I love it when things come together for me. Times like these I feel like I’m a paleontologist digging up a fossil. I’m brushing away the dirt and sand from around the bones, finding the pattern of the skeleton. The more I brush away, the more I can see of the bigger picture.
It doesn’t always happen like this but so far this story seems to want to be discovered. It feels good.
======== The Path of Moonlight ========
“Excuse me?” I said. I wondered if I was dealing with yet another crazy person and had to remind myself that the man hadn’t been crazy.
“I expected you sooner but no matter,” the old woman said. I stared at her long enough for her to wave a hand at me and continue in an exasperated tone. “Well, come in, child, come in. No doubt you’re tired after what you’ve been through.”
When she disappeared into the cabin I followed, unsure of what I was doing but having nowhere else to go. She was right – my body was tired from walking and the water hadn’t kept me full for long. The inside looked as old as the outside and it was almost as dirty. There were odd knickknacks everywhere along with plants and books and everything to make a place look lived in. It was made up of one medium-sized room and a loft that covered half the area. I noticed three doors, one of which was the front door which the old woman was closing. She gestured to a sagging chair and, as I sat, my stomach twisted and growled.
“You must be hungry, poor thing,” she said with a tsk. “I was just going to have some lunch.”
“It’s all right,” I said. “I’m fine.” I tried to ignore my shabby surroundings and act like I wasn’t ready to eat my own tongue.
“Lies lies lies,” she said, fussing with a pot – was that a cauldron? – hanging over the fire in an old-fashioned stone fireplace. “Your belly’s louder than a howling baby.”
As if in agreement, my stomach growled again. Guilt seeped into me for not being able to control my body better.
“I don’t want to be a bother,” I said.
“It’s no bother. I’ll just add a little more to the pot and we’ll be able to squeeze out enough for two. It won’t be my best stew, mind you, but it’ll do.” She busied herself as she spoke, cutting a few vegetables and dumping them into the pot before adding more water and stirring the contents.
“I was just headed into town,” I said with false confidence and knowledge. “I was going to stop for lunch there.”
The old woman chuckled and cast her a sly look. “Of course you were,” she said. “And where is town?”
“Just down the road,” I said. “Another hour or so.” The old woman’s gaze was unnerving but I tried to act like I knew where I was and what I was doing.
“It’s fine to admit ignorance, child. There is only me here and I may be old but I’m not blind. You are not from here.”
“No, I’m not,” I admitted but continued to avoid the whole truth. “I’ve been traveling and was told there was a town in this direction. I misjudged the distance and ran out of supplies.”
“You must have been carrying a scant load to begin with to have nothing but your clothing now,” the old woman said.
“I wasn’t well prepared,” I agreed. “I’ve never traveled anywhere before so I wasn’t sure what I needed to take.”
“More like you didn’t have the time or the ability to get supplies. I understand.”
I kept my face polite and tried to ignore the growing wetness in my mouth as the scent of cooking food drifted over to me.
“Is there a town close by?” I asked.
The old woman nodded. “There is and you were right – it’s about two hours walking distance from here. But I don’t recommend you go there.”
“They’re not a welcoming people,” she said. “They tolerate strangers for the coin they bring but they’re happiest when those people move on.”
“But surely someone needs help,” I said. I searched my memories for what might be appropriate words. Hadn’t I learned something in my literature classes that could help me fit in? “An…inn perhaps? Or a…tavern? I could serve food.”
The old woman chuckled again and I wondered if she was laughing at my attempt to fit in or my attempt at insisting I could be accepted in the town.
“You don’t seem like tavern wench quality,” she said. “But I have little doubt you’d be able to find some kind of work there. If you’d like to fling your virtue to the winds and abandon yourself, feel free to inquire.”
My shoulders slumped. I understood her meaning and she was right; that wasn’t something I wanted to do. My mind raced as it tried to come up with a solution. How would I survive if I couldn’t find work? How was I going to get food and a place to stay? I hadn’t been thrilled about going to a town called Louse and even less thrilled at the thought of living in it, but it had been my only option before. What was I going to do now?
======== End of 15th Installment ========
And so the questions continue to emerge. Who is this old woman and how does she know so much? More important for me: how much longer before I know the size of my dinosaur fossil? I have an idea but I’m not sure about it. I’ve never been good at guessing word length.