The Thistle Dancer
Raindrops pattered upon the stone window sill. Droplets glazed the panes of the Grand Library as my nine year old eyes peered out towards the moorlands.
My breath fogged the glass so I wiped it with my ash grey sleeve and stared out again at the rolling grass pelted with rain. White sheep harried themselves towards shelter as the dog encouraged them on, shepherd boy in tow.
How I envied them with their freedom to roam and view the open countryside! Little did I know how the thorns matted their wool nor how the stench of the animals nestled within the shepherd boy’s clothes. I took for granted the drafty shelter of the Grand Library and the comfort of tucking myself inside my flannel dress.
Despite my envy, I was the one privileged with better views. On good days I could make out the edge of the castle ruins and even the rocky crags against the ocean. And if I perched myself in the corner, at the very edge of the window seat, I could see the thistle field.
The grandfather oak still presided over the banished field as it had for hundreds of years. Even with the fog, the field tinged purple. I had often read the story of the lost princess and her final edict that the field be planted with thistles, then utterly abandoned.
“You ready to go home, sweetie?”
“She led me out.”
The old man stooped in his chair and offered his hand to the owl at the window. My friend and I shuffled our feet waiting for his story.
“That’s how I found Dusk. He had a broken wing; we healed together.”
Afternoon sun glazed the panes of the barren cabin. Wood slats held in a musty smell of hay and old soup. There was little more in the one room than a table, chair, and a cot on the floor.
“I don’t know why you want to hear my story,” he continued. “Nothing good has come of it.” The owl walked slowly and perched itself on the outstretched hand.
“I made it out alive,” he said, stroking the feathers of his friend. “That is all.”
“I was young when I found the hidden mountain, but old enough to know better than to go inside.
“Enough souls disappeared unwillingly. To seek it out for its own sake was utter foolishness. But so I did.
The Baker’s Thief
Warm, ripe cherry goodness filled the air from the hot pie on the window sill.
It was worth burning my fingers.
I wrapped my shirt cuff around my hand, but still managed to jab my thumb deep into the piping hot filling. I ran from the house towards the woods.
My feet knew the footfalls between the tree roots. Keeping my eyes on the pie, I almost tripped. Stomach growled and heart raced as I booked it to my shack in the thicket.
By the time I crawled inside, cherry juice dripped from the baking dish. At three feet tall, my shack was just big enough to curl up inside. Two winters ago, I’d purloined some old boards along with a couple new ones to build myself a hiding spot outside. Warmth wasn’t everything, I’d found, especially when Pop was in one of his tirades. And where else could I hide my strawberry Christmas jam? First Presbyterian didn’t have their charity event but once a year.
I licked my burned thumb and savored the smell of ripe cherries while waiting for the deliciousness to cool. Sundown would come soon.
Before the pie cooled, I burned my fingers and tongue stuffing myself until I almost gagged. I wiped my face on my shirt, a third of the pie left. No going back.
The Man with Downcast Eyes
Harry was a sweet boy. His smile was like a warm, sunlit morning at the break of winter.
And yet somehow he ran with the bad men, as the under-runner of the Eastern ruffians.
He’d never gotten drunk but once, and then he was so thoroughly overwhelmed by the experience that he swore off drinking altogether. He was no good at cards either: his honest face always betrayed him.
Despite these disqualifications, Harry owned his role with the ruffians. He cooked for them, ran their little errands, and covered for their games. That was what he called it anyways, when they would go out and raid a farm or kidnap a horse.
“Any luck last night, Osvald?”