Friday, May 10, 2019

Frontier's Edge

Prompt: Cut Throat | Word Count: 750 words Exactly | Genre: Historical Fiction 
Due 4/24

Frontier’s edge by Peggy Rockey
 
Mary Frary can see her breath, ghost-like exhalations that hover in the frosty air. It gives her something to focus on, something normal and sane to counter the unspeakable carnage that has come to her village. She pulls her elbows close to her chest, rubbing hands against goose-fleshed arms, generating brittle warmth against the biting, bone chilling wind.
 
She's dressed only in a long woolen gown, linen shift, and petticoats, sorely wishes for cape and hood. Mary is a woman to count her blessings, though, even in the direst of circumstances, and she thanks God her captors allowed her time to dress at all, before forcing her from her home into the middle of this freezing February dawn.
 
Inhuman cries of attacking Indians ululate across the town. Loud, rapid gun fire breaks out, along with incomprehensible commands shouted in French. A few of the homes at the north end of town have been set afire. The awful stench of burning flesh carries in the wind. Mary is too far away to hear screaming, and can only pray these neighbors were dead before flames consumed them.
 
The nightmare has come again. Indian’s are raiding Deerfield. The first time had been in 1675, back when she was thirty-three, seven months pregnant with three young children to care for, and an idealistic husband who had thought to settle out here on the edge of the Massachusetts frontier. They had evacuated Deerfield then, but had come back eight years later. Now she’s a sixty-two year old matron, and this is the fourth time she’s relived this nightmare.
 
She wants to be furious with her husband. To rant and rail at him for insisting on returning to this God forsaken place; where six year old Johnny was killed in the raid of ’75, their home and all their belongings burnt to the ground. Where son in law, Hezekiah, was struck down in the raid of ’90; their daughter, Hitte, in ’98.
 
But Mary finds it impossible to be angry at the man when she’s just seen his head split apart by a tomahawk. The same Indian ordered her to dress, allowed her to don shoes, while Mary tried to convince her granddaughter to cooperate as well.
 
Mercy would not be consoled into cooperation, though, and the Indian cut her throat in a single, savage motion. Scalped her in the next. Mercy’s long, thick braid dangles on a belt at his waist. Her blood is spattered on Mary’s gown and shoes.
 
Bile tingles the back of her throat, her chest is tight with the denied need to scream.
 
Mary is prodded mercilessly towards a large group of people, neighbors and townsfolk, all as stunned as she, and shocked into obedience. French soldiers in red and blue uniforms herd them towards the river.
 
The sun crests the horizon as they pass the cemetery. How the sun can shine when her world has plunged into such deep darkness, she can’t fathom. The glare is bright. Her pain brighter. She’s blinded by tears that fall in silent rivulets down her cheeks. Who will bury Samson? God, how will she live without him? Forty-four years they’ve been married. She loves him more than life itself. Even when he’d brought her out here to the frontier’s edge, where life is hard and loss is great, still they’d had each other and who needed more than that? He had lit up her world as the sun now lit up these snow-covered headstones.
 
Grief strikes her like a blow and she stumbles and falls. Mary almost welcomes the pain when she is grabbed from behind, pulled to her feet by her braid. She expects to be killed, like Mercy; instead she is pushed and prodded with the rest of the captives, guarded by numerous war-painted Indians and a full contingent of French soldiers.
 
A murmuring buzz teases Mary’s ears, sounds of crying, of whispered prayers and muted curses, of shuffling footsteps on frozen dirt and then on frozen ice as they cross the river. She pieces together the whispers enough to understand they have begun a long, forced march through the wilderness to Montreal, Canada.
 
She closes her eyes to the atrocities that continue around her, thinking instead of her two remaining children and her grandchildren, thankful they moved away from Deerfield in ’99, to be spared this violence. Mary Frary focuses on the ghost-like exhalations of her breath, suddenly bone weary and heartsick. She dearly prays she does not survive this trek.

Moondance

Moondance by Peggy Rockey
Challenge Prompt: Tag | Word Count: 2500 words exactly | Genre: YA Romance
 
Due Date: 3/27/2019
 
 
It was almost nine by the time John pulled into the parking lot at the Blodgett Canyon picnic area. The lot was packed; he circled around twice before a car pulled out and he was able to park.  
 
“Nice ride,” said a guy parked next to him as John got out of his new ‘78 Ford Bronco; a graduation gift from his Dad.
 
“Yeah, thanks! She rides like a charm.”
 
“I’m sure. Not like ol’ Betsy here,” the guy slapped the side of his beat up ‘65 GMC pickup, “but she gets me where I’m going.”
 
John noticed the sleeping bag in the bed of the truck. “And a place to sleep, I see.”
 
The guy took a large gulp of beer. “Oh yeah; have bed will travel. Chick’s dig that!”
 
“I’m John Nelson, by the way,” he extended his hand, not recognizing the guy from high-school.
 
“Brad Peterson,” said the other. “You’re new in town, aren’t you?”
 
“I guess you could say that. I moved here with my Dad right after Christmas. It’s a damn sight colder in Montana in winter than it is in California, that’s for sure!”
 
“California? Dude! Are you a surfer?”
 
John groaned and rolled his eyes. He wasn’t sure if it amused him or pissed him off when people made generalities like that; why did everyone assume that all Californians were surfers?
 
Music, laughter, and loud, drunken conversations could be heard coming through the trees.
 
“I thought this was supposed to be a small party, but from the full parking lot and the dull roar I’m hearing, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
 
“Yeah! I think half’a Hamilton showed up tonight. You know how it is, you tell five people an’ they tell five people, an’ the next thing you know…”
 
“Half of Hamilton shows up. I get it. Guess I’ll go check it out.”
 
 It was late June, and dusk was falling as John made his way through the trees to the picnic area. It wouldn’t be full dark until well after ten. 
 
A red pickup truck with overhead lights, and speakers blaring the latest rock music, formed the focal point of the party. People were shuffling around two kegs of beer; couples were dancing in the spotlight. Picnic tables were spread around the area and John guessed there might be close to a hundred people there.
 
He recognized a few guys from the basketball team, lighting a fire in one of the camp rings.  It was still fairly warm, but the temp would drop sharply in an hour or two. The scent of pine needles and pot smoke hung in the air, competing with the smell of spilt beer and teenaged hormones.
 
He wasn’t sure why he’d come. He rarely drank and he hadn’t made that many friends since moving here. In a town as small as Hamilton, though, it seemed everybody knew him. A line from the song New Kid in Town played in his head; the Eagles could have written the song specifically about him.  
 
… Everybody's talking 'bout the new kid in town.
 
Looking around, he picked out the Vail kids a short distance away. They’d come from California too, he’d heard; and before he arrived, they had been the last New Kids in Town. 
 
They were clustered around a fire with some friends, the two older brothers drinking beer and passing a joint between them. The younger brother was making eyes at a pretty girl nearby. The sister was standing apart, her body moving to the music. She had a far-away dreamy look on her face, as though she’d tuned out her surroundings and was simply grooving to the music.
 
He’d had his eye on this girl for a few months now, ever since she started keeping score at the basketball games. If he was honest with himself, she was the only reason he had come to the party tonight. And not because of the rumors he’d heard about her, that she was easy and would have sex with anyone who asked.
 
She wasn’t beautiful, but John thought her striking, with her hourglass figure, long blonde curls and tanned olive skin. She reminded him of Farrah Fawcett from Charlie’s Angels.
 
She was so different from the other girls he knew from school, most of whom were here, wearing cowboy boots with straight legged jeans and tucked-in denim or flannel shirts. Jeannie had on bell bottom corduroy hip-huggers and a green tee that hugged her chest like her pants hugged her hips. “Satisfaction Guaranteed!” is written in big purple letters across the front of her shirt, and from the way guys were watching her, they're all wondering if it’s true.  
 
A new song started playing and she swayed her body to the rhythm, as if she didn’t care what others thought of her, but cared only for the music and the way it made her feel.
 
God, she was sexy!
 
Well, it's a marvelous night for a moondance  
With the stars up above in your eyes
 
He recognized Van Morrison’s Moondance, and for a moment he let himself imagine she was dancing with him.
 
…A fantabulous night to make romance
'Neath the cover of October skies 
 
He loved to dance, and started swaying in tune with the music, though perhaps not with the same uninhibited abandon that Jeannie displayed. 
 
And all the leaves on the trees are falling,
to the sound of the breezes that blow;
 
He noticed the attention she was attracting from the girls nearby, throwing catty looks and gossip her way.
 
And I'm trying to please to the calling;
Of your heart-strings that play soft and low
 
 He spotted two guys edging closer towards her.
 
And all the night's magic seems to whisper and hush;
And all the soft moonlight seems to shine in your blush
 
She seemed oblivious to the attention as she swayed and danced.
 
Can I just have one more moondance with you, my love;
 Can I just make some more romance with you, my love
 
She looked up just then. Right at him. As if she’d known he was checking her out, and it seemed to John that she is dancing with him. Her blue-green eyes pierce him with their focused intensity, as though she can see right past his outer appearance and into his very soul. 
 
Well, I want to make love to you tonight;
I can't wait 'til the morning has come
And I know now the time is just right;
And straight into my arms you will run
 
Her eyes lock on his, winsome and challenging. He blushes as the lyrics register in his brain, and the blood seems to rush downwards in his body. He turns away, aroused and flustered, but not before he sees her impish smile and an unexpected hint of shy vulnerability chase across her face.
 
Maybe he’ll get lucky tonight after all, he thinks, as any typical eighteen year old might, having just been tagged by those incredible eyes. 
 
Loud voices erupt nearby, and a fist fight is playing out between the two guys he’d seen eyeing Jeannie just moments before. By the time he crossed the distance to them, her brothers have stepped in between the two aggressors, effectively ending any violence before it could get more serious.
 
“Go on,” the oldest brother was saying to the two guys, “you leave my sister alone now. We don’t want you here.”
 
One of the guys decided to take the brother’s advice and wandered off towards the parking lot. John felt kind of bad for Jeannie; the guy had just been fighting over her, but obviously didn’t feel the need to fight harder.
 
At that point, most of the crowd lost interest and went back to drinking and dancing.
 
“She asked me to come here tonight,” said the other guy, “we’ve got things to talk about.”
 
“Not anymore you don’t. There’s plenty of other girls around; go find things to talk about with one of them.”
 
“God, Tim, just stay out of this,” said Jeannie, pushing her way forward.  “I asked Owen to meet me here tonight. It’s not my fault Dane showed up too.”
 
“I don’t care,” Tim responded. “I don’t want him around. He’s trouble.”
 
“Fine,” said Owen, with an angry sneer, “She’s not worth my time, anyway.” He turned away, and John grimaced in empathy at the hurt look she tried, and failed, to hide. 
 
Tim grabbed her by the arm, “this is what you get for sleeping with all the guys in town.”
 
“I haven’t slept with anyone,” Jeannie retorted indignantly, pulling her arm free and blinking back a sheen of tears. Under her breath she said, “No one’s ever cared enough to spend the night, let alone sleep with me. And just so you know, I’ve only been with these two since we moved here. Despite what the rumors would have you believe. They’re not true.”
 
She stomped away, and John found himself revising his opinion of her. His thoughts shifted away from ideas of getting lucky in favor of maybe just getting to know her.
 
He used the opportunity to introduce himself to her brothers. They knew him from school, but had never hung out together. They welcomed him into their group, exchanging stories about where they used to live in California and how they’d ended up in Hamilton, Montana. John liked them immediately; he thought they’d be cool to hang out with, and maybe become friends.
 
Jeannie came back, eventually, and John could see she was still upset. She was also drinking too much beer, too fast. He moved away, not wanting her to think he only hung out with her brothers to finagle an introduction to her.
 
He was thinking about calling it a night sometime around eleven when he saw the Vail boys heading for the parking lot, leaving Jeannie behind. He couldn’t believe they would just leave her, six miles from town with no one to drive her home.
 
He watched her roaming around the picnic area, making a trip to the outhouse and across to the keg, refilling her beer. She seemed less confident now that she wasn’t surrounded by her brothers, even managed to become less conspicuous as she realized she was alone.
 
He followed her, unobtrusively, when she finally headed for the parking lot. He was not far behind as Jeannie passed by Brad Peterson, who was sitting on his tailgate, laying out his sleeping bag in the bed of his truck.
 
“Hey, baby, wanna ride?” Brad suggested lewdly. John felt a strong urge to slug the guy, but Jeannie impressed him with the way she ignored Brad and kept on walking as if she hadn’t heard him.
 
Brad didn’t seem to notice John as he passed by and got into his Bronco. He waited until she was about a half mile down Blodgett Camp Road before going after her.
 
He pulled up beside her with the window rolled down. “Can I give you a ride?” 
 
She checked him out for a long moment, seeming to consider her options, then gave a slight shrug of her shoulder in acceptance of his offer.
 
She got in the front seat and they drove in silence for a while, he watching the road, she watching him. He wondered what she saw, with his short cropped blond hair and buttoned up shirt, so different from Owen's rugged bad-boy look that he thought Jeannie probably favored.
 
As they rounded a bend, John saw headlights shining up from the side of the road at an unnatural angle. He slowed down to check it out; a Volkswagen bus was down in a gully, nestled amongst a grove of ponderosa pines.
 
“Holy shit,” Jeannie exclaimed, “that looks like my brothers.”
 
It was them, sure enough, but how they got there wasn’t clear. He worried they might have hurt themselves in the fall, and it took him by surprise when he found them laughing uproariously, as if it was the funniest thing that had ever happened to them. 
 
“Oh, God!” Jeannie muttered, hanging her head sheepishly, trying to hide her amusement at their predicament. “I’d say it’s a damn good thing I didn’t go with them, wouldn’t you?”
 
John found their laughter infectious, but he managed to stay composed as he found a flashlight and called down to see if they were alright. Apparently they had swerved to miss a mule deer and plunged off the road into the gully. Luckily no one had been hurt.
 
“I can winch you out if you think your bumper will hold.”
 
The bumper held, and in about thirty minutes the Volkswagen was back on the road. John convinced Jeannie to ride with him as he followed her brothers home. 
 
“That was quite an adventure,” John said, as they came into Hamilton city limits. “Do your brothers always get into such mischief?”
 
“Yeah, pretty much. Maybe you’d like to come hang out with us sometime and see for yourself?”
 
“I’d like that. And maybe you’d go out on a date with me sometime?”
 
She didn’t say anything right away, and John worried that he’d asked too soon. 
 
“Why would a nice boy like you want to go out with a girl like me? I’m sure you’ve heard of my reputation?”
 
“What do I care about that? Obviously your reputation is based on lies and rumors, started by people that either don’t know you or are jealous of you. I like you. I’d like to get to know you better. I think if you got to know me, you might come to like me too.”
 
“I think unless my brothers like you it won’t matter, anyway. It seems Tim has the final say about who I go out with. He’ll probably try to scare you off, thinking you’re just like all the other guys who only want to get into my bed.”
 
“He won’t be far wrong. But it’s not the only thing I want. I’ll promise you this: if you ever do take me to your bed, I’ll stay with you all night; I’ll hold you until you fall asleep, and I’ll be there in the morning when you wake.”
 
He said this as they pulled up in front of her house.
 
“Would you like to come in,” she asked softly.
 
“I would, but no. Thanks. I don’t want you to think I’m taking advantage of you. But, maybe you’d go out with me next Friday?”
 
“Why don’t you come over tomorrow, we’ll see how you get along with my brothers. If they like you, then we’ll see.”  She stretched across the seat and kissed him lightly on the cheek. “Thanks for all you did tonight, giving me a ride and helping out my brothers.”
 
As he drove away, John was remembering the way she had danced to that song, thinking it had been a marvelous night for a moondance. And he wondered how early it would be acceptable to come over in the morning.

Ina

Ina by Peggy Rockey

Challenge Prompt: New Me | Word Count: 1200 words exactly | Genre: Romance
 
Due Date: 2/27/2019
 
He sits in church and watches her, week after week, sitting stiff and silent next to her stern, stoic husband. He is captivated by her beauty, her grace; by the elegant way she dresses and composes herself. She is tall. Wispy thin. Strands of silver in her dark, shoulder length hair catch the light, accentuating pale skin and dark eyes. Spider-like lines at mouth and eyes tell him she once knew how to smile. Elliot thinks she looks frail, but suspects there is strength at her core.
 
There is a profound sadness about her, as though she clings to a distant grief that now defines who she is. There is sorrow from his own past as well. A daughter, just seven year old, with dark hair and eyes, so like her mother, whose death, fourteen years before had broken his heart and driven his wife away. 
 
He watches as she stands with the congregation during worship, swaying slightly to the music, eyes downcast. Ina never sings. She rarely speaks, though she has a beautiful, lyrical voice.  
 
He knows this, because he'd dared to greet her once, last year, when she and her husband, Duncan, began attending this church. She had graced him with a shy smile, said "good morning" in a soft lilting voice. Had turned large, expressive eyes upon him, and Elliot had drowned in their deep, dark depths; held spellbound, even now, by her charismatic, lonely gaze. 
 
Since that one time of greeting, Duncan took care to always delay their arrival to the start of worship, departing as soon as service ended. Elliot saw that Ina was never allowed to linger, nor mingle with the crowd. Neither did they attend other church or community events. As far as Elliot could tell, Ina had no friends, nor family nearby.  
 
He wished…
 
He didn't know what he wished.
 
*~*
 
Ina sits in church beside her husband, still and circumspect. She does not like to draw attention to herself, especially not from Duncan. Try as she might, though, she can’t help but watch this man who watches her; this handsome man who always sits where he can silently observe her. She has noticed that he always sits alone, yet not apart, and never aloof. He smiles often, chatting and laughing with those around him. 
 
Ina admires the way he sings during worship, loud and clear with his fine, fine voice. His worship seems sincere; face and hands upraised to the Lord. Ina thinks he fairly glows.  
 
She remembers a time when she used to worship like that, offering praises to the Lord with a pure heart, an open spirit. But that was long ago. A lifetime ago. Before the accident that killed her child, her heart, her first marriage. 
 
By the time her heart had healed and she might have dared to sing again, she had already married this stern, stoic man who disapproved of so many things. Most especially public displays of emotion.
  
They have been married ten years, and Duncan has made her life a living hell. When they’d first met, she’d been so cocooned in her own remorse over the loss of her child, she hadn’t discerned what kind of man he was. She’d been drawn by his quiet demeanor, by the very stoicism that now repelled her. 
 
He was so very different from the fun-loving, outgoing, passionate man she’d lost when she’d lost her child. Duncan’s apathy, his dispassion, had suited her at the time. Once his cruel nature had been revealed, it was too late. She’d accepted it as due punishment for her part in her child’s accident, though she knew, deep down, she was not to blame for that.
 
She can feel Elliot’s eyes upon her, but refuses to return his gaze. It wouldn’t be proper to show interest in this man who is not her husband.
 
*~*
 
Duncan fumes in silence. Do they think he is blind? Do they think he doesn’t see the way they flirt with their eyes? His wife should know better than to draw attention to herself. He has taught her this lesson before.
 
All through service he seethes in quiet rage. He will not have his wife flaunting herself before other men. Must she make him chastise her again? 
 
Bile rises in the back of his throat, nausea and heartburn plague him as he considers the most suitable punishment for her immoral behavior. He is impatient now to get her alone in the confines of their home.
 
*~*
 
Church ends, and they drive in silence. Duncan seems more sullen than ever. He’s driving faster than usual, his hands gripping and ungripping the steering wheel. He’s clenching and unclenching his jaw. A sure sign of agitation. 
 
Ina wonders what has set him off this time. Knows not to ask. She has grown used to the frequent silences he ekes out as punishment for whatever infraction he imagines she’s committed. She welcomes the quiet, though she knows from painful experience the violence that lurks just beneath the surface. Knows better than to breach his silence.
 
As they approach the driveway, she can see he is struggling to catch his breath; he's frightfully pale and has broken into a sweat, though it's quite cold. He parks, and they get out of the car. Now he’s clutching his arm and his face is drenched in sweat; bleached of color.
 
She comes around to his side, but he has worked himself into a rage and he backhands her with a painful slap.
 
He tries to speak, but his eyes have taken on a distant, unfocused glaze and suddenly he pitches forward, cracking his forehead on the concrete floor.
 
She tries, ineffectually, to rouse him, but he is unconscious; too heavy for her to lift.  
 
He is dead by the time the paramedics arrive. A sudden, massive heart attack, they said. Nothing she could have done.
 
*~*
 
The funeral is a quiet affair, just a few members from church. She pretends to mourn, but all she feels is relief. Her marriage to Duncan has been punishment enough for the death of her daughter. She thinks the time for punishment and mourning is past.
 
Finally, it’s time to start living again.
 
*~*
 
Six months have passed, and still he watches her. He’d been afraid she would stop coming. The black mourning clothes have been replaced with grays and browns and greens. The muted colors suit her. She’s even begun coming early to church, to mingle with him and others.
 
Today, when he follows the congregation into the hall, Elliot claims the seat beside her, in Duncan's empty chair.
 
Ina lifts her dark eyes to gaze up at him, graces him with a wondrous, tantalizing smile. The one that always took his breath away, before their daughter died and their marriage fell apart. 
 
When they stand for worship, Ina raises her voice in praise for the first time in fourteen years. Her voice is as beautiful as he remembers. The song catches in Elliot’s throat, and the tears begin to fall. He lifts his hands, giving thanks to the Lord for this second chance, this new beginning he thought would never come.
 
Finally, Elliot’s wish has come true.