Category Archives: Dusk

Dinner at Encarna’s

This is a story I’ve been working on off and on for about two years. It is set in an alternate universe, so it’s not supposed to be historical at all.

Dinner at Encarna’s

They say all is fair in war, except at Encarna’s. The centuries-old restaurant stood in a sheltered pocket of no-man’s land, aggressively protected by both sides. Encarna welcomed everyone to her table as long as there were no weapons or any violence within her walls. Breaking these rules could get you killed, or worse, banned from the restaurant.

Encarna’s was the sort of place that wasn’t supposed to exist in war. It survived in a bubble that was exempt from the reality of total war outside its walls. The food was extraordinary, but it also survived through some deeply-buried part of the group psyche that longed for a respite from our current hell. It was a miracle that they could still get the ingredients they needed, although I guessed that both sides were secretly supplying it.

I stumbled through the doors, dead with fatigue after twelve hours of guard duty on the front lines. The guns had been quieter that day, but the quiet times were almost as bad, as you strained to peer through the fog for special forces troops creeping up under barbed wire to toss grenades into your machine gun nest.

I saw her sitting by herself at a corner table, dressed in the crisp, clean blue uniform of the other side. Gleaming brass on her shoulders showed that she was a captain.

I’d learned to gather information quickly. The new uniform meant she was either new to the front or worked in a department that didn’t see action. But people sitting by themselves usually wanted to be left alone, and they were usually accompanied by at least one bottle. This woman sat sipping water. Maybe she is waiting for a date.

When meeting people you would shoot without hesitation the next day on the battlefield, shyness doesn’t mean much. I went up to her. “Can I sit down?”

She glanced up, flicked her eyes over my faded uniform, but then nodded. “Fresh off the front, captain?”

Officially, both sides were forbidden from talking to one another in Encarna’s. Officially, neither side was allowed to visit at all. On all reports, it had been destroyed in the shelling years ago, but Encarna’s was a world of its own. Even generals and field marshals would sneak into the restaurant when they could.

I nodded. “Not a bad day. Your guns were pretty quiet today.”

“All out for repairs,” she said, beginning the verbal dance that mortal enemies play in conversation—that dizzying mix of truth and lies you tell when becoming friends with someone you can never hope to trust.

“I guess you’re new here,” I said.

“Why do you say that?”

“Your uniform looks pretty new.”

“I came out for a nice night, the first in a long time. Of course I wanted to look my best,” she said. “Doesn’t your side still have dress uniforms?”

“We chopped them all up for bandages,” I said.

She nodded. “I thought I saw an arm sling with epaulets a while back.”

A waiter came and we ordered and then sat talking, as normally as if we were on a date back in normal times.

“So, are you Intelligence? Logistics?” I asked after the lasagna and paella had arrived, a lovely mix of Mediterranean cuisines.

“I’m in the Army,” she said with a smile. It was the typical stonewall answer. The fact was that I didn’t recognize the branch insignia on her lapels: a coiled snake around a star. “You?”

“Mine’s easy,” I said, pointing to my Infantry insignia. “There’s no mystery about me.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” she said, and for the second time, she smiled.

“What’s your name?” It was a taboo question but I asked it anyway.

Her smile disappeared. “Captain Renzi,” she said. I knew that from her name tag. “You are Captain Foxhaven, but you are not English, are you?”

I shook my head. “Names have long histories.”

After the meal, Captain Renzi pulled out a few red banknotes—what on our side we called kommidollors—and stood up. “I will be sitting at this table three days from now.” Then she left.

It was devilishly hard, but I got an 8-hour pass three nights later and made my way to Encarna’s. Captain Renzi was already there in her corner. The waiter was just bringing her a plate of pasta.

“I thought you weren’t coming,” she said. “I was almost regretting turning down all the others wanting to sit.”

“It was hard enough to get away this early,” I said. “The Old Man always has work for me.”

“Order something,” she said. “We’ll split this, then eat that when it comes.” I felt a burst of pleasure at this and I ordered something quickly and got another plate to split the pasta.

“The Old Man?” she asked. “Do you mean Colonel Dreifuss?”

“You know him,” I said, surprised.

“We know a lot about your superior officers,” she said, with a tiny smile that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to think of how she knew. I would rather have ten howitzers pounding my location for hours than one double-agent, moving around undetected.

“How long have you been at the front?” she asked. My internal alarms started again.

“About two weeks,” I said, although I had really been there for over a year.

She nodded. “Me too.”

We started eating, but I was tired of all the evasion and lies. “My name’s Marco,” I said. Giving information to the enemy was a bad idea, but there was not much she could do with my first name.

She nodded and took a couple bites. Then she seemed to reach some internal decision and put down her fork with a smile. She reached across the table. “My name’s Angela Renzi. Nice to meet you.” We shook hands.

The evening went well, and we mostly talked about our lives before the war: where we had gone to school and what life was like growing up. Just before we left, Angela leaned into me. “Listen, I don’t know what your patrol schedule is like, but stay away from the Red Hill area tomorrow.”

I was stunned. “What did you say?”

Her look was blank. “What? I didn’t say anything.” She looked at me steadily for a few extra seconds, then turned and left.

The road back to my barracks seemed longer than the three miles it was. The fact was, I was planning on visiting the Red Hill outpost the next day, but how could she have known that? It didn’t make any sense. It was a war; nowhere was safe, so why warn me about one specific spot? I did not sleep well that night.

The next day, I found an excuse to stay away from Red Hill. I agonized about the decision. Should I warn the commander of the outpost? If I did, they would want to know how I knew, which would open up a lot of uncomfortable questions. And what would they do, even if warned? It was not like they would evacuate the outpost, just because it was going to be attacked. If anything, they might reinforce it, which would not help anyone if the base was going to be heavily shelled. Still, the burden of unwanted knowledge weighed me down like a machine gun slung around my neck.

The next day, I was in HQ when the news came. Red Hill outpost had been destroyed. Sappers had dug a tunnel up to the walls and thrown in satchel charges and grenades. The fort was a wreck. The enemy had not been able to hold it, but they had destroyed a lot of its fortifications. I stayed away from Encarna’s for the next week.

But I could not stay away forever, and despite what had happened at Red Hill, I missed seeing Angela. After all, she had not attacked the fort personally, and she had only been trying to warn me. Still, it had thrown into sudden focus that the woman that I thought and dreamed about was an enemy that I was sworn to defeat.

When I managed to make time to go, the anticipation of seeing her again made me almost nervous. I put on my best uniform and walked the muddy wreck-strewn track the three miles to the restaurant. When I got there, Angela was sitting in her usual corner with two male officers of her own side. Disappointed, I went and sat at another table. I was almost finished when she slipped over and sat down across from me.

“I’ve missed you here,” she said in a low voice. “I’m glad to see you unharmed.”

“Why did you tell me that?” I said. “Isn’t that treason on your side? You warned an enemy about upcoming plans.”

“You couldn’t have stopped us anyway,” she said, in a way that annoyed me. “Plus, I wanted to make sure you’d be okay. When’s the next time you can be here?”

“I don’t know,” I said petulantly, but then reconsidered. “This Friday I have some time.”

She nodded. “I’ll be waiting over at our table.”

Our table. That made me smile and even as I watched her leave with the two other officers, it made me feel better.

That Friday, I was the first one there, but she came in soon after and slid into her seat. “Did you order?”

“I just got here. What do you want?”

“I like everything. You choose. I’ll pay tonight.”

“Oh, really? Is it pay day over there?”

“Something like that,” she said.

We ordered and chatted a little, but it was obvious she was preoccupied.

“Trouble at the front?” I asked after a while, trying to make it a joke.

Angela shook her head. “It’s not that. I’m just worried. About you.”

“I can take care of myself, don’t worry.”

“I know you can. You’re smart and lucky so far, but I’m thinking of down the road. We’re winning this war.”

“I think it’s pretty even,” I said, more than a little defensively. In fact, the war was dead even, with emphasis on the dead. Ever since I had been at the front, the war was just a huge meat grinder with men and women being fed into it from either side of no-man’s land.

“It was, but it’s not anymore,” Angela said. “Red Hill was just the beginning. We’re going to win this war, without doubt, and I’m afraid for you.”

Psychological warfare, I thought, the disappointment twisting my stomach. She had made friends with me and now was trying to sabotage my morale. “Are you trying to get me to defect?”

She looked at me and I saw the beginning of yes forming on her lips. Then she smiled sadly. “I wouldn’t ask you to. I know you wouldn’t.”

“You’re right. I wouldn’t, any more than you would defect to my side,” I said.

The food came and we ate in silence for a bit, making only small remarks about the food. The atmosphere had changed. The word defect was almost as taboo in Encarna’s as weapons and like the word divorce in a marriage, it tainted the mood.

“Listen,” she said, as we were finishing up. “I don’t care if you tell what I said or not. I’d like to see you again, but I’ll understand if you don’t. In any case, please take care of yourself.”

“I’ll come here whenever I can,” I said. “I want to see you again too.” She smiled, gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, and left through the side entrance, back towards her side.

I got back to my barracks to find out that I had been reassigned, effective immediately. The new posting was thirty miles down the line, at another HQ. The transfer was a step up, but I was depressed as I packed my belongings in my duffle bag and got on the truck.

The next few weeks, I worked hard, but I never stopped thinking of Angela and what she had said. The war did seem to be going badly for us. More of our outposts were being taken or destroyed and the enemy seemed to find their way through our defenses almost effortlessly now. There was some talk of treachery. I was almost glad I could not go to Encarna’s to avoid any suspicion that I was a spy.

Two weeks later, the end of the war came for me. I was commanding a small outpost on what our maps called Hill 54. It was just after midnight and only the watch was awake when the side of the hill exploded. I was dozing in my cot and jumped up to hear shouting outside and submachine gun fire. Someone ducked into the tent and pointed a gun at me, shouting at me in the enemy language to get down. I fell to the ground, expecting every moment to be my last. Five minutes later, he told me to get up and I was marched outside.

Most of my squad had been killed, but three of us had been captured. They tied our hands and marched us down the slope and back across no-man’s land to enemy territory.

I won’t deny that I looked for Angela as we were searched, then marched to a truck and driven far behind the lines to a prisoner-of-war camp. If she was there, I did not see her in the sea of enemy uniforms.

What I saw depressed me. New weapons and fresh-looking soldiers were everywhere. The POWs were fed better than the officers at the front on our side. We were losing and everyone in the camp knew it. There was no talk of escape. We all knew the war would be over soon.

I was at the camp two months according the scratches on my bunk post when a guard came and called for me by name. I got some dark looks from the other POWs as I walked out, wondering if this was for release, interrogation or execution. The guard directed me to an administrative building. I walked into a small room with a table and two chairs. Angela Renzi was sitting in one of them.

She looked similar to the first time I had met her at Encarna’s, although the insignia on her epaulets had changed.

“Major Renzi,” I said. “Congratulations.”

“Marco,” she said. “I’m glad to see you.” She smiled but I saw the pity in her look. It incensed me as much as our unequal positions: she in a gleaming dress uniform and me in threadbare POW pajamas.

“How did you find me?” I asked.

“I’ve known you were here even since you arrived,” she said, “but I couldn’t come visit without arousing suspicion. Now, however. . . .” She slid a newspaper across the table. It was from the day before. My reading ability of the enemy language was passable, but anyone could have guessed the meaning screaming from the headline in 100-point font: “PEACE DECLARED!”

“Your president surrendered,” she said. “We were five miles from your capital.”

My grandparents’ home was about thirty miles from the capital, in the direction of the front. I wondered if they had gotten out okay, if the places I remembered visiting in the summers were now nothing but smoking crater holes and death-infused mud.

“So did you come here just to gloat?” I asked.

“No!” She seemed genuinely shocked. “I like you, Marco, but this was the only way that we could ever have had a chance together.”

She was right, of course, but why did it have to be her side that won? I thought of our glorious historical sites that had never seen the tread of an invader before now being overrun with foreign troops, the sight of that hated flag flying in our skies. The thought sickened me.

“How did you do it?” I asked. “If you think we have a chance, tell me that.”

“We developed a way to read minds,” she said. “We would listen across no-man’s land at night through special machines and heard all your plans, all your intelligence.” She saw the look on my face and put up her hands. “I wasn’t reading your mind in Encarna’s,” she said. “It takes special machines that require a truck to move. There, I’ve just committed treason by telling you that. Do you trust me now?”

I wasn’t sure. I still felt as if I knew nothing, and Angela held all the power. I had lived with enemies too long to loosen my grip yet.

“If what you say is true,” I said, “then I should be released soon, right?”

“Next week, I think,” she said. “They are drawing up the articles of surrender now and those will be signed in three days.”

“Six months,” I said. “Everything should be mostly back to normal by then, whatever normal will look like now, at least for me. If you still want to see me, I will meet you six months from today at Encarna’s at 8:00pm. Then we can see if we have a chance.”

Angela took out a notebook and wrote the date six months from that day on it twice, then ripped off one of them and handed it to me.

“Captain Foxhaven,” she said, shaking my hand. “I look forward to not being your enemy. I hope to see you again at Encarna’s.”


Hope from Above

Happy New Year everyone. Globally speaking, this has been a pretty terrible year and a lot of people are still suffering quite a bit. We can only pray that 2021 is better and do what we can to make it so. I have hope.

copyright Na’ama Yehuda

Hope from Above

The wind caressed the dress shirt from its rooftop drying rack. It rose into the air, a well-dressed ghost preparing for a New Year’s Eve party. A cross breeze sent it dancing with invisible partners.

Sung-Ho sat listlessly on the curb. Suicide? Why, with no life insurance? Burn down the building? Insurance companies could tell. Start over?

How?

He felt Eun-Ha’s hands on his shoulders. “We’ll get the money somehow,” she whispered.

The shirt fluttered down. Sung-Ho caught it before it hit the ground.

“See?” his wife said. “2021 will bring hope. Even God is sending us his dry-cleaning now.”


Miracle Cherries: The Level 3 Dilemma

This is the third and final part of this story. You can read the other stories in the links below, but here is the synopsis for those who did not read them.

  1. The Era of Miracle Cherries
  2. Miracle Cherries, Level 2

Synopsis: A year before, a mysterious product that is nicknamed miracle cherries begins to be sold online for $150 for ten. People quickly find that they cure any disease and give a person superpowers. Then a woman calling herself Rachel comes on all TVs in the world to say she is the one selling them and that these are the first of three levels. She also creates a huge tower in the middle of the Atlantic and declares herself the ruler of the world.  Level 2 miracle cherries go on sale for $150 million for ten.

The narrator is chosen by his company to take the first Level 2 miracle cherry while the world watches. He finds himself in another world where Rachel tells him that his whole universe was created by her civilization in order to do research and harvest cultural properties. He goes back and does not remember anything about it, although he starts having vivid dreams about Rachel. He decides to go to her tower in the Atlantic to try to find answers.

Rachel’s Tower was located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, about 300 miles southwest of the Azores. She had not built it for ease of access, but in the era of miracle cherries, that was not a problem. I took a miracle cherry and teleported to within sight of the five-mile-high tower and then took another one to fly the rest of the way there.

In the two weeks since Rachel had appeared on TV to show herself to the world and simultaneously build her tower, a floating village of ships had formed around the base of the tower, which rose straight out of the water with no door or platform of any kind at its base. People had flown all around it and had tried everything in their power to get inside, but the tower did not seem to be affected by any power that a Level 1 miracle cherry could imbue. Despite declaring on TV that she had decided to rule the world, there had not been much more said about that. Either she was still preparing or she would be a very laissez-faire world ruler.

I went there with little hope of getting in, but after several nights of ultra-vivid dreams about Rachel, including some with her asking me to get in touch with her, I had to at least try. That happening right after I had taken a Level 2 miracle cherry gave me some hope that I could find answers.

As I approached, I saw a group of people clustered around one spot on the tower about twenty feet above the water. All of them were hovering in mid-air. I knew from the news that this was the Triangle, a raised 3-sided panel on the tower’s side about two feet wide. It was the only part of the tower’s exterior that was different, so everyone naturally concluded that this must be an access panel of some sort.

A woman with a bag of multi-colored rods was directly in front of the panel, tapping it in various places and in different combinations, occasionally switching out one rod for another. No one said anything to me.

As I watched, an enormous sense of déjà vu came over me. I had never been here before, but suddenly I knew what to do, as if peering momentarily through a window into a past life. I moved forward, pushing past the woman and ignoring her shout of protest. Grasping the two lower corners of the triangles with my hands, I touched my forehead to the top corner.

With speed greater than what I had come to think of as “normal” teleportation, I was inside the tower. To my amazement, from the inside, the entire thing was transparent and hollow. It rose above me like an unending column of glass. I saw the woman outside desperately holding the bottom of the triangle as I had done and banging her head against the top. It did not work for her.

I turned and in the middle of the tower was a small table with a box. I went over and opened it to find a single miracle cherry inside. Its dark pink color told me it was a Level 2. Without hesitation, I picked it up and put it in my mouth.

I was back in the small red room. Rachel was there, sitting in the only chair. She smiled when she saw me.

“Well, you made it back, I see,” she said.

“Yes, I can’t believe I actually remembered what to do,” I said. Now that I was back here, I remembered her instructions on how to come back, how I was supposed to go to the tower and touch the Triangle on all sides.

“Was that all just a test then?” I asked.

She nodded. “About 40% of humans have the capability to retain the memories of this place subconsciously. That is important for what might come next. Of course, it was also a test to see if you would actually go to the tower and follow through.”

“Did anyone else take the Level 2 miracle cherries?

“A few,” she said. “They came here just like you did and I talked to them and told them the same thing. But you’re the first to come back, so I guess you win.”

“Win what?” I asked.

Rachel stood up quickly. “Two things,” she said. “You win the answers to your questions last time and you win a choice.”

“What do Level 3 miracle cherries do?” I asked immediately.

“The miracle cherry. There is only one.” She held out her hand. A purple miracle cherry encased in a transparent sphere lay in her palm. “You have to take it out here, in this world. If you wish.”

“What does it do?” I asked.

“It will let you live out here, like me,” she said. “You will take over for me and can move back and forth from your universe to here whenever you want. I’ll basically give you your part of the universe. You can rule the world or just let it keep going on its own. You can continue to sell the Level 1 miracle cherries or stop. That would all be up to you.”

“And if I decide not to?”

“Then we would put your universe back in time to before the miracle cherries went on sale. Life would continue as it had before. We cannot jump back and forth in time, but it possible with machines to force your universe backwards a certain period of time.”

She handed me the purple orb encased in its sparkling case. I had no idea what I was going to do, I realized.

“Why?” I asked. “Why give me the choice at all?”

She motioned me to the chair. “I really should have put two chairs in here,” she said with a small laugh. She waited until I sat down. “Your civilization has already considered the possibility of a super-reality outside of yours: where your whole world is nothing but a simulation, or a game board, or a research project. Any sufficiently developed civilization will eventually consider that idea. However, for us, who have our own universes that we plant and tend, the idea is much more pressing because we know it is possible.”

“You are worried that this is all inside a greater reality,” I said. “That you yourselves are pawns inside someone else’s game.”

“We have some reason to think that we are,” Rachel said. “But we want to find out. If you choose to, we could use your insights as a member of another universe. You have experiences and perspectives that no one here could possibly have.”

I thought about my family and friends. I could still go see them, although possibly becoming ruler of the world might change our relationship somewhat.

“When do I need to decide?”

She looked up at the wall. “You have 21 minutes. Then you’ll be back in the tower with no memory of all this and no way to get back here. It’s your choice.”

I pushed on the transparent case in my hands and under the pressure of my fingers, it disappeared, leaving the purple Level 3 miracle cherry in my hands.

“Am I the first one?” I asked. “How many other people have stood here with this same choice and how many times have you pushed time back?”

“A few,” she said.

“What did they do?”

“The fact you are standing here should tell you what they did,” Rachel said. “All of them decided to go back and rewind the world. It’s the safe choice, to be sure.”

I weighed the small orb in my hand for a second, then put it in my mouth. Rachel’s face broke into a grin as I swallowed. “Welcome!” she said, reaching out and pulling me up out of my chair. The walls of the room disappeared and I saw we were on a floating platform surrounded on all sides by thousands, if not millions of other people in the largest stadium imaginable.

“Meet the rest of the research team,” Rachel said as a roar went up from the assembled crowd, as if I’d just scored the winning goal in the largest World Cup game ever.

“What will you do about the world you left?” Rachel asked above the noise. “Should we leave it as it is now or would you like to rule for a while? Anytime you do will help with our research. Or we could rewind time anyway and none of them will know anything about this.”

“I don’t know,” I said. I gazed around at the uncountable crowd around me, unable to comprehend what had just happened. “Maybe I’ll go back and ask them.”


The Hermit of the Casa del Jamón

I don’t know if I have a typical story, but this probably isn’t it. It started when my wife asked me to tell her a story before bed one night. I asked her what kind and she said a romance. I’m not so good with extemporaneous storytelling so I eventually wrote it down. I tried the straddle the line between a Stephen Leacock-esque satire and a straight love story. You can tell me which side I came closer to.

Adapted from “Tigray Hiking Lodge” by Rod Waddington is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The road up the mountain was hard and the stones cut into Catalina’s feet. Legend said that the monks of long ago had imported especially sharp stones from the Rocafilada region in the north, just to make the path especially pious.

Looking back on the valley she had left, Catalina brushed her lustrous dark hair away from her face, her olive skin gleaming with the sweat of the journey. Far below, she could see the village just starting its morning. Her family would have found her note by now. But there was no turning back now. Catalina was on a mission.

Her storm-swept gray eyes could just pick out the walls of the Casa del Jamón far above on the mountain peak. It looked the same as it had in her dreams. Picking up the edges of her brightly-colored skirt, she struggled on.

It was noon by the time Catalina reached the walls of the Casa del Jamón. They were covered with dead ivy that was grey and weathered but here and there, shoots of green showed through. It was like her heart, she thought.

“Hola,” a voice said from above her. Catalina looked up into the face of a man standing on the wall just above her. It was the hermit. His hair was long but his beard was trimmed and there was wisdom in his dark eyes. “Can I help you, señorita?” he asked.

Catalina could barely breathe. The words refused to come. How could she explain the quest that burned in her breast? “May I come in?” she asked at last.

“There is no door in the Casa del Jamón,” the hermit said. “I bricked it up once I first came here. I never go out and no one ever comes in. That is my vow.”

“How do you find food or water?” Catalina asked. “Or clothing?” She looked at the man’s bare chest and bit her lip at the thought of what might be hidden by the parapet.

“I have a well,” the hermit said. “We are on top of the mountain, so it took the monks three hundred years to dig it. But piety is stronger than gneiss.”

“Nice,” Catalina murmured. “And food?”

“I have a flock of 24 miniature sheep,” the hermit said. “Their milk is so concentrated that three drops are enough to sustain me each day. Their wool is so dense that a handful is enough to weave a coat. They are my fluffy manna in the wilderness.”

Catalina and the hermit talked for hours while she sat and ate the lunch she had brought, and he milked a tiny sheep into an acorn cup and drained it in a single gulp. He told her how the hermitage had been a hammery centuries ago but how the owner had donated it to the Church after having a vision. Catalina’s own vision rose to her mind, but she did not speak of it.

By afternoon, dark clouds were massing in the west. “Are you sure I cannot come in?” Catalina asked. “It will be dark before I can reach the village.”

“It is not possible,” the hermit said. “Because of my vow.”

“I understand,” Catalina said. For a moment, their eyes locked and each tried to look into the soul of the other. Then Catalina turned away and started down the mountain.

Before long the wind picked up. The rain fell in sheets. Lightning split the sky and the thunder crashed and echoed off the surrounding peaks. Catalina picked her way carefully down the slope. Suddenly, her foot slipped on a wet stop and she was sliding off the path. With a scream, she fell over the edge and plunged into the dark ravine.

When Catalina awoke, she was warm and covered with a woolen blanket. It was dark in the room and the air smelled like sheep.

“You’re awake,” a voice in the darkness said. It was the hermit.

“Where am I?” Catalina asked. She knew the answer but could not believe it.

“You are in the Casa del Jamón,” the hermit said. “I watched you as you went down the path. I saw you slip and fall into the crevasse. Then I was faced with a choice. Those few seconds seemed to take a lifetime, but I hurried to the storage shed where I kept the ladder for repairing the roof. I climbed over the wall and down to the ravine where I found you. I carried you back here.”

“You broke your vow for me,” Catalina said.

“It was God’s will,” the hermit said. “I vowed that I would stay here until God sent an angel to rescue me. That was you, I realized. This place has been shut up for years, like my heart, but now I will open it again.”

“I had a vision that I needed to come up here and set you free,” Catalina said. She felt the hermit draw near and then his lips were on hers.

“No longer will they call this place the Casa del Jamón,” the hermit whispered. “From now on, it will be known as the Casa del Amor.”


Shadow Chat

copyright Sarah Potter

Shadow Chat

Mia watched the shadow in growing frustration. Her mother was speaking in their shadow sign language, but the silhouette of her blowing hair kept obscuring her hands.

“I can’t understand!” Mia shouted.

Her mother’s hands dropped, then formed a heart.

A cloud passed over. When the sun reappeared, she was gone.

Mia’s father found her sobbing ten minutes later.

“I just want to see her again.”

“Me too,” he said. “But she’s dead, honey. I envy your gift of seeing her shade in full sunlight.”

He surreptitiously picked a long wig hair from his sleeve and went to hug her.


I Came for the Sugar

I Came for the Sugar

“What the…?” The waitress was staring at Nise’s sleeve. Panic exploded in my mind.

Nise’s laugh sounded natural as he pulled the worm out. “This is my pet, Mirai.” Nise sprinkled sugar on the table. “He loves this stuff.”

The waitress looked ready to vomit.

I rushed home and let Nise collapse on the couch. I crawled out of his pocket, exhausted from controlling the huge body.

That was too close. I had to get out of this Neanderthal era and back to my own civilized time.

I manned the chrono-communicator. Again. “Mirai to anyone. Get me out of here.”


Prisoner Cruise

copyright C.E. Ayr

Mom called it a cruise, but I knew that prisoners didn’t go on cruises. I rode to the dock the day the ship left. I couldn’t see Dad, but I waved as the ship steamed away, just in case.

He returned five years later, tanned, muscular, almost unrecognizable. He didn’t drink anymore, didn’t yell or get violent. I didn’t mind the polite stranger he’d become.

At first.

But he doesn’t laugh anymore, doesn’t go outside. He just sleeps or watches TV.

Now when the ship comes, I ride to the dock to curse the beast that, somehow, ate my father.

A strange story, but that is probably what you’ve come to expect from me. What do you think happened to the father while he was away?


Trinkets from Paradise Lost

FF 222 Jan Wayne Fields

copyright Jan Wayne Fields

The booth clung to the edge of the fairground like a leech. The owner sat alone, swiping at a futuristic-looking tablet.

“Whadya got?” I asked.

He stood, flashing me a shark grin. “Novelties from lost places.” He proffered a small box. “From the Garden of Eden. Real apple wood.”

I rummaged through the items. “Lost places? Really?” I held up a hat marked CALIFORNIA.

He glanced at his watch. It had no time, just the year: 2020.

“How’d that get in there?” His shark grin widened as he shoved the hat behind him. “Now, how about a T-shirt from Atlantis?”

 


Fructicide

I am sitting in a hotel room in downtown Hanoi in Vietnam with rain misting outside. Since I didn’t have any meetings today and I happen to be 12 hours ahead of my usual timezone, I decided to write a Friday Fictioneers story right as the prompt was released. This is actually the third story I wrote before I could get one to 100 words. I’ll post the others later.

https://rochellewisofffields.files.wordpress.com/2020/03/img_20190807_112118.jpg?w=1024&h=768

copyright Roger Bultot

By the time we arrived, the pulpy flesh spattering the walls had begun to harden. The stench of smashed strawberries and fear hung in the air with the flies.

The other berries were scared to talk until a lemon pointed us towards the watermelons. We got a warrant to roll them; my partner retched at the carnage we uncovered.

It was a gang hit. The Amesti family was making a move on the upper shelf and the bigger Allsweets struck back. Two of them were sentenced to suikawari. That’s just life—and death—in the jungle of the Farmer’s Market.


Competing Vows – Longer Version

On April 12, I posted a 100-word story called Competing Vows. There were people who were curious about the situation surrounding it, both what had come before and what happened afterward. So, here is the full story.

Competing Vows

Our candles were the fireflies that darted around, our incense the scent of the lilacs and lavender in full bloom in the bower chapel. I arrived first, with two of my friends as witnesses. A moment later, I saw Francesca appear with two of her ladies-in-waiting, ducking to avoid catching her hair on the low-hanging branches. My beautiful, forbidden bride.

I had just taken her hand when the priest arrived, stepping in silently from the other side of the grove. He was young to the point where I wondered briefly if he even was a priest.

“Thank you for coming,” Francesca said to him. “Thank you for doing this for us.” He nodded, pulled us closer together and started the marriage ceremony.

The words of the wedding mass flowed over me, but I could hardly believe this was actually happening. I was marrying the duke’s daughter, snatching her from the arms of the man she was promised to, a week before they were to be officially betrothed. I, in my cowardice, had been willing to concede defeat, but Francesca had fought for me. At least, secretly.

We joined hands and there in front of God, a farmhand, a tavern assistant, and two ladies-in-waiting, two became one. Five minutes later, Francesca and I left the bower together.

I had no money for preparations, but Francesca had rented a cottage not far away for our wedding night. My friends escorted us there and then with grins and slaps on the shoulder and cries of “good luck!” they said good night.

There was wine, cheese and bread waiting for us on the table inside. I built a fire while Francesca served the food. We sat on the rug in front of the fire and ate together, feeding each other and laughing, nervous and excited. But we both had other appetites on our mind, and only half the food was eaten before we fell into each other’s arms and abandoned food altogether.

I awoke the next morning to the crow of some distant rooster. The air was chill but the covers around us were warm. Francesca was lying next to me, her dark hair spread out like a halo on the pillow, my sleeping angel. I snuggled closer to her and was about to fall back asleep when there was a pounding on the door. We both sat up and I saw the fear in her eyes.

“It has to be my father’s men,” Francesca said, her eyes wide. “They’ve found us.”

“What do we do?” I asked. She had assured me that although her family would not be happy with our marriage, once it was done, they would accept it. I had trusted her because I had no choice. Now I was not so sure she was right.

We got dressed quickly as the pounding continued. I was just moving towards the door to open it when it burst open and soldiers pushed their way in. There was no discussion with them. One of them knocked me to the floor and as I picked myself up, I saw two of them escorting my Francesca out the door and out of sight. The clop of hoofs and rattle of carriage wheels told me that she was gone.

They took me back to the duke’s palace, back to the stables where I had worked for my whole life. But it was too much to hope that things would go back to how they had been. The soldiers guarded me until the duke appeared, striding purposefully towards us. He drew his sword. I stared back at him defiantly and waited for death.

He rested the sword against the side of my neck. “I took you in as a child, a beggar on the street and you stab me in the back like this, by stealing my only daughter away in the dead of night? What do you have to say?”

“I love her,” I said. I had no other defense.

“My wife wants your head on a pike outside her window,” the duke said. “I will spare your life for now in gratitude for your service to us. But if I see you again or hear news of you in this duchy, your life will be forfeit.” He sheathed his sword and turned back to the palace.

The soldiers escorted me to the outer gates and suddenly I was homeless and a new husband with no wife.

I was walking to the village when I came across Maria, one of Francesca’s ladies-in-waiting sitting by the side of the road. Her dress was dirty and torn and she was sobbing. When she saw me, she fell down and clutched at my feet.

“Forgive me,” she said. “The duchess discovered my lady missing this morning and beat us until we told them where you were. They turned us out.”

“Where is Francesca?” I asked. “Is she okay?”

“They are sending her to St. Margaret’s,” Maria said, referring to the convent in the hills east of the village. “It was her mother’s wish for her anyway and now that her father considers her spoiled, he has consented.”

“I need to see her,” I said. “Can you get a message to her?”

Maria wiped her eyes, and I helped her stand. “I will try,” she said.

Maria had contacts within the palace, and that afternoon she sent me a message at the tavern that Francesca would try to meet me at the convent garden gate after the Compline prayers. I spent the rest of the day in nervous tension and finally set out for the convent long before the arranged time. I arrived as the bells for Vespers were ringing and waited in the trees as the shadows got longer and darker. The Compline bells rang, and still I waited. It was dark when I heard a creak from the garden gate.

It was Francesca, and she bit her lip when she saw me. We were both trembling. She was still beautiful, even swathed in her crisp, new habit. I wanted to embrace her, but instead, I took her hand.

“Hello, wife,” I said, still unused to that glorious word.

She looked troubled. “The abbess said the cardinal has annulled the marriage.”

“We didn’t agree to that! Did you?” She shook her head. “Then God still honors our vows. Come, you can’t stay here. Run away with me. We can go tonight.”

“Go where?” I could hear the hopelessness in her voice.

“There must be somewhere your family can’t find us.” I tried to draw her outside, my body aching for her. “Do you have some time, at least?”

She resisted. “They made me take other vows here.”

“But ours came first.”

“I know.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too.”

I felt like I was losing her, had already lost her. This day which had started so perfectly with Francesca waking up in my arms was ending with this gulf between us.

“I have nothing right now,” I said, “but if I earn enough to take you away from here and provide a place for you to live, away from your family’s reach, will you come?”

She smiled for the first time since I had seen her that evening. “I will,” she said. Then she leaned forward and kissed me. “Don’t forget about me, Bernardo.”

*         *         *

Seven years later, an expensive carriage rolled up to the gates of the Convent of St. Margaret. Even before the well-dressed man and woman were helped out by their footman, the abbess had been alerted and was waiting to greet them.

“Welcome, my lord and lady,” the abbess said, who could sense a large donation when it approached. She bowed. “How may we be of service to you?”

“We are setting up our manor and would like one of your nuns to come perform services in our chapel, at least temporarily,” the man said. “Of course, I would glad to donate something to the Lord’s work for the inconvenience to you.”

“I would be happy to be of service,” the abbess said, bowing again. She eyed the carriage, looking for a crest. “You are a count, perhaps?”

“Simply a merchant,” the man said, “at least for the moment. I provide horses to the Papal States and other kingdoms as well.”

“Please come in. I will select one of our most experienced nuns to come serve you,” the abbess said.

The man held up a hand. “Actually, my wife would like to select one, if it is okay with you. Can we see them?”

The nuns were summoned and stood around the edge of the courtyard while the man and woman strolled by them under the watch of the abbess. The woman walked in front, inspecting the assembled nuns and giving quick glances back at the man. They made it halfway around the courtyard when the man stroked his beard and the woman stopped.

“What is your name?” the woman asked the nun in front of her.

“Sister Amelia, my lady,” the nun replied. The woman glanced back and the man nodded.

“We’ll take this one,” the woman said.

“Immediately?” the abbess asked.

“If possible,” the man said. “She needn’t bring anything with her. We will provide everything.”

The footman helped the man and woman back into the carriage and then held out his hand for the nun to join them inside.

“It’s you, Bernardo,” Sister Amelia said as soon as the door was closed. “I recognized you as soon as I saw you, even with the beard and fine clothes.”

“I told you I would come for you.”

Sister Amelia glanced over at the other woman. “You’re married, I see.”

Bernardo nodded with a smile. “I’ve been married for over seven years.” He indicated the other woman. “This is Genevieve, one of your new ladies-in-waiting. I apologize that I had her wear one of your new dresses, but she needed to play the part. It’s a six-day journey to our house. Do you think that is far enough away from your family?”

“They have forgotten about me. My mother still comes once a year to see me but that is all.”

Bernardo reached over and took her hands. “I am afraid Sister Amelia must die, in order that Lady Francesca can be reborn in her place. I am sure the abbess and your mother will mourn her when they find out.”

She played with his fingers and looked up with a sly smile. “You would have me break my vows to God that easily?”

He grinned back. “What God has joined, let no man separate. Don’t you remember? Our vows came first.”


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