Saturday, February 28, 2015

An Excerpt From Evensong

I meant for this story to be a YA paranormal series but it kind of stopped on me. Still, I like EVENSONG and wish more readers would discover it.

The plot:



Chatelaine was born into the blood-drinking Sanga race. She had no choice in the matter. Now she spends her life caught between the darkness and the lantern light, wishing she could be normal like the girls who come to hear her sing in the circus.

At least she is protected there among her own people. Or is she? When a steely-eyed stranger appears in their midst, all of Chatelaine’s illusions are shattered. She and her family face destruction and death from their own kind as well as from other, even more dangerous creatures that dwell in the night. And her only salvation may be in the arms of a human boy. 

The excerpt:




EVENSONG


By


Pamila Daniel







This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination, or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Evensong

Copyright 2013 Studio Daniel

All Rights Reserved.



For those who love the dark.


CONTENTS
CHAPTER ONE
CHAPTER TWO
CHAPTER THREE
CHAPTER FOUR
CHAPTER FIVE
CHAPTER SIX
CHAPTER SEVEN
CHAPTER EIGHT
CHAPTER NINE
CHAPTER TEN
CHAPTER ELEVEN
CHAPTER TWELVE
CHAPTER THIRTEEN
CHAPTER FOURTEEN



CHAPTER ONE

The Deep South, Late Winter, 1861 -

Chatelaine Du Prey lived a sheltered, vagabond life, traveling with a small circus over the winding back roads of the United States. Her father, Etienne, was the star of the circus, using his Sanga telepathy skills just enough to entertain the humans, but never so much that they would get suspicious. Her mother performed as the show’s sole aerialist until her sister, Isabelle Sanchez, arrived in their midst with her tight-wire walking husband, Alerio the Great. Then the two women became rivals for the spotlight, trying to best each other every night, to thrilling applause. Chatelaine was afraid for her mother; it seemed to her that she and Isabelle hated each other. Why, the girl never knew. But from the moment her aunt and her brutish husband arrived in their camp, Chatelaine felt that the atmosphere changed. It was no longer a circle of love and protection, of contentment and calm. A doubt had come creeping into the back of her mind, some tiny voice whispering to her constantly: “Beware,” it said. “All is not well. It is only a fa├žade, your life is not as it seems.” Her mother had dismissed it as the misgivings of restless youth, but she was not convinced.
Chatelaine also performed in the circus, playing her harp and singing lovely old songs from Brittany, a region in France, where she had been born. Oh, how she missed her home there! They had a beautiful little stone beach cottage with blue shutters, surrounded by flowering hedges and large, sheltering trees. Chatelaine was carefree there, creating all sorts of elaborate fantasy worlds for her dolls, swimming in the sea by moonlight, collecting shells, reading the books her father brought home from his many travels. She was alone quite often, but never lonely.
Then her life changed in an instant. There had been murders in the town of Trebeurden, near their house. The bodies were reportedly drained of blood. She knew her parents would never hurt a human being. It pained them to take the blood of animals for sustenance – but as a Sanga, one had to drink it to survive. The townspeople were suspicious of them, because they slept all day, and stirred only after the sun was safely beneath the horizon.
One night, when she was a child of about six years old, Chatelaine entered the rustic kitchen of their house where her mother was preparing the evening meal. The girl waited nervously as Mignon passed her a cup of red blood drawn from the meat of a butchered cow. Reluctantly, as always, she took the cup and began to drink.
She could hear the thoughts of humans – fearful, ranting, revengeful thoughts, mingling close by. Before she could say anything a horde of angry-eyed villagers, both male and female, rushed in.
Chatelaine dropped the cup – blood spilled out onto the stone floor.
A woman screamed: “There! I told you! They are the spawn of the Devil!”
“Yes!” another agreed. “Light the torches!” she yelled. “Burn them out!”
The villagers lunged towards them, all shouting hard, ugly words.
“You will not hurt my child!” Mignon warned them. She grabbed Chatelaine, flung her up on her hip. Then she focused her eyes at the villagers, who all seemed caught by her gaze. They let go of the unlit torches and clasped their heads, as if each had an invisible vice pressing in their skulls. They backed off, and fled out the door.
“My mind cannot hold them off for long, ma cherie! Where is your father? I am not strong enough to sense him out and hold off our attackers as well.”
The child closed her eyes tight. She could see Etienne Du Prey kneeling beside a stream, washing his face and hands. A pile of branches lay near him.
“He is at the river, gathering wood for the fire.”
Mignon set her down, took her hand.
“Come, we will run to him. If we don’t get away, these monsters will kill us, for sure.”
“But why, Mother? Why do they hate us so?”
“They fear us because we are Sanga. We live for blood, the way they live for vengeance, and cruelty. But we have never harmed a human. Your father and I swore to only take the blood of animals, and only then if we will eat them. Is that any worse than those people, I ask you?”
Mignon had let her guard down. The villagers started to gather round the door.
Chatelaine summoned her power, and made the villagers swear that they had been drinking the blood themselves! They stared at their seemingly blood-soaked hands, wiped streams of imagined blood from their mouths, all the while screaming and moaning in abject horror.
Mignon watched with sad eyes as they fled.
“We will leave this place. Your father has spoken of going to America. We will be safer in a wild, new land where no one knows who we are.”
“But I love Brittany. And our house. And all my dolls, and books. I don’t want to leave them!” Chatelaine cried.
“We often do things we don’t want to do, Chatelaine. That is part of life. But open your heart to new places and ideas, and magical things can happen! Come now! Rapidement!”
They hurried out a side door, and into the cold, bare woods. Mignon held Chatelaine’s hand as she turned back, watching teary-eyed as her beloved stone house disappeared into the black.
The family found passage on a ship bound for America, and hid amongst the cargo boxes so they could sleep safely in the day. Once there, Etienne began to discreetly advertise for performers to join his circus. Gradually, they built up a whole troupe of Sanga artists, all of whom professed to be non-violent like them.
The years passed, not so quickly, but easily. No one questioned their sleeping habits, mostly because they never stayed anywhere long enough for people to really get to know them. Mignon thought that was a good way to live but Chatelaine often longed for new companions and interesting conversations.
She was thankful for Dorothy Lambert, or Dory, as everyone called her. She was Chatelaine’s best friend even though she was two years older than her; a Negro girl with pale eyes and sallow skin, her long wavy hair the color of dusk. She was not a Sanga; neither were her parents, Gordy and Rosalie, but they were privy to the troupes’ secrets, and kept them, in exchange for the freedom they offered. Etienne had bought them in New Orleans from a cruel trader and set them free but they offered to carry on with the circus as a dressing assistant and blacksmith until they decided where they wanted to go.
That was four years before. Dory and Chatelaine became as close as sisters, sharing dreams and giggles and relying on each other for comfort in a world that seemed to be growing increasingly colder and crueler every day. The girl had often revealed her fears to Dory but, not being privy to the instincts of a Sanga, she brushed off her worries as just so much imagination.
Morning usually found the trail of colorful circus wagons huddled together in the darkest forest available, where the Sanga brood would sleep until the accursed light of the sun disappeared over the hills.
As soon as evening came, they would rise and drive to the nearest town, set up their tent, a brilliant green and red striped beacon that called to one and all, and offer pleasant entertainments to anyone willing to pay for them.
The show began with a colorful parade led by animals in rolling wooden cages who growled miserably at the constant irritation of captivity, followed by overly made-up courtesans prancing with voodoo zombie appeal in front of bounce-less, feather-capped horses and clowns tripping along, some dancing, or drunkenly wavering back and forth. All in all it was a disappointing, depressing cavalcade for the more discerning eyes of the crowd. But to the neophyte children it was an unforgettable thrill. A small band played a traipsing march as the parade curved round and round on a living carousel. Then the line vanished out of the tent, all but the clowns, who picked up their routines, tumbling, cart-wheeling, and mimicking the customers to an appreciative applause that helped warm the chilly air.
The featured clowns were two midgets and a creaky, lanky fellow in ragged gentlemen’s attire. They played at fighting then performed a duel where one midget was “shot” by the other with a popping fake gun that spit out a sign proclaiming “Bang!” As they finished and moved on, in came the acrobats, an Italian family called the Carandinis, then a trained dog troupe led by the beautiful blonde, Miss Esperanza, drew laughter and smiles.
Afterwards the crowd enjoyed some fancy bow and arrow tricks by the resident Cheyenne, a brown, mute, moving sculpture named Andrew who also did a knife act with Miss Esperanza as his willing but always unscarred target. Andrew lost his vocal chords as a youth when some whites ambushed his family and stole their food and horses. He resisted and they slit his throat. Once he was healed, he tracked the people down and did what the humans call “eye for an eye justice”, only, since he was a Sanga, he took their blood for his own after he cut their throats. Chatelaine couldn’t imagine him harming anyone. He was kind to her, and very protective, like a strong, silent guardian angel.
Following his act were the trapeze artists, her mother, Mignon Du Prey and her aunt, Isabelle Sanchez.
That night, as usual, Chatelaine watched the two sisters from behind a silky red curtain. Both had exquisite ebony hair and ultra-white skin, with slanted eyes that smoldered like black coals above perfectly pouting crimson lips. Dressed in white lace from head to toe, they swung on their tiny swings like lilting birds then hung by their knees, then their ankles and, amidst gasping echoes from the crowd, by their teeth, from thick ropes.
Isabelle, always trying to outdo her sister, faked a slip to elicit more gasps, and a scream or two, then she pirouetted downward to rousing acclaim. Mignon shook her head, unimpressed, and eased herself down the rope.
“You’ll do that trick once too often, ma soeur, and wind up with a broken wing!”
“You wish!” Isabelle scoffed.
Isabelle’s assistant, a mousey, skittish girl named Abigail Lynn, flung a white cape about her shoulders as a corpulent Negro woman, Rosalie Lambert, Dory’s mother, did the same for Mignon. The women bowed for the audience and made their exit just as the next act entered: the high wire man, Alerio the Great, Isabelle’s husband. He bowed for the crowd, but his brooding eyes watched his wife’s every move.
He began his act, moving back and forth across a thick rope, balancing various objects, each more cumbersome than the last, while the crowd approved.
Isabelle blatantly blew a kiss to a man standing in the shadows behind the seats. Alerio saw her, and missed a step, catching himself with one hand. The audience swooned as the nimble body hung precariously near destruction. He ably climbed back up and reached the platform, oblivious to the cheers of the crowd, as his hot gaze singed the beautiful aerialist below.
“Isabelle, we do not need trouble here!” Mignon scolded.
“You are full of warnings tonight. Mind your own business!”
“This circus is my business, and if you do one thing to threaten the peace we have here, you’re out! Comprendre?”
“I don’t have to listen to you!”
Etienne Du Prey, a tall, slender man in a black tuxedo and top hat, stepped forward.
“Well, my dear Isabelle,” he said, “I run this circus, and Mignon is my wife, so I think maybe you do have to listen to her!”
“Pig!” she spat, and stormed away.


CHAPTER TWO

Chatelaine began to watch Alerio, fascinated by the swell of emotion passing like an invisible fire from his dark eyes to the haughty woman lingering below. A primitive brutality surged through the cleanly-chiseled performer, a crude tension, like an animal ready to pounce. He wasn’t a Sanga, she was certain of that, but the others tolerated his presence for some unknown reason. Once she tried to enter his mind, to find out his secrets, but the mesh of conflicting thoughts and sinister designs left her breathless and afraid.
After he finished his act, it was Chatelaine’s turn to perform, as a sort of calming amusement, to prepare the humans for her father’s mind plays.
She was announced very lovingly by her father, his brown eyes glowing, as always, with the warmth of deep devotion. Her mother nodded at her encouragingly. She took a deep breath, walked out from behind the curtain and sat down on a carved wood stool next to an elegant gilded harp. The audience clapped politely then waited for her to begin.
Chatelaine wore her best outfit, a long, red velvet dress with black ruffled trim, black stockings, and black boots with red, laced uppers. Her long russet hair was curled, and held in place by a large black bow.
The children in the audience fidgeted impatiently as she very gently started to stroke the harp strings. Her haunting voice sailed through the air, and the children became still. She always slipped a bit of her power into her singing – nothing obvious, but enough to guarantee Etienne a quiet, settled crowd.
She tried not to look at the faces spread out before her, but found she couldn’t ignore the glances from the assortment of lecherous old men, jealous females and smiling young bucks. Chatelaine felt a strange chill, cast her eyes towards the shadows where her aunt’s kiss had flown. The man was still there. He was dressed all in black, with hair to match, and wore a fashionable mustache. His eyes were a bright, startling blue; they showered her with curious gazes.
That voice rose up in her head again. She tried to drown it out by singing louder but it wouldn’t be tamed. She felt as if she’d stepped into a theater to see a play. All the characters were on stage, ready to act, but were waiting for the director to show them the way.
Once Chatelaine was done, she bowed to the crowd and left amid thunderous applause. She rushed towards the curtain, past her father’s open arms and her mother’s worried frown, and found shelter in a dark corner.
The tall clown in tails noticed her. His face now washed to reveal a rakish old tease, Bill Corrigan, nicknamed Toothless for his obvious oral deficiencies. He came towards the girl, his oversized shoes bouncing as he walked. She looked up, let out a laugh.
“That’s better!” He grinned. “What’s got you spooked, little Kitty?”
“Something’s not right around here, Toothless. Can’t you feel it?”
“Sure. I been feeling it ever since those two showed up.” He was bald-eyeing Alerio the Great, who was creeping behind a food stand, spying on the radiant Isabelle. She knew he was there, and turned to give him a lewd finger gesture for his efforts. “A sorry state, them two. Steer clear of them. There’s a bad brew swelling.”
“I will.”
“Now, git over there and talk to your folks. I see a mad pappy looking for you.”
“I’m not angry, Toothless,” Etienne admitted as he came close. “I’m just worried. Is something wrong, Chatelaine?”
She passed glances with Toothless. He shook his head.
“No, Father.”
“I could search your mind, you know, to see if you’re lying…”
“Etienne, you wouldn’t!” Mignon walked up, hugged her daughter. “You wouldn’t break your own rules!”
“I’m sorry. Of course, I won’t pry. But if you need me, I’m always here, mon cher!”
Chatelaine noticed a slight change in her mother’s demeanor. An unsettling flash of danger sparked the air. If only she could have sensed the truth, then maybe she could have silenced that stupid voice.
“I know, Father. You’d better go. You’re on next.”
He smiled, kissed her cheek, headed for the main ring.
Once the show was over, the crew began to clean up and dismantle the tent. Packing a circus, however small, into a line of clattering old wagons was no simple task. But every member of the wagon train pulled their weight. By two A.M. the troupe was on its way to a safe haven in the woods.
The drivers circled the wagons. Toothless started a fire, put on some coffee. People sat around on tree stumps, hovering close to the fire. Some drank blood from metal cups or straight from bottles. Everyone willingly following Etienne Du Prey’s edict that no one in the group could drink human blood.
Dressed now in a plain brown skirt with matching blouse and worn black boots, Chatelaine fed the circus animals with some hay bought from a nearby farm. She loved the horses, and the other animals; their menagerie contained nothing truly exotic, except for the two monkeys Etienne had secured on a trip to South America. The others, Miss Esperanza’s set of trained dogs, a wolf, a mountain cat, a bear and a pair of feisty raccoons, were something most people had seen at some point in their lives, but the children enjoyed them, so they were kept as a small amusement. She wished she could set them free; hated seeing anything living locked up in such close quarters. But Etienne insisted, so they remained.
Chatelaine had the urge to search his mind, and her mother’s, and everyone else’s as well, thinking that maybe then she could decipher all the peculiar vibrations and voices she’d been hearing of late. But that was one of her father’s strictest rules: no mind-reading among the group.
“Chatelaine! Come get your dinner!” Mignon called from the campfire.
She finished feeding the animals, settled them in for the night with a quiet lullaby.
“That’s a beautiful song,” a deep voice uttered from behind her. “If only someone could sing to me so sweetly.”
Chatelaine turned, startled, and looked straight into those brilliantly blue eyes. Her heart caught still. The man bowed, tried to take her hand but she snatched it away.
“I don’t think I know you, sir.”
“Well, of course you don’t. We haven’t been properly introduced. You French are awfully big on that sort of thing, aren’t you?”
“I actually consider myself to be a Breton. But good manners cross all boundaries, I should think.”
“Indeed. You’re right. My name is Stephen Justice. I’m a traveler, in need of a soft bed. Do you suppose your troupe could put me up? I have money.”
“I wouldn’t know. You’ll have to ask my father. But I don’t believe he’d want you here if you’re acquainted with my aunt.”
“Your aunt?”
“Yes, the one who blew you a kiss.”
“Ah, the lovely aerialist! No, I haven’t actually had the pleasure of her company. But that could be changed.”
“You should think better of it. Her husband is madly jealous.”
“And what husband wouldn’t be, with a wife so fetching. But I’ve lost my manners again. What is your name, pretty missy?”
She was growing tired of this preening peacock with the startling, mesmerizing eyes. He was too assured of his own attraction; too personal, and inquisitive.
“My name is Chatelaine Du Prey.”
“Yes, it is. I knew it already. I just wanted to hear you say it out loud. You are fifteen years old, and you were born in Brittany, near the town of Trebeurden, in a stone villa with blue shutters. A place you miss terribly, and dream of quite often.”
“But how did you … oh, you’re a Sanga?” She was shocked; hadn’t even guessed at it. He kept his power well concealed. Chatelaine instinctively drew a hand up to cover her throat.
“Yes, I am. And you needn’t fear me. I’m not in the market for blood as fresh as yours just now.” He laughed. “I must tell you it’s good to find my own kind after so long a journey. Will you introduce me to your father?”
Chatelaine nodded, still in shock. He followed her into the circled wagons, and right into the center of the camp, where the fire’s warmth enveloped the shivery night air.
All at once everyone turned to view the intruder. Etienne stepped forward.
“What do you want here?”
“I’m seeking shelter. Surely you won’t shun one of your own kind?”
“We have before. We are a peaceful tribe. We do not allow strangers here if they cannot follow our rules.”
“I fully intend to abide by your laws.”
“Very well, you can sleep in the hay wagon.”
“Excellent. Merci, and Bonne Nuit.”
They nodded at each other. Justice bowed to Chatelaine, winking as he passed.
She caught a glimpse of her mother, hiding behind a wagon, watching Stephen Justice with an expression of unbridled surprise in her moist dark eyes. Maybe he didn’t know Isabelle, or maybe he did. But one thing Chatelaine was sure of – her mother knew him –and well enough to fear his presence there.
The voice in her head was near screaming now.

END OF EXCERPT

 

Friday, February 27, 2015

Cryptic Thoughts

Magic people leave a blight upon the Earth when they die. You can ignore it but it's there. Maybe someone else will arrive to make that spot green again, maybe not. There are very few of the magicians left. And hardly any apprentices being born to take the wands and keep the magic going. Soon the whole world will be barren and dark.

Sorry for the cryptic words. Feeling terribly somber today. Maybe I should throw all of these thoughts into a fantasy novel. Or not.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Zoe And The Dolphin

One more short story that should be a picture book. Tomorrow I'll post something completely different:)



ZOE AND THE DOLPHIN

Zoe was a princess, daughter of the king on the island of Crete, and therefore, could have anything she wanted, just by asking.

If she wanted a dress with a gold-threaded skirt, and ruffles deep as river rapids, it was woven for her.

If she wished for a cluster of lilac colored dittany flowers from the eastern hillsides, they were fetched for her, right away. No matter if she wanted something that belonged to someone else - if Zoe wanted it, it was hers.

She was the only child of the young king Lycus, and his lovely wife, Gida, living with them in a palace; a maze of blue and white and red red rooms, the walls bright with life-like paintings of bulls and birds and smiling, dancing dolphins.

Zoe loved the dolphins. She often imagined herself swimming with them through the cool, salty waters of The Great Green Sea. She had seen real ones, while on long trips around the shores of the island. It made her happy to watch their heads bobbing up over the twinkling waves, their grinning eyes seeming to wink at her, calling her to come join in their fun.

She could not go to the dolphins; she was afraid, with good reason, to go near the uncertain shore. But what if - what if the dolphins could come to her?

Breakfast was usually a quiet time for King Lycus, as he relaxed on a stone porch held up by fire-red columns, munching on grapes and goat cheese, and talking to Gida and Zoe. For once, Zoe did not seem to want anything, but was cheerful, and pleased with her father's new white robe and copper-colored belt, and her mother's blue, ruffled dress and plate-shaped bonnet.

Zoe finished her third slice of honeyed bread, washed her fingers and dried them, then stood to stroke her father' s long, black, braided hair.

"Father," she started.

And he nodded his head. "I should have known. What do you want, my Zoe?"

"A dolphin."

"What?" her mother gasped. "Now, Zoe, your father is a king, and wealthy, but even he cannot bring you such a thing as this! Dolphins are fast, and clever. No one could catch one. And, just what would you do, if you did have a dolphin?"

"But I want one, Mother. Isn' t my asking for it enough? I always get what I want, when I ask for it."

"True, my Zoe,” her father said with a frown. "I will send out my ships this very day, and offer a reward to whoever may capture a dolphin, a living dolphin, for the princess."

The fleet of royal ships was spread across the Great Green Sea, searching all that day for a dolphin. A crowd of people gathered by the shore, waiting to see what happened, and having a merry time. Zoe was in the center of the party, laughing and playing with her cousins, making pictures in the sand, and feasting on roast mutton and spiced bread and wonderful grape pies and fig cakes. Everyone in the villages, and the cities, too, had come to share their food and good fortune with the princess and all because she had wanted a dolphin.

At last, a ship returned, with a precious cargo. The people closed in, to welcome the ship, and to watch as King Lycus rewarded the captain and crew with ten sacks of grain each, a nice sum in those times, when food was used as payment for almost everything.

Zoe led the crowd towards the ship, everyone excited to see a real dolphin so close. The poor, frightened creature lay in a trough full of sea water, thrashing back and forth, trying to escape. Some of the people moaned, sad for him, but Zoe was happy - her prize before her, like a painting from the palace walls, come alive.

"What shall we do with it, sire?" the captain asked the king.

"My Zoe, what shall we do?"

"Oh, well, I hadn't thought about that, but I suppose he'll have to have a pond of some sort."

"A pond, my Zoe?"

"Well, a pool, then. The one in the palace courtyard would do. Empty it of rain water, and fill it with brine, and put him in it. And mind you, put plenty of fish in it. He looks hungry."

The captain looked at the king, who nodded, still frowning. So, the palace pool was emptied, slowly, but finally done, then a line of people carrying pails of sea water inched its way to the palace, followed by a row of men, bearing the helpless dolphin in his trough.

Once the pool was filled with brine and fish, the dolphin was eased down into it. He was still for a moment, everyone held their breath. Then, he wiggled his tail, and began to swim round and round, flashing like lightning through the deep blue water. There was a swell of laughter, and the clapping of hands.

"Oh, he's beautiful!" Zoe exclaimed, and everyone agreed with her.

That night, a grand feast was held, with music and dancing, and story-telling. Zoe sat proudly at the king's table; too excited to think of eating. It was wonderful, to see everyone so light-hearted and smiling. The dolphin was truly a magical creature, to have brought such happiness to the people of Crete.

For days after, visitors came to see Zoe and her dolphin. People from strange lands across the sea, in the city to trade their wares, brought gifts for the princess: silks and linens and jewels, spread out before her, all in honor of her beautiful dolphin.

At night, Zoe could not sleep without first saying goodnight to her dolphin. She would slip out of her room and creep through the halls to the pool outside, and sit on the edge, just watching by moonlight as the dolphin restlessly swept in and up, in and up, never resting, or eating, it seemed - there were too many fish left in the pool.

Zoe stood and looked down through the water, dull water, now. Perhaps he needed fresh sea water to stir his appetite.

The next day, the whole ritual was repeated: the pool emptied out, and refilled, while the dolphin flapped about in the trough.

"There now," Zoe said, once it was done. "You'll be fine, and hungry, this day.

But the dolphin did not eat. Not that day, or the next.

"Perhaps the fish are not fresh enough," Zoe decided.

And the fish were replaced with a new catch. Still, the dolphin would not eat. Zoe could not understand him and it made her sad. She sat down by the pool and cried.

"Princess, why do you cry?"

Zoe looked up through a veil of tears. The dolphin had raised his head above the water, and was smiling kindly at her.

"Did you speak to me? Oh, but you couldn't have!"

"And why not? Someone has to. I am getting weaker. I am proud, and don't like asking for help, but I will die if I don't eat soon."

"But why do you go hungry, when there are so many fish in the pool?"

"Can't you guess? Think a moment. What if you were happily playing in the courtyard, when, suddenly, someone grabbed you up and put you in a cage, to be stared and laughed at - would you be hungry, or happy, ever again?"

"No. I see what you mean, and I am sorry. You must go home, to the sea, right away. Forgive me, I never meant to do you harm."

"You people, you never mean to harm anything, and still you do. You always do."

The dolphin flipped over, splashing Zoe's face. The cold water startled her; she had been asleep. She had only dreamt of talking to the dolphin. She looked at him now; he was swimming slowly, quietly. He seemed so alone.

"I must get help. I will make you happy again, I promise. I was wrong to be so selfish, but I won't let you die because of it!"

"No, my Zoe, we won't."

Her father stepped out of the shadows, smiling.

"Your good heart has finally shown itself. And I am glad to see it."

Sleepy villagers were rousted from their beds. They loaded the dolphin very carefully into the trough, and carried him gently to the seashore.

Zoe watched sadly as the dolphin was placed in the water. He did not stay for goodbyes, but kicked up the surf, and headed out to sea.

"I don't blame you for hurrying away," Zoe sighed. "Escape then, and be free. I will be content to see you swimming out there, where you belong, as long as you're happy."

"And what would make you happy now, my Zoe?" her father asked, hugging her. "You know you can have anything you want."

"No, Father. No more. I must not be selfish, and ask for things I do not need. It was wrong of me to keep asking."

"And wrong of me to give so easily."

"We have a lot to learn, don't we, Father?"

"Yes, my Zoe, we do."

Zoe kissed his cheek and followed his lead back to the palace. The sky above them was glowing with amber in the shower of sunrise.

Once inside, Zoe stopped in the room where the smiling dolphins danced on the walls.

"I’ll bet he's hungry now," she grinned, and off she went to bed.

THE END

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Neheti's Brother

Another short story I'd like to see done as a picture book.



NEHETI’S BROTHER

Neheti lived with her family in Alexandria, Egypt, a bright white city that sat between the marshes of the blue Nile River and the shore of The Great Green Sea.

Now, in Egypt, back then, only boys could go to school, which meant that Neheti’s brother, Minu, went to school in the Pharaoh’s beautiful, golden palace everyday, while Neheti did not.

He ate and played and napped alongside the sons of the Pharaoh, and saw the pretty princesses in their jeweled costumes, and the mysterious visitors from other lands. Minu did all this, while Neheti stayed at home.

Every morning her mother would say: “Come, Neheti, bid your brother goodbye, and wish him well in his work.”

Neheti would do as she was asked, then she would run frowning to the kitchen, where the cook, Nani, would give her a honeycake and a slice of melon for her misery.

“Why must I stay here, Nani, while Minu goes to the palace?”

“We all have our jobs to do, little one. But why do you worry? Your mother has taught you well. Can you not read the writing on the temple walls? And you know the name of every Pharaoh, going back a hundred years. You know more than I, and I am a grown woman!”

“It is not so much the learning,” Neheti pouted. “It is the palace. I want to see the palace, to be inside it. To see what Minu does there.”

“You shouldn’t be so jealous of your brother,” Nani scolded.

“I’m not. I just want to see the palace.”

The next morning, Minu went off, as usual, while Neheti sat with her mother, Nefera, on their sunny porch, learning to read the picture words called hieroglyphics.

Other mornings, she would learn to sew with golden threads, to make beautiful gossamer tunics for the ladies who lived in the palace.

“Why can’t we go to the palace, Mother?”

“Always the same question, Neheti. The palace school is for your brother, and the other boys who wish to be scribes, the keepers of records.”

“Why can’t I be a scribe?

“Isn’t it time for your cooking lesson?”

Neheti sighed. “Yes, Mother.”

Neheti went to the kitchen, where she helped Nani with baking the flat bread, and plucking the geese for roasting, and basting a duck with honey and spice, all the while thinking of her brother at the palace.

The next day, after Minu left, Neheti and Liti the housekeeper walked to the city market to buy food and to barter for precious, glittering fabrics and fragrant oils from other lands.

In the afternoon, Neheti sat down with Tana-khi, the weaver, who taught her to weave colorful rugs and bed covers and curtains for the windows.

Neheti had just finished a bed cover for Minu. She took it to his bedroom and laid it on his bed. While there, she noticed one of his tunics, draped across a chair.

“That gives me an idea,” she thought, and sneaked the tunic to her room.

Things went along as always the next morning, except that, once Minu had left, Neheti crept upstairs to her room, and put on his tunic.

Egyptian children had mostly shaven heads, with boys wearing one lock of braided hair, while girls wore three longer braids.

Neheti untied her hair, twisted it into one long cord, hoping no one would look close enough to tell any difference.

She made her way to the palace, slipping through the tight crowds on the sidewalks of the tree-lined streets.

Gilded horse-drawn chariots and lowly wooden wagons pulled by mules paraded through the city, carrying their masters to villas and markets and temples and shops.

Everyone had a place to go, but no one seemed to hurry, no one but Neheti.

She reached the outer gates of the palace, fell in with some school boys, and entered without trouble.

Up the steps they went, passing all sorts of guards and soldiers with gleaming swords and sharp-edged spears at their sides.

Neheti’s heart shook, fear pushing her through the sunlit halls.

A group of young girls, perhaps the Pharaoh’s daughters, all in silken gowns, their throats banded with gold and rainbows of jewels, giggled at the schoolboys as they stumbled by. Neheti was thrilled to see them, wondered what it must be like to live as they did, in that shiny, magical palace.

She followed the boys into a bright room, where other boys sat on mats on the floor. Minu was there, his head bent down as he wrote upon a sheet of papyrus, a coarse, thick paper made from the reeds which grew by the river Nile.

Neheti ducked behind the huge statue of a scribe, a man who wrote everything down, to keep records, for history, a very important job for a man of Egypt. This was what Minu was learning to be.

Neheti curled up behind the statue, waited to see what wonderful things Minu would do during the day.

The boys wrote their picture words over and over, until it was time for lunch. Then a trio of servant girls served them food in the nearby courtyard, wonderful platters of fruit and bread and honey, while Neheti still hid, her belly growling.

Afterwards, the boys played games in the courtyard, chasing and tumbling and laughing aloud, while Neheti still hid, her legs tired, and cramping.

The boys returned to their writing, as the day lingered on. Neheti still hid, her eyes weary. She soon fell asleep, curled up behind the statue.

There was a horrible crash. Neheti woke, found herself lying on the floor, the shattered statue in pieces about her.

All the boys were standing around her, pointing and laughing.

The teacher was angry, shouting at them.

Minu, his face red as beets, grabbed Neheti’s hand and pulled her up off the floor.

“Who is this, Minu?” the teacher asked.

“My sister,” Minu admitted, embarrassed.

“What are you doing here, Minu’s sister?”

Neheti brushed herself off, glanced round at all the laughing faces. She took a deep breath, held her head up high.

“I wanted to see the palace, to see what Minu did here. And now that I have seen it, I want to do it, too!”

“What?” the teacher exclaimed. “YOU want to be a scribe?”

“Yes, sir, I do!”

“But girls can’t be scribes!” a boy laughed.

“And why not?” asked Minu. “Neheti can write very well. She can read, she can sew, and cook, and weave. She even made a cover for my bed that is beautiful.”

Neheti looked shyly at her brother.

“You liked the bed cover?”

“Yes, very much.” He turned to the teacher. “Sir, why can’t Neheti be a scribe?”

The teacher could offer no reason. So Neheti stayed there, and a messenger was sent to Nefera, to tell her where her daughter was, and that she was all right.

And when time came to go home, Neheti and Minu walked together, proudly.

“Thank you, Minu,” Neheti smiled, “for asking the teacher to let me stay.”

“That’s okay. But,” he paused, “could you do something for me?”

“What?”

“Teach me how to weave a bed cover like the one you made for me?”

“I will. Just as Tana-khi taught me!”

“You know,” Minu said, “I always imagined that you sat home, playing with Mew Mew’s kittens, or with Beba the monkey. I wished I could stay home, too, and play. But then I saw that you did so many other things, things I can learn, too.”

Neheti nodded, and smiled again.

They reached home, laughing together, and scurried in to see their mother, who was frowning.

“Neheti, child! Why were you at the palace?”

“I am sorry that I worried you, Mother, but I was learning to be a scribe!”

“You? A scribe? Well, I’m not surprised. You could always do anything you put your mind to. Is it hard work, to be a scribe?”

“It is,” Minu said, “but I will help her learn.”

“Yes, and I will teach him to weave a bed cover, for you. But, for now, let’s run out to the marshes, and play with Mew Mew’s kittens and Beba the monkey.”

“Could we, Mother?” Minu asked.

“Of course. It is still awhile before dinner. But mind you stay clear of the water.”

”We will, Mother.” they promised together.

They ran out to the marshes, where Mew Mew’s kittens played at battle, and Beba the monkey turned flips, and snatched bites of melon slices right out of their mouths.

THE END

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Song For Mihael

I wrote this short story for my grandson on his first birthday. I would love to see it done as a picture book. If only I had mad artist skills ~sigh~



A SONG FOR MIHAEL
(The boy’s name is pronounced Me HIGH el)

The Black Forest was dark and deep and smothering. Mihael was fearful of it, didn’t like to walk alone very far. His mother kept him there with her, just the two of them, without another soul to speak to or laugh with. She, too, was fearful but didn’t know which way led to safety.

As a child she had been told stories of fierce, frightening creatures roaming in the thickets day and night. The stories were enough to keep her from trying to escape the forest. She decided it was better to stay where she knew she was safe than to venture out and find danger in the shadows.

Once, years ago, a handsome logger came through the Black Forest, on his way to the city. He saw Mihael’s mother and fell in love with her right away. He married her and built her a cabin in the woods. A beautiful little place with round log walls and doors carved with scenes of wolves dancing in the clearing under a fat, happy moon.

Soon, the couple brought Mihael into the world to live with them. Life was bright with laughter and love. Mihael could barely recall his father’s face but whenever he thought about him he smiled. Especially when he would remember his father’s strong, powerful voice, singing a hearty tune as he chopped wood for the winter fire.

His father regaled him with stories about the world outside the Black Forest. Their country was called Illyria, a vast, beautiful place with many cities, the closest of which was Parthus.

“There are blue mountains as high as the sky!” he would say, “And waterfalls, and rivers, and towns with houses made of gold. So bright they blind you. And the sea, The Great Green Sea! It lies beyond the deepest woods. It is the most beautiful, glistening, exciting thing a man could ever behold!”

“Will you take me there someday?” Mihael would ask.

“Of course! I’ll take you everywhere!” his father would answer. “I’ll show you the world, my boy! The whole big wonderful world!”

Mihael grinned a bit, remembering those words. But he felt bad, too, because his father had left them to seek his fortune and never returned.

“I miss my father’s voice,” he said one day while he helped his mother at the fireplace. They were cooking a bowl of mushrooms Mihael had picked in the forest that morning. They didn’t have many choices of food, being so deep in the woods. Just mushrooms and crayfish from the creek and a few potatoes his mother managed to grow in a small area behind the cabin.

Mihael longed to taste something fresh and new. His father had told him of wonderful things a person could eat in Parthus – cheeses and sausages and bread and sweet purple grapes. Mihael wished he could know what such things were like. If only he could go to the city.

“I miss your father, too,” his mother sighed. “He said he would return. And I believed him. But so many moons have passed in the sky now. I’m afraid he will never return.”

“Maybe he forgot the way to our cabin.” Mihael suggested, sad at seeing two tears drop from the corners of his mother’s eyes.

“It’s possible, I suppose.” She sighed again, slipped a fingertip into the bowl to test the mushrooms’ flavor. “These are so bland. I wish we had salt or some milk for a sauce. But I guess we should be thankful we have any food at all.”

“Did you ever go to the city, Mother?”

She seemed surprised at his question. “No, I never did. But I used to go to a village somewhere near here. My father would take us to church then we’d have a big supper with his relatives in an enormous house by a lake.”

Mihael sat up, he was very interested in this village.

“Why have you never told me about the village before?”

“Oh, I have tried to forget it, Mihael. Things happened there; hurtful things. People can be so cruel. I didn’t want to remember.”

“Please tell me what happened, Mother. I am old enough to know.”

She set the bowl on the table, warmed her hands by the fire.

“The children there would make fun of my plain clothes and my pigtailed hair. They would laugh at me or whisper stories about me behind my back. Even my cousins treated me badly. I finally made up my mind that I would hide from them and the village and remain in the woods for the rest of my life. My parents felt the same way.”

“Was there no one who was kind to you?”

“Oh, I suppose there was. But I only noticed the hurtful words and the mean-spirited laughter. Bad things stay in your memory much longer than good things. But now that I’m older I see that I shouldn’t have hidden myself away. I shouldn’t have blamed the whole village for the actions of a few.”

“Could we go there now?” Mihael asked, excited.

“Oh, I don’t think I could find it. Not after so long.”

“Do you think Father would be there?”

“No, Mihael. Your father was going to Parthus.”

“Then, let’s go find Parthus!”

“It’s very far from here. I wouldn’t know how to begin to look for it. And there are creatures in the forest. My own father told me so. We are better off staying here.”

She sat at the table, spooned the mushrooms out onto two wood plates. Then she poured some creek water from a pitcher into two metal cups.

“Eat your supper, Mihael. We’ll need our strength to chop more wood for the winter. I’m afraid it’s going to be a long, cold season.”

He nodded and began to eat. His thoughts were racing round in his head. He kept thinking how not once in his seven years on Earth had he ever seen a creature in the woods. There were no wolves howling in the night, no birds tweeting in the daytime. He wouldn’t know such animals existed if his mother hadn’t told him about them. Maybe there were no creatures in the Black Forest.

While he was sitting there at the table, Mihael made a plan. Starting that night, while his mother slept, he would take a long walk through the woods, going as far as he dared, until he reached some village or a town or even Parthus itself. Then he would return to get his mother and take her there.

She had been feeling poorly for a time. He had noticed the heaviness in her breathing and the slowness of her steps. He didn’t think she was truly ill, just sad and lost and weary of the woods and its damp, close air.

He figured he would use a lantern to guide his way, and mark the path as he went along with notches in tree trunks or broken branches. He’d done that before, to help him find the creek. It would serve him well on his journeys.

His first outing was unsuccessful. He made it far past the little creek and up a steep slope into even thicker woods, where he could scarcely breathe. He felt as though the woods were about to swallow him up, the trees reaching down at him with long, clutching limbs.

Mihael hurried back home, cleaned the creek mud from his sandals and went to bed, determined to try again the next night.

Daylight brought a plain but filling breakfast of potato soup then he spent hours and hours chopping wood, stacking the wood and banking the fire. After that Mihael had to help his mother gather more potatoes from the root cellar then he held the ladder so she could replace some wood tiles on the roof of the cabin.

They usually skipped eating again till dark, which came early in the thick forest. The sun never quite broke through the clusters of tree branches to warm their faces but merely peeked through here and there; giving them a hint of how good it could feel on their skin.

Mihael was exhausted by bed time but he was set on his mission and would not give up.

On this trip he headed south towards the clearing that was the inspiration for his father’s wood carvings. But there were no wolves dancing under the moon. In fact, there was no moon. Or if there was, it must have been hiding behind a blanket of dense black trees.

Mihael traveled farther, making sure to mark a trail for his walk home. He found another clearing, a bit wider, with dry grass that crackled under his sandals. The wind managed to press through the woods there, sending icy shivers through his shabby tunic. He drew his collar up around his throat and pushed on.

Soon he came to what he thought was a gigantic black lake. The water slid back and forth in a soothing rhythm, but it turned the wind to a demon, burning his eyes and freezing his cheeks and hands. It shook his lantern, snuffed the light.

Mihael was caught in darkness so thick it blinded him. He sought shelter with his numbed fingers, but the shore was too open. If he stepped the wrong way he might be lost to the lake waters, and he didn’t know how to swim.

A storm blew down from the sky, stinging rain beat the top of his uncapped head, soaking his blond hair and covering his mouth till he cried.

“I must get away!” he said. Then he turned to go back the way he had come. The thick darkness confused him; he no longer knew which direction he should go.

Mihael feared he might drown from the lake or the rain or both.

Then he heard a sound faintly sifting through the downpour. It was lyrical, like someone singing. He tried to follow it. It led him to a house of some sort. He could feel a door handle and pulled it open.

Inside he found a dry floor. He sat on it, crossed his feet and tried to light his lantern again with a flint from his satchel. It took a little while but finally the lantern became bright enough to show him where he was.

The house around him was small but comfortable, not much different than the cabin he shared with his mother, with a bed and a side table and a small hearth with some old wood stacked in a box.

Mihael lit the logs in the hearth, made a nice, cozy fire to dry his wet tunic. He hung it on a stand by the mantel then curled up in the bed under some scratchy linen covers and fell asleep.

A bright light hit Mihael’s face the next morning. It was like nothing he had ever seen before – streaks of sparkles came through the cracks in the little house’s door, made a wonderful glow all around him.

He hopped up and threw on his tunic then burst out of the door.

The whole world seemed to be caught in that light – beautiful and luminous and breathtaking. Mihael saw then that the black lake was endless, and it was no longer black but as green as the leaves on the trees.

“Oh!” he exclaimed. “This must be The Great Green Sea that my father told me about! It’s wonderful!”

He glanced all around him at the beauty of The Great Green Sea, and the glowing blue sky and the sun – oh, the sun – so bright and yellow and warm. He wanted to bathe in it!

For the first time in his life he felt free and alive!

But then Mihael’s heart sank. He had been away from his mother all night. She must be worried.

He decided he had to rush home as quick as he could to get her and bring her back to this beautiful place.

He looked around. He had become so lost in the darkness and the storm; he didn’t know which way he should go.

Mihael searched the edge of the forest all morning, trying to find his marks but they weren’t there. He must have walked much farther in the dark than he had thought.

He was beginning to feel afraid. If he couldn’t discover the trail how would he get back to his mother? She would be so alone without him.

That faint sound came again - that song, dancing on the air. Mihael waited, wanting to make sure it was real and not some trick of his imagination.

But it was real. It slowly became louder and louder until, his heart bursting with joy, Mihael realized it was his father’s voice, singing his name!

He ran towards the sound, tears blurring his eyes.

“I’m here, Father! I’m here, by the sea!”

He heard a rustling of leaves then his father appeared at the edge of the forest, looking just as he had when he left. Mihael’s mother was with him. She stepped out of the dark woods, shielding her face from the unfamiliar brightness.

“Mihael! There you are! We were so afraid we’d lost you!”

He ran to them. She hugged him tightly, kissed his warm cheek. Then his father lifted him up to the sky.

“Well, haven’t you grown! You’ll be a man soon!”

Mihael laughed as his father set him back down.

“Why did you run away, Mihael?” his mother asked.

“Oh, but I didn’t, Mother! I was searching for a better place to live. I was coming back to get you but I couldn’t find my trail.”

“So you did leave this trail?” His father smiled. “We hoped you had. You are a clever young fellow.”

“Yes, and look what a lovely place he found.” His mother’s face glowed with a happiness Mihael hadn’t seen in a long time. “Could we live here, darling? And never return to the woods?”

“We have money enough to live anywhere now, my girl. I think this spot is as good as any. What do you say, Mihael, shall we live by The Great Green Sea?”

“I’d like that. I feel alive here.”

“So do I, son. So do I.”

“Father, why were you gone so long?” Mihael wondered that night as they sat around the hearth in the little house, eating fish they’d caught that afternoon.

“I guess I did the same thing you did, son. Only I went about it the wrong way. I was determined to get your mother, and you, out of those dark woods. So, I went out to make my fortune. But I should’ve just found a better spot to live and brought you both back with me.”

“I should have been more willing to go with you in the first place,” Mihael’s mother sighed. “It took me too long to realize that not everyone would be cruel to me, that I have to give people the chance to be kind.”

“Will there be other people around here, Father?” Mihael was excited by that idea.

“Yes, son, there are plenty of people living by the sea. Tomorrow we’ll go and meet some, if you’d like?”

“I would. And we’ll give them the chance to be kind, won’t we, Mother?”

“Yes, we will, my love.”

She hugged him again. Mihael was happy. There would be no more dark, cold nights in the Black Forest for them.

THE END