Four Petals- The Riddle

In this week’s blog post, meet Battie the bat. Battie is slightly unhinged, but he usually seems to have good intentions. I think this section of the novel gives a good impression of Battie’s personality, and how he interacts with Fiona.

 

The Riddle

Fiona had her chin in her palms. If she hadn’t been so exhausted, she would have been on the brink of tears. She sat alone on trunk of a downed tree. The chiming of the bells had grown quiet and distant, and now the wise words of the Night Bird played over and over and over again in her head.  His advice shifted around her mind like pieces to a puzzle, but at the moment none of them seemed to be fitting into the right places. Fiona tapped her head in frustration; ‘the way out is in there somewhere,’ she thought. ‘It has to be.’

The woods were quiet, and Fiona noticed she could no longer hear the bells at all, even if she tried. She took a deep breath and scribbled patterns in the dirt with the tips of her shoes while she thought. She drew stick figures. There was one of a girl, with her arms raised playfully to the sky; and one of a man and a woman, who were looking on with pride. All of them had big, happy smiles on their faces. Fiona paused for a moment to look at the sketch people, but she didn’t recognize any of them. She gave the whole picture a once-over, then she kicked furiously at the dirt with her foot. She kicked and dug and scratched at the figures; she kicked until the smiles were crooked and the faces were smudged. Fiona stood up and looked at the defiled scene. ‘That’s, much better,’ she thought. ‘I can see us clearly now.’

All of Fiona’s theatrics had raised quite a bit of dust. It swirled in the air, little grey particles adrift in the dim light. Fiona’s throat began to tickle and her nose began to twitch.

“Achoooooo!” The sneeze was not Fiona’s.

Fiona looked upward, to where she heard the sound. As the dust cleared, she could clearly see the face of a bat on the branch directly overhead, only a few feet above where she sat. Fiona jumped up in surprise. When she stood, the bat’s nose was mere inches away from her own. Battie was dangling down from the branch by his feet, he was holding a four-leaf clover tight against his chest, and he appeared to be snoring.

“Battie?” whispered Fiona, staring directly at the bat’s closed eyelids. Their noses were practically touching. “Battie, how long have you been hanging there?” The snoring only got louder.

“Battie!”

It was no use, the curious little creature was sound asleep; his body rose and fell peacefully with his breathing. Fiona took a look at the clover that the bat held to his chest.  She moved in closer to analyze it.  Four petals. The bats eyes popped wide open.

“Oh dear!” squeaked Fiona as she fell backwards with a start.

Battie rubbed his eyes lazily. “Woo, You scared me.”

“I scared you? My goodness, Battie, what in the world are you doing here?”

Battie yawned. “Sleeping.”

“Sleeping? right here? How long have you been perched there?”

Battie stretched his wings and cleared his throat. “The whole time, I’m sure.”

“The whole time?”

“Yes, the whole time you were sitting there kicking dirt and throwing dust and scaring the living daylights out of bats.”

Fiona looked away, embarrassed. “But, how did you know? I thought you were asleep”

“I dreamt it.”

Fiona’s furled her eyebrows. “That does not make much sense.”

“We agree.”

Fiona wasn’t sure how to answer this.

Battie continued. “I got you something special.”

Fiona’s face lit up. “Really? Were you expecting me?”

“Absolutely not!” exclaimed Battie, as if he were insulted by the question. “I never expect anything from anyone, that way I am never let down.”

“That’s not what I meant,” started Fiona. But then she thought better of trying to clarify.

Fiona smiled and took the green clover from Battie’s outstretched claw. “Thank you, Battie.”

“It’s yours because you’re unique.”

Fiona watched Battie swinging there, wrongside up from the low limb. She chuckled. “I think we’re both four leaf clovers.”

“We’re both funny-looking” agreed Battie.

“I meant that we are both special.”

Battie looked off into the woods. “I know that you’re looking for The Way. That’s why you were kicking dirt.”

Fiona nodded. “I tried to remember the words of the Night Bird. But it is all puzzles and mazes.”

“The solution is simple,” said Battie, rocking two-and-fro on the branch.  “All will be set right if you can answer the impossible riddle.”

Fiona watched him in anticipation. She sat down to listen. Then she watched him some more. Several minutes went by.

“Well lets hear it!”

“Hear what?”

“The riddle”

“But I don’t know any riddles.”

“But you just said—you just spoke of an impossible riddle.”

“Ahhhh,” said the bat, very knowingly, as if he had finally discovered some very elusive truth. “Ahhhh, Yes.”

Then the bat was inexplicably silent again, as if he had never spoken at all. Fiona prodded him. “So?”

“I don’t think I catch your meaning.”

“The riddle, what about the riddle?”

“Ahhh yes, the riddle. It’s impossible.”

“Right. But aren’t you going to tell it?”

“How can I? I don’t even know what it is.”

“Don’t know what which is? The answer or the riddle?” (This question threw the bat off, as he had never thought that there might be a difference between the nature of a riddle and the answering of one. In fact, it had never crossed his mind that riddles would even have answers.  What’s more, Battie was quite sure that he did not even know what a riddle was.)

Battie hung upside down, his mind racing and looping as he grappled desperately with his unruly thoughts.  Finally, after watching the bat languish in a confused silence for several minutes, Fiona broke in. “Nevermind, I can see you are becoming very bothered by all this.  And I am too.  I’ll find someone else who knows the riddle, if in fact this riddle exists at all. It is not your fault that you are hopeless, and perhaps a bit crazy after all.”

With this Fiona turned away from the sad looking bat, and was extraordinarily glad to be done with it (whatever ‘it’ may have been.)

As Fiona walked away, Battie started. “What reflexes like a cat, is nuttie as a bat, and sneaky like a woodland rat?”

Hearing the riddle, Fiona grimaced and stopped in her tracks. Though she felt guilty to admit it, she was very pleased to be finished with the unpleasant encounter with Battie. Now his sudden and unexpected recitation of riddle threatened to pull her back into the chaos. Still, if this riddle could offer a solution to her problems, Fiona knew she had to explore it.

“Did you say something?” asked Fiona.

“I believe I did,” said bat, still hanging by his feet, and now gazing vacantly into the distance.

“Would you mind repeating it?

The bat’s eyes crossed, and then they focused-in on Fiona. “I said ‘what is always on tap, never sleeps when you nap, and is partial to the head like your favorite cap?’”

“No, you most certainly did not.”

“Didn’t I?? Fine, well let me think on it again. I’m sure it will come to me.”

Fiona was frustrated, but she decided to give the bat a moment. ‘What harm could it do?’ she thought. ‘I have already endured this much.’

“Here it is: Who is nightly a loon, rarely a boon, but a dream on a drowsy Sunday noon?”

“You said who. Is it a who now, or a what?”

“What?”

“Is that an answer or a question?”

“I am most uncertain.”

Fiona threw her arms up in exasperation. “But Battie, you are the one who is telling the riddle!”

“What riddle?”

“Nevermind! Just forget it, you Bat! And forget everything I said earlier as well. You are truly and completely out of your mind.”

Battie closed his eyes, and pulled himself closer to the branch. He gave a slight shudder, as if in cold resignation to what Fiona had said, and then gazed back into the distance.

Fiona sighed deeply, slightly regretful at what she had said, and turned again to leave. Battie’s voice froze her again. He spoke in the saddest of tones. “Fiona, I’ve no idea what it means, but I have this strange feeling that I am the riddle.”

Fiona walked off into the dark of the woods.

 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Garrett Ashe

Four Petals- The Un-Celebration

A Far Cry From Wonderland, are Dreams Such as These…

In some ways, my novel is comparable to Alice’s adventures; both stories deal with a girl’s journey through an odd, fanciful world. Tonight, I feature the section of Four Petals that is most inspired by and similar to elements from the Lewis Carroll novel.

This blog post will also introduce you to another character from the Four Petals novel. He is a startling character that Fiona encounters in the strange woods, and he is far different from any of the characters introduced before. You may find the scene slightly reminiscent of the ‘UnBirthday’ scene from the Alice and Wonderland movie, albeit a little more dark and a lot more twisted. Enjoy the excerpt.

The Un-celebration

At a clearing in the forest…

All the animals were sitting quietly at the table, vacant and expressionless. There were about a dozen of them. Each pair of eyes trained on the empty plates and unused silverware in front of them. There was complete and utter silence. It was a thick silence, the kind of silence that comes not from lack of noise, but from the thickness of the air coming down so heavy on all the sounds that none of them can move around or raise up to be heard. Every once in a while, though, a single sound can squirm lose from the heaviness of all that air; it can wriggle free and get just enough room to softly slip into an ear.

The long rabbit ears flitted, just slightly, as they picked up the hint of a noise– Just one tiny, wriggly hint of a noise that had managed to twist free of all that weight. Underneath the ears, The Bunny Man slowly lifted his head. From beneath the scars on his forehead, his one good eye- shiny and silver- scanned the listless faces of the animals around the table. He wore a severe scowl on his face, very displeased from having been disturbed.

He looked to the trees just beyond the table, and squinted to find the blurry shape of a figure emerging from the woods. The empty socket on bad side of his face creased and wrinkled as he strained to make out the shape. He groaned from the pain, but the air crushed the sound as it left his mouth. As the blurry entity approached, it took the figure of a girl, and the Bunny Man clenched his misshapen teeth at the sight. Then he simply put his head back down toward the table.

It was only the Bunny Man who noticed as Fiona walked up. She stumbled upon the scene as if she did not notice the thick air and the silence. But she did notice the strangeness.

“Dear me, what are you all doing?”

Tortoise whispered from his seat, still looking down. “Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

Tortoise very cautiously lifted one eye. He started to speak, but the Bunny Man interrupted him quite sharply, before he uttered a word.

“Nothing,” Bunny Man snapped.

“Okay.” Fiona responded hesitantly. She looked around. All of the animals were still staring blankly, almost mindlessly, at the table. Each pair of eyes appeared empty and glazed over. Then she noticed it. The quiet. The strange, heavy quiet. Fiona didn’t understand what was happening, but she had a sense that it was something very bad. She started to feel a sense of panic. “Am I interrupting something?”

The Bunny man replied again, very slowly, and still looking down at his plate. “You most certainly are not.”

Fiona was confused. Without even realizing it, she had started back-peddling toward the woods. Another wrong turn, she thought. Another place I don’t belong. Her feet were moving faster and faster— towards the trees. Just as she felt the gentle touch of leaves on her back, she ventured one last look towards the table. Bunny Man’s head swung suddenly upward. His eye flashed open and locked with Fiona’s. His words were jagged. They cut through the silence like a knife. “Why won’t you join us?”

Fiona was nervous, she tried not to show it. “But you all are just sitting there, Mister Bunny Man. From the looks of it, you aren’t doing anything at all,” she said.

“Yes.” The Bunny man stared back blankly, through a hollow gray eye. “We are not doing anything at all.”

“Then…” Fiona swallowed her own spit. “…then with all due respect, Mister, why would I want to join you?”

The Bunny man gnashed his teeth. He seemed to ignore Fiona’s question. “We are not celebrating Mouse’s anniversary,” he said.

Fiona looked across the table. Mouse was sitting at the very far end, her eyes were averted, like all the rest, downward at her empty plate. There seemed to be a quiet sadness about her. Fiona glanced back at the rabbit, who’s one-eyed gaze seemed to burning through her skull. She tried to be courageous. “Oh, Well did you ask Mouse how she felt about missing her anniversary, Mister Bunny?”

“Its mister Bunny Man!” snapped the rabbit. He gnashed his teeth down hard. “And don’t you mind Mouse. She fully understands the situation.”

“Well if you ask me, that seems a bit rude, and—”

“–No one asked you!” Gnashed Bunny Man. “We’ve decided that there is no reason that Mouse’s anniversary should be any more important than any other day. We did not celebrate anything yesterday, and we have nothing to celebrate tomorrow. So it is only fair that we will not celebrate anyone’s anniversary today.”

Bunny Man was glaring at Fiona. “You don’t have a problem with any of that, do you?”

Fiona shook her head. She decided it was not her place to argue the way things were done here in the Forest.

“Good,” said the Bunny Man. “And since you have no reservations, you will of course join us in our un-celebration.”

Fiona wanted to refuse, but the menacing scowl from the Bunny Man persuaded her to reconsider. Searching for an open seat, she slowly made her way around the table, shuffling past chairs and inching behind the backs of dejected, hunched-over animals. She found an empty spot next to Mouse and reluctantly knelt down at the table.

“Oh Good!” Hooped the Bunny Man. He raised an empty teacup in hollow cheer. “We are so very glad to have your company, Fiona. Not celebrating tends to be exceedingly dull, and it always seems to make the situation a bit more tolerable when your friends are present.”

Fiona sat quietly on her knees for what seemed like ages. Her legs were beginning to get sore, and all the time she felt the unwavering eye of the Bunny Man perpetually burning a hole through the top of her bowed head. There were moments when Fiona thought she also felt the timid eyes of a tortoise rest upon her, or a sideways glance from a crestfallen squirrel, or a fleeting peek from a pondering parakeet, but before long the creatures would be again be fixed to the empty table– heads forced downward by fear and heavy air. The wandering eyes did not rest on Fiona long— she could feel that— but they touched her for just long enough to remind her that she was indeed in the presence of friends, and that many of those gathered around the table were not just animals, they were her companions. Fiona could feel tears welling up in back of her eyes. She held them back though, not wanting to appear weak or vulnerable to the ever-vigilant Bunny Man.

The rabbit ground his teeth. He looked over at Fiona, who was staring dejectedly down at her empty soup bowl.

“Cheer up Kiddo. It’s not so bad if you don’t make it out that way. It’s all a matter of perspective. Try to understand- this day, these circumstances are simply not important enough to merit such a gloomy disposition.”

Fiona did not look up. She refused to as much as acknowledge the Bunny Man’s comments.

“Oh my Dear, foolish Fiona,” The Bunny man continued,” louder than before. “Can’t you see the inconsequentially of this moment, of this day? You say it is rude not to celebrate Mouse’s anniversary, when in fact it is the only honest thing to do. Today does not deserve our celebration any more than yesterday. The sun rose today, no different than it will tomorrow.”

The Rabbit clicked his incisors. He raised his voice higher to address the entire table. “The world goes on dear chaps, Spinningspinningspinning in monotonous infinity! The fox forever chases! We are born and we die, and our short tenure here is of little or no significance to the universe at large!”

The Rabbit lowered his voice again, and looked squarely at Mouse as he continued to speak. “So my best advice to you, my friends, is to simply pretend that today is any other day. That is the point after all- there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING special about today.”

Fiona heard tiny tear-drops tapping the ground beside her. She checked her eyes with a finger, but the tears were not hers. From the haze of her peripheral, Fiona discerned the miniature figure of Mouse. Her furry little head was bowed in silence, and tiny beads of water were forming on the tip her snout.

Fiona began to shake visibly with anger. “I do not have much tolerance for bullies. Especially ones with oversized teeth and silly Bunny ears.”

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Four Petals- Dreamer’s Etiquette

So here it goes! I am back to blogging, and I have a new schedule to keep me on track. Instead of trying to split my time between a number of projects, and getting nothing done, I will re-focus this blog primary on the novel I am currently writing. This should be a great way to and to focus my energy, as well keep the blog interesting for readers. The novel is still in its fledgling stages, so it will be fun for me to watch this story start to really take shape along with you guys.  Each week, on Thursday, I will be posting an excerpt from the novel I am working on. BUT I’M STARTING WITH ONE TODAY.

The book is called Four Petals. It is the story of a girl’s journey through a strange, whimsical world, on a quest to help her friends, find her freedom, and ultimately discover a little bit about herself in the process. After much internal debate about over how to introduce my story (Because apparently starting at the beginning would have been too easy,) I have decided to jump right in and post this excerpt. Although this piece does not come from the beginning of the novel, I think this segment does a good job of introducing the novel’s main character, Fiona, as well as giving a little bit of a glimpse at the people in her life who made her who she is.

And, remember, this is a work in progress, so your constructive criticism is of course welcome! Enjoy!

 

Four Petals- A Dreamer’s Etiquette

There was not much orange juice left. It wouldn’t be much longer before Fiona would have to put the cup down and face her mother. But she knew how much easier pretend drinking was than real-life talking, and she was dedicated to making this last. Fiona put the cup to her lips and tipped it upside down. As she shook the last drops into her mouth, she eyed her mother with one eye through the empty glass.

Her mother sat cross-armed and unimpressed on the opposite side of the table.

“I’m still thirsty,” said Fiona into the hollow chamber of the cup.

“That’s fine,” said her mother, mirthlessly. “There’s water in the kitchen. I’ll be sitting right here, ” she added.

This was a waiting game that Fiona knew she could not win. Nevertheless, she played her role. Fiona rose nonchalantly from the table and, grabbing her glass, sauntered casually into the adjacent kitchen. Orange juice, coffee beans, Cream soda– Fiona ran her finger across the counter top. Her hand came to rest on a pitcher and she poured herself a full glass of water. Fiona studied the liquid, which she most certainly did not intend to drink, and she began to think aloud.  “The water is like the woods before the dark appeared. It’s joy and the happiness.” Fiona shook the cup with both hands, stirring the left-over orange pulp from where it rested on the bottom. The pulp swirled about, clouding the glass. “And the pulp… the pulp is like the mysterious darkness, slowly spreading and making everything impure.”  She thought regretfully about her woodland friend. “No wonder the water made Mr. Frog sick, it was contaminated with pulp— with evil and fear.”

“You may bring your drink back in here, Fiona,” said the voice from the other room.

“Already done,” Fiona replied as she poured the rest of the water into the sink. But she wasn’t ready to confront her mother just yet. She would much prefer to be in her own mind; in fact, she had rather learned to like it there. Fiona opened the door to the refrigerator and peered inside.  “I’m hungry too, what is there to eat?” she called.

“If you are hungry, then perhaps you should have thought about that at dinner time, when you were out romping through the woods and scaring Mr. Gavin half to death for your own amusement.”

Fiona winced. She had walked right into that one.

“Yips, chattering, howls? Fiona, sometimes you really do worry me. Please come in here and sit down so we can discuss this.”

“That wasn’t me,” said Fiona. She returned to the room and reluctantly plopped back into her seat.

“Then who was it?”

“I don’t know, mom.”

“Mr. Gavin said he found you sitting alone in the woods, maniacally laughing like you were some sort of crazy person.”

“I was laughing at a joke.”

The mother crossed her arms even tighter than before. “A joke told by whom?”

Fiona sighed and looked down at the old, wooden table in front of her. “I know how I must sound, but I was having fun with my friends. Mouse made a very funny comment and I could not stop laughing. I’m sorry I scared Mr. Gavin.”

“Okay, let’s hear it then.”

“Hear it?”

“Yes, let’s hear the mouse’s comment.”

“Well, you see,” Fiona started. “You see, mice are very tiny and they’re usually very good at tucking away and vanishing. But every time we play games where we have to hide, Mouse is always the first one to get caught. So today, Digger the groundhog asked her about it— in his usual, endearing groundhog way, of course. He said, ‘Ms. Mouse, now I know I’m used to digging and navigating the likes of tunnels and all that, so my expertise in small spaces is surely quite superb and whatnot. But I dare say, Ma’am, with all that commotion you make, even if I were absolutely mole-blind, you would be one easy rodent to spot.’ So then, of course we all looked over at cute little Mouse, who was blushing through her whiskers. She peeked up at Digger, and was quite innocent and sincere when she humbly told him that she guessed she just wasn’t any good at “Hide-and-Squeak.”

Fiona’s mother looked across the table at her daughter. Fiona was sitting there, looking quite innocent and sincere in the telling of her own story. Her mother couldn’t help but smile, though she tried her parental best to hide it.

“Oh Fiona, I’ve told you, you simply must stop with all these fanciful tales. You’re just…”  As Fiona’s mother tried to formulate a proper way to respond to such an odd story, her cell phone began to vibrate in her pocket. She looked down at her phone and then back up at Fiona, as if to apologize for the call she was about to take. It is hard to tell who was more relieved, Fiona or her mother.

The mother answered her phone, and within seconds her soft smile transformed into a look of deep concern. She hurried into the other room to take the call in private.

Fiona alone sat at the table, where she once again became absorbed in her own mind. It had been a rough past few days (or was it weeks? Fiona couldn’t remember,) and Fiona had a lot to think about. She was certainly worn thin, but there was something new underneath the tired— a sort of comfort in her own skin.  Fiona closed her eyes. She knew that, before she could focus on fixing her own problems, she would be asked to explain the impossible to her mother. She could hear the concern in her mother’s words through the wall. Part of her was thankful that the worry was no longer directed at her. The droning, dreamlike quality of her mother’s half-audible voice seemed to blend with the concerned voices in Fiona’s own mind. Each pained sound from her mother seemed to pull on her heart and leave a vague shadow in her head.

Fiona was not sure if she was asleep or daydreaming, but she had to crawl out from somewhere deep in her subconscious when her mother finally returned to the room. Her mother came back to the table defeated. Her eyes were red and swollen; they had the glossy appearance of smeared tears. This certainly is not just about me anymore, Fiona thought.  Fiona’s mother sat down next to her, but she was avoiding direct eye contact. “I try so hard,” she said, still looking away.

Fiona scooched closer to her mother.

“I just don’t know what to do anymore, Fiona. I try so hard. And he just makes everything so much harder.”  Her mother began to weep quietly. Then she wiped her eyes, and turned again to Fiona.

“We all have chinks in our armor. Each and every one of us. The key is to surround ourselves with people who help us rebuild the parts that are weak. People who will protect our fragile parts.” The aging women shook her head defeatedly. “But your father… your father likes the look of his armor so much that he’s always seeking out friends who wear the same coat. Instead of rebuilding, they take turns chiseling away at each others’ suits. And they laugh while they do– they drink and they shout. And they call it freedom, they call it fun.”

Fiona watched her mother with big, sad eyes.

“My God Fiona… I’m sorry.” The mother knelt beside her daughter and hugged her close. “You don’t need to hear this kind of thing.”

Fiona reached over and rubbed her moms head. “It’s okay mommy.”

“No it’s not. Sometimes I find myself just talking, venting– even when I’m absolutely sure the person I’m venting to doesn’t understand a word of what I’m saying.”

Fiona thought for a second.  “Sometimes I tell people things because I KNOW they won’t understand. If they did understand, they’d believe me. And instead of thinking I was crazy, they’d just be sad at the truth.”

Fiona’s mother smiled a little bit, and she looked in wonder at her daughter. “You are wise beyond your years, Young Lady. I have to be more careful with what I say around you.” She looked into Fiona’s clear, innocent eyes. “But what could you possibly have to say that would be so sad and so hard to believe? Those aren’t the kind of things young people should have to worry about.”

Fiona lowered her head and looked away. Her mother’s brow furled in concern. “You wouldn’t be referring to those tall-tales about your animal friends again, would you?”

“No mother. Of course not.” Fiona bit her upper lip until it started to bleed. “Everybody knows those tales could never be true.”

 

 

 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2013 Garrett Ashe

The Peach Tree

 It is common knowledge that apples grow on apple trees. We get grapes from vineyards, and coconuts are, of course, collected from the ground beneath palm trees. These are things we know. Few people, however, are absolutely sure where peaches come from. The truth is that these fruits come from elegantly twisting branches, vibrant and brimming with beautiful pink blossoms; they come from an environment where their velvety skin and soft yellow flesh is sustained by a delicate network of thin green leaves and fed by an ample supply of natural water. They come from peach trees. And while peach trees may not be native to this nation, they are not, in the least bit, fictive.

 

The Peach Tree

Once upon a time, there was a very special little boy. It was not that this boy was bigger or tougher than other children– in fact, he was very tiny and generally kept to himself. And it was not that the boy was especially strong or even especially clever. What made this little boy so special was that, although his body was indeed very small, he always carried an extra big smile and he had an extraordinarily big heart.

The boy lived in a quiet, quaint little town, at the easy end of the suburbs, where he had a mostly happy life.  During the sleepy summer afternoons, he would often go up the big hill to pick the wild flowers, which grew fragrant and free on the high summit. The hill, like the boy, was also very unique.  There existed no flower in all the world that was half as bright or aromatic as the flowers that grew there. They sprang forth in every color: red flowers, as effervescent as morning’s dawn; yellow flowers, as joyous as the high sun. White flowers blossomed against the shadowy, blue dusk; and purple flowers rose, their violet silhouettes stark against the clear, bright day. Of all the flora blanketing the vibrant hill, there were no flowers quite as fabulous as those that bloomed on its summit. The boy spent many carefree days there, happy amongst his breathing bed of multihued companions, high above the troubles of the world.

On days when the boy was not in clouds, he was often planted very plainly on the earth. It was there that the boy would visit the busy ants. Small and spirited, just like him– he fancied the way they marched in neat single-file, traveling smart and lively underneath the summer sun. He marveled at the little workers’ singular focus, their unwavering commitment to a goal, even as the task before them seemed so endless, and the world above them loomed so large. The boy would sit for hours on end and watch the ants toil. And he loved to investigate the tiny ant hill on which they labored so vigorously and so tirelessly, as it grew ever-so-slowly in the far back corner of his yard.

During the still nights, the boy would lie on his back in the cool grass, quietly listening to the soothing songs of the night birds.  The birds and the insects would hum and drone, creating an inimitable atmosphere of sounds, impossible for even the greatest human composer to recreate.  Of all the animals in the nocturnal choir, the little boy felt closest to the Hermit Thrush.

The little bird could often be found perched atop a protruding branch, his tiny frame a motionless prop to the backdrop of a red moon or a hazy blue-black sky. His faded coat and grey flank would be in graceful harmony with the shadowy shades of the night, and the stark contrast of his blood colored tail was a subtle sign there was more fire to this tiny creature than first met the eye. When they sang, most of the creatures would chorus together, creating a natural nighttime symphony, in which each owned a distinctive part. But the Hermit Thrush would sing only when all of the other animals were silent. He would sing solitary, with the humble strength assumed by one who survives alone. His phrases were long, and his voice was clear and flutelike. The boy thought that he was trying to tell a sad story. And though he could not fully understand it, the little boy liked the Hermit Thrush’s tale the best.

On nights when the grass was fresh and the sky was clear, the child would have liked to lay until morning, listening to the Thrush. And he would have, if it was not for the loud and lofty summon that always boomed forth from the direction of his house, sending the boy spiraling into a panic.

His mother’s voice rolled upon him like the sound of approaching thunder. He was, at once, alert and scared. And though his mother’s irate call wracked his nerves every time, the boy was usually lucky enough to escape the brunt of the storm. This was a storm that raged inside his home, and usually boy was fortunate to be safely outdoors when it erupted.

The mother’s hurt could be heard in the rawness of her voice, it could be seen in the red of her eyes.  But long before she would shout for her son, the boy’s mother would reach for her bottle. From the curved contours of her wine glass, the mother would suck her crimson poison. Every swig and every swallow, bringing her one step closer to impunity. The dark liquid would drown the biting regrets of her past in a thick, fog-like haze. But through this alcohol induced numbness, there emerged a sort of contempt. The mother came to resent the little girl from her past who used to dream so big, the girl who gave up dreaming to meet the shackling obligations of day-to-day struggle. The mother came to resent the voices that would not let her forget the regrets that the little girl left for her. She resented both the voices in her head, and the voice of a certain enduring night bird who still sang every night, reminding her with his sad story of everything she longed to forget.

So she drank even more. She guzzled from her glass until her whole body rocked and sloshed with the burning liquid in her belly. Her resentment and contempt would bubble until they became an irrational rage– a storm, directed at anyone or anything that was near. When no one was around, the mother raged by herself. She Slammed doors, broke vases, and stumbled about, often dropping her glass in a shattering of shards, spilling whatever was left of her crimson cocktail all over the floor and furniture. It was in low moments like these, that the mother would stare cloudy-eyed at the wreckage about her. Sometimes she would stare at the crimson stains on the carpet until one of them changed, in her mind, into the scarlet tail of a bird— a Hermit Thrush melodically chirping over and over and over, eternally singing his sad story to a world who could not bear to listen. The mother could not bear to listen. Instead she would rage and roar until she drowned out the voices in her mind and she was utterly spent. It was in the aftermath of such anguished outbursts that the mother would call to her boy, her pained voice jarring him from the serenity of nature’s tranquil recital.

Every night the boy would be torn away from the warm grass and the creatures of the nighttime choir by this sudden vocal storm. “Must be mommy,” the boy would usually say, after regaining his senses.   “Mommy must be back from her angry time.”

At this time every night, around 10 o’clock, the little boy would gather his faculties and head toward his house for dinner, a shower, and a bedtime story.  His mother would shower him with love, and also with apologies that the little boy could never understand.

 

Sometimes the little boy would get very angry or very sad for reasons that were beyond his comprehension. But the boy would never lash out in his distress. He kept all feelings of grief and sorrow deep inside, close to his heart. And because of this, sometimes the boy would sit and cry for hours, unable to stop or control the torrent of tears that streamed down his cheeks unchecked, in wet, winding columns. When the boy needed release, and did not want to be around other people, he would sit on a big rock in the center of the yard. It was there, sitting on the big rock, that he would bury his soggy face in his trembling arms, and he would sob. But this was not any ordinary rock on which he sat– it rested in the shade of an enormous peach tree. The tree was tall and majestic, with vigorous twisting branches, brimming with lively green leaves. Each regal limb reached towards the sky and exploded in soft petals of pink brilliance. Whenever the boy wept under the tree, the tree would drop a ripe peach from its branches. The boy loved peaches. It was as if the tree knew that the he was sad, and it wanted to show its understanding. Every time the boy would weep, another peach would fall; the tree never questioned, and it never ran out of peaches. The boy never questioned the peach tree either.  He thought it was the only one who understood his hurt, and so, the shelter of its branches and its shade became his favorite place to cry.

There were times, when the boy was not crying, that the sky would shed tears of its own. Storms would blow in from beyond the hill. They came with the wind, down from the high summit where the beautiful flowers blossomed. They would loom with the sound of approaching thunder, just before the sky opened up and beat upon the ground in waves of crashing crystal. During great storms like these, nothing and no one was spared the weather’s wrath- not the flora, not the peach tree, and certainly not the tiny ants who toiled tirelessly, unmindful of the fact that they were perpetually outsized and outmatched by everything in the huge, harsh world above them. Sometimes a storm would test the ants.  It would rage for days, whipping the ground into a confused batter of mud and debris. It would lash at their home, the hill in back corner behind the boy’s house. The storm would flood the yard, wash away weeks of work, and ruin months of hard labor. Winds would gust, water would pour, and the mighty fury of nature would do its best to beat down the spirits of these tiniest of creatures.

When it was all over, and the boy stepped out into the steamy glow of the drying earth, the first thing he would look for was the ants. At first he would see a few, struggling to walk in the mush of the drying dirt. Then the boy would smile as he began to see more, emerging from deep under the ground, or drying themselves from the tips of protruding grass blades. Soon the ground would once again be crawling with ants working to rebuild their hill, and if the damage was too great for their miniature monument to sustain, then they would simply start again. It seemed to the boy that nothing could deter the ants from their mission, and nothing could break their spirits. But not all storms come from the sky, and it is not always easy to be as resilient as the ants.

 

One day, when the boy was in the 5th grade, his mother found him sitting on the lawn, eating a juicy peach. It was a hot afternoon, and the air was still heavy with the mid-day heat. Beyond the peach, it was not a good day, because the boy’s mother was in one of her angry fits.

“Why arn you‘n school?” she slurred.

“School is out,” the boy said hesitantly. “It’s four-thirty.”

“Don’ gimme any lip, boy,” the mother stammered. Her empty gaze fell to his hand. “Where’d ya get that peach?  I didn’ pack you any peaches in your lunch today.”

“I got it from the peach tree,” replied the boy.

“Yurra liar! Who gave you the peach!?”

The boy looked at the ground. “Got it from the tree,” he said again.

At this, the mother became more angry.  She stumbled toward the boy.  There was an irrational madness in her eyes as she approached.  “Yurra a lil liar!  Dare’s no peach trees around here.” She snatched the peach from the boy’s hand, swinging him to the ground in the tussle. He began to cry, but she did not relent.  “Yurra lying wretch!”

Sobbing, the boy sputtered out his defense. “I– I got it from our peach tree.”

The more he cried, the crueler the mother became. “There’s no such thing, you stupid little wretch! Stop making things up! Go to yur room.” In her impaired state, the mother tripped over the crying and confused boy.  She snapped at him again, to save face.  “I said, jus’ go to yur room!” She wobbled back to her feet, sloppily wiped the dirt from her shirt, and called after the boy.

“Dare snot any peach chree!” She said. “I’m not stupid. Dare’s never been any peach chrees round here at all!”

 

There were many times after that day when the little boy wanted to cry on his rock underneath the peach tree– but he never did.  As the boy grew up, he thought less and less about the peach tree. When he became a young man, and moved away from home, he forgot all about it. The boy forgot about the flowers on the great big hill, he forgot about the busy ants in back corner of his yard, and he forgot about the warm, silent nights listening to the night birds and watching the stars. As time went on, the boy even forgot about the Hermit Thrush, and the heartfelt story that the he used to tell every night, when all of the other creatures were quiet.

The mostly-happy boy slowly became a cold and dispirited man. He no longer cried, and no longer remembered the taste of peaches. He no longer recalled any of the things that mattered in life.

The hours churned. Day turned to night, and night back to day, with no distinction apart from the natural cycle of the skies. There was a job. And a car. And several women each in their turn. But nothing stuck. Everything moved past in a dreamlike blur. The man subsisted, but he no longer remembered what it felt like to live. His only bonds to existence were that he breathed and blinked.

 

In what seemed the blink of an eye, the man was forty years old. His hair had begun to turn gray, and his mind was tattered and troubled from the many hard years of his life.One warm summer morning, though worn and tired he was, the man returned home to visit his mother.

When he arrived, his mother greeted him with a nervous hug and a quick invitation into the house. The man wondered at his mother’s constant uneasiness. It had become part of her character now, as if she carried with her a nagging sense of guilt– something from the distant past.

After some customary frivolous small-talk about work and women, the man’s mother said something that surprised him. Her words came abruptly and took the man unawares.

“I… have something to show you,” she said.

It was not the content of her words that took the man aback; rather, it was the way in which she said them. Her tone was grave and serious. Her statement carried a sort of solemn strength, which seemed to come from years of self reliance.

“What is it, Ma?”

The woman led him over to the back door. She opened it to reveal a large, unsightly mound of scattered dirt and soil. The grass was barely visible.

“I had to do it,” she said. “I had to spray them.”

“What are you talking about mom?”

The mother’s eyes were averted towards the floor, the lines of her face and jaw carried a visible grief. “I’m sorry.”

The man was confused. He shook his head to show that he didn’t understand.

“The ants. Please understand, I had to spray them. I know how much you used to love to watch them. I’m so sorry, Sweetie. Oh God I’m so sorry.”

Looking out over what were the remnants of a massive ant hill that must have, at one time, spanned the entire yard, the man began to understand. He saw a mass of dirt swells and patches of overturned soil where green grass used to grow. He saw little mountains of clay and sand jutting towards the sky, made from thousands and thousands of piled dirt granules, carried here– crumb by crumb– in the mouths of the tiniest ants.

The man felt a deep sadness dwell inside of him.  It wrenched his gut, but it also served to remind him that he was still alive.  “This was their monument,” he whispered. “Their miniature monument.”

The man turned to look at his mother.

“It’s okay, Mom,” he said. “It’s okay, I forgive you.”

The mother’s lips were quivering. It was obvious to the man that the whole ordeal had pained her tremendously. Perhaps, he thought, it reminded her of losing her own childhood, her own loss of innocence. The man embraced his mother with a warmth that she had not felt since he was a child.

“I forgive you for everything.”

Later that day, the man did not go back to his grown-up house, or his grown-up job. Instead, he went to the big hill where he used to pick the flowers.  As he climbed the hill, a flood of memories came back to him. Even as he was just beginning his ascent, memories of the colorful blossoms at the hill’s summit seemed to sooth his heart and mind. Remembering the sweet smell of the flowers took him back to the harmony of his youth. The man recollected the many warm summer days from his childhood, and he recollected the warm, still nights as well. He wondered about what might have become of the Hermit Thrush, with no one to listen to his sad story, no one trying to understand his sad song.  The sharp sting of regret sent shivers through the man’s body, and they left, in their wake, deep feelings of forgotten sorrow.  The man was jolted yet again when he finally reached the hill’s summit. Peering out over the slope, the man saw that the vast acres of grass and flower that once populated the hill were forever gone to all existence, save the rickety refuge offered by his fading memories. Replaced by concrete, brick, and the industrious noises of an eternally busy public, the wild flowers of old apparently had no place in today’s practical society. The man felt cold inside.  For the first time, he realized that he felt empty and completely alone. The trip back down the hill was infinitely tougher than had been the journey to the summit.

 

When the man returned to his mother’s house, she greeted him with open arms.  When he announced that he would be staying the night, and would leave in the morning, she said that was good because she had prepared an afternoon dessert.  The man sat down to eat.  He was famished.  As his mother served him a hot plate of apple-pie, a thought came into his head.

“I was wondering, Ma,” said the man. “What ever happened to that peach tree that we used to have in the yard?  I didn’t notice it on the way in.”

Halfway between the table and the sink, the mother jerked to a halt when she heard this. She slowly turned around to speak, her voice quaky with emotion.

“Oh darling,” she said. “We never had a peach tree. They don’t grow in these parts.”

The man saw a tear was in his mother’s eye, and he did not understand why. He felt sad inside.  And for reasons beyond his comprehension, for the first time in over 25 years, the man too began to cry.

Unable to control his tears, the man excused himself and stepped outside for some air. He sat on the big rock in his front yard, and continued to bawl. There was no shade to shelter him, and no magical tree to understand his feelings. After about five minutes of noisy lament, a boy appeared in the yard. The boy walked, very slowly, toward the man. He looked vaguely familiar, with the markings of someone from the man’s past. The boy’s clothing was nondescript, save for an old, crimson bandana that hung discreetly from his back-pocket.  His arm was outstretched and his palm was open, as if he were holding something.

“Have a peach,” said the boy. “They always make me feel better.”

The man looked up, tears still flowing from his eyes. He smiled at the irony. “Where did you get that?”

“I got it from the peach tree,” said the boy.

At this, the man could not hold back a desperate and satirical laugh.  “There are no peach trees around here,” he sneered.

The boy just stood silently for a moment, staring inquisitively at the man. Then he began to hum, very quietly.

In the space between the man’s sobs, he heard the tune, and thought it sounded familiar. “Those notes… Who are you?” he sniffled. “And why are you still here? I already told you, there is no such thing as a stupid peach tree.”

The boy stopped humming. “Well, sure there is,” he said calmly. “There’s one right over there on my lawn.” He was pointing to an empty clearing of grass in front of a house just down the street.

“There is no tree there.”

“You of all people,” said the boy, “should know about peach trees. You have one right there in your lawn– although it does appear to have grown sick and distorted in its loneliness.”

The wet-cheeked man was taken aback by the child’s comment.  “How did you know that I had a peach tree here?” he said.

The boy ignored him. “Maybe the only reason you don’t believe in peach trees is because you stopped believing in yourself. I see a tree, it’s real. And I see a rock, because it’s real. The only thing I’m not sure about is whether or not I see you.”

The man thought about this and, as he thought, he thought he caught the gentle hint of fresh golden peaches on the breeze.  As he thought more, he knew it to be true, and he remembered what it meant to be alive.

The man turned around, and found himself staring into the trunk of a humongous peach tree. It was a little bit scraggily, and a little bit sick, but it seemed happy to see him as well. He gazed at the tree for many minutes, and when at last he thought to say ‘thank you,’ the boy had already gone. The man sat there, on his big rock in the center of the yard, and buried his soggy face in his trembling arms. Now he wept even harder than before. But these were not tears of despair or of desperation.  These were tears of liberation and of joy.

That day, the man savored the sweet juices of a plump peach for the first time in over 25 years.  That night, he understood the Hermit Thrush’s story for the first time in his entire life.

 

The Peach Tree
By Garrett Ashe

Thanks for reading guys. Remember to share via Twitter or Facebook if you liked it :-) Check out my previous short-fiction Sweet Surrender (If you’re in the mood for something more intense/mature,) and The Little Glass Lie (If you’re in the mood for real-life fairy tales.)

 

 

Those of you that are interested in nature, check out this link for my friend Brian Balik’s personal wildlife blog. This guy is good. He has found a way to get some pretty sweet pictures of wild animals in Northern Viriginia. No Hermit Thrush, but worth checking out 😉. http://www.acaseofwildlifefever.blogspot.com/ 

Copyright 2013 Garrett Ashe

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Sweet Surrender

Sweet Surrender

Rough, brown fingers thumbed over the crinkled corners of dusty old pages, and a pair of dark eyes meticulously scanned the tiny black text printed on the lines.

“Why the hell would Big-Boss have a book like that? You said you found it just lying on the seat?”

“This isn’t a book, Potsie. This here is a mutha fuckin’ big-ass tome.”

The man’s fingers kept thumbing through the flimsy sheets until they came upon the image of a gigantic, winged creature.  They stopped, and the index drifted down the page, until it came to rest, pressing against the bold-printed image.

“Potsie, you ever heard the story of the Phoenix?”

“Think so.”

“Look at this: Queen of all birds… Scarlet and gold plumage. They say every 500 years she builds a pyre nest.”

“It’s a metaphor.”

“It’s some elegant shit. She builds a great nest of aromatic branches and brushwood, which she then, and I quote: sets wildly ablaze, only to be consumed in the flames.”

“So the bird surrenders to her destiny. So what?”

“This has got nothing to do with surrender. I don’t think you heard what I said.”

“I dunno, Curtis.”

The brown fingers shut the book.

“Did you hear me?  I said the Phoenix builds its own coffin. Now imagine that shit. She knows she will be burned alive, and the bitch builds the furnace.”

“Sure sounds a lot like surrender to me.”

“Why do you think the bird willingly lights itself on fire?”

“Cuz that’s its fate.”

“No Potsie. No.  The Phoenix accepts its demise because it knows that it will be born again.”

********

The sun shone high and hot above a sprawling suburban lawn.  Down below, a driveway bent to a short walkway that, in turn, coiled around its bordering house.  Adjacent the walkway someone had planted a beautiful row of burning red roses, whose tangled thorns had been trimmed a safe distance from the walking path.  Next to the roses, a giant willow watched over the property with its wise melancholy, draping a portion of the sun-baked lawn in the sweet cool of shadow.  Beside the shadow, on the far end of the lawn, was a curb.  Beside, was a van.

“Never give an inch” Continue reading

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The Little Glass Lie

The other side of a Fairy Tale…

The Little Glass Lie

It’s your choice: You could have some invisible know-it-all up in the clouds tell you the story, or you could have it told by plain me– and I don’t much care which.

I had my eye on her my whole life, so I know she wasn’t treated badly as they say.  Sure, at times she quarreled with her step-mother, but the arguments were mostly harmless and mostly her fault.  She had the temperament of one who became too pretty too early in life, and that’s where most of the contention came from. I used to worship her from my little house on the other side of the old dusty road, and sometimes, in secret, from a little patch of butterfly bushes below her window. She had all the splendor of a delicate rose, but she also embodied the stinging bite of the hidden thorns hiding along its stem. I didn’t loathe her thorny disposition though. She was icy, and to me that made her all the more gorgeous. She was truly, truly gorgeous.  That is the one thing they get right when they tell the story.

She always told it that she wasn’t noticed enough by her father and stepsisters. I don’t know that there’s any truth in that. I don’t think that there was a parent, sibling, or soul in the entire world who could have satisfied her thirst for attention– certainly not a poor lad like me. Nevertheless, the time I spent keeping her under my eye was matched only by the time I spent toiling to gain a glance from hers. I made things for her. Fine things. I made her necklaces, bracelets, the most beautiful clothing I could afford. One night, I took to making a very special gift. I crafted for her the finest shoe that I had ever built, a slipper made of the softest squirrel fur.

Clear, cold glass would have been more fitting.  It was the biggest project I had ever undertaken. I labored tirelessly over those slippers. Days passed. Weeks and months went by when I never saw more sunlight than could be glimpsed through my dirt-blotched window. My eyes became red and tired, my hands arthritic and blistered, but nothing less than perfection would do for her– my wintry passion, my secret love. I :worked on, night after sleepless night, sewing and stitching with unmatched precision, hammering and needling until my fingers were raw and chafed. The string’s endless looping seemed to lace fabric and time together into one infinite and timeless undertaking. There is no counting the hours that passed. But I finished the slippers just in time for the big ball.

I had never delivered my gifts to her personally; it had always been a note on her doorstep, signed with my best penmanship. This night, I brought myself with the slippers. Her stepmother called for her when I came to the house, and I was weak with anxiety by the time she glided into the doorway.  The memory of her beauty is etched forever into my mind.  Golden hair. Golden skin. And a silver voice.

“Hello.”

I could not find the language to tell her why I was there at her door. I held out my hands.

“T-These are for you.”

She looked at me blankly.

“I made them.  I am the boy from the notes on your doorstep.”

She took the shoes. She slowly closed the door, without so much as a thank you.

Somewhere I heard that she married a prince whom she met that night. I had my eye on her my whole life, and she was wisped away in an instant.  I harbor no rancor or resentment towards her over her heart; I never presumed to be loved by one so fine as her. But I did make those slippers. Recognition of a man’s labor should never be begrudged him. A man should never be robbed of his accomplishments, especially not by a Fairy Godmother. I made those slippers, and I made them with my own hardened hands.

That invisible voice that told you the lie- she invented it. That’s her silver voice. You can believe it or not.  It’s your choice– and I don’t much care which.

-Garrett Ashe

© 2012 Garrett Ashe

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