Final Farewell

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #114, where we write about this photo from the Google Photo Frame.

Enola’s father had been respected among his community. She saw how, as an elder, villagers had sought Denali’s counsel, had cherished his wisdom. But yesterday, Denali had finally breathed his last. Along with her mother, Halona, Enola had maintained a strict sentry duty these last three weeks, since Denali had collapsed. In turns, they had cooled his brow with water from the lake, and swathed him in berry poultices. But, to no avail. The pair had observed him steadily fade, and last night, he had finally succumbed.

There had been a ceremony, of course, a celebration of his life. The entire village had said its farewell, during which Halona, her youthful beauty for the first time showing its age, had remained graceful. Only a daughter’s eye saw the near-imperceptible reactions which gave any clue.

And, still not quite finished.

A select few had gathered at Halona’s dwelling for one final blessing, before the immediate family – Halona and Enola – were to accompany Denali on his final journey. Looking Glass Lake, the pure, glacial lake overshadowed by the Great mountain, the island which had been the village’s burial ground for generations. At one with nature, once again. That view, the stillness, the serenity, had always been Denali’s favourite. A party had already crossed to the island last night, to prepare a fresh grave, although tradition held that only the family would attend at the end.

As the guests began to leave, Enola slipped away. She stepped into the boat, where her father was already waiting, for a final few more minutes with him. A late baby; her parents were already ageing when they had been blessed with her arrival. She had only known Denali, the gentle statesman. The rock, and Enola worried now for her mother.

Minutes passed. A flurry of people, and Halona approached, accompanied by some elders. One helped her clamber into the boat. There was one more task to complete.


The names used are all Native American names. Respectively, they mean:

Denali – “great one”,

Halona – “happy fortune”,

Enola – “magnolia”,

Which I thought were appropriate.

Sprinkles

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #113, where we write about this photo from Edward Hopper.

Paolo had just returned from a month-long business trip to Mexico and was overjoyed to see his young family again. Rewarded with leave, he offered to spend time with his young son by taking him out for the day. Besides, as his wife had been looking after Luca all that time, the father/son bonding session would give her a well-deserved day off.

Setting out just after breakfast, the pair visited the Museum Egizio, a short distance away in Turin. In common with most boys of that age, Luca had particularly enjoyed the dinosaur exhibit, and that scale model of the Ariane rocket had made Luca explode with excitement.

Paolo’s plan was that they would visit the aquarium this afternoon, too, but before that, they needed some lunch. With Luca simply choosing “cheese”, Paulo had selected a city-centre café, and ordered a toastie each. And as a special treat, two enormous mugs of hot chocolate.

Armed with the drinks, Paulo approached one of the café’s free tables. As Paolo set the cream-laden mugs down, he realised that he had forgotten to pick up any napkins.

He felt the young boy tug on his arm. Luca was at that inquisitive age. Everything he said these days began with “why?”

“What is it, Luca? What’s the matter?”, soothed Paulo.

Luca had clearly been thinking some more about the conversation the pair had been having yesterday, as they had returned from church. As children of Luca’s age are wont to do, he spoke at volume and could be overheard at neighbouring tables, although the café was almost empty. “Daddy…”, he began, “if there is a God… that lady we saw coming in… why does he make her sleep in the street? Why doesn’t she sleep in a nice house, like we do?”

Paolo squirmed, imperceptibly. He barely remembered stepping past this young woman, crouching in the doorway, on their way into the shop. Recovering, he thought quickly. “It’s because she must have done something wrong, Luca, and God is punishing her. Now, be a good boy for daddy and go and pick us up a napkin each from the counter”. Luca obediently sauntered over, Paolo breathing a sigh of relief, thinking that the awkward scene was complete. He was a thinker, this boy, but he was young enough to be deflected easily.

Luca returned with the napkins, as instructed, but instead of sitting down to his drink, he turned. Keeping a careful watch, Paolo tracked the boy to the door. When Luca opened it and stepped outside, it was time to act. Paolo found Luca, standing outside the shop, talking to the homeless woman. Just before his father caught up with him, Luca asked her, “What did you do wrong?”

Intervening, Paolo found himself apologising to the woman, and started berating the boy, as he dragged him inside. “What have we told you about talking to strangers?”, Paolo chided.

Momentarily, the girl at the next table glanced up from her book, inquisitive to learn the cause of the commotion.

Stowaway

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #112, where we write about this photo from the Google Photo Frame.

“One more time”, said the gnarled voice.

An impish smile on her young face, she reached under the blanket. A stern hand slapped it back.

“Focus!”, said the voice. “One more time.”

She looked at him sheepishly. “But Gregor, we have been through this so many times already. Can’t we just… ”

“Enough!”, he interrupted. “One more time.”

Submissive now, she looked into his serious eyes. Her expression became deadpan.

“At the end of work…”, he started for her.

“At the end of work”, she continued, obediently, “I queue up to exit, as normal. I make sure I am last. At the front of the queue, you will distract Frau Hoffstedtler.” Frau Hoffstedtler was the housekeeper at the house in which they both worked, Gregor as a waiter and Natalya as a maid. The house belonged to the district administrator, the most important party official thereabouts.

“I am to use the distraction to head for the wine cellar”, continued Natalya.

“Frau Hoffstedtler will return, find me gone, and assume that I returned home for the night.

“Once in the cellar, I am to empty a bottle of wine. If they come looking, the scent will distract the dogs. Then, I am to hide until you call me.

“We will go out into the garden, together.”

She hesitated. “You are sure that the train will come tonight?”

“It passes every night”, came Gregor’s response. “It leaves the main station at 11:15 and passes this way to the border.” Satisfied with his own answer, Gregor added, “Continue.”

“In the garden, we head for the footbridge. We should not expect any guards – because they patrol the perimeter, they do not patrol the garden.

“We meet Stephan at the bridge. Is Stephan still going to help us, Gregor?”

“Stephan will be there. He is being well paid for this evening.” Again, “Continue.”

“Stephan will make the train stop for us?”

“That’s right”, finished Gregor. “Stephan will mask the signal for us, and the train will stop under the footbridge. We will have just a 2 metre drop onto its roof. The train starts moving again, and carries us to the border.”

For the first time allowing himself to dream, he added, “Just think, Natalya, tonight we will cross the border. Tomorrow, we can lie together for the rest of our lives. We will be free.”

Natalya beamed back at him, enjoying his smile. Her hand fluttered under the blanket once again. This time, there was no attempt to prevent her. “Now”, she whispered, assuming control, “where were we?”

The Challenge

For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #111, where we write about this photo from Celine Ylmz at Unsplash.

He woke early, that day, and rose with an irregular eagerness.

Purposefully starting the shower, be began washing. He shampooed his hair, and selected a fresh blade for the razor, a special occasion. Out of the shower, some cologne. He should smell the part, too.

His clothing was already laid out. With the giddy abandon of a schoolboy, he had selected it last night. Five times. He dressed carefully, methodically. Smart, but informal. Welcoming, he hoped.

Excitedly skipping breakfast, he left the house far too early and walked briskly to the station. The extra time would be useful, anyway, in case of delays, although on this occasion, there were none. He arrived far too early for his appointment. Stepping through the barrier, he sought out the café close to the entrance, ordered himself a drink and some slight breakfast. He glanced at his wristwatch – an hour to go.

He was ready. His mind wandered. Fifteen years. It had been fifteen years since he had last seen his daughter. And his grandson, who would now be seven, he had never met. His hand shook with trepidation. He drained his cup and glanced at his watch again – forty minutes.

Somewhere neutral, she had wanted. A place where he was not the master. He could not blame her, her last years in the house had history for both, memories as bitter as the coffee they were about to share. For she had suggested that they simply meet at Starbucks. Not wanting to overdose, he decided against yet another drink. Thirty minutes.

Leaving the station, he readied himself to embark on the day’s real journey. Sauntering in the general direction, he passed a bookstore and was instantly transported to his lifelong love affair with books. This place would do.

Stepping Up

Inspired by Paula’s Thursday Inspo #100, where she prompts with the image below.

As Paula is stepping back from this prompt, can I just take the opportunity to say thank you? I’m kinda late to the party on this one, but I have thoroughly enjoyed writing my responses, where my time and my imagination has permitted. Hosting a prompt has always scared me witless, just the amount of reading you’re committing yourself to, so… hat’s off to you, and thanks.

The boy, about ten years old, is seated on the carpet. He is playing with finger puppets. He giggles, laughs, clearly enjoying himself. The boy is dressed in the finest silk clothing, in handmade leather shoes which reflect the light like mirrors.

The boy is playing with a man. They are both laughing and joking. They might be father and son, were it not for a veneer of formality layered onto their informal pleasure. In fact, the man is a butler, merely a surrogate.

Their surroundings: both are sitting cross-legged on a sumptuous, red carpet. The room is a gallery, with sunlight streaming in from one side. They are surrounded by opulence. Gilt trim is everywhere.

At the far end of the gallery – twenty yards away – is a door. A man enters. He too is dressed well, and he walks stiffly, almost marching. He approaches slowly, gracefully. The boy giggles – through the mirrors on the ceiling, he can see the man’s thinning scalp. The two continue to play.

The man arrives. He clears his throat. He glares at the butler, who responds immediately. The butler jumps up and in an instant is standing to attention. The boy regards the visitor.

“I’m afraid, your majesty, that your time as dauphin is at an end.” Then, pausing for effective reverence, he bows. “God Save The King”.