There were always a few tourists hanging around the cliff at the end of the day. If they noticed the old man sitting there, on the rocks, no one paid much attention to him. The tourists were there to see the sunset. It was a spot known for its spectacular sunsets. The old man was there every day, for every sunset.
He sat tall with exceptionally good posture. His father had taught him that. He had a full head of white hair. You couldn’t see his face since he was looking down, but you could see his rather rugged profile. He wasn’t a handsome man, but he was someone you would instantly notice. His arms were stiffly supporting him on either side.
This was the place John came to for serenity, to find stillness. The older he got, the more life overwhelmed him. He and his wife had made a pact to try to get back to simplicity, to even become minimalists. It seemed that life interfered with their plans at every turn. Being a minimalist didn’t just mean having a home that was stark with little furniture and no clutter. It was also a way of thinking. Just living in today’s world almost would not let them live their lives in a simple manner.
That’s why John came here every day. It was meditation, he supposed. This was the only place where he could empty his mind completely and have a half hour of peace. When that half hour had passed, it was if he had awakened from a trance. He was refreshed. It was much better than sleep. He felt he could survive.
You could hardly see her as she walked down the old country lane. The trees were ablaze with fall color and her coppery-colored hair was indistinguishable from the leaves swaying from the bowing branches. She was home to see her parents for the first time since she had married. They were not pleased and she hoped to placate them.
It was the fall of 1943 and her new husband had gone off to war after only two weeks of married life. She knew that he hadn’t wanted to marry before going off to war. She wouldn’t know until many years later why he finally decided they should marry. She thought he had a guilty conscience. She really hadn’t meant to get pregnant. They met in the USO Club in the small town where she lived with her sister and attended college. Her sister and her husband had introduced her to him.
He was just so exotic. Growing up deep in the heart of Appalachia, she’d never met anyone like him. She’d fallen in love. He’d come to the small college town to train naval men before they went off to war. He was from another place, another culture. He had such a voice! They hadn’t meant to become so intimate so fast. Then there was a baby that would come of their union. She did love him so, but did he love her? She had no way to know. She was determined to make that happen.
Now she had to concentrate on her mother and father. They had married in the spring, but she had attended summer school. This was the first time she’d been home since her marriage. Almost at the end of the lane that led to The Big House, where she’d grown up and where her parents still lived, she slowed her pace and took a deep breath. She sat her small cloth suitcase down and breathed in the crisp fall air. She looked around her. It was beautiful in eastern Kentucky at this time of year. Now it was time to face the music. She could hardly stand to disappoint them, especially her Daddy.
It somehow seems unfair that, as you get older, life gets harder. Haven’t we paid our dues by now? Isn’t it time for easy street? Apparently not. I’ve just spend one of the hardest summers ever and I’m hoping it isn’t a harbinger of things to come. I don’t normally believe in omens, but the events of the past summer has filled me with fear.
The good news is that I’m enjoying improved health. I’ve also had the opportunity to visit long-lost relatives — my father’s side of the family. It was wonderful to see them. Then there is the bad news. My life was flipped upside down this summer, early on, when my husband had a huge health scare. Major, unexpected, and emergency open-heart open-chest surgery. I don’t think I’ve ever been so terrified in my life and I remain frightened. He survived and has recovered quite well. I’ll never quite recover from the fear. Then, one of my best friends, a childhood friend, passed away, again quite unexpectedly. I still don’t believe he’s gone. To me, we’ll always be kids, camping out in my backyard.
On top of all this, my contract writing job ended. I knew it would, but I’m still sorry it did. I don’t quite have it in me to job hunt. At least not right now. I may wait awhile, then freelance. I don’t think I’ll take another contract position. I’m not cut out to answer to a boss at this point in my life. Operating my own freelance business is more my style now. Writing non-fiction business articles. Perhaps breaking into the B2B market. I also have other areas of interest – politics, culture, education. Maybe finishing my two books. A novel and a book of flash fiction. Those are my ventures into fiction, except for the fiction I have written and will write on this blog. I’ve made a good living writing freelance in the past.
I was reminded this morning of the harbinger I really should focus on. Three months ago, I rescued a little dog named Clara. She’s a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a breed I’ve loved for years. She is seven years old and had served as a breeder dog in a kennel. I won’t go into all of her problems, but she was not well when she came to me. She had been neglected and only valued for her puppies. Clara has had a long summer of veterinary care and loving care in my home and she’s started to blossom. She’s starting to respond to us and she’s remembering she’s a dog who has the opportunity to play and be happy. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. Perhaps Clara is the harbinger I’m looking for since fall has arrived and winter draws near. She represents hope for the future.
She often came this way. She stopped and sat on the fence, looking at the single, timeless standing stone. It always caused her carefully controlled mind to wander. Back and forward. Backwards, she wondered where they came from. What they meant? Were other stones buried by the sands of time somewhere deep around this one, perhaps in a circle? Maybe this was a lone stone. Perhaps meant to cure sick children? How will we ever know, she wondered, what the prehistoric people who raised these stones really were doing.
Then there was that other theory. The one that some thought explained the pyramids as well as the standing stones. The theory that said that we weren’t alone in the universe. Perhaps other beings had helped those prehistoric people build these complex stone structures. Most discounted that theory of course, but she found herself thinking of it. It seemed so impossible that the prehistoric citizens could have done it themselves.
A timeless mystery of the universe. She started walking again, her imagination making her smile.
Jane remembers the night they got to that island. They were just looking for a place to stay and they happened upon the bridge where signs told them of vacancies. They crossed the bridge, not really knowing where they were. Not really knowing they were going out into the Gulf of Mexico.
It was winter and even in the southern part of America, dark came early. Even so, someone was in the office of the first place they came to. After they secured a reservation, they went to their spot and crashed. Never really thinking about where they were. They had driven a long way. They knew it was warm and they could smell salt water. Sleep came instantly.
It had been a hard year for them before that winter. They were young. They didn’t know that the things that had happened, decisions they had made, would come back to haunt them many years later. They had the freedom of youth without the wisdom of age. Like most young people of ther generation, they worked hard and played just as hard. Too hard. It was the 1970s and their kind of fun seemed innocent then. They didn’t realize that it wasn’t. That the transgressions of youth would color their whole lives. They didn’t know that too much fun then would make the responsibilities of age hard and getting old so much more unbearable.
When Jane’s eyes came open, just a crack, the next morning, she looked around and saw the entire place enveloped in a warm glow. Bare tree branches were on one side of the place with palm trees towering over the other side. They had been lost the night before. She couldn’t imagine where they were.
Jane got up and dressed and walked out on the porch and down the road. The sky astonished her, layered in gold clouds. She had never seen anything like it. As she walked and nodded to the locals, she felt a weight lift off her shoulders, a sense of renewal wash over her. A decision she had been trying to make became clear to her as the tropical birds swooped in front of her. When she came to a general store, she found out the name of the island although in her mind, she’d already dubbed it her magical island. She’d been struggling with that decision for weeks.
After that winter, Jane knew they would spend many winters on that magical island. Looking back, she knows they will go back someday. It might be they should do it soon. Could it renew her once again?
She doesn’t walk much anymore, but today, her dog needed to walk so off they went. He’s excited to be out and she hopes the walk will be good for her too. It’s hard for her to get outside her own head, but she looks around at the scenery and notices the beautiful, but darkening clouds ahead of her. She doesn’t think they look threatening, so she and her dog walk on. She tries to be in the moment mentally and he helps with that, smelling every smell along the way. It helps her to focus. As always, she’s thinking about many things while trying just to think about him and his joyous communion with nature.
The clouds are so beautiful that they cause an old song to pop into her head. She smiles as she remember Joni Mitchell’s original recording of “Both Sides Now.” The ultimate “cloud” song as far as she is concerned. She remembers lying in her parent’s backyard in the grass, looking up at the clouds as a teenager. She remembers the line “ice cream castles in the air.” As a young girl, she looked at the cloud formations and dreamed of such innocent and foolish things..
She and her dog stopped to rest. She gave him a drink out of his water bottle and he laid down to rest for a few minutes, looking around, drinking in the scenery. She watched the clouds as they moved overhead. As an older teenager, reaching adulthood, she still watched the clouds in the backyard, but the images became different. She remembers the words to the song. One stanza described her feelings at that time in her life, when she met a boy she thought she would marry.
“Moons and Junes and ferries wheels The dizzy dancing way you feel As every fairy tale comes real I’ve looked at love that way”
She had fallen in love and she thought he was in love. Something terrible happened. He was not the boy, she had found out very painfully, that she would marry. She reached down and touched her dog’s head. He was her touchstone now if her thoughts drifted to a bad place.
They got up and walked on. The dog was anxious to see what was over the next rise on their walk.
2018 had turned into a year of reflection for her. She hated that and thought it was brought on by her health issues which seem to have blown up this past year. She had spent the year frightened and it had made her look back at her life. She liked to look forward, but she was facing serious life-threatening issues. Looking forward had become difficult.
She had looked at the relationships in her life. Not just romantic relationships, but all of them. Family, friends. She saw the folly in so many of them. She and her husband seemed to finally be at peace. She had amazing friends. Something wonderful had happened with her family. She had found family members she hardly knew existed and some she had not known existed and she was getting to know them. That had made her year. There were other family relationships that were gone. Gone forever. That had hurt her terribly.
Love. Romance. Did it even exist or like in the song, was it just another illusion? She had come to the conclusion that love was very rare, that it seldom existed if at all. As for the rest of her life, however long that was, she found the song to be very relevant:
“But now it’s just another show You leave ’em laughing when you go And if you care, don’t let them know Don’t give yourself away
I’ve looked at love from both sides now From give and take and still somehow It’s love’s illusions I recall I really don’t know love at all…”
They walked on home, leaving the cloud formations behind, to do whatever they had to do.
She walked among the pillars of the old building on the monastery grounds to gather her thoughts. She found it cool and serene here. Many things had gone wrong in her life recently. Not only in her life, but in the lives of some of her friends and family. She touched the cold, gray marble of one of the pillars in the colonnade and she felt a frisson of emotion. She yanked her hand away. It was exciting and frightening. Slowly, she touched the pillar again. The same emotion overcame her. She felt strength. Through her mind and body, she was flooded with the strength to meet her problems head on. She didn’t want to take her hand away, but she finally did. The strength to fight on remained.
She walked to another pillar and touched it. She was shocked with the emotion of hope. Hopelessness about her life had permeated her world for so long that she had forgotten what it felt like to feel hopeful. She felt strong and hopeful. Ready to tackle the problems in her life.
She had to touch another pillar. She could not imagine that it would cause any further emotion in her. Strength and hopefulness had already been granted to her. She touched the pillar. A sense of worthiness flooded through her. She had felt unworthy to tackle her problems. To even live her life. For years now, she had felt no self-worth at all and, by touching this pillar, that changed. It gave her great relief and made her feel that not only could she solve her problems, but she was worth the life she was living.
After she caught her breath and composed herself, she decided to try touching only one more pillar. She walked to one near the front of the colonnade and put her hand on it. She smiled and the smile got bigger as she left her hand on the pillar. She felt gratitude. She was grateful she was alive. Alive to live the life she had been given.
Strength, hope, worthiness, and gratitude. The pillars in the colonnade at the monastery gave her those things that day. She asked herself whether it was real or not. Did they give her those things? Or was she just ready to feel them on her own?
She had brought her equipment out earlier in the day, before nightfall. It was set up, ready to go. Ready to detect any spectral presence at the old fort. She didn’t bring her team this night. She had decided to check out the old fort alone in an effort to disturb things as little as possible. She was an experienced ghost hunter, although it was a hobby and not a vocation. Her field was physics and she was a teacher.
She sat in her car at the end of the road approaching the old fort and observed for a while. Other ghost hunters had examined the fort after reports by tourists that they felt cold spots within the fort, usually associated with a spot of light and an apparition who possibly used to reside there. That didn’t make a lot of sense to her since the fort was mostly open to the elements now. She wanted to do further study.
It was a foggy night. It seemed to be an odd fog. There was no wind, but the fog was swirling around. She quickly got out of her car and went to her equipment set up some distance from the old fort. It was definitely picking up paranormal activity in the area. But what type? She suspected she knew.
The fog thickened. It seemed to swirl more and the ghosthunter had her answer. This was not your typical ghost or your typical fog. This was an ecto-mist or ectoplasm. A ghostly mist identified by the swirling pattern. She knew she must wait quietly. Ectoplasms sometimes developed into full-blown spectral apparitions.
As she watched, the fog darkened as it swirled and then stopped. There was the outline of a being sitting on the ground. She started snapping her camera although all she could see was a man wearing a white wig in an elaborate red costume or uniform. She couldn’t see his face clearly, but she could see that he was holding a rock in his hand. He was holding his head in his other hand. Within fifteen seconds, the dark fog took him away and normal fog settled in around the fort.
Given the time period in which the fort was built, rocks and cannons were all with which they had to fight. He must have been a wounded soldier.
Driving back to her home, she was thrilled with her photos and her discovery. She found herself feeling very sorry for that soldier so many hundreds of years ago.
Abigail was curled up in a corner of her sofa going through the photos in the photo album she had kept. She’d just finished a huge project. She’d gone through her mother’s personal belongings. A lifetime of photos, letters, other personal things. It had been very hard, very emotional. Her mom had been gone for a long time and, only now had she been able to bring herself to sort through the dozens of boxes she had left behind.
She knew now, after the discoveries she had made, that her mother had spent a lifetime climbing a mountain like the beautiful mountain in the picture she had taken years before. She’d never known her mother until she went through her things. Odd how you could live with someone all your life and never know them. There was so much more to her mother than she’d ever known.
Abigail looked up from the photos, thinking to herself how she could have been closer to her mother and understood her so much better if her mother had only talked to her. If her mother had talked to someone. She didn’t. She closed herself up in a cocoon and when she did talk to family and friends, it was only about the good stuff. She wouldn’t open up, confide in anyone. Pride. Foolish pride. Pride that cost her family, friends, loved ones, and the affection of her husband. But, perhaps most importantly, her daughter and her own self-respect.
Her mom came by that pride honestly. Her family was so prideful that it silenced them, even between each other. There was no such thing as an apology, an honest discussion, or real interaction. Abigail was glad she was more like her father’s family. Of course, they were proud, but they weren’t afraid of expressing their feelings and they didn’t feel jealous of each other. Looking back, she felt sorry for her mother.
Abigail had been turning away from her mother’s family for many years, even before she realized why she was. There were a few members of the family that were still in her life but very few. As she grew older, she had no patience for the type of pride that cost you loved ones. It was common in Appalachia, in the mountains.
She looked back at the photo album and realized that it was time to turn away from the kind of life where pride was more important than love. She closed the book.
*Thank you for the challenging writing prompt, Sue Vincent! What a beautiful photo!
She didn’t walk every day. Only when she had time and they didn’t need her. Only when her weary body could force itself out the door to walk below the ridgeline. She told herself she walked for fitness. She knew she really walked for the fitness of her mind. She would often walk for a short distance, but when he was there, on top of the ridge, she would walk for an hour or more. He fascinated her. Somehow she knew the big, gray wolf was male. She didn’t know how.
She would glance up at the top of the ridge after she had walked away from the house. Most days, she saw him standing there. Facing her. High up on the ridge. As she walked, his walk paralleled hers. She walked the path at the base of the ridge while he walked the top of the ridge. Walking at the same pace she did.
They carried out this ritual for months, the woman and the wolf. Through the summer and into the late fall. She couldn’t imagine why he walked with her, though some distance away. She wasn’t afraid. On the contrary, he made her feel calm. She knew he wouldn’t hurt her. She started sitting down and resting halfway through her walk. He stopped and rested when she did.
One day, early in the winter, she was resting halfway through her walk and she heard the leaves crunch behind her. She sensed it might be him, so she sat very still. The crunching stopped. She sat for a few more moments. Then she got up to walk and saw him mere feet from her. She knew not to meet his eyes. She just started walking. He followed her, this time on the path right behind her. When she turned to go home, he also turned and followed her home. He waited for her to go in the house, then he walked off into the woods.
The wolf and the woman became walking companions. He started walking in front of her and led her up the hill to the ridgeline. When they stopped and she looked down the other side, she saw the men. Men were logging the woods and logging was prohibited in those woods. It dawned on her that this was what the wolf had wanted her to see. He wanted her help.
She reported the logging to the authorities and it stopped. During her next walk, the wolf was waiting for her. When she got to the path, he did the most surprising thing. He leaned his big body against her. Very gingerly, she reached over and took a handful of the ruff around his neck. They stood for a long time like that. Then, he walked off into the woods.
After that day, the wolf didn’t walk with her anymore although she saw him occasionally watching her from the ridgeline. She thinks he accomplished his mission — to get her help in reporting the loggers. He probably had a den, a mate, and pups nearby. She missed his company.
What she didn’t know is that he had become her watcher. She could walk the woods in safety because he will watch out for her as long as he lives.
Thanks to Sue Vincent for the lovely photo and writing prompt!