Post By Derek Hastings

Category: Short Fiction
Article Title : Moonfire
Description: Turnips the dog snapped at the flies buzzing around his head, circled three times and settled into the straw bed near the shoeing stool. Evening brought the onslaught of skeeters swarming around the water trough and under the weeping willow trees. Light from outside the blacksmith shop was dimming enough that the glow from the brazier seemed brighter by contrast. Turnips sighed a lazy huff and lowered his shaggy head onto his paws.

Around the side of the low ramshackle smithy, two lethargic Clydesdales ambled by pulling firewood from the foothills into town. October was almost over bringing the first frosty mornings. But, the afternoons still suffocated in a summer that refused to go away. The dust from the yard desperately needed a good rainstorm to settle down.

Turnips lay in filthy contentment in the cooler air closer to the floor. His day had been epic, as far as dog days go.  The morning was full of exploration and rolling in fun smelling stuff. The afternoon had been spent wandering the streets of Turnips own town, Trinity Hollow. Now it was time for dinner after the master finished his work.

From inside the shack a steady sound of the bellows created a rhythm for the pounding of the hammer on the anvil, which lulled Turnips to sleep.

On a short stool at the bellows sat Henery, a boy of twelve that looked forward to someday having his own smith shop. He was covered in sweat and soot, but his smile grew brighter as each blast of air urged the coals to the proper intensity of heat.

Prentice the blacksmith, hovered over the anvil, carefully swinging his hammer to the rhythm of the bellows. Prentice was a short man, but powerfully built. His arms stuck out from his chest like cranes from a ship. Long and powerful from a lifetime of working iron into useful tools and at times works of art. Sweating in the golden glow of the brazier, Prentice thought himself lucky to have the shop and to be so young. The shop had been his fathers — until he died — and now was his. Prentice was determined to continue the proud legacy his father had created. “To do him proud!” Prentice would say to his neighbors. His happiness and his commitment to sustain his fathers excellent reputation brought him a lot of business. It also helped that Prentice was the only blacksmith in thirty miles.

Henery liked Prentice. He looked up to him. And, it is safe to say that Prentice was everything Henery wanted to be when he grew up. Henery liked that he was young, independent, strong, and told good stories. He came to help Prentice whenever he could and would often stay to listen to the corny jokes Prentice would share with his customers.

“Excuse me Mister Hart,” called a figure in the doorway. There stood Henery’s father. It was time for Henery to come home.

“Howdy Mr. Turner, come for Henery eh?” Prentice asked, watching the boy dunking his head in the cooling barrel.

Prentice handed Henery a towel and asked, “You be back tomorrow Hercules?”

Mr. Turner looked at Henery and asked. “Hercules?!?”

“Yep, the boy’s getting pretty strong, almost wrestled a bone away from Turnips today! Sometimes even I find it hard to do that!”

“Well,” Mr. Turner sighed. “I have a load of brick for the foundation of Mrs. Turner’s Teahouse, and Henery’s new found strength is going to be needed to get the brick from the front yard to the back. But, he’ll be back when he’s done. Probably this weekend at the latest Prentice.”

Prentice smiled and jokingly chided. “Well, I don’t know Mr. Turner, I’d hate to ask Turnips there to run the bellows tomorrow, he’s kind of on vacation this month.” Then, chuckling, Prentice reached into his pocket and pulled out two bits and handed it to Henery.

“I was about to lay off for the evening anyway, Turnips is giving me the Ol’ evil eye.”

Prentice watched as Henery and his father disappeared down the road, laughing at Prentices joke about “Hercules Henery”. Then he turned to Turnips, and as he began to put the cover on the brazier, began to talk to his best friend and companion.

“You ready for dinner Nippsy? Yeah? Alright, c’mon le’s eat.”

Night found Prentice sitting on his wood pile. He shifted a little so his shoulder blade would be more comfortable. The noise woke Turnips, who sat up and began to contemplate his master. Prentice was deep in thought and had sat thus deep into the night on more than one occasion. Faraway thoughts rambled around his mind. Prentice was a blacksmith, but not a simple man. His thoughts touched The Creator throughout the day and especially at night. Lately, many a thankful prayer had shot up like fireworks from the woodpile. Now he was watching the moon slip up into the higher branches of his willow trees. It might have looked as if this were a lonely man, but for the smile of contentment on his face. If you asked if he himself thought he was lonely? Prentice would probably have laughed and said something like, “Lonely? No Sir! Now if I was lonely I’d probably be off somewhere else doing something about it.”

“This is the life Nippsy!” Prentice said, as he grappled with a handful of dirty floppy ear. “No one to bother. I live like I want, all I want of good eatin’. Nope, I wouldn’t exchange my life for nothin’ Nips. Look at that moon there. You couldn’t find a prettier picture anywhere — darn skeeters!” Prentice slapped a big one on his now clean and washed bicep. “Only these darn skeeters to bother me. But, I suppose they gotta live somewhere too, huh Nips?”

Soon the moon was very high and full in the sky. Moon shadows painted the ground a pleasing contrast of light and dark, making the smithy’s front yard look like an abstract checkers board.

“There’s something about this here Moon Turnips, I’m not too sure about. I mean, here I am and there it is — the way it usually is — but there’s something different up there now. It’s like it’s alive and breathin’, can ya feel it Nips?” Prentice leaned forward and grabbed the big dog by the neck startling him out of his sleep.

“Oh, sleepin’ eh? Wake up! I’m talkin’ at ya!” Prentice laughed, and pointed Turnips head towards the moon. “Look at that moon will ya. Ain’t it somethin’ else? Just like it was starin’ down at me like I’m starin’ up at it! Kinda spooky if ya ask me.”

But, Nips wasn’t listening to Prentice this time. His sensitive ears had picked up a sound he had never heard before. Shrill and wavering but definitely melodic. So melodic that Nips got up and started to wander slowly into the moonlight. Tilting his head back and forth, Nippsy began to whimper.

Turnips had never acted this way before. Curiosity mixed with apprehension called the hairs to stand up on Prentices neck. “You hear that too Nippsy?” He asked as he stepped down from the wood pile. Standing in the shadows looking into the moonlight the sound of his breathing mingled with the melodic warbling that seemed to come from the moonlight. Slowly walking into the light Prentice turned to look across the road.

Standing in the dry grass on the other side of the fence across the road, and under a giant half dead willow tree, stood a girl. Or rather a very young woman. A bright pool of moonlight shined down around the woman highlighting her silvery hair and the glittering silver gown she wore. But, it was her eyes that Prentice noticed first.

Set close together in an extremely petite face, the woman’s eyes looked as if they were on fire — a deep scintillating blue fire. She smiled at Prentice revealing even rows of small white teeth. Prentice stood stunned in the yard. Nothing like this had ever happened in Trinity Hollow. “No one dresses like that around here.” Prentice absent mindedly mumbled. “Nippsy, I don’t think that woman is from around here . . .” Prentice could not take his eyes off of the woman.

The woman was staring back at Prentice and she began to smile. An audible trilling sound similar to the sound that had frightened Nippsy began to fill the air. The sound seemed to come from the woman, but also from all around. It was like a dozen canary’s singing in harmony — in their sleep. Prentice stood in the middle of the road, every sense completely at attention. The air dared not move the branches on the willows, the moonlight outlined every detail in the grain of the wood of the fence, each dust particle in the road seemed to stand out, and the night air expanded and contracted with each thunderous breath Prentice took. Heart beat, heart beat, heat beat . . .

Frightened by the strange noise Turnips came to life and began to bark at the woman. Instantly the woman turned and fled with the speed of a fresh spring breeze, the pool of moonlight pointing her out as she flitted through the trees.

Prentice watched until the vision had disappeared into the trees. Then he sat back down on his woodpile holding Turnips, overwhelmed, speechless, and incredibly wide awake. He sat there until the moon had fallen below the trees. Who was she? Where did she come from? If only Turnips hadn’t barked! The thoughts and questions cascading through his mind would not let him sleep.

The next day, Prentice struggled to keep his mind on work. So he closed up early and took Turnips for a long walk out of town to do some fishing. His thoughts replaying the night before, over and over. Later, after a dinner of trout and baked potato, he tried to talk Turnips into not scaring the woman away again. Something was telling Prentice that she would be back.

The moon couldn’t rise fast enough that night. Unable to sit on the woodpile, Prentice paced around the yard praying for God to bring the woman back. A couple of times clouds skimmed the face of the moon as it was rising causing Prentice to anxiously glance to the sky. He didn’t know what was happening, all he knew was that he wanted to see the woman again. She was beautiful, and exciting. Like nothing he had ever encountered. And, it did something to his heart. A longing was growing inside a part of him that he hadn’t known was there that was kind of scary. Part of him was stirring, coming to life. The emotions were unexpected and he didn’t know how to deal with them. All Prentice could think was that he wanted to see the woman again.

When the trilling sound came, Prentice had just taken the precaution of tying Turnips to the water pump in the yard. It came so suddenly Prenice almost tripped over Turnips and had to grab the pump handle to keep from falling. Slowly, he walked over to the fence, his short stocky legs wobbly with expectation. “Will she talk to me?” Prentice whispered.

Prentice stopped in the road a few yards from the fence, his heart in his throat. Her eyes were even more enchanting up close, and it took Prentice some time to muster the courage to talk.

“What is your name?” Asked Prentice. Smiling like a little boy.

The woman just smiled back, through that moonlit aura.

That was when the midnight stage came rumbling up the road almost running Prentice over. After it passed, Prentice looked up and the woman was gone, a bare glimmer receding through the trees as the night before.

Prentice stood there leaning on the fence until the sky began to turn orange as the sun rose over his blacksmith shop.

Prentice did not sleep that day. Instead he walked into town and with his life savings bought as much silver as he could afford. The woman behind the counter silently amazed by the amount of money spent. Then he walked as fast as he could back to his shop.

Starting immediately Prentice worked through the day creating a mold for the surprise he had in mind for the woman he was now calling Moonfire. The mold was finished after a hasty lunch, eaten under the baleful stare of Turnips, who was still tied up to the water pump. Melting the silver quickly followed, to prepare it for pouring it in the mold. Darkness came and he worked on cleaning up his messy blacksmith shop while the silver cooled in the mold.

Finally, as the sun was beginning to drop past the fence across the street, Prentice began the process of removing the silver from the mold. Carefully chipping the mold away a silver tiara came forth in the light of the brazier. With a piece of steel wool and a soft cloth, the silver began to shine. A work of love was revealed.

Prentice had convinced himself that this woman — Moonfire — was someone the Good Lord had sent to him. Moonfire was special and the last two nights had convinced Prentice that it wasn’t good to be alone anymore. The time had come to deal with that and this was an obvious sign from God. So now he was going to do something about it. Prentice knew he wasn’t that beautiful of a man, short, stocky and probably smelly, but he knew how to create beauty and was sure that this would help him make his case to this, gift from God.

The time weighed on Prentice raising his anxiety. His eyes were trying to pierce the darkness outside of the shop, and his ears were sifting the millions of night sounds. But, he didn’t go outside. He stayed inside polishing the tiara.

Soon the moon arrived over the shop lighting the yard and the road and the fence across the road . . . and the trilling began. Prentice and Turnips both stood and looked for Moonfire. But, instead of running to the fence, Prentice sat down on his shoeing stool holding the tiara and waited in the dark hoping to draw Moonfire into the shop. Prentice figured that he could limit the interruptions in his own shop.

Slowly the sound came closer, until a bright silvery glow edged around the door. Standing apprehensively by the door, peering into the darkness of the room, stood Moonfire. Curiosity had overcome her almost animal like skittishness. She was acting almost like a deer carefully approaching a salt lick, wary of being ambushed.

At first Moonfire wouldn’t come any closer than the door. But, when Prentice stood and beckoned her into the room she seemed to blush and slowly walked into the room. Soon she was standing right in front of Prentice, closer than she had come  the nights before and it looked as though she was trying to say something to him. Prentice thought perhaps if she saw the gift he had for her she would say something, so Prentice brought it out into the light of the brazier and presented it to her.

“Please take this. I . . . I don’t know you. But, I think you are the most beautiful person I have ever seen. Please, I made this for you. I made it so that you might feel like talking to me. I really don’t have anyone here to talk to, except old Turnips. I made it for you. I hope you like it. It’s real silver, you know.”

When she made no move towards taking the tiara, Prentice slowly reached out and put the tiara on her head and leaned forward to kiss her.

The woman smiled but place her hand gently on Prentice’s lips to stop him. “Thank you Prentice, but this is not for me.” I am merely a messenger sent by your Father in Heaven. I have been sent to bring you a message from Him. He wants you to know that He loves you and will take care of what you need. He created your heart, he hears every one of your heartbeats, and knows you are lonely. Only you must understand. I cannot stay with you. As much as I would like to, I am an angel and I must return to Heaven. My name is Arendal, and I watch over you.” Arendal reached up and took the tiara and placed it back into Prentices’ hands.

“An Angel?” Prentice thought. God sent me an angel? “You watch over me?” Prentice asked.

“Yes”, Arendal replied. “I am your guardian angel. I have watched over you since you were first born. Your heart is strong and your love for The Father and His Son  is bragged about around the throne. You are not alone Prentice. Never alone when The King of All things is your Father.”

With that Arendal disappeared and left Prentice standing in the light of the brazier holding the silver tiara.

The next morning — late — Prentice prepared to return to his routine. Still pondering what had happened the night before, the tiara sat on the shoeing stool, being watched closely by Turnips. Prentice was tying his apron around his waist and pulling his heavy hammering gloves onto his hammer shaped hands, when he heard someone approaching. The sound of a horse being lead by someone. The sound of a horse that had thrown a shoe. He thought more work . . . then turned to look at who was coming.

Standing in the door was a young woman. The woman that had sold him the silver from town. She looked down and saw the tiara sitting on the stool, then looked at Prentice.

“So that’s what you did with all that silver!” She exclaimed. “It’s beautiful!! I see that you are more than a blacksmith, you are an incredible artist! What do you plan to do with it?”

Prentice’s mouth fell open. There was the spitting image of Arendal! He had not noticed her the day before. But, there she stood, plain as the day was hot, the answer to Arendals suggestion that God knew what he needed. Here was The Hand of God. Arendal was a sure a sign as any.

Prentice stepped forward and took the reigns of the horse as he checked the hoof said, “I have not figured out what to do with it yet. It is for someone special.” He looked up at the woman and their eyes met and found each other.

“What is your name?” Prentice asked.

“Nancy.” She replied as she reached out to shake Prentice’s hand.