Making History (Fiction) – Emilio Pasquale Photo

The challenge:  write a story inspired by the photo below, provided by Emilio Pasquale.   If you didn’t read our first team-up, click here to read it!  And, if you haven’t checked out his photography site yet, you really should 🙂

An Emilio Pasquale Photo
An Emilio Pasquale Photo – click it to check out his wonderful photography site!

Marianne Sutter stoked the fire with a long broken branch she’d foraged in the woods surrounding camp.  The logs, moistened by last night’s rain, had been slow to burn, but finally rewarded her with meager warmth stifled by billowing smoke.  One of the few women in camp, she kept to herself.

“Well, well, Ms. Sutter.  How ‘about you warm yerself by my fire?”  The man gave an exaggerated wink.

“No thank you, Mr. Muehlling.” Her revulsion at his advances culminated in a deep shiver that she hoped had been concealed by her wool overcoat.

“If you change yer mind…”  He nodded toward his tent.

Marianne’s husband, Cortland, had led her to this God-forsaken land four months ago.  Enticed by adventure and gold, he moved them west.  When he first shared his plan to leave Virginia, she insisted he take her with him.  She’d thought being alone at home would be much worse than being with him on the frontier.  How wrong she was.  California turned out to be a fickle host.  Although Cortland had found a small amount of gold, months later, he succumbed to fever, leaving Marianne to fend for herself.

***

Marianne’s eyelids grew heavy as her fire dwindled to pulsing orange coals.  In the periphery, she caught sight of a movement to her left. She leaned forward and squinted, branch clenched tightly in her hands.

“Who’s there?”  She asked in a hoarse whisper so she wouldn’t disturb the panners who’d already retired for the night.  The bushes rustled and Marianne raised the stick over her head.

A young child stepped into the clearing.

She gasped and relaxed her arms.  “How old are you?”

“Six.”

“Where are your parents?”

“Dead.”

The matter-of-fact tone caught Marianne off-guard.  “What’s your name?”

“Carrie Benton.”

Marianne leaned forward so her eyes were at the girl’s level.  “Carrie, can you take me to your family?”

They walked a circuitous route in between tents before Carrie stopped and pointed.  Marianne moved forward and saw two rigid men in sleeping bags beneath a make-shift tent.

“They been sick,” Carrie said.  “Daddy and my uncle.”

A breeze slid through the campsite, flapping canvas and fanning the stench of death.  Marianne leaned against a battered supply wagon and heaved, supper barely missing her boots.  Shaky and weak, she grabbed a wool blanket.  She kneeled down and said a prayer for their souls’ safe-keeping and covered the men.

Marianne smoothed her skirts and took the girl’s hand.  “You can stay with me.”

***

Marianne scraped the charred remnants from the roasted rabbit she’d fixed for breakfast.  She’d sent Carrie to search for wood scraps for their evening fire.

“Seems we’re alone again.”

She clenched her jaw.  Mr. Muehlling.

He ambled a few steps toward her.

She held the cast iron pan between them.  “I’m busy, Mr. Muehlling.”  Her voice came out sharper than intended, so she added a quick smile.  “I’ve got to get to the river before it gets too late.”

His eyes narrowed.  “Good day then.  Til tonight.”

A pit settled in her stomach.  She didn’t want to see him that night- or ever.  She turned her head toward rustling in the bushes just as Carrie burst into the clearing.  She dumped an armload of wood at Marianne’s feet.

“I found a friend.  She’s alone, too,” the girl said.  She reached into the brush and pulled a woman into view.

Had she not been burdened by the shock of impropriety, Marianne might’ve chuckled at the similarity to a street magician plucking a bunny from a black top hat.

“This is Sasha Pearl.”

“Ma’am, pleased to meet your acquaintance,” Sasha offered her right hand.

She couldn’t be upset with Carrie, a child too young to know of the woman’s type.  But Marianne could tell by the bold-colored bodice barely restraining her cleavage what kind of living she made.  She feared Sasha’s presence would bring unwanted attention.  Marianne turned away.  “If you could stack the wood, please.”

“Certainly.”

Carrie disappeared through the brush to retrieve more wood.

Sasha put her hand on Marianne’s arm, tightening her fingers to keep her from pulling away.  “I am not my past.  I came here to make a new life for myself.  Please, give me a chance.”

Marianne hesitated before placing her hand on top of Sasha’s.  “Stay as long as you like.”

***

 The three panned in silence.  Marianne had instructed them to keep quiet about their finds.  Carrie rubbed a tiny nugget and rinsed it in the murky water.  She tugged on Marianne’s skirt.

“Is this?” she whispered.

Marianne brushed it with her thumb.  She smiled at the girl.

“Put it in your pouch, ‘kay?”

She slipped the nugget away, concerned with the warmth that spread inside.  She recognized that feeling.  It was attachment; a growing affection- even love… a dangerous emotion in a place rampant with loss.

By late afternoon, they guessed they had a few ounces of gold.  Tomorrow, they would head to town to cash in.

That night after supper, Marianne ducked into her tent, pulling the canvas flap closed behind her.  She set her lantern by the door and turned to grab her night clothes.  A large hand cupped over her mouth.  She tried to bite the sausage-like fingers, but he gripped her tighter and shoved her to the ground.

Mr. Muehlling groped at her dress, tearing the fabric.

Marianne could hardly gasp a breath, much less scream.  God, please save me, she chanted over and over in her mind.

She heard a grunt, then a thud, and then felt a crushing weight on her chest.

Another shadow lurked in the tent and rolled Mr. Muehlling to the side.

“God bless his wretched soul and forgive his sins,” Sahsa whispered, head bowed.  “And forgive me my transgressions as well.”  She looked at Marianne.  “Perhaps we should leave tonight?”

Marianne threw her arms around Sasha.  “Thank you, thank you.”  She burst into tears.

“Shhhh.”  Sasha patted her back and then pulled away.  “We don’t have much time.  I’ll get Carrie in the wagon.”  She grabbed the cast iron pan, aware of the sticky crimson clinging to the underside, and slipped out of the tent.

“With two supply wagons loaded with everything they owned, the three women left.  In the morning, Mr. Muehlling was discovered dead in Marianne’s tent, he’d bled out from a gash in the back of his head.”  Bill pointed to a rust-colored smudge on the back of the wagon.  “They never spoke of that night, but Mr. Meuelling’s blood served as a constant reminder of the fragility of life.”

She peered over the rim of her sunglasses, alternating a skeptical gaze between her husband’s face and the splintered wood of his latest auction find.  “You got that whole story from an old wagon?”

“This is a piece of history, Catherine.  It should be preserved and displayed!”

“I get that, Bill.  But why us?”  She rubbed her forehead and sighed.  “Why in our front yard?”

 ~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-~~~-

I have doubts about much of what I write, but with this story, I was a bit concerned maybe it was too gritty.  I went with it, though because to me, the wagon in the photo represents the harshness of pioneer life – especially during the 1849 Gold Rush, where this piece is set.  With this story, I actually wrote the ending first, where the husband is trying to ‘sell’ the wife on his crazy purchase.  The inspiration for this came from my own experience at estate auctions with my husband… we both bid on stuff that left the other person questioning sanity!

I did some reading about the Gold Rush to get a feel for the era, which is where I got the idea to write it from a woman’s POV.

Thanks to Emilio for offering another photo inspiration!

And thank you for reading 🙂

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40 thoughts on “Making History (Fiction) – Emilio Pasquale Photo

  1. Emilio Pasquale July 24, 2014 / 7:14 AM

    Well, You’ve done it again. I love it. This one seems so simple and yet there’s so much going on in such a short amount of time. Like always, I want to know more. I was half awake all night wondering in which direction this photo would take you and all I could come up with was a frontier story- for obvious reasons. Still, though I got that correct, I could never have imagined the rest of the journey. Anytime Janna, Let’s do it again!

    • jannatwrites July 25, 2014 / 7:50 AM

      Thanks, Emilio – I’m glad you liked the story! I get a little nervous doing these because I fear I don’t do the photo justice 🙂 I try not to do the obvious, but I just couldn’t get away from the pioneer story. Glad you couldn’t predict the entire story, though.

      I enjoy writing for your photos, Emilio. What do you think about making this a monthly thing where you pick a photo and I write a story? The dates could be flexible but it does help if I have a weekend with the photo… during the week is a bit crazy around here!

  2. Timothy Price July 24, 2014 / 7:52 AM

    Great story. Kept me reading, and nice ending. Emilio’s photo is perfect for the story.

  3. nrhatch July 24, 2014 / 10:36 AM

    Haha! Bill’s obviously an antique lover and writer in training!

    • jannatwrites July 25, 2014 / 7:51 AM

      Or, he could be a used car salesman 🙂 Thanks for reading, Nancy!

  4. Carol Ann Hoel July 24, 2014 / 11:49 AM

    I was very surprised by the ending. Ha! The story captured my interest. Blessings to you, Janna…

    • jannatwrites July 25, 2014 / 7:51 AM

      Thanks, Carol Ann! I’m glad the ending was unexpected 🙂

  5. diannegray July 24, 2014 / 4:41 PM

    Great story, Janna. Good on Sasha! And – great ending 😀

    • jannatwrites July 25, 2014 / 7:52 AM

      Sasha did what she needed to do, and Marianne learned a lesson in judgement 🙂 Thanks for reading, Dianne!

  6. Cindi July 25, 2014 / 2:01 AM

    I found you through Emilio’s blog; your words grabbed me, and I was so disappointed when it ended. I want more! 🙂

    • jannatwrites July 25, 2014 / 7:53 AM

      Thanks so much, Cindi! I’m glad you enjoyed this story… this is the second one I’ve written using Emilio’s photos for inspiration 🙂

  7. stephie5741 July 25, 2014 / 6:05 AM

    Great job! I love fiction inspired by pictures. It’s always fun to see what people come up with.

    • jannatwrites July 25, 2014 / 7:54 AM

      Thanks, Stephie! This is the second team-up I’ve done with Emilio’s photography. I do find it inspiring 🙂

  8. Debbie July 25, 2014 / 11:29 AM

    Well done, Janna. I couldn’t stop myself from clicking over to read the longer version (so you know you’ve spun a grand tale!) I like the woman’s POV — and good idea to “redeem” the Sasha character.

    • jannatwrites July 25, 2014 / 1:35 PM

      Thanks, Debbie! I’m glad you were interested enough to read on. I’ve started trying to use the ‘more’ feature on the longer stories because sometimes I think when readers see a long scroll of text, they may not bother reading at all.

      I’m glad you liked the turn events with Sasha’s character 🙂

  9. Leigh W. Smith July 26, 2014 / 8:09 AM

    Lovely photo, and great writing as always, Janna. It’s fun to dip into historical fiction (at least I think it is) as a writer. It allows the “research” side of me to come out of the dark attic! 🙂 Fortunately or un-, despite the beautiful composition and lighting of the photo, I can only come up with dark themes. Maybe I should just go with that . . .
    In any case, I also adore the darkly humorous turn at the end that jets us to the present tense. Coincidentally, one neighbor has 1 (2?) wagon decorations in their yard.

    • jannatwrites July 30, 2014 / 9:37 PM

      I like the research part, too, Leigh. The only thing that makes me nervous is missing a little detail (like referring to something that didn’t exist during the time period.) I can see how this evokes dark themed ideas. Sometimes we can’t fight that! That’s funny that you have neighbors with wagon decorations…. here in the Southwest, wagon wheels are quite common to see in yards… a full on wagon, though… that’s taking it pretty far 🙂

  10. pattisj July 26, 2014 / 10:26 AM

    Emilio has amazing photography and editing skills. They pair perfectly with your writing, There is so much depth in this story, one of my favorites. I loved the description, “…supper barely missing her boots.” Well done!

    • jannatwrites July 30, 2014 / 9:38 PM

      Thanks for reading and for sharing your encouraging comment, Patti! I do enjoy Emilio’s photography and hoped that others might like it, too.

  11. Celine Jeanjean July 27, 2014 / 11:55 PM

    I love the complicity between the women and Carrie, makes me want to see more of what they get up to. But that final detail of the man selling the story to his wife is fantastic, for me that made the whole story and put a very different spin on the story. A great ending!

    • jannatwrites July 30, 2014 / 9:40 PM

      Thanks, Celine! I was a little concerned the switch to present day would be confusing so I’m relieved that the you caught the transition 🙂

      • Celine Jeanjean July 31, 2014 / 12:41 AM

        I actually really liked it, I think the story is stronger for it (and that last comment of “Why in our yard?” made me laugh because it rang so true!!)

        • jannatwrites July 31, 2014 / 5:48 PM

          So glad it did feel true – I could picture a similar exchange between my husband and me… but he wouldn’t try to think of such an elaborate story to get me to fall in love with the wagon!

  12. Dilip July 28, 2014 / 8:31 AM

    Beautifully narrated kept me focused. Loved the ending. Thanks Janna 🙂

  13. Tessa July 29, 2014 / 4:21 AM

    A great story Janna! I love the way you twist the endings. I never expected it. 🙂

    • jannatwrites July 30, 2014 / 9:40 PM

      Thanks, Tessa! Glad it was unexpected 🙂

  14. Imelda July 29, 2014 / 5:47 AM

    I have not read a word but I will be back for some catch up. 🙂

      • Imelda August 2, 2014 / 5:34 PM

        Finally, I made it back. I would have, sooner or later, because I like your stories. 🙂

        • jannatwrites August 2, 2014 / 6:48 PM

          I’m glad you did come back 🙂

  15. frederick anderson July 29, 2014 / 9:10 AM

    Engrossing tale! You capture the harshness of life in those times so well I can envisage the encampment and feel the mud on my boots!

    • jannatwrites July 30, 2014 / 9:42 PM

      I appreciate you reading the story, Frederick! I’m happy that it put you into the setting (not really a place I think would be enjoyable 🙂 )

  16. Imelda August 2, 2014 / 5:33 PM

    That was one tight and gripping story telling. You are THE story teller. I do pray that you get the chance to finish one of your many novels. 🙂

    I do not think you had to soften the impact of the story. Pioneer life was difficult and all that was told in the story were realities that pioneers, specially the women, would have faced.

    • jannatwrites August 2, 2014 / 6:48 PM

      You are so sweet, Imelda. I’m actually getting back into my longer pieces. First I want to finish a short story I started in June, then I’ll get back to Darlene’s story.

      I really don’t think I would’ve liked pioneer life at all 🙂

  17. joannesisco August 21, 2014 / 6:20 PM

    Both the story and the picture inspiring it are great 🙂

  18. Sarah Ann August 24, 2014 / 9:07 AM

    This had just the right amount of grit – your portrayal of a harsh life was spot on and Marianne’s suffering and determination are clear. Her fear of growing affection was stark too. It was good to read how the women found and looked after each other. I think the modern husband has a wild imagination though, if he can get all that from a blood stain.

    • jannatwrites August 24, 2014 / 8:56 PM

      Hehe, yeah, he does have a crazy imagination. It’s not a time I would’ve liked to live in, that’s for sure.

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