This book is comprised of flash fiction stories dealing mostly with death, dying, and the problems of those not dead yet.
I sit up all day in a blue chair with a blanket to protect my skin from the stiff vinyl. I nap as often as they let me. Someone is always waking me up for one thing or another.
“Time for your meds.”
“Do you want a snack, dear?”
“Time for sing-a long.”
All these interruptions irritate me, but I can do nothing more than glare at the intruder who dared disturb me. I’m not very good, I guess, because they are after me all day long. Meds, meals and afternoon mayhem.
They even bring children in to see me. Children with sticky hands and wide eyes. Children know why I want to sleep all day. They know the monster that only comes out when it’s dark and people are asleep. Unaware of what they fear the most. So I wink at them to let them know that I know it, too. They usually back away as if I will bring it into being: as afraid of me as that monster.
I try to delay ending the evening meal. Taking my time sipping cold decaffeinated coffee sweetened with imitation sugar, until they take me away to my room at the head of the stairs. I like my room. It’s right across from their break room. I can hear people come in and out all night. Bits of conversation and muffled laughter float in and I can ponder on what they are saying.
This one has in-laws coming to visit, that one has a date and all have a hard time staying awake. I can’t trust them to protect me at night. They come in to check me twice almost every night. See if I have wet myself. I have never wet myself, but they check anyway. Some nights, when it’s busy, they skip checking me. They know I don’t wet myself.
I indicate I want to get up and they always say, “Wait until it’s time.”
I don’t have time, I try to say, but my tongue refuses to spit out the words.
Sometimes I see the door to the stairs open. All I ever see is a big white pillow in the arms of someone. Something. I can hear the sounds of leaves rustling in the wind of a dark cemetery slowly moving down the hallway.
And the pillow goes into a room and I can hear the startled gasp at the sight of the visitor and the responding grunt. I’ve counted nine times that I have heard this played out since I have become aware of the monster with pillows. Once it stopped outside my door. I opened my eyes as wide as I could. I brushed the plastic cup of water off my night table onto the floor, making a nice loud tinkling drumbeat.
My people came rushing in to see what the noise was and to check if I wet myself. Pillow monster edged back out of sight and no one was chosen that night. That was the only time it stopped for me
If I stay awake and listen for it, I can make it leave me alone. That fact I have proven.
I will not die tonight. Take my hand in the daylight and I will float away with you. But I refuse to be taken in the night by a pillow wielding figure of Death.
Trembling, I shook leaves and rain from my cloak and hung it to dry beside the fireplace. Nitsia stretched before leaving my chair to walk away from me, her tail showing me her disgust at having water drops fall onto her fur. She perched by the fire, waiting for me to sit in my rocking chair, her eyes staring at me as if she knew what I needed to say.
“There are three men are working their way up the mountain, Nitsia.”
My voice sounds as old as Gran’s did just before she left us. I had tried to keep hidden from the world of men and violence, but I had always known it would end someday. Gran had prepared me for the possibility that men would find our home.
“Men!” I spit into the fire and listened to the resulting hiss.
I began to ready myself and my home for my visitors. I carefully measured my dried Jack in the Pulpit root with spring water and drank it quickly. If I had time tomorrow I would drink thistle tea to insure no children came of the meeting.
But now I needed to bring out my special elderberry wine, made with green berries and honey locust blossoms. I hid my bottles of good wine in the cellar with my food supplies and herbs. I closed the cellar door, covering it with a stack of logs, hiding any evidence of its existence.
By the time I was finished I was no longer afraid. I braided my hair tightly, rubbing it with mud from the spring. I used the mud to turn my skin a deep brown, grinding it into my knuckles, making myself as dirty as possible. I drank some walnut bark tea to stain my teeth. Looking into a pail of water, I didn’t recognize myself. I saw my Gran looking back at me, only she had my eyes. I winked at the reflection. I was a little relieved to see the image wink back.
Putting on my oldest gown I had done all Gran had taught me so I slipped into sleep with Nitsia curled into my arms. The men should be here by noon tomorrow if they didn’t get lost or give up. I couldn’t count on that happening, though. There was much to be done before they arrived.
I rose early, before the sun could bring my location into view, grabbing everything that told my story. I buried all my hand carved figurines of the Goddess under the straw in the chicken coop. I hid my flute on top of the center rafter. Putting all my herbal containers in the hole of the pine tree was the final smoothing over of myself. I didn’t exist anymore.
I ate a hearty break-my-fast, making sure everything was cleaned and put away. I built up the fire, even though the day’s light boded warm temperatures. I dumped the ingredients for a special stew into the pot, layering the wild onions with freshly picked mushrooms, adding enough herbs to hide any bitterness. My traps had given me a quail, fattened on hemlock berries, which I added to the pot. I poured the water I had saved and covered the pot, swinging it onto the fire with a satisfying grunt.
As I looked around my home I realized that there was nothing more to be done now. Picking up a well-worn and faded skirt, I began to rock, sewing and humming my Gran to my spirit. My fingers began to ache as my voice started to quiver on some of the notes. I was ready.
The door flew open and surprised me even though I thought I was prepared. I managed to stay in the chair, though I wanted to reach for my walking staff and defend myself.
I yelped and shouted, “Who comes here”?
“We will ask the questions, old woman. Where is your maid?”
“My maid ran off last harvest with a soldier she found hiking his way to adventure. Romance and battle. Hah! May they both find what they seek. ”
I grunted as if to belay my words, looking up to see the callous face of a short but well-built countryman. Beside him was a larger, dirtier version, holding a short sword. The third man must be checking the perimeter. I prayed he didn’t decide to kill my cow, Dearie.
“What can this old woman do for you strong handsome men?” I allowed myself a thin lipped smile. “Perhaps you are thirsty? I have some wine I can share.”
The heat of the fire was turning their faces red while the sweat began to glisten on their foreheads. There was no place for them to sit other than my rocker.
“Ye might want to set yourselves down outside on that big log by the side of the well,” trying to sound helpful. “I’ll bring a bottle of wine for you both to drink while I fix you something to eat.”
Glancing at his companion the smaller man agreed with a nod adding, “Bring three bottles, woman.”
I went to get the special elderberry wine and brought them to my visitors with the shuffling gait I remembered as Gran’s. The third man had appeared and sat on my wood chopping block. His twin knives sparkled in the sun as he reached for a bottle. I avoided looking closely at any of them.
“I’ll be just a minute, kind sirs,” I groaned. “I can bake you up nice berry pies while you eat up a stew that I started this morning. It should be almost ready.”
“Just hurry while you still have your head.” Twin knife brandished one of his knives at me. The larger visitor had already taken a large swig and grunted his approval. The other two followed his lead and seemed pleased with the taste of my special brew.
I shambled back into my home and listened as the men began to loosen up and voice their complaints.
Little man snarled, “The maid is gone. Now what do we do?”
“I’m not wanting to go chase an old wife’s gossip. We’ll get more answers out of her after a good meal to get us on our way.”
“I don’t think I can stomach her stench to thrust her with my man-sword, but I can work wonders with my beauties here.” Twin knife sounded eager to get started cutting out the answers from my body.
I couldn’t let his party get started too quickly. I hurried and brought out the pot of stew, large bowls with large slices of brown bread and three more bottles of wine.
“Eat, my good sirs, while I bake you the sweetest pies you ever tasted,” I managed to quiver my words just as Gran did.
I turned to leave them before they might think of starting their questioning. I could hear the wooden spoons clicking the bowls as they devoured my stew. I climbed up into the rafters using the pegs in the main post to make my way. Balancing on the center pole made me feel a child again as I would hide from Gran’s occasional customer.
I settled down by the window slit, listening to the men as they became boisterous telling of what they would do to the maid when they finally caught her. The ransom was for her in any live condition, which amused them greatly.
“They say she can poison the very air you breathe,” chortled the man with the short sword. “I say we take her and put a sack on her head so she won’t be able to see us.”
“And make sure we gag her,” added small man.
The sun was heating up the rafters quickly. I laid down nearest the chinks in the wall trying to cool my breathing as well as my temper. I needed to wait for my plan to work. Gran always told me I needed more patience. Smiling at the thought I relaxed to slow my breathing, allowing my body to feel cool.
I could hear the men when the poisons began to cause symptoms. The nausea caused them to weave their way toward the latrine. They fell without making more than a few steps. I caught the smell of sick stools. Twin knife tried to shout but nothing came out that I could understand. I peeked down into the room when one appeared in the doorway.
“Where are you, you damned devil woman?” When short sword began to stagger inside, Nitsia dashed in front of him, making him lurch back out.
“Demons! We are lost for certain,” he cried as he fell to the ground waving his arms at his hallucinations.
Carefully making my way back down the pegs, I edged to the doorway. I stood watching the results of the poisoned meal wreak havoc on the men who were so eager to hurt me. There was no pity in me as the evil was drained from them like blood from a tick.
The three men were now sick and had thoroughly messed their clothes and my front yard. Small man was convulsing, twin knife was staring at the rose bush in horror and short sword began to cut his legs with his sword until he was covered with blood and his feet were separated from his legs.
I grabbed my walking stick to get away from the sights and sounds of my battleground. My mind started to make order out of what I must do next. I would hitch Dearie to a cart that would drag the men’s bodies behind us. Down past the meadow’s clearing was a cave Gran had used throughout her life to dispose of men and their evil.
But for this moment I would wash the mud and stench from myself. Maybe I would pick some berries. I needed to re-claim myself before the next phase of my war. I wanted to ease back into my own skin again. Gran had always said beware of the men who come up the mountain, for they aren’t looking for the healers who live here. They search for foul beings to command their profane acts. She was right.