whether it is natural birth, C-section, home birth, hospital birth, birth centers, the grief of miscarriages, the experience of abortion, menopause, hysterectomies, first periods, and every other aspect of our reproductive rights and experiences. I wish to add the stories of other women to honor the collective experience and help us to learn from and honor each other.  

Are you interested in telling your birth story?  Are you interested in sharing the experiences you have around reproduction, from your first period to menopause and everything in-between?  Please contact me at anna@loscotoff.com and title “Birth Stories” in the subject line.  I will happily share your biography through the blog and whatever you happen to be working on.

Links

Part One of my Birth Story

More about me

The Business of Being Born

La Leche League International – Breastfeeding Support

10 Ways First-Time Moms Can Avoid a C-Section Delivery

Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

Birth Stories

Drawing by Anna Loscotoff, 2008

Sweet 16 – part one

I always saw myself having a daughter.  When I was in high school, I could see her in my imagination standing on a hill. Her back was turned to me and I could see her long dark hair.  When the time finally came in my life that I was ready to be a mom, it wasn’t as easy as it was for so many others.  There was a lot of testing, a lot of procedures, but nothing magically allowed an answer as to why conception was so difficult.  I would cry when I saw other women with their little girls and my husband would tell me, “you’ll have your little girl someday.” Eventually we decided to try a round of Clomid, a medication that tells your body to ovulate.  In today’s medical world, there are oral prescriptions.  For me, it was shots into my belly.  We only did the one month.  It felt too artificial for me, forced and scheduled.  Something about the process allowed me to take a step back, to be okay with the fact that this little girl was not ready to come into our lives. 

That month after Clomid (which wasn’t successful), I was acting in a children’s theater production near Sacramento.  I’m sure you can imagine the type; get dressed in a very silly animal costume, meet waves of buses as they drop off hundreds of children which fill the auditorium.  Ironically, I played the mama bird, sitting on my giant egg, singing to her, waiting for my baby to hatch. There were cages and kidnappings and silly dance numbers. I’m not sure I even saw the connection between the role I was playing and my own life.  If I did, I wasn’t affected by it.  The play had become a distraction.  

Me as “Mama Bird” in a Sacramento Children’s Theater. January, 2005.

On our final day of acting during the first week of February, the woman playing my baby bird brought in a chicken salad.  The smell of it was offensive, the look of it made me want to gag, everything about the chicken had my system on high alert.  My cycle wasn’t late, and I didn’t see it as some sort of clue that our lives were about to change.  On my birthday, February 10th,  my husband took me for a motorcycle ride.  I felt myself cramping, different cramping than I was used to, and that was my first thought that maybe, possibly, could it be?  The repulsion of chicken hadn’t gone away, was it a possible sign?  I didn’t want to get my hopes up and guessed it might only be my cycle which was due right around that time.  So I waited a few more days.  Finally on the morning of Valentine’s Day I decided to take the test.  For the first time ever, it was positive.  I gave my husband a Valentine’s Day Card which announced the news that I was finally, after so many tears, pregnant.  

Our baby’s right foot. 2005.

Anyone wanting a pregnancy knows the anxiety and fear that accompany the process.  Do you tell people when the risk of miscarriage is so high?  Do you choose to keep it a secret, knowing you’ll be alone through the process if something goes wrong?  I chose to tell. I knew that if something happened to this pregnancy, I would need the support of my family and friends to help me move through the grief. 

Nothing bad happened.  I told everyone she would be a she. I had seen her standing on that hill for so long, I just couldn’t imagine a boy.  My husband liked to tease me though, telling me he was pretty certain we were having a boy.  Even after the 22 week ultrasound, in which they said “most likely a girl, but not a perfect view”, he continued to sew doubt.  (He said after she was born that he knew she was going to be a girl, he though I knew he was joking.  I didn’t.)

Before I met my husband, I had an amazing 140 lb Rottweiler.  That dog was my everything.  Sweet and loving, basically my big baby.  People would cross the street away from us when they saw me walking him.  I had photo processing people ask if he was a bear because he looked so massive in pictures of him at a distance.  He was just so much love, even if he came is a scary looking package.  But I worried about a newborn baby and a 140 lb dog.  How would his life change and would we need to worry about our babies safety?  Would there be gates and separation? At about 4 months into my pregnancy, we noticed his right knee was swollen.  It was a rapidly growing cancer.  He needed his leg amputated along with chemotherapy.  His left leg and hip, however, were arthritic and he often struggled to move from sitting to standing with both legs.  We knew that amputation wasn’t the right choice for him.  We chose to give him as much love as was possible in his time left.  We promised to give him a humane death when the pain became too much.  But what is too much in a dog?  They hide their pain so well.  He walked me through much of my pregnancy, quite literally along the Sacramento River, past Old Town and under the I street bridge.

My constant companion. 2000.

About 6 weeks before I was due, he woke us at 2 a.m. in terrible pain.  For the first time in his life, he snapped at my husband.  He bit him. Not hard enough to break the skin, but hard enough to understand how horrible this was for him. We loaded him into our car for his last ride.  Even now, the grief of that night weighs on me.  I felt like we waited too long despite the fact that we were watching closely for any and every sign.  We think the tumor finally grew to the point that it ruptured his knee while he slept.  I sat on the floor of the emergency vet, crying hysterically, 34 weeks pregnant at 3 a.m.  We said our goodbyes.  I loved him so much and I’m so very grateful for the time I had with him.

Us with our wonderful boy. 2001.

While his death came far too soon, and despite the fact of waiting one day too long, his death allowed me time to grieve.  Had our baby already been born, would I have been able to be as present with him in his final days? Would I have been able to fully grieve, knowing I would need to be present for her?  Had he died earlier, would I have had the anticipation of our child coming to allow me some sense of peace in his passing?  He chose a time that allowed space in grief while allowing time to recover and prepare.  

The weeks passed. I grieved.  My excitement and joy returned.  But, in all honesty, I knew nothing about birth.  My husband was military and so we did the one required military birthing class.  They made us hold a bag of ice to practice breathing through the discomfort.  My husband lasted far longer than I did.  I have struggled with pain my whole life and even the ice was unbearable.  I had wanted to birth at a birth center in Davis, CA, but our insurance didn’t cover it and it was more than we felt we could afford at the time.  So we planned for the Air Force Base.  

My mom had been a La Leche League advisor growing up and I would go with her when she would help other women.  I went to the meetings. I remember trips to other women’s houses to help them latch while she was nursing my sister.  I remember bits of a gathering at the State Capital.  She believed in extended nursing and I planned to do the same.  I read books, learned about the proper latch.  When it came to breastfeeding, I was prepared.  But birth, birth itself?  Nothing other than holding a bag of ice.  This was still 3 years before “The Business of Being Born” came out. How I wish that movie had been available to pregnant me.  I knew nothing about home births, did people actually still do those?  What I knew of a birth center is that is was basically out of our price range.  I had had many spinal taps a few years earlier, so I knew I could handle an epidural if I needed it.  I visited labor and delivery and their anethestiologist to be sure that my spine was safe for an epidural.  (For the first time I even discovered that my spine has a slight twist, which explained why my earlier taps where so complicated and so excruciating.).  

Four generations of women; my mom Jean, my grandma Helen, my great grandma Lillie, myself at 4 months. 1975.

And we waited.  I was due around October 21st but during the first week of October (around 38 weeks), I began to vomit.  I couldn’t stop, it just kept coming.  We drove the hour to the military hospital and they said I was in labor.  They checked my cervix and it was just barely open.  (By the way, I don’t know how many people experience pain when their cervix is checked, but for me, it was terrible.  It felt like my cervix was being ripped out each and every time.) With every contraction, I threw up.  With every contraction, my intestines spasmed.  They started me on anti-nausea meds and as my vomiting stopped, so did my contractions.

They sent me home, telling me it would be soon.  My husband’s job told him not to come in until this baby was born.  

Again, we waited.  

Waiting, October 2005

Click Here for Part 2, the birth.

I have a passion for birth stories. I love hearing the experience that other women have gone through.  I think it’s important that we support each other through this process, whether it is natural birth, C-section, home birth, hospital birth, birth centers, the grief of miscarriages, the experience of abortion, menopause, hysterectomies, first periods, and every other aspect of our reproductive rights and experiences. I wish to add the stories of other women to honor the collective experience and help us to learn from and honor each other.  

Are you interested in telling your birth story?  Are you interested in sharing the experiences you have around reproduction, from your first period to menopause and everything in-between?  Please contact me at anna@loscotoff.com and title “Birth Stories” in the subject line.  I will happily share your biography through the blog and whatever you happen to be working on.

Resources

The Business of Being Born (IMDB)

More about me

What is Imbolc?

What is Imbolc? I want you to imagine a time long, long ago.  Before electricity, before the invention of canning (1809, France).  Go back further, 1,000 years.  Perhaps another 1,000 years.  It is winter, you huddle around the fire in your home, the walls made of timber, the roof is thatch. You are running low on fuel to burn.  If the snow becomes too thick, your roof may collapse. A stray spark could burn everything to the ground. You live in Northern Europe or the British Isles in a single room home with your husband, your children, your pregnant sister, her spouse, and her children.  Your parents and in-laws may live there as well.  Should fire swallow your home or your roof collapse, it is likely that your family will die from the cold.  

Tiny footprints in the snow. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.

You aren’t the only ones surviving in this room, the animals that keep you alive live with you over the winter.  They are family and must survive the winter with you. If they were to die, you would be left without the cycle of food and life come spring.  It is too cold and requires too much energy to leave the animals out in their barns.  You would have to push through the ice and wind to feed them, and they may die from the elements.  With them in your home, you can feed them and care for them and they add to the warmth.

Within your home, you also have the food which must make it through winter. Some of it is beginning to rot, the mice who have made this their winter home nibble on what they can find.  Your foods are salted and fermented, dried, and sometimes stored in the freezing weather outside. There is nothing fresh, other than occasional meat or fish when the weather is forgiving, and the land provides. When the ground has thawed, it will take time for the seeds you have saved from last year to grow.

You boil snow water over the fire with the last of the dried herbs for tea.  There is still rationed mead or beer or wine to help you push through the last winds of winter.

The sun comes out on a snowy day. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.

But the bellies of the sheep are growing fat.   They are short-day breeders, which means that their tides flow with the shortening of the days in the fall.  Sheep naturally breed in late September and October and have a 5 month gestation, bringing the birth of the first lambs in-between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.  

One of your ewes is in labor, and you watch as she births a new member of your extended family.  With the tiny lamb comes fresh milk.  This milk is the first fresh food you and your children have had since harvest and more lambs are on their way.  Your sister too is preparing for labor; this baby is a child of the Beltane fires which brings birth near the beginning of February.  It is a common time for birth, yet precarious as the winter is still very cold with high infant and maternal mortality.

As the lambs are born, your family now celebrates the small light at the end of a still long tunnel.  You now have milk, and from the milk comes butter and cheese.  

The walking mandala as the snow melts and grass begins to grow at the base of the stones. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.

This is Imbolc, also called Oimelc, Imbolg, and the Feast of St. Brigid.  It is the minor Sabbat which falls midway between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox.  It is celebrated on February 1 and is the predecessor of Candlemas on February 2nd, an example of Christianity using the traditional pagan holiday’s to convert the ancestors.

The first milk told the ancestors that the grass was beginning to grow under the snow.  The animals could return to the fields and their barns, allowing you to clean the stagnant smell from your home (the origins of spring cleaning, quite different than today’s interpretation).  There was hope in site as the bulbs began to show their tips.  

New grass growing beneath the snow. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.

In today’s culture, we are very removed from the hardships of nature.  We still live at it’s mercy, but it is not a part of our continued survival.  For the Celtic people, Imbolc was the promise of spring. It represented cleansing, renewal and birth. 

Imbolc is also known as the Feast of St. Brigid.  Brigid is most closely associated with Ireland, but she is also of great importance in Scotland, Wales, and Western Europe.  She is the Goddess of the Eternal Flame and the Sacred Well, protecting home from the destruction of fire and protecting women in childbirth.  Some stories say that she was three sisters, all named Brigid.  One was the Goddess of the Hearth Fire, the second was the Goddess of the Forge Fire, the third was the Goddess of the Creative and Transforming Fire.  Together they were forged into the Triple Goddess, a single Brigid.  

Brigid is a Goddess of fire and transformation. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.

Brigid is about transformation, just like Imbolc.  She is of such great importance in Celtic mythology, that when Christianity came to Ireland, she could not be forgotten or pushed aside or dismissed a myth; she became St. Brigid.  She was no longer a Goddess, but the midwife to Mary as she birthed Jesus.  She was also known as Jesus’s foster mother.  This allowed her to keep her power and connection to childbirth.  It is said that she healed lepers using water from her well and blessed Jesus with 3 drops of water (Goddess of the Sacred Well).  Within her Christian story, she was born on February 1st, Candlemas Eve.  Some say she was born at dawn in a pillar of fire, keeping her connection to flame and transformation.  Christianizing the Pagan beliefs made it easier to convert to Christianity.  When Irish and Scottish servants went to the Caribbean, her story went with them and she was adopted into the Voodoo religion as Madame Brigitte.

Brigid embodies survival, just as those who honor her have survived the hardship of winter. She has transformed from Goddess to Saint and back to Goddess.  

Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.

Celebrating Imbolc

Consider what life was like for the Celtic people and what this celebration meant for them.  It meant survival.  In our lives today, dependent on electricity, warm in our homes, with markets and delivery, we are not limited by nature.  We do not need to bring agricultural animals into our homes to survive into the next year.  Few of us live in Northwestern Europe, and many of us struggle to understand what that life was like.  Living in California most of my life, snow was a unique and special experience. Extended bitter cold was a rarity.

Due to this, Imbolc is often forgotten or not celebrated as much as the other Sabbats.  We don’t connect with this one the way we do with Samhain (Halloween) or Yule (Christmas). This one is the in-between as we look forward to the spring equinox (Easter).

Yet we can look at the intention of this sabbat and how important it was to the ancestors.  Spring was still distant, but the signs for it were coming.  Travel was difficult, community was limited.  For this reason, Imbolc is a more private, family focused celebration.  It is reflective and personal.

Ways to celebrate Imbolc are in paying attention to nature.  Go for a walk and look for the first signs of green.  Create new plans.  Clean.  (You may not be sweeping out the manure of your sheep, but there is probably clutter that has accumulated over the winter months). Plant a seed, whether that means physically, emotionally, or spiritually.  In planting seeds, think of the care that it needs to nurture the seed past the beginning stages of growth.  This goes for that project you’ve been wanting to start or the relationship you are wanting to grow.

New plants are starting to grow as we see the light of spring nearing. Photo by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.

Recipes and Projects

As Imbolc celebrates the first milk and the hope of surviving winter, this is an opportunity to follow in the traditions of the Celts and make butter, simple cheeses, yogurt (which ancestrally would have been clabbered milk) and simple breads . Instead of copying established recipes, I’ve linked several here for you to try.

How to Make Homemade Butter

Homemade Yogurt Cheese

How to Make Buttermilk

Irish Soda Bread Recipe

Imbolc also celebrates Brigid, or St. Brigid’s Feast. Creating Brigit’s cross is a simple craft that can be done with natural grasses or even pipe cleaners. In creating Brigid’s cross, I gathered dried grasses from the field and soaked them overnight in snow that has survived from our last storm. You don’t need to use snow, but as a way of honoring the tradition from winter to spring, it’s a nice option if you have it. Brigid’s crosses are traditionally hung over windows or doors to protect the home and family members from fire, evil, and hunger. Some traditions believe in putting the cross out on Imbolc Eve to receive Brigid’s blessings, others burn the old cross on Imbolc and create a new one each year.

Here is an example of making Brigid’s cross using pipe cleaners.

Links

Mythical Ireland – Myths and Legends, Brigid Bright Goddess of Gael

Imbolc/Candlemas Ideas

Ancestral Fermentation – Clabbered Raw Milk

Mason Jar or Mixer Homemade Butter

Spruce Eats – Homemade Yogurt Cheese

Kitchn – Making Buttermilk from Plain Milk

Grandma’s Irish Soda Bread

How to Make a St. Brigid’s Cross

Colorful Crafts – How to Make a Brigid Doll (Candlemas Straw Doll Tutorial)

A bit about me – My most important blog

Books

Brigid’s Cloak by Helen Cann, a picture book

Imbolc: Brigid’s Feast, a picture book

Tending Brigid’s Flame: Awaken to the Celtic Goddess of Hearth, Temple and Forge

Brigid: History, Mystery, and Magick of the Celtic Goddess

Pagan Portals – Brigid: Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge, and Healing Well

Imbolc: Rituals, Recipes & Lore for Brigid’s Day

The Full Wolf Moon

A wolf original drawing in blues and white with bright yellow eyes. A moon sit over the wolf's head. Original drawing by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.
We are never alone
We are all wolves
Howling to the same moon.

 - Atticus -

The January full moon, the Full Wolf Moon, reaches it’s peak on January 28th at 11:18 am (pacific standard time), but the nights of January 27th and 28th will appear full and round, weather allowing.  The Algonquin tribes called this first full moon of winter The Wolf Moon due to the packs of wolves which howled outside their villages during the freezing cold with snow deep on the ground. 

One of my favorite sites for looking at moon names is through the Western Washington University.  There is such diversity and beauty in the moon names of the Native American tribes.  The Omaha tribe of the Central Plains, Nebraska, call this moon the “moon when snow drifts into tipis”.  The Passamaquoddy of the Northeastern US call it the “whirling wind moon”.  The Arapaho of the Great Plains call it “when snow blows like spirits in the wind”.  Other names include the cold moon, the stay inside moon, the hard moon, and the big cold.

Digital drawing by Blu on Instagram at blu.s_drawing.s
My daughter’s interpretation of January’s Full Cold Moon. You can find more of her art on Instagram at blu.s_drawing.s

Ritual for the Full Wolf Moon

Doing a ritual, any ritual, during the full moon doesn’t mean that you are worshiping the full moon.  It doesn’t make you a Pagan, or any other religion.  Stopping and spending time with the full moon is more about making time for yourself with nature.  It is an external calendar that reminds us to check in with ourselves, to ask where we are in the here and now, where we are going, what we want in our lives, and what we are ready to let go of.  Historically, woman’s cycles synced with each others’ and with the tides of the moon; with fertile days responding to the full moon and the bleeding time with the dark of the moon.  Women would gather at the dark of the moon, when their energy was the lowest, and share wisdom and stories.  When you spend time with and reconnect with these cycles, you reconnect with your ancestral wisdom. 

Generally, I think of the new moon as a time of growing ideas; your dreams grow with the filling of the moon. The full moon is a time of letting go, releasing and letting go as the moon wanes.  However, on the first moon of the year, the Wolf Moon, ask yourself what you want to work towards this year.  It’s not a resolution, but rather, what would you like to put your energy towards.

Some rituals for this first moon of the year may include spending time writing in a journal, exploring what you are letting go of from 2020 and what you wish to grow in 2021.  Another idea is to create a vision board of images, drawings, and words that you wish to bring with you into this year.  Let go of what is no longer serving you.  You can write the things you wish to let go of on bay leaves or slips of paper and burn them in a fireplace, bonfire, or fire pit. Imagine the things you are letting go of disappearing with the smoke.  This is your ritual, whatever you choose to do, make it yours.  A lovely article on how to create your own ritual can be found here.

A wolf original drawing in blues and white with bright yellow eyes. A moon sit over the wolf's head. Original drawing by Anna Loscotoff, 2021.
The Wolf Moon, by Anna Loscotoff, 2021
Wolves, A Poem

The moon is full and the pack is howling. 
They’re on the hunt and the leader’s growling. 
They look so graceful in the night
As if they were getting ready for flight.

 In the den the pups are playing
Some are romping and some are laying.
 In the wild they look so free,
 I feel like wolves are a part of me.

 They flee so fast
like a flash of light,
 They look so bright
In the moonlight.

 The pack does well,
They bring back meat,
All of the pups get enough to eat.
 As long as there are wolves living in the wood
All is well and all is good.

- Sophia McMurray- 
-age 9-
(This poem is dedicated to Eve.
 The wolf that the author adopted from Wolf Haven.)

Links

Nasa, the Full Wolf Moon

Western Washington University – Native American Moons

Significance of the Wolf Moon

Why You Should Try a Full Moon Ritual

January: Full Wolf Moon Ritual

How to Create Your Own Full Moon Ritual

Wolves, A Poem

My Most Important Blog – About Me

More of Blu’s art on Instagram