Thresholds: “Behind Old Doors” and “Home” by Hannah Abrahamson

Due dates for papers, presentations, and exams are closing in. Someone (sidhe or brownies, I think) have strung blue fairy lights and even a chandelier over some of the streets in town. Between drinking hot chocolate and researching, I’ve been stealing golden moments outside in the dwindling daylight. Now that many of the leaves are gone, the woods are brighter.

Like Shera Moyer‘s contribution last week, Hannah Abrahamson‘s contribution to the Thresholds project, with its images of green hilltops and faded leaves, stirs up a mix of contentment and longing in me. Enjoy!

Behind Old Doors

by Hannah Abrahamson

A door! What slumbers behind that old door?
My feet skip a beat and so does my heart.
A door! The unknown leaves me wanting more:
A mystery I’ll awake with a start.

Will its joy fill my lungs like crisp fall air?
Will its scent linger like leaves limp and brown?
Will it sweeten my soul and stir up care
Like cider overflowing drips down?

The threshold sparkles like flurries in flight,
And beckons me to step frightfully near.
I push the door open with all my might,
And awaken whatever slumbers here.

The Builder knows the great mystery well;
What old doors will bring only He can tell.

Home

Home: a place I may never reach by road;
A cloud kingdom built by winds roaming free,
Where I may unpack my soul’s crushing load,
For I know the keepers and they know me.

Hello, blue house, you served us well a while.
I watched my children grow within your walls.
I see my children in the garden smile,
I see laughter in every leaf that falls.

Goodbye, blue house, now we travel onward.
Your memory stays with me as I go.
I look back with joy as I look forward,
I climb to windswept heights from valleys low.

O Lord, make this green hilltop house a home,
Although till Heaven calls this earth we roam.

Hannah Abrahamson

Hannah just moved back to her hometown with her husband, son, and daughter. Right now she’s living with her parents, but Hannah and her family look forward to moving into their new house soon, situated on a hilltop surrounded by miles of farmland, prairie grass, and country roads. Hannah spends most of her time homeschooling, but also pursues a long and eclectic list of hobbies including writing, kayaking, reading, crocheting, and playing the ukulele. You can find more of her work on her website, teacherbynature.com. (“Home” originally appeared here.)

Thresholds: “Vapor in Time” by Shera Moyer

I think this autumn will become a film reel of memories for me: gray-green hills surrounded by swirling mist and howling winds, red hawthorn berries and dewy cobwebs in hedges, gold weather vanes on top of church steeples, pastures of grazing brown-and-white cows, warm home lights twinkling against darkened landscapes at dusk. It turns out that going to grad school in Scotland is a great thing to do during a pandemic: a class schedule is more flexible than a work schedule, you get to enjoy fascinating lectures and fellowship with other students, and you can travel the wild even if you can’t tour palaces or go to ceilidhs. God is good.

This next contribution to the Thresholds project also ponders travel, home, and wonder: Shera Moyer‘s description of her life in Tanzania and Indiana makes me yearn to visit both…but also to explore and enjoy the ordinary, familiar wonders of my own place. Shera partnered with Hannah Abrahamson, who gave her the following artifacts (creative stimuli) to work from:

  • The moon rising over leafless trees
  • The smell of pumpkin and cinnamon
  • A soft and warm fall coat

Enjoy!

Vapor in Time

by Shera Moyer

Leaves in the sun

At the end of a sleepy siesta last month I found myself in that dreamy state where I was unsure if I was asleep or just thinking about dreaming as I woke up. For those few moments I relished the feeling of not knowing quite where I was, yet realizing it didn’t matter. I would find out soon enough. A while later, as I sat staring at the swirling steam rising from my tea, I was transported from an Indiana autumn afternoon to memories of October mornings back home in Tanzania.

Mesmerized by the same steam swirls in slanted sun rays, I sipped my morning tea to the background vocals of a rasping red-necked spurfowl. As he scratched around a nearby granite rock kopje, belting out his morning “kwa-lee’s”, a goshawk flew high overhead twittering while performing his routine territorial display. A hint of burnt grass smell hung in the chilly morning air, lingering from fires the night before – fires started to clear fields, but run wild with the wind, setting whole mountainsides aglow at night.

October skies are hazy. Dust, smoke, and ash particles suspend in the atmosphere, and in the evening, when fires are lit again, the skies blaze above as refracted sunlight ignites towering cumulus and bright streaks of feathery cirrus clouds.

With the rains still a month or two away, the weather grows continually warmer. It’s in the midst of this hot and dry that the miombo woodlands burst into leaf. While most vegetation is leafless after months of dry-season, Brachystegia trees release energy stored in their roots to adorn bare branches with new foliage. Initially, only a faint tinge of color starts to show on the brown hillsides, but in a matter of days the trees are covered with gold, red, and fresh green. A walk through miombo woodlands on a late October afternoon conjures up feelings I imagine stained glass artists hope to inspire in grand cathedrals. As I stand there on sandy, rust-coloured soil and can’t ever seem to stop gazing at translucent, tender new leaves absorbing sunlight.

More leaves in the sun

Perhaps trees just like showing off this time of year. Back on the north side of the equator red maple and golden beech leaves contrast with dark green conifers and earthy oaks blending into a rich seasonal colour palette. Walking through a stand of beech trees in yellow leaf gives the impression they’ve been storing up sunlight all year just to share on a cloudy autumn day. When I wander through an autumn wood I don’t know where to let my eyes rest for all the colors. Again, I often find myself just standing, breathing in the crisp air, eyes drawn to jaggedy-edged palmate maple leaves and smooth-lobed sassafras, then up to follow the crunching sound of a bounding deer waving its white tail-flag as it leaps and lands.

Here the colors herald an ending. By November most of the trees look like they’ve been inverted, doing head-stands and waving their scraggly roots skyward. The woods are quiet now, aside from the occasional squealing chipmunk as it darts away. Sweet, musty smells of decomposing vegetation fill the air, and the leaves underfoot make damp swishes. My legs are frozen numb through my jeans, I can’t actually feel my ears, and I can see my own breath. It must be time to add more warm layers.

Back inside, thawing out, I peer into another cup of hot black tea and blow the steam to make it dance. I wonder how I know when I’ve fully arrived somewhere? The process seems more gradual than the thunk of an official stamp in a passport on June 26th, 2019. Perhaps it’s finally having a driver’s license that matches my place of current residence? Indiana, “The crossroads of America”, the state tagline reads. Its regular train whistles, honking Canada geese overhead, and criss-crossed interstate highways easily lead me to nostalgia and thoughts of people far away.

But, my feet have also walked the ground here for over a year now. The paved sidewalks and roads have worn my soles smooth, and off-track meandering has often sent me home with damp socks. Lately, I’ve also begun exploring narrow country roads, the kind that run past old brick churches and mossy cemeteries, or through family farms and along rickety wooden fences covered in thick vines. I choose the turns that beckon or intrigue and eventually I drive back home with no map. Small adventures, sure, but it’s satisfying not to know exactly where I am, but still have my bearings well enough to find my way back to a specific address.

While there are still plenty of things I’d like to do out there in the world – learn new bird calls, climb boulders to watch the sunrise, swim from deserted rocky lake shores, identify new species of flowers, and discover hidden waterfalls in deep ravines – for now I’ll boil a kettle in the kitchen. Then I’ll pick a sprig of fresh mint, drop it into the hot water, and nestle into a large beige armchair with a fluffy blanket. Cradling my mint tea, I’ll breathe deeply of its sharp aroma as I stare out the window to the stubbled field beyond.

Shera Moyer

Canoe on a misty lake

Shera enjoys playing with words, good conversations, and spending time outside getting to know the surrounding world. One day she might start a blog for fun, but until then she has piles of notebooks full of happy scribbles, and for now that’s quite all right.

Thresholds: “Martinmas” by Miriam Novotny

This past week taught me some important lessons: lemon & ginger tea heals any ailment, including those you didn’t know you had; hiking through fog is breathtaking, almost better than hiking under clear skies; the British honor Remembrance Day, a memorial day for World War I and military conflicts since then, with scarlet poppies.

Last year in New England, November painted the woods gold, and we had the first snow around Thanksgiving. I will miss the magical quietness and transformation of snowfalls here, as well as an official celebration of Thanksgiving, but swirling mist, thundering sea, and golden fairy lights are treasures enough.

This week’s Thresholds piece, a short story by Miriam Novotny, reminded me of the joys of cold, snowy, cozy weather. Her story meditates on thresholds of time and space, now and not yet, yearning and fulfillment, and gave me a new respect for November 11 as the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. Enjoy!

Martinmas

by Miriam Novotny

Lanterns in the snow

I put on my gloves and took a last look around the kitchen. The golden light glinted on the tea kettle, and the warm scent of spiced cider hung in the air. I was reluctant to leave, but I didn’t want to disappoint my siblings. They deserved to experience the tradition that had brought me so much joy, so I picked up my lantern and turned the knob. Together, we entered the frosty night.

The bitter chill in the air stung my cheeks and pinched the insides of my nostrils. It was almost too dark to see the leaves that littered the ground, but they crackled under my feet. Suddenly a gust of wind whisked them away, leaving the yard even bleaker than it had been before. My breath rose above me and melted into the stars.

My sister followed my gaze. “The stars look like windows into heaven, don’t they?” she asked. I didn’t answer. I could remember saying the same thing at her age, but the stars had felt nearer then. They were so far away now. I looked at the lantern in my hand, at the dancing light inside it. It was only a jam jar decorated with bits of colored paper, but I had been proud of it when I’d made it years ago. It was beautiful. Not as beautiful as the stars, perhaps, but it echoed their beauty.

Just then, I felt a tugging at my jacket. It was my brother. “What is it, Michael?” I said.

“Why do we take a lantern walk on Martinmas?” he asked me. His little nose was red with cold, and his brown eyes shone. He was the youngest, and this was his first lantern walk. I suddenly realized that he didn’t even know who St. Martin was.

“I’ll tell you,” I said, kneeling down beside him. The other children knew the story by heart, but they gathered around us with eager faces. “Long, long ago,” I began, “in the days of the Roman Empire, there was a young soldier named Martin.”

“A soldier?” asked Michael, becoming excited.

“Yes,” I said. “One day, as he was riding to the city, a great storm arose. The wind howled like a wild animal, and the snow came down in great sheets. He was glad that his military attire included a good, heavy cloak, let me tell you. Well, when he had nearly reached the city, he came upon a beggar sitting by the roadside. The old man had hardly anything on, and his frail body trembled violently. He implored everyone who passed to spare him a cloak or a bit of cloth to wrap himself in, but no one seemed to hear him. At last Martin could stand it no longer. He reigned in his horse and began to dismount.

‘What do you think you’re doing?’ one of his officers demanded.

‘This man is going to freeze to death,’ Martin told him, shouting above the wind.

‘So will we, if we don’t get a move on. If we stop now, we won’t reach town before the closing of the gates.’

‘Go on without me then,’ said Martin, and that is what they did. They kicked their horses and rode away, leaving him standing by the roadside.

Martin looked at the beggar. He wished he had an extra cloak, but all he had with him were the clothes on his back. Well, there was only one thing to do. He drew his sword and cut his cloak. Kneeling down, he wrapped one half around the old man’s body. The beggar looked up at the soldier in surprise. ‘Oh, thank you, sir!’ he said, his eyes filling with tears.

‘Don’t mention it. I only wish I could give you more,’ said Martin, trying not to cry himself. All at once, he remembered the gates. Before the beggar could speak again, he mounted his horse and was gone.

By now it was quite dark, and the road was empty. Martin leaned over the horse’s neck, urging him to go faster. Soon the city walls loomed before him, dimly visible through the curtain of snow. Martin’s heart sank. The gates were closed. They would not be opened again till morning. Dismounting, he made himself as comfortable as he could on the ground, thankful for the half-cloak that remained to him. At last he drifted off to sleep.

And as he slept, Martin had a dream. He dreamed that he saw a group of people coming over the snow, bearing lanterns bright as stars. The lantern-bearers climbed up, up into the sky, till they came to a vast gateway. Unlike the gates of the city, it was open wide, and a blinding light poured forth.

Standing on the threshold was the beggar. He was still wearing the half-cloak, but he seemed different somehow. As the beggar’s eyes met Martin’s, such love and power shone within them that Martin could hardly bear it. Those eyes could only belong to Jesus. Then the Lord raised his arm, and in a loud voice he cried to the lantern-bearers, ‘See! Martin, who has not yet been baptized, has clothed me.’ And Martin remembered the words, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’”

“What happened next?” Michael asked breathlessly.

“Well,” I said, “Martin awoke the next morning and entered the city, but he didn’t forget his dream. He had been studying the Faith since he was ten years old, and now he was baptized as soon as possible. Eventually, he left the Roman army to better focus on serving Christ. He had many other adventures and even became the bishop of Tours. But above all, he longed to enter the shining gates that he had seen in his dream.”

“And did he?” Michael asked.

“Yes, he did. When Martin was an old man, weary from his work for God, Christ came and took him home.”

“I want to enter the shining gates, too,” said Michael.

“So do I,” said my sister.

“We will one day,” I told them.

I rose to my feet, and together we walked into the darkness, our hearts and lanterns like little stars.

Miriam Novotny

Miriam Novotny

Miriam Novotny believes that storytelling is an honor, a part of being made in God’s Image. While she waits for the great Happily Ever After, she spends her time reading books, spinning stories, and drinking cinnamon tea. Read more of her work on her blog, The Glass Hill.

Thresholds: “Between Homes (Agnete)” by Karlee Lillywhite

While this week is centered on election furor and uncertainty, it’s been full of good things, too: research sessions into the meaning of fantasy that felt like deep-sea diving, class presentations on sacramentalism, Anthroposophy, and labyrinths, carrot cake and chamomile tea and walks in the wind-ruffled woods.

This week’s contribution to the Thresholds project is a work of beauty and mystery. In a pen and watercolor illustration, one of my classmates in the Theology and the Arts program, Karlee Lillywhite, explores the thresholds between sea/land, community/isolation, home/away…and more. I was Karlee’s partner for this project, so I gave her the following artifacts to start with:

  • Sea glass
  • Frost
  • Sound of bells

She responded with the exquisite work below. As a writer and not a visual artist or art expert, I can only gape in wonder at her fine, delicate composition, skillful use of color (especially gold!), and dreamy representation of sea and sky, land and the human face. Enjoy!

Between Homes (Agnete)

by Karlee Lillywhite
6″ x 6″ pen and watercolor work on illustration board

Between Homes (Agnete) watercolor

Karlee’s description:

This illustration is a scene from the story of Agnete and the Merman, which is a popular Scandinavian folk ballad about a human woman who falls in love with a merman and lives with him underwater. She has a family with the merman and lives happily with them for many years but one day, when she hears church bells ringing from up above, she becomes nostalgic for the land and wants to visit the surface. Once in the church building, she decides not to return to her underwater life. This painting depicts Agnete coming out of the water after her years below the surface. She is feeling the wind, breathing air, and hearing sounds clearly again for the first time as all the memories of her earth life and human identity come flooding back. An English version of the Danish ballad translated by George Borrow can be read here.

A closer look at certain aspects:

Karlee Lillywhite

Karlee Lillywhite

Karlee is a freelance illustrator who loves to tell visual stories that encourage experiences of longing and embodiment. Her work is inspired by women from literature and history and by the decorative motifs of medieval illuminated manuscripts and the art nouveau period. As a graduate student in the University of St Andrew’s Art and Theology program, she studies the devotional possibilities of illustration. You can follow her work and learn more about her process on her instagram and website.

“Thresholds”: All Saints Day, 2020

When I started planning my own contribution to the Thresholds project, I knew from experience to pick a publication date right away. I started looking at holidays and astronomical events. Halloween was the obvious choice, but somehow I didn’t want to do a Halloween story – I have too many memories of neon-orange pumpkins, sugary candy corn, black-clad witches and goblins, grotesque masks at CVS, neon green and bright purple to leave much mystique and grandeur in that holiday. I decided to do All Saints Day instead, a holiday I knew almost nothing about beyond the name.

My most recent short stories have been dystopian, science fiction, and fantasy, so I decided to experiment with another of my favorite genres, mystery. It’s very difficult to cram a full detective story into a short story format – even Agatha Christie’s are a little cramped – so I wasn’t completely successful, but it was fun to try.

My brief, unofficial, scattered research of All Saints Day showed me that this day is just as mysterious and otherworldy as Halloween, or even more so, since it deals with transcendent mysteries. Sources like this one taught me that this feast honors all saints of the Church, the living and dead. Other sources like this one suggest that this Christian holiday is meant to replace the Celtic, pagan festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in) on October 31, when Druids lit bonfires to celebrate the end of harvest, beginning of the darkness of winter, and night when the dead could come back to visit the living.

Bonfires and moonlight, restless sea and brooding sky…my imagination began to churn. I liked the idea of a night filled with holy fear; not the dark, hopeless terror of pagans trying to satisfy ruthless, capricious gods, but the sacred fear and reverent wonder of Jesus Christ and His Church.

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Letter II [speaking from a demonic perspective]: “One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate.

Day/night, living/dead, autumn/winter, invisible realities and visible illusions… The theme of this project is thresholds, a physical and metaphorical term for a boundary, liminal space, beginning and ending and in-between. The tale took shape. My partner, Karlee Lillywhite also gave me “artifacts” that sparked new ideas:

  • Gregorian chant
  • Woolen shawl
  • Decomposing apples

In the end, I spun this story between discussing the theology of music and re-enchantment in class, walking in golden woods and on windy clifftops, going on coffee dates and skimming scholarship on fantasy and faith. Enjoy!

Note: I recommend listening to INTROIT: Gaudeamus omnes in Domino as you read this.

All Saints Day, 2020 

…gaudent Angeli,  
et collaudant Filium Dei… 

It was the evening of November 1st. On the beaches, gales whipped the waves into a foaming fury. No one heard the silent keening or saw the dark mass huddled on the eastern shore. 

In a church in town, echoes and shadows danced among the columns. Drafts of chilly air made the candle flames shudder. A girl with wavy hair dyed black and a pale, freckled face exhaled softly. Kat’s breath fogged up her glasses through her face mask. She inhaled white rose perfume, musky cologne, and the smell of old stone walls and wooden pews. The small choir group separated from the congregation by plexiglass screens sang with voices of north wind and night. 

Exsultate justi in Domino… 

Someone touched her arm, making her jump. Her new housemate, Dan, stood in the aisle wearing his gray mask, eyes wide with urgency.  

“What?” she whispered, glaring at him. Other household groups, spaced six feet apart on either side, glanced at her. Dan turned to leave, beckoning her to follow. 

Sighing, Kat followed him outside into the chilly air. 

The streetlights were glaring after the warm golden glow of candlelight. “What’s going on?” Kat asked, pulling her mask off of one ear, then the other. Dan shivered in a thin argyle sweater, coatless, his neat blond hair ruffled by the wind. One shoe was untied. “I thought you had to study tonight.” 

“Do you know where Naira is?”

“Uh, I thought she was staying in tonight, too,” said Kat. “She said she was tired. Did you hear her go out?” 

“Yeah, I heard her take out the trash an hour ago,” Dan said. “But she didn’t come back in. Her curry burned on the stove. Her phone’s on the counter. I found this on the ground outside.” He held up a woolen shawl, crimson and gold.  

“You think something happened to her?” asked Kat. “Did you ask the neighbors?” 

“I asked everyone in the building,” said Dan. “It was awkward, but I just…it felt weird. No one saw her or heard anything. She can’t be visiting anyone — we’re still not allowed past the threshold of other houses.” 

“Ok,” said Kat, pushing her glasses back up her nose. “That does sound weird. Let’s go see if she came back while you came here.” 

They set off towards the house. A strong wind ruffled their hair. They passed closed cafes and the iron gates of one of the colleges.  

“I’m sorry I pulled you away from the service,” said Dan. “The singing was beautiful. It’s All Saints Day, isn’t it?”  

“Mm-hmm.” Kat kept her eyes on the ground. 

“Celebration of the whole Church, right? All the saints?” 

“Yep,” said Kat, nodding without looking at him. 

“That’s cool. Does your family follow the liturgical year?” 

“No.”  

Dan glanced at her, frowning, and then turned back to the uneven cobblestones. They waited for a car to go by, yellow headlights spilling on the pavement, and crossed the street to their housing block, stone with bright red doors. Dan unlocked the door, and they went in. Kat saw Naira’s wool coat hanging from a hook and her black boots on the mat.  

The kitchen light was on. Though the window was open, letting in a chill, the air smelled like burnt curry. “Naira?” Dan called. Naira’s iPhone lay on the counter. 

“She’s not in her room,” said Kat, coming down the stairs a few minutes later. Dan was scrubbing the blackened bottom of the curry pan in the sink.  

“This isn’t like her,” he said. “She doesn’t go out late or leave things on the stove.”  

Kat leaned against the mock-granite counter. “So she went outside to empty the trash,” she said, “and didn’t come back.” She and Dan looked at each other. 

“She’s a black belt in karate,” said Dan. “This is a very safe town.”  

“Let’s look outside again,” said Kat. 

“So she came out here,” said Dan, walking from their door to the trash cans, “and I found her scarf here.” He pointed to a patch of pavement.  

Kat walked up and down the street, studying the ground. “Asphalt and cement, so no footprints, obviously,” she said. 

“You’re Nancy Drew-ing it?” Dan asked, examining the sidewalk in the other direction. “I have five younger sisters,” he said when she looked at him. “I know all the girls’ books. It was self-defense.” 

“Yeah,” said Kat. “I used to read them.” She studied him. “That explains the Prince Charming.” 

“What?”  

“Uh, it explains why you’re so – why you – act so charming,” said Kat. “Asking questions…Naira and I couldn’t figure out if you were flirting or just that nice.”  

“Oh,” said Dan. “Uh, yeah, I’ve gotten that before. My female friends sometimes warn me about being creepy. Sorry.”   

Their phones chimed. Kat flipped open her iPhone; Dan opened his Android. 

“Drat, it’s another COVID update,” said Kat. “Dear students, I regret to inform you that the number of COVID cases in Fife has started rising again … high population of elderly…we are instituting another voluntary lockdown for students starting at 7 pm today.” 

“Please do not visit any pubs, coffee shops, or restaurants this week,” Dan continued.  “Please do not socialize with anyone outside your household, and avoid crowded areas where social distancing is compromised.”  

They looked at each other. “Naira’s so careful about the rules,” said Dan. “Her asthma…” 

“We need to find her,” said Kat. They were silent for a moment. “How do you track someone if they don’t have a phone?” she asked. “Satellite footage? Bloodhounds?” 

“Traffic cameras?” said Dan. “Wait. Bloodhounds. Dogs. She went out at 5:30 – that’s when Mrs. Morison takes Sausage out.” 

“Sausage?” 

“Her dachshund. Let’s ask if she saw something.”  

“Naira? The Indian girl with the pretty hair?” Mrs. Morison asked. She held her scarf protectively in front of her face with her right hand and her red door open with her left. “Yes, I saw her earlier when I took Sausage out.” Her Scottish “r”s and “oo”s were rich like dark chocolate. “She barely stopped to greet me, asked if I’d seen a child run by.” 

“A child?”  

“Aye, a wee lad running by. She said he was alone, going toward the cathedral. I said I hadn’t, so she took off in that direction.” 

All three of them looked left down the street, where the ruined cathedral stretched toward the sky. Through the black iron gates, yellow spotlights lit up parts of the structure: an archway, towers, a few walls, and gravestones on either side. 

They thanked Mrs. Morison. As the door shut behind them, they started walking down toward the cathedral. “She saw a child,” said Kat. “So she followed him to make sure he was okay.”  

They reached the sidewalk in front of the west entrance. The ruins were surrounded by a stone wall that reached chest-height and had an iron grill on top. The black iron gates were locked.  

“Naira!” Kat called. The heavy wind stole most of her volume. “Naira!” Dan called too, but when they paused to listen, they only heard the rush of the wind and the faraway pounding of the waves. 

“Scott and his flatmates are going to check Castle Sands,” said Dan, checking his phone, “Flat 6 is going down South Street, and the philosophy people upstairs are doing Market Street. I think we should look for her here. Maybe she fell and hurt herself? They have a couple of open vaults in there.” He put his hands on the iron grill at the top of the wall, hoisted one leg up, and jumped over.  

“I don’t…” Kat looked around.  

“I’m a volunteer warden, remember?” Dan called. “I have a key, but climbing over is more fun.” 

“Well, we have a good reason,” said Kat.  She climbed the wall and hopped over, too. 

The grass was slick with rain. They went down the stone steps to the western entrance, where the door’s archway and the vaulting remained intact. They crossed the threshold into the nave, of which only the wall on their right remained, lined with high-arched windows. They wandered towards the presbytery at the other end, checking various open vaults Dan knew about, around the stumps of the arcade piers, and then left into the north transept and around the graves and crosses on the lawn. They checked every corner, calling to Naira with no answer. 

“Some of these are unstable,” said Dan, looking around at the gravestones in one corner, dark gray granite with light green lichen. Kat pursed her lips and looked away. 

“You okay?” asked Dan.  

“I’m – it’s fine,” said Kat. “We had some deaths in my church this week.” 

“People close to you?” Dan asked. 

“Yes.” Kat looked towards the presbytery. “Wait – do you see a light over there?”  

On the other side of the site, the ocean-facing side, a light hovered among the gravestones: something small, flickering, and golden, unlike the glaring yellow spotlights.  

“Yeah,” said Dan, quietly. “That’s a lantern.” He gestured for her to walk in that direction. The grass muffled their footsteps. They dodged around several empty, open graves with stone coffins, through the foundations of the chapter house to St. Rule’s tower. When they reached the grassy area in front of the tower, Dan stopped so quickly she bumped into him.  

A man with snow-white hair and beard and a black coat stood at the door to St. Rule’s tower, holding the door open with his left hand, iron keys jangling in his right. Hooded figures were disappearing into the tower. “Thanks, Pearson!” the last said cheerfully.  

“Just an hour, mind!” said the man, closing the door after them. 

“Pearson!” said Dan in a voice of deep shock, walking towards him. “What are you doing? No one’s allowed in the tower! You can’t social distance in there.”  

“Hello, Dan,” said Pearson, showing no surprise as he pocketed his keys. “And who’s this with you?” he asked as Kat approached. She smelled the rich, autumn-wood smell of pipe smoke coming from him. 

“We’re housemates,” said Kat. “Are you a warden?”  

“Aye, of a sort,” said Pearson, nodding. In the eerie light, his face was pale: laugh-lines around the mouth, frown-lines on his forehead, light crow’s-feet around his eyes. “I coom out for holidays like this one. It’s tradition, Dan,” he said to Dan, gently. “They’re the SOMA, you know.” 

“The what?”  

“Society of Mystical Astronomers,” said Pearson. “They read poetry on cloudy nights. Usually in the castle, but that’s booked for a midnight masquerade tonight. Do you like poetry?” he asked Kat. 

“Sometimes,” said Kat, smiling a little. “I like the Irish poets. Seamus Heaney. Yeats.”  

“It’s a good night for it,” said Pearson. “The thresholds are thinner.” He looked up at the cloudy sky. “He reached a middle height, and at the stars, / Which are the brain of heaven, he looked, and sank. / Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank, / The army of unalterable law.”  

“Pearson, we’re looking for our other housemate,” said Dan. “Naira. Have you seen her?”  

“Pretty girl with dark hair?” said Pearson. “She dashed through here a while ago. Said she saw a child running by. Headed towards the sea.”  

“We need to find her,” said Dan. “Thanks.” He touched Kat’s arm, and they walked quickly towards the other gate. 

“He’s not all there,” said Dan softly, when they were out of earshot. “He’s not supposed to have keys, even. I like him, but…” 

“He reminds me of my grandpa,” said Kat dreamily. “He died last month.” 

“Oh,” said Dan. “I’m so sorry.” They were quiet as he fished out his own keys and let them out the iron  gate in the stone wall on the other side. A sea breeze hit them immediately. 

“Do you know what they call the two parts of the Church?” Dan asked suddenly as they turned right on the coastal path, toward the beach.  

“No.”  

“We, the living ones, are called the Church Militant,” said Dan. “The dead are the Church Triumphant.”  

The sea lay before them, dark and rippling. The waves were roaring tonight, receding from high tide. The yellow, white, and green lights of the houses and caravan park twinkled all the way up the coast past East Sands.  

“Do you see something down there?” said Dan suddenly. “By the water?” 

In the faint gleam of streetlights and dim glow of the sky, they could make out a dark patch on the beach.  

“Let’s look,” said Kat. They ran down the rest of the sidewalk over the bridge that spanned the river inlet and down to the sand, slipping and sliding.  

“Naira?” she called. The faint echo of an answer came through the wind. They ran the rest of the way down the beach, huge at low tide. Something fishy and seaweedy hit Kat’s nostrils as the wind shifted towards them, blowing her hair back.  

They reached the dark mass. “Oh,” said Kat, stopping. “It’s a whale.” 

The creature was the size of a car stretched into something long and narrower. It lay on its left side, fins splayed. “Oh, no,” said Dan. “It’s beached.” 

“Hey,” said a tired voice from the sand. Naira sat there, one leg stretched in front of her. A little boy with curly brown hair sat beside her, staring at them. 

“Naira!” Kat knelt beside her. “We’ve been looking for you! What happened?”  

“I saw a kid run by,” said Naira. “This one – his name is James. I followed him down here to make sure he was ok, and I saw the whale – he was sneaking out with his friends and they found it. I fell and hurt my ankle – I can’t put weight on it at all – and I left my phone. I can hear it trying to breathe,” she said shakily. “It’s going to get crushed under its own weight if we can’t get it back in the water.” 

“I’m calling the police,” said Dan, pulling out his phone again. 

“People are coming,” said Kat, taking off her coat and putting it on Naira. Voices echoed from up the beach; groups of iPhone flashlights wobbled toward them. In a few minutes, they were surrounded: people from Duke’s Court, St. George’s, George’s Place, and a few students from South Castle Street. 

“Don’t touch the whale!” Naira called. “It might have bacteria!” 

“Oh, the irony,” said Kat, massaging Naira’s hands to warm them up. 

A half hour later, even more people lined the sidewalk and clustered on the beach. The police cordoned off a perimeter around the whale as marine biologists from the university gathered around in lab coats and rubber gloves. 

“I really hope this doesn’t cause an outbreak,” said Naira, shivering and looking over the crowded beach as a paramedic examined her ankle.  

Someone lit a bonfire against the stone wall that bordered the beach, its red-orange blaze a fiery echo of the lights on the coast. The surf pounded as a team of researchers, police, and other volunteers started pushing the whale back into the sea with grunts and shouts of encouragement, a team of spotters rushing in to replace anyone who got tired.  

People cheered: the whale was only a few feet from the pounding waves. People slipped, slid, groaned, pushed until it was inches deep, a foot deep, pushed up by a wave and pulled back as it receded. Kat’s tiredness wove a dreaminess over the scene, so that individual moments swam by: Naira being carried off to the hospital for an X-ray; James being found, scolded, and carried off by his mother; the whale-pushers wading back through the surf, talking and laughing in ragged, triumphant voices; a small group of people in front of them suddenly beginning to sing. It was the group from the church.  

Gaudeámus omnes in Dómino, 
Diem festum celebrantes
Sub honore Sanctorum omnium: 
De quorum solemnitate gaudent Angeli, 
Et collaudant Filium Dei. 
Exsultate justi in Domino: 
Rectos decet colaudatio. 

As the police herded them back to their houses with warnings of forced isolation and fines, with the few words she heard and recognized – Gaudeamus (rejoice), Domino (God), Exsultate (exult) — echoing in her mind, she pictured the whale swimming back to the deep. Cloud-mountains sailed across the silvery patch of night sky where the moon hung. 

Thresholds: “The Clearing” by Kori Frazier Morgan

When I chose “thresholds” for this project’s theme, I liked how the physical meaning of the word, “the floor of a door or entranceway,” corresponded with a figurative meaning, “the level at which something starts to happen.” After a couple of months in Scotland, I feel myself crossing the threshold of familiarity: golding trees and sea gulls’ cries shift from magical to ordinary, and poor water pressure and COVID restrictions become everyday. I hope I can hold onto my sense of wonder while settling into the rhythms of this place.

Kori Frazier Morgan‘s delightful contribution to the Thresholds project, a flash fiction story, explores thresholds of familiarity and boredom, safety and adventure, physical and metaphorical. I identified with the main character so closely, it startled me.

Kori’s partner for this project was Aaron Stephens, who gave her the following “artifacts” or creative stimuli:

  • Cat whiskers
  • Clouds moving quickly across the sky
  • A small patch of earth in an otherwise grassy place

The Clearing

by Kori Frazier Morgan

Charlotte awoke to her cat’s whiskers needling her cheeks, his head gently butting against her forehead, as if saying, “Wake up, I’m bored.” Bergamot was the neediest cat she’d ever had, a plain yellow housecat she’d rescued from a shelter. Charlotte blinked several times, meeting his aggressively green gaze, then groaned like a sick dog as she forced herself to get up.

She grabbed a pair of sweatpants out of her dresser and the Ohio State sweatshirt she’d worn for the last three days. “You should dress like you’re still going to work,” her mother had said the last time they talked. “This won’t last forever. Do you want to lose your routine?” Charlotte snapped back that she’d already lost it.

Downstairs in the kitchen, she poured a cup of coffee and scrolled through Facebook. This had been her routine since the beauty salon where she worked shut down last month—mindlessly scrolling through the latest bad news, charming photos of her friends’ kids learning on Zoom, Instagram-worthy loaves of homemade bread and DIY crafts.

A text from her mom popped up. U okay? Charlotte rolled her eyes. Bergamot jumped on the table, sidling up to her shoulder. “Please leave me alone,” she said, unsure whether she was talking to him or her mom. The cat just stood there looking confused, then leapt onto the floor.

The phone dinged with another message. I can see u reading my txts. Please go outside or something?? 

Charlotte glanced at her watch. It was 10:30. She’d only been up for an hour, but it felt like five. She thought of the groceries outside that had been delivered two days ago, and remembered that she’d ordered chocolate chip cookie dough. Cookie dough for breakfast might switch things up.

She opened the front door and tried to gather as many bags as she could. Struggling to balance it all, she dropped a bottle of wine and it shattered, broken glass and black-red liquid sinking into the pavement. Charlotte swore loudly. She tried to manipulate the screen door so she could get everything else inside, and it was then that Bergamot darted out of the house.

Charlotte yelled the cat’s name, dropped the rest of the groceries, and flew after him. He ran like crazy, the allure of the fresh air seeming to intoxicate him, and she chased him down the sidewalk, across the street, down another block, until she reached the end of the road, where Bergamot darted up a maple tree. 

Charlotte looked around and found herself in a clearing. There used to be a house here, all swaybacked and crumbling from years of neglect, until the city finally tore the eyesore down. Now, the grass was lush and green, except for one wide, circular patch beneath the tree where nothing grew.

Bergamot scaled the higher branches of the tree. Charlotte grabbed the lowest branch and tried to walk her legs up the trunk, but the bark scraped her hands and she let go and fell on her back into the dirt. The heaviness inside her was unbearable, but she was too tired to cry. Bergamot was now a tiny yellow dot bouncing from branch to branch high above.

“Please come back,” she said, her voice cracking. “Please.” Her legs shook—she hadn’t run like that in years—and she let herself sink onto the patch of earth, curling into it. She wanted to stay here forever in the barren patch of earth, letting the grass grow over her, until there was only a slight rise in the grass, blending into the roots.

She was half asleep when she felt something wiry poke her cheeks. When she opened her eyes, she saw Bergamot, curled up on her chest, his long yellow tail curled around his body. He stared down at her, opened his mouth, and yowled, almost snarkily, as if to say, I finally got you to go out.

Kori Frazier Morgan

Kori Frazier Morgan received her MFA in fiction writing from West Virginia University. Her work has appeared in Shenandoah, Forge, Switchback, Blanket Sea, Prick of the Spindle, Scarlet Leaf Review, & other publications. She is the author of two books, Bone China Girls: A Poetic Account of a Female Crime & The Goodbye Love Generation: A Novel In Stories

Thresholds: “Flight” by Reagan Dregge

The days are darkening. I bought some Christmas lights (known as “fairy lights” here, I think) and hung them up in our entranceway, where they create a golden glow. It’s been a week of grim clouds overhead and cold rain glistening on sidewalks, but the sun came out today to make shadow-patterns through the leaves.

The brilliance of scholars and artists here continues to dazzle me with tales of labyrinths and facades of the “real,” Biblical gardens and seas, pilgrimages and peregrinations. This week’s contribution to the Thresholds project also dazzles me: Reagan Dregge’s piece takes us on a mysterious journey through an unknown land. Enjoy!

Flight

by Reagan Dregge

Photo credit: Reagan Dregge

Dear Reader, The following is a mere fragment of a much longer tale, in which a young warrior must flee from a murderous enemy. Her only hope lies across a wild and lonely plain….

Trinith rode for a night and a day without resting, her jaw set northward. Narrows broadened, steeps shallowed. The gravel under her horse’s hooves echoed off the canyon walls, and the wind wrapped around her like her cloak, cooing in her ears and whispering to her loosened hair. Rocky ground gradually gave way to burned stubble and prickly shrubs. The rusted and purpled landscape faded to mute brown and yellow-gray. The sky, which she could see more of now without the mountain crevices framing her view, was wide and round above, but pale and hazy and endless.

She followed a scant trail across the plain. She wasn’t sure whether the trail was made by man or beast. Hunched over Zephyr’s neck, her belly uncomfortably round with child, she gripped the saddle and took another swallow from her canteen. The second night, she was forced to stop, to let the horse eat and rest her own muscles. A muddy creek hedged a few strands of dead grass, and she refilled her water. In the morning they pressed on.

On the fourth day dark figures appeared on the horizon. They were people, not trees. As they got closer she could see they headed east, and there were four or five of them. She doubted they were bandits. She kept her heading, and they kept theirs, passing before her and away with little more than a stare. Those were the only people she encountered on the plain, though she occasionally found marks and remnants of previous travelers’ camps.

Occasionally the ground would rise and swell like the crest of a wave carrying her and Zephyr along. The wind blew without obstacle now, and its sound was a moan that rose and fell and rose again, bending the thorny brush and thin, twisted trees. Her face felt numb from the relentless blast, her lips were dry and cracked, her eyes stung. A cloud of birds passed above them once at dawn, raucous and shifting. Now she traveled by night and rested in the early part of the day. She was able to snare a few rabbits and one grouse. The haze never seemed to lift, but she could make out the full moon’s blurry orb through its veil. That night coyotes cackled in the distant dark, and she had to dismount to calm Zephyr’s snorting and stamping.

The days were growing shorter, and the wind colder. One morning there was a silver frost spidering across the ground. The sun rose in a clear blue sky and hovered with a lucid burning glare. Far ahead a dark band cut across the plain. They had come to the river.

Reagan Dregge

Reagan Dregge and her family

Reagan loves names and words and stories. She once studied creative writing and theatre arts, but today she homeschools, writes handwritten letters, and salvages her own little house on the prairie with a husband, daughter, and multiplying menagerie (one cat, two dogs, a dwarf netherland rabbit, and a small flock of chickens). Her favorite seasons are winter, spring, summer, and fall. Follow her blog, The Grace Book, to read more of her work.

Thresholds: Three Poems by Aaron Stephens

In this small haven on the North Sea, green leaves are turning yellow; waves rise and fall with a thundering murmur; hot drinks like chai lattes and caramel mochas warm you up after walks through the cold winds. October is slipping away in later dawns and earlier dusks. Next week is Independent Learning Week, when classes are suspended to let students study, work on papers, and (in ordinary times) travel.

Now that I’ve had a month to settle in, I want to keep exploring the roles of maker, cultivator, and collaborator in my artistic work. After having so much fun with the Summer of Faerie project last summer, I longed to do another creative collaboration this autumn. I reached out to some artist-friends from The Habit and St. Andrews and invited them to join me.

Here is the full description and prompt for the project:

Project Title: Thresholds

Prompt: In her Rabbit Room article “Weathering the Books,” Rebecca D. Martin talks about reading books seasonally, and names The Fellowship of the Ring (especially the chapters up to Bree) as perfect for autumn. In honor of that beautiful thought, I invited some other artists to do a collaborative project.

The theme is thresholds: physical or metaphorical, small or great, looming ahead, just underfoot, or behind you. I took this definition of “threshold” from the Cambridge Dictionary:

1) The floor or entrance to a building or room
2) The level or point at which you start to experience something, or at which something starts to happen
3) The point at which something starts

Threshold synonymsbrink, verge, dawn, door, doorstep, doorway, edge, entrance, gate, inception, origin, outset, point, still, start, vestibule, point of departure, starting point

Medium: Anything: creative nonfiction, academic essay, fiction, poetry, visual art, theatrical script, Spotify playlist, etc.

The collaborative part: Once some people expressed interest, I arranged partnerships. Each individual came up with three “artifacts” or stimuli for their partner: concrete, physical objects such as “the color red, an iron key, and the smell of earth,” or “the taste of cinnamon, sound of a cello, and fog.” These “artifacts” didn’t have to appear in the final result, but they gave everyone a place to start.

Several artists took the challenge, and now that we’ve exchanged “artifacts” and had some time to work, I’ll start publishing the results here. This first contribution is three poems by Aaron Stephens. Aaron’s partner was Kori Morgan, who gave him these artifacts:

  • A tree with a trunk that grew up at an angle
  • An orange ball cap dropped on a hiking path
  • A windmill statue in a vegetable garden

He responded by capturing the beauty of a woodland with profound clarity and brevity that gives many phrases the emotional resonance of whole poems in themselves.

Enjoy!

Photo credit: Richard Loader

Autonomy

On our own
Lost in a
Maze of trees
On paths blazed by
Neighbors as blind 
As we

Trust

Change came
When I saw you
Step on a baseball cap
On the park trail.
An old orange hat
And I thought,
‘The hat was on the path
Now the path is on the hat.’

A new aroma
Finds my senses.
A patch of lavender
Hiding, waiting for me.
You found me.
So I prayed,
‘God, make me 
Walk more carefully.’

Breeze

White Birch trees
Straight and ordered
Sentinels of Law

Wild Beech trees
Angled trunks
Revelers of Gospel

Wind Blows
Through the leaves
Of the Beeches

We Begin
Down The Path
At last

Aaron Stephens

Aaron Stephens is growing more tenderhearted toward his wife and three children. Favorite color: blue. Have you had a dream that started before you were asleep? Have you had one so funny you laughed yourself awake? Aaron’s life has been like that. Just when he had settled into fearful religiosity, Jesus showed up like a belly-laugh for his soul. Find him at: aaron-erin.com.