Bring Me To Life

Australian photographer Leanne Cole posted a photo on her blog Leanne Cole PHOTOGRAPHY challenging people to write a story or a poem. It is really not hard to find an inspiration in her dark and mysterious images, the words simply seem to flow.

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 Copyright – Leanne Cole

You are drowning.

You can’t remember when it all begun. When you look back, it seems like it’s been forever. But if you have to pinpoint the exact moment, you would say it started the day you had to put your dog to sleep. Yes, it’s just a dog and 17 years is a long time for a dog…But still, you are drowning.

You wonder how the years went by without you noticing. Head burrowed in your career, climbing the ladder two steps at the time, any notion of family pushed aside. Military is an unforgiving mistress, taking everything and giving so little in return. But your love is blind.

It is hot, sticky summer, the first time you seek comfort in his bed. Drunken kisses and graceless movements, it is nothing you imagined it would be. It is so much emptier. He is trying to close that hole in your heart, but the demons still make you scream at night. And you are still drowning.

He helps you bury your dog in the woods behind your cabin. You are not surprised it’s raining. You don’t cry, you just turn around and walk back to the car. Paper bag with cheap wine in your hand, you are staring ahead, hypnotized by wipers sweeping back and forth, wishing they could sweep so effortlessly over your mind.

Two months later he is missing in action. And you wish you told him you love him. For the first time in years, you miss a day of work. They believe when you say it’s the flu. You never lied before. But you are so damned tired. Your doctor prescribes you some pills, warning you to be careful cause “These are very strong.” You ignore his advice and for the first time in months you sleep. And no one notices that you are drowning.

You read about his funeral in the Sunday newspapers. You just stare at the words, not surprised they didn’t call you. It was a well-kept secret, lie by omission. “Fraternization of officers with enlisted personnel” is not a label you want to be put on the thing you had. Not that you know what it was.  But you cry nevertheless. You cry for your silly dog and your long gone mother, for fighting this stupid war over and over again with no end in sight, for lost friends and lovers, for all that could have been, for all the children you’ll never have.

The pills help for a while, they numb your pain. And for a moment you contemplate how easy it would be to just stop. Give up. Your gun is locked in a safe in your office. But you keep your kitchen knives sharp. You stand by the open window, rain soaking your nightgown, bare feet in the freezing puddle on the hardwood floor. You wonder if anyone would miss you.

But the truth is you were never a quitter. Hard years of military training shaped not only your body, but your mind as well. So, you stand there, looking at the people walking on the street, willing someone to look up, to see you. So you can whisper: “Bring me to life.”

You are not drowning anymore.

Stars Will Bring Me Home

This week’s The Daily Post writing challenge Leftovers, reminded me of a story lurking in the corner with many unfinished drafts. I finished it some time ago, but still thought it was not quite complete. But, sometimes you just need to let them fly and find their own place under the sun. So, here it is – my little leftover.

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Stars Will Bring Me Home

“My dear friend, it is time we part our ways.”, a lion said to a little girl.
She looked up into his golden eyes, her small hands braiding a sun-kissed mane: “But why? I don’t want you to leave.”
“I don’t want it either, my tinny human. But some things are not ment to last.” his soft growl beget her heart to skip a bit.
“Please, don’t leave me.” she whispered, tears brimming her eyes, then softly tumbling across her freckled cheeks.
“Do not cry, little one. You will always remain my one true friend, but now I must be yours. I hear them coming for me, frightened human souls, trying to catch and tame what is untamable.” He slowly rose from the ground, stretching his back, inhaling the wind heavy with whispers of death. “Remember my dear, although I am a cat of a different coat, my claws are still sharp.”
She flung herself at him, trying to encompass his neck with her small arms, burrowing her head into his fur, trying to memorize the feel, the smell of him. “What can I do? There must be something. I know I must let you go, but I need to know I’ll see you again.”
“You will see me in every sunrise over the savannah, in every stretch of grass caressed by gentle wind, in every herd of antelopes with heads held high and noses searching for danger…You will see me in every shadow of a tree, when the sun is high above…You will see me when the rains come, when the lightning splits the sky, when this dry valley turns into a pool of life…But above all, you will hear me…When this quiet corner of the world is bathed by the silver of moonlight, when all once cherished is forgotten, when humans are hidden behind their walls and all the land once more belongs to those wild in heart…Then you will hear me, you will hear my roar.”, his voice rumbled like a distant thunder, yet soft like the gentlest drum. Turning to the east, his mane dancing to the soundless music of wind and shadows, his gaze fixed on the horizon, he sang to her: “Promise you will grow up to be the best you can, to keep us safe from harm,  fierce creatures that are chased by those who don’t know us. Promise you will become our guardian, in the times ahead, when our furs and our tusks will be more valuable than the sight of us freely roaming this land. Promise you will never forget a little cub you found in the tall grass – hungry, tired, alone. For I shall never forget a little girl who made me a great lion.”
“I will never forget you, I promise.” her whispered words followed his retreating form, her heart breaking in harmony with his every step. In a blink of an eye, he was gone, golden beast hidden in a sea of green. As the retreating rays of cheating sun stole the daylight, small voice shouted to the sky, to the stars blinking above, to the world: “I promise!!!”

***

The car stopped at the side of the road and she jumped out. Worn boots sank into dirt, reminding her of long bear-feet walks on the Skeleton Coast last spring. “Always chasing after lions.”, her father teased her for years, not knowing how his words cut her to the bone. She made her way to the jeep, where a ranger was waiting for her.
“Hello, Doctor. It’s just up ahead, over the ridge, some three hundred feet in the bushes. We marked the way, but kept our distance, as you instructed. Let me show you the way.”, the ranger started walking towards the marked path.
She waved her hand, stopping him: “It’s all right. I’ll go alone.”
“But…”
“Etuna, please.”, passing by, she squeezed his forearm and he acknowledged her with a nod.
Familiar heaviness settled on her shoulders, demanding more effort with each new step. It was a road she traveled too many times, always fearing who will be waiting for her at the end. As she stepped closer, a sudden gush of wind parted the grass before her. There he was, lying on a ground. Matted fur that lost its golden shade years ago, ribs protruding, sides covered with scars, once glorious mane now brown and tangled. But to her, he was still beautiful, unchanged from all those years ago, from that golden sunset when they parted ways. Slow rise of his chest was the only sign of life, his eyes closed, his body flattened to the ground.
“Hello, my friend.”, she whispered, sitting down beside him.
He opened his eyes, low rumble greeting her.
“Here, let me help you.”, she gently lifted his head and slided beneath, resting him on her lap, her hands combing his knotted mane with practiced ease. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Hello, my tinny human. In the end, It was always you and me.”, he spoke softly, his eyes squinting in the late summer sun. “Could it be any other way?”
“No, it couldn’t.” she smiled, looking down to the valley, green ocean spreading as far as the eye could see, its surface broken by islands of colors and life. “I saw you, just as you said I would. Everywhere I looked, there you were, every step of the way. And every time I faltered, I felt you pushing me further.”
With his eyes still closed, he turned his head to her: ” And I saw you. Last spring, on the Skeleton Coast, with your little one. You looked happy.”
“The lions were back. After all these years. I was happy.”, caressing his forehead, she sighed: “So,you were there. I wasn’t sure, but I hoped you were somewhere close. I imagined walking on that beach alongside you, watching the ocean, defying the wind. Every large paw print I saw, melted my heart. My daughter was hoping she would see you that day.”
“You told her about me?”
“How could I not? Every night I tell her a story about a lion and a girl, about their friendship and their adventures. You know, she found a cub last month.”
“So, the story continues.”
“Imagine that, the story continues. But it will be easier this time.” She gently took his head in her hands and whispered to his ear: “Open your eyes. See.”
With an effort he unhurriedly opened his eyes, his gaze encompassing the landscape of life before them. Herds of zebras and wildebeests on the edge of the lake, single line of elephants making their way through the tall grass, hippos splashing in the river, lions lazily sprawling under the trees, mountains in the distance hiding where the desert meets the ocean.
“You kept your promise.” he whispered, as a sudden tremor shook his weakened body.
“I kept my promise. And I will never give up.”
“I am so tired.”, he lowered his head deeper into her embrace. “It was a long journey, but the stars brought me back.”
Tears blurred her vision, falling quietly onto his mane: “Rest, my friend. You are home.”

***

Tucked away safely, unobserved by all the life around them, with the warm earth bellow and the blue skies above, with the sun and the wind playing the ancient game of hide and seek, the lion and the little girl said their goodbyes.

Feast of All Saints

Another short story as a result of The Daily Post prompt Familial Feasts: “Yesterday was Father’s Day in many countries. If you could dedicate a holiday to a more distant relative, who would it be — and why?” I must admit, once I started writing, the story took me to a different direction. But what can you do, when your muse comes calling, you better listen to her.

Feast of All Saints

Hunched back, cane in her left hand, rosary in her right, black scarf tied around her neck…she is making a slow progress from the bus station to the cemetery entrance. People passing her by, carrying flowers and candles, rushing…almost beliving those who are waiting for them might lose their patience and leave. But not her, she is taking her time, slow steps challenged by the years that burden her shoulders and knees.

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A young man stops at her side and greets her: “Hello, ma’am. May I help you? Here…lean on me.”
She smiles at him, drops the old worn rosary to her pocket and puts her trembling hand on his: “Thank you, young man, you are very kind. It seems these days people are always running somewhere.”
“Well, not you and me.” he smiles, as they pass through the gates. “Today we take our time, as much as we need.”
The old lady, curious look in her eyes, stops for a moment and leans on her cane: “I must say, you are a bird with strange feathers. And I’ve seen many birds in my life.” She points a crooked finger at his towering form and chuckles: “If only my dear husband could see us, I bet he would have few chosen words for you. It was his biggest concern, how I would manage without him. He always thought me a fragile creature, made of glass. Imagine that.”
“So, you are visiting your husband’s grave?”
“If only. They are all waiting for me, my child. My husband, my parents, my brother, my sisters…those are the easy ones, expected. But, my children…those are the ones that break my heart every morning I wake up…Ah, here we are! Here, let me rest on the bench. You know, my Xavier built it, he always said that I would outlive him and that I needed a solid bench, so I could come and talk to him. That’s what he said he’d miss the most – my voice. But listen to me, an old woman babbling…Come, sit down for a minute, tell me your story.”

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He sat down, his elbows on his knees, his eyes fixed on a horizon, searching for the unknown: “You know that old saying that you know a true love ony when you lose it. Well, if that is true, I guess I loved one too many times. When my parents died, I managed to move on. But I don’t know if I can do it now, when I lost my wife.”
She laughed then, shaking her head: “My dear, I can tell you, that is a pile of rubbish. You know, I used to come here often, at least once a week. Seeking solace, reprieve, redemption for imagined sins. Not anymore, now I come here once a year, on this day – Feast of All Saints. Look at all these people, look at all these flowers, all the colors. It is a celebration of lives our loved ones led, of people they left behind. Life is for living, not regretting.”
“How can you be so full of life when you lost all your loved ones, when you are so….”, he hesitated, not finding a proper word.
“Old? Ancient?”, she chuckled, “I’ll tell you a secret – I am not alone. You see that gorgeous gentleman approaching us? That is my husband, well, my second husband. We met in the retirement home, and let me tell you, sparks were flying all around us. Oh, don’t be so shocked, we are old, not dead!”
He laughed out loud and put his arm around her bony shoulders: “My dear, you made my day!”
The older man stood before them and said in a stern voice: “Young man, keep your hands to yourself.”, turned to the grave and whispered: “Xavier, don’t worry, I have it under control.” , then turned back and winked at them.
“Eric, stop it, you’ll scare this wonderful young man. He was only keeping me company, it is not my fault your new hip is not working properly, making you slower than our neighbours turtle. I am sorry, I never introduced myself, my name is Gabrielle. And this is my husband, Eric.”
“Nice to meet you, Gabrielle, Eric. I am Charles.”, he stood up and shook their hands. “I took enough of your time and I see you are in good hands now, so I should leave. It was a real pleasure talking to you, Gabrielle. And thank you for your advice, I will try.”
“Promise?”
“I promise.”, he leaned towards her and placed a feather light kiss on her wrinkled cheek.
She smiled and patted his hand: “Good, good. It’s always good to listen to us elders.”
Charles turned around and started walking away, when Gabrielle called after him: “Charles!”
“Yes?”
“Same time, same place next year ?”
“Sure!”
“I can’t promise we’ll be around to speak to you, but be sure to stop by and share a story. Surely, we’ll be around to listen. And besides, it would be a waste of a good bench if no one came to sit on it at least once a year.”, she winked at him.
Charles waved at them and started walking away, shaking his head, noticing a new-found spring in his steps: “Feast of All Saints, imagine that!”

Mirror of Memory

Another short story as a result of The Daily Post prompt Breathing Room: “An extra room has magically been added to your home overnight. The catch: if you add more than three items to it, it disappears. How do you use it?”

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In a land far, far away there is a forest. In the middle of the forest, there is a meadow. In the middle of the meadow, there is a house. In the middle of the house, there is a room. In the middle of the room, there is a mirror. And there, in front of the mirror, stands a little girl. Looking in, smiling at what she sees.

Her grandmother and grandfather, her mother and father, her little white dog. They are smiling back at her, telling her beautiful stories and singing wonderful songs. And if she is sad, they tell her words of love and bravery, of tenderness and courage. And the little dog, he jumps around and tosses her a little red ball, so she could toss it back.

It is a mirror of memory. And every time she feels sad and alone, that little girl stands in front of the mirror and smiles at her loved ones. And as she walks out of the room, she always leaves three things behind – a brush, a cup and a bird. For, you see, this is the magic room, and it disappears if you add three more items to it. And when she comes back, she stands outside and whistles for the bird to fly out of the window and the room magically appears again. For, you see, it is a magical bird.

There is a mirror of memory. In the middle of the room. In the middle of the house. In the middle of the meadow. In the middle of the forest. In a land far, far away. And if you listen very carefully, you can hear a little girl’s laughter.

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How Far Can We Fly?

This is my little drabble as a result of The Daily Post prompt Longing for Gravity : “You are on a mission to Mars. Because of the length of the journey, you will never be able to return to Earth. What about our blue planet will you miss the most?”

Little did they know it is a constant companion of mine, the thought of space travel.

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“Mars Colony Nova Gaia, 4th of June, 2114.

Day 3157 of the Dedalus Mission.

Our current settlement is home to 8 people and it’s getting crowded.  With the new arrivals set for three months from now, we are on a short schedule to add more space…New living quarters, completely new life support unit, another floating garden and we will finally finish the tunnel to the Dome that will house our first animal settlers. Fresh eggs!!! Real milk!!!

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They said we could make a list of things they would send us, but it is limited to 5 items and 50 cubic centimeter per person . How can I decide? From all the things I think I miss, what is it that I truly long for?

Marcus and I had an argument the other day. He says there is something disturbingly wrong with me, for he can’t understand how I can stay so focused and determined after all these years out here, but most of all he just can’t understand how can I be so irritably happy most of the time. He is breaking more and more each day, the thought that he can never go back is driving him crazy, slowly and irreversibly.

How can I explain to him that I dreamed about this since I was a kid? That I would leap from tree to tree in my back yard, pretending I am Joan Carter of Mars. How can I describe all those summer nights I was stargazing from the roof of the old barn on my grandparents farm? How can he understand that irresistible interstellar pull on my heart? Every step in my life lead to this moment, to this place, to this planet.

So, when he asks: What do you miss most?
I reply: Dreams.
And when he asks: So, how come you are always smiling?
I say: Because of the view.”

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