DaguerreoTyped #26: Ekphrastic Response by Juno DuFour
Juno DuFour responds to our monthly historical photo prompt with the flash story ‘Revolting Livery.’
I’ve heard countless whispers in the dusty tavern corners about it.
Sometimes the whispers are louder, brought to the fore through ill-advised and ale-fueled pluck. Often, it’s old men who have seen the world fall in and out of its patterns over the course of decades. They think they’ve seen all there is throughout their long, hard-won lives. Time has made them indifferent. Strife has made them complacent.
“I’m not dying for no gods-damned rebellion,” they mutter over the top of a tankard before slapping their toothless mouths around a spoonful of congealing offal stew. “They’re like hydra. You take out one tyrant lord, and another crops up in its place.”
I refuse to be indifferent. I abhor complacency. Because I have nothing left, save my mind, body, and the ragged sackcloth I’ve tied closed with a rope for the sake of some decency I don’t personally feel. My family, my livelihood, my home — modest as it was — have all been lost to pestilence, famine, and death.
Thus, my only remaining choice is war.
The whispers tell me of a place where the insurgents meet after dark — an old mill by the river. There you can see lights streaming through gaps in the stone where time and tide had freed the mortar from its confines. The whispers also warn that I will never be the same should I choose this path. Good, I’ve already changed as it is. If I am to change further, then may this wretched land change with me.
I find the mill with little trouble, the leaking torchlight serving as an adequate beacon. The door unlatches mere moments after I knock on it — once and then three times after a pause, as the whispers instructed. It creaks on rusty hinges to let a blaze of light spill out before me. I squint against the brightness, using the shadow of my hand to aid my sight.
Before me stands living bone, holding a torch aloft. My own bones threaten to fail me; my knees warn of imminent collapse. The figure only draws closer, and I avert my eyes from the gaping holes that seem to peer curiously at me despite lacking eyes.
“What do you seek?” it asks me, impossibly, as it has no lips or tongue with which to articulate.
“The rebellion,” I croak, still shielding my face, though the light no longer bothers me.
A pale, fine hand pushes the door open wider before it stretches toward me in offering. The wrist clicks loudly from the effort. I squeeze my eyes shut. I still feel the heat from the blazing torch as it crackles.
“The rebellion is inside,” the impossible voice comes again. “You, who have lost so much, have only one last thing to give. Join us and never fear cold nor hunger. Join us and forget sickness and pain. Join us and shed the skin of your discontent.”
“What?” I whimper, fearing the meaning behind those words.
If it could smile, I’ve no doubt it would try. I can hear it in its voice. “The rebellion requires a uniform.”
Each month, The Coil presents an ekphrastic challenge (photo prompt) for writers and lovers of history: We feature a different public domain historical photograph or illustration, and ask writers to respond to it. There is no wrong answer, and no set style guidelines. Poetry, prose, hybrid, fiction or nonfiction, experimental — anything goes that has a history bent. The best responses will be published on The Coil after the challenge ends. See all past challenges and responses.