We cut trails through the woods with rusted machetes we stole from the garage of that empty house down the street. We swung the machetes like skilled explorers making our way through the violent jungle, breaking branches, injuring tree trunks, slicing the dirt in front of us. You explored your way right into the path of a water moccasin, its fangs breaking through the back of your ankle, the holes in your flesh covered by mud and moss. And I dragged you all the way to your house, to your father, and I watched as your mom panicked, called an ambulance and smashed her hand in the screen door, the droplets of blood marking the way for the medics. And I listened to your dad blame me, and then I listened to my dad blame me, and I wondered if you would blame me. But you didn't. Because you died. LS
COTTONMOUTH by Sandra Ketcham
TRAPPED by Jane C. Chute
The time draws near, and she feels the anxiety building.
Her palms moisten; her lips parch. Her heart beats a staccato rhythm that echoes in her ears. The air around her is cloying, the heat oppressive. She tries to breathe, only to find her chest more constricted with each inhalation. She looks around for an escape route. There is none.
Her captor thinks her beautiful at the worst of times, and so in a rare act of kindness toward him, she has made an effort to look her best. This guise -- the costume, the painted visage -- it has all been arranged for his pleasure. Her legs buckle slightly under the crushing weight of his will, now so overpowering she knows it will bring about her demise.
Despite her delicate frame, her footfalls pound the earth with the weight of a thousand sledgehammers. She feels his presence, edging ever closer, and knows she cannot let him sense the fear that dwells within her breast. Any second now, he'll appear before her and the life she has known will cease to exist.
How did she get here? Details of the events that led to this moment blur in her mind, then fade away. Blindsided by his charm, she’d fallen victim easily. Now at his mercy, she cannot fight back. She has no choice but to succumb, and let her daemon suitor emerge victorious. Though her inner turmoil rages on, outwardly she is powerless: a simpering coward, unable to break free.
The time has come. She goes to him a willing victim: the lamb, choosing her own slaughter. The world collapses upon itself and she is oblivious to all save for the man, the murderer, standing before her.
She wipes the tears from her eyes and turns to him, resigned and accepting of her fate. A breathy whisper emerges from somewhere -- someone -- deep inside. With determination, she opens her mouth to speak and seals her fate.
“I Do.” LS
WISE MEN FOLD by ED Martin
We awoke one morning and he was there. No one knew who he was, where he came from. He said he wanted work. It was harvest time and we needed all the help we could get, so the village elders agreed he could stay for the season, which surprised us; we’re not accepting of strangers. But we do as the elders say.
He was a hard worker. Competent. Quiet. Did as he was told. And slowly, he gained our trust.
Slowly, he began making suggestions for improvements. “Perhaps try pulling the plow like this?” he’d say. “Maybe stack the hay bales this way?” Harmless little things.
The village elders were upset. We’d always done things our way. Even if they weren’t the best ways, they were our ways. Who was this stranger to tell us differently?
But the elders let us try the stranger's ways, and they worked. And so he was accepted into our village.
Accepted by most, that is. One of the elders, the oldest and wisest, wouldn't fold. He railed against the stranger. “He’s trouble, is what he is!” he spat. “The elders before us are spinning in their graves. Mark my words, no good will come of him. I’ve seen it before, believe you me!”
We laughed at the eldest, the other elders joining us. Told him he’d gone daft in his old age. He stomped down to the cemetery near the river, sat on the bank under a tree and sulked. We soon forgot about him.
The stranger was one of us now, though we still knew little about him. He continued to make suggestions, but now they were mixed with orders, demands. “Give me half the wheat crop, to sell at faraway markets where it’ll bring a better price,” he told us. “Make me fine shirts of linen, to prove to them I’m not a backwards country farmer.”
The village elders folded to his demands. “He's improved our crops. He’s brought us forward. Give him whatever he wants, with glad hearts!”
The eldest, of course, protested. “He’ll take our crops, the best our village has to offer, and we’ll never hear tale of him again! The elders before us are spinning in their graves. Mark my words, no good will come of him. I’ve seen it before, believe you me!”
We laughed again, told him sitting in the sun had softened his mind. He again stomped down to the river. We soon forgot about him.
The night before our traders were set to leave for the faraway markets, our village had a large celebration. Drinking, dancing. We feted our stranger, who’d brought us forward.
We awoke the next morning and the stranger was gone, with our wagons of grain. With several of our strong young boys. With my sister, and the sisters of others as well. With our future.
The next year, another stranger appeared. He was shot on sight. LS