The Lone Sentinel: Short Story Response to billybuc's Photo-prompt Challenge

The Challenge

Bill Holland (billybuc), has issued this challenge, suggested by his friend Mike (Mr. Archer from HubPages).

The basic information is that Mike spied a fireplace not far from the interstate between Joplin and Springfield. He’d seen it many times over the years but the last time he passed by he wondered what its story might be. It is a lonely fireplace, standing aloof and solitary beside a fence separating the highway from an empty field. In past years there had been a wreath hung on one side of it during the holiday season, but not last time. Has the person who was placing it there passed and no one remembers the reason for it anymore?

Bill provides a photo for the challenge, asks us to write a response and to send him the link for our hubs.

I chose a slightly different photo because I thought it might be of the actual chimney Bill’s friend is talking about. I've since found out that, sadly, it's not! However, this chimney sits by the side of US 127. There is an interesting story that goes with it but my version is entirely my own. I have also moved the chimney to England!


Lone Sentinel

This lone chimney & fireplace along a stretch of S.Jackson Road that used to be part of US 127; photo by Ken Wyatt
This lone chimney & fireplace along a stretch of S.Jackson Road that used to be part of US 127; photo by Ken Wyatt | Source

THE LONE SENTINEL

Lake Dwellers

Glastonbury Lake Village landing stage by Amédée Forestier, 1911 (public domain)
Glastonbury Lake Village landing stage by Amédée Forestier, 1911 (public domain) | Source

The Isle of Avalon

A cottage nestled in the Somerset countryside beneath the Mendip Hills, close to the mythical site of Avalon.

In days gone by, the Isle of Avalon, where sits Glastonbury and its Tor, was surrounded by the sea and often shrouded in mists. The Lake Dwellers moved in and out the mists, steering past the isle, sailing for miles around, plying their trade before returning home to their marsh houses; wattle and daub wooden structures built on raised foundations to resist the floods and storms which could surge over the Flats beneath the hills.


Glastonbury Tor & Abbey

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A cold and misty Tor, showing the old Church TowerA beacon for miles aroundInside the Tower on the TorThe Nave of Glastonbury AbbeyA Rhyne on the Somerset Levels
A cold and misty Tor, showing the old Church Tower
A cold and misty Tor, showing the old Church Tower | Source
A beacon for miles around
A beacon for miles around | Source
Inside the Tower on the Tor
Inside the Tower on the Tor | Source
The Nave of Glastonbury Abbey
The Nave of Glastonbury Abbey | Source
A Rhyne on the Somerset Levels
A Rhyne on the Somerset Levels | Source

King Arthur & the Abbey

Stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table were told far and wide. It was said that King Arthur and his fair Lady Guinevere were buried beneath the nave of Glastonbury Abbey, or sometimes the tale sited their graves beneath the tower atop Glastonbury Tor. The tower was the only remnant of the third attempt at building a church, disaster having struck each attempt until the builders gave up, thinking it a sign that God did not want his church there.

Mists and mystery molded the landscape.

In time, man tamed the sea, pushed it out to the estuary and claimed much of the land on the Flats. They did this by creating a grid system of rhynes and sluice gates, to stem the water but allow irrigation via the rhynes, otherwise known as ditches. Flooding was always a danger but could usually be controlled.


Sunset over the Sea

The horizon beckons
The horizon beckons | Source

Across to the Sea

The Isle of Avalon remained a beacon visible for miles around, still often wrapped in swirling mists but no longer surrounded by water. The estuary, though distanced, still ebbed and flowed with its unparalleled tide reach, still provided the evening observer with wondrous sunsets of pale azure to deep russet as boats diminished into the wider sea, off to distant climes.


Art's Cottage

In this now lush countryside of willows and streams the cottage was built. It was built by Art, with his brothers to help him, on an arm of the Tor just above the Flats. Art wanted a safe, solid home with a warm hearth for his betrothed. He constructed a sturdy fireplace and chimney on the east wall. A basket of wood was kept by the fireside, logs taken from the stacks stored in the outhouse.

A month after the cottage was complete, Art married his Ann and they spent many happy years there. The hearth warmed them in winter, gave them hot water and many relaxing evening hours by the fireside. They were blessed with a boy, Michael, and a girl, Catherine, who both grew strong and confident, happy and kind. Times were hard but Art earned a fair crust building, repairing and making furniture. Once or twice a year they spent a day at the beach close by. The children would play on the sands and at sunset, under flaming skies, the family would stare out over the waters to horizons which beckoned them.


Family Life

Ann had much to do, bringing up her family, educating them, cooking, cleaning, washing, sewing, mending. Art watched with pride as she fulfilled her role of mother and loving wife. He adored her.

She also loved to draw and paint. Her favourite piece was a pastel portrait of her children which she hung at the side of the chimney breast so that, even when Michael and Catherine were out of the house, she could see them.

Sadly, this peaceful family life was not to last. Michael decided he wanted to venture over those horizons he’d yearned for when gazing across the waters. At the age of sixteen he packed his bags, said his fond farewells, promised to be back within a year and started his adventure. His parents were sad but proud to see him follow his dreams.

Catherine had her admirers so it wasn’t long before she married and settled with her beau in a pretty valley up on the Mendips.


Cruel Winter

A particularly hard winter descended on the Flats. Freezing mists hardened the fields, the grazing animals had to be taken in, normal life was suspended; a spell cast upon them from ancient Avalon.

The weather worsened during the February. Dispersing the mists, the wind blew shrill and raw from the sea across the open grassland. With it came the floods. A particularly high tide coinciding with a strong wind was a sure sign of an impending threat.

Ann was visiting friends that day, in a timbered house closer to the sea. She was about to leave when the flood alert reached them. Deciding she would be safer indoors, she stayed. The flood waters accelerated; there was little time for escape. The strong tidal current crushed the wooden structure like a toy; Ann and her friends were swept away.

Art was working close to home. He rowed his tiny boat to reach his wife before the flood rose too high. He was half-way there when the waters came. He too was swept up, his small craft no match for the power it met. Ann and Art perished on the same day, alone and terrified. Despair gathered their souls. Perhaps the cruel waves which snatched their lives took it upon themselves to reunite them in death.


Devastating Floods

Floods on the Somerset Levels
Floods on the Somerset Levels | Source

Grief & a Keepsake

Later that day, Catherine learnt of her parents’ fate. She was stunned with grief. When the floods subsided leaving a putrid brown mix of mud and death, she searched for their bodies for three days. Rotting animal carcasses, sewerage and mangled pieces of people’s lives were strewn across the landscape. The rhynes had swollen, fences had fallen, tracks had become thickly muddied ruts.

Though clinging to the thought that her parents might still be living, she was told that others had recognised their bodies bobbing on the ebb of the tide. They had been drawn to the sea, the route which Michael had taken months before.

Catherine wandered back to the house of her birth. Had Ann been at home, she would not have perished. Its slightly elevated position had kept it aloft the tide. The daughter’s tears flowed freely now, her sobs uncontrollable. Their old home was unchanged, belying the tragedy. She expected her father to walk in, hug her and sit down for tea.

Catherine sank to her knees, head in hands. Why? Why were such good people taken from the world? Her future children would lack the wise guidance and sense of fun of two loving grandparents. Where was the sense in that? What had they done to deserve such a cruel demise?

Her tears all spent, Catherine looked around. She would be back for all the possessions; for now, she searched for a keepsake of her own. Her eyes alighted on the pastel drawing of herself and her brother. She had heard from him twice since he left; he was somewhere in Europe at the moment, oblivious of the sadness he would find on his return.

Catherine removed the picture from the nail in the chimney-side, placed it carefully in her mother’s sewing bag and, with the bag over her shoulder, dazed and exhausted she wandered slowly home to the soothing arms of her husband.


Remembering her Parents

Wreath made of Willow
Wreath made of Willow

Derelict Cottage & a Wreath

After that disastrous flood, any houses left on the lower levels were deserted. Even those on the slightly raised areas were left in favour of building homes on higher ground.

The cottage having been emptied, it was steadily dismantled, the stones used for other structures, pilfered slowly by persons unknown. Catherine kept an eye on it but there was nothing she could do; no will or right of possession allowed her to claim it, even if she’d wanted to. The only part of Art’s cottage that remained was his sturdy chimney and hearth.

On each anniversary of her parents’ death, Ann and Art’s daughter placed a wreath on the nail where the pastel drawing used to hang. It was her only way of keeping alive their memory. She charged her children to carry on that tradition so that their grandparents were never forgotten.


Michael Returns & Life Goes On

Michael returned, though later than promised. Unaware of what had taken place, he went straight to the house. Shocked and remorseful, he rushed to his sister. She was overjoyed to see him but the joy was short-lived.

Michael had traveled home to tell them he was getting married; he’d found his true love in the south of France and intended to live there. So Catherine was going to lose him too. Michael’s assurances that he’d write often and visit her once a year did little to ease her sadness. He left the following week.

True to her intentions, Catherine placed a wreath at the side of the chimney each year. No more treacherous floods came to take lives. Catherine grew old and died in her seventy-ninth year. For a while her children kept their promise to continue the ritual of the wreath but, each married with children of their own, they moved away. London lured them with better jobs, better salaries and a busier life.

In their turn, they passed away, leaving no one who understood the importance of a placing a wreath on the side of an old stone chimney.


The Lone Sentinel Remains on Avalon

Today the chimney stands alone, overgrown with willow and moss, the once warm hearth just cold stone, though it does still provide shelter and warmth. The field mice build nests in its crevices, the reed warblers seek shelter now and then and many a vagrant uses the hearth to kindle a small fire and cheat the freezing winds of the night.

The Avalon mists swirl around its frame, the drizzle darkens its stone. The spirits of King Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere and Lancelot hover, whispering secrets to the air but the chimney remains steadfast, resisting any spell.

The lone sentinel, feet firmly planted in the ground, looks out beyond the Flats to the golden sunset across the waves, to find his maker above the horizon in the silver stars.


Copyright annart/AFC 2015 All rights reserved



What is a 'Tor'?

Like Glastonbury Tor, it's a high hill or it can be a peak or any high rock. Further west, in Devon, lies Dartmoor where you will find a slightly different kind of Tor in the shape of a pile of rocks on the top of a hill, like a cairn. There are ten of them.

There is a race called ‘The Ten Tors’ where teams from schools, army cadets and the like, spend the weekend out on the moor and have to visit the specified ten tors before making for the finishing line. The first complete team to arrive wins the coveted and very well earned trophy. It is a grueling experience.


The South West of England

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Comments 28 comments

annart profile image

annart 22 months ago from SW England Author

Thanks, Devika. Glad you found it interesting. It's strange how such a fireplace can take on a character; maybe it's because they warm the heart as well as the hearth! Good to see you today.

Ann


DDE profile image

DDE 22 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

A unique response from you and so interesting indeed! I like fireplaces.


annart profile image

annart 22 months ago from SW England Author

Pennyforyourthots: Thank you. I appreciate your visit and I'm glad you enjoyed this. Somerset and its legends lend themselves very well to storytelling!

Ann


Pennyforyourthots 22 months ago

Wow, very detailed story all based on a picture? Simply amazing. I like that you changed the location and even gave a sort of background history to it.


annart profile image

annart 22 months ago from SW England Author

Thanks, Dora. Glad you liked it. It's strange but this one kind of wrote itself with a variety of inspirations. I appreciate you reading and commenting.

Ann


annart profile image

annart 22 months ago from SW England Author

HomeplaceSeries: Thanks for your comment; it is great fun isn't it? Such variety from all angles.

Ann


annart profile image

annart 22 months ago from SW England Author

Thank you, Ruby, for your lovely compliments. I'm so glad you liked this; I thoroughly enjoyed writing it.

Ann


annart profile image

annart 22 months ago from SW England Author

manatita: Thank you. Yes, I do love the picture; used it this time as it's exactly where they would've looked out over the sea in this story. Glad you like the ending.

Ann


annart profile image

annart 22 months ago from SW England Author

bravewarrior: Thank you so much for your kind comment. I'm not sure it definitely is the real chimney, I'm waiting for confirmation, but it seems to match the description. I'm hoping someone will let me know.

Ann


annart profile image

annart 22 months ago from SW England Author

Thanks for your lovely comment, John, and for the vote. Glad you liked it.

Ann


annart profile image

annart 22 months ago from SW England Author

Thanks, Jo, glad you liked it. I loved writing this and it was fun basing it in my home area.

Ann


Homeplace Series profile image

Homeplace Series 22 months ago from Hollister, MO

Thank you, so much, Ann, for adding your unique and special touch to the Lone Sentinel sagas! What fun! ;-)


annart profile image

annart 22 months ago from SW England Author

Thank you, Frank, for such a kind comment.

Ann


MsDora profile image

MsDora 22 months ago from The Caribbean

This story layout holds the interest from beginning to end. The birth of a family and it difficult moments is a theme, to which everyone can relate. You add sweet significance to the chimney. Great story!


always exploring profile image

always exploring 22 months ago from Southern Illinois

Ann, I loved your story! Your writing is not only interesting, it is beautiful. The deaths due to the flooding was sad, the bobbing heads in the water was visual for me. Thank you for sharing..


manatita44 profile image

manatita44 22 months ago from london

Excellently done with some sadness and separation, but concluded beautifully.

You really like this picture, and why shouldn't you? I mean, it's your daughter, isn't it? A bit like Bill's Woman on the Mountaintop. Your chimney's cool, too. Much love.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 22 months ago from Central Florida

Ann, this is an intriguing response to Bill's challenge. I love that you were able to locate a photo of the real chimney of which Mike spoke.

The story you weaved through history evoked so many emotions. Bill's right: this piece is brilliantly awesome!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 22 months ago from Queensland Australia

This was a very different response to the challenge Ann. I loved how you set it in Glastonbury, and the tale was very interesting and delightfully written. Thanks for sharing, voted up.


tobusiness profile image

tobusiness 22 months ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

Ann, I took a quick look at this last night before going to bed, so I knew this was special. I love how you created this awesome tale of love and family around real life dramtic events such as the floods that plagued the area in recent times, added a little history of the area and for good measure, a tantalizing touch of myths and legends. Stupendous!!


annart profile image

annart 22 months ago from SW England Author

Hello Theresa! Good to see you today.

Thank you so much for your lovely words and compliments. I'm glad you liked this and I appreciate your votes and your steady support.

Have a great Monday!

Ann


annart profile image

annart 22 months ago from SW England Author

Thank you, Mary, for your kind comments and votes. I wanted the fireplace to have some feelings too; seems that worked!

I always appreciate your support. Have a great day!

Ann


annart profile image

annart 22 months ago from SW England Author

Thank you, Audrey, for the lovely comment. I'm glad you liked it.

Ann


Frank Atanacio profile image

Frank Atanacio 22 months ago from Shelton

Ann this was a truly notable take on Billybuc's challenge...yeah as always very well done..


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 22 months ago from southern USA

Ann, what a phenomenal storyteller you are through your brilliant writing! I love that you actually research the fireplace and found that photo! How interesting.

Your story is superb and poignant. I love how you placed the setting in England.

Bravo!

Up ++++ tweeting, pinning, G+ and sharing

Blessings always

Pinterest seems to not be working properly at the moment, so I shall return!


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 22 months ago from New York

This was amazing. There was so much feeling and so many interesting things to learn, as they say "you know how to turn a phrase".

This was a great though sad read. I actually felt sorry for the fireplace!

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 22 months ago from California

One of your best for me! Loved this Ann!


annart profile image

annart 22 months ago from SW England Author

Wow! Thanks bill, you've made my evening - no, my week. I really wasn't sure about this one. It took a long time to sort out, so can you please keep telling me how good I am?!!! No, my head will be way too big. Actually I think it's knowing the influence of the mists of Avalon; they're unique. It's proof that using experience helps.

Can you ask your friend if this is 'his' fireplace, please? The story with it is interesting and it gave me the idea of making Ann an artist.

'Awesomely brilliant' will do very nicely thank you! And thanks so much for setting this challenge, or should I say thanks to Mr Archer?

Hope your Sunday evening is great too. (Just 30 mins off midnight here!)

Ann :)


billybuc profile image

billybuc 22 months ago from Olympia, WA

I have two words for you, a mixture of the States and GB....awesomely brilliant!!!!!

I started reading and it was like being in front of a fireplace, sipping a cup of tea, with a comforter spread across my lap. It was this peaceful, lovely selection of words that not only set a scene but set a mood, and Ann, few writers can do that. I hope you know how good you are. If you don't, I'll be happy to tell you any old time you need a booster.

Exquisite comes to mind also, but I like "awesomely brilliant."

Happy Sunday evening to you. Thank you for telling such a beautiful story.

bill

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