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The Lone Sentinel: Short Story Response to billybuc's Photo-prompt Challenge
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!
THE LONE SENTINEL
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 & AbbeyClick thumbnail to view full-size
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.