Blue Across the Sea 1.1

So begins the story of Tillion d’Swasey, a young man who fishes the Bonneville Sea two-hundred and thirty years after a coronal mass ejection destroyed the world’s electricity.

~~~

CHAPTER ONE

Storm

Tillion donned his slicker and hustled down the path to the beach where their boat lay bellied above the surf. Near it lay his father, eyes glazed, stringy hair hiding his features; a clay jug sat half-buried in the sand.

The boy had woken with that familiar hunger, a knot in his belly like a knurl of sun-dried rope. His young body cried for more, more food, more nourishment. Today he would once again see to filling that constant hole. But more than packing his gut with baked fish and boiled grains, he ached to taste a righteous life. For the one he’d lived so far, among the struggling fishermen and ground scratchers of Swasey, allowed him to survive, yes. Yet he hungered beyond his body’s needs, he hungered for a sense of belonging. An insatiable hunger that nagged forever at his belly, at his soul.

Stepping through the low dunes, Tillion soon stood over his father. “We missed the leaving! And I find you like this?” The boy’s sharp words left no mark upon the man’s addled mind. “Now, I must fish alone.”

“You spent too long dozin’,” the man slurred. “Wasn’t my doin’, I been here since, since las’ night, fixin’ the net.”

“This?” The boy reached into the boat and yanked out the snarled net. He shook it in the man’s face. “You’ve been fixing this?”

“Don’t you raise your voice to me, boy! Tain’t my fault you be lax.” The old man sat up and watched his son now struggle to shoulder the boat into the water. He wagged a finger at the gray skies above the sea. “Them clouds look to be draggin’ a storm. I doan… I don’t care how rough it treats you. You fill them barrels, boy.”

Tillion spun and glared at his father. “Leave the fishin’ to me.” With a final shove, the boy freed the skiff, setting it afloat. “You! You treat Dallia kind while I’m out.” He leapt into the craft and pulled the main line snug. The vessel’s canvas snapped taught, and he grabbed the tiller. The boat heeled in the rising wind, and crashed through the breakers. Tillion twisted about and yelled at the old man. “You be kind, I say!”

His father’s last words were lost to the wind as the youth settled in to ride the waves out to the fishing grounds at the southern end of The Bonneville Sea.

~~~

Tillion searched for the fishing boats from the village, but they had either turned back in the rising seas or headed east toward the Watchers. He debated whether to take their lead or sail out to where he was certain he could fill the barrels. “Damn these barrels,” he spoke to the wind and kicked the nearest with his boot. He let his anger fester in the gale building swiftly around him. But thoughts of his sister soothed his angst. Her sad eyes and thankful ways would suffer if he surrendered to his temper. “Dallia works too hard for me to complain.”

The young sailor worked the tiller, tacking back and forth to seek the shoals of silver darters that provided their trade. A bright, erratic fish, the size of his hand, darters could be caught by the hundreds, even in Tillion’s ancient tangle of a net. And where darters swam, stripers followed. These were big fish, as long as his arm, that chased the darters, often sending the frantic bait skipping over the surface running from the serrated teeth of the stripers.

He remembered when a whole school of darters jumped to nearly fill the boat. “Dallia was along then. How she squealed to see them flying at her, like a fire’s sparks, dancing in the night.” The lad’s attention wandered as he reminisced of better times. Times before their mother had vanished.

“Where are you Maddur? Dead, they say…” The boy gazed into the sky. “Or do you watch for us? Do you count our Dallia’s tears?”

The line to the net he’d been dragging snapped to the side jolting him from his nostalgic dream. The ‘Our Boat’ tilted and the net’s sudden weight heeled the small boat over. Tillion leaned against the tilt, eyes wide with shock. He glanced at the rusty knife embedded in the bench beside him. To cut the net away would lose them precious weeks of fishing while they worked to make a new one. He let the knife be. The boat righted itself as the school of fish that had slammed into the net thinned and swam past.

Looking up, his chest tightened to see how close the storm had come. The waves around him now rose above his head. Tillion’s dedication had taken him farther north than usual and doubt teased at his mind. “I must follow the fish,” he said, justifying his decision to stay his course.

He wound the net’s line around the primitive wooden spool that served as a windlass and hauled up the snarled mess of net. He tumbled it over the side, spilling a bushel or more of spastic fish into the rain water that sloshed around his ankles. Trapped, the fish flailed about dashing themselves on the planking and ribs of the small craft.

Tillion shook the stragglers from the tangled net, straightened it as best he could, but flung it over the side with a curse. “Bah! ‘Fixing the net’ he says. The man couldn’t fix a hole by falling in it.” He grinned at the image.

He let the net’s line slip through his cold, numb hands until he judged it to be deep enough and tied it off. Setting an open barrel between his legs he scooped the darters, filling it. When the dulled fish brimmed the top he took a lid from behind, centered it and gave it a twist. “Two, two filled and four to go.” He shook his head in defeat. “Maybe I could catch a sturgo or a thief shark, cut it up and fill these barrels, fill ‘em in a single go.” Large sturgo, deep-sea bottom feeders, lurked in the shallows during breeding season, sucking fresh-water shrimp and clams. Thief sharks, Before-time Bull sharks, had been released into the waters of the inland sea ages ago and thrived on stripers and silver darters.

Having ignored the seas while he worked, the storm rose fully around him and the boat’s sail, now furled to a third, proved too much in the growing wind. Tillion leaned forward and scrambled to take down the rest of the ragged canvas. Swells, more than twice his height, heaved the small skiff up to tilt precariously in the gale. Once there, the boat slid down the face of the waves, burying her bow deep in the troughs. The motion drove panic into the boy and he held fast to the gunnels while she slid, his face stretched tight in panic.

At the crest of each swell Tillion searched to the east where he sought the familiar peaks of the Watchers. But storm clouds fouled the view. He scanned for any signs of land, but the heaving horizon showed only sea. To head home he would have to fight the storm’s southern winds. He shook his head in disbelief, how he had ignored the intensity of the storm for so long?

The waves stacked and quickened. Barrels, freed from their lashings, rolled and bumped in the boat’s hold, bashing Tillion’s knees. Just then a wave twice the size of any other, a looming green monster, sent the skiff high into the storm winds, the boy’s stomach lurched as it went. Poised at the top the net’s draw line tugged again to his left and wrenched the ship, tilting her edge into the churning water. Dread and simultaneous clarity gripped him. He reached frantically for the boat’s high side, grabbed the crude blade with his free hand and slashed the net away. But the boat’s edge sucked in deeper, and as she slid down the backside of the giant surge, her stern pierced the bottom of the bowl. Barrels pummeled the lad as the vessel shuddered and capsized, tipping him and all its contents into the sea.

Gasping for breath, Tillion could feel his clothing begin to drag him below the surface. He kicked off his rough hide boots and struggled from his slicker. Waves conspired to fill his mouth and choke him. He spat brackish water as his skills as a swimmer kept him afloat. Spying the upturned hull he swam near, but could not heave himself upon it. Hand under hand he rounded to the upturned bow where he embraced the wood planks and rested his head against the yellow painted name. He bobbed there, inconsolate. “I’ve done it now.”

A froth-capped wave fell upon him and nearly scraped him from his grasp. He shook the water from his face and noticed the empty fish barrels drifting away. Tillion recalled using one to play on as a toy in shallow bays near his village. Reluctantly, the lad released his grasp and swam out to retrieve one of the half-submerged barrels. He knew that staying with the capsized boat would not save him; yet, surrendering to the open water both scared and tempted him. “If I just quit, gulp this cursed water, slip down and down, I wonder, would I see Maddur again?” A bump from behind prodded him from his desperate thoughts. One of the paddles had remained near and like an old friend had tapped his shoulder..

With one barrel now secure, he had an idea. Retrieving a second from the tormented sea, he put the ends of the paddle into the separate barrels and found he could suspend himself by sitting on the middle of the shaft. With one arm shouldering each wooden float he decided he wouldn’t yet drown. However, he soon realized he had no control over his drift. As the waves drove into his back and the swells rolled beneath him, he turned to look; with a sense of aching loss he watched as he drifted away from the lap-planked hull of his family’s precious Our Boat.

The storm, the first major of the season, drove Tillion and his barrels farther across the Bonneville Inland Sea. It drove him farther than he or any of the local villagers had dared to travel.

For generations, storms like this had raged across the Western half of North America. During the winter, the ice would form at the edges and the ever-rising levels of the sea would drive it thick into the shoreline where it ground stones to sand and shredded the trunks of inundated trees. The water of the sea rose and ancient buildings and artifacts from Before also succumbed to the grinding power of the ice. Generations ago, the ice collapsed walls and toppled homes and buildings. But more recently, the sea warmed and great shoals of fish could be caught.

Night came and went, and then twice again. As he drifted, Tillion imagined all the sunken towns and villages that lay submerged on the bottom of the sea. Unschooled, but keen to view maps and learn the names of places, he’d listened and watched as elders of his village displayed yellowed, decrepit charts in their primitive attempts to understand the inundated land. Nearly a thousand feet below him the ancient towns of Salt Lake and Wendover, Provo and Dugway rotted in their sodden graves.

On this, his fourth day at sea, the storm abated, but the relentless wind continued to drive him northward. The overcast dawn came, and with no heat from the sun to warm the nearly comatose youth, Tillion struggled to remain conscious. Fortunately, the sea, its water only slightly brackish, was drinkable, and he’d sipped and pissed it throughout his ordeal.

Great smooth waves undulated beneath him; the winds, a steady pressure, nudged the barrel-bound lad along the vast surface of the sea. In this lull, a spastic commotion started up around him. Hundreds of flashing darters leapt from the churning water, a few jumped so high as to slap at his head and chest. Even in his groggy state he knew that this meant large dark predators would be swimming underneath his unclad feet. The fear shocked him from his stupor. He thrashed about in confusion, seeking some nonexistent weapon. Then, as he flailed, his eyes focused on a spit of land before him. A low beach appeared to be connected to a set of rocky hills and they, in turn, to a few rounded mountains.

The sight pushed the threat of undersea creatures from his mind and he choked out a muted whoop of relief. Given the weather patterns and storms, he realized this must be the North land. He’d drifted all the way across the sea. He tried to picture the distance he’d traveled, but he blinked repeatedly, mystified.

A heavy thump against his leg startled him. He glanced about. The water was now filled with dozens of sleek, striped bodies lancing out of the sea in pursuit of the silver darters. He spun his head around in worry. “There, damn.” He could see two large fins cutting toward him. With the shore still some distance away he maintained a bare grip on the paddle, slipped down into the water and flipped into a pushup position. With all the energy left in him, he kicked toward the beach.

In hot weather thief sharks entered the shallows in search of food, often lazily weaving between swimmers and bathers. Tillion recalled that one older man had lost a leg below the knee to a large shark, a shark that had been nearly a third as long as one of their skiffs. He kicked in frenzied activity as bumps from below spurred him on.

A maniacal laugh burst from his raw throat. “All this way, and now sharks.”

But the fins headed off to follow the roiling bait and the youth relaxed, exhausted and nearly spent. The wind continued to help his progress and soon his barrels ground onto a sandy beach. Crawling up to the highest surf line, he freed and dragged the paddle with him and once there, collapsed into unconsciousness.

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Sarresh and Gor

A vicious tear ripped down the side of her rib cage. Her scream, like shattered glass, blast across the town’s roofs. What she was doing perched atop the peak of the priory knave, she would never tell. Her eyes rolled back in her head, she grabbed at the wrist that had torn the knife down her side, her assailant jerked his arm from her grasp and she slipped. Her feet slid down the tiles and her body tipped and her weight yanked her down off the slope. The karump of her flesh striking the flagstone steps was the last that entered her own ears. Her skull cracked like a nut as it struck.

“Good,” her companion spat. “If you’d kept your tongue, you might have seen the morrow.” Fip seated the knife he called Skur into its custom sheath, the sheen of the moonlight glanced off the copper hilt as he parted his cloak and flashed the belt on which it hung. The shrunken thief, no taller than a child, but wiry and yew bow strong, patted over the ridge of the knave and dropped and vanished into the night. He’d witnessed more than one partner’s death; many of which at his own hand.

But Sarresh did not die that night, nor the next.

A month later she woke groaning and croaking like a thrice widowed crone. She reached out in the early morning light, her vision foggy from the concussion, to grasp the mug of water she instinctively knew rested at the bedside table. She slurped down gulp after gulp in an attempt to slake the unquenchable dryness of her parched throat, only to puke the contents all over the rough wood floor near the bed on which she lay.

“Easy there, lass,” spoke a voice like a slow river. “Sip the drink, there be aspic in the mixture, to give you strength; too much will knot your belly.”

Her heaving done, she wiped the drool and slime from her mouth with the blanket that covered her. She opened her mouth to speak but naught came but a frog-like noise which backed her up and widened her eyes. She rubbed her knees together, naked. She lifted the fouled blanked to find her bare below the shift that wadded itself up above her waist. She narrowed her eyes and peered around for a weapon.

The massive oaf-looking man chuckled. “Think you’ve been violated by the likes of me? Bah! You ain’t fit to host my lusts. Settle back. The sewing I done has set, but you struggle now and the seam will tear.”

Sarresh pulled the reddish blanket up to her neck and lay back. She eyed the man who eyed her back. She bobbed her head once, ‘give me the story.’

“The Cromson brought you to me on a wagon full of Priory pillows. He said he’d deliver the load to the OneAndOnly but while unloading, you fell from the roof and missed him by a arm’s length. Said you made the wretched most sound when you hit the stones. He threw a blanket around you and wheeled you here.” The great man shifted on the stool, it creaked beneath his weight.

She raised her eyebrows, ‘and…’

“Oh, let’s see, that be,” Gor raised his sight to stare at the rafters, “four, aye, four weeks now. I been caring for you since that night.”

The woman, her green eyes wide, her brows lifting in thankfulness, stared at the giant of a man, his simple goatskin jerkin, mottled and frayed, drew her eyes. She tilted her head and handed the mug to him, ‘thank you.’

“Oh, it be no trouble. What are you, the size of my old Ganny goat? Naw, you be no worries to me. But the wee fart of a fellow that come through town, oh, two weeks ago now, he and his mate, long, skeletal fellow, sallow skin, scars all over his face and forearms. The fart man be askin’ about you and where you be buried.”

Sarresh’s face flushed at this news. She looked to the open shutter-wide window and then back to the huge hunk of a man who now poured another mug of water for her to sip.

“Oh, we said, the Cromson and I, we said we rolled you in a ditch grave the night we found you. Said the mongrels prolly dug you up and chewed your bones to gruel. The wee man, a nasty pinch to his face, seemed satisfied.”

The woman’s face relaxed at this telling. The oaf-man saw the change and determined that, yes, the tiny thief and this woman had been on business that night. Why, he wondered, had she been sliced and left for dead?

“You rest a day or three more. Your voice will return with a draught I’ll brew, special for you.” The great hulk rose and set the mug on the table near the bed, smiling at the woman. “For now you be safe. But, once you’re well, there be some answers me and the Cromson be hoping you can tell us.”

Random Setting Number Four

From: http://writingexercises.co.uk/create-a-setting.php

  • It’s the middle of the night.
  • There’s been a heatwave for days.
  • You’re on a desert island.
  • There’s a lonely feel to the place.

I can sense that I’m not well. I feel alright, physically, but I can’t escape the constant roar of the surf; the sound fills my head like a cotton riot. I swivel around seeking some direction that might dim the assault on my ears. But, as one direction lulls me into believing that, ah, there, silence — crash! Waves beat even more savagely on the reef and the beach. I’m sure this sickness I’m feeling is caused by this war on my hearing.

Then there are the footprints. I’m certain I’m not alone. I’ve walked the entire length of this beach, run to the opposite side of this oblong island and walked the other side. I’ve never seen him, or her. Wouldn’t that be a gift. A woman under this relentless sun, a high sweet voice to sing to me above this insidious rumble. I’m sure she would think me unwell. She’d squint her eyes at me and shake her head. “I believe your mind is slipping,” she’d say. And I’d know she was right. But she’d smile and tell me of her time in London or her schooling in Paris.

But I never see her. Or him. The footprints look like a man’s, the way they’re spaced, in a strut or pompous stroll, his pipe in his fist, the smoke from the glowing tobacco swirling away like threads attempting to lift his hand.

When I find him I’ll smack that pipe from his hand. I might even backhand that smirk from his face. Whose mind is slipping now, I’ll demand.

Not even the stars are out tonight. One evening, I counted nearly five thousand, partitioning off the sky and remaining in the imaginary lines I’d drawn. I’m sure I was well back then. This overcast weather… some storm must be coming. I could use the freshwater. But more than anything, the cooling winds, I can’t stand this heat.

Don’t the tropical islands always have a breeze blowing? I’ve landed on a dud, I’m sure of it. The worst, noisiest, loneliest, noisiest — ah, I think I’ve said that already. Does madness begin with the awareness of madness? She might know. She’s ever so smart. All that schooling.

But I’m not sure where she’s gone off to. Her footprints vanished from last I saw them. No, those were his prints. The smoker. That’s what I smell, a cherry flavored pipe tobacco. Normally, I’d encourage its use and invite the fragrance in. But there’s no breeze. And it’s pitch black tonight. And that cloying scent sticks to me, mixes with my sweat. I lick my hand, I taste like smoked meat.

I’ll set a trap. Yes, I’ll dig a hole, many holes, and bury sharp stakes in the bottom. Cover them with palm fronds. He’ll never suspect. I’ll catch that bastard, he’ll plunge down and be skewered. Tomorrow, first thing.

God, but I wish the noise would stop for just an hour. The pounding and crashing, I don’t think my hearing will ever recover. I’m sure it’s adding  to my ailment. If only there was someone to help me dig. I’ll need at least ten holes. He’ll never suspect. Did I say that already? Wait a minute, he may already suspect. He must watch me from the scant trees. I must be quick, then.

But for now, I’ll just rest, rest in this vicious heat and smoke and noise. Yes, a rest will help. I’ll get better with her assistance. She’s fixed me up before. Maybe I’ll see her tomorrow. I hope she doesn’t fall into a hole.

 

 

Shadow Shoals 1.5

~ 5 ~

Deus rose with the sun the next morning. In the previous darkness, he and Jessa had pulled the mats in, their stink much reduced. He check in on Kasmira, who remained sleeping, the half glass of spikejack she’d drunk to ease her pain having worn off in the middle of the night; she’d moaned and gasped until exhaustion finally took her. Nita and Jessa had slept together on the floor mattress, while Tove, for once, had slept on the other raised bed. She’d offered one side to Deus, but the thought of being so near the beautiful woman had confounded him. He’d curled up in a ratty blanket on the floor next to K.

In practiced stealth, he slipped from the K’s room to stoke the fire in the stove, stirring embers up from the firebox. He quietly slipped outside to fetch more wood and a pail of water, which he used to fill a pot to heat for tea. Then, the women all still sleeping, he jogged back to the knife in the road and stood looking down into the pit, the light bright enough to clearly see the bottom.

He dropped the big knife to clang off the last rung of the ladder and climbed down. The smell of damp earth and metal came to him more strongly now as he examined the oval door. He tried to twist both handle latches, top and bottom, but they stuck, rusted. He thought to use the back of the machete but instead, retrieved a stout branch from the forest. He stood to the side and whacked the lower handle. It shifted, and then on the third strike, twisted down in release. The top one, a few inches above his head, caused him grief, but after a few dozen strokes, his frustration rising, he yelled out and swung with all his might.

“Deus! What are you doin’?” Jessa called down from above.

He dropped the branch and wiggled both levers, loose now. “Wha’chu think I be doin’? I gonna get inside this here hidyhole and see if them brothers stored any medicine. Miss K, she, she in a bad way.”

“You can’t be goin’ in there without help.”

“I be goin’ all kinds of places without help. This be no different.”

Jessa turned around and descended the ladder despite Deus’ cautions. Once down she he thought she looked to challenge.

He turned back to the door. “Well, I go first. Won’t be no light, but we come back if it ain’t empty.”

The lever handles were the only protrusions on which to pull and when Deus tugged the rusted hinges held fast.

“Here, I got an idea.” Jessa took the rope that had fallen with Kasmira the night before and began tying one end to the lower toggle. The boy took the hint and did the same to the top one.

They then both took the rope and leaned back, now under the ladder. “Ready?” Deus said.

Jessa nodded and they both started to pull. The rope and their knots held but the door remained frozen closed. The children panted with the effort. “We ain’t big enough to budge it. We’ll have to wait for K to get better.” Jessa let her end go and started up the ladder.

Deus cocked his head and looked at the door jam and the heavy branch that lay at his feet. “Hold on. Le’me try a thing.” Using the bottom rope he wrapped it around the limb held horizontal until the wood was snug to the handle. The short end he stuck into the side of the jam. The long end he held and sat right on the dirt, his feet up against the lip of the concrete slab that formed a step up to the door. “You grab hold, too. We pull here and the rope pulls there.”

Jessa sat next to him and the two bent their knees, pushed with their legs and pulled at the branch. Deus grunted with the strain. With a satisfying creak the door broke from its centuries old seal and inched open. Immediately the chemical smell of degraded materials and plastics filled the bottom of the hole.

“Ew, that’s awful. I ain’t goin in there.” Jessa stood up and pressed herself against the far wall of the culvert.

“Help me open it wide. We kin come back later with light. I see things, but I don’t know what.”

~~~

The pair snuck through the front door. Or tried to.

“Did you two get it open?” K rested in one of the rocking chairs near the front door, her leg propped up on a stool, a blanket wadded beneath her calf.

They stopped, eyes wide, caught in their conspiracy. As they saw her, she grimaced in agony, her face oddly pale.

“Go get yourself some food,” K continued. “We can…. We can talk in a moment.” She reached over to a small table finding a mug at which she reluctantly sipped. “Spikejack and mint tea. I hate it, but I can’t bear the pain. Go on now.”

The two sought out Tove and Nita. The blind woman was gently tending to the girl’s cut leg, dipping a cloth into a warm water basin and dabbing at the red swollen gash.

“How–” Jessa began.

“I’ve been blind a long time. I know how to move and control my body better’n most.” Tove wrung the cloth and continued her work.

Nita lay back on the bed gazing at the rough board roof. “I showed her hands the way, and Miss Tove remembered.”

“What did you find?” Tove asked.

“Nothin’ yet,” Deus said quickly. “Is Miss K gonna be okay?”

“I think Kasmira’s ankle is badly broken. From what she’s told me, dark skin and the pain… I don’t know how long ‘til she recovers.”

He frowned at the news and looked around the room focusing on one of the paintings the girls had found and hung on the walls. It showed what appeared to be snow capped mountains, things he knew were beyond his experience but within his understanding. “Is that a real place?” he said pointing.

Jessa, laying next to her sister, followed his gaze and confirmed that, yes, they’d learned about such mountains and places like deserts and jungles from the books their aunt and teacher owned. She described the painting for the woman’s benefit. With her voice flowing, Jessa enthusiastically added, “And there’s a land that’s all ice at the bottom of the world.”

Deus decided that the bottom of the world was a good place to put land made of ice. He went to serve Jessa and himself a bowl of grain porridge. He found the honey crock and scooped out a blum sized morsel for each of them.

They ate in silence and cleaned up before feeling obligated to inform Kasmira of their progress. But she’d fallen asleep in the chair.

“Tove, we opened the door at the bottom of the hole. Maybe there’s medicine in there. Do you know if those men had candles or a lantern?” Jessa had searched the bedrooms as they cleaned but had found nothing to be used for lighting.

“A lamp or lantern needs fuel. The brothers sometimes worked into the night in the barn. They may have candles there.”

“Devil-dog damn it!” K cursed from the front of the cabin. Deus and Jessa looked in to see the woman struggling to shake spilled liquid from the blanket that covered her. “You two, come here. I need you to… to do something for me before the storm hits.”

“Storm?” they chimed together.

“Yeah, I can feel things like storms. Someday… The canoe, my belongings, they’re still down at the hidden…” K shuddered and closed her eyes for a moment. “The beach. The two of you need to pull them, carry it all up above the storm water-mark.”

“But, them boxes, they be heavy as me,” Deus complained.

Kasmira reached out and grabbed the boy’s arm. His cloak protected his skin but her grip was iron. “Boy, you nearly stole that boat. You can haul it and them chests up that tiny hill. Can’t you?” She released him, pushing him away. “I’m sorry. Those books, my things, they be dear to me.”

Jessa picked up the mug that had fallen. She knew that drink could make folks say and do things they wished undone. She set it on the table and picked at Deus’ clothing. “Come on, Deus. We’ll figure on it.”

He tugged away, straightened and stepped in closer to the woman. He placed his hand over hers. “Miss K. I see to it. Don’t you worry.” He turned and pulled Jessa through the front door.

At the small beach, with the weather showing no threat of storm, the two surveyed the problem. The fortified chests they left for last. The empty canoe they towed up the path that cut along the embankment, taking the longer, shallower trail, letting its natural shape lead the way. Deus noticed a dark stain down the inside of the aluminum boat, but did not remark on it. How K managed to haul that sweaty man’s body in and out he couldn’t imagine.

Kasmira’s bundles of bedding and tools they carried up and lay back into the canoe placed among the white pines some twenty steps from the edge of the slope.

The two considered the chests. “I cain’t even lift one end,” Jessa declared, swinging her black hair away from her face as she stood from the effort.

Deus held the upper piece of the split rope he’d untied from the ladder the night before. He threaded it through a handle, and lifted one end of the dark-wood chest. It rose a hand’s breadth and he kicked a branch under. “We kin move it, a piece at a time.”

“It’d take all day doin’ it that way.” Jessa sat atop it now, her heavy boot heels kicking at it.

“If’n we had a cart…” He held out his hand which she grabbed without hesitation. “Come on, There be a handcart in the barn.”

They ran up the center road counting the rows of trees. “Twenty-eight,” Jessa said, her breath heaving. They turned and she counted the trees along the last row. “Ten, this way. D’you know if they be even?”

Nodding, Deus unlatched the barn door. “They’s the same.”

“Hmm, ten by twenty-eight, and again. There be almost six-hundred apple trees here.” Jessa held her hands out, fingers moving as her mind worked the numbers.

The boy shrugged. “Ain’t no one to work ‘em now.” With the doors open wide the space lit such that he noticed a second smaller wheeled cart behind the first, with its rails still kneeling in the dirt before them. “Look at that. We kin use this little one fer haulin’.”

There, tucked under the back of the first cart, was a wheelbarrow looking contraption, a truck for moving heavy barrels, lifting them only a foot up.

“Give me a ride back?” Jessa pleaded as Deus wheeled the cart out to the front.

He hefted the oak handles to get the feel of the thing. “Git on.”

Jessa stepped up, tilting it crazy. “Whoa. Mebe I better not.”

“Go on. I kin handle you. Move to the middle, more. There.” Properly balanced Deus pushed the large wheeled cart up to the center road, Jessa crouched on the low platform, gripping where she could to keep her hands out of the way of the spokes.

“Faster!” she beckoned.

The boy responded. Whizzing back along the road, Jessa’s hair lifting in the small breeze. Deus revelled in the moment. “I gotta take a breath…” he wheezed, slowing. They turned at the house, Jessa hopped off and they returned to the beach where they worked the chests, one by one, first tilting them on end, and then scooping them to sit balanced on the cart.

“Now the ‘ard part.” Deus said. “Do ya think we might pull or push?”

Nita appeared at the top of the rise. “I’ll help.”

“Nita! Hey. Okay, if’n we tie the rope to the front you’s two can pull and I’ll push n’ steer.” Deus smiled brightly to see the girl looking better.

“Are you sure you should?” Jessa worried.

“When we’re done. I want a ride, too.”

~~~

With the chests set next to the canoe and the whole pile covered with one of the tarps, the three headed back to the barn, Nita riding the cart, Jessa keeping an eye on her.

“Miss Tove say them men had candles or a lamp.” Deus scanned the bench below the hanging tools. “There ain’t no candles here.”

“Where you found that knife, Deus, there was another bundle aside of it.” Nita limped to the back where the chest of old guns and bows sat, still open.

“Here’s a sack, of… Aaah!” Jessa dropped the burlap bag as half a dozen mice scattered between their feet, the rodent’s nest a tangle of fur and weed-straw.

Deus retrieved the sack and found it full of beeswax candle stubs.

“How do we light ‘em” Nita asked.

The question stumped the children.

“Miss K know to light fires.”

Returning to the house, the mid morning sun warming the ground and stirring insects and birds, with still no signs of impending weather, they found Kasmira feverish and sweating. Deus hesitated disturbing her.

“Miss Tove?” Jessa asked. “We found a sack of candles, but no way to light ‘em. We, Deus thought K might have a way. But…”

“Here’s flint and steel. You leave Kasmira be for now. She’s going to be suffering heavy for a time.” Tove moved like a ghost to the stove, where they watched her remove a tin box from the shelf above. Probing inside, like she touched the tenderest of creatures, she withdrew a rusted iron bar and a dark black rod. “Watch,” she said, as she scraped the red bar down the length of the black one. Sparks danced away like fireflies. “Bring these back, mind you. It’s the only set I know of.”

“How do you…?” Deus began.

“As I said, I know my body and the feel of things better’n most.”

~~~

Standing over the mysterious pit Deus blocked the ladder. “Nita, you sure you be fine down there?”

“I’ll be okay.”

He remained in position. “Las’ night, when you fall, you flopped like a fish on the sand. I ain’t never seen nothin’ like it.”

The sisters looked at each other, their faces a mirror, Deus thought.

“You gotta swear. This be a secret.” Jessa told him.

The boy’s eyes widened. He nodded to them both. “Aw righ’, I promise to keep your secret.”

“Nita and me, we both got “epsy.” Had it since forever.”

Deus’ face scrunched in confusion. “Epsy?”

“It comes only sometimes. If we be hurt or hard tired.”

“‘N you shake a fit like that? Every time?”

The girls nodded together.

“But only if you hurt?”

“Or dead tired.”

He spun and started down the ladder. “Okay. I be makin’ sure you’s both ain’t never get hurt or tired or nothin’. That shakin’ give me worry still.”

To the side, in the dirt, the three made a tiny fire with twigs and leaves. Deus mimicked Tove’s motion and soon tendrils of smoke snaked up from their kindling. The door to the bunker stood wide and the smell had dissipated. Flames from the nascent fire cast tantalizing flickers of light into the industrial cave.

They each took a pair of candles and lit one from the fire.

“I go first. Miss K say they may be traps or hollows.”

In procession, Deus, Nita, then Jessa entered the centuries old cavity, hoping for medicine, but having no other understanding of what might be buried inside.

 

END PART ONE

Shadow Shoals 1.4

~ 4 ~

Inside the cabin, K found the space divided by plank-panelled walls. The greater portion held a kitchen area, dining bench and, to the north, towards the front door, a sitting area with a pair of padded rocking chairs, a low table, a writing desk and a standing clock with a face that met hers in height. The remainder of the space contained two bedrooms and between them, a water closet which, when K inspected it, showed that instead of plumbing the toilet open to a hole in the floor beneath which a bucket sat, stinking of Pratt brother’s shit and apple-cider piss. The room held a vanity and a large plain mirror, fractal traces of silver peeling from the back. The vanity was fitted with a sunken bowl and useless faucets, Before time remnants. Beneath, in the cabinet, sat a pair of buckets, ancient galvanized steel things, rusted but serviceable. Both were empty.

“Tove, what do you do for water here?” K asked as she finished her tour.

The blonde woman had busied herself preparing a simple gruel for the children. The youngsters, sitting at the dining bench, had marveled at the woman as she felt and probed with bat-like senses around the kitchen area. Standing cabinets held crocks and sacks containing grains and dried edibles, which, she said, had come from folk trading for the brother’s cider. She’d used a handled pot, a heavy aluminum thing, the only clean one available, and dropped in five handfuls of an oats and bulgar wheat mixture and poured in water from a pitcher feeling at the level with her fingers.

“There’s a well. The brothers said it was here before they took over the place. The orchard was here before them, too.” Tove stirred the pot that sat on the black iron stove, an ancient Before time thing too. “The water tastes of salt, but only a trace.”

K tasted the water and judged it passable. She wondered what “took over” had meant and having witnessed the callous bearing of the Pratts doubted it had been a peaceable transition. She moved on to inspect the kitchen.

The children had sat for the time, fiddling with a set of cutlery and an assortment of pocketknives the brothers had collected, or stolen, K thought.

When K finished her examination of the foodstuffs Nita grabbed her hand and pulled her toward one of the bedrooms. “Come see. Around the side there was a lean-to and inside we found uh oil-cloth bundle with pictures inside. We hung ‘em on the walls in the sleep rooms.”

Kasmira had noticed the pictures, amateur paintings of the local landscape, colorful but crude. “What else was in the shed?” Apparently she’d yet to walk the western side of the cabin where the water well, lean-to and the opening to the toilet were situated.

“Dirt tools, some wood tools too, the kind Aunt Sarah’s man-friends used to build her barn.”

The bedrooms held crude mattresses elevated on wooden-slat frames. On the floor of one room was another mattress, where, K figured, Tove had been forced to sleep.

“Why don’t we haul these bed mats outside and let the last hours of the sun have at them for a bit. Maybe we’ll leave them there for a day or three. I’m sure they could use an airing.”

The children joined in and, when done, Tove announced that the food was ready. “We still have some cane sugar and a crock of honey. It’s gone hard but still good n’ sweet.”

In her travels, K found that simple items like spoons, forks and knives seemed to have survived the ages. No new manufacturer had taken up the process of creating them, but as they were long to tarnish or degrade, they tended to last. Tableware, however, was hard to find. Anything plastic had generally become too brittle with age, and everyday porcelain or pottery, dropped or cracked, became useless. The girls ate from turned wooden bowls, Dues and Kasmira from copper versions and Tove from the pot itself.

“These are dried plums from Savannah, the brothers bought. They’ve got pits so watch your teeth.”

The meal satisfied them all and when done, Deus fetched a pail of water from the well and the girls and he washed up at the sink built into a counter next to the stove; the sink drained through a pipe leading nowhere K could determine. However, when they rinsed, she could hear the tinkling of water falling into some container below the floor.

“I’ll go deal with the dead brother. Tove, are there any other buildings, traps or dangerous parts of the island that you know of?” K tested the rocking chair furthest from the front door, it creaked but was comfortable. When was the last time I sat in comfort, she thought.

“There’s the cider barn at the northwest corner. It’s got barrels and the press. That’s all the Pratts talked of. If there’s traps, or hidden places…” The woman waved her fingers toward her beautiful but vacant eyes.

K rose reluctantly from the chair. “Well, we’ll need to do a walk-around. See if there’s Before-time remnants, or if those boys ever expected trouble and planned accordingly.” She rested her hand on Deus’ shoulder. “Think you could do a walk-around, stay out of the woods, but ring the orchard. See if anything looks strange to you?”

Deus nodded eagerly.

“Girls, if one of  you could go with Deus, I’ll be back in a while.” K left out the backdoor, closing it with the lift-handle. The girls played a version of rock-paper-scissors they called goat-cheese-grass where goat beat grass, grass beat cheese and cheese beat goat.

~~~

Nita won (or so Jessa claimed), and accompanied Deus around the orchard. Jessa remained with Tove and the two continued the elimination of all evidence of the brothers.

Deus took the lead, picking up a club-like branch from the wood pile as a makeshift weapon. “Miss K say she shot ta othern’ brother. Where she hit ‘em?” he said walking east to where the first of the apple trees, just starting to show green, stood near the band of forest that ringed the island.

When Nita remained silent, he turned to see her looking away. She pointed to the center of her own chest. “I’ve seen dead people before, n’ smelled them too. This one, he stank like puke and shit and bad sour milk. Jessa n’ me we tied a rope ‘round his feet and Miss Tove, she helped drag him.”

Deus watched her shudder. He handed her his stick as an offering, he supposed, to help fend off the memory, but she shook him off.

“I’m fine. That’s too big for me anyway,” she said with a forced smile.

The afternoon began to cool as the sun dropped to three hands above the horizon. The smell of new growth soothed both the children’s meins and the bay’s soft breeze continued to whisper through the long needles of the pines. They followed the wagon road that ran straight to the far northeast corner. Nita picked at tall milkweed and last year’s grass heads. The pair, their task poorly defined, began to dally, Deus picking up stones and batting them, Nita telling a story of how she and Jessa had gotten their first goat, TeeTee; it was a gift from a farmer whose own daughters had died from illness.

“This is just a starter,” the farmer had said. “If you gather the milk for a few days, keep it cool, you can make a cheese. If’n you sell the wheel, and do it again and again, I’ll sell you other goats. The two of you can make a business of it.” Nita had explained that they’d done just that. Deus listened attentively and was sure he could never have followed the regimen. Roast goat was a hard meal to pass up.

“Oh, we’d never eat our TeeTee and Binni and the others. But, doesn’t matter now. Newains took ‘em and prolly et ‘em.” The dark haired girl’s rich brown eyes gleamed as she held out five stones to represent her herd, naming them in turn.

They’d reached the corner, headed west and stopped as they met the central drive that split the island.

“I’ll show you’s the boat Miss K n’ me fetched back. This way.” Deus took the girl’s hand and they ran up the road through the neck of the forest which opened up on a rocky point with the sailboat, still half-hauled, to their left.

“Is it supposed to be in the water like that?” Nita asked.

“No, that winding thing be all crossed up. May’un you n’ me could straighten it out.”

They inspected the rusty, but serviceable winch that had been mounted to a heavy steal framework sunk in the gravel beach and determined that the rope had wound too much on one side. They backed it off a revolution or three (the boat remained friction stuck on the timbers) and with both their efforts at the crank, managed to haul the boat the rest of the way up.

Nita gave a little jump. “We did it!”

“Weren’t so hard, huh?” Deus reached for her hand again and tugged her up the slope.

Nita pointed out to the middle of the vast expanse of water. “What’s that?”

A double masted schooner sailed north along the far west side of the bay. Yellowed, patchwork triangles of sail glowed with the sun behind them while tiny dots of men worked on the deck.

“I seen its like before. It come up from the south, tradin’. I think it be takin’ Newain makings back with it. I be on the Jay River, and I heared cryin’ from inside. It be docked at Folktown.”

“Folktown? How’d you come to be here?” Nita followed the boy back along the wooded road.

“Be the last time I runned away. Mrs. Contraquoi, I heared her talkin’. Sayin’ she want to sell some uh them under her care.” Deus turned right to continue their circuit. “I never be somebody’s property.”

A grey wood barn, half the size of the cabin, sat in the corner of the orchard. At the front, deep in shadow, a pair of swing doors hung latched, and when the two children each pulled one open, the hinges squealed like murdered rabbits. Just inside was a wide handcart, the struts in the dirt at their feet. To the right, loops of rope and machinery hung on the walls and a six-foot tall iron-wheeled press sat on an elevated platform. To the left, room for twenty or thirty barrels spanned open, but only three lay on their sides. The makings of other barrels and a stack of wood-slatted bins leaned against the back wall.

Nita stepped up on the platform and tried to turn the wheel attached to a thick spiraled screw that formed the apple press. “Stuck. Those men don’t seem to like their tools much. Aunt Sarah teached… taught us to always take care of our things. She told us that the world’s not making them anymore, so we should pay our mind to them.”

Deus kicked the three remaining barrels. “Trade these for more o’ that cane sugar Miss Tove feed us.”

“That was tasty fine. I wonder what else she’s got stored there?”

Deus caught sight of a low box and upon lifting the lid ogled the contents. “There be all kinda weapons in here. Mostly beat up, but here’s a gol’ big knife. It’s better’n this stick.” He hefted the machete and rummaged around finding old muskets, sabers and disassembled crossbows, their ancient fiberglass bows laying unstrung beside them.

“We better keep going. The sun is nearly to the trees,” the girl said as she exited the barn. They relatched the barn doors and headed back toward the cabin, twilight just starting to blush the sky.

Half-way back Deus, swinging his new-found blade at straggly weeds, noticed a break in the tree canopy to his right. He stopped, backed up and figured it must be a hole left by a fallen pine. Maybe there’s firewood to hack at, he thought, the feel of the heavy blade urging him to strike at something expendable.

He counted six rows of apple trees from the barn to mark the spot and stepped off the road in search of the gap. Wary of the wild swings of the blade, Nita followed at a distance. When Deus had snaked his way to the spot he circled it looking for the fallen tree. Nita, instead, walked through the middle. As she stepped through shrubs that unexpectedly grew beneath the extra sunlight, her left footstep made a drumming sound.

“Deus, I think there’s a hollow under here. See, listen…”

The boy turned toward the girl and watched her stomp closer to the center of the tiny glade. He heard the false beats of a muted drum with each of her steps.

She stood in the center now. “What do you think is under here?” She bent her knees to leap high hoping to produce a forceful tone. Dues watched her jump as high as she could, and when she landed her heels met what must have been a rusted steel hatch. She punched through the corrupt metal, tearing the entire disc that covered the pit.  She cried out hysterically as she fell, vanishing through the hole, her dark hair streaming after her.

Deus heard the sickening impact of her body, a muffled carumpf at the bottom, the lid of the hole hanging down precariously at the edge. The boy ran to the gaping hole. Below, the girl lay sprawled, and, as he watched in the dim light, her body began to jerk and twitch, spasming like a toy being shaken by a dog.

“NITA! Nita!”

The girl’s disturbing motion quit but she remained unresponsive.

Deus glanced around the area, desperate for a solution to retrieve the girl or  descend to help her. His mind, overwhelmed with the assumption of his isolation — his life alone had forced him to exclude the idea of help from others — checked itself.

He smacked his chest in realization. “I ain’t here by myself!” He called down to the girl. “Nita, I go get Miss K and Jessa, and, no, not the othern’, I be back right quick. You sta–” He dashed off to the road. He lay the big knife pointing at the location of the hole then ran toward the cabin.

He burst through the front door. “Where’s Miss K? Nita she be in a bad way. She fall in a hole an I, I…”

Tove held out her arms and the boy ran into them, pulling back after a brief embrace. The woman held his shoulders steady. “Deus, Kasmira has not returned. Tell us slowly, where is Nita?”

The boy haltingly explained his failure to protect the young girl, relating the strange body trembling the girl had endured upon her fall.

“This is no fault of yours. The brothers told me of strange equipment they’d found on the island. This must be some ancient, unknown thing.” The blind woman instructed the boy to retrieve a rope from the barn and take Jessa to the spot so she could calm her sister.

Jessa tugged at the boy’s sleeve; her voice trembled. “Was she talking when you left her?”

Dues shook his his head, grabbed the Jessa and pulled her up the center road toward the barn. Jessa stood in the doorway, dusk descended nearly to dark; she dared not enter the strange building. But Deus had memorized the layout and clambered up onto the bench and retrieved one of the coils of rope. The two ran along the east loop to where the knife lay in the narrow road.

“This way,” Dues said leading into the woods and the clearing. He paused at the break in the trees and inched forward wary of the hole he knew gaped in the glade.

As soon as the pit opened before them, Jess knelt at its edge calling, “Nita! Nita are you okay?”

They could just make out the body of the girl, her blue shirt barely visible in the dark. Nita did not respond. Deus uncoiled the hemp rope and dropped one end into the hole. He’d figured the edges sharp, so used a branch to bend the ragged metal down where the rope would set. He cautiously avoided the hinged lid. He walked back and tied off the other end to a sturdy pine.

“I be goin’ down first. You stay here and call to Miss K when she come.”

Deus dropped to his belly and began to work his legs down into the yawning hole.

“Stop! Boy, stop there.” K had stepped into the glade just as Deus had slid to his belt.

~~~

“Miss K!” Jessa ran to the woman’s open arms. “Nita, Nita…”

“We’ll get her out. You go out to the road and lead Tove back in here. She knows the island better than we. She may help us figure out this cavern.”

Deus remained on the ground, inching further into the hole. “I kin fetch her, Miss K. I kin do it.”

“I know you can, Deus. But there may be stuff in there that can hurt you. Best let me go first. If I need your help, I’ll call you down.”

Kasmira checked the rope’s knot at the tree, found it solid, determined there was slack enough and made a quick repelling loop around her waist, then she  leaned back over the hole, tilting in a slow angle as Deus looked on, his mouth agape.

“I’ll teach you all how to do this, someday,” she said as she back-stepped down, a rescue climber descending into danger to save the child.

Deus had picked a good spot for the rope to set, but the hundreds of years of slow corrosion had eaten the lid from underneath. With the full weight of the woman now levered against the edge, the metal buckled and the rope jolted through the bend tearing a cut in the foot of the rim and slicing the strands of aged hemp.

K felt the brim of the lid tear and felt the rope begin to give. She reached out in the darkness and miraculously found a welded rung there, attached to the side of the buried culvert. Her weight yanked the rope down and the threads parted.

She cried out in terror as her hand, gripping the rebar step, tore away the step from its rusted home and she fell, feet first to land with a scream of pain, her right ankle cracking like a walnut shell as she landed.

She’d barely missed the girl who now stirred in confusion.

“Where am I? Who are–” she said, her voice thick.

K lay next to Nita and grimaced in agony, trying to present a calm voice to the girl. She sat there for a long moment before answering. “It’s me, K, the lady who brought you across the bay. We fell…” a piercing throb of pain stabbed up her leg. “We fell into a hole. Are you hurt? Can you move your arms and legs?”

The girl weighed not much more than a yearling lamb and if she had landed right, might not have sustained broken bones, K hoped, as she reached out in the near pitch black to stroke the hair from Nita’s face.

“I don’t remember… I… Where’s my sister? Jessa!” Nita righted herself, sitting up without hesitation.

At least she doesn’t seem to be injured.

“I’m here Nita. Up here.” Jessa cried down, her voice choked with emotion. “Are you alright?”

“I… I don’t know. I think so.”

Tove had asked Deus to lead her to the edge of the pit.

“Kasmira. Are you alright? We heard you yell. What… what happened?”

Deus sat to the side, his head in his hands, moaning about how the woman’s fall was his fault. His muttering drifted down into the darkness.

“The metal, it must have ripped and cut the rope.” K’s jaws worked to suppress the pain in her voice. “Is that Deus I hear? Tell him it weren’t his fault. Tove, we…” she paused to take a few calming breaths. “Tove, we have a problem. My ankle’s broke. Can you remember anything the men told you that… that could help us?”

The blind woman, on hands and knees speaking down into a whole she knew existed only from the echo of sound returning to her, ticked off the items she thought important. “There’s more rope I’m sure. The hand cart the brothers used to haul barrels. I remember them using a winch to haul out the boat. I’m sure there’s tools and things, I’m sorry. I don’t… No, wait. I think there might be a ladder.” Tove’s voice rose with the mention of it. “Yes. I don’t know where it might be, but I’m sure there’s a ladder. One they used to cut the apple trees, prune them, I think.”

“I seen it at the barn,” Deus told them. “I kin fetch it.” The boy was gone without another word.

“Deus says he saw it. He’s run off to fetch it. I don’t know if he can bring it all the way from the barn.”

Jessa, talking quietly with her sister, confirming Nita’s lack of injury, volunteered to help. “I’ll go help Deus. Nita we’re gonna get a ladder.”

While the two children toiled to drag the ladder, a sturdy thing made of pine poles, K and Nita inspected their trap. The walls, spiraled culvert steel, ended at the bottom with a poured concrete slab now covered in many inches of dirt which had cushioned their falls. The darkness was complete, but K, struggling to keep her ankle from touching the ground, scooted back to lean against the east side, toward the center of the island. She found a recess in that part of the wall.

“Tove, there’s a door down here. I think this might be a Before-time bunker.”

K pounded on the flat metal door which echoed with mysterious promise.

“If the brothers knew of this, they never spoke of it.” Tove backed away from the hole as she heard the two children dragging the ladder along the road and then the sound of them came crashing through the brush.

“Miss K, I’s sorry I let you fall down in that pit.”

“Deus, boy, the fault is mine. Did you find the ladder?”

“They found it Kasmira,” Tove replied. “But we’re unsure how to lower it down to you. It’s righteous heavy. How the two of them dragged it all that way…”

K explained how they could tie the tail of rope, still up top, a few rungs up from the bottom, tilt the ladder in and slowly let the rope lower the ladder down.

Jessa positioned the blind woman so that she could assist in the lowering, and the girl and Deus managed the task of positioning and raising the ladder. At a certain angle the slick poles slid in and struck the opposite side of the tunnel, the sound booming up and out across the island. But with Tove’s help, they pulled it back and gradually lowered it to the bottom. The ladder stuck a full two steps out of the top of the torn lid.

As soon as it was secure, Deus scurried down and helped Nita inch her way out. At the top the sisters embraced, Jessa stroking the hair from Nita’s face. They stared into each other’s eyes and eventually Nita nodded that she was okay.

Another wrack of pain tightened K’s jaw. It passed slowly. “Deus, you’ve been a great help here,” she said,  struggling to stand, placing a startling amount of weight on the boy’s shoulders. He groaned but held fast. “You come up behind me, and if you can, catch me if I begin to fall.”

She smiled in the darkness at this, but knew the boy would take the task to heart.

With everyone finally topside, Jessa found a makeshift crutch and the five of them shuffled their way back to the cabin. The sounds of the bay at night, herons squawking, canvasbacks chuddering, a lone lost goose, its forlorn honk a plead to its flight to return, accompanied them as they filed through the front door. K clumped and cursed as her foot banged the step.

Secure in the small cabin, K began the process of inspecting and wrapping her broken ankle; with Deus’ help she determined from the darkened skin that she would be weeks on the mend.

Jessa tended to Nita’s bruises and a nasty slash on her calf; Deus kept mum on the strange twitching he’d witnessed the poor girl endure when she fell.

Tove began her hard-learned ritual of heating water for stew. “As this be the day of my salvation, I will set a table of fine vittles. The brothers be saving these food stuffs for, god knows what. But we will feast this sup.”

Non Sequitur Tuesday

• To whom does God pray?

• Earth, Wind and Fire. So, where’s Water? You know, to complete the elementals? I guess he’s all wet. Washed up. A soggy voice. Damp instrumentals. Or did he soak the others? Drown them in a gushing tide of icy disdain.

• If the woodchuck chucks wood how many books does the bookworm book? How many flies does the butterfly butter? How many hogs does the groundhog grind? How many dogs does the watchdog watch? How many tails does the swallowtail swallow? How many birds does the mockingbird mock?

• If a friend gives you a philosophical present: be present in the present, should you presently present a present back?

• If the world is flat, who lives on the other side?

Shadow Shoals 1.3

~ 3 ~

K realized that returning to reassure Tove had clouded her thinking. “We could have used that boat,” she admitted.

The blind woman tilted her head. “But, how are you here? Did you not sail or row?” Tove had eventually composed herself after her brief lapse of emotion.

K looked at her and admitted that the young woman’s beauty and blindness had conspired against her. Her golden hair, blue eyes and heart shaped face, dirty but pock-free, along with her fully matured body must have cost the Pratt brothers a hefty sum. Her loose, ill-fitting and filthy clothing could not hide her obvious allure.

“I have a canoe, but I am not alone. In fact…” Kasmira rose and coaxed the woman, leading her to the front door of the cabin. “I assume you know your way from here. I’ll send the twins. We must secure that boat.”

Tove pushed open the door that Josh had left swinging. “Twins? What twins? Are they older? Should I fear them?”

“They are young girls. Capable, I think. You’ll be safe with them.”

K returned to the children on the hidden beach and explained the situation.

“Help me unpack the canoe. We need speed to catch the boat–”

“What boat? What happened? Where’s the–” they all seemed to ask at once.

“Not now. Help me first, then you two can help the woman. The bad men are no longer a worry.”

The children joined in to unload all of K’s belongings; even the two large trunks of books were wrestled from the belly of the aluminum craft. Once all the parcels were stacked high on the beach, K explained that the woman waited for them in the cabin; that no one else occupied the island, and to wait for her there, while she and Deus tried to fetch the boat that had drifted away.

The girls wore their boots, shoes were a luxury few could afford, and carried their still wet clothing up through the pines to the cabin.

“Sit yourself on the seat, young one,” K said to Deus. “The spare paddle rests there along the slats on the bottom.” She placed her Cherokee fashioned bow, still strung, and the case of arrows on the wooden boards, as insurance.

Now empty, K powered the canoe down the sand — the returning tide was still hours from its peak — hopped in and navigated her way between the reaching limbs of the flooded forest. She instructed the boy to paddle as best he could, switching sides as he tired. She would steer around his strokes.

As they went, she cautiously offered as little information about the events at the cabin, not wanting the boy to think her the callous murderer she found that accurately described her deeds. A sullied salvation delivered by the point of an arrow.

“The men are dead. One ran to a boat. He died but the boat drifted away. We will need it if we want to bring the woman with us.”

Deus, as if aware of the test, paddled steadily, only pausing to turn to ask questions. “Did’ ju shoot ‘em?”

“The world is such a place. And I am sorry for it. Yes, I shot them both.”

“Kin’ I learn ta’ shoot like you?”

It had been only a day and the boy had somehow adopted himself onto her. Kindness and strength; K had experienced the attraction herself, and had been the target for such attachment, more than once.

“You must have kin someplace. They must wonder about you.” She suspected the opposite, but couldn’t take full responsibility unless she explored all the possibilities.

He turned back to the front and paddled a time before replying. “I be run’ away from da home I be livin’ at. Be no one lookin’ fo me.”

They paddled up the long wide bay. To the west, five or more miles, the mainland poured fingers of creeks and rivers into the brackish water. To the east, the peninsula continued to pace them, its dark line a quill scratched north to south, as far as the eye could see. The southern wind had died as the temperature climbed, but K figured the boat they tracked was still a mile or two further north. Fortunately, the sea remained smooth and within a few songs the boy, his odd grey hawk-eyes peering out over the green and silvered waters, caught sight and gave a whoop. Their chase had no doubt given him a sense of camaraderie, something K was sure he’d rarely felt.

“We’ll pull along side, but I want you to look away at what might be inside.”

The boy nodded, but couldn’t help but steal a glance. K watched him and when the black smear of dried blood that spread across the back bench and the pale face of the dead man showed, he quickly looked away.

“I’ll just be a short time. You hold onto the side of the skiff while I take care of this.”

Deus grabbed the front of the small sailboat, a lap-planked affair with a lateen rigged sail, while Kasmira crawled over the side, next to the big man who’d bled out within a minute of his injury.

K rifled his pockets, finding some Before coin, a good antler-handled knife, and three red patches of cloth to match the yellow ones on the girl’s hooded shrouds. Relieved of his personables she sat his corpse up and pushed him head first over the edge. He’d just started to become rigored and she had to balance and heave, careful not to throw herself off the opposite side. Deus remained clutching the bow and the canoe’s stern swung away from the sailboat a bit when Josh Pratt’s legs finally lifted like a sinking log and slid with barely a bubble into the murky waters of the bay.

Before he’d slipped over the edge, K had made sure the boy’s eyes remained averted, and with the man’s knife, slit his belly up and down. She didn’t expect the body to remain sunken, but this would give it a day or three, she figured, before it surfaced, gassing up; having buried a few dozen such bodies, she knew the mechanics of watery decay.

“You have a choice, now. You can get towed in the canoe. Or you can come aboard, sit in the bow and learn a thing about sailing.”

Deus looked back at the woman. She sat in the stern, the tiller in her hand, dried black blood staining half the bench. To her back, the boom lay the length of the boat; tied to it was a grimy brown sail, that, K hoped, remained viable, at least to get them the five miles back to the island. In the bow was another bench which seemed to suit him.

“I can sit der’, if dat’ be alright.”

“Good. Swing the canoe back so I can hold it and climb on up there.”

The boy, smiling with the adventure, scrambled over and forward. K tied the canoe’s nose-ring rope to a cleat on the sailboat’s transom and proceeded to raise the boat’s filthy sail. Leaves and dirt and the nest of some creature tumbled from it as its folds unfurled. It filled well enough, and with the scant breeze still from the south, K tacked as well as she could, back and forth across a mile’s worth of bay, the canoe following in its light, easy manner.

It took them nearly three hands of the sun, but they eventually returned the sailboat to the timber skids where K spotted a winch used to haul out the boat. However, the thick hemp rope fouled, and K had to leave the craft only half drawn up. She and the boy took the canoe and paddled to their original beach, secured the craft, and with some hesitation, walked to the cabin.

K thought she smelled an odd scent in the wood smoke that lingered in the air at the heart of the island. As she and Deus approached the back of the timbered dwelling, she could see the remnants of a bonfire smoldering in the clearing. A few stub-ended logs ringed the blackened circle, which gave off an odd stench. The back door stood open and now that she had time, she noticed that a set of hinged board-flaps, that served as window shutters, had been lifted around each side of the cabin. From inside, animated conversation spilled through the doorway.

“Tove? Girls?” K probed, her short but strong bow still in her hand, her case of arrows closed, but carried beneath her arm.

Nita and Jessa emerged from the dark cabin, its shadowed insides obscured by the brightness of the sun shining on the wood shingled roof and the glare from wood chips around the backyard. The girls wore their rough pants, which had dried in the warmth of the cabin, and had kept the K’s blue and green shirts. K determined, from then on, to separate the girls by color.

Nita, in blue, spoke up. “Miss K! You came back.”

Deus went to the girls and they reached out to touch his arms, hesitantly affectionate. Tove then appeared in the doorway. She’d cleaned her face and now wore a colorful shirt instead of the drab thing she’d had on before.

K pointed to the large ring of fire. “House cleaning?” she asked.

“Jessa and Nita helped me be rid of everything the brothers owned that wouldn’t be useful. We kept tools and stuffs that might be sold, someday. I wanted to burn up the cabin, but thought better of it. These two helped me.” The blind woman reached out her hands and both girls grabbed one each, guiding her out into the sunshine. The woman lifted her glowing face to the warmth.

The cleansing fire creaked behind them, cooling. K realized that the one brother’s body had vanished. “Where’s the first brother?” she said looking more closely at the fire’s ashes.

“We dragged him over to the midden, ‘n left him. Didn’t know to bury him or burn him or…” said Nita.

Jessa deferred, and as K watch, the girl looked away from them, focusing on the sky and the pine trees. After a moment of silence the girl in green spoke for them all, “We could stay here a while, couldn’t we? But not if that man is here. Even dead.”

Kasmira looked into the vacant eyes of the blonde woman, and then into those of Jessa who, she knew, sensed the world on a different level than the rest of them.

“Alright. I’ll take the man off the island; he can join his brother. But the Newains may show up. I don’t think they’re done with us yet. We’ll set some rules. Find our feet. But only if Tove is good with stayin’. I know a thing about her mind and wouldn’t think to force her to remain in such a place.”

Tove walked tentatively toward K’s strong voice, her right hand extended. K switched the bow to her other hand and reached out to grasp Tove’s extended fingers. The blind woman then held K’s hand in both of hers and kissed it, and held it to her cheek. “Thank you. Thank you for saving me. I’ll do whatever you think best,” she said, her head bent in deference to the older stocky woman.

K handed the bow and arrow case to Deus and hugged the woman. “We can be safe here, I believe. You’ll be safe with us. We’ll keep each other safe.”

The children stood in awkward silence while the women exchanged their unspoken vow.

“There is one of us, I believe, I have not met,” Tove said, breaking away. “The girls told me of a friend, and I have yet to hear his voice.”

Deus, naturally shy, K thought, figuring he’d seen the woman in a way that confounded his sensibilities, surprised her. “I be Deus ma’am. I ken do most tings a man ken do, and some tings dey cain’t. I like’n to stay here with Miss K and Nita and Jessa and you, if’n you like.”

“Deus,” the woman replied, her face radiant with new found hope. “I am pleased to meet you.” She held out her hand and with his free one, Deus hesitantly reached out his own to grasp hers. She gave it a squeeze and then said, “We have stores inside. Enough to feed us for a while. Are you hungry, Deus?”

Non-Seq Drippleday

  • Do you think the Pope likes chocolate or should the Kangaroo sit this one out?
  • If you use a toothbrush why would the buckle flap unhinged?
  • Sally dipped her finger and seventeen times three.
  • Beneath the rotting log there lived a mouse that found that balloons shouldn’t be trusted.
  • Barkley fell and barked his knees on the bark of a persimmon tree but solar-cells only provide twenty-one percent.
  • Mom yelled, “Honey!” so that Jupiter’s moon Europa has amoeba like creatures the size of whales.
  • “Checkmate” and the dishwasher fell off the cliff.

 

Shadow Shoals 1.2

~ 2 ~

 

K imagined that this island would provide little shelter. Over the decades, rising seas and yearly hurricanes had submerged what had once held a small settlement. Now, only ancient foundations, like jagged teeth, and the stumps of trees showed amongst the ocean grasses that overwhelmed the sea-swept island. The girl at K’s feet moaned as she watched the brighter shadow of the island slip by.

“There are other islands north of here. There’s dried deer meat wrapped in a bundle behind you; find it if you can. We have ten songs yet to travel.”

K felt the girl shift and squirm as the child wormed her thin arms into the mysterious heap against which she’d lain during the crossing.

“Just under the tarp, higher up.” Soon, the sound of fibrous venison being torn and the chaw of young jaws grinding at the meat came from the girl. Despite the headwind, the smoky aroma of meat freed from the bundle wafted forward and the two children in the bow begged for a share.

The boy crawled over the top of Kasmira’s packed belongings. “Jessa, I’s sorry you be back here with…”

“You three should call me K.” Kasmira said, her teacher’s voice sneaking out unexpectedly.

“Like’n the letter ‘K’?” the girl asked around a mouthful.

“Yes, the letter ‘K’. Do you have schooling?” Kasmira continued to dip, stroke and kick, the kick straightening out the nose of the canoe after each churn of her paddle. The lapping of midnight waves pat to the rhythm of lively music against the hull.

“Some,” replied the girl. Doling miserly, she’d handed a pair of venison strips to the boy who then inched cautiously back to the front. “Before the Newains came and beat the learners,” she said, a tinge of bitterness clipping her words.

This one seems stronger than she appears, thought Kasmira.

“Tell me of these Newains.”

The girl at K’s feet twisted between her knees presenting her shoulder towards K. “New Way people. I don’t like ‘em,” she said lifting the yellow square patch in the dim light of the stars. “They came, took our, I mean, took Aunt Sarah’s cows, and took our goats, too. Nita ‘n me, they’s was our goats. Then they banged the door, broke it too. They took us then.”

The girl’s voice must have carried, as the first girl, Nita, spoke back, clearly commanding the second. “Don’t tell that woman nothin’ more, Jessa.”

K let the conversation die. The second island appeared, its higher banks and trees rising from the darkness. It, too, had suffered inundation. A number of hang-tree oaks surprised K as their submerged trunks ghosted by; jutting above the water, their weathered branches scowled down at them, judging as they passed.

Curving around to the distant side of the island, K spotted a fresh beach, no doubt torn open by a recent storm, and headed toward it.  Fewer snags reached out from the depths here and she sped up her paddling to run the canoe into the sand. With a satisfyingly soft grind their forward motion came to a halt. She whispered to the children for stillness and silence. They listened for signs they’d been detected. None showed, so they disembarked. K spun the craft, end for end, and pulled it up to secure it. The tide had dropped a few feet and would continue that way until morning.

It wasn’t cold. It never really got cold anymore. But she knew the children’s small bodies would be chilled through, the girls’ doubly so. But a fire at this time of night, as late or early as it might be, risked too much.

“The three of you will have to bunch up with me tonight.” No one complained. Kasmira, well practiced at making camp, stood the children to the side while she cleared the higher beach, laid a wide tarp and all the blankets she owned alongside her own quilted bedding, old bones and ground beds soured the most amiable of sleepers. She let the girls strip, darkness their curtain, and gave each a spare shirt. The sand molded to their bodies as the four of them burrowed into the bedding, the boy to K’s left and the girls, entwined, to her right. Within a five-song the children’s breathing evened and slowed.

The woman pondered the day. Bury one and earn three for the trouble. But, she found that as hard as she wanted to frown at her predicament, the presence of the three warm innocents, dependent though they might be, lifted the corners of her mouth and crinkled her eyes. The night passed without further incident. Despite the hardness of the sand, K found that, in the morning, she’d had her best rest in years.

Reticent to rise from their nest, the group lounged while the sun rose two hands high. Kasmira coaxed the girls, Nita and Jessa, sisters and orphans, to tell her more of these New Way people.

“When we turn eighteen, they said we’d get a part, our part of the Way,” Nita said, after apparently deciding that K posed little threat to her and her sister.

“So you worked for them as slaves then. Worked at what?”

The two girls, both with straight dark hair, looked at each other. Jessa spoke up. “We sewed, and weaved, and tapped and twisted little tools on little shiny boxes. Some of the olders, we was all childrens, I think, they worked big tools on big boxes — some with wheels and some with snakey tubes.”

“An’ we all had dirt work, too. Diggin’ an’ scrapin’ at rows of greens,” Nita added.

K reclined back onto the hard ground, her head propped up on her rolled jacket. The children had pulled away somewhat, but the shared heat kept them close. “You had schooling before the Newians showed up?”

“Yes’m, learner–”

“–Teacher,” K corrected.

“Teacher Briarson, she had eleven books, and three had stories, and she would read, and learn… teach us letters and writing. Numbers we learnt from Aunt Sarah.” Jessa looked away, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. “Them were our goats, five of them. We milked ‘em, ‘n fed ‘em and made sour cheese. Ten fists of flour for one of our cheeses. Or two ten-eggs for one.”

“Twenty.” Kasmira gently wiped the tears from the girl’s cheek. The girl accepting the roughness of the woman’s touch.

“Twenty eggs, for one,” she amended.

The boy, restless, said, “I’m hungry,” from beneath the grey-green woolen blanket that he’d wound himself within.

“So?” K replied. “What are you going to do about it?”

“Oh, I’s know. I’s got nuts ‘n ‘taters in the boat. From a’tradin’,” he said grinning at K.

Freed from his bedding, Deus laced his boots, but before he could stand, the woman grabbed him and pulled him down next to her, as the loud thwack of someone striking ax to wood resounded from the island’s center.

“Shhh. We’ve got others here.”

The girl’s pulled up tight to her, but the boy tugged away.

“I go see who be choppin’ this early.”

Thinking to deny him, she stopped and reconsidered, having seen the look on his face, the pride of acting the man. “Deus right? Deus, quiet as a mouse, do you hear? Just a peek and then you scurry back to us.”

The boy nodded, his expression serious.

Deus put on his cloak and headed north up a slope and through a stand of tall white pines leading toward the noise of splitting wood, decades of fallen needles quieting his steps.

Kasmira doubted trouble awaited the child. She’d traveled this bay from top to bottom, nearly two-hundred miles, many times, meeting and trading with people who lived within the tidal basin. Rarely had she found the need to fear others. The prior day’s and night’s events, however, gave her pause.

“We’ll give him a few songs to get back,” she said to the girls who now stood, still dressed in K’s spare shirts. “I’m sorry, but until we know it’s safe, we’d better not start a fire. You two can stay wrapped in the bedding. I’ll fetch the boy’s cache of food.”

K returned with the sack and handed it to, hmm, she thought, I can’t tell them apart.

The girls, identical, or close enough, accepted the sack and frowned at the contents.

“You can wait,” said K before either could complain, “for your friend to return, hopefully with good news. Otherwise, cold taters and pignuts is what we have for now.”

Each took an egg-sized tuber and ate it silently. “Why are you so strong, for a girl?” asked the one, Jessa, K thought, identifying the girl’s subtle speech pattern.

“Strong?”

“You picked me up last night, like I was nothin’. You, you are a girl, aren’t you?”

K laughed a burst of mild indignation. “I’m woman enough, where it counts anyway. I did hard work when I was young. And traveling and trading, on my own, it makes you strong.”

The scene from their small beach showed the stand of drowned trees that stood out a hundred steps, arrayed like a watery garden. To their right, they could see the island they’d passed two miles distant, the mound of its back covered with greens and browns. Straight out, ten miles or so to the east, the distant peninsula that tapered from the north shown like a long line of shorebirds, just a dark rim at the edge of sight.

“Tell me why you two needed rescue last night?”

Nita spoke up this time. The girl wore the blue plaid shirt. She seemed the leader of the two, K thought, but only because the other appeared to be the thoughtful one. “We ran away after we saw Master Franko kill Betha. We waited until the night, when all us yellows and reds were counted in the long houses and we snuck out the high window in the storeroom.”

Before K could delve deeper into their story the boy returned. Perhaps as proof he could move with stealth through the woods, he reappeared without a sound at the edge of their camp. “I think dem’s bad men up there. I seen one, and a lady, an’ heard another’n in the cabin.”

The girls startled as the boy spoke up. K had begun to worry at the boy’s absence and so witnessed him slip back into camp with her frequent glances up the slope.

“Why do you think them bad?” K asked, crouching to his level. She held out her hand and he took it.

But he soon dropped it. “I got close to see a cabin and some peoples. Da one man he, he was choppin’ and breakin’ wood, and a lady, her hair like sunlight, she tried to pick up the pieces but she kept droppin’ em and stumblin’. Ever’ time she did, da man laugh at her. Den he got mad or sumptin’ and he grabbed da lady and yanked her drawers down and started ruttin’ against her, she layin’ against da wood pile. She, she…”

K motioned for the girl in the green shirt, Jessa, to hand her the sack. K found a deep purple potato, the only one like it, and handed it to the boy, pulling him down to sit with them on the tarp.

He took a bite and continued. “She didn’ cry or nuthin’. The man pushed her away and grabbed the wood his self, and he yelled some words into the cabin and I heard another’n man call back. And den I sneaked away, real quiet.”

The four sat considering his story.

“Yes, they sound like bad men.”

“Can we kill ‘em?” Deus asked, expectantly.

“I can see why you might want to. Why I might want to. But killin’ men, we just don’t do such things. At least, we try not to. But we can help this woman. Do you think she’s sick, or weak?”

“I don’ know. When she turn my way, her face be like a sunrise, like a doe with eyes that look up to the sky.”

“I’ll have to go take a look myself.” Kasmira weighed the boy’s age again. Maybe he’s more than seven, nine maybe. His words and composure, while telling this repulsive tale, made him appear older, despite his small stature. “If I can’t speak to the woman alone, we best move on to another place. There’s one more island north. But it’s a good distance.” She wore her jacket, boots and her woolen hat and left their small camp. When she was just inside the woods she appeared to vanish.

Within a hundred-strides, weaving through the trees, she spied the woman, sitting on a high flat stump, arms crossed, hugging herself. K saw the wood pile where the rape must have occurred, and the cabin, smoke billowing like a leaf fire from the chimney.

Within twenty steps Kasmira paused and waved to the woman who faced her. When no response came, she must be dazed by the attack, she gave a small whistle, like one to draw attention in a busy market.

The golden-haired woman spun her head from side to side, ranging in on the sound. “Who’s there?” she whispered loudly.

“I’m a friend.”

“You’d better leave. If the brothers catch you I can’t say what might happen.”

K was undeterred. “Do you need help?” Of course she needs help.

“You can’t help me. I’m useless, but for one thing.”

K stepped forward, the woman had avoided her gaze, looking to the tops of the trees. “I’m here,” K said, trying pull her away from her distant view.

“I can’t see you. I’ve been blind since I was twelve.”

Understanding bloomed on Kasmira’s face. “I’ll ask again, do you need my help?”

“Can you free a slave?”

“What?”

The woman, narrowing in on K’s face by sound alone, blinked her jaybird blue eyes, their unnerving focus just over K’s shoulder, and explained.

“These brothers, Pratt’s their name, bought me a year ago. I was sold by my father after I got sick, when my eyes went dark. I’ve been sold over ‘n over ever since.”

“My god, how, where?”

“Brothels, in the South mostly. I would have run away, but how could I?”

K determined then and there to save the woman from her heinous plight. Slavery, like she believed the Newains were imposing on children like Nita and Jessa, and Betha, my Anna, she thought, violated every righteous bone in her body.

“Do you have belongings in the cabin, things you hold dear?”

“Can you fight these bastards? They won’t give me up, not for gold nor threat.”

So much death already. Kasmira’s mind returned to a previous age. A time when she herself had been forced to marry; forced to birth children she loved and lost; forced to kill their father, her husband, Joe, when he threatened their lives. She was sent to prison for three years, an ancient fetid prison, fouled by centuries of neglect and unspeakable use. And then finally released to a bright world where she learned business as a trade, politics as a passion, and love, she learned to love, later, much later.

But that first murder, the knife blade sliding up between her husband’s ribs, his hands around her throat, that murder prepared her to do, later on, much worse things, for much nobler reasons.

Killing these two rapists and slavers would taint her soul only a little.

“First, tell me your name,” Kasmira urged. “And then tell me, should these men die?”

~~~

“We’ll be staying a while, long enough to dry your clothing, long enough to cook a porridge,” K said as she returned to the children. She went to her canoe, still ladened with her mound of items; from it she withdrew a short, horn-bellied bow and a hardened leather case containing more than two dozen beautifully crafted arrows.

“What happened? Why–” Nita said for the three of them.

“–I’ll explain later.”

The children crowded around her as she dug through her pile of unusual items. Odd copper pots and tubes, glass bottles wrapped in packing, colorful bolts of cloth and a box containing chromed tools, the likes of which few had seen for generations. Beneath it all, raised on a bed of slats to keep out any shipped water, rested a set of trunks — full of books.

“Deus, can you manage a fire? Good. Girls, bundled there is a pot and my shovel. Fill the pot from this…” Behind the back seat of the canoe, K folded down a panel and inside was a metal cistern half full of fresh water. “When it rains next, we’ll be sure to collect water to refill our stores.”

The children all reacted to K’s use of the word “our.” They smiled at this, but concern washed over their faces as they watched the woman string the bow and select a handful of arrows from the case.

“Where…”

“I’ll be back. And I’ll be bringing the woman Deus saw earlier. Her name is Tove. She’s blind.”

Before she left, she reached just inside the gunnel of the canoe and retrieved a blunt knife as long as a child’s arm. This she tucked through her belt before looking at each child to reassure them. She turned and walked back up the slope.

The blind woman, Tove, sat just as K had left her. The brothers remained inside, drinking, Tove said, the cider they made from fruit collected from the apple and pear orchard that covered most of the island. The woman stood when she recognized the birdsong whistled by K. She beckoned at the sound for K to approach.

“They have not stirred from the cabin since earlier,” Tove confirmed.

“Then they will be needing to piss soon, if drinking is all they do.” Kasmira unslung the machete from her belt and handed it to Tove. “Hold this to your side, behind you as you stand to call them. If I cannot kill them both, and they attack you, swing with all your might, around and around. I will call when all is clear. Until then, any noise you hear, swing to kill.”

“I… They are big men. Josh Pratt is twice me, or more.” She took the long blade and held it as if toxic.

“They must not realize how dire is their predicament, until too late. Hold the blade lower and behind. That’s it.” K wondered about a rear door, but figured both would come out this side if trouble sounded. “Tove, you must get closer to the cabin. Draw them out. I’ll not let them hurt you again.”

The sun was pole high and warmed the ground around the cabin. Spring growth had pushed young shoots up all around. Willow and birch saplings, growing from stumps that circled the plot, had tiny green leaves peeking out. The white pines that capped this end of the island, whispered their susurrations, while dragonflies investigated the open glade, their inspections going unnoticed by the blind woman standing at the east corner of the cabin.

“Jacob! I’ve fallen. I need your help.” Tove yelled at the squat dwelling.

When no response came, the woman yelled again.

Kasmira, her arrow nocked, her bow resting horizontal, watched as the slatted door of the cabin swung out and a tall, balding man stumbled out, letting the door hang open behind him. He was shirtless and filthy. His torso glistened from his alcohol induced sweat, suspenders held his floppy pants high around his waist. He walked out into the yard, not expecting the woman to be at the corner.

“Tove, where the hell are you?” He held his hand up to shade his eyes as he looked around.

K rounded the tree behind which she’d hid and clicked her tongue. The man spun at the sound and dropped his hand from his eyes as a Cherokee fashioned arrow buried itself up to the fletching just beneath his sternum. He grunted and tilted his head down to stare at the brown and white turkey feathers and fell onto his back, dead, the arrow snapping off behind him.

The second man appeared, stooped in the doorway. He was just as big as Isa had related. The thin liquor must not have addled his senses as much as his brother, for Josh Pratt’s first reaction was to grab the door and slam it shut.

Kasmira nocked another arrow, but the plan had twisted sideways.

“We’ll have to burn it down,” K said, coming to just out of swing range of the blind woman wielding the long knife. She told Tove to lower the blade, which she’d raised as soon as she’d heard the thwack of the arrow penetrating flesh. K held the woman’s elbow to guide her away from the cabin’s corner.

The pair stood out of harm’s way of any missiles or the rare possibility that the brother’s owned a working firearm. Such weapons existed, mostly the flintlock kind, but carbines, or pistols, which used cartridges, had vanished from use fifty years after the sunstorm broke the world; ammunition had become rarer than medicine. And no new manufacturer had taken up the process — for either; none that Kasmira knew of; and she’d traveled further than most.

“Josh Pratt! The citizens of Tidelock have decreed that you and your brother are in violation of civil law prohibiting slavery. Show yourself or face certain death.” Kasmira bluffed legalese, trying to determine how much a problem Josh Pratt presented. Whether he believed her or not, she heard a scuffle coming from behind the home, which turned out to be the actual front. She ran to the other side leaving Tove behind. There she noticed the orchard and the gravel road that split the island leading right to the cabin. A hundred strides down the road ran the big man, loping away.

K returned to Tove who had begun to feel her way around to the front. “What lay at the end of the road?” she asked, breathing hard.

“The brother’s have a boat, or they did. They brought me here in it. I don’t know its fate. I heard the one arrow. Did you kill Josh?”

“If Josh is the bigger one, then no. He’s running north on the wagon road.”

“If he gets to his boat, and sails to where they sell their cider, I won’t be safe ever again. Josh be as bitter as tannin tea. He won’t ever stop huntin’ me.”

Running was not something Kasmira did often enough to ease the thought of it. But she struck out after the brute, moving as fast as she could. The black haired man, running with boots on, a flapping shirt, overalls and, she thought, an ax in one hand, rounded a corner at the end of the orchard and when K approached the spot, she paused, cautious. Another hundred strides further on, she spotted the man attempting to push a heavy skiff down a skid of timbers made for easy launch.

When she got to the slip, the man was twenty yards adrift looking back at her.

“You kilt my brother. I seen it,” he screamed at her, his big voice booming in her ears. “I’ll be huntin’ you down. And that blind bitch, too. Ain’t no place you can hide from me after I get my boys.”

He was standing in the boat as it drifted further from shore. Kasmira nocked and loosed an arrow, which whizzed by, a mad but useless hornet. She nocked another while Josh gestured and cursed at her. She tried to slow her breathing, pushed out with her left arm, pulled back with her right and drew the arrow’s feathers beneath her nose. She lowered the tip of the rusted, but still sharp steel broadhead until it dipped below the man’s chest. Then, for every ten-yards distance she lifted the shot a hand’s breadth up the target.

Josh stood, his hands on hips to taunt her, and waited with a scowl while she drew and shot. The arrow buried itself in his left arm. He roared back at her in drunken hatred.

“Windage,” she said to herself. With her last arrow she held a foot above his head and the same to his right and let fly. The man stood as he had, his right hand trying to snap the arrow off at his bicep. Kasmira’s final arrow flew high, and caught the man in the throat. It tore through the right side, severing his carotid artery, and disappeared behind, into the green water of the bay. The big man collapsed into the bottom of the boat, his right hand switching to press at the rip in his neck, bright crimson blood streaming down his arm. K stood for a long song as the skiff drifted north with the tide and the wind. No motion showed above the gunnels. A hundred miles north the boat might come to rest in a marshy, reed-choked creek of the north bay. Raccoons, foxes and seagulls might find him and feed on his rotting flesh.

Or so Kasmira hoped.

Returned to the cabin, she related her exploits and the golden-haired woman sat stunned for a moment. First one and then dozens of tears streaked down from Tove’s unseeing eyes. She sobbed into her hands and Kasmira embraced her while the realization of freedom seeped into the woman’s understanding.

The way of things today

You walk in, a mirrored straight razor dripping blood in one hand, a flipped-clip hand grenade in the other, and you ask the room, “Who dies next?”

You hand her a bouquet and whisper, “I’ve hidden a wasps’ nest in this, enjoy.”

You ice-pick the tire of a cop car waiting at a traffic light, look her in the eye and mouth, “DO-YOU-LIKE-PANCAKES?”

You refused to turn your phone’s radio off during take-off. And when you’re air born shout this fact to the entire plane while simultaneously stripping to your boxers and canary yellow socks.

You swipe a co-worker’s phone and post to their facebook page, “the president must die.” The phone dings before you replace it, someone has replied, “The president of what?” And you spastically reply, “The president of EVERYTHING!”

You buy a bag of marshmallows and eat them in the store, stuffing your mouth and talking like Marlon Brando, shooting people with your finger, “pow, pow… pow.”

You sharpie a poster and walk out onto the highway: “1000 points!”


Without edge, no story stands a chance. Which sucks, because, many stories are more than the gore and bizarre and ripping, electric current that shocks us these days like a drug slapped and stabbed into our forearm.