Sarresh and Gor

The knife sliced down the side of her rib cage. Her scream, like shattered glass, blasted 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 struck the blade down her side. Her assailant jerked his arm from her grasp and she slipped. Her feet slid down the tiles, her body tipped and her weight pulled her down off the slope. The karump of her flesh striking the flagstone steps was the last that entered her 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 glancing off its copper hilt. The shrunken thief, no taller than a child, but wiry and yew bow strong, crept 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 came out. The sensation backed her up and widened her eyes. She rubbed her knees together, naked. She lifted the fouled blanked to find herself bare below the shift that wadded itself up above her waist. She narrowed her eyes and peered around for a weapon.

The massive oafish 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 eyes 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. Gor 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 the task.” 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


  • 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.



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?