Story Telling, 2017 First Place Youth Division
By Alahna Harrison
The Rhode Island Red crows outside my window, waking me from a hazy dream world. My eyelids peel open to faint sunlight filtering through my curtains. Stretching, I slide out of my warm bed and robotically fold the blankets down over the end of the mattress, plump the pillow, and pull the sheets smooth before turning to my worn dressing table.
I smile as I kiss my fingers and press them to the faded picture slid between the frame and glass of the large mirror. “Mornin’, Daddy.”
I quickly brush out my long hair, braid it back out of the way, and pull one of my best skirts from the bureau. I slide into it and button on a simple blouse before heading down the heavy oak stairs. The smell of bacon and fresh coffee greets me as I enter the kitchen. “Morning, Mamma.”
“Good morning, Sweetheart. Breakfast’s almost ready, but I need a few more eggs.”
“Will do,” I answer as I pull on my muck boots and head outside. The pines shift in the high mountain wind, reminding me why Daddy never left his birthplace and why Mamma stays here after his death.
The hens scramble around my feet and peck at my skirts as I enter the chicken yard. Laughing at their silly antics I throw corn across the yard and they scurry away clucking. I open each coop door and gather five fresh eggs from the straw, shifting them in my hand until I carry all of them in my long fingers.
Mamma always said I inherited Grandpa’s piano hands, but Daddy disagreed and thought God had given me the hands of a storyteller. Every Lord’s Day, Daddy would have me or one of my brothers choose a tale and he would use his big hands to make it come to life. Those nights I felt like God was speaking through Daddy right to me, telling me that He would always watch out for me. But that was all before the accident.
“Ruth Anne Gisborne! Where are my eggs?”
Mamma’s shout breaks through my thoughts and I hurry to the back door. “Sorry, Mamma.” I gently put the eggs in the washing bowl and kick off my boots.
“Day dreaming again, Ruth? What am I going to do with you? It’s hard enough when your brothers run off and play, but it’s even worse when my right-hand-girl doesn’t do her chores on time.”
I hurry to the cupboard and pull plates from the cabinet, but she grips my shoulders gently and turns me to face her. “I know you miss your daddy,” she says quietly, “but I really need your help. With no grown men around here we need to work with what we have. Do you understand?”
I look into her tired eyes and see the lingering hurt buried there. “I understand,” I whisper.
“Good. Now, finish setting the table.”
As I put the first plate down, the back door bangs open and three small bodies blur into the room. Hooting and crowing, they chase each other around the table.
“Jessie, Eli, Caleb, stop this minute!”
Mamma’s sharp command freezes the boys in place. “That’s better. Now go wash up for breakfast, and for heaven’s sake put some shirts on.”
They shuffle out of the room as I finish setting the table.
* * * *
The wagon rattles down the road as Alpha and Omega clop along at a comfortable pace. I tilt my head back and smile, the sun warming my face through the pine trees. With Mamma humming softly and the boys playing rock-paper-scissors quietly in the wagon bed the forest is blissfully calm and I am thankful once again for the solitude it offers from the crowded towns and cities.
Glancing to my left I glimpse the shore of the crystal clear lake. The Indians who lived here before us were named the “Coeur d’Alene people”, meaning “Heart of an Awl” because they were such shrewd traders with the French Canadians. The name has stayed with this area and lake long after white settlers like my great-grandparents started moving here, pushing the Indians away from their homes. I may not agree with everything General Sherman and Congress did back then, but I certainly can’t complain about the beautiful place where I was born.
Soon, the trees begin to thin and the road opens up to reveal a large two-story ranch house with the bare frames of a barn lying on the ground across the yard. Several wagons are already parked to the side of the road and Mamma guides ours into place behind them. Dismounting, I take the basket Jessie holds out. The boys jump down, each holding a covered plate or basket, and we walk toward the house. As we draw closer, the sounds of laughter and conversation float towards us.
A tall, neatly-dressed lady catches sight of us and excuses herself from one of the groups before heading our way. When she reaches us, Mrs. Silver smiles as she hugs Mamma and winks at the boys. I look around, trying to locate her eldest daughter, Naomi, but can’t see her among all the bodies. I turn my attention back to Mrs. Silver only to find her smiling knowingly at me. “Why don’t you let me take that basket, Ruth,” she says, gently pulling the handle from my grasp. “I’m sure Naomi is eager to see you.”
I glance at Mamma and, at her nod, release the basket and march quickly away before I am drawn into their motherly conversation.
Passing yet another group, and with no Naomi in sight, I huff in exasperation and scuffle towards the orchard. Apple and pear trees line the skinny road, their branches sagging under the weight of the brightly colored fruit. I pluck a yellow and red speckled apple from a low branch and bite into it. My tongue rebels at the sour taste. Not quite ripe yet.
I take another bite, enjoying the tang, and continue down the road when I hear light giggles followed by shushing noises coming from above me. Smiling coyly, I lean my back against the nearest tree and toss my half eaten apple into the air. “Well, Naomi isn’t here either,” I say loudly. “So I guess I’ll head back to the house.”
I scan the foliage and my eye catches on a small bare foot dangling from a branch to my right. Catching my apple I take careful aim and throw it as hard as I can above the foot. It disappears into the leaves and a second later a startled cry escapes before a body falls off the branch.
I rush over and roll a laughing Jessie onto his back. “It is not nice to spy on people,” I say, accentuating every word with a tickle in his sides. He laughs harder and tries to squirm away, but I trap him and continue the torture, cackling. “Mwa ha ha, the wicked witch has caught you and no one will ever be able to save you.”
“We’ll help you, Jessie,” a brave voice calls from a tree behind me.
“Yeah, we’ll save you from the witch,” someone else says to my left.
A small body jumps onto my back while two others push at me from the side. I am soon covered in little hands and arms. Two boys grab Jessie’s wrists and drag him safely away. “Oh no, the brave knights are too strong for the wicked witch,” I say in a dramatic voice. “She is so weak. She . . . is . . . dead.”
The children climb off and back away from me as I lie on the grass, my tongue hanging from my mouth as I feign death. I crack an eye open slightly and watch as they stare at me, wondering if I am really dead. Eli and Caleb stand in the back, their hands covering their mouths, trying to suppress the laughter. They know my tricks. A little blond boy walks forward with a stick and, cautiously, pokes me in the side.
“Boo!” I jolt upright and reach my hands out like claws. The little crowd jumps back, some screaming with delight while others clutch each other in terror. My brothers roll in the grass, clutching their sides and laughing so hard their breath comes in short gasps.
“That was a good one, Ruth,” Caleb says as he sits up.
“Yeah, you should have seen the look on Becky’s face,” joins Eli, clutching his sides.
“Well, since I scared you all so badly,” I say, smiling as I pull my knees to the side and spread my hands wide in front of me, “why don’t I tell you a story to make up for it?”
Instantly, the crowd erupts into cheers and the children quickly flop onto the grass.
“What if I told you all that the wicked old witch you were so afraid of was once a beautiful maiden abandoned on a deserted island?”
Eyes widen and my brothers rest their chins on their hands as I stretch my fingers and drag them in the dirt, tracing out a journey.
* * * *
“And so, the humble knight rescued the princess from the witch, and they all lived happily ever after.”
I write ‘The End’ in the dirt and sit back as my little audience erupts into cheers. Some of the boys reach for sticks and jump up, brandishing them at each other as if they were gleaming swords.
The bushes rustle to the right and I whip my head around to see a shadowy figure rise from the shrubbery. It drops to four legs and growls as it crawls toward the children.
The girls scream and run to me, cowering behind me. The boys, stunned at first, stand frozen with their sticks pointed at the shadow as if warding off a great dog. Eli looks at me and the frightened girls before steeling himself and, with a loud war-cry, charges the figure. The rest of the boys shake themselves from their stricken state and follow closely behind my brother. The little army rushes over the figure like a tidal wave, sticks flying and bodies crawling over the intruder.
“Ow, ow, watch where you poke those. Hey, those are my ribs,” protests of pain come from the figure and I wonder who it is. My brain clicks and I laugh when I connect the voice to a name. “Let him up, my brave knights. He’s not a real monster.”
Reluctantly, the boys back towards me, their eyes fixed on the intruder and their sticks still brandished menacingly. The figure groans as he rolls to his hands and knees. “And here I thought I would have the element of surprise,” the deep voice chuckles as he rises to his feet. “I guess your knights, Lady Ruth, are more formidable foes than I anticipated.”
Laughing again I motion to the pack of children. “They certainly are. Now why don’t you step out of the shadows and relieve their fears, David. Or else my knights just might attack you again.”
The tall figure of David Silver steps into the sunlight and smiles. The little girls still cower around me, but when David reaches into his pocket and pulls out a few broken peppermint sticks, they instantly calm. David looks at the candy worriedly. “Well, I guess the treasure didn’t survive the brave knights’ attack, but there is more at the great feast. Shall I escort the ladies to the banquet?”
He holds out his arm to little Angelyn who reaches to take it, but Jessie swoops in and takes her hand. “Perhaps I should escort Lady Angelyn. It is a knight’s job after all and you never know what dangers could lurk in a dark forest.”
Angelyn smiles shyly and the little couple marches out of the orchard. Instantly, the other boys offer to escort the girls, Eli sheepishly asking Becky for the honor, and they are all soon paired up and heading toward the house.
I chuckle as I stand and brush dirt from my skirt. I look up at David and he removes an invisible hat from his head, sweeping into a low bow. “Madam.”
Smiling, I curtsy, take his arm, and we follow the children through the orchard.
* * * *
Clapping my hands in time with the music of the fiddle I watch as the head couple sashays down the center of the long line. Reaching for my partner, we continue the wild jig and I can’t help but smile like a Cheshire cat as skirts swirl around me in a kaleidoscope of color and patterns. All too soon the intoxicating dance is over and my partner escorts me off the dance floor before moving to join a group gathered around the refreshment table.
I push my damp hair from my forehead and walk out into the cool night air where the full moon lights up the orchard like an enchanted garden. Scanning the dark canvas above me, I locate the Big Dipper and follow the arm to the North Star.
Daddy always said that no matter what happens the North Star is always constant and unwavering. Like his and Mamma’s love for me and my brothers. A string of liquid slides down my cheek as I remember that he loved barn raisings; helping a family settle in, the feasting after the hard work, and being able to hold Mamma close while they danced.
I wrap my arms around myself, trying to remember his warm, safe embrace. A shadow appears at the edge of my vision as a pair of large hands cover my eyes, veiling the star’s light.
“Guess who,” a familiar voice asks in my ear.
Smiling, I turn as David takes his hands from my eyes and shoves them into his pockets. “Naomi saw you come out here so I thought you could use some company.”
When he sees my shiny cheeks, his smile fades. “You’re thinking about him again, aren’t you?”
I nod mutely and glance back up at the shining star.
“Hey, look at me.” David cups my face in his large hands and I stare into his deep brown eyes. “We all miss him. Some more than others, but we all loved your father. The logging accident was terrible, and it pains me to see you hurting, but one thing I’m very happy about is that he gave you to me before he passed.”
I smile and hug David tightly as he rubs my back softly. After a few minutes of comfortable silence he pulls back and smiles. “Now, come on. They’re starting up another song, and I think it’s time we made this engagement official.”
He takes my hand, the new gold on my finger glinting in the moonlight, and we walk back into the embrace of warm laughter and light to tell everyone the news.