Hellelil and Hildebrand
Meeting on the Turret Stairs
by Frederic William Burton, 1864
Her Lover's Kiss
Kemberlee (c) 2020
Based on the Dutch ballad Hellelil and Hildebrand

"You must go." She pushed her lover's shoulders, yet he would not release her.

"I'll not leave you, Hellelil. I love you. No one will keep us apart."

Her heart pounded in her breast, but she couldn't tell if it was from the danger they were both in or the thought of never seeing Hildebrand again. Most likely it was both. He was her one true love, but she knew if her father found them together like this, his anger would know no end.

"Please, Hildebrand. If my father catches you here, he'll show no mercy. You know I'm promised to another." 

"I'm a Prince of England, and I will have you."

He embraced her within the safety of his powerful arms. The scent of their recent lovemaking clung to his skin. One more kiss, one more embrace, certainly laying with him one more night would do no harm. She knew they were both already meant for Purgatory. He'd taken the virginity she so gladly gave him, for she loved him too, and would rather him have the gift of her innocence than a man she didn't love.

Yes, one more night . . .

Just then, there was no mistaking the sound of her father's voice bellowing below stairs.

"Hildebrand has gone too far. I will see his head on a pike at my gates before the day is out."

The sound of clanging metal grew louder as her father's knights ascended the narrow stairs.

Hellelil's tear-filled gaze flashed across Hildebrand's face. She sought to memorize everything about him. The color of his eyes, the wave in his hair . . . his kiss-swollen lips.

She stroked her fingers across those lips, remembering the feel of them on hers not moments before. Her chamber door was locked, but it would not remain closed for long. One more kiss was all there was time for.

She pulled him down to her. "Kiss me, Hildebrand. For if I'm to die this day, I will take the sweet memory of your kiss with me."

• •

photo credit, Addison Brae,
author of 
Becker Circle and Dark Energy
The Lamp
Kemberlee Shortland (c) 2020

How's this for irony?

We argued. All couples argue occasionally, right? When we argued, it wasn't over things like money or whose turn it was to pick up the dog crap in the yard. It was usually over little things, like me leaving my dirty socks on the floor, or me not closing drawers all the way, or me monopolizing the remote at night. Are you sensing a pattern here?

I love my wife. Don't get me wrong. Yeah, I'm one of those sappy husbands who thinks his wife walks on water, even when she's being a royal pain in my ass. But that's not to say there aren't things I can finger-point that irks me.

The biggest one is the goddamn lamp over the dining room table. It was a housewarming gift from her mother when we bought our first house about a million years ago. And the damn thing has moved from house to house with us over the years.

My wife agreed it was ugly, but for the sake of keeping the peace with her mother, everything was sunshine and rainbows. At least while the woman was visiting.

We tried the whole "We'll put it up for mom's visit" and then take it down for the rest of the year. That's a lot of goddamn work so it eventually just stayed up.

We thought we could get away with not putting up in the last house, but when her mother visited, that was the first thing she noticed when we gave her the house tour. "Not putting up my lamp?" The look she gave me...not my wife but me...spoke volumes. "Oh, we haven't unpacked it yet--" Of course, the lamp was replaced before the evening came.

When we bought this most recent house--the one that was meant to be our dream retirement home--we both knew there was no getting around moving the lamp one more time.

My wife's cell rang. She looked up at me and said, "It's Mom. What are we going to tell her?"

I didn't have to look behind me to know what had happened. The scent of greasy smoke hung heavy in the air. Our home had been burning for the last couple hours, though firefighters had eventually put it out and now, just that last acrid smell lingered in the air. And the soot. It rained down around the neighborhood like black snow. Ho ho fucking ho.

What I wanted to tell my mother-in-law was that her lamp had just burned down our goddamn house. I wanted to tell her she'd manipulated her daughter into losing her home. I wanted to tell her the guilt trips stopped here and now.

Then I looked into my wife's eyes and saw them swelling again with tears. She started crying the instant we both realized the fire was in the attic and we had to get out of the house. She cried for what seemed like hours before the first fire crew arrived, really, only ten minutes after we rang 9-1-1. And she cried when she realized our dream home couldn't be saved.

We were now homeless, literally with just the clothes on our backs. We didn't even have a car so we could find a hotel for the night because both of our vehicles had gone up in the fire when flames jumped to the garage. My wife only had her cell phone because she'd used it to call 9-1-1 and stayed on the line until help arrived. Other than that, we had nothing left. Everything was gone. Loose gravel on the street biting into my bare feet accentuated how little we had right now.

Well, when I say we lost everything, it's with a taste in my mouth that was even more bitter than the taste of greasy smoke and soot. After years of arguing over the fugly lamp, and as much as we both had wanted to replace it over the years, we now found the fixture on the lawn out by the curb. Oddly, it was in pristine condition, if you can call it that after thirty years, except for the fire's point of origin--where it was bolted to the ceiling.

"Honey, what do I tell her?" my wife asked again.

I took a deep breath and said, "Tell her we need a place to stay for a few nights until we get sorted."

I listened to the one sided conversation, but the look on my wife's face told me everything the other half of the conversation didn't.

Then, there it was. I knew the question had been asked when my wife's chin started trembling again. Her mother hadn't asked if *we* were okay, or if the house survived.

"Yes, Mother. The lamp is okay."

Of everything we ever argued about in our marriage, we never argued about anything as much as that lamp. Now it had destroyed our home and could have killed us.

And there's fucking irony for you. We'd lost everything...every god...damn...thing. Gone.

Except that lamp.

• •

photo credit, Addison Brae,
author of 
Becker Circle and Dark Energy
Kemberlee Shortland (c) 2020

He shouldn't have been surprised to find his boxers on the curb when he arrived home that morning. Looking up the lawn, he saw the rest of his clothes scattered. She new where he'd been all night, and he had to wonder if one night's indiscretion had it all been worth it.

He also shouldn't have been surprised that she'd filed down the end of his toothbrush into a fine point. He was sure she'd learned that trick from watching too many prison based TV shows.

She was an expert markswoman, because when he approached the house to plead his case, she hurled it at him and stuck him in the neck.

He thought she'd just poked him, but feeling the wound and looking at his hand, slick with blood, he couldn't believe the ooze spilling down his shirt. "You stabbed me!"

"What do you think you've done to me? You stabbed me in the heart. Well this the last time!" she cried, then slammed the window closed.

He felt himself weaken from the loss of blood and banged on the door as hard as he could, blood splattering the glossy white paint.

"Call 9-1-1!" But his weakened cry went unanswered.

He staggered up the road, hoping to meet one of his neighbors leaving their home for work, but the neighborhood was eerily quiet. He staggered into the middle of the road and looked around. Someone had to be awake, had to see him.

"Help me..." His voice was weaker.

His legs gave out and he collapsed. Pain shot up his knees when he landed and felt his shoulder compress into his spine when he collapsed.

He gazed up at the sky. Small grey clouds drifted by against a blue sky, blocking out the sun.

He felt his breathing slow, felt the toothbrush pulsing with his heartbeat where it was still lodged in his neck.

A gentle breeze ruffled his hair. He was getting cold. The panic he'd felt moments before eased. His body felt heavy, too heavy to move. He could only see the sky...and bells.

He closed his eyes against the sun appearing from behind a cloud, but the brightness still pierced his eyelids. He was too weak to turn his head away.

Church bells? His foggy mind spun for a moment.

The bells seemed out of place, but then he remembered. He took a shallow breath. It was Sunday. No one was leaving for work.

A moment later, he stopped breathing. He no longer felt the need to. His body seemed to meld with the tarmac as he slipped out of consciousness.

No one was going to help him.

• •

This writing prompt came from the website
of author, 
Beaux Cooper.
Dutch Courage
Kemberlee Shortland (c) 2016

It had been three years since the accident.

He felt the briny Pacific breeze ruffling his beard hiding the only physical scar he’d sustained that day. In his mind, every other scar he carried tumbled against his skull and tried forcing their way through his skin. He itched and ached to rid himself of the sorrow he still felt eating at his insides.

He came to the Dutch Windmill in the west end of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park because this had been where they shared so much of their short history. Hoping no one saw him, he let himself into the tower and climbed out onto the top of the cap. He didn’t fear heights. The only fear he had was a life without her. He hoped by confronting his past he could release the pain.

Sitting cross-legged, he closed his eyes and remembered her.

She’d been a Dutch architecture student at SFSU (San Francisco State University). She’d been excited about studying in the City by the Bay. Within a few short months, she’d become a proper California Girl with her bronzed skin and sun-kissed hair.

He knew she was homesick and surprised her on their first date. Then, as now, the tulips had been in full bloom, despite the chilly sea breeze.
The Dutch Windmills in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA
photo credit: Jellybeans Of Doom

On the one-year anniversary of their first date, he brought her back and proposed. Not because her visa was about to expire, but because he loved her. Until he’d met her, he never knew what love was. Real love. The kind of love that punched you in the gut, but had you begging for more. She did that to him. Every damn day. Even now, thinking about her. It was almost as if she was here beside him, even though he knew she never would be again.

He shook the thought away and remembered her nuances — the way her long, wheaten hair rippled in the breeze; how her soft lips naturally smiled at the edges; how the color of her eyes mimicked the most delicate shades of the sea; and the light blush of her cheeks when she caught him staring at her. She blushed a lot. He stared at her. A lot.

Her boldness had startled him at first. But she was a woman who knew what she wanted, and he let her take it. Together, their naked bodies melded as one. Their time seemed almost . . . ethereal. Sure, they’d had their share of quickies and sweaty couplings. But the other times  . . . the times when she simply sheathed him and put her arms around him, and held him as she barely rocked against him . . .

The memory nearly ripped out his heart. He felt hot tears rushing down his face. The wind picked up and felt like her fingers weaving through his whiskers. He tilted his head in the familiar way, expecting to hear her soft, “I love you.”

It didn’t come.

They’d told him what happened when he’d awakened from surgery — weather conditions had been perfect, traffic conditions light.

They say people never remember an accident as it happens. But he remembered every second in slow motion. And relived it every day since.

Dutch Windmill, Golden Gate Park
San Francisco, CA

Minutes before, they’d exchanged their vows in the registry office at City Hall, and he was anxious to get her across the Golden Gate before rush hour . She still held the bouquet of tulips he’d given her before the ceremony. His heart swelled, remembering how beautiful she’d been when he’d glanced over and saw how the breeze through the open window caught her hair.

He’d reached over and put his hand on hers. She’d turned, her eyes full of love. There was nothing before him but her. She mesmerized him.

Then the horns, tires screeching — parts of the car’s interior smashed against his ribs, his head, his shoulders as he tumbled inside the vehicle.

He’d seen her look of joy instantly change to horror, disbelief changed to pain. And once the vehicle had settled, how the light left her eyes. He couldn’t breathe, but now it was shock, and a broken jaw.

The last three years had been Hell. He came here every year on their anniversary, hoping he could move past that day. Today he would.

Opening his eyes now, he saw the sun licking the last of the horizon. Behind him, the night sky gave way to stars and a crescent moon. Before him, the last tinges of orange and gold faded away. Below him, darkness.

It was time to go.

He stood and instantly felt the rush of the sea breeze through his hair and beard, felt the instant clarity it brought. He closed his eyes again, inhaled deeply, and outstretched his arms.

And fell into the dying sunset.

Sunset on Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA
photo credit: Ten First: Ten Best Sights in San Francisco