Black Petals Issue #73 Fall, 2015

The Witch and the Rock
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Mars-News, Views and Commentary
A Journey Starts with a Flower-Fiction by Roy Dorman
Cold Surprise-Fiction by Paul Strickland
Final Run_Fiction by A. M. Stickel, Editor
Gift of the Anasazi-Fiction by Kenneth James Crist
Killer Deal-Fiction by Denny Marshall
Please Remember Me-Fiction by Charles C. Cole
Safe Haven, Part I-Fiction by Denis Bushlatov
Safe Haven, Part II-Fiction by Denis Bushtalov
The City-Fiction by Wayne Haroutunian
The Witch and the Rock-Fiction by Janet C. Ro
Roadside Accident-2 poems by Denny Marshall
Journey to the Devil's Shore-Poem by Grant Tarbard

The Witch and the Rock-Fiction by Janet C. Ro

witch2.jpg

The Witch and the Rock

 

By Janet C. Ro

 

A square rounded

 

 

Ashamed, Herda pulled her blanket around her as she felt the new growth on her chest. Despite her cage of life-giving, singing creatures, kept at the corner of the cave, her skin had gone paper thin and her bones protruded. Herda’s emaciation was deceptive, for, even in her current state, she could propel a stone hard enough to orbit the moon. She saw many spectra of light beyond a normal human’s one. Superhuman, she now looked subhuman. Herda used to be beautiful: a gallant forest witch with flowing hair so black, clueless humans admired the purple-blue ripple of it when she ran. Her limbs were once so limber she could fly up mountains, a spinning flurry of dust about her as she climbed. Her secrets of power remained safely hidden in forest solitude.  

In her natural state of beauty, limbs full and no evidence that her body was bloodless, Herda had walked amongst humans. She simply blended into the crowd, often in the village, where she would marvel at the vibrant children. Her time was eternal and she had seen changes humans only read about, but her collection of plunties kept her spirit full and her heart satisfied. Inspiration was essential for someone who knew they’d never die, and lived with the dangerous secret of superhuman strength.  

Only plunty song kept Herda’s head clear, for she was desperately sick. She had discovered plunties 500 years ago, buried under the roots of trees that she tore from the ground. The small creatures, kept in cages in her cave, became her companions, for, like herself, they didn’t die. Their small, chirping noises would often explode into pure song, unlike those humans typically heard. The small, translucent, green creatures with golden spots for eyes scooted their glutinous bodies to and fro, dancing. Their innocent chirping and songs, like honey on the tongue after days of famine, shattered the latched door of the depressed mind.

Herda, for fifty years now, had been deteriorating. The eternal freshness of plunty song had become dull. In her desperate state, life was draining away. One of Herda’s solaces was looking into the river, her reflection her only company. Lately, she was horrified at what she saw—a skeletal monster, eyes huge with starvation, and ungainly walk unholy disharmony. 500 years ago the plunty song had proved itself savior to her deterioration from too much solitude, in a body that could only deceive those rare beings who walked with an image similar to her own.

  

Herda looked up at the moon that night, and peered about her cave. She didn’t eat, but did need rest; it had evaded her for the last fifty years. She had dug desperately for the plunties she had now, hoping that her body would be rebuilt as she enveloped herself in their sound and song. The plunties’ eyes wandered, often focusing on her in pure kindness. Herda eyed a caged plunty and, with a sad sigh that pierced her to the core, yearned for the days when the song of the plunty would cool the hellish heat of her lonely torment. Formerly, her beauty would bloom in the constant inspiration of these small unearthed creatures, who now lived as her only remedy. When a song broke out, her body would quiver so hard in ecstasy that she would float, a stream of golden light flowing from each limb. She could breathe without pain in the moment of their song, and afterward, with ecstatic peace watch the moon. Thousands of moon risings and fallings had held her in serene nighttime solitude.

 

But, with fifty years gone and the plunty song not working, Herda saw herself only as the monster she knew she really was, and was reminded that even in her most beautiful state she was a being of deception. How she yearned for the village and the company of being lost in the crowds! The music, the laughter, and even the occasional fight thrilled her more than plunty song. But without the replenishment that came with their company, Herda could not dwell amongst the humans and, in her state of sick ugliness, hid inside the mountain. One of her joys was watching mothers hold their infants. Then, as time went on, Herda would see those babes grow, despite trials and tribulations, only to one day (to her delight) share a first kiss with the person they would be with until they died. 

With the fifty years that had passed Herda, who could never live as the women who wed and gave birth, often thought longingly of what people called love. This night was a sad night. Herda tried to make another rock orbit the moon and saw it reach only the top of the mountain. It wasn’t that she couldn’t propel the stone, but that she didn’t care how far it went.  

Herda shed tears of frustration. She could no longer reach for the moon and her eyes were sore from days filled with rainbows. For, all too often, she focused on the blackest of blacks, the bluest of blues and the whitest of whites. She fell and tore her skin stumbling about, and finally gave in to the state that, for thousands of years, she had successfully shunned: loneliness.  She walked to the river where the edge of the village buzzed with firelight and activity. Despondently, wondering what could help her, she was walking away when she saw him.  

Jeremy Blackstone was young, handsome, and as solid as the earth he walked upon. His hair was brown, his eyes the deep grey of the sea after a storm. He was of medium height and carrying a large satchel with him as he left the crowd behind. Young, strong, and handsome! Herda’s heart leapt. She thought of a lover’s kiss. Then, remembering her monstrosity, as he approached the place where she was hiding, tried to scurry away into the night, hoping her retreat would be masked by the sounds of forest animals.

 

Jeremy stopped and listened. Herda noticed his brown eyes widen and heard his heart beat harder. She kept still. Satisfied of his safety, he ignored the tiny sound she had made. She watched as he set up camp along the river.  

She watched him take out his bread and chew so joylessly that it made her wonder. She watched him in keen curiosity as he ate and gazed at the distant crowd. Alone and tired, after he looked at his bread, half eaten, he tossed it aside with disgust and walked to the river. Herda watched with interest as he picked up a rock and threw it at the river, making it skip a half dozen times. He walked over to his blankets, and then saw her eyes. 

He fell backward, and she panicked. The pain in her chest became so sharp she could not run and she crumpled as if she was having a heart attack. Unsure of what he saw, Jeremy rushed over to her crumpled body.  

“Are you ok?” he asked. Then he noticed her state. He balked at first, and yelled, but the village was so far away they were alone in their discovery of one another.  

“Please don’t look at me!” she cried, shuddering, and shrank away from him, expecting to be struck. 

He saw her fear and his panic subsided. This creature, whatever it was, was suffering. Jeremy looked at her sickness—lump protruding from her chest, bones sticking out of translucent skin, and eyes so hollow and wide they dominated half of her face. Her teeth quelled his fear. Unused for thousands of years, they stood healthy and humanlike, obviously not those of a carnivore.  

“What…what are you?” 

“Please don’t hurt me! I was just watching.” She scrambled backwards on all fours away from him. He put a hand out and gestured for her to come toward him. 

“I won’t hurt you. Please, let me help.” He held out a hand.  

This is what they call touching. Herda looked at his hand, unbelieving in its offer. She looked at her own hand, knuckles boney and fingernails grimy. She was ashamed.  

Jeremy watched her look at her own hand and his heart went out to this miserable creature, part of the world but with no place in it. He leapt forward and grabbed her bony hand and looked at her. They stood, face to face, as he helped her up. She eyed him, resigned to her monstrosity and that he looked at her with pity. 

“Do you have a name?” he asked with a kind smile. 

“Herda.” 

“Where is your home?” 

Herda, at this question, looked at him, amazed. She had never been asked this question before and answered as simply as she could. 

Her gaze on the moon, she answered, “Here.” 

He looked at her curiously and hung his head. “I understand.” He looked at his tiny camp and sighed. He sat down and beckoned for her to come sit with him. He looked out over the river to the village teeming with life. 

“Please understand,” he said as he looked out at the village, “why I find nothing odd anymore.” 

Why, thought Herda, this man needs a plunty song. She looked around frantically for one, but saw nothing. She listened keenly. She sniffed for the scent of the fresh ocean that the plunties carried, but smelled nothing. She looked at him helplessly, not knowing what to say. He reached into his basket and pulled out a piece of bread. He looked tired of it. How strange, she thought as he offered it to her, that he would resent a piece of bread so much. 

“I don’t eat.” 

He dropped the bread in shock. 

“What are you?” 

Herda sighed and looked at her hands. “I’m a witch-of-the-wood, starved for these past fifty years.” 

“Starved of what?” 

She thought long and hard and did something she had not done for a while. She doubled over and finally let one fall. A single tear illuminated her face. “The joy of eating bread.” 

He looked at her then, this man who had so suddenly broken her lifetime conversation barrier.  

“Are you alone often?” 

It was hard to tell who had asked the question, but they both answered, “All the time.”

Jeremy’s eyes were lined with an exhaustion similar to her own. I wonder, she asked herself, if he can see as I see: the millions of colors of light in a person’s face, every word making more sense to him than to the speaker himself

Herda was starved these past fifty years. Although this conversation and interaction was ground-breaking, she still believed that only the song of the plunty could heal her. Flesh began to form on her body and, as he looked at her with wonder, she didn’t know he was catching glimpses of her fulfilled state. Her mind and body fulfilled, Herda healed enough so that the vision of her natural state flickered in and out. He saw hair so black it was purple and perfect, rounded breasts. Jeremy felt himself come to life. But the ghost of her beauty faded away and he saw only her bones again. He saw her story as she sat next to him on his blanket, in his tiny camp away from the world.

He scooted closer to her, like a shy schoolboy, and asked with reverence: “How long have you been alone?” 

“I have no memories,” she said, “of being born. One day, I woke up under a tree and dug my way out. I have my plunties.” 

“What is a plunty?” he asked. 

The question was so odd to her she stared at him. She didn’t realize that he was seeing her image flicker in and out, trying to fill out her bones. He looked at her in total acceptance; then, as he saw her struggle to explain, his eyes relaxed in what she had seen before in the village: the look of love. She shuddered. The pain in her chest increased and she pressed the lump in desperation. 

“If only I could die.” 

He looked at her and cried, “You shouldn’t want that!” He looked down. “We buried my father today,” he said, and looked up at the sky. 

“I envy him,” said Herda. 

“So do I,” said Jeremy, and looked at her as someone who had finally been saved. 

“Tell me,” he said, “what is a plunty?” 

Herda finally smiled. “They are buried beneath trees,” she explained.

“Trees?”

“Yes, and they chirp and sing. They smell wonderful, and their smell and sound make you feel wonderful. They are cute, dear things—small and green, with golden specks for eyes.”

She breathed in then, and smelled that plunty smell. She looked around, confused, wondering where they were.

He followed her search and smiled. “And what does a plunty do for you?”

She finally came to life and he watched her flesh restored. The dirt fell from her hair like a small storm around her face as it grew back. Her lips became ruby red, her skin almost white; soon, she sat naked in her youthful form next to him by the river. He looked at her in utter incomprehension, a monster turned angel right before his eyes. And with the reaction of any full-blooded man, Jeremy fell in love. 

He wanted to make her his, and he didn’t want to ask. Jeremy was passionate but seldom had the opportunity to be so. She saw it in his face and felt the hellish heat of her mind leave. This was new. She felt millions of drops of coolness enter her body and mind, so much better than any plunty had given her. 

In the friendly way of proper courtship, he held her hand and said, “My mother said that there was nothing wrong in being simple and square to enjoy life. There is nothing ordinary about this.” 

“Simple like a rock?” Herda looked at him. 

“Yes, so tell me,” he begged, “have you found life meaningless?” 

“It’s not in life that I live,” Herda said, “but in the death of things.” 

He leaned her back then. She became bones and dirt. For the first time since he had buried his father, Jeremy saw death in its glory and beauty. In a simple trip of solitude to the river Jeremy had discovered the horror of living, then death and revival in a creature the world had tragically deemed a witch. He kissed her frantically and looked toward the village again. How could he ever go back?

 

Over the next few months, Jeremy would come to Herda, sometimes seeing life, other times death, as she flickered in and out of each state of being.  

“She said Father was a square of a man—a rock,” he told her as he wept into her lap, “and that was the best that any man could be—down to earth and rock simple.” 

Jeremy’s mother had already defined the man Jeremy would become. He was to keep his life simple, accept his humanity, and never grieve at his limitations. Herda heard Jeremy talk about the farm he was creating and saw the boredom and devastation in his face as he spoke about the separation of himself and the moon.

“Throw another rock,” he would beg, leaning on his elbow to take in her seemingly fragile nakedness.  

Herda would smile, happy to finally have an audience for her strength, and pick up a heavy rock to amuse him. He would watch her effortless thrust penetrate the great, empty heights, reminding him of his own insignificance.

 

One night, after throwing three rocks at the moon, insulting its distance, Herda led Jeremy to her cave and showed him her cage of plunties. They bounced and chirped in joy to see him. He opened the cage and, as they stayed willingly, lifted one out and held it in his hands. He smiled at it and the plunty quivered and turned into a ball, suddenly shy. 

Herda looked at the plunty behavior and, in shock at its shyness, grabbed it from Jeremy’s hand and shook it, prodding a song. All golden eyes focused at once on Jeremy and every plunty curled up into a silent ball. Jeremy understood, looked at Herda, and took her into his arms. “How is your heart?” 

She felt her chest. “Although we spend all our days together, I still hurt.” 

Jeremy looked at each silent ball of green and knew what he needed to do. He was nervous and, as he kissed her, the silence of the plunties penetrated her mind and body more than any song. Jeremy laid her down upon the ground. 

“You’ll never know,” he said, undressing in front her, “how beautiful you really are.” 

They made love that night and, as Jeremy lay beside her, they both became children again. This rebirth was unexpected to Herda, for, in that long moment of plunty silence, Jeremy had finally made every song she had ever heard from them explode from her body. She lay next to him smiling, at peace, never fearing to become bones and dirt again.

He spoke of marriage and children. Herda looked at him and, very briefly, the bones and dirt lay in his arms again. “I can’t bear children, Jeremy,” she shuddered and wept, “because I am a monster.” 

They both wept that night, in their unity and in their separation. They had discovered mortality and immortality, and wept at the beauty of their discovery. Jeremy was destined to his farm, tormented by his poetic romance with a witch. What was this square his mother had foreshadowed him to be? She wanted to save him from the heartache and yearning to be more than a man who reaped and raised. With Herda, he watched rocks reach the moon. His father had not looked at him as, for the last time, he told his only son he loved him, keeping his eyes fixed on the moon and stars. This was what Jeremy had remembered as they buried him beneath that tree.

 

The village eventually knew Jeremy as a recluse. He never slept at home and went to the other side of the river at sunset every day to spend his nights presumably alone. His mother disapproved of his solitude. As the years went by she watched her son escape into himself, barely paying attention to the meals she cooked, only looking forward to the solitude that seemed to give him so much happiness.

The strangest experience Jeremy ever had with his mother was when she was on her deathbed. She, unlike his father, looked Jeremy in the eye and said: “You’re everything I’d ever hoped you’d be.” 

“Really?” Childless, wifeless, and alone, Jeremy looked at his mother in utter confusion. 

“You’ve found something more than this world. And I’m going to it now.” She died after she had managed to say she loved him, still looking him in the eye, until there was no one staring back at him.  

When Jeremy buried his mother the village honored his life and credited his devotion to his parents as the reason to refuse to live amongst them. He is heartbroken, they would say as they watched him row away from them.

He only knew life in one place—with Herda every night—and experienced his resurrection with her. She told him stories of what she had seen and he would tell her how he had learned to heed what his mother advised. After her death he had been forced to find some joy in simplicity, but, like his father, resented his agrarian life. Unlike his father, he sought answers in the beauty his father had only glimpsed on his death bed. 

He would defy his mother and never be a square, simple soul. Jeremy grew his vegetables and raised his animals. Every night he ran to his lover’s arms, lamenting ageing and mortality. Herda’s beauty was eternal in his eyes. She looked at him, never once bones and dirt while he was in her life, for this dying man was to her the one supernatural experience that stopped her from the death she had been. 

The plunties had become their pets. She watched Jeremy eat in her cave every night, and Herda grew accustomed to the conversation of which she had so long been starved. He listened hungrily to her endless memories and mourned that she could never speak to the people she had walked amongst. Herda would take a plunty and pet it as it hummed, and they would laugh about how she had discovered them and kept them secret in their own world.

In the morning, Jeremy would rise and row back to his farm, keeping his love a secret, and mourn his need for the village and its people. Every day he was treated with the respect due a deep thinker. When he was prodded to tell stories, many people listened, not knowing that his heart for this world was due to the yearning for the undying.

“And what is permanent?” he asked the crowd one night as he stood up in conclusion to one of his stories. “The beauty of the moon ceases only when we fail to notice it.” Husbands and wives would look at each other then, some in love, others in heartache, and children would listen eagerly, hoping for him to keep talking.  

 

Women knew better than to fall in love with him, and he found himself taking comfort only in the presence of the very young, or the very old. He had few friends and treasured Herda too much to tell anyone about his love for her. Herda had stopped experiencing death (after fifty years of nothing inspiring her to life). Plunties harbored in their home in the mountains barely noticed as the couple laughed and talked. He held her hand when they sometimes heard the tinkling laughter of children across the river and he saw death flicker in and out of her.  

The days turned into months and years, and Herda watched his back bend and his face wrinkle. In the middle of his life Jeremy had begun to bring paper and ink to her cave; she looked at him in wonder, watching him write and write and write. Eventually, conversation became less necessary, and they grew to keep each other company in the peace of two persons so familiar with each other that all was communicated in silence. The plunties filled the gaps of quiet, until they had become the orchestrated song of their life.  

Some nights, after hard days of work, Jeremy would visit his father’s and mother’s graves, leaving flowers and poems he had written by Herda’s side.

 Herda forgot about the past fifty years of knowing nothing but ugliness and monstrosity as she watched Jeremy devote his life to the dead and to the ever living. He wouldn’t let her roam amongst his people. “Remember,” he said as he held her hand and watched the soft glow of the village, “that we find nothing strange anymore.” 

“But isn’t that a good thing for me?” she would ask, longingly watching the moving crowd. 

“No,” he said, turning to guide her back to her cave and secret world of plunties. Because life required Jeremy to eat, to cook, to labor, he had developed a wisdom about being that Herda could not grasp. When he tried to explain to her lovingly, when she begged to be amongst people, why she could not belong, he often cried and simply fell asleep, finding strange solace in her struggle.  

A witch to them, the stories she had told him of her time among people in the past alarmed him and made his heart ache. He had found her, boney and covered in dirt, afraid to be struck when he had extended his hand to her. Herda was alone for a reason, and the purpose of his life, he had come to believe, was to keep her company. She would constantly be meeting the world more than halfway, although it was less than half of her true state of being. He clung to her and, with the wish of someone who did not want to know that his time was not interminable, learned to be modest in his humanity. Every effort she made to understand elevated him to heights of being that none but the truly transcendent can achieve.

 

Jeremy rolled over in his sleep one night, and she awoke to his arm trying to cradle her head. She looked at him and woke him up.  

“Jeremy?” 

No answer. 

“My love?” 

Jeremy turned over and looked at his wife of the wild; she could see he saw right through her and a panic struck her: she was no longer a mystery to him. For these past few weeks he had been constantly writing and no longer took notice of her doting on him. Jeremy, realizing he was leaving her behind soon, was becoming more and more alone. Herda, desperate, saw him in the same monstrosity he had found in her: death harboring his every moment. No plunty could cure the complacency of one who was ever alone.  

Herda, with all her years, had strangely become the child and, in Jeremy’s age, she didn’t know how to revive him from his silent reverie. She didn’t know that as he watched her bathe in the river at night, the same exact woman as he had found her, he hid his passion for her. He was silent, moving about their home in the mountain, expecting nothing of her and only appreciative that she was as beautiful as the day they had met.  

One night, however, as she watched him hobble back to the cave, she heard a cry and, from a distance, saw the struggle of a child in the river. Before Jeremy could shout to Herda, a lifetime of wanting motherhood wrenched her insides and she swam out to save the child.   

In a panic, Jeremy began to row back to shore as quickly as an old man could and watched in panic as Herda pulled the child to shore. In her impulse she was naked, her white skin, pale and pink as a shell from the ocean shore, shone innocently as she cradled the frightened child in her lap. The child’s cries were loud and, as Jeremy docked his boat and ran toward her, a crowd surrounded her.

In all her monstrosity, she looked past them and held the babe against her body. She looked at Jeremy and proudly said, “I saved one of them!”

And that’s when the first stone was thrown. The crowd went after her as if she were a whore or an insane person intruding on the safety of the child. She was oblivious to their blows, until Jeremy, with a voice that seemed to shake every nerve of the crowd, yelled and, balancing himself with his cane, ran feebly, weeping, to save her. “Leave her alone! Leave her alone!”

He tore his coat off and threw it around her. Weeping wildly, he cursed them in his heart, knowing full well he was too old and feeble to fight off a crowd. The helplessness of an old man protecting a cherished treasure permeated the crowd and they backed off. That he had to save her broke his heart into a million pieces, but what really tore at Jeremy Blackstone was that now he had to share her with the world. She was no longer his secret, and would never be understood. It was like death had found him because she had lost all discretion in saving a child of a kind that would only tear her apart.

Every year Herda had lived came rushing into her memory. She felt old for the first time in her thousands of years of living. As the old man fought to hide her nakedness, she led the two of them back to his boat. The stunned crowd watched silently as she rowed them away.  

Jeremy wept as she rowed them back to the forest, the beauty of the wild no longer his haven. He lost all sense of peace, knowing they had discovered her whom he had failed to protect and whose life had sustained him all these years. Herda helped him out of the boat. For the first time in almost seventy years Jeremy shook as he looked across the river and, like a child, cried in her lap until he fell into the weary sleep of the very old. 

The world would only break his heart again, she saw, and nodded to herself as she looked across the river. I can, she said to herself, rescue him again. She had to tell him about how she would spend her eternity. No, she wouldn’t do that. She knew he was dying of a broken heart. He hadn’t wanted to share her, just protect her from a world he knew would only cause her heartache. He realized that the day he died she would either be alone, or never safe again.  

She threw a rock at the moon. She looked back at him.

He smiled and clutched his heart. “I’m dying, Herda.”

“I know.” She kissed his hand.

“My heart is dying.”

“Your heart will never die.” She cheerfully kissed his hand again.

Herda had lived an eternity alone and had never had a conversation until she had met Jeremy by the side of the river. That he loved to protect her, despite her strength, confused her, yet made sense to her. She put her arms around him. 

“There is no world for me here without you.”

Jeremy looked at her. The columns of stories and poems he had written over the years lined the cave’s walls. Their testimony would be left behind. They both looked across the river. The lights of boats coming illuminated the river and they knew they were no longer alone.

“But you,” he said in a whisper, “I know will go on forever.”

She finally saw peace in his face as he looked up in absolute adoration at her. The plunties cheered and, as one of them broke into song, Jeremy died in her arms. She wept, left alone again after a full life of love and companionship. Through this man, she had learned that she was more than a monster and that, although she found no need for the joy of eating bread, she was just as human and alive as the people she had never been able to engage in real conversation.

Herda looked at her cage of plunties and decided to set them free. She opened the cage, and they bounced and danced about. She finally laughed. A million drops of coolness eased the heat of the pain in her chest in her loss, and the plunties, in beautiful song, exited her cave. She followed them out into the forest, carrying Jeremy, and was led to a tree where, so long ago, she had found a family of plunties waiting for discovery.

When she saw the tree she dug a great hole beneath it and the plunties chirped as they clumsily crawled into it, one by one. A bed of them was made, and she lay Jeremy on top of them. She understood her attachment to them now and, as she covered them with dirt, decided to live in a first and final sleep next to the only man who was able to save her from loneliness. The wind threw the last bit of dirt onto their grave, and, with her lover in her arms forever, Herda finally slept.

 

The End

Editor’s Favorite

 

 

Janet C. Ro, janet.c.ro80@gmail.com, of Evanston, Illinois, wrote BP #73’s “The Witch and the Rock” (+ the poem, “Farewell, My Isobel” for BP #68; “Monstrous” and “The Scientist” for BP #67; “Rose and Gold” for BP #65, as well as the “Angelic and Animated Rhyme Sets”; Alien Rhymes for BP #64, and was featured poet in BP #63 with her Thorough Rhymes). She writes: “Thrashing through armies of roses and thorn, I’m rushing to save my dear pet unicorn. My bones are now breaking and my poor skin does bleed. But rescued by every new word that you read: janetcro.blogspot.com

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