This post is in response to the Weekly Writing challenge by The Daily Post found here.
*Warning* This is a long post!
I have a few characters that haunt me but the one I am going to share with you is probably my favourite. She was my first complete character and she often pops into my head. I have started writing a story for her, but her story is so big that it scares me and I worry about not doing it justice. This challenge inspired me to take another look at her and see where she led me.
So here is the challenge:
Pick one of the characters that inhabit your brain. Today is that character’s birthday! They’re going to emerge from your head to appear in a new scene on your page or screen.
Maggie is a caucasian woman of indeterminate age-even she doesn’t know how old she is. She is considered short by many at only 152cm with a slim, wiry build. She has long dark hair that she almost always wears braided to keep it contained. Her large, almond shaped eyes are an interesting shade of aquamarine in colour and are framed with long dark lashes. Her skin is alabaster and smooth without a mark, except for a scar on her right shoulder and a small swallow tattoo behind her left ear. The scar is a circle with a cross through it and was most likely caused by a branding iron, but Maggie has no recollection of how she got it. The tattoo’s origin is also unknown to her, but for some unexplained reason, she is glad it is there.
Maggie lives on the outskirts of a little town called Tananran. It is the closest town to the Machebe desert and Maggie lives in the last house before the desert officially begins. She likes it there, away from the townspeople who don’t quite know what to make of her. She has lived in the town for fifteen years and has built up a reputation for being an excellent healer and herb woman, but has never really formed any relationships beyond healer and patient – well except for Tommo. The townspeople respect her, but are a little suspicious of her. She came out of the desert half dead, saved by the towns only healer fifteen years ago and still nobody knows where she came from or who she is. If it hadn’t been for Tommo vouching for her, they would have most likely stoned her to death years ago. Small towns this close to the desert have very little trust for mysterious things that come out of the desert.
Maggie doesn’t mind the solitude, in fact she prefers it. The years prior to her arrival in Tananran are a blank and when Tommo found her she was little better than a wild thing. She doesn’t remember how she came to be that way, but more than likely it had been caused by another human being; that was the only reasonable explanation. The one thing she knows for sure was that she had escaped into the desert from a deep, dark pit where she had been held captive. She has no idea how long she was in the pit for and she has no recollection of her life before the pit. Consequently, she has a deep distrust of others and reflexively holds them at arms length.
She is happy with the life she has made for herself. She is self sufficient, growing her own food and bartering for anything else she needs. Her regular trips into the desert for herbs and remedies keeps her life interesting and her special relationships with the wildlife keep her from being too insular. She finds it fascinating to listen to the wildlife gossip about the townspeople, they have a very unique perspective on life.
This is the scene I wrote for her today:
Maggie stopped her horse and surveyed the valley before her. Unfamiliar emotions tumbled around inside her and a lump formed in her throat. The scene before her was beautiful. The sheep station lay in a shallow valley surrounded by low hills. It was a substantial homestead with a large main house and several outbuildings. The main house was low-set and had a large verandah wrapping around all sides. There was a cottage garden and meandering path to the front stairs and the daisies, pansies, delphinium and snap dragons basked in the early morning sunlight. The house looked to have been freshly painted and was a Jacaranda blue with white trim. The out buildings and fences were also white and the roofs were all corrugated iron and well maintained. They were all connected to each other and to the main house by covered walkways.
Beyond the homestead were the rolling hills that made up the pastureland of the station. The grass was long and silver and swayed gently in the breeze. There was the odd scrub brush or small tree, but mostly it was grassland with a small stream ambled through the paddocks. Hidden amongst the grass were the sheep, their dirty wool camouflaging them from the casual observer.
It all felt so familiar to Maggie. She had seen this place in her dreams so many times and was amazed to see that it actually existed. It wasn’t exactly the same, it was a lot bigger for one thing, but the feel of the place and the emotions that it roused in her were enough to make her believe that it was the same place. She was not a immune to having dreams with meanings, but this dream had always felt like a fairy tale.
She heard her companions approach and pulled herself together. It was so strange for her to be travelling with others and the weeks they had spent together had not lessened the strangeness. The two young men had recovered well from their misadventure in the desert, surviving the near death experience with little more than bruised egos and a tale to tell their friends. They hadn’t brushed the experience off lightly and were reluctant to head back into the desert for any length of time, even with a guide, so that had meant travelling home the long way. Tommo had insisted that Maggie take them and then she could cut through the desert to get home. It meant months of travelling, but Tommo had insisted. She needed to get out and see the world, he had told her, she needed to re-engage with the rest of the world, fifteen years of self imposed exile was long enough.
She sighed as she turned to look at Christian and Eduard. They had headed off into the desert ill-prepared and had nearly paid for it with their lives. They were lucky that she had stumbled across them when she did. Circamber was such a strange custom to her. The idea that you would need to go and do something stupid, a last great adventure, before settling into adulthood was laughable, but the men of Ibethia seemed to see it as some right of passage. She had treated a lot of the young men from Tananran for injuries sustained while on Circamber and it continued to baffle her. These two were lucky to be alive and she knew that their brush with the veil had changed them. She hadn’t known them before their misadventure, but she could tell that it had forever changed them. Their eyes held a haunted look that you didn’t often find in men of their age.
Tommo had told her that they would recover eventually, but the experience would always be with them. She had worried that they seemed to have lost their joy and Tommo had agreed that they needed to find laughter again. Part of the reason they were travelling this way instead of the much shorter, if more dangerous route, was to give the boys time to heal and rediscover the fun in life before they returned home. They had sent messages home to let their families know they were alive, but Tommo felt that they weren’t quite ready to return to their families. They needed to recapture what the desert had robbed from them.
Maggie looked back down at the station, “We’ll head down there,” she said indicating the house with a jut of her chin, “We might be able to pick up a couple of days work in exchange for supplies,” she said.
“Will they take on strangers?” Christian asked.
“It’s shearing season,” Maggie replied, “They’ll be grateful for the extra hands.”
She nudged her horse and started down the road towards the homestead, Christian and Eduard gave each other a look before following her. When they had first met Maggie they were half dead with dehydration and desert fever. She had been disguised as a man and they had thought her odd, she had saved their lives and they were forever thankful, but now that they knew her better, they still thought her odd.
As they approached the homestead, they could see signs of life. There was a large long building close to the main house and it seemed that it was the main area of activity. As they got closer they could smell bacon and toast and coffee and realised that the building was the mess hall and it was breakfast time. Eduard felt his stomach rumble as the tempting aromas became stronger. They had been eating dried meat and flatbreads for the past week as they had neared the ends of the rations and he would be willing to do almost anything to have a fresh, hot meal.
There was laughter and noise emanating from the open doors. The three dusty travellers dismounted and tied their horses up before mounting the steps and entering the hall. There was a hush as the workers looked up at the newcomers, but it didn’t last long. This crowd was used to strangers; they were all transients, travelling from town to town to find work.
Maggie identified who she thought would be the Station Manager and headed confidently in his direction. The man stood as she approached and she shook his hand.
“Good morning, sir,” she said politely, “My companions and I are passing through on our way to the capital and were wondering if you had any positions available to help us on our way. I am a healer and herb woman, but I am willing to do whatever you may require and my two companions are young and what they lack in experience they make up for in strength.”
The man smiled at her, “We can always use a few extra hands around here at shearing time, and we are in need of a healer as it so happens. The young men can be put to good use as well,” he nodded, “How long will you be around?”
“Only about a week,” she replied, “These young men are on their way home from an eventful Circamber and I’m sure their families are anxious to see them.”
He smiled, “I’m Toby,” he said, “And you are?”
“Sorry,” she apologised, “My name’s Maggie and the boys are Christian and Eduard.”
“Alright Maggie,” he said gesturing to a young man on the other side of the hall, “Jem here will show you where you can bunk and if you wouldn’t mind, the Master had a fall from his horse yesterday and is doing poorly…”
“Let me just get my gear stowed and I will see to him directly.”
Maggie followed Jem out, beckoning the boys to follow. They looked longingly at the food, but came obediently. She smiled to herself and felt that she saw the first moments of their recovery in their eyes.
Jem showed Maggie to a small room near the kitchen entrance before taking the boys to the dormitory. The room was sparse containing only a small bed, a desk and a dresser. It was clean and had a small window overlooking the kitchen garden. Maggie unpacked her swag and opened the window to allow some fresh air into the room. The scent of lavender and rosemary wafted in from the garden and Maggie took a deep breath, savouring the familiar smells.
There was a wash stand near the door and Maggie took the time to thoroughly clean her hands and face before heading into the main house. She knocked on the kitchen door and a large woman dressed head to toe in kitchen whites looked up from the dough she was kneading. Her mouth dropped open as she stared at Maggie. Maggie had a fleeting moment of recognition, but it was gone before she could latch onto it. She hesitated in the doorway, unsure what to do. She felt like a fifteen year old about to be scolded for stealing sweetbuns and for the life of her didn’t know why.
“Ah, hello,” she said, breaking the spell, “My name is Maggie, I am the new healer and Toby sent me to look in on the Master.”
The cook shook her head and wiped her hands on her apron, muttering under her breath before looking up at Maggie with a strange look in her eye, “Maggie, is it?” she said and Maggie nodded, “Tess!” she yelled and a scullery maid ran into the room.
“Yes, cook,” she stammered.
“This is the healer to see the Master,” she said, not taking her eyes of Maggie.
“Uhh..” Tess stammered.
“Well, don’t just stand there girl,” Cook roared, “Take her to him and take this broth with you,” she said, shoving a tray into her hands, “And be quick about it or you will spend the afternoon cleaning out the ovens.”
Tess curtsied awkwardly before hurrying out with Maggie fast on her heals.
The kitchen door opened on to a long hallway with several doors opening off it. It smelled of lemon scented wood polish and brought waves of nostalgia over her. The hallway ended at a large set of double doors and Tess opened them into the house foyer. The walls were hung with family portraits and Maggie slowed as she looked at them. There were a lot of photographs of a kind looking man with a lovely wife and small children. Some of the photos had two children, some only had one. There were pictures of the two young girls together and documented their childhood. She traced the years as the girls grew older until the final one when they were about sixteen years old. They were like apples and oranges, their looks so opposite to each other. One was blonde and tall, the other dark and petite. She studied the final portrait of the young dark daughter who stood alone in the garden holding a gardenia to her nose. She traced the face of the girl with her finger and felt the memory come alive in her mind. She remembered the smell of the flower, strong and sweet. She remembered the warmth of the sun and the breeze that swirled her hair. She remembered the feeling of happiness and contentment and an expectation of the future. She was transported to that time and that place. The rest of the world melted away and she was the girl in the photograph.
It had been towards the end of spring and it had been a big season on the station. The weather had just started to heat up and the summer promised to be long and hot. Most of the shearers were preparing to move on and there was a party planned for that night. That had been the year that she had met Xander and that was the night he had proposed to her.
“Miss, miss,” she felt Tess shaking her arm and the vision was shattered, “Come along, miss. I don’t want to get in any trouble with Cook. The Master is this way.”
Maggie followed her in a daze. The vision had been so real, almost like it had really been happening to her; almost like the memories were her own. This house, this place stirred so many emotions and memories in her. The dark, blank hole in her mind was stirring and it scared her. She didn’t know whether she really wanted to know what was behind the wall of her amnesia.
Tess led her to a door on which she knocked gently before opening and going in. Tess set the tray down on a bedside table before hurrying out. Maggie looked at the unconscious man lying in the bed. He was the man out of the photographs, if much older. There was grey in his hair and in his beard and as she looked at him, her eyes welled up with tears. She longed to throw herself into his arms and have him tell her everything was going to be alright.
She shook the feeling off and set to work. Toby had said that he had fallen from his horse. She looked into his eyes, lifting their lids and checking for responsiveness. She felt his limbs, checking for broken bones and making notes of her observations. She felt his abdomen and ruled out internal bleeding. He stirred little as she examined him and she worried about his vital signs. She mixed up a concoction of herbs and ground roots from her supplies and started spooning small amounts into his mouth. She made a poultice and applied it to his head before applying a smelly ointment to his other cuts and abrasions. She hummed while she worked, a forgotten melody that had appeared randomly in her mind. With all his wounds tended, she brought the bowl of broth over and inhaled the savoury aromas, her own stomach awaking and protesting loudly. She spooned some of the soup into the Masters mouth and his eyes began to flutter. He looked around the room before focussing on her. He smiled up at her and reached out to grasp her hand.
“Ah, Bren,” he croaked, “My bonny Bren, you are a sight for sore eyes.” And with that he closed his eyes and went to sleep, snoring softly.
Maggie sat transfixed. Who was Bren? He had called her Bren, thought she was Bren and it had felt right. Something had clicked in her brain with the name, something had stirred in the pit. Who was this man? Why was she so overcome with emotions that she hadn’t felt in fifteen years. What was this place doing to her?
She fled the room, running down the hallway, through the foyer and out the front door into the sunshine. She raced through the garden, barely noticing where she was going. She ran without thinking, without looking, through the paddock and over a small rise before collapsing under a weeping willow that hung into a small stream. Tears streamed down her face and for the life of her she couldn’t understand why. Her organised, perfect world was shaking and she had no idea what it would reveal when the dust settled.