CPC #2: The Eagle’s Mountain
Prompts Used: 3
Photos Submitted: 1
Artwork Submitted: 3
Total Points: 11
Have you ever dreamed of flying?
I have. Only once, but it was a dream I shall never forget.
It started with trouble. I was climbing a hill, a gigantic hill, and it felt like I would never reach the top. My legs ached, and people jeered and mocked at me as I plodded upwards. The troubles from my day gathered like clouds overhead, threatening a storm. I was sobbing. I felt trapped, as if I was in a glass jar or a never ending wheel where I could see what happened but never escape the journey. I wished more than anything that I could fly, fly away from the angry crowd and the angry clouds, fly over the hill and land safely on level ground again.
As I was thinking this, a man appeared right in my path, walking down the hill toward me. I looked at him, panting. He looked strangely familiar, though I certainly had never seen him before. His face… how can I explain? It was like the faces of all the people I had met combined, yet it was somehow different than any face I had seen. The features themselves were plain enough, but somehow his face as a whole was indescribably beautiful. I had a feeling that if I could just brush away the fog in my head, I would recognize the man, but I felt that he had hidden a part of himself from me for some reason, on purpose.
The man looked at me and his whole face was kindness. He spoke softly, but with great power surging beneath the surface of his voice. “Child, do you want to fly?”
I nodded breathlessly, too tired to speak. And then suddenly the scene changed, the way dreams do, and the man was a man no longer, but a huge, majestic eagle standing before me with his wings outspread. I didn’t need it to tell me what to do; I knew. I climbed on the eagle’s back. It was solid beneath me, but soft and silky with feathers that eased my aching body. I buried my fingers in the soft white feathers around the eagle’s neck and held on tightly.
The eagle flapped once, twice, three times with his mighty wings, and we rose. I was flying. We spiraled higher and higher until the ground was spread out below us. It was beautiful. The land was smooth and flat in some places, but interrupted everywhere with hills – tall hills, short hills, hills of all sizes and heights. I could barely make out the hill I had been climbing among them. From up here it looked so small, and I smiled and shook my head to think how terrified I had been of climbing it. Why, there were so many other, bigger hills around – I should be grateful I didn’t have to climb those!
“You are right, my child,” the eagle said, as if it had heard my thoughts. “Every hill looks unclimbable until you reach the top. Sometimes you need to fly up, away from the hills, to look with your soul, not your eyes. From here you can see that they aren’t really hills at all – only a bump in the road. Let me show you something, child. This is the tallest hill of them all.”
The eagle was soaring closer and closer to something dark and huge looming up in front of us. It wasn’t a hill – it was a mountain. A mountain towering far, far above everything else. The tip was so high that it was covered with snow, and nothing grew there except a strange looking tree with a tall trunk and three branches. The eagle flew closer and I saw it was an enormous cross. A ring of thorny vines hung from the tip, and deep red drops of blood were dripping from it and staining the clean white snow.
The eagle glided downwards and landed on the horizontal crossbar. I climbed off its back and sat down beside him on the thick, rough board. From here we can barely see any hills at all. Everything looks flat and far away.
“Has anyone climbed this mountain?” I asked the eagle incredulously.
The eagle nodded. “Someone has climbed all of these hills, including this one.”
I looked down at the cold snow below me and shivered. “But who would have the strength to climb all the way up here? It would take years and years – maybe your whole life. And I could barely make it up my own hill even though it was so small. Are you sure someone climbed it?” I said skeptically.
The eagle smiled (somehow, in my dream, I knew it was a smile, though he had no mouth, exactly). “I am sure, child. I know because it was I who climbed it.”
I laughed. “Oh, well that explains it. You can just fly from the bottom to the top of this mountain without any effort at all!”
The eagle shook its head. “You are right, my child, I could have if I wanted to, but that was not the purpose of this hill. Hills are for climbing, not for flying over. Climbing makes you stronger, it makes you grateful for the flat places. I could have flown, but I did not. I chose to climb this mountain as a man, just as all humans must climb their own hills. It was a hard journey, but I made it for you, so you wouldn’t have to climb it someday like I did.”
I was puzzled. Sure it was tall and steep, but the eagle seemed unduly serious about how terrible it was. What was so bad about this mountain?”
The eagle sighed deeply. “At the top of this mountain stands Death. Death would stand on top of every hill except if someone walked up to it willingly once, and faced it even though he had made a pure and perfect journey. So I did it. I walked up this mountain and straight into Death’s arms, so he would leave your hill for me.”
” It was not easy – oh it was not easy, but I did it. I never flew, never wavered on the path, never took a wrong turn, although I was tempted to many, many times. It was not easy. But I did it. When Death saw me coming he grasped me in a deadly embrace and wrestled with me, but I overcame him. I overcame Death and left him pale and weak, only able to keep his terrible arms locked around someone for a short while until he had to let them go again. Yes, child, I climbed this mountain so you wouldn’t see this cross at the top of your hill.”
I had been looking far out at the landscape while the eagle talked, and when I turned to it now, I see that the man is standing there again. After hearing his story, I looked at him with new respect. What he has told me tickles my mind and I searched all its corners to find a match for his face, but there is none.
“Who are you?” I asked at last.
The man looked at me again, his dark eyes reaching into me and gently touching my sore soul. “I am who I am,” he said. Suddenly he was a lion, an enormous, magnificent lion with a rich golden mane and powerful limbs. He roared: the most terrible, glorious, frightening sound I have ever heard, and I scrambled back in terror. But before I came to the edge of the cross he changed again, this time into a small lamb, snowy white save for a dark fountain of crimson blood streaming from one side. I gasped and rushed forward to help it, but suddenly the lamb vanished and there was the eagle again. Its bright eyes gazing piercingly into mine with a gaze that was both soothingly soft and unbearably sharp.
“I am all of these things and more. I am the One who was and is and is to come. But I will show you the form in which perhaps you know me best. The eagle vanished and there was the man again, but he was changed. I could tell he had pulled back just a corner of the veil he covered himself with, and from that corner glory and light streamed from it so strongly that I fell on my knees and wept both in tremendous fright and aching adoration. He came to me and held out his hand to pull me up. It was pierced with a deep, dark scar in the middle of his palm, where nail had been driven through it long ago. He grasped my hand and pulled me up.
“That is who I am, child, and more. You are not yet ready to see all of me, but have you seen enough to remember who I am now?”
All I could do was cry. I didn’t know if they were tears of fright or tears of happiness, but I couldn’t stop. The man looked on me with such unbearable kindness that I dropped my eyes and put my head to the ground, shaking with sobs. I was ashamed. How could I be so self-pitying about myself and my tiny hill when he had climbed this whole mountain, and without straying from the right path? I couldn’t bear it.
Finally, the man knelt beside me and took my face in his hands. I looked up hesitatingly, and to both my utter relief and devastating sadness saw that he had veiled himself again. “Come, child. It is time for you to go back to your own hill now. Do you think you are ready?” I nodded, sniffling. I climbed on the eagle’s back (he had changed to an eagle again), and we flew away from the mountain and down, down to my own little hill where I reluctantly slid off, my hand lingering on the eagle’s creamy feathers. But before I could tell it goodbye, it faded away before my eyes.
No, I wanted to scream, this can’t be happening. Don’t leave me here to walk this hill alone again!
But I wasn’t alone. I looked up and saw the eagle circling there. I looked to my left and saw a lion standing in the distance, its mane rippling in the wind. I looked to my right and saw a little lamb grazing nearby. And finally, after many days of walking (though it was only a short time in my dream), I reached the top of the hill and there was the man, standing there with open arms, waiting for me.
That’s the only time I ever dreamed I could fly, but it’s the only time I need. The dream is imprinted in my memory. Now when I come too a hill that seems too big to climb, I close my eyes,
Loren’s hosting a writing challenge called Creating Worlds Writing Contest (or CWWC for short). This year I’m on Team Narnia. GO TEAM NARNIA! Ahem. As I was saying, I’ll post all my entries on this page. Enjoy!
CWWC #3, Challenge #1. Prompts used: All three.
Things I Wanted To Say But Never Did
I loved you before you were born, and I loved you the moment I heard your first cry. I love you now and always will.
Darling, that is why I let you go. I could not let you be the outcast, the untouchable one, like I was from the very beginning. For though you yourself are whole and beautiful, I am broken beyond repair. My lips were touched with silence since the beginning. Though I wanted to talk to you a thousand times, I never could, for I have no voice.
But I have been watching you, silently and earnestly from the day I set you down on the orphanage steps.
When you learned to walk, I watched through the windows with delight, wishing my arms could receive you when you fell.
When you learned to talk, I breathed a prayer of thanks, for I knew then that your lips had not been burned by my touch.
When you happened to look at me in passing, I turned away and hid my face. When I saw the pain in your eyes, I wondered if I had made the right choice.
When you and your friends went to the park, I was the woman sitting on the bench beneath the willows. I felt like the statue on the gazebo: frozen, unable to speak to you, unable even to come too close for fear I would sweep you into my arms and never let you go again.
When you rode the bus back to the orphanage, I was there, behind the partition that separates the blemished from the whole.
My darling, I’ve seen you on your good days and your bad days, and I love you all the same.
This is what I would tell you, if I could speak.
The girl closed the notebook, ran her fingers over the cover with the taped-on label and creased black paper. She closed her eyes and sobbed quietly. Then she opened the book and wrote,
Though you were blind and deaf and could not feel my touch, though you were disfigured beyond recognition, I would come to you. I have been waiting for you all this time, Mother. Please take me home.
Then she gently placed the book on the bench underneath the willow tree and flew to the orphanage to wait for Silence to arrive.
Challenge #2. Prompts Used: 2
The street where Alice lived was divided in half. On one side stood a neat row of well-kept, brightly colored cottages. On the other, a straggling procession of old, worn-out houses. The people who lived on that side of the street didn’t much care to keep up appearances, mostly because there weren’t any people who lived there. No one had lived in those houses for years and years.
It was strange. No one quite knew why they had stood empty all this time. It wasn’t that anyone thought them haunted, and it wasn’t because they were worthless; in fact, they could have been grand houses had anyone taken time to fix them up. There was just… something about them, as if their inhabitants had had to all flee at once a long time ago, and the houses and everything in them had frozen, waiting for them to return.
At least that was Alice’s theory. She had lots of theories about lots of different things. Most of the time people didn’t care to listen to her theories, so Alice explained them to herself or to her pet beta fish, Larold.
“Larold, dear,” she confided to him one day, “I know The Houses are supposed to be unsafe because they might fall down on us and squash us to a gruesome death, but I feel rather daring today. I have been working up the courage for this for years, and I finally feel ready. Don’t you, my pet?”
Larold nodded vigorously. Or that’s what Alice believed. To anyone else he only seemed to have swum upwards and then downwards again, trying to find a way out of his bowl.
Alice was delighted. “Then let us be off at once!” she exclaimed. She pushed on the lid to Larold’s bowl and hefted him gently into her green wagon. Larold went with her everywhere in this way. He was a remarkably well-traveled fish. Together they rolled out the door and down the sidewalk, Alice humming a tune and Larold accompanying her. Or blowing bubbles. One of the two.
Soon they reached the large gray house that Alice could see from her bedroom window. Her eyes cut back and forth nervously. Suddenly, she heard a noise coming from inside the house.
“Larold, it sounds like… the rattle of chains!” Alice whispered, her eyes wide. “What if that’s some poor innocent prisoner who has been trapped inside since the Great House Exodus.”
Larold eyed her doubtfully.
“Good thinking,” Alice mused. “Besides, how would he eat if he was in chains? Nevertheless, I think we should go check it out. Whoever-it-is still might need rescuing, even if they’re not a prisoner.”
The door was covered in spiderwebs and creaky with age. It squealed horribly when Alice pushed it open, and she shuddered. The house was as gray inside as outside. There was an enormously thick covering of dust over everything… except one small room, which was swept and washed perfectly clean. And there, huddled in the corner, sat a very small boy. He was sobbing quietly and moving a short length of black chain back and forth with his chubby fingers.
Continued in challenge 3.
Challenge #3. Prompts Used: All three
It was getting worse every day. The mystery was all I thought about anymore. How could anyone be so cruel, so bold, and yet so utterly mysterious? Didn’t they know I was only trying to help?
The day I found the Mystery I decided to try a path I had never walked before. Tangled vines and stems of thorns conspired together to keep me out, but that only made me more determined. When I looked closely, I could see that someone had used this path and consciously tried to cover that fact. Though the thorns arched innocently overhead, the ground they covered was trampled.
I was curious, of course. I’m always curious. There’s a rather unfortunate saying that goes “Curiosity killed the cat.” It’s unfortunate because my name is Cat. Well, it’s Catharine really, but no one calls me that; I think it sounds too long and dignified for an adventurous tomboy. Besides, cats are great.
Anyway, I forged through the brambles and got thorns in my jeans and burrs in my ponytail, but I was glad. Thorns and burrs are symbols of a great adventure.
After tramping along for quite a while I came upon a rather odd sight. It was a small wooden shack, way out here in the middle of the woods. And judging by the clothes hanging over the railing and the packed dirt yard, someone was living there. A very sloppy someone.
I was about to give a shrug and walk on when I heard a loud, hacking cough coming from inside. This wasn’t your usual polite clearing-of-throat cough, it was deep and sharp, like whoever was in there was very, very sick.
Being me, which is to say being outgoing, compassionate, and more than a little nosy, I decided to see if they needed my help. What a great idea, Cat.
I hopped up the sagging steps and rapped lightly on the door. Immediately, the coughing stopped. Silence. And no one opened the door either. I cleared my throat and called,
“Excuse me, I just wondered if you needed any help-”
“NO HELP,” a woman’s voice roared back from inside. The voice sounded ancient, but surprisingly strong. “GO AWAY.”
I backed up a few steps. “O-okay,” I fumbled, “I was just-”
“I SAID LEAVE.” The voice broke off into a fit of violent coughing again.
“Listen, ma’am,” I began firmly, “I know I’m just a stranger, but it really sounds like you need some… assistance. Just let me know what you need-”
“I NEED YOU TO LEAVE.”
I sighed. Well then. “Alright ma’am, I’ll go.” Sheesh! But as I walked away, I wondered if she was telling the truth.
At last I reached the small, white-painted brick house where I lived, and gasped. What on earth? Someone had taken a thick black Sharpie and written these words in capital letters: ASK NO QUESTIONS AND YOU’LL GET NO LIES.
What was going on?
The air was cool and crisp and smelled of autumn leaves baking in the sun. I actually had to wear a heavy jacket to go outside now, though I shed it once I’d worked up a sweat hiking. I’d trekked past the mysterious shack a few more times since summer, but each time I heard nothing and walked on. This time, however, I heard the coughing again. It sounded worse, if that was possible. I could barely keep myself from barging in and helping the poor woman, but even I knew how odd and rude it would be for a stranger to walk right into someone’s house without permission.
I shivered, standing there in the sharp breeze. I searched the chimney for signs of smoke, but saw none. I surveyed the shack again, saw how rundown and worn out it was. From the looks of the holes in the clothes hung over the railing, I was pretty sure the old woman wasn’t camping here for a fun getaway. She must not be very well, I thought, to not even be able to start a fire on a chilly day.
Then I had an idea. I jogged back to my house and grabbed a pack of matches from the drawer in the kitchen, scribbled a quick note, and taped it on. No matter what you say, I want to help you. Use these to start a fire and maybe it will help your cough. I would start it for you myself, but I know how that would make you feel. I arrived back at the shack breathless, and set about gathering a pile of dry sticks and logs.
Then I put the firewood on the sagging porch, perched the matchbox on top, and knocked at the door again.
“I left you something,” I shouted, and raced away to hide behind a tree and watch. I waited and waited and WAITED, but nothing happened except some more coughing. I sighed. Well if she wanted to ignore me, fine. She would find the matches soon.
I felt a rush of warm air as I opened the door into my own house. It felt wonderful. I threw off my jacket and sneakers and sped up the stairs to my room. I was looking forward to finishing the library book I’d borrowed. It was on my bed where I had left it, but when I turned to the page I was on, my eyes widened. The pages were burnt. You could still read a few words here and there, but the rest of them were completely blacked out and singed.
Speechless, I held out the book and flipped through a few more pages. A note dropped out.
Ask me no questions,
I’ll tell you no lies.
Give me no matches,
And I’ll light no fires.
You’d better back down
If you want to be wise.
You don’t want to see me;
Cover your eyes.
[continued in challenge 6]
Challenge #4. Prompts Used: All three
One Friday morning when I walked to the back of the art studio where I worked, I saw a new girl there. She was engrossed in her work, painting picture after picture of space: planets and stars and galaxies. She was so caught up in her painting that she didn’t even hear me come in. In fact, she didn’t even answer when I complimented her art. I walked right up to her and repeated, “that’s some fine work you got there.” Still no answer. I was beginning to think this girl incredibly rude when Lizzy Aro, the owner of the store, tapped the girl on her shoulder, and pointed to me, winking.
The girl started and turned around, smiling apologetically. She waved a little hello. But still she did not speak. She caught Lizzy’s gaze and gestured wildly with her hands. I was puzzled. Lizzy gestured back, and then I knew.
The girl was deaf, and they were using sign-language.
“This is Sarah,” she said to me while moving her hands rapidly for the girl. “And this is Brent. He’s a regular around here.” She grinned. “Sarah says to tell you thank you for the compliment.” I just nodded in reply. I was a little stunned that those beautiful paintings could be done by someone… well, someone handicapped, I suppose. I’m ashamed to admit it, but that’s what I thought. I had never met anyone deaf before.
I was gripped with a sudden fascination for Sarah and her paintings. My next thought was that I wanted to learn sign-language. After all, if I was going to be working with this girl, I might as well learn to speak to her. “Can you teach me how to speak with Sarah?” I asked Lizzy.
Day after day I stayed a little later at the studio as slowly, painstakingly, I learned to speak the silent language that Sarah knew. As my knowledge grew, so did my admiration for the deaf girl. She was so content, so happy to be where she was and do what she was doing that I could almost forget about her deafness sometimes. Almost. But though I admired her, yet she seemed too far away from me, living in a silent world of her own.
Then one afternoon Sarah jumped up as soon as she saw me. She took me by the hand, her eyes sparkling. I’ve been waiting till I was finished, and now I am, she signed. I want to show you my Space.
She opened the door. The room was small, square, and windowless, and everything – walls, floor, ceiling – was as black as Sarah’s clothes. But she had turned it into a wonderland, a dark sky filled with a dazzling array of painted stars and planets and galaxies, some real and some imagined. Swirling nebulas, marbled moons, sparkling stars.
Sarah closed the door and led me into the middle of the room. Now I noticed that the stars and planets were glowing in the dark. I turned around and around, trying to take it all in. I felt as if I was floating in space, with the planets so real and so close I could actually reach out and touch them. There was nothing to break up the great expanse of the stars except more stars. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
“Oh, Sarah,” I whispered into the dark, even though she couldn’t hear me. “Oh, Sarah!” I squeezed her hand hard and she squeezed mine back.
I stretched out on the floor and gazed up at the ceiling. It felt so real, almost terrifyingly real. Perhaps any moment now the floor would drop out from under me and I would drop into space, flying through the air without a space suit.
I could hardly believe my eyes, and I wanted to stay there forever. But Lizzy poked her head through the door and broke the spell.
“Pretty amazing, huh? Betcha never seen anything like that before, huh?” She grinned proudly, almost as proudly as if she had painted it herself.
“It’s beautiful, alright,” I agreed. Then I turned to Sarah and haltingly told her my thoughts.
She beamed. And then she laughed. In that moment the invisible wall between us was broken down and I not only admired her, but loved her.
The next week was Sarah’s birthday. I knew just the present I wanted to get her: a cake. A chocolate cake covered in smooth black fondant with swirling sprinkle galaxies and sparkling sugar stars. And printed on top in fancy script, “You’re as pretty as a planet.” Most people would have given me an odd look and backed away, but Sarah knew. It was one of the greatest compliments you could give her.
She didn’t speak, didn’t make a sound, but the look in her eyes told me what she was thinking. She threw her arms around me and looked at me gratefully.
Challenge 5. Prompts Used: All three
In a world of black and white,
I am gray.
There are good people
and bad people,
and then there’s me.
In a place where you are
one or the other
I am both.
And where I live,
both is no good.
People are afraid of Both,
for how can you predict
a being that feels two ways
So they led me to
the highest point:
the Giant’s Thumb,
a rocky crag
that points to a valley
filled with rolling fog
and spilling over with waterfalls
“Here is your land.
Here are your people.
You can be black
Or you can be white.
or we will choose for you.
Spread your wings,
or we will spread them from you.
And if you don’t…
The Forbidden Valley
It is gray too.
See? It welcomes you.”
What was I to do?
I spread my wings
I flew neither
to the right
to the left,
but straight up into the sky.
For a moment,
I was free
but I should have known
my wings would not hold me.
Each wing wanted
to go a different way.
They tore themselves apart,
and now all that is left is
a skeleton of hopes and dreams.
So now I am waiting.
In darkness and silence
I am waiting,
for my people to choose Both.
In a world of black and white,
I am gray.
Challenge #6. Prompts Used: All three
Continued from challenges 2 and 3. Cat’s POV.
I’d had it. This was ridiculous! I set out to the forest to give that old woman a good scolding, and I was prepared to go inside this time whether she wanted me to or not.
When I got to the edge of the forest, a metal sign was placed against the tree: DON’T GO IN THE WOODS. Boy, this woman must really have something to hide. The thought only made me more curious and more determined to finally crack the mystery. I walked boldly up to the shack (which looked worse than ever), and knocked on the door. Everything was quiet. No, silent. There was no coughing, no footsteps… and no breathing. I forgot my anger and was suddenly afraid. What had happened to the old woman? Was she…
All at once I pushed open the door, rushed inside, and… nothing. There was absolutely nothing inside. No furniture, no wood in the tumble-down fireplace, no food on the shelves. Just a tiny wooden room with a sloping floor and a hole in the ceiling.
But just as I turned to leave, I noticed a piece of paper attached to the back of the door with a rusty nail. It read, I don’t want you to find me yet.
I tromped outside to think of a Plan B, but I didn’t get the chance. Some guy with black clothes and quiver full of arrows stopped me.
“You’re trespassing,” he growled.
Alice furrowed her brow. “What should we do?” she whispered to Larold. Larold swam forward and touched his face to the bowl.
“Good idea,” she whispered, shaking her brown curls sagely. She crept forward towards the boy. “Why are you crying?”
The little boy started and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. “Who are you?” he sniffled.
“My name is Alice, and this is Larold,” she answered, hefting the fishbowl out of the wagon and trotting over to the boy. For some reason seeing the fish made the boy burst into tears again.
“You have a fiiiiiiiishhh,” he wailed, “and I only have an ol’ chaaaaaain.” He held up the black chain forlornly. “I found a snake in the woods and I wanted to keep ‘im, but then Liam took ‘im away and gave me this ol’ chain and told me to pretend it was a snake, ’cause he wanted my snake for a pet even though I found it, and now… now I only have an ol’ chaaaaaaaain.” He crumpled in to a heap on the floor and flung the chain across the room.
Alice blinked thoughtfully. “Well, you can share Larold with me if you want. He isn’t a snake, but he IS the best fish you could hope for.” She looked sideways at the fish and then leaned closer to the boy and whispered, “I wanted a pony, but my parents gave me Larold instead. Don’t tell him though; you’ll hurt his feelings. He’s an awfully nice fish. Not as good as a pony, but almost, ‘cept you can’t ride him.”
The boy hesitated. “Well, a snake would be best, but I guess I’ll share your fish at least till Liam gives me my snake back.” And with that, the boy smiled, wiped his tears, and jumped up happily.
“What d’you wanna play?”
Alice was somewhat surprised at this abrupt change of mood, but she just said, “First you have to tell me your name.”
“Oh. Benji. My actual realistical name is Ben-ja-min, but I can’t say it good so I’m just Benji. Now, what should we do? Let’s play with Larold!”
Alice was about to agree when they heard a muffled sound from under the floor. A cough.
The two children looked at each other with wide eyes.
“Let’s go see who it is,” Benji whispered.
Alice nodded. “Maybe it’s a prisoner that needs rescuing.”
They crept downstairs, stirring up an enormous cloud of dust. The steps creaked under their feet. They came to an old, dusty door with an old, dusty doorknob. The doorknob creaked too, when Alice turned it.
Alice and Benji stared into the dark room, and saw three figures: an old, old woman with a hunched back whose face they couldn’t see, a tall young man with dark clothing, and a young girl with blonde hair who wore a shocked expression.
Challenge #7. Prompts Used: All three
The young man didn’t give me much of a choice. I went with him. “She is ready to see you now,” he said, and that is all. He led me in silence the rest of the way, out of the woods and down a road I had never been on, till we came to a row of old, broken down houses.
We stopped at one with gray wooden siding and dingy white shutters. He pointed to a small door near the ground and nodded. He gestured for me to go first, then followed behind, shutting the door and trapping us in darkness.
The door opened into a small, dark room filled with layers of dust. The basement. There was a single bare lightbulb shedding a feeble light on the one person seated there: a hunched old woman with a patched, brown cloak that covered her face and most of her body.
Suddenly, I heard an odd sound. At first I thought it was a door creaking on it’s hinges, but then I realized it was the old woman’s voice. It was ancient and slow and as rusty as the metal chair she was sitting on. Apparently it sounded worse when she wasn’t shouting. She must have been coughing a lot.
“Sit down, Catherine.”
How does she know my name? I sat, dusting off another metal chair beside her. Finally, I would crack this mystery.
“I have decided it is time to tell you my story,” she creaked, then broke off into coughs. “But first, let me show you who you’re talking to. My name is Hanna, and…”
She slowly reached up and pulled off her hood. I gasped. “You… dyed it, right?”
The woman shook her head, her head that was covered in short, curly lavender hair. “I was born with violet hair, but it faded as I grew older. The people who used to live in these houses all had hair like mine – in every shade of the rainbow. A whole city of colorful people, with not a brown or black head in sight.”
Just then, another door creaked slowly open and two wide-eyed children peeped in at us. They looked just as startled as I probably did. What were they doing here? Had they been trespassing too? The woman slowly turned her head and beckoned the children in with a gnarled finger. “Come in, Alice, Benjamin. I was just telling Catherine my story, about the people who used to live here.”
The children were startled. Were these all prisoners that needed rescuing? They didn’t look like prisoners. And one of the maybe-prisoners had offered her a story! Alice didn’t know about Benji yet, but she loved stories. But they weren’t supposed to talk to strangers, and this was the strangest stranger they’d ever seen. An old lady who dyed her hair purple?! But the girl looked normal, at least, and she gave them an encouraging nod. Finally Alice’s curiosity won her over and she pulled Benji (and Larold) inside. Now with an increased audience of four people and a fish, the old woman resumed her tale. “But one day they came. The builders. And we saw that they were different. And when the builders saw us… well, they were astonished at first, and then they were angry. They said they couldn’t have people moving into their new houses with us living across the street. So they sent us off.”
“I still remember the day they took us to the train station. It was a special train just for us; no one else could ride along lest they discover our secret. We all passed under a sign that said, ‘LEAVE IMMEDIATELY,’ and we felt as if we were cattle being herded out of the safety of our barn and into the wilderness. It was a terrible day. My people rode the train for days and days, then boarded a ship and crossed the ocean to a small, unmapped island where we were left with clothes, food, and other supplies to get us started in creating a new city.”
“And create we did. The ground was covered in terrible thorns and fierce insects with fiery bites, so we built wooden half-tubes on stilts as roads connecting all of our tree houses to each other. When it rained, the children climbed down from our houses and ran laughing to the roads. We slid and slipped down those tubes like water slides.”
“But excuse me. I was saying ‘we’ when I meant ‘they.’ You see, I stayed here. Me, and my friend, Leisel. It was nearly impossible for them to keep track of all of us, and after we reached the train station, Leisel and I just slipped away. We had agreed to that before, with our families and our people. Although they were sad to leave us, they understood. We all felt that someone needed to stay here, that we couldn’t just desert our homeland like this. And we promised that someday, we would come find them.”
“And we did. One year, many, many years ago, Liesel and I dyed our hair brown and hired a sailor to take us to the island. My mother had pressed a paper into my hand before she left, with the coordinates of their destination that she had overheard from one of the builders. They wouldn’t have left us behind if they hadn’t known we could find them again.”
“After that trip, I returned alone. Leisel had decided to stay with her family. I wanted to – oh how I wanted to! – but I knew someone had to stay with our homeland. And besides, I had married a man here, the only man who knew my secret. And we had a son, and then a grandson, and then a great-grandson. That great-grandson is Jackson, the boy who brought you here.”
Alice, Benji, and Cat all glanced up at the boy, searching for color in his hair. “His hair is normal, don’t worry,” Hanna chuckled. “The color fades quickly with the passing of generations.” She let out a long, ragged sigh.
“And now I come near the end of my story. I have been living here, hiding in the woods ever since my husband Peter passed away. Jackson is my eyes. He regularly walks to your neighborhood, Alice and Benjamin, and sometimes to yours too, Catherine, if I have a certain job for him to do.” She looked at the blonde girl meaningfully with her faded, watery eyes. “And that is my story. I have fought against telling it to anyone for years, but when the coughing started and you knocked on my door, Catherine, I realized I should tell someone my story before it was too late. And Alice and little Benji, I know you have always been curious about these houses. Now you finally know the reason for the Great House Exodus.” She smiled sadly, then looked each of the children in the eye. “Do you believe me?”
Alice and Benji nodded readily, still being at the stage where they believed almost anything, especially exciting stories like this one. But Cat wavered. “I’m… not sure,” she said. “I’ve never heard anything like this from you, and, well, I can’t help feeling like you’re playing a prank on me.”
Hanna nodded in a tired way. “I was afraid of that. Oh I understand, but I was so hoping you would believe me after I finally opened myself up for you.”
Cat looked down at her hands. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I really am. Just let me think about it.”
Hanna nodded. “This is why I asked: I have only made one trip to my people, and no one knows where the island is located except myself. I have been selfish with my secret, fearing lest it slip out and others would find it and bring my people harm. But I am ready to tell Jackson now, and you three as well, if you will accept my story as truth. Because Jackson wants to sail to the island and live there, but if he does not come back and I die, there will be no one left here who knows my secret. Oh I know I could tell my son and grandson, but they are grown up now, and grown-ups will not so readily believe stories like this. You know, of course, that this is a true story, but they don’t know.”
“So if you are ready to believe, I will tell you where to find my people so that one day, you too can visit them, and help them if there should come a need. I will go with Jackson, now, and live out my last days with my people. Are you ready?”
This day had been the strangest in my life, and now it had gotten even stranger. This lady was asking me if I believed a crazy story about people with colorful hair and wondering if I wanted to sail over the ocean to see them someday? I… I wasn’t sure what to think.
I looked at Hanna again. Her dull cloak, her browned, sagging skin, and her penetrating eyes – I couldn’t even tell what color they were: a drab mix of olive green, brown, and gray. But her hair shone in the dim light, a lovely lilac purple, all the way from root to tip.
I thought about the past few months and the mysterious messages, how serious the old woman had been when she told me the story, how much sorrow and love her ancient eyes held when she spoke of her people. And I sighed. The mystery was solved.
“I believe you, Hanna.”
Challenge Eight. Prompts Used: All Three
Many people visit our valley, but none stay for long. We are a tourist town – or more like a tourist trap – and without visitors, we either crumble or go into hibernation mode. Practically the only businesses that stay open in winter are the Walmart, the doctor’s office, and the combination gas station and convenience store, and even then the Tonya forgets to unlock the door some days. She gets bored of standing there among the Tic-Tacs and Advil, blowing bubble gum and waiting for the bell above the door to ring.
Most of the time the townsfolk purchase large quantities of the essentials – road salt, tissue boxes, and hot chocolate – and then hole themselves up in their cozy brick houses, drinking hot cocoa and waiting for winter to pass. Winter in the Valley is serious business. Blizzards blow through regularly, and from December to March it’s rare to glimpse the ground.
It had just dumped the fifth layer of snow that winter when I found the message. I was on my way to Tonya’s to pick up some more marshmallows for my hot chocolate when I noticed it: “we need to talk” scrawled on the snow that covered the windshield of my car.
I probably would have shrugged it off as a prank except when I pulled out of my freshly-shoveled driveway, I noticed scribbles on my neighbors’ windshield too. I squinted through my glasses. Anastasia’s car to my left read “you are beautiful,” Daniel’s car to my right read “don’t give up, your blueprint looks great.” I shook my head. What on earth was going on? Then I had an idea.
I backed out my lane and drove all the way to the other side of the neighborhood. Someone had scribbled notes on every single car that sat outside, and the windows of some garages. I peered through my foggy windshield, driving along slowly, and read, “succulents might work. try ibuprofen. that magic trick was amazing. i love your new dress. congratulations on your new baby. happy birthday, mary. these new gloves should help. your flat tire is fixed. here’s the cornflakes.” On and on the messages marched, all encouraging, mysterious, and… true. They were all true. Tonya had been struggling with headaches but Advil wasn’t helping. Mary’s birthday was today. Sam’s tire had been flat for ages. Asia had been trying to find cornflakes everywhere for a certain chicken recipe. So what about my message? Strangely enough, I felt disappointed – and somewhat alarmed. Why was my message so different? What did it mean?
By now the snow had by now completely disappeared from my windshield and I noticed a soggy piece of paper stuck in one corner. I opened the door and pulled it inside. On the front was written a note and a string of numbers – a phone number.
The note read, “Timothy, this is a great little town. I wish I could stay her forever and keep watching all your delightful neighbors, but the mission is in jeopardy and I must hustle to my new post. You are far too valuable to live here now, with the danger that’s approaching. Don’t you remember where you belong? No one stays in the Valley for long… and there’s a reason for that. A reason no one knows but you. Search your memories, and call me when you figure it out. Your days of hiding are over. The mission is ready to be completed, and we need your help.” It was signed, “your Agent, Brendt.”