Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Nancy Langdale Hough was a finalist in the 2010 (10th annual!) Tassy Walden Awards for her (wonderful) middle grade novel, Wayfarers!
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The girl whispered the words to her newborn baby. She watched his eyelids flutter and his chest fill with its first breath of air.
She marveled at his perfection. Ten fingers. Ten toes. Those eyes were so beautiful, dark blue as the sky above them.
He grasped her finger with his fist, holding tight. And he looked at her, met her gaze and held it, unblinking.
How wonderful to feel his tiny mouth against her breast. He faltered, his body weak still, his neck so small and his head heavy. She pulled him close, cradled his head in the crook of her arm, guided his lips until she heard the soft suckling.
What pain would those tiny hands endure? What weight would crush those smooth shoulders? He was so little, so helpless. In his sleep his eyebrows drew together; what painful prophecy played in his dreams? She stroked his cheek; at once a smile parted his lips, and a strain of music burst through the air. The voices of angels and men blended and harmonized, new notes springing from the others as their songs met. Around the baby, the air shone. Above his head, a star pierced the night's darkness.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Check it out here:
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
(PROMPT: Describe the room you're in so as to elicit a certain emotion, other than that which you would normally associate with the room)
The coffin sat at one end of the room, and Jenny sat on the couch at the other end--as far away from the soldier's body as she could possibly get. Grandmother rocked in the chair by the fire, swaying the chair back and forth as she crocheted to stay awake, unaware that every crick, crack of the old wood sounded to Jenny like a last cry from the dead man's soul.
She tried to distract herself by poring over the titles of the books that lined two walls (though Grandmother would have had a fit had she known how irreverantly Jenny was spending her watch). How had she failed to notice before how many of the books had dreary titles? The Tough Winter; The Lost Prince; The Black Arrow; Le Mort d'Arthur. Even the harmless ones, like Charlotte's Web or The Wind in the Willows, seemed to taunt the girl and conjure images of spiders spinning webs from the coffin all the way over to her toes, while a cold, whistling wind fought its way through the cracks in the old window frame.
The wind was only half imagined. From the chimney swept in a draft that the flames licked at but could not warm--it sent goosebumps up Jenny's calves.
The fire was casting weird shadows across everything in the room; Grandmother's old model of Stonehenge looked like a graveyard, and Jenny could easily imagine that there was a vampire or werewolf lurking in the inky darkness behind the armchair.
The framed silhouettes on the wall looked like dark ghosts.
The cat was sleeping so silently on the hearth that she might have been dead.
Even the clock was dead. Its hands were frozen at eleven twenty-five...as if to remind Jenny that that was when it happened.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Version 1: The Return, by Nancy Langdale Hough
The stable boys’ shouts announced the approaching rider racing toward the gates, and Elsbeth knew, without seeing, it was Richard. He had come back, just as he had threatened.
The voices riveted her to the loom’s bench, but the shuttle dropped from her hand and fell between the warp threads, snapping two fine strands of linen before clattering on the stone floor.
The baby startled from her sleep and whimpered. Elsbeth rose and gently shushed the infant. What sort of life would the child have when the truth was told? Men survived lies, fraud, even slander, but what child could survive the truth she held? Well, then, a lie must take the place of truth and truth must be proved a lie. For the child’s sake.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Version 2: Waiting Dame by Maureen L. Hough
Lady Elsa’s days thickened into weeks, but still the embroidery stayed unstitched further, ends unknotted. From her window, at the King’s request, she could see poles and lumber joined together in the moat. It was curious work, because a different person brought each piece, and none but the king and his diadem gleam saw the construction come together. Lady Elsa was not content just to watch, no more than one might be content to light a smoky fire in a windowless dungeon. To watch was to suffocate, because she alone knew the purpose of the king’s new whim.
Earlier, despite his interest in making the cloth come out right, the king had not dared to enter, having been informed by the room’s previous captives that if a mind even with the smallest stain entered the chamber, the thread would positively turn tawdry. And no one – especially a king mid-rebellion – can risk a threadbare prophesy. The king seemed to have not trusted his own saving graces, and instead diverted his interest to a peculiar project by the bridge – a house for a newly acquired infant boy, Gustav, a boy for whom vice would be made, shall we say, impossible.
As she returned her eyes to the chamber filled with every pleasure to suppress any inkling of envy, she alone had begun to know that, like her son chained in the king’s whim construction, she would stay put behind the curtain of luxury, refusing to tapestry the prophesy and cut it loose upon the land where paupers remained veiled by the distances demanded by decrees and decorum.
Like looking out the window, this too wasn’t a happy thought – to remain unmoved may mean unchanged scenery, but to tie oneself to the fate of the threads was to never change, to remain forever young with the unfinished task, to become a weft crossing the warp of others’ short lives.
Version 3: The Dream-weaver, by Mark L. Hough
It is a tricky business, weaving dreams. My Lady is the best at it…something everyone knows…and yet even she must occasionally pull apart the entire work of a day. Still, I am fortunate to watch her—for even her worst mistakes would put any other dream-weaver’s work to shame.
Once, it is said, the king himself was taken in a war and a ransom was asked with price too great to be counted. My Lady was called upon to give aid, along with any else who possessed an enchanted eye—though she was hardly out of her apprentice attire. She fashioned a woven kerchief of royal scarlet, with pattern too small to be traced and image so fine the king’s captors thought nothing of it when it was handed to the king on his way to the gallows. The king—who has an enchanted eye himself, it is said…or at least one in the family—knew at once the strange gift was heavy with dark dreaming. After wiping the cloth across his eyes the whole of the city fell asleep…from mouse to mule horse. The king returned wearing my Lady’s kerchief like a scarlet plume in his cap.
All this is said, though none but the king could tell the truth of it. Many times I have asked my Lady, yet she will say nothing. But I have seen the king pass her once at court, and—though it may be treason to say—his head did bow before her… And if the story is not true, then why does she alone—common dream-weaver as she is—go by the title of “Lady” and wear the king’s royal scarlet whenever she chooses?
Version 4: The Girl in the Tower, by Faith E. Hough
My hand wearies of the constant chafing from the linen threads I am weaving. Enchanted thread, for an enchanted tapestry, is no easier on my fingers than the normal sort.
It is my mother that has placed a spell on the string. It will never run out. When my hand touches a spool, it becomes exactly the color I need. And it is she who has enchanted the tapestry, still in its making. Its images tell a tale, ever-changing, meant to lull me into contentment, though I am a prisoner…never to leave my tower of wonders.
What wonders? I have trays that never empty of rich and delectable sweetmeats; I have shelves of magical books; I have a flute that plays for me with no musician to wield it; I have a bureau that provides me with a newly-sewn dress each time I open its heavy, oaken doors. Today’s dress is red…red as blood. Red as my strange namesake.
I also have a magic mirror, which I abhor; it taunts me with its reflections of life as it could have been. I glance at it now and quickly turn away from the sight of a river, freely running its course, its banks tread upon by a maiden my own age. She leans into the shoulder of a handsome lad as they walk, hand clasping hand.
I frown, and stroke my hair to soothe my fingers. Black as night, softer than silk and soothing as a stream’s water it is—or as soothing as I imagine a stream’s water to be, at least. I love it—and, alas, it too is enchanted.
From the window I hear my mother’s voice, reverberating up the endless stone:
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!”
I sigh and let it drop, hoisting it over the window’s edge and watching the braid shimmer like the long, glassy river in the mirror.
Do I grudge my mother her means of entry? I do. But ‘twas she who made it as it is. She made all of it.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
There’s that old saying women have—about how some young little thing comes and casts a spell on their sons so they’re never the same again… Those women always seemed rather overdramatic to my way of thinking, but I’m afraid to say I now have to number myself in their ranks.
The thing is, anyone who saw Eloise Sylvester with my Eddie couldn’t think anything else. She’s not even a pretty young thing—I almost couldn’t keep myself from staring at the wart on the tip of her pointy, Cyrano de Bergerac nose when Eddie introduced her—but her resemblance to a witch only became more pronounced when I got around to looking at the rest of her.
“Mums, this is Eloise Sylvester,” Eddie told me, with that satisfied tone in his voice that he used to get when I’d made his favorite chicken dumplings and raspberry pie for a meal. “I’m going—that is, we’re going to be married.”
I barely heard him, on account of I was still looking at that nose.
“Mums,” he said again, “Aren’t you going to say something? Congratulations…or pleased to meet you…hello, maybe?”
“Oh…yes. Yes, of course. I’m enchanted to meet you.” Now, why would I say that word—enchanted—if there wasn’t something…amiss…with Eloise? I didn’t plan it—it just popped right out.
Dinner only confirmed my worst fears.
First of all, by some twist of fate, I’d made mushroom soup. Mushroom. It might as well have been toadstool.
“This is divine, Mrs. Paulsen,” said Eloise, “I simply adore mushroom soup.”
“Oh, do you?” I said. I couldn’t help it. “Well, around here, we only adore God…do you?”
And then Eloise Sylvester laughed. Giggled, in fact—as if there were something terribly funny about worshipping God like a civilized person. She said, “Oh, of course, of course,” but I took note of the fact that she never did say “yes” outright.
Next, because I really was curious by this time, I asked her what she did for a living.“Oh, you know,” she said. “Just twiddle around, mixing things up…some of my concoctions turn out better than others.”
There! She had said it, right in broad daylight, so to speak—even though the dining room was lit by chandelier.
I jumped right out of my chair and into the kitchen. I kept my silver teaspoons in there…I’d read in one of those old stories somewhere that witches can’t abide sight nor smell of silver, so I wasn’t taking any chances. Served me right for using the stainless flatware for a guest, I suppose.
I was just opening the silver chest when Eddie followed me in.
“What’s the idea, Mums?”
I put my hands on his two big, grown-up shoulders, but I spoke to him like my little boy that he was. “Eddie,” I said, “You need to watch out for her. You know I’m never one to meddle, and I always let you make your own choices, but I have to warn you. Here, take this.” I handed him one of my monogrammed spoons.
“What? What in the name of—”
“Now, Eddie, don’t you start swearing. Next thing you know, that girl will have you at those Black Masses and everything.
“Mother.” Eddie never calls me “Mother” unless he’s mad. “What are you implying?”
“Implying?” I gasped. “I’m not implying anything. I’m just saying, she’s a witch. All that talk of brewing concoctions and worshipping toadstools, and who knows what else!”
“Mother, Eloise is not a witch,” Eddie said. His hands were on my shoulders now. As though I were a silly child. “She is a pastry chef. And she is a lovely girl. You’ll like her…just give her a chance, at least.”
If that is not the work of a spell, I don’t know what is.
Friday, May 15, 2009
I rapped the glass with my beak…to no affect besides sending a ringing sensation somewhere behind my eyes.
I have to tell you, from the viewpoint of a toucan—or rather, my viewpoint—these beak things are ridiculous and useless. I mean, look: who was the wise guy who took a look at the first toucan being made and thought, “Gee, let’s stick a fluorescent banana on that guy’s head and just see what he can do with it”?
Needless to say, it wasn’t getting any attention from that freckled kid with the ice cream cone. It was like he was the one stuck inside a cage all day, lickin’ that cone like it was the highlight of his life. Have you ever seen the hippos? He could have given them a run for the most-boring-animal award…I mean, both of them; lick and chew, lick and chew, with that same vacant expression glued to their faces like the fake jungle poster stuck to the walls in here.
My creative glass tap routine wasn’t going to snap mannequin man from his zombie state. So I decided to try something. A little trick I call “Berzerko-bird-with-his-head-in-the-water-bowl”. You see, it’s like this: you stick your head—or, in my case this Mardi Gras prop of a beak—in the water bowl, and then you shake it like someone’s slipped espresso pills in the seed tray. Water goes everywhere; the other birds think you’re getting beat up by the business end of an alligator or somethin’ and so they start freakin’ out—and soon the whole cage looks like Ginger Rogers in a blender: feathers everywhere. OK, so maybe it is a little bit like something the orangutans do in their crib, but I like to think we’ve made an improvement on their show.
Anyway, I do my thing; it’s raining feathers, and still the kid keeps staring at the blasted turtle exhibit as if they’re actually doing something! Here I am, sucking water through my nostrils, and this kid can’t tear his eyes away from a creature whose greatest skill is being mistaken for a rock.
If you’ve ever given a rock concert at a nursing home, you’d know how I felt, the other birds lookin’ at me and me giving them the “what’s-your-problem” look back. The birds don’t ask any questions though; I guess having a foot-long rainbow-colored club permanently in my possession has one good point.