Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Seven

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six

When I woke up I could already smell breakfast cooking and hear the clamor of my hosts, the four other house guests, and what turned out to be another half-dozen people who’d just dropped by for breakfast.

I got lost in the shuffle, and nobody mentioned the cherry cobbler incident, or anything that came with it. I wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed about this or not. Part of me would have liked to discuss it, but I wasn’t really sure it would help. What was there to discuss, really?

I was halfway through a strawberry waffle when Anna mostly-politely shoved aside one of my second cousins and plopped down on the bench beside me.

“Hey,” she said. “Apparently something’s going on this evening that requires a metric butt-ton of ribbons. Want to go into town with me to get them?”

“Ribbons?”

“Yeah, ribbons.”

“Sure,” I said.

Despite the warning about the quantity of ribbons required, I was nevertheless surprised when Anna showed up with a wheelbarrow. Or something like it. It was less awkward than a wheelbarrow, perhaps one could call it a handcart.

“Really?” I said. “We couldn’t just carry them in bags or something?”

“Oh, we’ll do that too. We need all the ribbons,” Anna said. “I mean literally, all of them. The general store made a special bulk order just for us.”

“Wow,” I said.

We trundled the handcart down the street in companionable silence for a while. I noticed Anna’s multitude of charm bracelets, which reminded me of the ones popular girls usually wore at my high school. Somehow this got me off on a mental tangent about the differences between younger and older millennials and wondering whether or not Anna saw me as one of her own generation or essentially a younger version of her parents.

I mean, it wasn’t like because I was older and had kids I was suddenly a member of a different species. And then, I suppose I didn’t really know whether or not Anna did have children, but she was undeniably younger and certainly had that irresponsible, unencumbered “single” air about her.

“Did you notice anything…weird…last night?” said Anna.

“What? Oh,” I said. “Did you?”

I hadn’t actually answered her question, but then I wasn’t sure what the answer should be. Strictly speaking, the answer was yes, but I wasn’t sure what I’d seen was actually significant. But if we started discussing it, I knew it could start to seem significant whether it really was or not.

“Yes,” she said. “I think so. My great-aunt’s house doesn’t have indoor plumbing, lucky me-“

“You’d think there would be building code violations along with that.”

“Right? Personally, I think she pays protection against inspectors to the family of hedgehogs that live under the porch. Those things are ornery,” she said. “Anyway, I had to go outside last night and I saw something. I mean, it could have been a deer or a coyote, but I swear it was walking on two legs.”

“What did it look like?”

“Well I saw a kind of upright silhouette, and the glowing eyes with reflective light like pets have in camera flash.”

I inwardly cringed. “And a long tail?”

“Maybe. That or it waved at me, and I don’t know which concerns me more.”

I nodded and looked down at the handcart.

“So, did you see something?” Anna said.

“Possibly. I got up to get a snack last night. I thought I saw shining eyes and a long waving tail when I glanced into the dining room, but it could have just been something shiny and a tree branch waving outside.”

“Wait, what you saw was inside the dining room?”

“Or outside on the porch, maybe. If I saw anything at all. I mean, it’s so easy to get carried away with these things. Just think about all the people who’ve seen bigfoot.”

“Oh totally. Especially since this place actually is weird. But who knows.”

“I guess we’ll have to keep our eyes open.”

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Six

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

I never sleep well the first night in a new environment, and this place seemed designed to enhance that unfortunate situation.

The sounds outside were all wrong. Since it was summer, the sun was out until late, and so the children all felt the need to be running around screaming until the last vestiges of daylight were well and truly gone. When they did, however, it got way too quiet.

Apparently the children’s noise had been scaring away various forest creatures who then came out and began making ungodly noises, particularly just as I was about to fall asleep. Not loudly, you understand, and not quietly enough to go unnoticed. Just the right sound level that forced me to listen for them in case they ended up being as threatening as they sounded.

The floral wallpaper and other poufy accents did not look any less overpowering and sinister in the dark, but I had my sleeping mask on so this didn’t bother me too much. The bed, however, was another matter.

It was incredibly soft, which I liked at first, and burrowed into the pillowy mattress. After a while, though, I started to feel as though I would sink into it and be lost forever if I didn’t lie stiffly still.

Despite all this, I could possibly have drifted off into an uneasy sleep, if I hadn’t gotten hungry. It wasn’t the hunger itself, so much as the internal debate it inspired. Before I retired to bed for the night, Maria told me that there were plenty of cookies left, and cherry cobbler in the fridge, and I was encouraged to avail myself of these provisions should I get peckish in the night.

Despite this invitation, obviously it was impossible for me to do so. Creeping around in the dark in a near stranger’s house for the purpose of poking around in their kitchen was rude and out of the question, notwithstanding the fact that I’d been told to do exactly that if it suited me.

But I really wanted some cherry cobbler, and I’d been told I could get some. Wasn’t this the Truth? Wasn’t my reluctance to go downstairs a product of my overly timid nature? And wasn’t it this very timidity that led me to accept Echart’s invitation and got me stuck out here in the first place?

True, I’d been curious as well, but now that I was here, curiosity didn’t seem like a valid reason to have come. And it was certainly politeness, if not timidity, that kept me from hauling my butt back home at the earliest opportunity.

I decided I had to go get some cherry cobbler. It might be a very small step toward regaining control of my life, but it was a step nonetheless.

When the first step I took out of my room and into the hall produced an enormous squeak, I realized obtaining cherry cobbler was going to be even more fraught than I imagined, and almost turned back. But I pressed on, determined not to be put off by talkative floorboards.

As I picked my way down the hall, and then the stairs, I noticed something odd about the wallpaper. The main pattern was a black floral print on a silvery background, and in the moonlight streaming in from the windows, I noticed the negative space between the floral motifs resembled a rabbit. Maybe two rabbits. Or one rabbit with wings.

Why all the rabbits? I shook my head and continued down the stairs.

The kitchen, I believed, was to my left. I knew it was next to the dining room, through which one traveled to get to the sliding patio door. But I knew this less because I remembered where I’d gone earlier, and more because the sounds of snoring clearly indicated that the first-floor spare bedrooms were located to my right.

The first floor was mercifully carpeted, and allowing me to pad stealthily towards the kitchen. Rationally, of course, I knew it wasn’t the end of the world if someone heard me getting a night-time snack, but I have never claimed to be rational. Besides, if it really would have been the end of the world I wouldn’t have attempted getting a snack in the first place.

Just as I was about to enter the kitchen, I caught a flicker of movement in the corner of my eye, from within the dining room. My instincts suggested it might be a lashing tail, or a particularly athletic snake, but my rational mind countered with the possibility of a tree branch being blown around on the other side of the patio doors. I turned to glance into the dining room and resolve the issue.

Two glowing eyes stared back at me.

I scooted into the kitchen and ducked behind the slightly protruding refrigerator. In a moment or two, I calmed down enough to decide that I had probably just seen a reflection off the glass vase on the dining table or something else equally innocuous. I was far too jumpy.

But hadn’t those eyes been attached to a dark figure? No, that was just my mind reinterpreting ordinary shadows to lend context to what I thought I’d seen. And no, I was not going to check. The probability of an actual menacing form with glowing eyes standing in the dining room was far to low to justify delaying the consumption of cherry cobbler, and besides, in the unlikely event there was something in the dining room, going to look at it would only hasten my inevitable demise.

I quietly pried the refrigerator door open, and spotted a mostly-empty pan of cobbler. What was left could have been cut into two smallish pieces, or it could be a single quite large piece. I decided on the latter, to avoid having to search out a plate. This way, I only had to find a fork.

Plus, as I picked at the cobbler with the fork in one hand, while hefting the pan with another, the heavy ceramic pan would do quite well to stun an intruder if necessary.

Light blinded my eyes as someone flicked the kitchen light switch.

I started and immediatly choked on the bite of cobbler in my mouth.

Maria hurried over to me and swiftly produced a glass of water with which to wash down the offending dessert.

“So sorry, my dear. I didn’t mean to startled you,” she said.

“That’s alright,” I croaked.

“Would you like some ice cream on that?” she asked.

I nodded, feeling rather childish.


Sorry this episode was late coming out. I’ve been watching the news too much and the muse got freaked out, hid under my bed and wouldn’t come out.

Which is really impressive, since my bed doesn’t have an “under.” It’s just a mattress on the floor. Anyway, I’ll endeavour to return to my mostly weekly schedule, but cannot offer guarantees. Thank you for reading.

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Five

Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, or Part 4 if you missed them

“What happens to the rabbits?” I asked.

“The same thing that happens to us all,” said my great uncle Echart.

“Right,” I said.

For the rest of the buggy ride, I avoided looking at the rabbits in their little cages. The inhabitants of Innswale put them out by their mailboxes, apparently for Echart to collect, because they still followed the “old ways.” What old ways? And why did they all ban cars for a whole month?

Not a proper month, really. The last two weeks of June and the first of July, because that’s when I said I could come visit. A chill came over me.

No it couldn’t be. Surely, they did this every June. It had nothing to do with me.

Instead of the rabbits, I focused on the rear end of the horse pulling the buggy. It was round and speckled white, and as pleasant as could be expected. It was also puzzling. Nobody said anything about this before I came here. I mean, we all knew Echart’s side of the family was weird. They don’t like technology. They spend too much time in the woods. Blah blah blah.

Too me, all this seemed beyond the pale, and probably something I should have been told about before coming here. For this, and I still didn’t know what “this” was, I’d given up my full yearly allotment of vacation time. I decided I was far too much of a people pleaser, and really needed to learn to say no.

The front yard of Echart’s home was as large as most lots in my neighborhood, and a plethora of my distant relations milled about under the great umbrellas of trees. Packs of children ran around the shrubberies.

As we meandered up the drive towards the house, they were drawn to us as if by magnetic attraction. Older children fetched the rabbits from the back seat of the buggy, cooing an exclaiming over them. Others grabbed my bags. Me carrying them myself was out of the question.

A crowd of cousins of various kinds escorted me to the front door, our procession led by an eager older lady puffing under the weight of my bags. Voices gabbled around me as I was introduced to more names and faces than I could possibly remember.

The house was sprawling and old. The hardwood floors protested with the weight of feet upon it, but thankfully people had started to drift away from the procession, and back to whatever they were doing as the novelty of my arrival lost its luster.

Once we arrived at my room everyone cleared out and left me alone for a bit so I could freshen up and what not. I didn’t stay up there long. Everything was poufy and flower-print, and I felt if I stayed there too long the vines on the wallpaper would come to life and strangle me.

I went downstairs, and then out into the backyard where everyone seemed to be hanging out. Echart’s wife, Maria, found me a chair in the shade and plied me with sugar cookies and lemonade.

Large rabbit hutches were stacked up against the house, which at least solved the mystery of where the rabbits had gone for the time being. The hutches were decorated with ribbons and the children fed the rabbits flowers through the wire mesh.

A petite woman with a shoulder-length bob sat down in the wicker chair next to me. “Hi, I’m Anna,” she said. “I’m one of the other…visitors.”

“Oh. So this is a thing, then,” I said.

“I’m pretty sure everything is a thing.” Anna giggled.

“But you know what I mean. An event. It’s not just me visiting, for reasons.”

“Yeah. I think there’s about five of us.”

“So are you on Echart’s side of the family, or…”

“I’m not. Actually I think maybe one of my uncle’s married Echart’s cousin. But no, I’m from one of the other Innswale ‘old families’.”

“Oh, okay. I guess this is more of a thing than I thought.”

“I know, right? The secrecy is crazy. I tell you though, if we’re being inducted into a cult or something, I’m out of here.”

“Yup, I’ll be right behind you.” I took a sip of my lemonade. “Hey, do you know what’s with the rabbits?”

“No. There’s something with the rabbits?”

“People just left them by their mailboxes for us to pick up.”

“Oh, weird.”

Anna had opted for the pink lemonade, spiked with raspberry cordial.

“The car thing is a pain, though,” she said.

“Oh yeah. Do they do that every June?”

“Different times. Depending on when it works for people to come.”

“It’s for us? It can’t be for us. That’s crazy.”

“It is, but it’s true.”

“Why?”

Anna shrugged and nibbled on a sugar cookie. “I guess we’ll find out.”

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Four

Click for Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 if you missed them.

The coffee was a mistake. They didn’t have half-caf, but I felt like I should at least get some credit for having asked. Nevertheless, I was fully wired and in no way able to cope with what I found when I finally arrived in Innswale. At first I thought I had gone the wrong way, that it was some kind of mistake.

A metal gate stretched across the road, bearing the sign “no motorized vehicles beyond this point.” Clearly, I had wandered onto the access road for a park, or private property. But no, another sign stood to the side of the road, next to the metal gate. A squat obelisk built of stones proudly bore a large copper sign that said “Welcome to Innswale.”

I stared from one sign to the other. They couldn’t both be correct, could they? It didn’t seem possible, and yet they had both clearly been there for a long time, and couldn’t have been placed by accident.

A dirt road broke off to the right, and I wondered if maybe there was some way around this odd edict. But no, as my car crawled closer, I saw an array of parked cars through the thick tree canopy and underbrush. Some, judging by the quantity of dirt and forest debris collected on them, had evidently been there for a long time.

I was stuck. On the one hand, I had driven many miles to be here, and there were people expecting me. On the other, parking my car and continuing on foot was too bizarre to be the correct response. The sound of a horse-drawn buggy clip-clopping down the road interrupted my musing, though the quandary wasn’t resolved until I saw Echart lean out of the buggy’s cab and waved at me.

I waved back, and went to park my car, trying to normalize the situation in my mind. Innswale is not an Amish or Mennonite town, or anything like that. But I had heard that quite a few people there preferred a low-tech lifestyle. Had this segment of the population managed to make bylaws enforcing their preferences?

Echart hadn’t mentioned anything, but then I didn’t hear from him that often. Though one would think he’d have mentioned it after I said I would come visit.

After I parked, I lugged my suitcases towards the metal gate separating Innswale from the rest of the world. Echart greeted me warmly and threw my bags in the back of the buggy. He was a tall beanpole of a man with a wizened face, and a strength that belied his years. The sparse mop of grey on his head was always slightly disheveled, and the white stubble on his chin made it look like he’d dipped the lower half of his face in sugar.

“Is this a new bylaw? This no cars thing,” I said.

“Oh no,” he said. “We do this every year. Sort of a tradition.”

“How long does it last?”

“It’ll last the month.”

“Is there something special about this month?”

“Yes.” A conspiratorial grin crossed his face. “Oh yes. But we’ll get to that later.”

We exchanged small talked as the buggy rattled into town. He asked how the drive had been. Long, but not bad. I asked what the horse’s name was. Bitterberry. Which I thought was odd, but didn’t say so. Aren’t bitter berries usually poisonous?

We drew to a stop at maybe the second drive way we’d come to. I wondered if we’d arrived already.

“Hold on,” Echart said. “I won’t be a minute.”

As he walked up the drive I noticed a rabbit in a small cage, just beside the mailbox. Echart retreived the cage, and put it in the back of the buggy on top of my bags.

“What’s that about?” I asked.

“Some of the townspeople like to keep up the old ways,” he said.

I waited for him to elaborate, but he didn’t.

We picked up three more rabbits before the end.

“So, what happens to the rabbits?” I asked.

“The same thing that happens to all of us,” he said cheerfully.

“Right.”

Now unsettled on many levels, I held my hands in my lap and fiddled with my wedding ring. The coffee was most definitely a mistake. I had to pee so bad. I hoped indoor plumbing wasn’t verboten this month as well as cars.

Roots · Story Series

Roots: Part Two

Click here for Part One if you missed it.

“Well I’m not going,” I said. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to.”

My husband, Chris, handed me a plate to dry. It was part of a set we’d been given as a wedding present, an ugly grey print with some sort of animal on it. Rabbits or squirrels, I couldn’t tell. I’d hoped by now we would have broken enough of them to justify buying new plates, but they had proven annoyingly resilient.

“I mean, I can’t take an extra month off work,” I said.

“True,” said Chris. “Unless we didn’t go camping this year.”

“Then there’s the kids. Lily has track meets, and twins have their archery tournament. I can’t miss those.”

“Yup, we’re pretty busy. Except for the last weeks of June, and the first weeks of July.”

I threw my towel at him. “Do you want me to go?”

“No, of course not.” He planted a kiss on my forehead. “Unless that’s what you want.”

“It’s not.”

“Well then.”

He handed me my towel back and we got on with the dishes. It wasn’t a prestigious task, but it did give us a chance to talk without the kids clamoring for our attention, since they all scattered after dinner lest they be roped into dish washing duty. We’d done dishes by hand by necessity after our dishwasher broke, and it had done so much for our communication we decided not to replace it.

“Do you think I should go?” I said.

“At this time, we can neither confirm nor deny…”

“Very funny.”

“I think if you really didn’t want to go we wouldn’t still be talking about it,” said Chris.

I sighed. What did it mean to want something?

I didn’t think visiting Echart and the others would be that enjoyable. I remembered visiting with my parents as a child. It was awkward, the food was questionable, and their house smelled strange. Now that I was an adult I would likely have a different perspective on things, but that didn’t mean it would be worth passing up our yearly camping trips.

And yet…

I had always been something of a historian. Not in any kind of official or professional way, academia didn’t offer the kind of job security I was looking for back when I was making those sorts of decisions. But the origins of things fascinated me. Especially with the rise of reality TV shows about people’s ancestors.

My father’s side of the family were steadfastly uninterested in that sort of thing, so I’d never gotten far in my attempts at intergenerational sleuthing.

“Well, all right then. I’m going,” I said. “Now come here and kiss me properly.”