It’s Indie Ink Writing Challenge time! As you can probably tell, I’m having a great time with this writing challenge, and I’ve even come on board with Indie Ink as an Assistant Editor, and I’m meeting all sorts of wonderful people.
This week, I was challenged by my friend, M. Hunter (the guy who turned me on to this group of amazing writers!), and his prompt is a doozy. It’s just one word:
And I have to confess, I’ve been tearing my hair out all week trying to come up with a decent story based on this prompt. If I was writing this on a typewriter, I would have a wastebasket full of crumpled up pieces of paper and half-baked ideas. But after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I finally came up with this. I hope I did you proud, Hunter.
When Esmeralda first laid her eyes on the cottage in the middle of the woods that was to be her new home, she began to believe in fairies. She and her mother had just pulled up into the driveway, but their progress to the house was halted by a seemingly impenetrable barrier of blackberry vines, as if transplanted straight from Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
Esmeralda’s mother sat in the car, staring at the obstruction numbly. They had just driven for days to get to this house, fleeing the city and the predatory advances of Esmeralda’s stepfather, and her mother was emotionally and spiritually drained from the ordeal. It was beginning to get dark, however, and they needed to get inside, so Esmeralda climbed out of the car to see if she could find some way through the impediment to the house.
As she walked down the edge of the road, she noticed something sparkling in the briars. The late afternoon sun had almost disappeared behind the tall trees, but this object sparkled as if illuminated from within. Esmeralda got on her hands and knees to investigate, and saw something metallic partly buried in the weeds, just barely within her reach. Black thorns scratched at her skin, drawing blood, but she managed to grab a hold of a metal chain. As she drew the object towards her, the vines seemed to grab at her sleeve to hold her back. Even more determined, she pulled harder and landed on her backside in the dirt road, clutching her prize.
She thought she heard someone whispering behind her. She turned around quickly to see who it was, but there was no one there.
Esmeralda had been jumpy ever since her stepfather had put his hands on her. He had never been inappropriate with her before, but something must have changed in him that day. She was eleven years old and starting to grow womanly parts, but she hadn’t quite figured out how to deal with her new body; maybe it had been her fault. She had been reading a book when he approached her from behind and started to massage her shoulders. She had stopped reading when his hands wandered down over her chest and towards her waist. Her whole body had tensed up when she realized what was going on. “Shhh…” he had whispered.
Shhhhhhhh. The wind picked up and rustled through the brambles. Esmeralda shivered. Her body had locked up again.
She looked down at her hands and gazed at the object she had retrieved. It was a large emerald pendant on a gold chain. Even though the light was fading fast, she could see the gem clearly. The surface of the stone had small fissures, and as she ran her fingers over them, she heard faint music coming from within the darkness of the briars. The pendant was warm.
Esmeralda stood up, brushed herself off, and gazed at the car. Her mother hadn’t moved. She didn’t expect her to; they had both been quiet throughout the entire trip, ever since Esmeralda had told her what had happened.
Esmeralda had locked herself in the bathroom after the incident until her stepfather had left the house. Upon hearing what had happened, Esmeralda’s mother had packed a bag and spirited them both away to this remote cottage in another state, her only inheritance from Grandmother. But Esmeralda knew that her mother had loved him, and the fact that he had touched her only daughter had taken her to the edge of madness. The only thing keeping her from taking that leap was Esmeralda herself.
She re-examined the brambles. There was definitely some sort of noise coming from within the overgrown yard: someone was humming. Was it coming from the house?
The pendant within her hands started humming in response. She heard more whispering and the sound of running feet. Something zoomed by her, at the very edge of her vision. Her heart started pounding.
Put it on. She wasn’t sure if she thought it or if someone actually said it out loud, but as soon as those words appeared in her consciousness, the emerald began glowing. She looked around one more time, swallowed the lump of fear in her throat, and slipped the chain over her head.
The pendant was heavy on her chest, but it had a comforting weight. It was glowing brightly now, illuminating the blackberry bushes in front of her.
The vines shifted again, only this time there was no wind. They were moving on their own, parting in front of Esmeralda to reveal a mossy path. She hesitantly stepped forward, and the vines cleared themselves away even more. With every step she took, the vines became less formidable, and the humming grew stronger, until she made her way to the front door of the cottage and the humming was almost unbearably loud.
She put her hand on the doorknob, and the humming ceased. She heard more footsteps and whispered laughter from inside the house. Summoning all the courage she could find, she opened the door quickly, yelling, “Aha!”
Even though this house had been abandoned for years, the front room was clean and furnished. A wood stove stood in the middle of the room, dividing the kitchen from the living area, and a fire was merrily burning in its belly. She felt a sense of peace here that she had never felt before, and for the first time in many days, Esmeralda began to cry.
Don’t cry. You’re safe. We’ll protect you. We promise. Different voices spoke from around the room, although Esmeralda still couldn’t tell if she had imagined the voices or heard them out loud. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she gazed around the room and addressed her hosts. “My mother. She’s…I can’t…I need my mom here.”
More whispering. Turn around.
The sun had set, the moon was now rising, and the path she had walked was now more visible. “Esmeralda?” Her mother was standing at the beginning of the path, peering into the darkness. Esmeralda’s feet had left bioluminescent marks in the moss, and her mother began following the prints cautiously.
“Mom!” Esmeralda’s voice cracked as she called out. “I’m over here! It’s so beautiful.” She ran down the path to meet her mother, the pendant bouncing heavily on her chest.
“What…?” Her mother’s question trailed off as she gazed at the house, warm and inviting. Esmeralda took her mother’s hand. Their pulses beat in time with the glow of the emerald.
As she led her mother to the front door, Esmeralda heard a rustling behind her, and she glanced one more time behind her. The brambles were closing back over the path, covering any evidence of their presence at the cottage. She nodded to the vines and looked up at her mother. “We’re safe,” she whispered.
And for the first time in many days, her mother smiled.