Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Water-Widow

In a village, not too far away, there lived a young woman. She was young, fair, and truly loved by her village. But there was one who loved her more. He was a strong and handsome youth. He was never happier than when she was in his company. And it was the same for her. She also loved him back.
The village made a great celebration for their wedding. All of them blessed them and wished them well. The young woman and the youth blessed themselves as well, after the wedding feast was done. Both were very happy, but only for a short time.
Several weeks passed, when the village was threatened. They came like a thundering storm across the golden fields. Burning their way to the center, there was a great battle. Many died, including the youth.
The sorrow and grief of the village was ten-fold. They had lost many people they loved. But they also lost the harvest, which imbued a sense of dread for the coming winter. The young woman, who had lost her lovely youth, was cast into an immortal night. For she, was with his child and had no other to care for her. In fear and sorrow, late into the Immortal Night, she crept silently through the village to the Mill Pond. As the moon climbed the sky, she sat near the waters and wept.
“Beautiful woman, why do you cry at the edge of my water?” asked a croaking voice.
“My man is dead and so I cry,” said the maid. “The harvest is gone and the winter comes. Death will take us all.”
A large toad creature lifted his head from the water. “I was just now wondering why there was no offering to turn the mill wheel. The time is at hand, yet none comes. At first, I thought it was you. But the moon is high and it was not right. I came to the surface to see.”
The maid looked at the large wet toad, with his dripping beard on his chin. “I know you,” she said. “You are a vodnik, a water grandfather.”
He swam to the edge of the water and sat in the soft muck. “Yes, those are two of my names. Are you not afraid of me?”
“No,” said the maid. “If you drown me, I go in peace. To drown is better to starve. To drown is better than watching the child to be, die in my arms.”
The vodnik began to sing to her.
If ever thou gavest meat or drink
the fire sall ne'er make thee shrink,
If meat or drink thou ne'er gavest one,
The fire will burn thee to the bare bone
This one night, this one night
Every night and all,
fire-hearth and Beeswax light
And I shall receive thy soul

“You do me great honor,” said the maid when he was done. “I will do as you ask and return.”
“I do you no honor, maid.” The toad croaked. “There is still a price, for that advice and the other. One cannot get something for nothing, even for one with such beauty as you.”
“What price can I pay? I have nothing,” she said. “But if it is within my power to give, I shall give it.”
“You are free give it,” croaked the toad. “Give me your trothe. I will take your child as my own. I will love him as my own.”
“Marry you?” asked the girl. “But why?”
“Can you not see that I might be lonely?” asked the toad. “Be my bride and my companion. Let my loneliness die with yours. If you choose nay, I shall drown you as you wish. Your soul will be released and you may pass. Bring to me an offering of a little grain. If you choose yes, I shall take you into my watery home to be my bride. There you shall live and be as happy as I can offer it.”
“Let me think and I will return as you sang. I will give you my answer then,” she said.
The toad retreated into the pond. The young woman went home.
On her way home, she met a crying beggar man on the road. He sat wet and shivering.
“You poor man,” she said. Her tears forgotten for the moment. “You are wet and cold. Please come with me to my house. There is little food, but there is fire to warm yourself.”
“You are so very kind,” said the beggar. The two went to the house of the maid.
She stoked the fire and gave him a little bread and ale. While he ate she asked him, “Why are you out so late and why are you so wet?”
“I am a beggar ma'am,” he said. “I was traveling on the moor and fell into the water.” He looked at her closely. He could see her distress by the firelight. “You are troubled. That must why a young woman was out so late in the dangerous night.”
The woman nodded. She told him the story of the invasion, the burned harvest, and the death to come.
The beggar stopped eating. “I am very sorry,” he said. “I feel guilty for eating what little you have.” He pushed away what was left of the bread and ale.
She shook her head. “No, you may have it. I will not need it.”
“Oh, lady,” whispered the beggar. “That can not be true.”
She shook her head. “It doesn't matter now, I must.” Then, she told him of the water grandfather.
The beggar pulled the food closer to him and began to eat again. “You are right. You have made a deal with one who will not let you go. This food doesn't matter. You must chose.”
The maid sighed. “But what will I chose? And will he keep his word?”
The beggar huffed. “He will keep his word, either way you chose. But his song, it was wrong. He was telling you something. There is another choice. That is how I know.”
“How so?” asked the maid.
“He was generous in sending you home to make a choice. As I travel I hear many tales, but there is always one ending. The water grandfather takes the bride. Whether she lives or not, makes no difference. But he didn't do that with you. Instead, he sang you a song with wrong words. The first parts are right. The parts about charity, the giving of meat and drink. But the last part, Fire-hearth and beeswax light,” he shook his head. “The song says Fire, fleet, and candle light. And Christ receive thy soul. I wonder why he changed the words to be so specific?”
The maid spoke her thoughts aloud. “Fire hearth, not hearth fire, you are right. I didn't notice that until you said something. And the beeswax light, My grandmother used to say that bees are holy things. They are sacred to god and man. The light of a beeswax candle is the light of heaven.”
The beggar nodded. “I, also, have heard it.”
“Those two things refer to light, home, and comfort. We cook and bake by the fire hearth. We see and are comforted by the light of heaven.”
The beggar nodded. “That could be.”
The girl nodded. “Thank you, sir. I think I know what to do.”
The beggar smiled and finished the bread. “I must also thank you. But now, I must go.”
“But you are still dripping wet! You cannot leave now, you will catch your death,” she said.
The beggar smiled. “Lady, you do me a great service of charity. To think of me in my hour of need. But I cannot stay, a strange man staying in the home of a young and beautiful woman overnight, would disgrace you to your village. You have done enough.” He gave a little bow. Then, he turned and left, leaving behind a trail of water behind him.
The next day the maid asked all the villagers to gather what grain they had. They took it to the edge of the mill pond. Then, she told them to leave her at the water. In the morning everything would be better. Confused and concerned, they pleaded with her. But she only shook her head. “You will see,” she said. “Everything will be made right.” The villagers reluctantly left her at the mill pond.
At the rise of the moon, the toad's head popped up from the water. “You have returned like you said, you would. You are a brave woman, indeed,” he said. He swam to the water's edge and sat in the muck.
The maid knelt down to him. “I have brought you all the grain from the village. But to you I bring my trothe.” Without hesitation, she leaned in and kissed him.
At her kiss, the toad shimmered with a golden light. He transformed into a handsome man and stood before her. “You guessed the riddle,” he said. “You are beautiful, generous, and wise. You are a wonderful woman and I am happy to take you as my bride.” He took her hand and lead her into the water.
The next day, the villagers came and were shocked. The grain was gone and the woman was not to be found. They began to panic, wondering what to do. But one pointed to the mill wheel and shouted, “Look! The wheel turns!”
The villagers went inside the mill and found it overflowing with flour, enough to last the winter and more. A great deep voice shouted upon the ether, “The bride price is paid!” The wheel stopped and all was made silent. Finally, the villagers knew what had occurred in the night.

The next year and every year that followed, when the village celebrated the harvest they also celebrated the Water-widow who saved them winter's death.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Shades of Westward Inn

There is a place in the American west where many journeyed to strike it rich. In that place, a town was built, and in that town an Inn. The owner called it “The Westward”. It had rooms on the second floor, and a bar on the first. During the first years of its life, it was a popular resting place for weary travelers of every kind.
But time moves on and so do people and buildings. What was once a place of sanctuary became a place of chaos. Gamblers came, and cowboys too, looking to fill their time with pleasures. The new owner made the top floor a brothel and the lobby, a small casino. While the drinks and money flowed, so did the violence. Many died over aces and eights, upstairs women lost their virtue and breath in exchange for a dime.
It was in that last moment that four of them discovered what they had lost. With final words and final breath, they uttered, “I don't want to die.” What they didn't know or understand that wishes are carried on the wind. The words and breath were brought to heaven and heaven granted that wish.
A gambler, a cowboy, a prostitute, and serving girl woke up to half life and half death, made plain by spectral arms. All caught within the confines of the Westward Inn's walls, none could see the other nor converse. Each took it upon themselves to explore the new world in which they walked.
In each own's time, they made their way to the cellar. In the furthest and darkest place, there mounted a door glowing with heaven's light. And also, to each's horror and surprise, sat a black, growling beast in front of the door, whose eyes shined with the red fires of Hell.
At the approach of the spectral shades, the creature raised its head and sniffed. “I smell you, shade wastrel.” It said with static-water voice. “I know your scent now. You cannot pass through this way. For eternity, you must walk between. Know that I am coming for you, always too. That my purpose is to suck the life from your form! I will take that which you will not grant, abomination! For your sin, is yours to bear. But here I come, nonetheless. Run and be chased, through the confines of these halls. I will get you in time, and your life will be mine.”
And so, there they were, the shades of Westward Inn caught in the between of life and death. During the day, they replayed their steps, searching for the clue of entrapment. At night, they were chased by the beast of the door.
They watched the living move through time. Sometimes, tried to speak their plight. The living misunderstood the markings of their passage; the fallen pictures, the cries in the night, the footsteps, and whispers, the knocking, and the spectral vision. The living convinced of the evil shadow that walked behind them or hovered over them in sleep. The shades ran from the beast, who cared not for the living. He only stopped to growl or scratch at their interference. Once out of the way, the beast would engage the shades of Westward Inn.
Unknown years passed, while the shades were chased. Until one day came an ordinary woman. She sat at the bar and had a single drink. To the living eye, she was nothing to see, but the shades saw a heavenly glow. They surrounded her and began to speak, excited that she could see. She sat silently and shook her head. She whispered, “Wait and be silent.”
When the bar was mostly empty, and those in attendance to drunk to pay attention, she moved to a living-empty booth. She ordered five drinks and sat them on the table. Then, engaged the shades with words.
“Yes, I can see you. Yes, I can hear you. But help you, I cannot. The choice is yours and yours alone. No one can do it for you.” She sighed. “Whether you believe in your guilt or faultless, sin or sinless, makes no difference. The salvation and the savior are the same, religion makes no difference. But to walk or not walk that path is the choice you must make yourself.”
The serving girl and prostitute listened to her words and heard them. The gambler walked away. The cowboy became angry and tried to force himself upon her. The woman knocked him back with a thought. Then, she left the Westward Inn.
At the dying sun, the serving girl cried and crept away to hide from the beast. The Gambler ran through the halls once again. The cowboy retraced his boot steps. The prostitute went into the cellar to wait the appearance of the beast.
The dark beast appeared before the door as the sun set below the horizon. His red-fire eyes looked upon her as he smiled his razor smile. “What now is this? That you have come to me tonight!”
The prostitute stood in front of the beast, fear no longer in her mind. “Beast! My living life was filled with self-doubt. I had no value, identity, purpose, or belonging for myself or others. I often used my time and body as a sacrifice to survival.” She raised her spectral arm and pointed. “No more! I say! No more will I run from you. This eternal chase has gone on long enough! If you must suck the life from my form, then so be it! I will not run anymore!”
The beast laughed in his static-water voice. “Then you shall be the example for the others, abomination shade!” The beast waved his claw-hand. Suddenly, beside her stood the serving girl, the gambler, and the cowboy. “See this prostitute? With whom you shared your fate all this time? Watch now, as I consume her life and be afraid!”
The prostitute turned to others, her resolve conquered her surprise. She spoke to them. “He is not fear. He is only a beast!” She pointed at him, again. “A beast to chase you through eternity. I have seen many a beast and many on top of me. The beast that you see is not the beast to fear. The beast is the eternal chase! I am weary of it! Night after night, day after day!” She lowered her hand and head. “If this is hell, I welcome death, for at least I will not have to run any longer.”
The beast roared with his static water laugh. “Witness the might of my power!” The beast reared up, opened his mouth, and consumed the prostitute's life. Her shade faded away and nothing was left behind. The other three watched and cried out when they saw the beast consume her. They grew much more afraid than ever before.
Suddenly, from behind the beast, heaven's door opened wide. The light poured in and filled the cellar. The beast roared and turned to face the mounted door. “NO!” He screamed. But was quieted by a laugh from the light.
“I have found the way,” said the voice of the prostitute. “You cannot chase me here!” As the door began to close, her voice rang out to the others. “Make your choice and don't be afraid. As long as there is a beast, there will be a door!” The door shut tight with a bang, heaven's light only shown through the cracks around it. Overcome with fear and shock, the other shades ran again. The beast, finding his composure, began his nightly chase once more.

And so, it is said, the Westward Inn still stands. And inside the endless spectral halls, runs three abomination shades. Forever entrapped within the walls, whether they stand or not. The beast still there, chasing them nightly, as they mark the living with their passing. And in the cellar, the door.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


She: "Flee not from me, like Daphne from Apollo. Turn an eye, to gaze, at least once, to the offering I hold in my arms."

He stops and turns. She keeps a bit away. "Lady, I run not from you but the offering in your arms. The Shoes and Crown, though stately made and kept, is far too rich for me."

She keeps away. "Silver and black pearls cannot be remade to driftwood.  They are as they are and will remain so."

He: "You speak to mean that black pearls can be as common as rocks. And from this, I too run."

She: "Black pearls are a rare find. But in the vast ocean of time, they, too, accrue upon the shore."

He: "A jest, to ease my fears."

She: "No. A truth. If a pearl is to found upon a beach, and no one is to pick it up, they too accrue upon the sand. Then, become as common as rock, in time. There must be a one to recognize its value, to make it a treasure."

He is silent.

She: "If this is not true, then I shall move away and leave you to your journey. If it is true, then speak plain. I will hear and listen."

He is hesitant. But then he speaks. "A driftwood crown is easy to wear, it has no weight. The silver and black pearl crown is heavy and its value cannot be argued. The shoes, while plain, is easy to see that they are well made, sewn expertly with quality material. They have a heavy sole and ever so slightly worn. Well made for a strong man and cared for with great respect. It is clear to see what the expectations of a counterpart your Majesty seeks. I am not that man. And Time cannot change those who chose their paths with stubbornness. You seek a champion, Majesty. I am yet, a traveler only. I must refuse the call."

She is disappointed. "I understand." She lowers her arms and pulls the items closer to her bosom. "The messiah only comes once. Be sure of your refusal."

He: "I am certain of it."

She: "Then, go and be free. I shall not follow."

He turns away and goes.

She cries in the grove of the forest.