July 23, 2019, 09:37:03 PM

Author Topic: [APR 2018] - Maiden, Mother and Crone - Submission Thread  (Read 4530 times)

Online xiagan

  • Writing Contest Organizer
  • Powers That Be
  • Elderling
  • *
  • Posts: 5870
  • Gender: Male
  • Master Procrastinator
    • View Profile
    • Fictional Times
[APR 2018] - Maiden, Mother and Crone - Submission Thread
« on: April 01, 2018, 10:57:46 AM »
Maiden, Mother and Crone


"Tripple Goddess"


The depiction of women in fantasy is a controverse, fascinating and ongoing topic.
For April, we want you to write a story about women.
Specifically, we want a story with at least two main characters/POVs and those two must be picked from the aspects of the tripple goddess: Maiden/virgin, mother and crone. This doesn't mean that you have to write a story about goddesses or their avatars but that we want a maiden and a mother, a maiden and a crone or a mother and a crone as the main protagonists of the story.

We don't think that this needs being said on this forum but anyway: Main character means the person who acts. No damsels in distress but dragon slaying princesses, please.


Rules:

1. This must be prose or poetry.
2. The story must have at least two main characters. Maiden and Mother, Mother and Crone or Maiden and Crone.
3. Prose must be 500-1500 words long.
4. Poetry must be 100-750 words long.
5. One story per person or writing team (not per account).
6. You will be disqualified if you exceed the limits, full stop. That's why they're called limits.
7. Your entry can't be published somewhere else before.
8. This is a writing contest, not a "I have written something like this ten years ago" contest. So if you happen to have a story that fits one of the themes, I'd like it to have a mayor overhaul/edit. Work for it. ;)
9. Please add your story's word count and, if you have, your twitter handle.
10. Please put your story in [ spoiler ] tags to make the thread easier to handle. :) You can find them above the smileys under the B.
Bonus rule: We consider voting in a contest you're taking part in a given. Others take time and effort to read the stories - you should do the same. A small community like ours lives from reciprocity and this contest needs stories as much as votes. 

If you want so submit your story anonymously you can do so by sending it in a personal message to @xiagan.

Entry will close April 30th/May 1st, 2018 and voting will begin somewhere around the same time too.

All members are eligible to join. If you are not a member you can join here. Sign up is free and all are welcome! :)

The winner will have their piece displayed on the main Fantasy Faction website sometime in the next months.
Submitting a story counts as published. The author retains all rights to their work.

Remember that this thread is only for entries. Discussion or questions can be posted here.
« Last Edit: April 01, 2018, 07:20:29 PM by xiagan »
"Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis." (Laplace)

Offline The Gem Cutter

  • Captain Analogy
  • Writing Group
  • Khaleesi
  • *
  • Posts: 2960
  • Gender: Male
  • We've exhausted all possibilities - time to begin.
    • View Profile
    • The Gem Cutter Tales
Re: [APR 2018] - Maiden, Mother and Crone - Submission Thread
« Reply #1 on: April 09, 2018, 03:32:52 AM »
The Queen's Price
1498 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
The waning sun simmered through the dust. Flanked by praetorians, Queen Muriella followed the path her daughter had taken across the now silent battlefield. She clamped down the spasms as she passed the horrors all around. Fields of victory are still gruesome scenes of death.

Corpses lay all around, smashed, cleaved, burned, and broken, and the queen could read the events that had transpired: a ditch in a gulley marked where Marie’s power had tossed the enemy back; a broad swathe of burned ground where she cleaved the enemy’s ranks; arcs of torn earth where she had tried to breakup their onslaught; and finally, the broad expanse of devastation where Marie had broken The Code and loosed the Tempest in her desperation, destroying everyone and everything, even herself.

Muriella lifted her purple gowns and stepped over the dead, eyes fixed ahead. She held her breath and clenched her jaw as she passed fissures, thrusts of uplifted rock, and cracked stone that latticed the earth across a broad open space. In the center, a huddle of praetorians knelt around the broken body.

There was a cry, and old Marthurion rose and waved the Queen forward. “She lives!”

*****

Up the winding steps of Mount Coryn, the queen led the procession, chewing her lip and frowning at the throngs cheering their thanks as her daughter’s bier passed by. “Great heart!” they cried. “Savior-princess!” But the sight of Marie’s crumpled form dampened their joy. Mothers and fathers hugged their children, safe and whole, and lowered their eyes. She was just sixteen.

Had Muriella been a fishmonger’s wife, she would have spat in disgust. Not at the people, for their joy was well-founded; her daughter had saved them all. And not at the laws Marie had broken, for had she not, the ziggurat where those laws were enshrined would be burning now, looted, and thrown down. The disgust that clung to her like sweat was for herself. Like any mother, Muriella’s ears pricked each time her daughter drew a ragged breath, even through the murmuring of the crowd and the stamp of feet. The crowds hushed and fell back before her face.

The queen saw her own foolishness clearly now: she should have known Marie would not wait, would not hold back. Marie had a spirit of fire and wind, a priestess of laughter and anger. The queen growled a murmuring sigh, admitting that her daughter had seen what she herself had not – that their plans had failed and nothing else would do. Nothing less than sacrifice.

The queen’s jaw trembled with bitter regret as she led the procession through the high stone arch of the temple gate, high above the plain where the mountain’s shoulders broadened. This bitter victory that was really a defeat was her doing. Battles are won and lost not by soldiers on the field, but by rulers months before. Her mother’s words in her youth. She was likely to hear them again.

She halted at the base of the wide steps in the temple’s shadow. Its thick walls leapt high above, sweeping into the bulging dome. Golden lances radiated from the dome, draped with black pennants of mourning that hung motionless above the temple doors.

Deep rolled the great gong as the doors swung slowly open. Clothed in black, Moiraile, Queen-Mother and High-Priestess emerged from the shadows, bent with age. The lines of her frown were deeper than her daughter’s, for she had born the queen late in life, and the queen was no longer young. She leaned hard on her cane and stared down. Blood stained her silver hair where she had torn the hair from her own head in her grief.

The queen raised her sandaled foot, but Moiraile thudded her cane into the stone. “No!” she cried, pointing with a palsied hand. “I know what it is you seek here, daughter-queen. Make your pleas here – in the eyes of gods and mortals. And be judged.” The temple guards fanned out behind her, hefting their bronze spears.

The queen sighed under her mother’s haggard gaze. How she hates me. I’ve ruined Marie, my one achievement. So be it.

“Judge me, mother. But I know what you will say.”

Moiraile twisted her lips into a knot. “Your wisdom comes late. I should have drowned you the day you were born. You lost her! The gods gave you a perfect daughter and you lost her.”

“You are right, mother. I do not have your mind or talents.” The tears came, as they always did when the truth of her mother’s disdain scattered the happy fiction of her love like so much smoke. She wiped the hot tears from her eyes, shook them from her fingers. “And I do not have Marie’s heart. Between a greater mind and the greatest heart - a lesser daughter am I.”

Moiraile only scowled in agreement.

“But though my heart is no match for Marie’s, I have twice the heart that you do.”

Moiraile’s mouth trembled in rage, but before she could speak, the queen stepped upon the stair. “Keep your wrath. Her great heart beats still. What would you have me do? What else could I do than come here and ask that you cup that flame and keep it from the void?”

“Petty girl,” Moiraile finally murmured, grimacing at her granddaughter’s broken body. “You would snuff me to keep your daughter’s flame alight, take my life to correct your blundering.”

It was the queen’s turn to grimace, and Moiraile startled at the sight of it. “You do me great dishonor to speak of me so.” She strode up the stair, slipped the Queen’s Circlet from her head, and set it in the old woman’s hands.

The temple guards gripped their spears at her transgression, but wilted before her gaze as the queen turned and beckoned to the men carrying Marie. She led them inside, paused at the doors, and beckoned to her mother. “Come, mother. I have much to set right, and you have much to do.”

*****

Moiraile huddled in her chair in the shadow between two braziers, too weary to sleep. The ritual had left her dangerously exhausted. Her heart fluttered with the remembered strain of the incantation. Her swollen feet, as knotted as her hands, ached and throbbed from standing for so long. Trails of incense wafted into the air.

On the bed beside her, Marie stirred beneath the cocoon of linens, soaked in holy oils. Rays of mid-morning sun lit her face as her eyes crinkled open.

Moraile held her breath as she rose on her cane and took Marie’s hand. The grip was strong and steady. “Rise, child,” Moraile whispered.

Marie sat up and the linens fell away. Naked, she stood. Sweat and oil glistened on her smooth skin. Her lithe form was unmarred by so much as a bruise. “What of the battle, Grandmother?

“You won,” Moraile murmured as Marie’s eyes drew her in, bright and fearless as ever.

“The Code. I broke -,” but Moraile hushed her lips with a fingertip that she slowly raised and used to draw her gaze to the other bed. Linen draped over the form of a woman. The Queen’s Circlet lay upon the breast.

“The price has been paid.”

“Mother-” Marie murmured, covering her face in her hands.

Moiraile draped the girl in royal purple robes and gathered up her slender form. She stroked her granddaughter’s hair and rocked her gently.

“Why?” Marie moaned into Moraile’s hair.

“Because that is what mothers do. They give life.” Moiraile gripped the girl’s shoulders with all the strength she had and stared hard into those wondrous eyes. “To give you back what you gave the realm – life! I was too weak, and your hurt was very great. Very great. Almost, it was too much, but your mother had much strength to give. Much strength! I was wrong to doubt her. So wrong.”

“I should have-”

Moiraile caught her chin and gently shook it. “You did what needed to be done. You saved the realm. Your mother saved you, so you can save it again.”

“But I, I don’t know strategy. I don’t know how to rule.”

Moiraile nodded. “I will help you,” she said, fussing with Marie’s robe and smoothing her hair. “If you will forgive me for doubting your mother ... my queen ... my ... my Muriella. Oh, Muriella.” With a creaking sob, the old woman’s tears finally came, drowning and dazzling her eyes as her lined face crumpled under the weight of her sorrow. She burrowed into her granddaughter's embrace, shuddering as she wept.

The westering sun glowered low over the mountain. Deep rolled the great gong of the temple as Marie strode out. She stared down at the vast, silent crowd that swept out like an ocean before her. She paused as her grandmother paced slowly behind.

“The Queen is dead!” the old woman cried. She set the circlet on Marie’s brow. “Long live the Queen!”
   
« Last Edit: April 09, 2018, 04:57:43 AM by The Gem Cutter »
The Gem Cutter
"Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There's always the possibility of a fiasco. But there's also the possibility of bliss." - Joseph Campbell

Offline Carter

  • Writing Contest Regular
  • Writing Group
  • Night Angel
  • *
  • Posts: 160
    • View Profile
Re: [APR 2018] - Maiden, Mother and Crone - Submission Thread
« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2018, 10:52:12 PM »
Here's my entry for the month, coming in at 1497 words. 

Spoiler for Hiden:
Confronting Reality

A knock heralded another visitor.  The delicate aroma of peach lingered in the air, gentle and sweet.  She welcomed the next, turned in her chair and frowned.  Zuzanna carried an unusually laden tray; glass of water, a small plate of biscuits and a plastic cup of betrayal.  Fear fluttered her heart.

“But you promised there'd be no more.  Zuzanna, you promised!”

Isobel knew it was important.  Precise meaning hung agonisingly out of reach; a ripe fruit just beyond a child's grasp.  All that mattered though was that she could not take the pills.  That they stopped her from receiving her visitors, leaving her trapped alone.  Four beige walls and dull, meagre furniture were scant company.  She craved even a solitary window overlooking the gardens she loved.  And Zuzanna had said she understood.  She had promised.

“Zuzanna's still on holiday,” said Zuzanna.  “And you know you have to take your medicines.”

She stared at the nurse.  It was always Zuzanna who brought her biscuits in the afternoon.  Who sat with her.  Who discussed the day's visits.  Who said she believed.  There had been no one else.  Why would she lie?  Zuzanna knew how easy it was for Isobel to become confused.

“Come on.  It's easy.  Just like yesterday.”

“But you promised.”

*

Isobel worsened daily.  Zuzanna's observations had warned Kitty that she did not react well to change and so it had proved.  If not for Zuzanna's breakdown and prolonged absence, then the matron would not have allowed anyone else to look after the old woman.  Her wild tales, her mood swings, made her almost impossible to handle.  Few among both residents and staff were able to tolerate her unpredictable, disturbing fantasies. Even Kitty's experiences with her son were not quite enough to prepare her for the challenge. 

And so, every day for the past two weeks, Kitty had faced a daily struggle to convince Isobel not only to take her medicines, but also that Kitty was a thirty-four year old mother from Yorkshire.  Not a young,Middle-eastern woman fresh from nursing college who apparently eschewed her duty of care.  Not that Kitty believed such things, whatever the old woman said.  Whatever the matron's suspicions.  Whatever the reasons for Zuzanna's breakdown.  Kitty had mentored Zuzanna, come to know her better than any of the other nurses.  The other woman cared and that was the end of the matter. 

She knelt in front of Isobel and held out the two cups.  Isobel pursed her lips, shook her head and shrank back into the chair as if hoping it could devour her.  If she had time, she might have been able to coax Isobel into taking the pills.  But today she had to collect Dashnor from the nursery while Luc worked an extra shift and if she did not turn up on time, it could easily upset him. 

And so she followed the advice Zuzanna had left in her medical notes.   

“Have you had any visitors today?”

The change was immediate.  Lucidity returned to Isobel's eyes.  A topaz sparkle pierced the grey and banished suspicion. 

“Peach was here.  You can still smell her.”

*

“You remember Peach.”

Saying the name sent an electric thrill through her, the excitement still so reminiscent of that first time.  Sneaking into her dad's greenhouse at midsummer, spying a fairy huddled in the shade of the peach tree, trapped and sweltering.  A moment's stillness, then it flickered through the sliding doors in a whir of wings, chased along by the intoxicating aroma of summer fruits. 

Zuzanna's smile spread slower than usual.  Something niggled at the back of Isobel's mind but she carried on.  This was much too important and Zuzanna needed to know every detail. 

“She came to tell me that everything is almost prepared.  She hopes to have it all finished and agreed later today, can you believe?”

“That soon?”

Zuzanna held something out.  Isobel took it, nodding.

“She said there is to be a huge celebration.  All of the others are looking forward to welcoming new fairies.  There will be rose-dew, and buttercup-sponge.  Peach even thinks there's some royal nectar left.  We'll both wear the finest spider's silks.  Oh it will be fabulous, I just know it will.  When will you be ready?”

She was giddy, her heart hammering in her chest like the rescued sparrow stunned after flying repeatedly into the greenhouse windows.  She could almost taste the fresh, beautiful flavours, almost feel them bursting across her tongue.  Everything hinged on Zuzanna's response.  With the right words all would be well again. 

Isobel tipped the contents of the cup into her mouth.  She crunched down.

“I'll need to arrange for someone to look after Dashnor.”

Bitterness flooded her mouth.  Grit coated her teeth.  Everything was wrong.

*

Even before Isobel's face twisted into a grimace of distaste, she knew they were the wrong words.  Despite herself, she had become wrapped up in the old woman's descriptions, in the sheer, unadulterated exuberance in her voice.  And so her first thought centred not on what Zuzanna might say, but instead on her son, on ensuring she had someone to look after him who understood his needs. 

As Isobel spat the concoction of drugs into her face, Kitty was already moving away.  The gobbet spattered against her uniform. 

“You're not Zuzanna.  What have you done with Zuzanna?”

Isobel lurched forward, gnarled hands contorted into claws.  Kitty stepped backwards, trying to remain calm and non-threatening.  It did not work.  Isobel steadied herself against the arm of her chair and attacked again.  She almost caught a fistful of her uniform, her nails scraping across the fabric as Kitty continued to move away as the old woman flailed desperately. 

If there had been another nurse, she could have restrained Isobel.  On her own, without the protection of another pair of eyes both to warn and to attest, she dared not.  So she fled, slipping beyond Isobel's grasp and into the sanctuary of the corridor.

*

With the thing pretending to be Zuzanna gone, she was more alone than ever before.  She collapsed against the door, her breathing heaving in and out in ragged gulps.  Where before there had been certainty, now there was only a void.  She felt empty and arid.  Dried up and dying like a greenhouse long neglected. 

It was all a lie, all tangled together yet fragile; a daisy chain discarded and forgotten on a summer meadow.  One thought dominated her mind, repeating itself over and over. 

Zuzanna lied.  Zuzanna has a son.

Hope, so long clutched tight, like a brilliant butterfly in a child's over-eager hand, stilled and died.  Released, it crumbled and slipped through her fingers like early morning mist.  Like sand.  Like fairy dust. 

Zuzanna lied.  Zuzanna has a son.

There was no maiden.  No saviour.  No fairies and no hope.  All that remained were the broken remnants of her mind, shards of her childhood lying shattered and strewn throughout her life like so much vandalised glass.  Each memory cut deeper and deeper still as her father's greenhouse turned from sanctuary to prison. 

*

Door firmly shut at her back, faint sobs reverberating through the wood, Kitty took a long, calming breath.  The panic eased to be replaced by a growing unease.  Such had been Isobel's vehement, charismatic belief, her sudden changes in temperament, that she worried.  About the old woman but more importantly about Zuzanna.  Her recent behaviour, her ravings, suddenly took on a darker hue.  She could not help but imagine Isobel as some sort of cult leader enrapturing the minds of impressionable women. 

She needed to speak to Luc.  He worked on the ward where Zuzanna was recovering.  It breached at a dozen regulations and several laws, but she had to speak to him.  For Zuzanna's sake. 

A quick text to impart urgency, ambiguous enough to imply it could be Dashnor, and she rang.  She felt a moment's disquiet, of shame, but she forced it aside. 

“What's happened?”

He sounded harried, distressed.  Disquiet gave way to fear.  It was a coincidence.  It had to be.  Yet she had to ask. 

“Something's happened to Zuzanna, hasn't it?”

The other end went quiet. 

“How the hell do you know that?  Who the hell told you?”

“No one told me.  But Isobel ..  Look, I just need to know.”

A pause. 

“This goes no further, understand?”

“I swear.”

A deep breath. 

“She's gone.  Vanished.  Just a few minutes ago.  An open window.  A window that was locked.  We can't find her anywhere.  It's chaos.”

Suddenly the other side of the door went silent.  Kitty dropped the phone.  It was impossible.  Completely impossible.  Her heart hammered as she wrenched the door open.  The window, locked except during the summer, flung open.  And no Isobel.  Just a breeze wafting through, carrying with it the scent of peach. Of wild flowers.  Of buttercups and rose-dew.

Online Alex Hormann

  • Writing Contest Regular
  • Valheru
  • **
  • Posts: 813
  • Gender: Male
  • Bookworm first, human second.
    • View Profile
Re: [APR 2018] - Maiden, Mother and Crone - Submission Thread
« Reply #3 on: April 28, 2018, 12:53:43 AM »
Maiden to Mother to Crone

A Poem of 173 words

Spoiler for Hiden:
Oftentimes when I sit at home
I feel like I’ll be forever alone
Said the maiden to the crone

As she brushed the maiden’s hair
The crone said ‘Worry not, maiden fair
Your mother and I will always be there’

‘There is no reason to be afraid’
Said mother dear to her young maid
From where upon the bed she laid

The young maiden sighed and shrugged
As through gold locks the brushstrokes tugged
But the thought at the back of her mind still bugged

‘Will you always be here mother?
Or are these lies we tell each other
At night? Come morning you’ll tell me another’

‘This is no lie’ said crone of old
Combing through the strands of gold
‘We can speak only of the hopes we hold’

Then the mother stood and replied
‘I’m sorry if you thought I lied
But I shall never leave your side’

‘Then long after our spirits have flown
We shall never leave you alone
As you turn from maiden to mother, and finally crone’


Offline OnlyOneHighlander

  • Writing Contest Regular
  • Builder
  • ******
  • Posts: 116
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
    • The Macpherzone
Re: [APR 2018] - Maiden, Mother and Crone - Submission Thread
« Reply #4 on: April 30, 2018, 12:58:34 PM »
Hi everyone,

Good to be back. My story this month is called 'Quietly to the dawn' and is 883 words.

Spoiler for Hiden:

Quietly to the dawn

‘Do you want to stay?’

There was a pause, a look to the left, a look to the right. ‘Ehh, yes,’ he offered.

A scream from the bed behind sent his pupils racing to the very edges of his eyes. Niddy Bidlebrach fixed these gapping holes with her needle point stare and gave the response she knew he wanted. ‘Are you sure?’

Another scream, another shudder through the poor man. But he had his way out now, so he took it. ‘Maybe, I’d better wait outside. I mean, maybe that would be more help. You, eh, seem to have it all in hand and I don’t want to be a distraction. I’ll, I’ll go and get more hot water, how about that?’

These words were clipped short as Niddy ushered the terrified father-to-be out of the bedroom. ‘Good idea. Leave it here by the door and I will fetch it at the appropriate time. There you go, I’ll just get this-’ she said, pushing him over the threshold. With a slam he was gone, and silence descended.

That was, of course, silence exempt from the roars and growls and shouts of pain from the bed. Niddy Bidlebrach had been at this game long enough to let those particular sounds fade into the background. Like the blacksmith who doesn’t hear the roar of the forge or the clang of the hammer, she paid no heed to these expulsions of pain. They weren’t for her anyway.

They belong to only two people: the one in front of her on the bed and the one to come. And it was her job to introduce them. She lifted her dark smock over her head, folded it neatly and set it on a chair. The air was already hot with the smells of life. Sweat and damp straw on the bed, steam and soap from the brass pot, a taste of iron and a touch of spring. She rolled her shoulders, the muscles under the drooping skin still strong. Would it be a quick one? She hoped. She always hoped. But enough of that, time to get to work.

*

These were the longest breaths of Sal Sander’s life. Like drowning in air, each contraction scraped her lungs clear, stealing whatever sounds were in her thoughts on the way. Whose stupid idea was this, she wanted to say. Which god decided this was the way it was to be done? But the only way to get this plea out was to grab the hand of the midwife and yell with her eyes as the scraping breaths went out, and out, and out, and in.

This couldn’t be how it was supposed to feel. This couldn’t be right, something had to be wrong. How could it not be? How could anyone survive? How could they have done this for centuries, hundreds of times a day, thousands a year? Her own mother, so small and timid, how? Where had that strength lived? Every muscle, every seem of her was working in reverse. When she wanted to shout out she could only shout in, when she wanted to collapse she was thrust upright by her own rebelling body, when she wanted to stop the pain gripped her with her own ribs. It couldn’t be right, it couldn’t be.

And yet, Niddy looked at her calmly, held her hand gently, wiped the sweat from her head as if washing dirt from a grazed knee. There was no concern, no panic, nothing but reassurance. ‘You don’t have to grin,’ Niddy had told her before the real pain started, ‘but you do have to bear it.’

*

She hadn’t said it would be worth it in the end. You never said that. It didn’t do to make promises you couldn’t keep. After all, there was no magic here. There never had been.

Niddy picked her moment, a collapse of tension in the body, and eased her hand from Sal’s grip. She took the cloth from Sal’s head and replaced it with a clean one. She crossed to the small table and plunged her hand into the hot water, washed them and then stepped round to check.

‘Nearly there my dear, nearly there.’ She said it in the tone she’d been taught. Clam and measured and never changing. Come the best or come the worst it would stay the same.

Some in the town whispered witch-craft, but any skill practised well took on the mantle of magic. Far easier to denigrate than to admit you simply didn’t understand. The only trick to it, if there was a trick, was to be there, present, your very being proof it could be done. All the rest was up to the other.

Another scream from the head of the bed, and then another, and then silence, and then one from the foot, small and loud all at once.

*

That wasn’t that. There was still the cord to cut and the clots to pass, cleaning up, wiping down. All the while reaching. A mother’s work had just begun.

Finally, with sleep dawning, Niddy passed the bundle, wrapped tight and just as tired as Sal. The little pink face, eyes closed, mouth whispering at her first taste of air. ‘It’s a girl,’ someone said, and the baton moved on.

“Books make great gifts because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it's much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world!” Neil Gaiman

Check out my book Here Be Dragons here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Here-Be-Dragons-David-Macpherson-ebook/dp/B07CCGBDQW/ref=sr_1_3?s

Offline JMack

  • Hircum Magna Rex of the Fabled Atku Temple, and writing contest regular
  • Writing Group
  • Ringbearer
  • *****
  • Posts: 6925
  • Gender: Male
  • Our daily efforts are love poems to the universe.
    • View Profile
    • Tales of Starlit Lands
Re: [APR 2018] - Maiden, Mother and Crone - Submission Thread
« Reply #5 on: May 01, 2018, 02:48:39 AM »
At 1,500 words and with I’m not sure how many typos, here is

GHOSTS AT THE BONFIRE OF BIRTH

Spoiler for Hiden:
Gemma is standing knee deep in a rushing stream with a pole in her hands when Warren Miller comes hollering down the path from the cottage like, well, like what he must be - a man who needs the midwife.

“She’s early!” Warren pants, hands on his knees.

The miller’s new wife, Avlen, is young; this is her first. The first babe always takes longer, so Gemma ignores the nervous father and makes another cast.

She pauses in the garden before going in to get her kit. Her husband’s ghost watches a snail navigating an eternity of sodden wood across a mossy stump. Gemma has him pinned to the spot with a spellstone so he won’t follow her. There will be plenty of ghosts at the millhouse. She doesn’t need him making one more.

By the time the miller’s wagon comes to a halt, it’s full night, and the ghosts have gathered from miles around, rustling like moth wings in moonlight. It’s like this at every birth, the lonely dead basking in the warmth of a newborn spirit, like a bonfire on summer’s eve.

The miller walks through them unseeing. When he opens the door, light spills out, along with a woman’s keening, throaty moan, and a muffled curse.

“I’ll be in,” says Gemma, with authority honed on thirty years worth of worried fathers-to-be.

She turns to the ghosts. “There will be no rush to get inside this house. When it’s done, I’ll bring out the babe for you to bless - as is right.” She takes a handful of round, white stones from her skirt pocket and lines them up on the ground in front of the door.

A whisper rises from the ghosts like birch bark moving in a  breeze. “What about Morgen?” The question rustles from shade to shade.

Gemma mentally kicks herself that she forgot the miller’s first wife.

“In the house,” rasp the ghosts.

Well, you’d figure. Morgen Miller was a woman you didn’t take lightly, and if you did, you regretted it. What else would you expect but that in death she would stay close to her children, her husband, and her husband’s pregnant new wife.

Avlen Miller thinks that babies cannot be worth all this sweat,  pain, and ugliness, no matter how much her husband has tried to convince her otherwise.

Avlen doesn’t like ugliness. She doesn’t like dust, bodily fluids, or noise. Which is why no one expected her to marry a widower with a dust-cloud of a mill and two young children. But Warren Miller loves Avlen, and Avlen was surprised to find she loves him back.

A grey figure condenses  like an iron mist in an empty corner of the room. It drifts unseen toward Avlen as to a magnet. It stretches out a long, ethereal finger aimed at the center of her sweating brow, then pulls back as the miller rushes into the room.

“Darling,” he cries, going to one knee. Avlen crushes her husband’s hand with the desperation of a woman locked in a tug of war with her own body. Two children, a nine-year-old girl named Tilda and her younger brother, peer around the door.

“You’ll pay for this, miller,” says Avlen, groaning and laughing at the same time.

The grey shape looms again. The children see it, and are caught between fear and love. The finger stretches out, brushing Avlen’s hair. She cries out and goes rigid, her back arching in pain that blanks her mind to anything outside itself.

“That’s enough of that!” The midwife strides into the room, breaking the spell. Avlen collapses as though her string's have been cut. “You, here.” Gemma summons the girl. “You, out,” she orders the miller, who catches up his son and disappears until summoned.

“Get another blanket, Tilda,” Gemma tells the girl. She takes Avlen’s wrist between calloused fingers. One, two… three. The pulse is thready. “Wake up,” she says. She pinches Avlen’s arm, and smiles at a satisfying yelp.

“That’s better,” she says.

Avlen swims up from the dark. The face of the midwife looks down at her. Gemma, she thinks. She smiles weakly.

The blanket arrives. “You’ll want it off again in a minute, I’m certain,” Gemma says. “But Tilda is going to sit right here and make sure you don’t.” Tilda nods, filled with pride and fear at being deputized by this terrifying old woman.

“Now, stay calm and pay no mind to me,” she tells Avlen. “I have some things to take care of.”

“No,” says Avlen, the haze clearing from her mind.

“What?”

“No. I need to know everything that’s happening. You say stay calm, not to mind what you’re doing. Well, I’m the one trying to push this thing out of my body, not you.” A contraction bursts in her like bottle lightning, but she locks eyes with the midwife until the older woman nods.

“Alright, then,” Gemma says, thinking, this one has grit. She looks at Tilda, who is mopping her step mother’s forehead. “Your mother is here, isn’t she, child?”

Tilda glances to the corner then back to the midwife. She nods seriously.

Gemma nods back. “The ghost of Morgen Miller is in this room,” she says. “She’s here for the babe, Avlen, and for you. I feel her jealousy and anger, like a wind across the ice.”

“Hah,” says Avlen. “I’ve been shooing that damned woman out of the house ever since I got here.” She looks to her step daughter. “I’m sorry, sweetling, but she doesn’t belong here now.”

Gemma shakes her head. “Shooing her? The only thing keeping her in that corner over there is my own strength, and that won’t last if I don't stop answering your questions and start spelling.”

“Yes, shooing her. Dust a broom with dried agrimony and walk backwards, sweeping.” Avlen smiles at the midwife’s open surprise. “But I ran out of the herbs last week.”

“Well,” says Gemma, “I have my own ways.” She draws out five, perfect white stones and holds them to her lips. She pauses. “Here,” she says to Tilda, “you do it.” The girl edges toward the midwife, her eyes moving from the grey shade to the living woman gasping with another contraction. Finally, she lowers her face and breathes into the midwife’s palm.

“Good girl,” says Gemma. “You don’t want to be here, right now, Tilda. Go find your father and brother.” Tilda flees the room, but stops and slips back to watch the midwife do her magic.

Gemma rises and faces the ghost of Morgen Miller for the first time. She appears as a spinning cloud of black particles with a shape forming and deforming from one moment to the next. Jealousy radiates from her like a form of inverted light, dragging at the very heat in the old midwife’s bones.

“She’s not yours,” says Gemma. She places a white stone on the floor of the room, between the bed and the ghost.

“Not the baby and not the mother.” She places a second stone, then a third, forming a shallow triangle.

“You can stay here if you want.” A fourth stone slides between two of the others. “But only if you behave.”

She makes to set the fifth, final, locking stone in place.

“BEHAVE?!!” The ghost storms out of the corner, flinging it's black arms as wide as the room. Anything not nailed down spins into a maelstrom that careens into the midwife like hail. “BEHAVE?!!” Gemma stumbles back, covering her head with her arms. “THIS IS MY HOUSE!!” The ghost rises like a wave and crashes onto the midwife, scattering the stones.

“Mamma!” screams Tilda from the door.

“Tilda,” cries Avlen.

“Tilda,” moans the ghost, gathering into a nearly human shape.

“The stones,” gasps Gemma, blood running from nose and mouth. “The stones at the door, child.”

Tilda stares at her, then comprehension blooms and she runs from the room.

“She’s mine,” Avlen says to the ghost. “My daughter.”

Avlen pushes herself out of her bed, breath heaving. “My daughter. My baby. My husband.” She faces the ghost. “You are not welcome here.”

Tilda races to the front door of the millhouse, past her father and brother, throwing it open to the night. Five white stones lined up in the dirt form a barrier against the gathered ghosts of Canford.

The dead have been waiting patiently. Tilda hurls the stones into the trees.

With a rush like a sea of sand, the dead sweep into the millhouse, jostling, pushing. The ghost of Morgen Miller tries to stand before the tide. Tries, and fails, screaming, her black soul merged, crushed, dissolved into the mass.

The room settles. The dead, gathered close, waiting for the warmth of a soul entering the world.

Gemma gets to her feet, and helps Avlen back to her bed. Tilda joins them, and Warren Miller looks in from the door, holding his son in his arms, confused and concerned.

“Well,” breathes Gemma, shakily, “Let’s get this done.”

“Us?” says Avlen, holding her family close. “Who’s having this baby?”



« Last Edit: May 02, 2018, 12:28:51 PM by JMack »
Change, when it comes, will step lightly before it kicks like thunder. (GRMatthews)
You are being naive if you think that any sweet and light theme cannot be strangled and force fed it's own flesh. (Nora)
www.starlit-lands.com

Offline D_Bates

  • Story Critiquaire Extraordinaire and a Writing Contest Regular
  • Writing Group
  • Bridgeburner
  • *****
  • Posts: 526
  • Gender: Male
    • View Profile
Re: [APR 2018] - Maiden, Mother and Crone - Submission Thread
« Reply #6 on: May 02, 2018, 12:15:52 PM »
Auskbert

Spoiler for Hiden:
Not much is known of Umbritch. In fact, that small castle town hidden among the spaghetti vales high up in the Yorkshire dales is a rather unremarkable locale. Yet it was in this unremarkable place that Thirza Auskbert, a most remarkable girl, grew to be.

Coddled as a kid, the young Thirza was a competent pianist and graceful ballerina who aspired to be a sculptor. Creativity was in her blood, I suppose. But creativity, by its very nature, is shaped by that which influences it, and when both her parents died of sudden heart failure, the poor child was ripped from her comfy townhouse home and placed into the care of her estranged grandmother.

But for an old mog named Grey Nettle, Thirza’s ailing grandmother lived alone in a secluded cottage on rocky slopes concealed in the Terrogen Woods outside of town. As strict as she was eccentric and a follower of pagan beliefs, she was highly critical of Thirza’s creative ambitions, those she deemed pursuits of the devil’s sloth. Thus Thirza was made to spend her time on more ‘productive’ vocations, such as cooking in cauldrons, and sweeping with straw brooms, and understanding the nature and uses for the plants and animals around her. It was the ancient and misunderstood craft of Alchemy where Thirza’s talents were focused--and it’s fair to say, in this day and age, that Alchemy is a difficult subject to begin, let alone master. But the old woman had collected many a tome over the years, all lined up along the clay shelves across the cottage walls, and when not completing her chores Thirza was tasked with reading them, and once finished she’d be made to read them again.

All but one, that was. A book, so unique, so very dangerous, that it was kept buried in the bottom of a trunk at the end of the old woman’s bed, a place Thirza was forbid to go. The core of creativity, however, is imagination--and nothing fertilises the imagination more than secrets.

By her fifteenth birthday the restless Thirza had grown tired of infusing tastes into teas, bubbling brews to ease life’s ailments, hanging sachets to deter wandering wildlife, and concocting salves to keep the skin taut and shiny. She craved greater challenges, and one day, whilst her grandmother was out picking shrooms, Thirza dared to open that forbidden trunk at the end of the bed, and digging beneath the layers of blankets she uncovered that taboo tome, whose black leather coating was worn and scarred with runic symbols, and whose silver trimmings were tainted with patches of puce. It was with a trembling hand she opened the black book, only to discover that the pages within were hand-written. This book, far from an ancient cursed text so foul and foetid as to be feared, was her grandmother’s personal journal, a written report of her experimentations gone afoul, from ointments that induced rashes and warts, to poisonous potions and tainted tinctures, and, most interestingly, her lifelong quest for the so-called elixir of life; a quest that seemed to be making headway until all efforts suddenly ceased.

In the months that followed, whenever left alone, Thirza dug out that book to read. Why the fabled elixir enthralled her so is difficult to know. Perhaps the mere challenge ignited the creativity within? The deaths of her parents, the facing of mortality at such a young age, surely must have left a scar. But then Thirza also held little love for her grandmother or her oppressive regime, and the desire to succeed where she’d failed must certainly have been strong. In any case, Thirza cautiously conducted her experiments in a forgotten shed tangled up in vines and bushes out behind the cottage, and progress was slow, for the ingredients were rare and specimens to test the formula on were rarer still. Access to the black book was also hampering, forcing her to work from notes made whenever she got the opportunity to look at it. This all proved most frustrating, which in turn bred carelessness, and it was only a matter of time before her grandmother caught her with the book in hand.

The old woman was positively furious, and after chaining the book up and locking it away, she beat poor Thirza black and blue and made her promise never to disobey her again. And Thirza didn’t... but she didn’t stop her experimenting, oh no. For her grandmother knew not of the laboratory in the shed, nor was she aware of the extensive notes Thirza had compiled over the months. Freedom from the book’s allure, in fact, proved a great boon, for it encouraged Thirza to develop her own research, and from those efforts she produced a serum of the most vile bile hue.

Lacking living tissue to work on, Thirza instead made plants her subjects. Alas, initial tests were met with abject failure. Far from the immortality sought, what the serum induced was a quick and shrivelling death. Her continued refinements met with much the same result, and running low on supplies and spirits, she finally disposed of the remainder of her serum beneath the dead husk of a tree.

That night Thirza went to bed believing her quest over, yet come morning that lifeless husk of wood had risen to a thriving mass of leaves and blossoms. This surprise advancement reignited her determination to continue, but also brought with it a curse, for reanimated trees hardly go unnoticed by suspicious grandmothers. Thirza, of course, denied any involvement with this anomalous occurrence, and since the book remained untouched since its incarceration there was no proof of her involvement. For now her secret was safe, but her grandmother’s increased interest left her wary of being caught again, and she decided to curb her efforts until suspicions died down.

Some weeks later, on a cold and overclouded morning, Thirza found her grandmother mourning at the flourishing tree. Grey Nettle, her precious moggy, was dead, having climbed the tree, gotten tangled in its vines, slipping, and falling to gore herself on a protruding root spike poking out of the earth. The cat’s death saddened Thirza, for the tame beast was affectionate if nothing else, but that temporary low was soon lifted with the anticipation of real experimentation.

With her grandmother distracted while coming to terms with the loss, Thirza cooked up a fresh batch of her serum, and late at night, under the cover of a brewing storm, she snuck out of the cottage to dig the dead cat up. Down in the shed, in candlelight, she stitched up its gut and poured the serum down its throat, rubbed it into the wounds, smeared it into every hole eaten by rot. Then she waited, breath abated, nerves tensing alongside every stitch, eyes widening with every rise and fall of Grey Nettle’s chest. And as the wind whipped and thunder rumbled, the beast rose up, resurrected, and arching its back it howled a haunting me-ah-ow.

“Demon!”

Thirza jolted and spun around to see her grandmother in the doorway, a meat cleaver in hand.

“Devil’s child,” the old woman squealed, weapon slashing, crazed eyes flashing with intent.

Riiiioooow!

The cat pounced up onto Thirza’s shoulder from whence it launched itself straight for the old woman’s throat, and the sudden push sent Thirza reeling, tipping the candle and extinguishing its flame. From the under the table she watched the ensuing struggle, the tussling shadows and still images formed by lightning flares, and when all went quiet and calm, her grandmother lay prostrate and motionless on the ground.

Now most would find the loss of their last remaining guardian devastating. That a murderous zombie feline had been loosed to the wild might be cause for concern. But Thirza... Thirza Auskbert smiled, for she felt no despair, nor fear for catastrophe ahead. No... Thirza Auskbert tasted opportunity, and in that dark rain beaten night, as the skies crackled and the clouds wept a flood of tears, Thirza Auskbert brewed up a fresh batch of her serum to test on her dead grandmother’s body. With meat cleaver in hand she observed the results, but come daybreak the corpse hadn’t so much as twitched. This setback disappointed Thirza greatly. It would seem that her serum would need to be refined for human physiology, but at least she could now do so without distraction.

Later that day, while burying her grandmother, Thirza noticed strange movements in the brush. In the weeks that followed, despite the seclusion, her neck would tingle as though she were being watched. And sometimes, in the dead of night, she’d abruptly wake to the spectral sound of scratching at the cottage door. Yet none of this disturbs Thirza as much as the inhabitants of Umbritch are disturbed by the strange voice, broken and brooding, sometimes heard in the dawn of night:

“Meee-aaahhh-ooow?”
« Last Edit: May 02, 2018, 03:20:13 PM by D_Bates »
David Bates
Works in progress:
Ciara: A Faun's Tale - 90,000; The K.B.G. - 100,000; Maria and the Jarls of Jotun - 90,000; The Shame that lurks in Stableton - current project; Ezra'il - Plotted. TBC July 2018

Offline Anonymous

  • Anonymous Submission
  • Coreling
  • *****
  • Posts: 44
    • View Profile
Re: [APR 2018] - Maiden, Mother and Crone - Submission Thread
« Reply #7 on: May 07, 2018, 09:14:57 PM »
1500 words including title. Content of the story is not for the faint of heart.

Delia’s Doll

Spoiler for Hiden:
This was the last time he would beat her.

Debris lie strewn about the room: shattered plates and dismembered chairs, but none were so broken as the man that stood before her, Delia thought. A wicked scowl consumed her face as she wiped blood from her mouth and forced herself to rise.  Delia refused to allow her legs tremble.

There will be consequences, the old crone next door had said.

Delia’s eyes slid down to her husband’s hands, clutching the unruly mane of their only child, his wedding ring tangled in the boy’s hair. Tears gushed down her son’s face in torrents. Her eyes slid impassively from the wet tears to the mark she had carved on the boy’s neck.

“Give him to me,” Delia commanded. Or did she plead? The crack in her voice betrayed her.

“Or what, ma poupée?” Marcel scoffed, picking splinters out of his bleeding fist with his teeth. “You’ll have the crone down the way hex me again?”

Marcel called them slave gods trussed up in Creole clothes, beggars in disguise. Perhaps that was true of Madame LaVeau in her French Quarter mansion and her high society admirers… but here, far from the city center, where the roads turned to dirt and a the air smelled of shit, Vodun thrived. Emancipation had answered few prayers--starving in slums instead of suffering in fields--but the orishas, they listened. Delia believed, even if she never understood.

There will be consequences, the old crone had said a lifetime ago when she handed Delia that cursed vial.

“How can you make love sound so ominous?” Delia had twirled her hair absently.

She would feel shock the first time Marcel punched her, with the same animal passion he used to fuck her. But young Delia had ignored the crone’s foresight. Or rather, she’d refused to understand it. It was the message in the cowrie shells that made her buy that damned potion. 

“A marriage most happy, with two beautiful children,” the crone had crooned.

“When will Marcel propose?” Delia had asked excitedly.

“Oh non, ma poupée. Your husband is Barthelome.”

Delia recoiled in horror. He was skinny, bookish and weak. She had never failed to laugh when Marcel tripped him in the street or knocked his books into the mud. Her friends would be mortified.

“No,” she had said, crossing her arms.

“No?” the old crone had raised an eyebrow.

“You’re going to make me a love potion.”

Marcel was a real man, strong and handsome. A drink laced with bit of her spit and contents of the vial would make him hers forever.

“Ma poupée,” he would whisper, stroking her face. After that day, she was his baby doll. “Ma poupée.” She heard the resentment underneath those words, but she ignored it. “Ma poupée.” She felt him need her, and hate himself for it.

And then he beat her for the first time. She couldn’t even remember why.

Her face was swollen and hideous, but she had held her head high as she marched to the crone’s hovel. “Your potion is broken!” she had shrieked, knocking candles and wicker designs off of her countertop. “I need another one!”

“Love and hate are fruits of the same tree.”

“He treats me like a trophy, then beats me at his leisure,” she spat.

“What you wanted with that vial, it wasn’t a trophy?”

“I wanted love!”

“Mistress Erzulie had love planned for you, did she not? Take fate in your own hands there will be consequences.”

Consequences, like the broken living room, her broken face, her broken son in her broken husband’s grip. Tonight’s nightmare made all others seem idyllic by comparison.

“Give me my son,” she ordered Marcel.

The boy’s sobs felt distant. Blood dripped from her mouth onto the shattered remains of her living room, but she felt nothing. Delia was in a dream neither past nor present.

Two nights ago had been the twenty-first time Marcel had beaten her, but the first time she had told anyone but the crone. Barthelome had tenderly dabbed the side of her face with a rum-soaked handkerchief. He was still lanky but he looked dapper with his bowtie and circular glasses.

“This is all my fault,” Delia had whispered.

“You made me beat you, again, woman,” Marcel would say each time, looking at her broken face in disgust.

“No. No!” Barthelome shook his head vehemently. Of course he would say no. He was Barthelome.

“There’s something I have to tell you.” Delia bit her lip. “The old crone next door… she sold me a potion--”

“To toy with fate, with the free will of another, carries a price, Delia,” the crone had said.

“Delia,” Barthelome pushed his glasses up, “She’s a con artist. They all are. She’ll tell you the gods were pleased or displeased just to pull your strings. Science tells us what will happen. Not superstition.”

“He resents the love I trapped him in. I--”

“I don’t care what he’s told you. I don’t care what she’s told you. I don’t even care what you’ve done.” He cupped her face. “He chose to beat you, and it’s wrong. There’s nothing else to it. You’re not some excuse. You’re better than that. The police--”

“Don’t be a fool, you’ll get us all killed.”

He got up, rolling his sleeves. “I’ll go over there myself, then.”

Delia’s eyes filled with fear, she leapt up, placing her hands on his chest. “Barthelome, he’ll kill you! I couldn’t bear it!”

“I can’t just stand by and--”

She kissed him.

She kissed him, but his lips were cold, dead, and his arms squirmed between them pushing her away. “Delia, you’re married.  I’m married! What would my wife say? My daughter?”

The disgust in his eyes was more than she could bear. Tears streamed down her face. She hated Marcel, but more than that, she hated herself. She hated what she had become. She was Marcel’s soiled ragdoll, fucked and battered and hungry for any kind of love. A pathetic, desperate harlot. Beaten because she deserved it.

She fled then, out the door and into the night, her feet splattering muck on her white dress, dropping her shawl behind her so she could sprint unhindered.

“There is power in anger, but there’s also poison,” the crone warned when she arrived at her shop, full of tears and bruises.

“I don’t care.”

The old crone nodded, then showed her the ritual. “Beg Legba, then, to send a message to Kalfu.  Let them feast on your rage and they will grant you power. If Kalfu has not had his fill, if your fire burns low, he will not favor you. I hate to think what Marcel might do to you if you are too bold.”

She had cut Marcel shaving, and for the first time the beating she suffered felt good. An easy death was too good for him. She would see his face writhe in agony, have him understand how he’d underestimated her. 

“Carve the mark into the doll with a blade bathed in his blood,” the old crone had said.

This time, Delia had disobeyed the crone.

Delia crashed back into the nightmare, to the wreckage of her life, her home. She looked past her husband’s angry screams, her child’s ragged sobs, to the symbol carved in the back of the boy’s neck with his own father’s blood.

“This is what I’ll do to your face and your son’s,” Marcel screamed as the table exploded into pieces with the force fists. Sweat glistened over his solid muscles, wetting even his hands. Her son wriggled free and fled to the safety of his mother’s arms. Delia clutched her son as her husband approached, slowly, menacingly, a tower of muscle and fury. She whispered the words then. Yes she was afraid, yes she hated herself. But she hated him more. Revulsion and rage fused into to one, for who she could not say.

She stood then, sickness and power flowing through her veins.

“I don’t think you will.” There was venom in her voice.

“My, my, ma poupée. How bold you are. I’ll do as I please with my own son.”

“That mark on his neck. What happens to the boy, happens to you.”

“Is that so, ma poupée?” Marcel chuckled dismissively. He picked up the broken leg of their dinner table, hefting it like a bat. “Maybe you shoulda put that mark on yourself,” Marcel said, an evil gleam in his eye.

This would be the last time he beat her.

Delia lifted her son’s arm and snapped it at the forearm.

The wooden bludgeon fell to the ground. Marcel shrieked in pain, as did her son. Her husband’s forearm hung limply, a hinge where it should be firm. He looked up at his wife in horror.

“If I’d have done that,” this time the evil gleam was in her eyes, “you’d never know how much I hated you.”

Delia snapped her son’s neck.[/quote]
Fantasy Faction sanctioned account for anonymous submissions in the monthly writing contest. Each post by this account may be from a different user.

Any members interested in submitting anonymously, please contact a mod.