Last week I challenged you to write about a building. Here is the prompt…
Tell me about a building which is important to you; are its walls ancient and crumbling, or modern shining glass and cold steel? Does it mean home to you, or prison? What happened here? Why do you care?
First off, I’d like to welcome a newcomer to Friday FANTASTIC Flash, Darlene Foster, who submitted this stunning story…
Terror in the Tower
Angela glances at the tower ruins that overlook the city from high on a grassy mound and pulls her sweater tighter around her. She experiences the same chill every time she walks past the site.
When she was seven, her mother took her up to the old stone keep. From a small window, she saw a girl looking out at her through iron bars. Fire blazed behind the child. It had frightened her so.
“Mommy, we need to help that little girl,” exclaimed Angela.
Her mother took her hand and said, “There are no children in there. It must be a trick of the sun reflecting off the water.”
The sad, terrified and helpless child appeared very real.
Angela shudders as she recalls that day. She rushes to work.
It was the feast of Shabbatt ha-Gadol. Instead of the usual tables overflowing with food, around her lay the dead bodies of friends and neighbours. The air was thick with the smell of fresh blood and smoldering wood. Ester searched for Jacob, and Marta in the crowded tower. She witnessed parents slitting their children’s throats and then their own. Terrified, Ester tried to look away, but it was the same everywhere.
Since she didn’t have any parents, she stayed with old Jacob the money lender and his kind wife, Marta. For her board she cleaned the house, made meals and ran errands. Ester stumbled in the smoke filled keep looking for the only family she knew. Eventually she found them, dead in each other’s arms on a bed of straw soaked with maroon blood. A curved butcher’s knife lay beside them.
Did they forget about me? Did Jacob slit his wife’s throat and then his own?
The flames and smoke of the burning wood tower closed around her.
A growing mob outside yelled, “Come out, you dirty Jews.”
Why is this happening? We were promised safety in the tower.
She peered through the iron bars of a low window. Angry people outside the tower waved swords, scythes and pitchforks. It was safer to stay inside. It was better to die by your own hand. That is what the Rabbi said.
In the crowd, she caught the clear blue eyes of a girl her age. A girl dressed in fine clothing. Maybe she can help me. Ester mouthed the word Help.
The girl pointed to the window and said, “Look, Mother, there is a little girl in the tower. It is burning. We must help her.”
Ester saw an elegant woman take the child´s hand and pull her away. “There are no children in there, Angelina. Let us go away from this awful place.”
Ester coughed from the thick smoke and fell backward. The flames engulfed her.
Nine centuries later Angela can feel the eyes of Ester pleading for help as she hurries past Clifford’s Tower on the way to her Hebrew lessons. One day she will stop and help the child.
Next up it’s Ellie, who I met at the Bloggers Bash in London this summer. Ellie is an architect and a writer, so she couldn’t very well ignore this prompt, could she?
Its walls are made of concrete but it is a ruin. Its gate is a vibrant, cobalt blue – a blue so blue it makes the ocean green with envy. There is a tall tree right by its entrance. Was it a palm or a eucalyptus? As the paint chips from the walls, my memory fades.
Its walls are made of concrete and its foundations are deep. A legacy from the French, almost certainly. A century old, perhaps a little less. It is named after a French poet and novelist. In fact, this is the only French term in the surroundings. Rue Sijilmassa, the street that leads to the train station, refers to a medieval Moroccan city.
There are hints of Morocco within its walls, too. Pinned on a long frieze in the inner courtyard, a myriad calligraphy paintings tell the story of a sunny day in Casablanca – moored boats in the port, silhouettes wearing djellabas and countless representations of the Hand of Fatima.
The courtyard is silent. Clusters of palm trees rise from the ground like small oasis towns within walking distance. Under each cluster, a concrete round table and a bench, moulded from the ground.
Suddenly, a familiar scent wafts through the air. Kefta kebabs with chips. A bell echoes and almost instantly, the courtyard livens up. Teenagers rush in and out, their satchel bags tossed around their shoulders. It is lunchtime in Anatole France Middle School.
Its walls are made of concrete but it is a ruin. A sight that belongs to the past, buried along with the smell of the ocean and the innocence of my adolescent years.
Stone Circles and Concrete Cities
Man did this. Man shaped this landscape, not nature. Trees once sacred were felled to make room for the wealth of cattle, and the unnatural forced growth of grains. In the trees stead, boulders were hewn and shaped and stood in rows or circles, or heaped in mounds, and in these contrived, unholy places they worshipped the stars and celestial beings, where once they had worshipped the idols of the natural world.
Picture this; the concrete jungle of a modern city, with all the detritus it brings, the laying waste of acres of land, the gouging of red-brown earth in which to set foundations, sewers, electrical cables. The land bleeds and we patch it with tarmac and technology.
So you see, we are not so different. We make the same mistakes.
Their cleared lowlands soon turned to bog, barren and useless but for burying bodies to be dug up as future treasure. Hill-tops once bearded and hirsute with green, life-giving forest presented bald domes to the heavens, and man knew in his bones that the earth had been violated.
To make amends, he raised new forests of stone, but to build them, he first had to remove them from her gut, and it was no gentle surgery, that. To cross the bogs he built trackways, but that meant more trees felled, and thus the sacrilege was perpetuated.
Fine temples of tortured stone he raised, and he exulted in his cleverness, while around him the land lay ravaged. Yes, they were just like us.
Now, softened with moss and painted with lichen, shrunken and tumbled with age, whittled by the wind and washed by the rain, these once great structures blend into a landscape they had so radically dominated in their youth. Gradually, they are returning to the sundered womb, she is claiming her property, and they slide with slow deliberation and relief beneath the turf.
Contrasted with today’s abominations, they are but beautiful blemishes on the earth’s hide, just a few erroneous eyesores left behind by a people who are no more. We should heed her lesson, for she takes sly revenge beneath our noses; a twitch of her skin, and cities crumble. A ripple of her ocean, and cities drown. A gust of her breath, and cities collapse. It was ever so, and the work of man is never done.
Cheerful stuff, huh? My sincere thanks to Darlene and Ellie, I am so grateful to you both for taking part and sharing your wonderful stories.
Whilst the frenzy of NANO otherwise engages much of the writing community, Friday FANTASTIC Flash will be taking a short break until Friday 4th December. Watch out for the prompt coming soon…