Posted by: spuddreams | December 23, 2012

My Merry Christmas Gift to You~

Sorry I’ve been so quiet on the blog lately.  I have been working away on my writing though and I thought I’d share a bit of the first draft of a young adult dystopian novel that’s occupying most of my time these days.  The first draft is nearly done, which for me probably means a few more months of work.  Unfortunately, I’m not one to crank out the pages too quick, but I am persistent.  I hope you enjoy it and you’ll forgive any typos I may have missed.  Have a happy, peaceful holiday season.  I wish you only good things in the coming year! 

 

VESSEL

Prologue

The sun exploded on April 18, 2112 – a Class X solar storm the likes of which humankind had never seen. 

They had nineteen minutes.

Nineteen minutes until the geomagnetic wave washed over the Earth, frying every electrical device created by humans, blacking out entire continents, every satellite in their sky. 

Nineteen minutes to say goodbye to the world they knew forever, to prepare for a new Earth, a new Sun.

All digital data was lost, all the knowledge of the centuries past, gone in an instant.  Unable to feed themselves without technology, humans began to die of starvation and disease.  At first thousands, then millions, and finally, billions died.  The survivors fought amongst themselves for the scraps until there were almost none of them left.

But, as always, life finds a way…

Chapter 1

 

Year 2165

            Master Dine’s kick sent me sprawling into the wall.  There was a bloom of pain in my shoulder.  That was nothing new, but my hijab slipped, dangerously close to falling off.  I grasped at the awkward headgear, a giant tent Master required me to wear over my head to hide my ugliness.

            No one must see, was all I could think.

            “It’s too hot, you stupid chit,” Master Dine yelled.

            At seventeen, I was officially a woman and had been for awhile, but no one gave a slave girl that recognition.

            “Now look what you’ve done,” he said.  The clay teapot I had been pouring water over Master’s feet with lay shattered on the floor. “Clean it up, chit.”

            I silently seethed at him as I collected the pieces.  I wasn’t chit. I was Alana, name no one called me.  Name I’d given myself. I cursed him under my hibja, something he would never see behind the dark, black drapes that shrouded me from everyone.  I prayed Mother Sun would do terrible things to him, something that didn’t make me feel any better.

            “When you’re done with that, go help Master Tow.  He’s expecting you.”

            “But your bath?”

            “I’ll do it myself,” Master Dine spat at me, as if he didn’t trust me, as if I hadn’t been washing his feet every morning since I was two.

            Master Dine was old, nearly forty, one of the oldest men in our village, too mean to just die of flew fever like most old men.  He had caught it once or twice, but it only seemed to make him more determined to live.

            “Yes, Master,” I whispered and ducked out of the room with the remains of the teapot.  I threw them in the garbage pit behind the house as I left for Master Tow’s.  I would have to make a new one later.  I wondered when I would find the time to gather the clay from the riverbank that was a fair walk from here.  Where was here?  Master Dine’s village Roma.  It was not my home, even though it was all I’d ever known. 

            Master Dine reminded me constantly I was not of this place – my eyes too almond-shaped, my hair too black, my skin too yellow to be from Roma.  It didn’t seem to stop him from slinking into my room in the darkness to have his way with me because he could.  I was his, bought and paid for from by own parents in a far away place, he always said.  Even then he made me cover my face.  Even in the dark.  I closed my eyes anyway.  Maybe if I couldn’t see Master Dine, his lazy eye and his crooked teeth, maybe he would cease to exist.  Please Mother Sun, make it so.

 

I walked down the dirty footpath toward Roma’s center market square, past the mud and stone houses, scraped together with whatever the inhabitants could find.  It was early yet, fog still clung to the base of the mountains and dropped off the new leaves.  Winter was breaking at last.  Mother Sun had saved us again, but we always knew she could break us if she wanted to.

I didn’t mind wearing the hijab so much when the weather was cool or misty like this morning.  It trapped my own warm breath around me like a cocoon.  It was awkward for doing chores outside though.  Master Dine kept me primarily for house chores although I was allowed to shop on market day and he occasionally lent me to Master Tow, like today.  Tow had no wives and probably needed his house cleaned.

Master Tow was a young man, in his twenties, still undecided on a wife.  Suitable women were rare in Roma, so he was faced with the prospect of waiting until certain girls came of age or traveling to the next province for a wife.  The expense of a wife was more than Tow really wanted, so he borrowed me from time to time.  It was an arrangement he had with Dine, made mostly possible by Dine’s first wife, Mistress Shel.  Shel hated my position in her house as a sort of third wife, a standing I could never truly attain, even if I wanted to.  It was Shel who disfigured me years ago.  It hadn’t stopped Dine’s visits to me, just made him more discrete.

Master Tow chopped wood in the small yard next to his house, his clothes littered with fine shavings of fir, making him smell better than usual.  He was stripped to the waist, his pale chest glistening with sweat, even in the morning cold.  I stopped and waited.  I could never address anyone without first being addressed myself.  I learned very young.

Master Tow continued his work, perhaps enjoying the fact that I was his audience.  He often teased me, even though he had no way of knowing my expression under my protective tent.  I think he was quite proud of his own blond hair that fell to his shoulders.  Taunting all the unsuitable women in town seemed to please him tremendously.  And so I stood perfectly still, watching the breeze blow the fabric in front of my face until he finally spoke.

“Hello, chit,” he said, taking a break from his chopping.

“Master Dine said you were expecting me.”

“So I am.”  Tow breathed heavy, his ribs showing under his creamy skin with each exhale.  He dropped his hatchet in the dirt at his feet and held up two fingers that beaconed me to follow him behind his house.  I hesitated.  Wasn’t I doing housework?  What did Tow have in store for me?

“C’mon, chit!  Haven’t got until sundown,” he called, his tone good natured as always.

I couldn’t shake the feeling he was playing a trick on me, but I followed him down the hill behind his house, through a thicket of small aspen just beginning to break bud.  I soon saw it was a shortcut he used to reach the square, rather than taking the main path that switch backed down the mountain.  Easy for him, the trees snagged the fabric of my hijab, causing me to struggle through.

“Come on!” his voice urged.  I wasn’t sure, but I think I heard him muttering under his breath about my ridiculous garb.  None of the slaves wore what I wore.  I stood out wherever I went, a black ghost in a crowd of humans.  Everyone knew it was my punishment for tempting Dine.  That’s what Shel told them and most believed it.

I did my best to keep up with Tow.  Once out of the shrubs, it was easier to match his pace.  It was clear he was heading for the crumbling castle on the edge of Roma, perched on a precipice over a wide green valley.  Eons ago, before the Great Death that wiped out billions, some strange unknown race had built castles all across this region.  Most were rubble now.

No one lived there now, but the people of Roma sometimes stored things in some of the rooms, or held meetings there.  Windows long gone, the arches still stood in places, the stone thick with moss and lichens, silently feasting on the remains of  the beast.  It was a forgotten place, somewhere I rarely went because I was not involved in public affairs.  As Tow and I got close, I could hear the sound of someone singing a sad melody in a cool, clear voice.  Even the birds in the trees were drawn to it, flitting away only when we came near.

As I followed Tow into the ruins, down a stone stairway littered with last winter’s dead leaves, close to the voice, my fears melted away and curiosity overcame me.  Tow couldn’t walk fast enough for me now.  Who was it? And why were they here?  The singing suddenly stopped.

Deep inside the castle now where little sunshine could penetrate, Tow stopped at an old door with a small slit for a tiny window.  A boy’s face, not much older than mine, with dark hair and eyes like mine, peered out of the opening.

“You can’t keep us in here,” the boy said, his voice angry.

“Don’t worry.  It won’t be long before the authorities come for you.  A week at the most,” said Tow.  He turned to me.  “These two were caught last night stealing.  You need to feed them at least once a day, no more.  Just enough to keep them alive for their trial.”

“Trial?” I asked.

“The Reticents have been summoned.  They’ll send someone to pick them up.”

“But what do I feed them, Master Tow?” 

Everyone’s winter stores were running low and few spring crops had been harvested yet.  Master Dine would not allow me to use his food for such a purpose.

“Hog feed will do.”

“Hog feed?” shouted the prisoner.  “We’re not animals!”  I flinched and back away from him.

“Never you mind that, chit. Just do as you’re told.  Put the food in here,” Master Tow said point to a small slot near the floor with the toe of his boot.  “Don’t open the door, no matter what.”

“Yes, Master Tow.”

“Any questions?”

“Have they been fed today?”

“No.  Better get to work.”

Master Tow turned and bounded up the stairs.  I stood motionless for a moment, watching the black-eyed boy watching me.  I had never seen anyone like me before.  He looked hard at the hijab like he could see me underneath.

“Do you have any water?” he asked in an accent I didn’t recognize.  “He’s very weak.”

The prisoner backed away from the door so I could creep up and peer inside.  The oldest man I’d ever seen, maybe fifty years or more, lay on the floor.  He groaned as the boy knelt down and touched his arm.

“I’m here,” he said to the old man.  Before I knew it, I had loosened the water bag I kept tied to my hip under my garb and pushed it through the hole in the wall toward them.

“Take this.  I’ll be back,” I whispered before hurrying to find food.

 

Normally I fed the hogs caysha roots I dug in the forest.  A person could eat them and survive, but they weren’t kind to the stomach.  There were a last resort, eaten only when all else was gone.  I had eaten them myself when the winters were hard and Master Dine saved all his food for his family.  A slave wasn’t supposed to forage for their own food.  It was a sign a family wasn’t wealthy enough to support them, but Dine looked the other way quite often.  He allowed me to find other means of sustenance when times called for it, which was more often than not.  The less of his food I ate, the more wealthy he appeared.

I walked as quickly as I could without attracting attention to a meadow below the castle where the caysha was starting to bloom, blue lilies on tall stems.  I dug a few roots to satisfy Master Tow, but I had no intention of feeding them to the prisoners.  I dropped them in my basket and slung it over my shoulder, heading for the river.  Checking my traps, I found I had snared a rabbit and smiled for the first time that day.  Not that anyone knew or cared.  I spent my days alone in a tent made for one, seldom speaking to anyone.  It was all I had ever known, but something in this boy’s eyes reached out to me behind the curtain.  I wasn’t going to feed him hog feed.  It was a decision that risked a beating, but it wouldn’t mean my death.  I wouldn’t have feared death anyway.

 

     It was an hour by the time I returned to the ruined castle dungeon with food, water and fuel, nearly mid-day now.  The prisoners made no sound.  I realized I had been hoping to hear his song again, the way I longed for the lark song after winter.  Like a mouse cleaning up crumbs, I silently cleared away the leaves in a corner and built a cooking fire.  The smell of roasting meat brought the boy’s face to the hole in the door once more.

“You’re torturing me,” he complained, although his lips smiled.

“It won’t be much longer,” I said, crossing the room to the door between us. “I brought more water.  Give me the water bag and I’ll refill it.”  He scrambled to retrieve the bag and return it to me.

“How is he?” I asked, looking at the impossibly old man.

“Better.  Some real food will do him good.”  I handed the boy some jake nuts through the slot in the wall.

“Chew these.  They’ll help keep the food down.”  He shoved the handful into his mouth.

“Save one for him,” I said, pointing to the old man.  The boy chewed hard, but managed to spit out one nut for his friend.  He went over and knelt by the the man again, shook his arm.

“Kinder? Wake up.  It’s dinner time.”  The old man sat up with the boy’s help, leaning against the stone wall.

“Eat this,” he said, giving him the nut. 

I refilled the water and retrieved the rabbit from the spit on the fire.  It was just starting to burn, the grease glistening on the meat.  Too big to fit through the slot, I tore the rabbit into pieces and slipped them into the cell.  The boy snatched it from my fingers and rushed it to the old man, who suddenly came alive, devouring it.  The boy returned and snagged a second piece for himself, ignoring me as he inhaled his food.  I waited by the slot with the rest of the rabbit, holding it until they were ready for it, which wasn’t long.  The sounds of eating, chewing and licking made me hungry, but I didn’t eat any.  The rabbit would have been my lunch, but I would eat wild carrots instead today.

I gave them the remains of the rabbit and returned to the corner to put out my fire.  Master Tow must not know I had cooked, so I hid my hearth as best I could with damp leaves and rubble and turned to go.

“Wait,” called the boy.  “What’s your name?”

The words I’d never heard directed at me, the words I dreamt of every night had come form his lips.  Was he speaking to me?  Of course he was.  There was no one else there.

“Is it chit?”

“No.  I am Alana.”  I had never told anyone the name I chose for myself.  It felt good to say it out loud.

“Thank you, Alana.  I’m Recks and this is Kinder.  We’re grateful for your kindness.  May Mother Sun shine on you.”

I think I stopped breathing for a moment.  No one had ever blessed me before.  It just wasn’t done.  I waited as if the sky might fall down.  There was nothing but the sound of Kinder sucking the marrow from his rabbit bones.

“Is something wrong?” asked Recks.

“No,” I said. “I should go.” I got up to leave and remembered the bones.

“Hide the bones when you’re done.  Master Tow must not know.”

“Kinder will eat them all.”  Recks smiled at me and snickered at the thought.

“I’ll bring more tonight,” I told him.

“But Tow said once a day…”

“What Tow does not know will not trouble him.”  I hurried up the steps.

“Be careful,” warned Recks, as if he might actually have a concern for my safety.  Tears leaked from my eyes, eyes no one could see.

As I walked back to Master Dine’s house, I had an overwhelming urge to throw the hijab off and feel the sun on my shoulders.  Mother Sun could bless me too, even if she never had before.  But if I did, I knew I would never see Recks again.  Instead, I clasped my hands together under my billowy tent and squeezed my happiness between them, knowing it could escape and be gone in an instant, like mist in the sunlight, like a dream at daybreak.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: