Mia’s Day – A Short Story

Mia went down to the caves from time to time in the summer. There was less water to wade through and the drips from the ceiling seemed warmer than in winter. She wasn’t afraid of the creatures crawling along the walls. They were tiny with many legs and hard shells. The occasional spider darted across her hand as she felt along the wall of green slime. She would shudder, but didn’t scream. She had learnt that screaming was for a state of emergency only. She also learnt that the little black things above her head were bats, not birds. Her books told her that they couldn’t be vampires, so that was alright. In fact, being in the caves on her own was absolutely fine. This is how she liked it.

 Soon she came to the paintings. She put down her torch and placed her palms and fingers over the hand prints on the ceiling above her head. She had grown since last time. There were three hand prints, each one bigger than the last. Mia decided they were birthday prints, that every year on the ancient child’s birthday, her mama did a handprint with her so they could see how much she had grown. Mia used to do this with her papa and mama on the kitchen wall and in letters sent to dida and baba. Her fingers splayed across a large sheet of airplane light paper for sending abroad. She hadn’t seen her grandparents since before the war.

 Mia sat for a while, took out a paper napkin, unwrapped it and ate the piece of babka as she sat and stared at the hands on the wall. After a while the show began. The hands started a dance across the wall, making puppets with their fingers, miming the life they knew, pretending to light a fire, to make a garment with needles. Mia giggled as she watched, crumbs from her cake falling to the ground which delighted all the small creatures. A treat for her was a treat for them.

 Every time she came to the caves the hands would share a story or two. She understood what they were saying. She wondered if the ancient child had been to school. Mia missed going and hoped to return soon. It was time to go back home. She picked up her torch and clambered out to the top of the hole into the forest around her.

 She put the torch in her basket and a red hat on her head. Now she was Red Riding Hood, walking along the path, listening for a wolf. She had to call in at Jovan’s house and collect some yarns for weaving and knitting. This is why she had her basket that day. Mia was hoping for some stuffed cabbage leaves for her tea later. She was still not very good at cooking, but could make a soup and pancakes if she had to. Mostly Jovan and his wife made sure Mia had something to eat every day.

 Nobody inside. A parcel and note had been left for Mia behind the large pot of basil. She looked carefully for a snake. It wasn’t there. She popped everything in her basket and carried on up the steep cobbled street looking out for the wolf all the way home. Wolves and snakes were everywhere at that time, watching everyone who came and went in the small town by the river.

 Mia placed the cabbage leaves on the stove top for later, then took out the hanks of yarn, dyed in gold, red and green. She had enough to make a few pairs of socks to sell at the market, to soldiers and townspeople who would readily buy or exchange goods for her beautiful designs. She might have enough left to make a small rabbit for Marija’s baby.

 She sat by the window in her kitchen, where she could look out for dangerous beasts as well as ones she would welcome in to her home. The window slightly open for fresh air and warmth of the sun, her radio on, she listened to music, Mia put one hank at a time over a chair and wound a ball of yarn from each one, going clockwise until all were ready for making.

 She flexed her fingers, wriggled them, then looked at her hands. She kissed each one as she whispered blessings quietly to herself. Now there would be magic as she made each sock. She picked up her five small thin needles of wood and rubbed them to warm them up. Then she began casting on, ten stitches on each of four needles bringing them together in a circle. She rocked in her chair like baba used to, whispering long poems, smiling, calling on all her spirits to help with the making of each sock.

 They came in one by one, the rabbit, the deer, a crow. Sitting with Mia in her kitchen, they all recited poems, nodding as Mia finished each sock with a flourish, combining the red, green and gold. She made four pairs in one afternoon, long socks ready for autumn. Now for the rabbit. With a quick final cast-off the small animal was done. She had accomplished much on this day. Yarns and needles gave her peace, focus in a world full of worry, longing, of missing all who had abandoned her a few weeks ago, or was it months.

 Mia couldn’t remember. She only knew what she had made, sold and bartered. She only knew there was Jovan and his wife Milena at the bottom of the cobbled street, that the wolves appeared at any time to claim a victim. She hoped one day the troubles would end and she would be free, perhaps rescued by someone, taken away or that everyone might return and the town would be busy again. The rabbit, deer and crow left. Mia closed the window and went to put on the stove to warm her cabbage parcels.

 

Knitted Baba Doll via Pinterest

Snow Goose

 

‘I can’t keep going’

‘You can. A few steps more. Count to thirty three and we will stop.’

Mia stood still and waited for the others. Huge flakes like feathers fell slowly to the ground. The air was silent and still, a night sky shimmered with stars. The hare in the large round moon looked down on the group with tears in his eyes.

Mia was tearful too. There seemed to be nowhere to stop and the tiny feet and bodies behind her were exhausted. She wasn’t tired or cold. Her blanket, like large wings, kept her shielded from the damp. Her feet were protected against the wet snow. They were sturdy and used to travel.

But she worried about the little ones.

‘Thirty three steps and we can rest beneath that large fir tree ahead,’ she said reassuringly to her little birds.

The spruce was thick and heavy. No snow lay around its base. It would be a good place to sleep thought Mia. The young ones picked up their pace, eager to reach the comfort of the giant fir.

‘They’re not looking for us,’ said a little voice. ‘They have forgotten us. We’ve been walking for hours and hours.’

‘Hush now,’ said Mia. ‘We have enough food for a week. They will find us.’

She didn’t want to say how afraid she was of spending another night without elders to protect them against salivating, hungry wolves looking for easy prey.

‘Come close, under my blanket and we will eat and sleep. It’s nice and warm in here,’ said Mia.

She beckoned the five babies towards her and enveloped them with her arms as they ate bread and drank water.

She started to sing and rock whilst they settled down around her. She stared up at the stars, tears rolling down her cheeks. As long as it kept snowing, it would stay warm. Warm enough to stop her babies from freezing. She hummed gently as the five around here started to fall asleep and she too could no longer keep awake.

Mia felt something warm against her face as she dozed. A tongue licked her cheek. She slowly opened her eyes, afraid of what she might see. She smiled. Beautiful brown eyes blinked at her. She put out her hand and stroked the young face nuzzling her.

‘Where’s your mama, baby deer? Are you lost too?’ she asked.

‘No, I’m not. I’ve come to tell you that we are going to take you with us, to somewhere safe,’ said the young fawn.

Mia rubbed her eyes believing she was still asleep, dreaming. But as she opened them wide she could see a whole family of deer stood in front of her.

‘Come on Mia,’ said the mama deer. ‘Come with us. Bring your babies with you.’

Messengers, thought Mia, are always deer. She knew she had to go with them. She slowly awakened her five children and placed each one on the backs of the four-legged animals, knowing she could trust them.

The snow was still falling. Deep and soft, a large feathered quilt, over the ground. Mia gathered her blanket, like large wings, around her and walked on with the deer, out of the forest, towards the moonlight. The hare smiled down on them all.

The Book Ghosts

If purgatory was a library, would you stay there….

The Book Ghosts by Elisha Gabriel 

‘No rest for the wicked!’

‘Who said that?’

Greg shuffled out from behind the book shelf and grinned.

‘I might have known,’ said Anne. ‘Can you please move those books, we have a delivery arriving from France today. You do know don’t you Greg, that it is the wicked who rest too early on the other side. If they had kept their minds active we wouldn’t be doing this right here, and now.’

‘Did you think you would still be working in the afterlife?’ asked Greg

‘I don’t call this work. Besides, what else would I be doing. I’m not the idle kind. We can’t go anywhere and I’ve no intention of becoming a grave slab potato like that one.’

Anne pointed at a solitary figure slumped up against a headstone. ‘What a sad state. It won’t see her off and away to peace if she mopes around.’

‘Are we in purgatory?’ asked Greg.

‘So some say. I don’t have issue with it. There are far worse things we could be doing than tending to a library. We are all here to learn and then we can move on,’ said Anne.

‘You know so much already. What did you do to get to this place?’

‘Never you mind what I did young man, ask yourself why you are here. Now can you get on with those books. Thank you.’

Greg liked Anne. She was a tall, slender woman, and seemed to be getting taller by the day. Her long dark dress shifted gently as she heaved books around, dumped them on her grand desk and stamped them for issue. He decided he had come to a good place. Better than most he had heard of on his journey to the library.

‘Do I get to go out and spook the living?’ asked Greg.

‘Oh so many questions!’ said Anne. ‘You can’t. Only the privileged can do that. They get to do the interesting stuff.’

Greg had been at the library for some time. He wasn’t sure how long.

There were no clocks and no walls to put them on. It was an open space of shelves floating amongst the trees and stones regardless of the weather or season. It was an outdoor library.

He knew the sun and moon came and went, the shelves would vanish whilst they all rested, and he heard the crows in the tops of the trees as they squawked in the constant wild wind.

He was, of course, in his home town. He knew most of the people buried with him, but beyond the graveyard there was little else he could see. The church and house were in the distance. He had not tried going there. Many living people walked by and visited, sat on the stones, too k photographs, had picnics. Most, if not all of them, didn’t notice the dead.  The y never saw the library and its magnificent shelves or the great desk either.

‘You’re daydreaming’, said Anne as she flung a book over at Greg’s head. ‘Get on with it’.

He glanced at Anne sheepishly and continued with his task, occasionally looking at the living tourists passing by. It was a busy place, possibly one of the busiest in the world. Some of the residents didn’t like it. They wanted peace, but getting there was a learning process. They had to read to enlighten their souls.

Greg wondered what he had to learn that he didn’t already know. He knew why he hadn’t made tit to the place of peace, why he wasn’t totally rested. He had done some things as a living person that he wasn’t too proud of. He glanced down at his suit. At least he had been buried in  a decent outfit. He carried on with his job of moving books, in silence.

A rumble in the sky could be heard and a dark cloud appeared over the library. Greg glanced. Anne laid out a vast cloth over the stones and stood waiting. Slowly, one by one, the cloud  released books on to the cloth. Ten, then twenty, then fifty, two hundred. They were the French authors Anne had ordered. She held an envelope in her hand and released it up on the breeze to the cloud which sucked it up. It was an order for children’s authors. Greg watched with fascination.

Anne then placed the books on to the shelf designated for new arrivals and took the inventory attached to the final novel – The Hunchback of Notredame. She gave a sigh of contentment at a successful delivery.

Greg couldn’t help but wonder if all dark clouds brought books with them and that he just didn’t notice when he was living. Every night he watched as the dead rose from their graves to browse the shelves, picking a book or two, taking it to the desk where Anne would stamp them, not with a date, but with the reader’s name. He was responsible for returns, ensuring they were in good order and put back in the right spot on a shelf.

The library didn’t grow in size, only in variety as the decades slipped by. Greg would sometimes flick through the books with amazement at the breadth of imagination and wisdom. He read the occasional story, but was mostly busy working, keeping the shelves in order and helping Anne. He wondered, some days and nights, when his time would come to rest, if ever. It wasn’t that he was tired, but sometimes he felt as if he missed others he had not seen for some time.

Greg spent some of his time observing the living walking through, enjoying his invisibility and their ease. There was the occasional drunkard who would fall asleep on a tomb and then rise with regret and stiffness in a daze and stumble away. There was the graveyard cat he named Branwell which spent most days just meditating in sunshine or tucked under the sunken, tilted slab of Mr Wilfred Grimshaw, in the fog and rain. The cat was aware of the spirits and seemed to enjoy their company over the living. Greg assumed Branwell had been mistreated and forgotten and had made his escape to the stones and trees.

Some people stayed awhile in the yard, soaking up the atmosphere, perhaps waiting to see something ghostly at dusk or at night. One regular visitor was a young woman, always dressed in black with a book in her hand to read or write in. She sometimes took rubbings of the gravestones, or photographs, looked about for found objects. She seemed to spend quite some time there.

One day she was sat reading, with Branwell by her side, in the autumn sunset, the crows making their noise in the treetops above her. Greg couldn’t help but notice her pensive face. He wondered what was on her mind and whether she should go home soon before the graveyard stirred. He was also curious to know what she was reading and he edged closer to look over her shoulder.

‘You could ask,’ said the young woman.

Greg stepped back with surprise.

‘You could ask what I’m reading instead of looking over my shoulder,’ she said.

Greg cleared his throat to ready himself for speaking but felt fearful. This had never happened to him before. He smiled nervously as she turned and looked directly at him, wondering if he should disappear under his stone.

‘Hello,’ she said.

Greg gave a little wave with the fingers of his left hand. The young woman waved back, mimicking him.

‘You can see me then,’ said Greg. ‘And you can talk to me, can you hear me?’

‘Yeah, I hear ya. I see you and the woman most days here, looking after books or something.

What are you doing?’

Greg shuffled nervously, he wasn’t sure if he should say what they were doing or why.

‘Oh, we keep a library here for everyone,’ he said.

‘My name’s Asha by the way and you are?’

‘Greg. I’m Gregory O’Brien’.

‘I see you died aged just eighteen in 1842. So young,’ said Asha.

‘There are more buried here, younger than me, just bairns. Thousands of people.’

Greg glanced nervously at his own gravestone, he wasn’t sure what to do or say next. Then he remembered.

‘What are you reading?’

‘Wuthering Heights’ said Asha, ‘I thought it would be a good place to come and read it, especially as this is kind of a ghostly library place. You are all so well-behaved. No one has tried to scare me away yet.’

‘Anne might if she sees me talking to you. I don’t think I should be. Please don’t ask me any more questions,’ said Greg.

‘But I can ask questions about the books you have here surely? There’s no sin against knowing what is kept in a library, quite the opposite!’ said Asha. She smiled at Greg.

‘Maybe next time. I better go home before it gets dark. Good bye.’

She waved as she walked down the path, through the gates and then disappeared, like a ghost.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The following day as Greg was sorting out the adventures section he spotted a book he hadn’t seen before. It was bound in a red and gold cover and had writing on it he that he couldn’t understand. A language he didn’t know of. He flicked through the pages. There were great elaborate and highly colourful illustrations of people and places he didn’t recognise. He paused. Then decided it would be silly to take the book if he couldn’t read it. He took it to Anne’s desk.

‘Why is this book here,’ he asked. ‘What language is it?’

Anne glanced at the bold cover. ‘My dear Greg it is a collection of tales from the world of Arabia and is written in its language. I doubt you will find it of any use unless you can read Arabic. Can you?’

‘Can anyone here read Arabic?’ he said.

‘I don’t know, it’s never been taken out, so I would think perhaps not,’ replied Anne.

‘I’ll take it out anyway, I can look at the pictures in it, they are beautiful,’ said Greg.

‘Very well,’ said Anne. ‘Can you deal with any lates please today, we seem to have a few tardy readers.’

Greg nodded. He did what he was told. There was nothing else to do. He put the Arabian book on his grave for later. He hoped Asha would come by again and he could show her what he had found.

At four o’clock Asha appeared. Greg ran over to her, the large book under his arm. He waved at her enthusiastically.

‘I’ve got a book you might like to see. I don’t think you will be able to read it,’ he said.

Asha sat with Greg on a stone and took the book from him.

‘Oh yes, I know this. It’s a collection of tales told by a young woman called Sheherazade. It’s full of magic. You will love it!’

She flicked through the pages looking at the illustrations then stopped.

‘This one,’ she said. ‘Let’s go here.’

‘Go where?’ asked Greg. ‘What do you mean? I can’t go anywhere.’

‘Yes you can,’ said Asha. ‘You can go if you really want to, on an adventure.’

For the first time Greg wasn’t so sure. He had been at the graveyard for a long time. But if the offer was genuine he felt he surely had to take it. He wondered if Anne would miss him.

‘I better check with Anne, she might need to replace me,’ he said.

Anne appeared from behind a bookcase and waved at Greg as if to say off you go. She smiled at him and disappeared. Greg looked at Asha and shrugged.

‘Let’s do it,’ he said. ‘How does this work?’

Asha threw the book on the floor and pinned back the four corners of its pages with small four stones she pulled out of her bag.

‘It’s a magic carpet,’ she said. ‘Not just an ordinary rug. You have to believe in it.’

Greg stared at the illustration on the page as Asha stood and pulled Greg up by his hand. This startled him, he hadn’t felt the human touch for a long time. The carpet started to rise from the page and lay itself out in front of them. Asha stepped on and gently tugged at Greg’s hand. He followed. A gentle breeze appeared and swirled around them, faster and faster.

They vanished on the magic carpet in to the book of stories, and that is when Greg’s adventures began.