Please enjoy this sketch I wrote this morning. And for those who celebrate it: Have an observant Memorial Day.
EDIT: You can read the next segment of this story here: The Wich of Ramí
“I’m sorry dear, no work here.”
“Move ’em on! Move ’em on!”
“Get quick, or get the stick you little gypsy!”
“…Not a gypsy.” The child says.
“What did you say?” The walrusine man says.
The child lifts her face to meet the mustachioed butcher’s; for an instant the deep orange tendrils that frame the child’s face seem to be real flames to the man; he backs into his chopping block and sends a fine slab of porkum into the dust. “I said, I’m not a gypsy. Gypsies steal; cheat. I’m no gypsy.”
“Gods,” the butcher wipes his wide boiled nose with a blood-soaked mitt. “You’re a damn witch!”
The girl looks around and marks not a few passersby marking her. A conspicuously armored man with a stack of papers in his hands scans the crowds of traders and thieves from atop a stack of wheat barrels on the corner. She pulls her blackish-blue hood over her hair and offers the butcher a wide-eyed plea for calm. “I’m not a witch either, please sir, I can’t afford attention.”
The butcher takes a breath and squeezes his eyes. He pats his hands along his sides, then his face, and finally his crotch. “All right then, but no tricks for Al’Qohr hear? My ole man was, how to call it, trans-mong-ri-fied? by one of you. But you’re just a little witch…Why, you’re no bigger than my daughter. A might bit handsomer too.”
“Please sir, do you have any work for me?”
“Work? No, no work. I can’t afford to pay myself child—what are you doing working at your age? You can’t be more than thirteen?”
“Thirteen and a half.”
“Ah! Exactly my daughter’s answer…hm…yes…well, I tell you what,” the butcher lifts his great gut over the counter and releases it with a groan as he frees himself from his merchant stand. “Why don’t you come along with me child? I’ll…I’ll see what we can find you for work right?”
The girl pulls her cape tight around her chest and considers it. She meets the man’s flat-gray eyes but senses nothing. She looks away. Then to the ruined pork in the street. A creaking gurgle shakes its way from her stomach. She looks back to the man and nods.
“Good, good,” the man says. “Let me wrap up the meat, Maritai’if will make a good stew of it. My daughter. Would you like that?”
The girl nods again.
While the massive man loads his wares in the back of his carriage, the girl waits by the poor beast whose job it is to bear him. The ass’s back stands no higher than the girl’s head, but its face is half her length. Its coat is grayish cotton spread over molasses; patches rubbed bare and bleeding where the bull-flies bite. She lays a hand on its snout and closes her eyes.
“Ready now—den—what was your name?”
“Right, well if I’m going to help you, it will be easier for me to find work for a girl who knows her own—”
“Issau. I see. Yes. Issau.”
“You pronounce it well.”
“I hadn’t realized…But that doesn’t matter. Here, into the cart.” He makes a step with his hands and bends down.
“Why not ride in front with you?” Issau says gesturing to the driver’s bench.
“I think, if you want to avoid attention, you’ll want to ride back here. Now up we go.” Issau climbs into the splintered bed among the bleeding sacs of meat. “Try not to breathe through your nose right?” the man says. Then he throws a green tarp over Issau and the whole back of the wagon.
Issau listens for the man’s footsteps; traces them to the front of the wagon. When the weight of the man rocks the bed, she allows herself to relax and breathe. The stink really is formidable. And still, she found herself lapping it into her senses and fading to sleep under thoughts of a warm meal, a bit of help, and blessed safety.
The voices of men whispering excitedly wakes Issau from an unpleasant nap. She is still in the darkness of the wagon, but they have stopped.
“Fifty rupas! you’re mad!”
“Fifty, yes, fif-ty.” This is the butcher’s voice. “It says right here, look for yourself.”
“You’re a fool if you think Lord Raa’ja’naa will pay more than ten rupas for a little witch.”
Issau gasps and covers her mouth to stifle the high whine that follows. The voices stop.
“Men!” The man who spoke with the butcher says. “Teja! Ekr’al! Bohr! Get the girl. Take her to Lord Raa’ja’naa.”
Heavy heals click on stone floor and echo off stone walls as the men approach. “Oh no,” Issau whispers, “we’re inside.”
“Hey-hey-hey,” the butcher bellows, “this poster says ‘fifty rupas for witches alive, ten rupas dead,’ what do you think I am?”
There comes a soft laugh that pricks Issau’s spine. A crashing report is followed by something like the butcher’s porkum slapping the ground. “A worthless meat man. Now get that little bitch and let’s get our reward. It’s nearly sundown and I’m itching for a drink.”
Issau hears the men closing around her and she begins muttering to herself.
“Take her alive, I’ll not have ten rupas for her.”
The tarp snaps away and the evening light pierces the window slits in the tower and hint at the dark silhouette of the small child.
“Sir,” one of the men says, the tallest of the three, dark and leather-face, with the same golden helmet topped with a metal spike that the other men wore. “It’s a child.”
“Then she really shouldn’t be a problem,” the leader says. “Especially for three soldiers of the great Lord Raa—”
A greenish glow suddenly envelopes Issau, glows bright greenish-white, then bursts out in an ethereal sphere that soaks everything in the chamber.
One of the men yelps. All of their eyes widen and they stand perfectly still. After a few seconds they look at each other. Then each quickly pats their sides, head; crotch. They sigh, then scowl at the girl. “That’s enough of that fancy light trick little witch!” The men level their pistols on Issau. “One more show like that an—”
The explosion is intensely bright and bursting with orangish black flames and screeching cries from unseen mouths. The cart blows to splinters under Issau but she remains in the air where she sat. The screams of the men are swallowed by a growing grumble from deep underground. Rotten meat, disembodied pistols and officer caps, the mule, and the men themselves along with their leader, begin to revolve around Issau. Her eyes flash open. They are black; her face is blank; her tongue flicks out ancient phrases; her lips do what they can to keep up. In this instant the whole world is cries of terror, fire, and pain. Then all at once the great tornado halts. The men hang, no longer rotating, suspended among the debris and stone bricks. Finally, a terrible sound like tearing open a hole in the knee of your pants, followed by snaps and pops that ascend until at last, the very bodies of the men are ripped to strips, along with the porkum and everything else in a half mile, and Issau is alone once more, at the center of it all.
Don’t stop here! Read the next segment of the story here: The Wich of Ramí