by James E. Guin
“Open the door, old man!” I hear Priez shout.
I have never seen him, but I have heard his voice many times, and Papa has described Priez to me. In my mirror I see our wooden door shaking from Priez’s pounding. Papa has always walked outside before he and the other soldiers made it up our road and this close to our windmill.
In the corner of my mirror, I see Papa emerge from our supply room. Carrying a pouch, he shuffles slowly to the front door. Papa is getting so old, and he is so worried because the wind does not blow like it did before. He must have forgotten the soldiers would come today.
“Where are your taxes, old man? You knew we were visiting today.” Priez says and shoves Papa out of the way.
Three other soldiers walk through the door and guard it as if Papa is some dangerous criminal who might run and escape. Through the reflection of the open door, I see another soldier standing next to a wagon with a lamp, some bundled up cloth, and gears that must have been ripped from the other windmills. But I see no sacks of grain.
Priez marches to the center of our windmill and looks around examining our network of gears and shafts. I can tell by the expression on his face that the wood, the metal, and the rope interest him.
Papa walks closer to Priez, stretches out his arm with the pouch in it, and says, “The wind has not been steady this month. This grain is all I have.”
Priez slaps the pouch out of Papa’s hand, and it hits the floor. Grain spills all over our seashell covered floor.
“You disappoint me, old man. You lie just like the other windmill owners on Windmill Row,” Priez says.
“I swear it is all I have,” Papa says.
I have never seen Papa make such a desperate expression.
Paying no mind to the wasted grain on the floor, Priez walks toward me, seashells crack and shift under his black boots. He stops behind me, stands there frozen for a least a minute, and then rubs my cheek with the back of his right hand index finger. I can’t feel it, but the reflection of his twisted display of affection makes me ill.
He looks down noticing for the first time the seashell covered floor Papa made for me, and then he turns his head to Papa and says, “Well perhaps this statue will suffice for this year’s taxes.”
“No,” Papa says.
I have never heard him so curt with Priez.
Priez turns his head away from Papa and stares at me in the mirror. He touches my cheek with his index finger, and then he glides his right hand down the side of my neck past my bodice to my white hanging bell tutu. He places his ear close to my head and knocks on my chest with his knuckle. It makes a hollow sound. I feel nothing, but my heart races like the wind on a productive day.
Rubbing my tutu between his index finger and his thumb and looking in the mirror past me at Papa, he says, “Unlike the other windmill owners, you are a strange old man. Your floor covered with seashells, this statue, you have always been an odd one. But this is not my concern.”
He walks in front of me and all I can see is his faded red shirt with all of its medals and insignias sewn into the fabric.
“It is nice, but the governor would probably melt it for something useful. He has no appreciation for aesthetics,” he says.
“Please-” Papa’s voice wavers then fades.
Priez holds his index finger in the dead air and shakes it like a schoolteacher chastising a difficult pupil. “Think about it old man. We take this statue, and we don’t visit you for a year. You paid your taxes. I’m happy, you’re happy, the governor is happy.”
“No. It has sentimental value. It is worth as much to me as my windmill,” Papa says.
While Priez walks around me and toward the door, he says, “If that is the case, we may have to take your windmill, old man. I will give you until we finish our rounds to decide. Your windmill or this old statue?”
He steps into the doorway and the other soldiers turn in his direction, but he stops, the heel of his boots on the seashells and the sole on the sand.
Priez raises his head, spins around, says, “And old man, don’t be too greedy, or I may take both,”
In the mirror I see him march to his wagon. Papa stands there watching as the other soldiers walk through the open door and down our dirt road. One of the soldiers motion for the soldier who had been waiting with the wagon to follow. He picks up the handles of the wagon and carries his burden. Papa walks to the open door and stares. I listen to the wagon wheels grinding down our dirt road and then the sound fades away as they turn onto Windmill Row. Papa closes the door and walks to a wooden bench that is attached to the railing, sits down, and stares at the motionless windshaft and gears.
I know Papa longs to hear the hum of the blades and the grinding of the gears. I long to hear it too. The Wind Goddess has not been favorable to those of us on Windmill Row these past few months. Papa has never said anything about it, but I can tell from his silence that many of the windmill owners blame his promise with the Wind Goddess for her stillness.
Papa stares at me for a few minutes and then turns his gaze to our seashell covered floor and recites, “The sea awakens. The sea gives birth, but the wind smashes the waves against the shore.”
My vision focuses inward from Papa’s reflection to my own. My copper skin fades to tan and my hair melts from copper to tan to pitch black. The brown of my bodice is only a few shades different from the copper it was before. I lift my hands from behind my back. They rise in an arc above my head. In one graceful movement, I spin around getting a glimpse of Papa, but before our eyes meet I whirl back around to the mirror, which hangs on the wooden wall.
The fear in my voice is undeniable as I say, “Don’t let them take me away, Papa.”
Papa rises from the bench, walks up behind me, and places his hands on my shoulders.
His face contorted into a mixture of confusion and sadness, he says, “I don’t know what to do. The wind will not blow, and I have nothing to give them that will keep them away for the rest of the month. I will have to give them the windmill. We can go back to the shore and beg the Sea Goddess for your life, so that we can leave this place. ”
I have never seen Papa so hopeless.
I turn from the mirror, wrap my arms around his shoulders and plead, “Call upon the Wind Goddess again, Papa. Maybe she will help us.”
“The wind has not blown at a steady velocity for so long. The windmills on Windmill Row are desolate houses. Besides, I owe her more than she owes me. Our fate is left to the goddesses and the government to do what they please.”
I hear the soldiers dragging their feet and the wheels of their wagon rolling slowly up our dirt road.
“Open up, old man. We have come to collect what you owe.”
Even Priez’s voice sounds tired.
Papa opens the door. Priez and the same three soldiers fall in. Outside in the darkness I can see the silhouette of the fourth soldier guarding the wagon. This time the wagon is overflowing with this month’s taxes, but it is too dark to make out the items.
As Priez paces around the inside of our windmill, his shoes rub against the seashells on our floor. He walks up behind me and places his right hand on the back of my neck. In the mirror his hand reminds me of a snake preparing to choke me.
“So what is it, old man? The statue or the windmill? We could use a windmill to make grain. Food is scarce for a soldier in this Godforsaken land. Since the wind will not blow we can force some of your people to rotate the sails,” he says and lets out an exhausted sigh at his ridicules joke.
Papa stares past me into the mirror and says, “Priez, you can take my windmill. Please give me one day to prepare. I will be gone by tomorrow night.”
He looks down at Papa with a disgusted expression and says, “Don’t be a fool, old man.”
Like a child, Papa stares at the floor.
Sliding his right hand up my neck and placing the palm of his hand on top of my head, Priez scowls at Papa and says, “No matter the sentimental value, this statue is not worth your lively hood. You old fool.”
Papa begins to cry. He stares past Priez into the mirror. I’m not sure if he is looking at me or if he is deep in thought.
Priez shakes his head and says, “You are pathetic, old man. We will take both.”
“No,” Papa whispers and as he continues to stare in the mirror, he recites, “The sea awakens. The sea gives birth, but the wind smashes the waves against the shore.”
Forming a fist with his left hand, Priez’s face turns red and he yells, “I don’t have time for these silly games, old man!”
My copper skin melts to tan, and bewildered Priez feels my soft black hair. The other soldiers stare in amazement as my hands attempt to rise above my head hitting Priez’s arm. With my head cupped under his hand, I twirl around catching a glimpse of Papa, the other soldiers guarding the door, the soldier outside in the dark, and spin back around to look in the mirror.
“Papa,” I say.
Priez’s weariness and anger seems to fade as did my copper casing. He stares at me in wonder.
“Well, old man you are full of surprises,” he says.
He runs his fingers through my hair. I coil back in fear. His smile makes me think that he enjoys my fear.
Father looks on the floor and then at me as if he wants to transform into a copper statue. I turn my head and look away.
His eyes focuses on Priez, and he says, “Anila, I will tell them the truth. Maybe they will have pity on an old man and his daughter. There are forces outside of this world greater than the governor.”
Ignoring Papa, Priez touches the arc in my bodice and says, “Aren’t you a pretty thing.”
“Please,” I say and cover my face with my hands.
“You can keep the windmill. We will take the statue after all, old man,” Priez says and wraps his right arm around my waist.
“No,” I scream.
Like a small sack of grain, he lifts me off the floor and carries me to the door.
Papa steps in front of Priez and begs, “Please Colonel Preiz. The Sea Goddess has cursed her. You must not look-”
With his left hand, Priez slaps Papa to the ground. Floating across the room, I see Papa lying on the floor. He turns his head toward me, and I look at the mirror. I watch my reflection moving closer to the door, and I see the other soldiers standing near my final exit laughing, gloating.
As Priez’s left boot steps onto the sand outside of the door, I look down at the seashells Papa meticulously imbedded into our windmill floor.
I have no choice so I tell Priez, “I will go. You don’t have to carry me.”
He stands straddling the seashells under his right boot and sand under his left boot.
“Very well, little girl, it has been a long day. I don’t have time for these games,” he says.
He drops me and my pointe shoes lightly touch the seashells. Priez turns toward me. My body tenses as I face him. I don’t want to, but I have no choice. He opens his mouth to speak, looks into my eyes, and freezes with an expression of horror on his face.
Before they understand what is going on, I look the other soldiers in the eyes.
I stand surrounded by four copper statues. Keeping my attention on the mirror, I walk to my home in front of my mirror.
“Oh, Papa, I didn’t want to,” I say.
Hands and knees bloody from the seashell-covered floor, Papa rises and walks to the mirror.
Looking at my reflection, he says, “Anila, I am sorry, I tried to reason with them.”
His voice trails off and deep in the mirror we see the soldier from outside running through the darkness of the door. In awe, he stares at the statues of his fellow soldiers then stands next to Priez.
He turns to Papa and says, “How did you do this?”
Papa holds out his arms, walks toward the soldier, and says, “Please don’t hurt us. I was only trying to protect my daughter.”
“On the contrary good man, I am a member of the resistance,” he says and makes a symbol with his fingers.
Papa seems to recognize his finger gesture, but I have never seen it before.
“I loathed these men with all of my heart, especially Priez,” he says and spits in the face of the Colonel’s statue.
“What type of weapon is this that you can do these things? We could use it and end the occupation,” the soldier says, his voice a mixture of frustration and excitement.
Exhausted, Papa opens his hands, drops them to his sides and says, “It must have been the goddesses.”
With a curious expression, the soldier stares at Papa then he notices me who has been watching them in the mirror. “What happened? Surely you saw.”
Looking away, I shrug my shoulders and say, “They just turned into statues. The Wind Goddess must be protecting us.”
“Can you call upon her to stop this occupation? She could turn them all into copper statues,” the soldier says.
“I don’t know…” my voice dies and then I hold my head down looking at the sea shells wishing Papa and I could leave this place and forget about the occupation, the wind, and the Goddesses.
“I must tell my commander about this,” the soldier says and runs out of our windmill back into the darkness from where he came.
At daybreak someone pounds on our door. Trembling, Papa opens it.
Almost knocking Papa down, the soldier from last night bursts into our windmill and scans the inside with an intense expression.
“This, this is-Where Priez and his minions were,” he says and points to where the soldiers were frozen.
Jabe, Papa’s old friend, walks through the door, looks around, nods at Papa then shakes his head. “Oh, why do you bother old man Geff this early in the morning? Leave the man alone and let him work.”
“They were here, Jabe. I saw them,” the soldier says and walks next to me.
In the mirror I watch his eyes move up and down my copper body. He looks at Papa then back at me.
“What? She was alive last night,” he says.
“Boy, this statue commemorates the loss of Geff’s daughter. Leave this man alone. He has grieved enough,” Jabe says.
His face filled with pity, Jabe looks at Papa and says, “The occupation has been hard on us all. We have work to do and so does Mr. Geff.”
Papa and I hear the hum of the wind sails. He opens the door and the blades are spinning in a steady rhythm. He picks me up, carries me to the door, and places me on a horse drawn wagon filled with seashells. While we ride down Windmill Row to the sea, I marvel at the stars, which line the night sky like our seashell covered floor. Papa takes me out and places me at the edge of the water. Almost as bountiful as our windmill floor, sea shells are scattered all along the sand. I can’t see him, but I know that he is walking back to the wagon.
In the moonlight, salt water and seashells splashes onto my feet. I hear a voice whispering in the wind. My vision focuses from the sand and the seashells to the waves crashing onto the beach. In the moonlight, my copper skin fades to tan and my feel my hair blowing in the wind. My bodice and my tutu feel comfortable against my soft skin. I lift my hands from behind my back. They rise in an arc above my head. In one graceful movement, I spin and dance along the edge of the ocean. I leap and feel that the wind might carry me away.
As I jump I see Papa and another man turning the wagon around in case our eyes meet or if the Sea or the Wind Goddess appear. I hope that the man is not a soldier.
Waves smash on the shore soaking my legs, my tutu, and my bodice. The Sea Goddess and the Wind Goddess are fighting.
I take a giant leap and the wind carries me across the sand away from the water. I hit the ground and sand splatters onto my tutu and my bodice. I look down and my legs are covered with sand. Frantically turning my head from side to side, there are no seashells nearby. My body tightens preparing for what comes next, but a fierce gust of wind rushes past my ear. My hair flies into my eyes and through the thick strands of hair I see the Wind Goddess.
Inside the wind she says, “The Sea Goddess is jealous no more.”
The wind stops. I turn and look up the hill. Papa and the man are talking, and I’m overjoyed that the man talking to him is not a soldier. I look at my skin and run to tell Papa what has happened.
Comforting the horse and then glancing toward the sea, Jabe gasps.
“Look Geff,” he says.
“Be careful Jabe! You know not to look in her eyes you will end up-” Papa says, turns to look at Jabe, and stumbles backwards in fear as I run upon him.
Holding my hands in the air, Papa examines them in the moon light. He looks at Jabe.
“How is this?” he says.
Staring at me like he must have the day I was born, Papa’s face lights up with joy and he says, “Anila, how is this?”
“The Wind Goddess came to me while I was dancing. I am free, Papa.”
Papa holds my face in his hand and kisses my cheek.
“The sea awakens,” he says.
“The sea gives birth,” I continue the poem we have rehearsed for so many years.
Together we finish, “but the wind smashes the waves against the shore.”
James E. Guin’s fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Perihelion Online Science Fiction Magazine, MetroMoms: Metro Fiction, Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, Alternate Hilarities Anthology Volume 1 and Vampires Suck. He received an Honorable Mention in the 2nd Quarter of the 2014 L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. James can be found on Twitter , Facebook or at jameseguin.wordpress.com.