From time to time, D. Fischer finds a picture an a tiny little story comes to mind.
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A profusely rich aroma lingers between the cliff walls carried by tiny particles of the waterfall’s mist. A gentle sweeping breeze tucks each particle in every crack, crevice, and imperfection of the rocks. The mist has been coating the rock walls in layers of slick grim for hundreds of years, and the smell is unlike any other. It’s quickly associated with fresh greens and damp dirt, but just as commonly dismissed as ordinary nature.
The caves, however, cannot be easily overlooked. Every surface is covered with the evidence of another life, a story among ruins abandoned for more favorable advances in evolution.
The pillars were carved by a blind man’s seeing hands. The boulder was the playground of energetic children. Behind the waterfall was a lovers’ quiet moment. Inside the cave, a mother had looked upon her seconds-old first born with adoring eyes while the father struggled to find food for his new family. The raging river whisked away the dead and caught the tears of those they left behind. Up and along the cliff wall, away from the mist and scaled by boys made to men, was the handprints of victors, and below, tucked in an untouched dry crevice, was the blood of the fallen.
This was a life. This was a home. Now, it is a treasure.
Art by Jonathan Kirtz
BATTLE OF THE ELEMENTS
A wind, with no true destination in mind, sweeps through the valley. It blunders from the mountains’ slopes – an oncoming storm of brisk gusts, seething clouds, and stinging snowflakes arrives earlier than predicted.
Each brick home shudders and every overwrought chimney puffs a thin stream of white smoke and fragile ash. The storm carries the scent of burning wood to the next roof until it dissipates, unable to fight the elements.
A white owl speckled with grey swoops and dodges the gale. Every feather from his sturdy wings is caressed by frigid temperatures, and his keen eyes burn as the blizzard pummels. When the cold is too much, the owl tucks in flight for a moment of body warmth, and plunges to the ground. Before the owl is greeted with sure death, he spreads his wings wide once more, and soars back to the sky.
Despite the rage of weather, the animal hoots with exhilaration. It is not often he’s tested in strength and determination, aside from the cunning hunt of his next meal.
The storm is the ultimate test of his very creation, and when he finds the cover of a tree, absent another animal, he perches his feet along a branch’s bark and grasps tight. His heart pounds and euphoria pumps through his veins. It is not every day a simple owl can conquer nature’s best and live to enjoy it.
A mischievous autumn breeze carries frail leaves across the graveyard, tickling the brown grass darkened by headstone shadows. The leaves turn and sway around slender, knobbed twigs, carrying the scent of wet earth from one space to another. They rustle and crackle when they clash against the other, and then fall to their final rest as the wind whisks away to the north.
Off in the distance, a tower chimes twelves bells, a strike of midnight, and in response, silence falls over the yard.
Hoot hoot, a grey owl calls from a dead tree’s branch. A shiver rustles his silver feathers reflected by the red full moon, and the brittle branch sighs under his light weight.
From midnight to three chimes of the tower’s cry, the owl had watched the graveyard come alive for many years. And before his watch, his mother, and her father before that. Every night they’d listen as the ancient spirits spoke, their voices muffled from the pressure of their dirt prisons.
But tonight is different. Tonight, the voices stray from the ground and their spirits mingle above. The owl watches with wide yellow eyes, the legend passed from each generation of feathered-watchers true. He hoots once more and spreads his wings. Quickly, he takes flight and soars with the stream of spirits, leading them away from the graveyard’s curse that’s lifted by the full red moon and All Hallows’ Eve.
The drought season is coming soon, the boy thinks to himself as brittle twigs and dry orange and red leaves crack and crumble beneath his bare feet. His time is almost up, but he isn’t worried.
Sent from his village months ago by the elders, he’s learned to feed, clothe, and tend the land that he has claimed as his own.
His native village believes boys are men at a young age, and the boy had rose to their challenge without a second thought, completely satisfied with the deadline to prove he was truly a man. He’s a survivor, witty and cunning. And he has a plan.
His only chance of going home to open arms was to show his worth, and he has every intention of returning a victor in the eyes of the elders and those he deeply loves, but not the traditional way.
This evening, on his long journey back from the land he tends, he dangles the fruits of his labor over his shoulder. The cotton sways against his back, and he grins, mischievous.
Most boys sent on this journey of discovery end a life – an animal, an enemy – anything to display their strength. But the boy refuses to end a life to begin his.
Every night, after nursing blisters from a day’s hard labor, the boy gathered his cotton, stretched and pulled, weaved with fumbling fingers, and colored and sewed with a needle and dye he made himself. He wants to show the village that worth isn’t in the blood dripping from hands, it isn’t combat. It’s the callouses along the skin, the push of the body, and the determination of the mind. Worth is the work done to survive another day, to provide and thrive in the harshest of elements. Tomorrow, he’ll return home with cloths of detailed and intricate design. The elders, though fraught they will be, can trade his cloths for food and fresh water to nourish the entire village during the drought months, and each member will be cared for because of his worth. None will want.
The boy whistles as he disappears into the trees, his last night in his makeshift home a delightful thought.
THE FORGOTTEN QUEEN
The Forgotten Queen stands at the edge of the Black Creek, watching a small patrol boat burn by her spelled sword’s command and the new magic within her. Her dress, woven of white fog and black shade, twists and sways against the soggy bank, an act it often does according to the wearers mood.
Cast from her throne as a child, the Forgotten Queen learned and studied under the hands of the Dark Ones, formidable creatures who practice forbidden magic and live under the realm’s castle. They had been subjected to the ancient tunnels years ago by usurpers who had swarmed the castle at the dead of night and killed the king. As the assassins for the royals, they hadn’t gone quietly and vowed to teach the surviving queen – the only royal they were able to save – their ways in hopes she may take back her throne, no matter the cost.
Moans of the sinful dead whisper from the lake, their blood and souls sentenced to forever wade in its shallow depths. The souls of her new kills will only add to its residents, their past murderous deeds still fresh in the Forgotten Queen’s memory.
The fire disappears and the final tendril of black smoke sluggishly rises, seeking the stars. She gazes across the creek, the moon hovering above the horizon and shining a beacon on the castle meant to be hers.
She will make them pay, and she’ll use every ounce of her acquired magic to make each of them bow before her.
GRANT ME ONE WISH
“I have just one more thing to say,” he begins, mumbling to the wind while watching mysterious lights flicker against a swirling fog. “Before I walk away.”
A thousand voices whisper to his back. They begin at the flesh of his sensitive nape, just below the hairline, caressing sound waves against his cool skin, until they work their way over the curve of his ear.
His head rings to the chorus and he fights the wince that settles in his joints.
He can’t make out their words, but some speak with quick urgency, and the others, with a slow melody of understanding – a gentle patience – allowing him to declare his last wish before his spirit crosses to a fate unknown.
“See to it that she’s cared for. Make sure she is loved and never wants. Don’t let her go hungry.” Lifting his hands, he marvels at the invisible tug. It urges him to head toward the light, and for a brief moment, his thoughts are distracted by its undeniable pull, the smell of fresh wild flowers and the sun beating on warm skin.
He stops, gulping past the heavy rock in his throat, remembering her petal pink lips as they twitched into a smile. Thinking he can touch the image, he reaches forward. His fingers slip through air. “Grant her everything I wanted to give, but couldn’t.”
He doesn’t know what the voices are, he doesn’t know what they represent, but he hopes they grant this one last request. The only wish consuming his soul is the well-being of another, his everlasting absence imminent.
The voices fall silent and he steps into the light, the memory of her lips fading from his mind forever, an addition to the collective fog.
A LIVING BOOK
Inside a musky apartment living room stricken by poverty, a thick book lay open on an antique wooden end table next to a cracked window. A spider’s silver web is perched along the sill, glistening in the light of a flickering street lamp and casting an eerie shadow across the stained area rug.
The book’s spine is dry and brittle, ripped in a canny resemblance of the web, and the black ink is faded but legible. It’s evidence of another time, created by a brilliant imagination long since gone.
The abandoned page left open lifts and makes the most musical crinkling sound as the reader rushes past the forgotten book and briskly reaches for the knob. The door slams closed soon after, the reader late for his nightly obligations. The walls shake with the resounding boom and plaster peppers the curling yellow tile dated back to an era when the reader himself was just a dream in a young wife’s prickling mind.
As the ruffled page floats back to a resting position, the book releases an exasperated sigh, alone at last.
The book wastes no time. A glow emits from the spine, traveling along the frayed edges to the wrinkled pages, banishing the couch’s shadow with brilliant white light. The book’s letters lift and raise blades of bright green grass, and the punctuations pop chirping purple crickets from one sentences to the next.
A groan rumbles from within as the plot shifts. The page numbers and heading lift from their typed positions and transform to puffs of churning white fog. The white hovers a foot from the book’s open surface, now clouds that fold and reshape too quickly.
A character giggles, the sound deep inside the first chapter, and nimble fingers part the grass from within. A petite red-headed girl climbs through the blades, wiggling her hips to squeeze the rest of herself through. It’s as though each of the following pages were merely steps to a landing.
Breathing deep, she stretching and fills her lungs and closes her long-lashed eyes. A mischievous smirk puffs her rosy cheeks and she imagines the outside street lamp a sun warming her pale skin.
Bending, she touches the dewy grass with one finger, a firm poke that digs at the parchment. The novel’s cover shudders with delight, the author’s pen name – originally male gendered – rearranges to that of her birth name, and the title’s text expands, obligated to heed the child’s simple request. A shiver rakes up the damaged spine, and the clouds descend in a swirling vortex with the story’s climax producing lightening flashes in the core. Finished with their work, they return to the small sky and a pink-leafed tree appears, it’s roots burying in the pages before.
A sound of glee bubbles in the small girl’s chest, and after she hugs the tree’s young trunk and smooth bark, she skips through the grass singing a tune that would charm her story’s roughest antagonist, more courageous than before.
A humid wind gathers, a slow pace that bundles the gust as it climbs the hills of a grassy prairie. Once it reaches the top, it gathers its courage and barrels toward the safety of a cluster of trees. A storm brews on the horizon, a threat to the land and the sun’s rays that freely play with the green terrain.
In these parts, the tall ancient wood and each piece of nature is alive with a magic and mystery, almost as it’s own entity in entirety.
Not all can see this nature and gaze upon its glory. The enchantment is kept secret, transparent and hidden, from those who wish to seek its mystical treasures driven by fierce greed. It’s securities are only meant for kind souls with favorable intentions. Only then may a creature feel its refuge and cross from the gale prairie.
It is said a woman, though not human, dwells in the oldest oak with the thickest trunk and sprawling roots, tucked between its prospering seedlings. She’s as old as the tree itself, and lives to preserve the sorcery that houses and protects her. This isn’t her first rumbling storm, and it won’t be her last. She’ll stand strong and firm like the roots beneath her calloused soles.
STRENGTH IN AN EYE
When emotion fills each chamber in a single heart and twists invisible tight ropes around a slender throat, warm salty tears well in eyes too proud to blink for fear of displaying vulnerability.
But each tear that trickles from our eyes, travels over the slopes of our heated cheeks, and drips from our jaw is a memory, and memories can be found with but one look inside another’s true eye.
Take a step closer, lean in, match nose to nose and look upon what you truly see inside the swirling colors of another, and the black iris’ that dilate as you do.
You’ll find a soul, one which grieves and rejoices. One that has desires built by heartache and failure, and hidden behind a wall made of sturdy brick. One who’s learned from sin and vowed to never make the same mistake twice while tucking it in a safe pocket of their mind, set to alarm.
This is your door – the eye of a dreamer, wisher, seeker. This is your chance to sooth what has been broken, to feel what has been hidden, to share a burden to great for one body. Break down the brick, and disarm the alarm. Show them not to be afraid of making a display, for it is evidence of their strength, not their weakness.
On the outside, her presence is wild and deceiving, a practiced bright smile on a youthful, pleasant face. She grins to spread the world with joy, knowing it’s needed when darkness lingers in every solemn corner. This world is comforted by smothering deception as generous as the towering grey buildings crowding every street. On the inside however, she’s crippled, drowned by a darkness that consumes the bustling people around her. To her, it feels like ropes tethered to weights and wrapped around her barely beating heart, it’s only goal to drag her under a raging water with tides too high for any skilled sailor. But when she smiles, she finds she’s contagious. A show of false euphoria is most often returned in kind, and one by one, the rope’s chaffing strands unravel its grip from the insides of her chest, and she can breathe once more, if only for a moment. A moment is all she needs. A moment, one smile, can last a lifetime if it’s gifted from another’s true heart.