Once a long time ago, there was Earth, Sky and Water. Earth was not very big, but he was happy because he had Sky to look at every day and night. Sky was beautiful and blue and stretched all over Earth. She lit Earth during the day and blanketed him in starry darkness at night.
Earth and Sky loved each other but Water surrounded Earth preventing them from ever touching. As years of separation passed, Sky grew despondent. Her beautiful blue faded to a dull grey. Evening stars disappeared behind towering clouds and her anger rumbled the heavens. Sizzling, jagged lines tore her beautiful canvas in two, and She wept almost every day.
Water roared up into a large wave and shouted, “Because I am more powerful than you, Earth! See how my waves wash away your land? See how I rise and flood your green growing things? You can never stop me!” And to prove his point, Water reared up and sent flooding waves onto gentle Earth.
Rising from the depths of Water, he grew and changed as molten rage burst through his verdant rolling hills and silenced the rippling wheat on his plentiful plains. He pushed himself into large pointed peaks until he towered over Water, but he didn’t stop. He pushed and pushed until he reached Sky.
Water was frenzied and in a desperate attempt to regain control, he tried rising up to cover Earth. No matter how much he rippled and waved and splashed, Water could not reach Earth and his large pointed peaks. Earth laughed at Water and his happiness echoed throughout Sky, until it sounded as if the whole Universe were laughing, sharing in their joy at being reunited.
Water slunk away from Earth, never again to completely drown him from existence. To this day, whenever Water tries to wash Earth away, Earth will shake and rumble and roar until more land is pushed high to Sky.
©Sara Ackerman, 2016
One week later, Amelia and her sisters were in the fields near the forest playing hide and seek, and she had been it for the last quarter of an hour. She hated being it because she could never find anyone. Five minutes of half-hearted searching later, she gave up, too bored to continue. With an unladylike plop, she slumped to the ground and leaned on a fallen log, grateful the sun was shining. The gentle rays helped chase away the nagging fear plaguing her all week. Flinging an arm over her eyes, she slipped into drowsy relaxation.
The warmth disappeared, and the field darkened. A shiver stole up her spine, and she rolled over, curling on her side to continue her rest. “Oh, bother. Go away clouds. I am trying to sleep,” she muttered. The clouds, alas, were immovable. She cracked open an eye to investigate but a looming shadow obscured her vision. It blocked the sun and inspired a grim sort of dread which beat a steady rhythm in her head. The shadow advanced, and two gnarled, weathered talons outstretched to grab her. She opened her mouth and screamed.
The figure moved and her eyes, now accustomed to the unnatural twilight, discerned an old woman dressed in a faded blue dress with a wide purple velvet sash tied in the middle. A colorful shawl draped over her stooped shoulders and a scarf wrapped round her head, neatly framing her wild mane of silvering hair.
“Are you one of my little liars?” she asked, her thick accent clipping each syllable until the words were nothing more than a litany of jagged consonants firing in her mind.
“You’re supposed to be gone! My papa told you to leave a week ago.”
The old woman cackled and rubbed her hands together. “You know who I am. Good.”
She shrank against the log and wrapped her arms about her knees.
“I see you are afraid. That is also good.”
“What do you want with me?” she whispered.
“Not just you, little girl. I also want your sisters, too.” A delighted smile cracked her tanned, wizened visage, but her gap-toothed smile did nothing to ease her fear.
“They’re not here.”
“They’ll come. I saw them hiding not too far away from here.”
From the forest came a loud cracking of branches alerting her to the truth of the old woman’s statement. Her two sisters emerged from the forest and ran to her, Beatrice yelling at the top of her lungs, “Amelia! We’re coming!”
Spying the old woman, they skidded to a halt and in wary apprehension, looked at her and the old woman. Evie whimpered and ran to huddle beside Amelia while Beatrice, ever the eldest, stood in front of her sisters. Drawing herself up to her full height, she demanded,“Who are you and what do you want with my sister?”
Amelia admired her sister’s bravado, for she saw what it cost her. Small hands clutched her skirts in a white-knuckled death grip and the usual rosy sheen which graced her young face had been leeched of color.
“I am just an old woman passing through the forest.”
Beatrice assessed the old woman, taking in her faded garments and weathered face. “You’re a gypsy!” With her chin held high, she waved her hand in the air in a blatant act of dismissal. “Be gone! My father has evicted your kind for your treachery against his hospitality!”
“Our treachery, Lady Beatrice?” The old woman whispered, venom lacing each word. She advanced on the girls, pinning them against the fallen log. Soon, her wrinkled face was looming over Beatrice’s, her eyes dark and angry. “Don’t you mean yours?”
“How do you know my name?” Beatrice stammered, her eyes darting from the old woman to her sisters behind her. Having reached the end of her courage, she held out her hand to Amelia and grasped it in her own. She pulled Beatrice down with a plunk to sit beside her.
“I knew we wouldn’t get away with it, Bea.”
The old woman had heard, and she nodded.”I know all about you three and what you did last week.”
Amelia’s lower lip trembled and she asked, “What are you going to do to us?” Because there had to be a consequence. There was always a consequence.
“I intend to make it right.” The old woman raised her arms and the clearing stilled. The bird song quieted and the gentle wind which had been rustling the leaves and feathering the grass ceased. A terrible light gleamed from the gypsy woman’s aged eyes.
“For your lie, an innocent man was tried and found guilty of a crime he did not commit.” The once dormant wind rose and whipped through the clearing, slashing her silvered hair against her face and howling its outrage as it tore across the grass and through the tree grove. Clouds rolled up and over each other, ripping apart the sky with its upheaval.
“It was you who were too weak to tell the truth, and have forever condemned an innocent to life far from his family!” She pointed a gnarled finger at the three sisters. “And so, I curse you.”
When the last of the three had been cursed, the old woman’s arms dropped. Revenge faded from her eyes only to be replaced with sad resignation. The winds died and the clouds sped across the sky. Light flooded the clearing, but the girls could not see. Fear clouded their vision and possessed their minds.
The old woman raised her right hand and made the sign of the cross, a sad smile on her face. “Te aves yertime mander tai te yertil tut o Del.”* With a final look at the three sisters, the old gypsy woman walked to the woods and vanished.
*I forgive you and may God forgive you as I do.
© Sara Ackerman 2016
I stumbled out of bed, staggering sightlessly to the bathroom. The sting of bright lights dispatched the lingering fog of Morpheus, and with great reluctance, I cracked open my eyes. Leaning over the sink, I stared into the mirror. Blood shot blue eyes stared back, and a riot of strawberry blond waves tumbled in disarray over slumped shoulders.
“You screamed again last night,” my husband said, toweling off from his shower. I turned around, unsurprised to see him already awake and ready for the new day. He smiled, though worry bracketed his eyes and furrowed his brow. I jerked my head away and stared at the woman trapped in the glass, both of us searching for answers neither of us possessed.
Shaky fingers fluttered and rested on the slim column of sinew and skin,pressing on the wildly beating pulse found there. “Did I?” That question raised an awareness of a raw, previously unnoticed stinging. I swallowed, the convulsive gulp abrading the tender tissues with its nervous action.
I didn’t want to know, not really, but I had to ask. Because it never stopped at screaming. There was always an after. He didn’t respond immediately, and guilt took root in my stomach, clawing its way up to my throat until fear and pain mingled, creating a dread more potent than the echo of agony I relived in my dreams.
I regarded the woman in the mirror, and her empty eyes stared back. I knew her life before. I knew the terror she felt waiting behind closed doors, hiding from the dark shadows. I knew the sting of pain as it lanced through her body when she had been discovered, tasted the blood in her mouth as she bit her lips to keep in the screams. I had heard her silent sobs and had watched as her attempts to fight back were silenced.
Yes, I knew why I screamed. I knew why a decade after leaving those dark memories behind blood-curdling screams shattered the peace of my slumbering family. Trembling fingers reached out and touched the glass, and the woman in the mirror cried, quiet tears streaking down her cheeks.
Her pain, as it had so many times before, nearly crippled me and her burden was too heavy to bear this morning. A mantle of shame and defeat descended, a tangible reminder of the past which refused to die. Far too long it had marked me as different, depriving me of a normal existence where fear did not hold me in its iron grip.
© Sara Ackerman 2016
A half hour later, the girls ran back to the house and found their father working in his study. “Papa, Thunder got out!”
Their father set aside the papers he’d been studying. “Slow down girls. What happened?” He moved out from behind his desk to stand in front of them, his hands clasped behind his back.
“We were playing out by the barn and we say a gypsy by the doors of the barn. And then Thunder neighed really loud. And then we saw him running across the field. And we thought we saw someone riding him. Probably the gypsy we saw.”
Her father arched an eyebrow and pursed his lips. “These are very serious allegations, Beatrice.” He placed his hands on his hips and paced. “You say that all three of you saw this?” He bent down and studied his girls.
Amelia gulped, for her father’s assessing eyes saw inside to the truth of what she and her sisters had done, but she pushed down the rising panic, swallowed and forced her gaze to her father’s. “Yes, father,” she whispered before cowardice forced her to look away.
Evie stuffed her thumb into her mouth and nodded.
“If what you say is the truth, then this is a very serious problem indeed.” Walking back to his desk, he sat down. “Thank you, ladies, for telling the truth. I will see that this is taken care of.” He waved his hands and shooed them from his study.
The girls hurried upstairs to the nursery, grateful to have escaped unscathed. Once inside, nurse took Evie to her cot for a nap. Amelia was tired, too, from the day’s events and crawled into her bed, pulled her covers up to her chin, and curled up onto her side. Beatrice plopped down on the bed next to Amelia.
“I told you papa would believe us.” Amelia, sick with guilt scrunched her eyes shut and pretended to sleep. Beatrice yawned and snuggled behind her sister. She threw her arm around her body and hugged her close. “There’s nothing to worry about, Mimi. Everything is going to be fine. You’ll see.”
Nestled against her sister safe in her bed, Amelia shuddered when icy cold fingers licked up her spine. She pulled her covers higher around her ears. Despite Beatrice’s reassuring words, somehow she knew everything wasn’t going to be fine.
© Sara Ackerman 2016
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