Monday, November 28, 2011

"Whispering Willows" by Patty Jansen (Short Story)

Genre:  Fantasy

Short Story Type:  Short Story

Summary:  Friends and family on the farm know that Loesie makes up most of the things she says about magic. So the one time she tells the truth, they don't believe her.

The river behind Granma's house runs deep. The water's like a vat of dirty milk, all murky, with eddies and floating sticks that twirl and twirl downstream.

From the top of the dike, with only green fields and willows around me, I can see the other side - just. Maybe I could make out a person if they stood on the bank, but I's not sure 'cause no one ever does. The other side is Gelre and them's bad as they come, at least so says Granpa in between stuffing his pipe and stripping willow twigs.

No one with half a brain would try to cross the river. No one ever could.

Except the man and his enormous horse.

I were cutting willow switches, and then I seen them in the middle of the water. Two heads, a black horse's and a man's. It seemed the horse was walking-like, on the bottom, but I don't know 's the river has a bottom. But whatever it were doing, the horse were coming straight for me.

I hid in the tree, which were pretty silly-like, 'cause a willow's no leaves in early spring.

The man didn't see me, or he pretended as much he didn't see me as I pretended to be a bird. Or something.

He had hair red as a fox, all curly, and the bit below his shoulders were wet and dripped water onto his jerkin.

The horse - it were huge, with a long mane and masses of fluff around hooves big as Ma's milking bucket. It were noisy-like, snorting and blowing and grumbling.

The stranger sat straight on the horse's back, no saddle, and grabbed a breath of wind in his hand. He whispered into it, and let it go. He were using magic. His eyes met mine and my cheeks glowed like they's on fire.

He kicked the horse's sides and rode off. The orange spot that were his hair grew smaller and smaller amongst the grass and the buttercups.

* * *

Annette looked at me, eyes wide like a rabbit's just before it got clubbed.

'I don't believe you.'

I shrugged. Annette's pale hands never stopped weaving willow twigs in-out-in-out around the leads. Apple baskets we was making, not that I'd a clue what city people want with those, seeing there's no apple trees in the city, but Granma said make apple baskets, so we made apple baskets. For taking to market, you know.

'I seen it.'

'No one can swim the river.'

'He did.'

'Then where is he now, that man of yours?'

Heat flamed in my cheeks. 'He lives in the reeds and he keens for me. He be hiding.'

Annette snorted. 'There was never a man. You and your stories, Loesie.' She tamped down the woven twigs with a piece of wood.

I said nothing, taking one lead twig after another and weaving them around the edge of the basket so it made a thick braid. The willow twigs sang out to me, showing me the fox-haired stranger and his giant horse. His eyes met mine and inside me something stirred I couldn't begin to describe. I never met anyone else who knew about magic.

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