Letters to Esperanza – #Shadorma

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Waves conspire
To bring me your words,
But I can’t
Hear your voice.
I dream of your foreign lands,
Crave your paradise.

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This was written for Colleen Chesebro’s Tanka Tuesday #141, a picture prompt! I chose to do a Shadorma poem because I imagined the speaker as a Spanish woman during the age of exploration who finds bottles from a sailor far away. Esperanza is a Spanish name meaning “hope.”

Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

A Carpenter in the Woods

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A twinkle caught the little girl’s eye. She followed the glowing spirit, then chased another once the first burned away. The trail of spirits brought her to a tree that glowed with the same spectral energy.

Feeling suddenly compelled, she sat by the tree, unable to tear her gaze from it.

The tree whispered, “Are you the woodsman’s daughter?”

She nodded.

“Your father built a special house using my child’s body as material.” The bright knot glared more intensely. “Did you know I’m equally skilled at construction?”

She shook her head no.

“Then watch the bright light… good girl…”

***

This is a very different kind of prompt entry.  The Aethereal Engineer prompts are submitted through a comment and, since the site-runner chooses one story to professionally put onto the picture, I thought it perhaps unfair to make my own post first.   The above was my entry to the contest – and what a contest!  Everyone, the Aethereal Engineer prompts have a REAL prize!  Everyone should give this an attempt at least once!

The winner of the picture above was not me (I didn’t even come in second place, haha!), so you can go here to enjoy the winning story and click on some links to find the prompt!

Rappaccini’s Moon

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Glass separated Vanna from the grown-ups as it always had, as it always would.  She placed the flower in a box which sealed shut at the press of a button, then waited while the grown-ups investigated it through their gloves.

“Exquisite,” Dr. Baglioni said.  His eyes, soft and rich brown, looked to Vanna with curious need.  “Where did you find this?”

“Beatrice gave it to me – and she wonders when you’ll believe that she’s real.”

A scowl.  “Beatrice is our moon, where we live.  It can’t give you flowers.  Are you lonely, Vanna?”

“No, but… I got you this flower.  Twelve kilometers that way.”  Vanna pointed south of town.

“That’s mighty far.  Are you sure it’s safe?”

Vanna nodded vigorously.  “It’s an easy walk.  I can wear a tracker if you need me to.”

Dr. Baglioni lifted the flower and examined is pristine, blue petals.  “We’ll prepare for the journey this time – as we would have last time, had you told us your plans.”  He gently replaced the flower on the bottom of the air-tight box and pulled his hands out of the gloves.  “I don’t want you to get hurt out there with none of us knowing where you are.”

Vanna saluted him.  “I won’t let you down!”  She smiled and leaned up against the glass.  “Can I have my supper now?”

“Of course.”  Dr. Baglioni smiled, selected a few packages from a shelf, and placed them into an air lock where Vanna could get them.  “Wait just a moment – I’ll get you the other things you’ll need.”

Though she immediately sought a couple candies from the little package of food, Vanna nodded in acceptance of Dr. Baglioni’s plans.  She slid on the tracking bracelet when it came through the slot, then accepted the food, water, and heating elements from the doctor.  “All you want’s the flower?” she asked.  “Then you’ll believe me about Beatrice?”

“Just bring me another flower, and you can tell me more about your Beatrice.”

With a stiff salute, Vanna responded, “Aye-aye, chief!”

“See you tomorrow, kiddo.”

***

Vanna ran through the streets of the city, back to her heated lean-to.  She saw lights in some of the windows, saw the movement of shadows within.  Grown-ups lived behind the glass windows, and sometimes other kids she could never know peeked around curtains.

She ran across the snowy streets, lightness of her bare feet leaving small footprints behind.  It was twilight on her moon, Beatrice, which meant the system’s ever-eclipsed star, Rappaccini, cast long shadows before her.  Sometimes Vanna wondered what the star’s brightness would be like if the massive planet Giacomo weren’t always in the way.  Pictures of Earth, where all the humans came from, always seemed inviting and cheerful.  Bright.

Just like where all the grown-ups lived, behind the glass.

It didn’t take her long to get to her little house.  Dr. Baglioni had insisted she take a good sleeping bag if she didn’t want to live in the provided housing, and he’d supplied her with a stove and other equipment to cook her food.  But the snow on Beatrice didn’t bother Vanna, and neither did eating cold food.

She ripped open the retort pouch and sniffed what was inside.  Beans, which meant the other pouch was probably rice.  She dumped them both into the paperboard tray that came with the meal, then doused it in hot sauce.  It tasted good and filled her stomach, but she wished she hadn’t already eaten all the candy.

After field stripping the pre-packaged meals, she rolled up on top of her sleeping bag, wished Beatrice and Giacomo a good night, and fell asleep.

***

Beatrice was a treacherous moon, or so Vanna was told.

She was cold, poisonous, and dark.  All the humans, save for lonely Vanna, lived inside their buildings, hidden within towers of glass and stone.  Once in a while, Dr. Baglioni or another grown-up would venture outside, but their pitiful suits degraded after a couple hours in the open air.  Sometimes Vanna would watch robots as they built new greenhouses or dug foundations for new towers, but otherwise Beatrice was her lone companion in the wild.

She reached the rock formation outside of town and brushed off some of the snow.  She touched Beatrice’s frozen body with a bare hand, then pushed more of her weight onto the rock, making sure the moon could feel her pulse.

Vanna felt the moon’s breath through her hand.  “Hello, Beatrice,” she ventured to say.  “Dr. Baglioni loved our present.”  Vanna found Beatrice responded on her own time, so she waited for the moon to think.

Whatever lived within Beatrice answered through a quiet voice made out of snowfall, “Will your Dr. Baglioni stop carving away my flesh?”

“I don’t know,” Vanna responded.  “But he’s interested in that flower.  He might believe you’re real, if I bring him another.”

“I don’t understand,” Beatrice answered.  “I gave you a flower already.  How will another help?”

Vanna blinked a couple times.  “I don’t really know.  He just said he wanted another.”

“He could talk to me,” Beatrice sobbed, “Why won’t he speak with me?  Why must he send a child?”

“I don’t know,” Vanna answered.  “None of the grown-ups go outside.  I alone live outside, close to you, Beatrice.  So, you know… I guess I can take him a message.  What would you do if he doesn’t believe me this time?”

Beatrice whispered through frosted breath, “I’ll have to get rid of the robots, I suppose.  I can’t let the grown-ups, as you call them, keep hurting me.”

Vanna rubbed Beatrice’s rock, thinking the humans wouldn’t like that.  “Is there anything short of that?  Surely you can strike a deal.  Hey – you grew flowers.  You’ve grown all these rocks.  Could you make them a new tower?  One they can fill with the same air that’s behind the glass, the kind they could breathe?”

“I think so,” answered Beatrice.

“Then go ahead and do it.  Kill off their robots, then begin growing some walls.  I’ll let Dr. Baglioni know what’s going on.”

“Thank you, Vanna.”

***

Dr. Baglioni frowned behind the glass.  “Beatrice said what?”

“She said that she can build your towers for you.  We agreed that she could destroy the robots to prove it,” Vanna said.  She held out a hand.  “Do you believe me now?”

The grown-up’s eyes widened, tears formed in his face.  “I believe you, and you have to believe me – this moon is dangerous.”  He leaned up against the glass.  “She’s already attempted to grow a tower, and… Vanna, it failed!”

Vanna lifted a curious brow and crossed her arms.  “Failed?  What do you mean?”

“Beatrice evidently decided to finish the tower we’re building in the east side of the city.  It was structurally unsound, and it fell into some of our completed towers.”  He wiped a tear away.  “Seventeen thousand people died before we could seal off the tunnels.”

Vanna shook her head.  “No.  No, I don’t believe you – Beatrice loves the grown-ups.  She’d never kill them!”

“She did!” Dr. Baglioni cried.  He lifted up a phial of fluorescent green liquid, rotating it so the viscous fluid slid down the sides of the glass.  “I analyzed those flowers you gave me, Vanna – Beatrice is a life form, a film that lives all over the planet’s surface.  She’s what makes this planet poisonous and untenable for humankind, but I don’t think she has to be this way.  She wants us to die, Vanna.”

“No.”  Vanna backed away.

Dr. Baglioni shook the vial.  “We have to kill Beatrice, Vanna.  In this vial are some nanobots – if they’re released, they’ll eat Beatrice alive until she’s gone.  But we need to start them somewhere Beatrice is known to exist.  We need to take them to your site outside of town and release them there.”

“I won’t do it!” Vanna shouted.  “Beatrice is my friend!”

Dr. Baglioni put the vial into a sack along with several meals worth of food.  He shoved it through the air lock, then said, “If you don’t do it, Vanna, we will.  We have the data from your tracker.”

“I’ll tell her to run away!  I’ll tell her to hide so you can’t find her!”

Baglioni leaned downward, scowling.  “A moon can’t leave its orbit, Vanna.  Just beware of Beatrice.  Don’t listen to her.  If you don’t believe me, go to the east side and see what she’s done.”

With a pout, Vanna grabbed the sack out of the airlock, then she ran away.

***

“Stupid Baglioni,” Vanna muttered as she ran.  Giacomo continued to block the light from Rappaccini, Beatrice remained cold and poisonous.  Her footsteps traveled east through the city in search of the ruins.

The smoke and dust rising from the fallen towers made the place easy enough to find.  Vanna ran across the empty streets and came upon the rubble.

“Ow!”

She bent to see what had stung her foot, only to find something red was on it.  It was like blood, like when she dashed a foot or scraped an elbow on a hard surface of Beatrice, but very much greater in volume.  She shuffled through the rocks then gasped when she found the destroyed, smashed head of a grown-up.  The skin was warm, even though the moon’s atmosphere was destroying it.

Vanna suddenly felt lonely.  She had never felt another human’s skin, only had embraces between glass or space-suits.  And, here, Beatrice had killed them.

She clasped a hand around the vial of nanobots Dr. Baglioni had given her.

Beatrice had to answer.

***

Vanna waited patiently for Beatrice to show.  At last, she answered, “Oh, Vanna, I didn’t mean to kill them.  I thought I was doing the right thing!  I wanted them to come outside and play with me like you do.”

“But they can’t,” Vanna cried.  “If they go outside, they’ll die.  I’m the experiment, the one who can live with your poison.”

“I had to know,” Beatrice rebutted.  “They were digging up my bones, making my flesh into their towers.”

“If you want them to come out and play so badly, Dr. Baglioni says all you’d have to do is stop making poison.  He says it’s your fault they have to stay inside.”

“I do it, dear Vanna, to keep you alive.  Haven’t you noticed, dear child, that the grown-ups won’t let you into their window-world?  Haven’t you realized that my poison nourishes you?”

Vanna bit her lip.

“If I stop making poison, they’ll shove you into a cage and keep you there while they enjoy the outside.  As it is, you get to do whatever you want.”  Beatrice grew another dozen flowers, complete with ribbon and card.  “I love you, Vanna.  You are more of me than you are of them, my sweet.  We could be happy together.  Don’t let Dr. Baglioni keep us apart.  You don’t need them.”

Vanna opened the flask of nanobots and poured them onto the flowers.  “Dr. Baglioni was right!” Vanna shouted.  “You are dangerous!”

The sky thundered with Beatrice’s screams.

“You’ll die, Vanna!  You’ll die without my flowers, without my poison!”

“I know,” Vanna answered.  “But you won’t kill anyone else.  I’m sorry, Beatrice.”

While the moon wailed its last, it reached out another bundle of flowers to Vanna.  “I only wanted to be loved…”

***

This was written for D. Wallace Peach’s March Speculative Fiction Prompt.  It is also very strongly inspired by my favorite short story, Hawthorne’s Rappaccini’s Daughter.  Written in 1844, Rappaccini’s Daughter was a tale that inspired by Indian (like India Indian, not Native American type of Indian) folklore.  I hope you enjoyed this overly-long response!

Picture by Natan Vance.

The Damp Flat at the Bottom of the Steps

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I was only joking,
But he didn’t think so.
I said I’d stop poking,
But he knew I won’t.

The day was bright, clear,
Not rainy like I’d expect
When someone held so dear
Marches away, up the steps.

Where will he go now?
He’s left my damp flat
Because of a dumb row.
Perhaps he’ll turn ’round?

I want to give him chase,
But I’d accomplish naught.
His memory I’ll just erase.
If I can.  If I may.

***

This was written for the Crimson’s Creative Challenge prompt #16 as part of my series of posts to spotlight some newer prompts that deserve more love.  Crimson’s prompts are weekly photo prompts, and I’ve seen that Crimson is highly active around the WP world.  Totally give this blog a follow and give this prompt a try!

Elephant and The Lord of All

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Pixabay image by Marianne Sopala

When the world was young and the Lord of All was old, all the animals were the same.  Every creature was a simple thing, just arms and legs on a useless barrel devoid of strength, claw, or wing.  The animals saw the lush world created by the Lord of All, and they rejoiced with what they had.

When the Lord of All was satisfied that each animal had been given the opportunity to think about the world, a decree was issued.  Every animal was to come from across the plains, walk through the tundra, and rise out of the oceans in order to approach the Lord’s Throne.  There, they could ask for any gift they wished.

Everyone knows the story of Rabbit, who asked for strong legs to run fast and ears to hear well, or the story of Wolf, who asked for great senses of smell and sharp teeth to better hunt Rabbit and all the bunny offspring.  You may even know the story of Mouse, who asked for quick multiplication and stealthy movement.

What you may not remember was that the Lord of All had deigned it appropriate to put the Throne at the top of a tall mountain.  Mouse, even with such a strong gift as innumerable numbers, found it difficult to leave the mountain after receiving the gift.  The mountain was steep, and a great snowstorm made the way treacherous for Mouse.  As the world became white, Mouse found a small house in a tree and, discovering it was no longer occupied, moved in.  Though Mouse surely multiplied, the food was scarce.  The weather was cold.

“Oh, Lord of All!” cried Mouse.  “Help me!  I am trapped on your mountainside!”

The Lord of All replied with a voice of thunder, “I cannot leave my throne.  There are two animals left to ask for their blessing, and I must give everyone a fair chance to get what they ask.”

“But, Lord of All, I might die!”

“Many Animals I have created will die.”

Unbeknownst to Mouse, another creature climbed the mountainside.  It heard the cries of Mouse and the thunderous replies of the Lord of All.  Elephant redoubled its efforts to climb the mountain and eventually made it to the Throne.

Elephant entered the room of the Lord of All and bowed.  It had not yet received the gift of Animals, and it sought to change that.

The Lord of All smiled with fiery countenance.  “Elephant!  My friend.  I have long awaited you to ask your gift – what would you wish?”

Elephant raised its head and looked to the Lord of All.  “I wish to be tall enough to reach the house where Mouse is trapped, strong enough to carry Mouse’s house, and dextrous enough that I can keep care of that charge.”

“Oh?” The Lord of All frowned.  “Your gifts weren’t meant to be helpful to others.  They are to help you compete, help me determine which animal chose most wisely.  Why not ask for claws like Lion?  For a beautiful coat like Mink?  For a hard carapace like Beetle?”

“But Mouse is suffering,” Elephant pleaded.  “You said you would give me whatever I asked for, and I have made up my mind.”

The Lord of All harrumphed.  “Very well.  But know this – you will lose most of your sight, and from now on, Mouse will frighten you.  That is your curse for requesting a gift I don’t approve of.”

Once Elephant was grown to impressive size and given a long trunk, it rushed down the mountainside to where Mouse was shivering.  Elephant knocked on the door and said, “Hurry – get out of your house!  I’m going to try to save you.”

So Elephant pushed the house out of the tree in order to place it in a safe crook on its back.  Mouse remained quiet on Elephant’s back until they all got off the mountainside and were safe on the flat plains.

After Elephant came down from the Mountain, there was only one animal that had not yet asked a gift of the Lord of All.  I suppose the Lord of All is still waiting – Elephant wouldn’t give Human the directions to the Throne.  Therefore it is up to us not to forget Elephant’s sacrifice to save Mouse, up to Humans to do right by all the animals that the Lord of All refuses to protect.

***

This was written for Diana Wallace Peach’s monthly Speculative Fiction Writing Contest for February 2019.  I feel like mythological stuff has been pretty common, and I have to admit being inspired by a bunch of the previous responses!

Though… I almost named the deity in this story Frith, for those of you who get that reference…