This is Part II. For Part I, click here.
The young girl walked for many miles in the young hours of the first night, with only the dim glow of a jaundiced moon to light her way. An inconstant gale stirred the low plants of the plain, projecting suspicious shadows in the corner of the young girl’s eyes. In her mind she filled in the darkness around her with an imagined wilderness, tearing monsters, with only a fragile shroud of darkness between her life and the beasts that longed to rip it from her.
The night seemed to stretch on for days and days. Foreign whoops and growls pressed the young girl faster through the night. She held her hands out in front of her now. Her fingers dumbly curling and uncurling in the tangle of darkness around her. She walked faster. “I have traveled so far,” she thought, “I must be nearing the ends of the earth, and might soon crash into the great dirt wall that surrounds us all.”
She stumbled over uneven ground, able to keep her feet despite her speed, until a low-growing fungus swallowed up her bare foot, and twisted the young girl face down in the dust. She scrambled to reclaim her feet, scraping up the contents of her food bag that scattered into the grass. She secured all she could in her arms and tried to stand, then spilled them all over again, when — a screech blows through the young girl’s head — an owl swooping low overhead — and she is so startled, she allows herself to scream for the first time since leaving the black foothills; a short, aggressive expression that she silenced immediately. She gained her feet again, then dashed onward through the yellow night, uncertain if the night would ever reach its end . . .
. . . The first night did in fact end and, as the morning of the first day opened up, the young girl’s trembling skin began to calm. She cried out for the second time, this time in relief, as the sunlight chased away the false creatures of the dark. Minutes later, as the sun rose higher, the young girl became aware of another welcome sight; first the foot, now the slopes, and now, almost hidden in thin clouds, the peak of the High Mountain itself, where Hazarchereh; Goddess with Many Faces; hid away. Where the answer to her family’s salvation awaited.
The young girl sat on her heels and surveyed the land, watching from what little cover the low grass provided. Almost straight in front of her, skewed right, she spotted the shimmer of rising smoke, then just below it the tiny hut itself. Green smoke drifted up through an opening in the center of the roof. “He is our people,” the young girl muttered. “He builds as we build . . . But I have never seen such strange colored smoke — what’s this? Movement at the door?”
The hut’s flap whipped back from the wrinkled arm that punched from within. Soon after the arm was followed by the rest of a crooked old man; he was baked black, without a scrap of dress on him. The young girl saw the man’s skin was deeply scarred — too intricately patterned to make out at this distance — markings that, if she knew the strange man, she might have asked to read. This is not her village though, and she did not know this man. She waited, breathing softly as sleep, and remained very, very still.
The old man blocked the sunlight from his eyes and looked out to the plain in the young girl’s direction. “He couldn’t have seen me, could he?” She saw then that the man did wear something. Around his neck; half-hidden beneath his tangled gray beard, a small leather pouch hung on a cord. It was spotted with red splotches like dried blood. Upon seeing this, she gasped. She had heard of such pouches worn by Spirit Men. The old man ran a few meters here, stopped to call out for the hidden persons to show themselves; ran a few meters there, then stopped again. All the time, he made sure to secure the gruesome pouch fast against his chest.
The young girl’s heart pounded, but now it was the loudest noise she made. She sat very still and quiet, covering her mouth and trying to work out what to do. Eventually, the old man gave up his search, then disappeared in his hut. From inside came the sound of metal clanging against metal followed by a low, gutty blast and a gush of blue and red smoke from the roof. The man reappeared. In one hand he held a long spear fixed with a copper head; in the other hand he wielded a strange curved blade. The young girl did not recognize these terrible weapons, but the sight of their malignant design sent her trembling so violently that the grass around her cracked, she tried to recover and fell onto her bottom in the dirt. She looked up quickly, hoping the old man had not seen. When she looked, she saw the old man’s yellow eyes, looking directly into her’s.
For a moment the old man and the young girl stared at each other. The old man shouted something at her, gesturing with the spear, but the wind swept the words away before it reached her. It was most likely a formal challenge. Maybe if she did not answer him. Maybe if she ignored him, he would just . . . leave her alone.
The old man held his hands to his mouth and called out in a way the young girl understood, “Turn back at once!” he said. “You must not go near the mountain! Turn back at once, or face certain death!”
The young girl did not budge. The old man started towards her with his weapons raised. The young girl’s mind went numb with fear. She gripped the knife that hung at her elbow, then stopped. “No,” she said, “don’t be stupid. Your family doesn’t need a stupid girl. But what then?” The old man advanced at a slow march. Could she make it into the slopes before the man could catch her? Her arms were still heavy with food and water jars; could she afford to leave anything behind? She did not think so. Then what? The young girl tried to force herself to find another way, but the man picked up his pace now, and the time for deciding was over.
The young girl bolted. She ran like a fox with a tail of fire, toward the mountain at a long, evasive angle around from the old man. The old man threw vicious shouts and curses at her as she passed, held up his spear, threatening to release it on her, but she did not stop. She could not fight this stranger and she could not return home without the answer. But she could sprint like a gale wind in a storm when she needed to, and now, more than ever before, the young girl needed her swiftness to escape the old man. And she might have done so, were the old man just an old man.
This is the second part of the story sketch ‘To Save a Mother and a Village’. I wrote this sketch today and yesterday. I hope you enjoy. If you are still interested in hearing the rest of the story, please let me know on my site or on Facebook so I can judge how to spend my practice sessions. Thank you for reading; I write for you!