Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Snap (09/04/08)
TITLE: Journey To Catacombs
By Noreen Ophoff
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Silas gave his daughters intricate tea sets from Spain, and hand-carved jaguars from India. Gueriet and Louda relished all fine things and contented themselves with literary works and simple sewing.
It was Sandjen who made herself sturdy trousers to tramp over the cliffs. She knew the eagles’ nested in an aspen along Butter Road, and a fox family tucked their lair beneath a gnarled crabapple tree at the lake’s edge. She didn’t mind torn stockings, and prickers in her dark reddish-brown hair. The open wind in her face stirred the longings of her soul as she wished she were the son her father craved.
Yearnings to experience life away from home were stifled by Sandjen’s mother and sisters, who rarely went anywhere. The nine-year-old amused herself by exploring her father’s wing of the house, especially the cedar basement room, hidden beneath the summer kitchen.
This majestic limestone structure, built into the dune, had connecting hallways stretching into recesses in the hill. Secret doors were common in the final level. Slip a hand into a crevice to release a capture stone, and a door swung open. Here was a fireplace set with rare conglomerates and fossil stones, vented to the outdoors by winding portals that whistled in the thunderstorms’ gales.
Leather-bound tomes of burgundy stood like uniformed soldiers on polished walnut shelves. Pewter chargers cupped gemstone cufflinks. Sandjen ached to hear the tales of her father’s exploits, yet anytime a glimpse of his youth sprang up in dinner conversation of sailing ships or far-off lands, her mother rapped the table with a china saucer or fork handle and silenced him.
On the first Tuesday in October, spirited Sandjen journeyed to the catacombs beneath the dairy, her slender bare feet skimming down the narrow staircase, lantern held aloft. She was supposed to be with her sisters, entwining mint with summer savory for a potpourri, but this task was most savory to her soul.
In a long room, she spun like a twirling morning-mist fairy to take in an oil painting of a lad with a white dog. The backdrop was the fossil hearth, yet she didn’t recognize the countenance nor the windswept black hair. Knickers of green tweed slipped just past his youthful knees, complete with skinnings and scabs. The fluffy dog, with a light brown patch atop his head, sat next the boy, one paw resting on his left arm.
Gazing at the portrait there was familiarity in the exquisite sky-blue eyes. Without warning a door slid open and before she could react, there was her mother’s husband equally shocked to see her in his private sanctum.
“Sandjen,” he called out, taking in the enormity of the scene, and hesitating a few seconds he added, “I see you’ve met Anton.”
“Father, who is Anton?”
“He’s your brother.” He stated, placing his leather cloak over a red chair. “He died shortly after the picture was completed. What a zest for life he had."
Her mind reeled to the realization of a brother...the golden wanted child her family already had and somehow lost.
“A rogue wave swept him off the breakwater. I was too late to save him. He was a year older than you.
I can’t get over it, I so miss him. The dog jumped to catch him, and drowned too, so I lost both my companions in one moment. Our son was just three-years-old.”
“Father, tell me all about him, I need to hear of his life.”
With tears bursting in his own blue eyes, the patriarch crossed the dim room, and whispered, “He liked to climb the rocks, just like you do. He chased frogs and we went out summer evenings to capture fireflies. He’d gnaw on jerky, making it pliable, then hold it between his teeth, just like the pup.”
Silas wrapped his lanky arms around his daughter, and together they wept. Sandjen gazed at the portrait, to ponder the implications of this discovery. It was then she noticed the title of the painting, same as the leather tag on the smiling dog. It was Snap.
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