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The Forest Keeper

Inspired by "de Maria, de Mariana, de Madalena…" by Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu

I crouched in the cool water and whispered, “Hello. What do you do here?”

Her eyes followed the sound to meet mine. “I am the forest keeper, and there is no need to whisper. Our voices often cannot be heard above the din of the machines and the ticking of time.”

I stood slowly and let my eyes stray across the curves of the landscape that stretched widely beyond the small collection of trees she called “forest”.  She stood as well, mimicking my actions but with outstretched limbs of beating hearts.

“What is your name?”, I asked abruptly and without realizing that I’d taken a threateningly large step forward. She swayed in response, as if my breath was a gale swirling about her. She steadied and stared until her gaze reached the bottom of my soul, then spoke her answer to the trees. “I am Mariana. I am a tree that grows hearts, one for each you take …” her voice trailed off and the rest flew away with a passing flock of birds.

I watched the black birds strut across the orange sky, dipping and flitting together in a fitful flight that dared the edges of sky and land. I stared until my eyes became dark from the sunlight and I turned to find the forest keeper, but she was gone and so was the gentle thumping of her hearts.

I felt strangely safe and vulnerable at the same time. Instinctively, I pressed my hand to my neck to see if my own heart was beating and tried not to panic when the pulse was not there. I stood as still as I could and heard a distant steady beat, not my heart, but like the mechanical sweep of a second hand.

How long had it been? Forever.

I’ve been trapped here in this skin as long as I can remember.  The beat of the second hands grew louder.

What do I do here?  I do everything.

Everything that is expected of me, every role that must be filled, every part that must be played. I am an entire company for the theater of my life, spread out against this landscape that is not my own.

I am the forest keeper.

I feed the birds.

I wind the clocks.

I grow hearts.

I am Mother, Wife, Lover, Friend …

I am all of this, and more.

__________________________________________


“de Maria, de Mariana, de Madalena…” is a project conceived for the fifth edition of All My Independent Women which, more than an exhibition that occurs irregularly across Portugal, is a platform for feminist thinking. While most projects are on display in Coimbra at Casa da Esquina, between May 21st and June 18th of 2010, others find their place elsewhere in the city. Our project takes form in the virtual environment of Second Life.
This year’s edition of AMIW revolves around the collective reading of the book “Novas Cartas Portuguesas” by Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Teresa Horta and Maria Velho da Costa, first published in 1972 and banned by the dictatorship that lingered in Portugal until April 25th of 1974, a mark in the history of feminism in our country.

Welcome Travelers

Welcome to the “Lucky Motel”, but if you ask me, there ain’t nothin’ lucky about it. This place’s always dealin’ in somethin’ shady. I’m smart enough to keep my head down, check people in and out as needed and I don’t ask no questions. When you leave, if you leave, then I clean the rooms as told (there ain’t much to that either unless it’s a real mess of a deal) and then I wait for the next one. It’s better than workin’ at the factory or the theatre and Momma won’t let me work at the bars. If she only knew what really went on around these parts; hey, did ya’ll say you needed a room? Let me see what we got.

Ya’ll ain’t from around here is you? Our one general store and gas station is over on Friday Street and ya’ll might want to hit that while it’s daylight. Don’t go too far though or you’ll end up at the swamp; ain’t nobody seen Sally Huchins in 40 years but she used to live there, so they say. Me? Oh yeah, I been here all my life. Got my learnin’ right there in the school house before I quit to work. Just down Violin Road is the hobo shacks. If you ask me, ya’ll try not to go near ‘em; see, a girl learns when she is little it’s better to come down Bliss Blvd. or Freedom Street.

How long was you thinkin’ a stayin’? If ya’ll is here for a couple of nights there is probably an old movie playin’ in the theatre but I couldn’t tell you all what. Mostly old man Victor, he shows them horror movies from the 1960’s. I ain’t much into that, enough horror all around me, but you ain’t gonna want to stay in your room all day. Could get messy. We have a couple of bars, if you goes on down Main Avenue, if that’s more your way. I wouldn’t drink too much if I was you though.

Here is your key, could you sign right here for me please? I’m guessin’ you all is hungry, there is King of Pizza King of Taco just down where K Smith Steet dead ends. I wouldn’t stay out after dark though. Everybody knows most everybody in a place like this but they don’t take much to strangers. Kind of funny when we got this motel right here, if you ask me. That’s why I work here; I don’t mind a stranger or two.

Ya’ll is just outside, room number 9, and there’s a soda machine up the stairs on the outside. What did you just ask? Naw, I ain’t goin’ no where, I figure if I work here long enough I might one day own this here motel. I can fix it up real nice, ya know? So that people enjoy their stay here in Missing Mile, NC. Why would I leave when I got everything here I need? Besides, if you ask me, this is the kind of place you just can’t leave.

It’s been real nice talking to ya’ll, just come get me if you need anything else. Ya’ll seem like right nice folks. I do hope to see you in the mornin’. Remember what I told you. Good evenin’!

Inspired by Missing Mile, Soap built by Loch Newchurch

Black Spot

Black Spot inspired by Lia Woodget

There are books here I have never read and rooms filled with memories I no longer know. At least the air stays fresh, even with the fires burning night and day.  I don’t spend much time away from the Yard, but when the nighttime voices and singing die down, I find my way along the battered passages and pretend this is home.

I stand at the fire bowl and stare out of the stable of lasses that bob gently on the cold blue skin of the bay.  Instinctively I reach my arms out of the low flame and start to rub my palms together in an easy way. It’s here that I realize my hands have turned the color of heavily oiled wooden planks and my skin is starting to bear marks like the deep grain of old trees.  I stop, turn the backs of my hands to my face and follow the lines over large knuckles and down the backs of my wide and withered palms.

I have spent my every day lit hour, and many nights under the warm glow of bees wax, shaping these beautiful women sea masters. Now I am starting to feel tiny splinters of me falling away with each swing of the axe, and each turn of the awl.

My eyes have turned dark and daunting, like the tide just before dusk. My thinning hair dances about my face with the slightest breeze like the tops of the sea oats.

My back, once straight and tall like the finest mast is curling slowly like the length of the bow on the Elysium.  My teeth rattle in my head like an anchor crashing into the soft sand of a lonesome beach.

I am becoming a ship of my own estate, fearing that while I may be no longer sea worthy I am alluring nonetheless. With that illusion held firm, I wander back to the Yard to find her waiting in the dark still of the hold.

My shirt is wrinkled, unkempt and stained in obvious contrast to the taught sails pulled across the breasts of my lover.  She ignores the nature of my blouse, and encourages me to run my hands along her long dark lines with slow and firm strokes.  Water caresses the finely honed edges of her torso and she creaks ever so softly under my feet as I pace along her deck. These are our moments, never to be shared with another.

Soon she will push away into the boiling sea, leaving but the imprint of her darkened silhouette against the orange sinking sun in my mind. But, I will still have the smell of her on my hands, the ache of her in my back and the shape of her in my heart.

Black Spot.

This is my home; this is my prison.

This is the place that beautiful women are born to rule the mighty seas and their captains.

This is where I am their master, until they are taken by another and I am left to carve the next from the aged forest, piece by piece.

Return

Blinding light flashes against her review mirror as the setting sun behind her gets to just the exact level to assault her eyes. Sighing, she reaches up to flip the angle and she notices the age of her hands. What it had been like to be young, the arrogance of youth; she never noticed her hands at twenty but at fifty eight she sees them all the time. Exhausted she places her hand back on the wheel and watches the road, slowing down as she hits the edges of the derelict town.

Forty one years ago she had left this place. Forty one years ago she had piled into her clunker of her car, the one only she could get running, with one bag and stone cold fear only outweighed by her need to flee. It had been a broken town then. Every ten years or so people would move in and try to revive it but nothing ever thrived. Factories shut down, earth couldn’t grow crops, businesses went unnoticed and families left the way they came.

Her car was no longer a clunker, but a reliable Volvo; she had a kind husband, one daughter was a veterinarian, her other two children were in college, life had been beautiful. Why had she chosen now to come back here? She had to clean up. Slowing down she pulls to the side of the road parking under power lines that no longer buzzed with electricity.

Flashes, not light this time, in her head of that summer. It was hot, oppressively so and the judge’s son was the only beautiful thing in that forsaken place. She loved him, loved him with the intensity only a seventeen year old girl could have.

She shakes her head and steps from her car the door shutting behind her with an echo. It was time to find it, to lay it all to rest. Mandy’s house still stood on the corner, though that seemed to be all it still did. She moves across the road and steps around the rusted fence. Inside the paint was in strips at best, the olive green barely showing. Her boots crunched against the torn and rotting floor. Someone had dragged a mattress into the back of this house and she ignores the implications.

Flashes, not clouds over sun but that summer again. Mandy calling her name through the house, begging her to come back, not to be stupid. The heat of her anger boiled into something alive within her body; something so fierce it rivaled the sticky season. She had left that night.

She takes a slow breath and steps free of her childhood friend’s home and it was only a rock’s throw to the judge’s old house right across from the silo now covered in graffiti. From here she could see the old school, its broken windows, the haunted remains.

Flashes, not strobe lights but the memories flooding. She had gone blind with rage and she knew the judge and his wife were gone for the weekend. That was the problem in the first place, that and Nina Mae with her blond curls and open legs.

Stumbling over the broken step she makes it onto the sagging porch and presses her hand to the door. Groaning loud enough to make her wince the door gives way and allows her to enter the house. It smelled musty, old, no one had lived anywhere near here in ages. The wall paper was filthy and faded, the floor covered in dust and dirt. Her heart froze.

Up the stairs, was she floating? First door on the left, that had been his room. Entering she was prepared to search the old far wall for the hatch but it had been busted long ago. Age, time, years had taken none of the memories away.

Flashes, not from drugs but from her whirring brain. He had blue eyes the same color as the sky at high noon and a laugh that made your insides take flight. She had given him everything but he had been ungrateful.

Bending she crawls into the passageway, fingers searching, was she shaking? No. She had complete control. Her hands, hands that had lived, pry up the board in the back corner. Belly down, dust filling her nose she reaches in, stretches. Contact. She feels the cold steel of the tire iron. No one ever found it.

Pulling it out she lets her eyes scan it slowly and then, there, on her knees in the rotted wood, she pushes the boards back into place. Hefting the weight of the tool in her hand a world of weariness falls upon her for a brief moment and then, just as quickly, it is gone.

Like a ghost she moves through the house, out the front door and back to her car. She did not go to the school or walk the haunted football field that she knew still stood in pieces. No, she had a little trip to make out to the ocean. Now she would have closure.

For the first time all day, she smiles, and starts her engine leaving the tainted town for the second time, this time never to return.

Inspired by Cellar Township built by Outy Banjo

Inspired by Cellar Township built by Outy Banjo

OpenSpaces

The air was heavy with the smell of sweat, smoke and tuna sandwiches. The space was lit by an orange-yellow glow streaming in from high windows. The light spilled down haphazardly upon stacks of boxes that stood floor to ceiling between me and the noises coming from the other side of the room.

“Where are you?” I half yelled into the ceiling, hoping my words would find the right ricochet to his ears.

“I’m over here .. past the pile of old maps,” came the tired reply.

I stood for a moment, staring at the maze of boxed pillars. I leaned left then right, trying to see if there might be some clue as to the entrance to his maze but there was none, so I took the most direct route ahead. There were more twists and turns than I had possibly imagined, the boxes were almost new but they were packed full, some overflowing with notes and most with the label “OS” scratched in black felt pen on the side.

I ran my hand along the pillars as I walked for what seemed miles until I found the heap of old maps, only they weren’t that old. I thumbed through them quickly, noticing the dates on each were just days apart but the land mass changed drastically map to map.  They would have played like a flip book cartoon showing the evolution of the world if I could have held them to do so, but something seemed wrong.

Just then, I heard his voice much closer than before, “Don’t bother with those, they will be destroyed with the rest of these once I get to them.” I looked up and saw him, a small figure hunched over an incinerator.   His shirt sleeves were rolled carelessly around his sinewy arms that lifted and emptied each box expertly in almost a machine like fashion.  Each time he emptied a box, a small puff of smoke escaped from the top of the black iron box and he waited for it to dissipate before lifting the next.

He didn’t stop when I approached.

“What are you doing?” I asked, but he didn’t stop to answer. He paused only long enough to wipe the sweat from his wrinkled brow then bent again quickly to empty the next box.

I turned around and looked again at the pillars of white boxes. They seemed to be marching toward us …”Into the valley of death rode the six hundred …”.

A puff of smoke found its way into my lungs, and I coughed almost uncontrollably, caught off guard by the thick black soot.    “Oh, I’m sorry about that,” he said, “some of them flash burn and belch out a nasty ash – I’m almost afraid I’m going to blow this place up one night with one of those.”

“One of those what?” I sputtered.

“It’s usually the artist colonies that create the most ash, but lucky for me most of the others were merely homesteads – which is where the name came from by the way. Anyway, those homesteads barely make this old iron box breathe hard,” he replied without breaking the pace of his movement.

I had been drawn to a box overflowing with notes as he spoke, and I stopped and looked up to read one that tempted me.

We regret to inform you that we have been forced to abandon our island due to pricing changes. At this time, we do not have recommendations for moving, as many of our friends and neighbors are facing the same circumstances. We thank you for making our lives rich, and we wish you the best of luck.

Respectfully yours …

I yanked the note out of the box and held it out toward him, “This is what you are burning, notes from homesteaders?”

“Notes, assets, terrain files, basically everything and anything associated with that establishment,” he grunted under the strain of what must have been another artist colony since the iron box groaned, then roared, then belched.

“But, why?” I asked, wiping my eyes with my sleeve.

He finally stood up, as much as he could in his state of constant hunch, and faced me. He didn’t look at all like the man I’d met three years before. His hair was thin and dark, a far cry from the boyish blond locks that once framed his face, and his eyes had turned from aquatic pools into cold steel traps, and they narrowed just before he spoke.

“Look, having this stuff around just makes people uneasy and there’s no sense in keeping it all – can’t you see it’s just cluttering up the place? My job is to keep the books neat and tidy and these, these monstrosities are making that nearly impossible for me. Historical records are for historians, not a forward looking business group.”

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish this out soon so I can clean up the stability and quality data warehouses. I trust you can find your way out.”

Inspired by OpenSpaces ~ Aera by Alia Baroque pictured

Inspired by OpenSpaces everywhere ~ Aera by Alia Baroque pictured

Dream Maker

Green is her favorite color.

This is where she makes dreams.

Occasionally, you can hear melodious humming from the quiet little factory in her mind.  Open air studios sprinkled with blurry images, inaudible sounds and fragrance not yet categorized but dominated by earthly scents, like the smell of burning peat moss from her distant past.  In the darker recesses unused pieces are stored in piles and stacks. Some neatly organized, others strewn about like the aftermath of a great storm, but each has a place.

Light and darkness form shapes that are known only to her, responding to her tiny whispers and chants and unfolding into complex images.  She beckons them to tea and biscuits, before she molds them into stories with her misshapen hands.

Day and night have merged into a suspension of time that has lost its power over her, for dreams do not end nor do they succumb to celestial timekeepers.  She has no schedules to keep.  Her pace is easy but filled with intent, like the waves lapping against the stone shores.

Chambers and antechambers collude and spill out along a vast expanse.  Over time her simple escape has grown up, out and into the sea but despite the sprawl it is warm and inviting.  Bright smoke dances for her.  Stars fall from the sky for her.  Whispers echo down the hall.  Wait for her there, she will find you.

Peace lives here.

This is where she makes dreams.

Inspired by Pteron, built lovingly by kei514 Flow

Inspired by Pteron, built lovingly by kei514 Flow

Madness of Time

Time shifts in small earthquakes. These quakes do not register on a regular scale but can only be detected by machines buried deep in the earth. With each spike on the paper, each anomaly from the steady rhythm, tectonic plates move and time skips forward. How many of these little quakes had shaken the invisible layers of crust floating above the mantle?

Years had gone by, hundreds of tiny tremors, unnoticed, beneath her feet.

And now? Now she stands against the parapet of her domain watching the orange crystal orb, lifted and spilling magic, spin marking its own passage of time. With a sigh she pushes off the edge and walks slowly to the floors below. What a fortress she had built, castle walls rising high above the water on her rocky island, orange crystal orbs spinning, pulsing, lending magic to her world. It was lit and blazing among the dark walls, lights that cast a beacon to the sea.

Another vibration of the ground, another tick of the clock.

She could no longer remember if she had been walling the world out or building herself in. Her feet echo as she makes her rounds, pushing through huge ornate doors to check either outer room on the next level, eyes scanning the lamps to make sure all was aglow.

Down again, empty low ceiling rooms, she slides fingers down gleaming orange silk curtains that lead out to the balconies, they whisper and shift at her touch. The flames outside always stayed lit, but it was part of her evening to check them, part of her routine. Leaning against an edge her golden eyes rake over the gardens below, gardens full of the same magic that held the edges of her dark home together.

Tectonic plates drifting, moving where they cannot be seen.

Silence in her castle, huge, stony, empty silence. She had let them all go. “Where have you gone?” she calls out in a frantic moment darting her eyes about. No sound, she tenses, concentrates. Once she had lovers and she had grand parties; once she had laughter. More empty rooms checked. Then she descends the cherry wood lined stairs letting her skirts drag upon them, rippling and swooshing. These were the things that kept her company now. Above an epic fireplace hung a picture of the very castle she was walking, what strange vanity she had.

Near the wooden castle doors she pauses and breathes in the mist that rises from a formidable opening. For the first time she smiles. Reaching out a hand she lovingly touches the vines that had pushed through her stony floor. “Hello,” she whispers and it is as if the vine arches like a cat to her delicate touch.

The needle moving on a seismograph, making electronic notes, recording.

Her pitch colored hair ruffles in the breeze as she crosses the long bridge, her spinning, soothing sculptures riding high above the grounds. Through the gardens that kiss the base of her castle she whispers, “Speak to me, speak to me…”, her once lithe figure passing glittering mushrooms, twisted vines, blue lights with a magic heartbeat and the peaceful fountain.

White rolling mists leave wet droplets on her silk shell as she reaches her final goal, the place she stays in more and more, longer and longer. Far below her castle lies a lush grotto soaked in her magic and the nature of the earth. In this grotto, beyond the low hanging branches of the trees, over bridges and bubbling streams, was also her eternal winter. “In here, in here, in here…” she whispers inside her own madness for as each castle wall rose it destroyed the high built edges of her mind. Adrift in the magic she was lost with only shimmers of clarity. She lay down by a blazing fire, content in her lost mind.

Time passes in ways that cannot be seen, in ripples and tremors that move the earth.

Inspired by Tusk built by Amberly Kinsella

Inspired by Tusk built by Amberly Kinsella