Tuesday, July 27, 2010

#fridayflash 44: The Kitmvat Ritual

As we floated idly down the river, our guide pointed out the large tree-branch overhanging the river forty feet up.

"That," she told us, "is the tree that was used in the Kitmvat ritual of the original inhabitants of this space." We all obligingly looked up, none of us having the remotest idea what a Kitmvat ritual might be.

"The Kitmvat ritual," our stalwart guide illuminated us, "is a manhood ritual. Boys would climb the tree at sunset on the eve of their fifteenth year, spend the night balanced on the branch, and just as the sun crossed the horizon, would dive into the river."

We all nodded and looked suitably awed, although to be honest, it didn't seem like all that big a deal to me. Until our guide continued, "look at the water here -- it's barely deep enough for our boat. Most of you could stand in it." Suddenly the test seemed far more of a challenge. One I certainly wouldn't want to undertake.

"The night spent balanced in the tree was a test of balance, patience, alertness, and strength. The dive in the morning to courage, swiftness, and coordination. Men would be expected to hunt and fight for the tribe. These skills were mandatory and without them a man would be considered a liability -- little better than a child, with no possibility of outgrowing it. For that reason, they deemed the loss of any boy to the manhood ritual to be a blessing to the tribe. Better to lose the child, then risk the man failing at a critical moment and lose the tribe. A harsh reality, perhaps, but one they lived by."

As she wound up her story and moved on to something else, I turned to look at the branch now behind us, and could see the ghosts of children past staring at me. Two boys, twins. One hard and fit, already a man in all but ritual, excited to no longer be a child. And his brother, softer, quieter. A thinker rather than a athlete. Happy for his brother, but quite certain it would be his last night. It was midnight, but not quite dark. There was a bright moon reflecting off the river far below. The boys did not speak; it was forbidden. They listened to the night sounds and thought their own thoughts.

Their mother, home at camp, also lay awake knowing she would never see her second son again. She would be shunned too, for producing a failure, but not badly for it was already evident that one day her other son would lead as chief. She would be oblivious; no punishment induced by the tribe would be worse than the death of her son. Her boy, who saw things nobody else did. Her boy, who found the fire stones; stones that just by striking them together, could start a fire. Her boy, who changed the angle of the posts holding the tents, and stopped the tents from flooding. Her boy, who would never be a man.

In the dark before dawn, the camp awoke. Men left to observe the ritual. Women and children were not welcome.

On the tree limb, the one boy was calm. He had always known the moment his life would end, and he had accepted it. The other boy though, had been wrestling his thoughts all night. All their lives he had scorned his brother. His brother could never keep up with the boys, was next to useless with a bow or a spear, and he bitterly resented all the times he'd had to work twice as hard to protect him while still earning his own place at the top of the pack. It was time to be free of him. He held them all back. But, a tiny part of his brain twigged, he had skills. He had skills that could be of use to a hunter. He could call the animals. Hunting with him, they always found the animals faster than anybody. All assumed it was his tracking skills, and he encouraged that belief. But he knew, deep inside, that without his brother he'd be a far less successful tracker. And not only could he call them, but it was more than that. None of the others knew, but there was that day the boys had been out alone. The wild boar had charged. They should both have been dead. But his brother stepped in front of him and simply stared at the monster. Astonishingly the boar stopped mid-charge, tilted his snout slightly sideways, as though considering, and then had turned and meandered away. How mad he had been when his brother had shoved him, throwing off his aim. Bringing home a boar alone would've been an unequaled feat. His brother stared at him, and his anger cooled. The boar was meant to live, and so were they. It was the only time his brother had ever argued with him -- and he did it without a word or a weapon. His brother was weak; he would never be a man. But he could still be useful to the tribe. If only they knew.

In the last second the boys looked at each other. Both thought they knew what the other was thinking. Neither did.

The light broke the horizon and they dove.

Their mother, home at camp, heard the men shouting in the distance. The anger in their voices broke through the haze of her grief. They should've been celebrating the manhood of her son. Or if the worst had happened, come back feigning gratefulness for the sake of the tribe. But anger had no part in the day's ceremony. One of the little boys who'd been spying on the ritual, another tribe tradition, raced back to the camp with the news. The stronger one dove a second before his brother, stood, and caught the other one. Both went into the water a second time, but it was enough to slow the plummet of his brother and both were alive. The men were divided -- some wanted to kill him as nature intended, others argued that if it were intended no man would've been able to interfere. Then the shouting abruptly stopped.

At the river the stronger boy faced the men he respected and feared, for the first time as one of them, and raised a hand for silence. His brother stood beside him, surprised but calm, and looked across at the men. Under his cooling gaze the men turned. Their anger still radiated, but silence reigned. Locking his gaze with the chief, his father, the new man spoke. He spoke of his brother's hidden skills; he reminded them of all his strange ways of thinking had brought; and using a logic he knew was not his own, he argued for the life of his brother. He recommended he be accepted into the tribe not as a man, a hunter, a fighter. But as an advisor, one who could see and think of things the rest of them could not, for the betterment of the tribe. He would bridge the gap between the women and the men and between the people and the animals. He could hunt, if necessary, but far more importantly he could tell them where to hunt. He could find food in bad times. He could save the tribe.

The woman at the camp plied the boys with treats to keep bringing the information back. They dared not go to the river; it was taboo. But their sources were good so by the time the men returned, they knew what had been decided.

They knew without asking what had occurred when the new man walked powerfully into camp, having proved definitively that he possessed the strength, bravery, and wisdom required to one day be chief. And they also understood the role of his brother who followed him. The first shaman.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

#friday flash 44 and WAG: Broken

Double posting this week for WAG and fridayflash. The prompt was: "This week write about something broken: toys, bones, hearts: it can be anything that just doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to any more."

Breena's Wand

The fairy's eyes widened in dismay as she looked at her wand. Broken. That was it. She was sure to be expelled. This time. How does one even break a wand? Aren't they supposed to be indestructible?

Two of the other fairies glided past. Gracefully, the way fairies are supposed to be. But the comments they made were hurtful.

"Oh dear, what have you done now?" Breena turned, knowing the voice behind her all too well. Her sister Celie. Gorgeous, graceful, magical. All the things fairies should be. She even already had glitter on her wings! Breena feared she would never earn her glitter, and Celie took every opportunity to reinforce that fear. "Have you broken your wand? I didn't even know that was possible!" Celie's voice rang loudly with false surprise. "Well just look at us girls breaking all kinds of records -- I get my glitter younger than any fairy in history, and you become the first fairy ever to break a wand." Having drawn the attention of all the fairies in hearing distance to her sister's failure, Celie turned with a musical laugh and floated away, followed as always by her flock.

Breena looked down, avoiding the eyes of those who watched with pity or superiority, and wished fervently that she could disappear into the ground. Of course if she hadn't broken her wand, she might've had a chance at making it happen. But no, if she was honest with herself, she'd never even really mastered the most basic skill of invisibility.

Breena, come see me. The voice she heard in her head was that of her queen. It was not one to be ignored.

She walked to the palace, too upset to put the effort into floating. It took her longer, but she figured that since it might be her last time it was ok to stretch it a little.

The gates opened as she approached. She thanked them automatically and continued through to the crystal palace, stopping briefly to right a little plant that had fallen.

The throne room was crowded but it fell silent as she entered. Word had spread, the way it will, and everybody wanted to see what would happen.

"Bree," the gentle whisper had her raising her eyes briefly, "it'll be ok," Elvina told her. Elvina was the only friend Breena had. She had spent hours trying to help her learn the most basic magic, and when she was around the other fairies were less cruel; Elvina was powerful enough that she could befriend whom she wished. But even her presence wasn't enough to lift the weight from Breena's heart.

She forced herself to float, it would've been rude to walk in the presence of the queen, and made her way up the aisle. At the queen's throne she bowed her head and waited to be addressed as she'd been taught. The silence stretched on. Breena was tempted to risk a glance just to check that she was really there, but before she could do it and get in even more trouble, the queen spoke.

"What is it you want to do most?" the queen asked. Breena looked up at her puzzled, her fears temporarily allayed by the unexpected question. The queen did not elaborate and Breena took her time considering the answer. Her immediate response was that she wanted to be allowed to stay. But she knew the queen already knew that, and it was never a good idea to insult the queen's intelligence or waste her time. So she thought before speaking.

"I want to be a good fairy. I want to help people," she stated. And quickly dropped her eyes again as the crowd started tittering. Helping people was not something fairies were supposed to aspire to.

Silence fell, and when Breena risked a sideways glance, all the fairies were gone. Only she and Elvina remained in the presence of the queen.

Breena, look at me. The voice was in her head again. When she looked up, the queen smiled -- a powerful sight, and one rarely seen. "You're not going to be expelled," she told the fairy out loud, "but we do have to do something about this. Give me your wand." Even from the queen, and even with a broken wand, this was an exceptional order. To possess a fairy's wand was to control them; giving it up was almost unheard of and asking for it a line never crossed. Breena felt Elvina's presence behind her, silently supporting and encouraging. And she gave her wand to her queen.

Thank you little one. That shows a great deal of trust. Breena's eyes remained fixed on her wand. It was though somebody had borrowed an arm or a leg; it was physically painful to be so far from it, and very scary. "Now let's just see if I can mend this," and the queen did something Breena had never seen before. She very carefully removed a strand of glitter-covered gold from her wing. Only the fairy queen had gold in her wings; that was how one became queen. A fairy queen earned her gold after earning her glitter, but how was a closely guarded secret evidently known only by those who had done it.

The queen held the two pieces of the broken wand together and wrapped the golden strand around it multiple times. In the end it looked like a wand wearing a really thick belt in the middle. Then, with a tap of the queen's wand, the belt disappeared and Breena's wand appeared healed. It floated back into Breena's waiting hand, and her eyes widened as she held it and felt the power flow through. She looked at the queen, amazed. "It's stronger."

"Often things that have been broken and survived are. Use it well," the queen told her. And with a nod, Breena was dismissed.


Friday, July 9, 2010

#FridayFlash 43: Would you have popped the bubble?

As the first of the large drops hit her she rolled her eyes. She'd been completely oblivious, walking along in her own little world; she hadn't even noticed the ominous black clouds taking over the sky. She should've checked before she left home. Or at very least, paid attention while she was walking. But she hadn't, and so she'd be soaked in seconds, and it was her own fault.

And because she knew better, she figured she had no right to whine -- even to herself. Besides, the weather suited her mood. So she returned to her daydream in which she'd been able to say everything she wanted to her obnoxious coworker, fire the useless employee, and generally run things the way she wanted to. The way she knew she could.

If only. The rain stopped as abruptly as it began, and Amy couldn't help but be awed at the sight of the rainbow left behind. Did wishes made on rainbows come true? No, that was shooting stars. Rainbows had gold at the end. Although in this case, that'd probably have the same effect, Amy mused. Unfortunately the end of the rainbow was well out of reach. That pot of gold was safe from all but the birds -- or perhaps a strategically flown plane.

Amy walked a little faster towards home, shivering slightly at the damp despite the warmth outside. She found herself paying far more attention as she walked, now that she'd burned off her original anger. After the storm, the world had taken on an eerie orange glow -- very much like you might see at sunset on the ocean, but it was hours from sunset and farther still to the nearest ocean. The world seemed very still. She could hear the buzz of running air conditioners, and the odd bird that ventured to break the post-storm silence, but there was a lack of people or movement. Even the leaves hung still, as though exhausted from the storm. No cars drove by. No kids played in the yards. Basketball nets hung empty and bikes lay forgotten on their sides.

Feeling suddenly anxious, for no reason she could describe, Amy broke into a jog chiding herself all the way for her inexplicable behaviour, but unwilling to let rationality override her instincts. Seeing her home she added extra speed, a true run now, and nearly tripped over the box by the front door. But the feeling of being watched, of being followed, was too intense; her curiosity couldn't overcome it, so Amy darted in and locked the door behind her.

Her heart thudding she stood quietly and listened to her house. Her cat greeted her with a purr and a meow -- it was time for his dinner. Everything was as it should be; she sensed nothing amiss. Even still, while mocking herself every step of the way for her childish fear, she went around turning on every light and checking every closet.

She fed the cat, poured a glass of wine, and settled down in front of the tv. Gradually she relaxed; slowly her senses returned to normal. And eventually she remembered the box on the porch. Funny, she hadn't ordered anything.

Retrieving the standard cardboard package she was puzzled to note that it had no mailing address. It was light, felt as though it could be empty, and written on top in childish scrawl was one word: Surprise!

Amy's vivid imagination immediately flipped through the range of possibilities: from flowers from an unknown admirer to a terrorist attack she thought of and rejected dozens of ideas in the second she stood there. The rational side of her brain took over control and it told her to bring the box inside and open it.

Inside was a lone square of bubble wrap - a perfect grid of nine unpopped bubbles. Bemused by the strange package, she followed the childish urge and popped two. Then she noticed the note lining the bottom of the now empty box:
The storm holds power, and the rainbow more.
We watched, and we heard.
All that you dream can be yours.
If only you have the courage to pop all the bubbles.

She peered at the bubble wrap, half relieved and half disappointed she hadn't popped them all before seeing the note. While the imaginative side of her mind hummed in the background, insisting on reminding her of the eerie light, the run home and the reason for it, the rational side of her mind quickly realized it had to be a psyc project of Pete’s.

How often had he lectured her that "most people are by nature cautious; they fear change and won't risk the unknown" implying that she too belonged in that group, while she prided herself on her adventurous nature. Hadn't she left school in third year to travel Africa, alone? Who does that? And left her cushy office job with benefits to work with kids in dangerous neighbourhoods? She was all about change and the unknown. And yet she hesitated. Over something that couldn't possibly be real. He would never let her forget it. And she would resent him for proving something about herself she didn't care to know. And it would destroy the friendship of a lifetime. So clearly, she had to pop the remaining bubbles.

Yet she hesitated.

Finally, annoyed with herself for the amount of courage it actually took, she rolled the bubble wrap into a column, took a deep breath, and with a quick twist popped all the bubbles together.

And absolutely nothing happened.

A quick laugh escaped her, born of relief more than humour; she booted up the computer to send a brief note to Pete telling him his little experiment had failed and headed to sleep. It was early still, but she'd had enough of that day.

The next morning, Amy smiled to herself as she drove to work, amused in the light of a new day at all that had transpired. Too little sleep, too much caffeine, and serious frustration led to all sorts of weird and unusual things.

"Amy, I need to talk to you about the basketball project," her boss said as soon as she walked in the door. The basketball project? But that had been shot down by the Obnoxious One. She wasn't about to turn down the opportunity though. Her day continued without a break -- everybody seemed to want her opinion on something, and both the Obnoxious One and the Useless One were conspicuously absent -- making her life significantly easier.

Exhausted at the end of the day, before leaving she signed in to her personal email to see a succinct response from Pete: "I have no idea what you're talking about."

As Amy considered the significance of that in light of the day's activities, a small part of her, the rational part, couldn't help but wish she'd been daydreaming of winning the lottery when the storm had hit.

Friday, July 2, 2010

#FridayFlash 42: Truth or Fiction?

Do you create your stories or do they come to you? Let me know what you think :)


I stared at the blank page having absolutely no idea what my character would do next. I was enjoying the story, as it came to me, and like my readers I looked forward to reading the next chapter. The problem was, whatever part of my brain it was where the stories lived, was silent. I had not the slightest idea how the psychological thriller would end and I knew from bitter experience that if I tried to make it up, to "just write something" as my oh-so-helpful spouse suggested, it would be garbage. Completely unworth reading and therefore completely unworth writing.

I was contemplating the silence in my mind when it was shattered by the scream of a passing police car. Only the car didn't pass -- it stopped, right outside my house. Followed in quick succession by several others.

Interested now, I left my rather hopeless task to stare unabashedly out the front window at the scene unfolding. There was no stealth or subtlety to the affront, but somehow there was finesse, as a significant number of cops -- my mind saw dozens, but in reality it was probably less than ten, stormed the house.

I continued to stare out the window, knowing it was none of my business and that I should look away and discretely pretend nothing interesting was going on, but deciding I didn't particularly care about that page of the etiquette book.

Quickly it was over. Or seemed to be anyways. And when two officers crossed the street and approached my house, I met them at the door. No point in making them wait when I knew they knew I'd been watching.

They quickly ascertained that I knew nothing of use -- I almost wished I did, just so I could be important -- if only for a moment. Although the rational side of me realized that wasn't the kind of importance I really wanted.

I continued to watch the scene through my window as nothing much happened -- but really, what else did I have to do?

It was when I saw them bring the body bag out that I knew. I knew exactly what my character had been up to and how the next chapter would go. It would be brilliant. My editor would be thrilled. And I would be forever grateful that the cops has already decided that I knew nothing of interest.