Aboard a Portuguese Caravel
In the North Atlantic, Somewhere
Between Bermuda and Hispaniola
No light entered the hold except when four of the white men brought wooden buckets of thin, mealy mush. Three of them carried two buckets apiece; the fourth carried a whip and a pistol. The shaft of light stabbed the eyes of the frightened men and women of the Yoruba huddled below. Only if the door was left open a crack, enough for the white men to see, and only if it were left open long enough, did Abeni’s eyes adjust enough to make out the shapes of the others around her.
By the second week aboard, the manacle on the left ankle of the young teenage girl next to Abeni had cut into her flesh, and within three more days it had become infected. Monifa’s complaints of terrible itching told Abeni that the wound was festering. After the first week, Monifa cried that her leg throbbed constantly. She begged Abeni to heal her. In the dim light at feeding time, Abeni saw that the maggots were at work. If they could keep the wound clear of the dead tissue, gangrene might not set in. But soon Abeni knew that the infection had entered the girl’s blood before the maggots had done their work. The child shivered with her fever, moaning as the manacle moved against tender, grossly swollen flesh.
Abeni did not have her fetishes, but she chanted almost constantly, beseeching the gods to return them home. She also chanted and prayed for the child’s ankle to heal. She could tell that the girl was not convinced that Abeni had been initiated as a Queen Mother; she knew she appeared much too young for the rites. The elders chose her because she knew the lore and had found frequent favor with the gods. Nevertheless, she wondered if the child’s increasing infection was due to the honor being given her prematurely.
When the sailors came into the hold with their buckets of slop, Abeni leaned over to the girl, her large body already much smaller than three weeks earlier when they had been herded into the hold of the caravel. “Wake, child. Food.”
Abeni helped the girl into a sitting position, moving her left leg carefully, stopping when Monifa gasped in pain. The men gave each person a bowl of the watery mush, waited for them to consume it, the took back the bowl for the next serving for the next person. Monifa collapsed woozily against Abeni when the reek of the foreign men came close. The sailor offered the bowl and Monifa took it weakly and brought it to her lips. Abeni silently urged the girl had to swallow this meal. Nothing else would be given until the next day. She saw the child take the vile mush into her mouth, but she only held it there. Swallow, Abeni willed the girl silently. Swallow!
With an impatient snarl, the man holding the bucket struck the side of the child’s face. Mush went up her nose and the edges of the wooden bowl bit painfully into her cheeks. Helpless to control it any longer, the girl vomited yellow bile, spewing into the bowl, onto the legs of the man, and onto her own naked skin.
“Bah!” Disgusted, the crewman slapped the bowl away from her and dipped it into the bucket. He offered it to Abeni. Abeni did not reach for it. The sailor thrust the bowl at the woman again, but again Abeni ignored it. She turned instead to the sick girl next to her and resumed chanting in a soft sing-song.
Shrugging, the sailor offered the bowl to Bambidele, the man chained next to Abeni. Bambidele also refused the vomit-tainted mush. The sailor thrust it toward him again, but the man turned his head.
With a roar of Portuguese fury, the sailor stomped back to the ladder and out of the hold. His companions laughed, and continued serving the other captives. No other bowls were offered to the sick girl, Abeni, or Bambidele.
In the dark again, Abeni continued chanting until Monifa fell into a restless, fevered sleep. The Yoruba shaman rocked in place, murmuring under her breath.
“Curse them, and I will see that they cannot deliver us,” Bambidele murmured.
At first, Abeni was not certain what she had heard. “Curse them?”
“You are Queen Mother. You are familiar with Voudon?”
“It is forbidden. Voudon is not Yoruba.”
“But you know how to use it.” He said it quietly, firmly. He did not ask; he stated it as a fact.
“Yes,” said Abeni after a few moments.
“I shall take them. Give me three days.”
He could not have seen her nod in the pitch blackness, but she knew he understood her silent assent.
The next day Monifa’s fever was worse. She lay shivering, incoherent. Abeni could tell that the girl’s infection had poisoned her system; without healing herbs and a healing ritual, she would be lost, if she were not too far gone already. Abeni also knew that Bambidele had worked at his manacle all night, and that he was almost free of it. He, too, had lost flesh and no small amount of blood in his effort to free himself.
When the Portugese sailors came to distribute the daily meal, Bambidele hid his manacled foot. The light was dim enough to prevent the sailors from seeing the bloodstains on the wooden planking of the hold, but he did not risk them seeing that he was working to free himself.
They did not bother to feed Monifa. Instead, they called for another of their companions, who examined her. They conferred in their strange language, shrugged, and left.
“She needs healing!” Abeni hissed in frustration to Bambidele.
“She will not need healing for long,” he murmured back.
It took Bambidele four days. He freed himself the second day, but spent the rest of that day and the next freeing the other captives, whispering to them his plan. Abeni was relieved when the distribution of food on the third day went without incident. Bambidele refused to release the fevered teenage girl from her manacle, though. “She lies where they can see her, and they will know if she is freed,” he explained.
The fourth day’s distribution of mush also went without incident. Monifa was unconscious, and Abeni could tell from her breathing that she would die soon. The girl’s entire leg was swollen and blistered, and the swelling had begun to move into her groin and hips. From experience, Abeni knew that once it reached her torso, the girl’s suffering would end.
Hours passed. The noises above them stilled except for occasional footsteps and even less frequent calls among the sailors. It was time.
Bambidele rose, and in the darkness whispered for the others to take the irons that had held them. Some of the captives had rubbed the edges of the irons against other irons, sharpening them for better use as weapons. Bambidele gathered them around him. First he listened silently at the door for several moments, then he opened it.
Moonlight had never shone so brightly.
Abeni remained in the hold with Monifa and with the other ill captives while the healthiest of the Yoruba men and women did their work. Bambidele returned for her in less time than she expected. He freed Monifa at last, and carrying her small body in his arms he led Abeni out onto the deck.
The night was impossibly bright. The ship’s crew, about 40 men, had been stripped as naked as the Yoruba captives. Several had obvious broken bones; even more had bleeding gashes. Abeni stared at them coldly, seeing the stark fear that had replaced their cruelty.
None of the captives spoke the language of the sailors. Bambidele placed the dying girl gently on the deck. Behind Abeni the other ill and injured captives straggled from the hold to stand in a ring behind her and Bambidele.
Bambidele turned to Abeni. “Curse them,” he said.
Abeni had prepared herself for this moment. She raised her arms skyward and began a singsong chant. The Yoruba around her murmured uncertainly as they realized the words she sang were not Yoruban, but from the darker Voudon practice. Bambidele stood by silently as Abeni’s voice rose and fell in the night. Several of the Portuguese began moaning. Good, thought Abeni as she continued the ritual chant. They should be afraid.
Her first chant ended and Abeni turned to Bambidele. He handed her a wickedly curved long knife. Ritually, she cut herself on both wrists, the blood flowing freely down to cover the hilt. She approached the captain of the Portuguese. She cut his face on either cheek, then once across the width of his forehead. Several of the sailors sobbed aloud now.
Abeni caught the captain’s blood on the blade of the knife, then allowed it to drip into the mouth of the dying girl lying on the deck.
Several of the men propelled the four who had fed them every day to the front of the huddled group of sailors. Abeni had them face their companions across the body of the dying child, and she ritually carved each of their faces the same as the captain’s, again allowing their blood to feed the unconscious girl.
She began chanting again, this time swaying to her own music, her own blood dripping over the length of Monifa’s body. She whirled, and the captain’s throat bloomed red, his eyes wide, as he pitched forward. A Yoruban man caught his lifeless body before it fell onto Monifa, then tossed the corpse aside. One of the remaining four men lost control of his bowels and a second fell senseless to the deck. Contemptuously, Abeni slit their throats with two deft twists of her bloody wrists. She turned her attention to the two who remained.
One fell to his knees, apparently praying to whatever ineffectual gods he might have worshipped. Still chanting, Abeni dispatched him and moved to the fourth man. Her chanting increased in tempo and her pitch rose. She danced in front of him, not caring whether he could see her through the flood of blood washing into his eyes from his forehead.
A wind rose. Had she looked up, Abeni would have seen clouds obscuring the stars at a speed that defied nature. She was focused on her task and spared no time for the effects of the evil she called to this sea with the forbidden rite of Voudon. She felt the crackle of electricity in the air and knew that the gods answered her call. Her curse would be sanctioned by them.
At her direction, Bembidele again lifted the dying child into his arms. He followed Abeni among the mass of terrified sailors as she forced each to touch the girl’s eyes and mouth, and as she slashed each face in triple cuts, feeding their blood to the unconscious child. Those who resisted her received a fourth slash, across their throats, and were tossed aside. So did those who fainted or befouled themselves. Half the sailors remained.
The strength of the wind forced a few huge raindrops to slap against the faces of the Portuguese sailors. In the distance thunder and lightning clamored for attention. Satisfied with the attention of the gods, Abeni prepared for the last of the ritual. Her severed arteries still pumped blood over the hilt of the long knife and she felt herself weakening from her loss. Undaunted, her chanting grew stronger, but now she seated herself on the deck facing the remaining Portuguese. Bambidele lay Monifa’s body before her.
Abeni dreaded what she would have to do next. Steeling herself without losing the rhythm of her song, she raised the knife high above her head. Now arterial blood streamed the length of her arms, dripping onto her breasts, belly, and crossed legs.
With a final cry, she plunged the knife downward, striking Monifa’s thin chest almost exactly in the center. As the iron blade stopped the child’s heart, lightning struck a tall mast of the ship and thunder shook all of the people aboard to the core.
Abeni no longer chanted. The curse was in place, and the gods would decide fitting punishment.
One of the sailors cried out, pointing to the tall mast. The crow’s nest, in flames, crashed to the deck. More of the white men cried out. Three started for the flames but a gesture from Bambidele sent six Yoruba to stop them. “The gods have decreed it,” Bambidele said.
The wind grew to gale force, fanning the flames. Rain fell only in huge, hesitant drops, flung sideways. The sails on the ship would not be furled before the fury of this storm.
The deck burned through, and the flames fell into the hold where the Yoruba had been kept. With another gesture from Bambidele, the Yoruba men tossed the corpses of the dead sailors into the inferno below.
Then the Yoruba began sacrificing the living sailors as well.
The fire burned on below deck, but the rain finally came and extinguished the fire above. The ship slid lower and lower in the sea, until the seawater drowned the last spark of the fire.
Abeni looked at her fellow freed captives. She felt light-headed, but heard the gods clearly as they spoke to her. At their request, she instructed the Yoruba to enter the water with their legs together. The first to obey her cried out in surprise, then flipped over the side, swimming in delight in the newly becalmed sea.
Smiles and laughter from the sea prompted the others over the side in the same way. Soon nearly two hundred Yoruba swam, dove, and played in the waves delighting in their new abilities. Only Abeni and Bambidele remained aboard with Monifa’s body.
“We, too, shall join them.” Abeni told Bambidele.
“And the child?”
“The child was sacrificed to give us a new life.”
“Will she become like the rest?”
“No. The gods have decreed that she shall steer the ship beneath the waves.”
Abeni looked up. The sails still held the wind, despite the water sloshing gently over the deck. “The ship will continue to sail,” she said. “Its curse will not die.”
Bambidele was silent. Finally, he asked, “And who will encounter the curse? We shall live in the sea, giving birth to new generations of Yoruba with fish tails and gills. We are blessed by the gods, not cursed.”
Abeni nodded toward the charred hole in the deck, where seawater was beginning to find its way above the cinders. “They are cursed forever,” she said. “They, and their kind, and their kin.” Where they encounter this ship, steered by Monifa of the Yoruba, they will feel the wrath of the curse, and will share the fate of those men.”
Bambidele nodded. “But if the ship is sailing the bottom of the sea, how will anyone encounter it?”
“They will encounter it from above. When a ship casts its shadow on Monifa’s ship, Monifa will call it under the waves, just like this one is being called.”
Water nearly surrounded them on the deck. “It is our time,” Abeni said. “I am weak, and will need help.”
Bambidele stood, then stooped to pull her upright. She leaned heavily against him. He helped her to the edge of the water, then lowered her carefully over the side. He felt vitality return to her, and to confirm it she lifted her face and smiled.
“Now you,” she said as she swam a few feet away from the ship.
He carefully kept his legs together as he slid over the side. Then with a sudden laugh he flipped into the water, displaying his flukes to the disappearing stars and the lightening sky.
Midget truck drivers didn’t show up in Chigger Hollow every day. In fact, there weren’t any midgets at all in Chigger Hollow, so when one did show up it was momentous.
The semi pulled into the parking lot of the Chat ‘n’ Chew convenience store about 4:30 in the afternoon. Norma Rae started a fresh pot of coffee. Usually truck drivers could be counted on to buy a couple of cups, even if it was late in the afternoon. Hearing the water begin to drip through the grounds of the Biff Brand coffee, she perched herself back on the duct-taped vinyl stool behind the counter and went back to her True Confessions magazine.
Out of the corner of her eye Norma Rae noticed a woman coming into the store. The woman was followed by a child. Norma Rae didn’t take much notice because the State Trooper from up at Possum Grape had told her in casual conversation that women and children don’t tend to be convenience store robbers. Men were the ones to watch out for, and if a man came in alone, followed by another man, and neither one parked where she could get a description of the car or the license in case of their quick getaway after a robbery, she should take special notice and ease the handle of the shotgun close to the edge of the shelf underneath the counter.
Popping the top on another Coke Zero Norma Rae turned the page in her True Confessions. “I Was a Teenage Pasta Wrestler” looked to be an interesting article. The picture of a pretty girl with a pouty mouth, who looked for all the world like Rhonda Sue Ellis, the valedictorian of Chigger Hollow’s Class of 1995, just with blonde hair, was inset on top of a black and white photo of two women completely covered in ragu and grappling with each other to the cheers of abnormally handsome young men who hung on the perimeter of the wrestling ring.
The woman came to the counter with a large cup of coffee and a package of chewing tobacco. Without looking up, Norma Rae scanned the two items. “Four eighty-seven,” she said, holding her hand out and sneaking another look at the black and white photo. Was the woman on the left wearing a top? Was that a mushroom in the spaghetti sauce or were her nipples hard from the excitement of the contest? She took the five dollar bill from the customer and handed her a dime and three pennies. Norma Rae was well into the first paragraph of the article when someone cleared his throat.
She looked up. She didn’t remember seeing anyone come in after the woman, and she had been alone in the store. She peered over the display of breath mints and beef jerky but didn’t see anyone. She went back to True Confessions.
This time a cough made her look up. No one was standing at the pay counter, which stood as high as her ample chest when she wasn’t sitting on her stool. Norma Rae remembered everything Danny Kitchens, the State Trooper from Possum Grape, had told her and she eased the butt of the shotgun toward the edge of the shelf below the counter.
“Hello?” she asked uncertainly.
“How much for two drumsticks and half a dozen biscuits?” a man’s voice asked. Norma Rae jumped.
“Drumsticks are eighty-five cents each and biscuits are five for two dollars,” she said. It must be a short guy, because he was apparently hidden behind the tall display of Slim Jims. She moved off her stool and peered around the display. She didn’t see anyone.
“I want six biscuits, not five,” the voice said.
“Six biscuits are, um…” Norma Rae cursed herself for forgetting where the calculator was kept. She was terrible at math.
“Are they the same price whether I buy five or if I buy, say, three?” The voice seemed to be getting impatient, but Norma Rae still couldn’t figure out where its owner was standing.
“Well, no,” she replied, her tone conveying her obvious opinion of such a dumb question. “Five biscuits are two dollars. Three biscuits are less than that.”
“So are three biscuits a dollar twenty?”
“How should I know?” she snapped. She stood on the foot rest rung of her stool and leaned out over the counter, hitting her head on the cigarette display above the cash register. “Damn!”
A cup of coffee appeared at the check out counter. Norma Rae leaned out again. This time she ducked. The voice belonged to the kid. No, to the midget. The kid was a midget.
“I’ll have to ring it up to get you a total,” she said, staring at the man. Despite his stature he was the most perfect specimen of virility Norma Rae had ever seen. Muscular arms reached up to slide a package of Mentos onto the counter next to the coffee. The arms were attached to a wide chest bulging with well-chiseled pectorals, which were clad in a tight navy blue t-shirt.
Norma Rae could not help but let out a breath of amazement. “Oh, wow,” she said eloquently, her eyes wide with awe.
“What, you’ve never seen a dwarf before?” the man asked. His eyes had narrowed and his lips curled into the manliest sneer Norma Rae had seen since Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” video on MTV.
“No! Oh! I mean, I’m just surprised is all,” she managed to babble.
“Are you going to let me buy chicken and biscuits?” the Perfect Specimen demanded.
“Oh! Yeah! Um, do you want spicy or traditional southern?”
“Southern. And I want six biscuits.”
“Do you want any mashed potatoes or turnip greens with it? Bessie Maydar makes the greens and they are to die for. She mixes in just a little mustard greens and some hot sauce while they’re cooking and they come out good enough to make you feel born again without ever going to church.” Norma Rae knew she was babbling but she couldn’t stop. Now why did she tell this Perfect Specimen of Virility Bessie’s secret ingredients? Bessie had sworn her to secrecy on the back porch while they were each into their fifth margarita one night. And “born again?” Where the hell did that come from? Norma Rae was Seventh Day Adventist, and except for the occasional cuss word she was true to her faith.
“How much?” Evidently this Perfect Specimen of Virility was on a budget.
“Ninety nine cents.”
“Not a dollar?”
Norma Rae shook her head. The power of speech was rapidly exiting her brain the longer she gazed on his biceps.
“My name’s Norma Rae,” she said. Then she realized that not only had the Perfect Specimen of Virility not asked, but that he seemed surprised that she would even share the information.
“I’m Willy,” he said.
“So do you want the greens?”
“Okay, fine. Two drumsticks, six biscuits, and a side order of greens,” said Willy the Perfect Specimen of Virility.
“That’s five forty five,” said Norma Rae after punching the order into the cash register.
Willy gave her a ten dollar bill. She gave him change.
“Are you going to get my food?” Willy finally asked, and Norma Rae realized that she was still leaning across the counter staring at him.
“Oh, god!” she exclaimed, hopping down from the stool. Now she was really embarrassed. She had taken the Lord’s name in vain in front of the Perfect Specimen of Virility and she was acting like a dummy. Shit! She hurried to put the chicken and greens in a Styrofoam container, and put six biscuits in a small paper bag. She climbed back up on her stool and leaned out to hand the container and the bag across the counter and down to those wonderful waiting arms, which she could imagine wrapped around her in a bear hug so tight it would make her groan.
“Can I get anything else for you?” She asked hopefully.
“Nope.” Willy reached for the coffee and Mentos, arranged his load, and headed for the door.
“Wait!” cried Norma Rae.
The Perfect Specimen turned around.
“Come back soon,” she murmured weakly.
Willy the Perfect Specimen nodded solemnly and went out the door. Norma Rae didn’t even realize she had failed to charge him for the coffee and Mentos.
to be continued….
“Tell us the story of the Hruang, Grandmama!”
The boy’s plea made Ciannait smile. Her great-grandchildren never seemed to tire of her stories, and at every meal they asked for a favorite. Sometimes she was able to remember a new tale for them, or even to create one out of fragmented memories of the tales told to her by her own grandmother.
“The Hruang? That beast that was captured and brought into the marketplace when I was younger than Foy?” Ciannait grinned at the children, then wet a corner of her apron and wiped Foy’s face. “I don’t think you washed up properly before breakfast, young man. Did you even bathe last night?”
The eight year old boy ducked his head. “I did, but the water wasn’t wet enough to get all of the dirt off,” the child explained.
Ciannait laughed. “Minna, the boy says water isn’t wet enough to clean him,” she said to her granddaughter, who set a bowl of warm cereal on the table.
“It may not be, Grandmama. I think he paints himself with grime every day.”
“He doesn’t paint himself with it, but he does roll around in it,” remarked Nagge, Foy’s ten year old sister. She reached for the ladle and filled both her bowl and her brother’s, then sat down at the table.
Foy grinned. He picked up his spoon and began eating with enthusiasm.
Ciannait filled her own bowl, and one for Minna. Minna came back to the table with a pot of tea, pouring for all four.
“I’m going to the orchard today to help Ben,” said Minna. “Children, you’re to help Grandmama here at home after your lessons.”
“How is Hanh?” Ciannait asked. “Is she getting any better?”
“No,” answered Minna. “And Zocha won’t say so to either Ben or Hanh, but she’s completely stymied. She thinks perhaps the illness is in Hanh’s mind more than in her body.”
“An illness of the spirit,” nodded Ciannait. “ It’s rare, but not unknown.”
“What happens when your spirit gets ill?” asked Nagge.
“You die!” yelled Foy.
Nagge rolled her eyes. “No, you don’t, silly. You only die when your body dies, not when you have a spirit sickness.”
“I thought you didn’t know what happened when a spirit got ill,” her mother teased. “Didn’t you just this instant ask what happens?”
“Well, I know enough to know your body doesn’t die. What does happen?”
“Spirit sickness is very serious,” answered Ciannait. “The person with spirit sickness wants to die, but cannot. It makes the people who love her very unhappy, too.”
“Can they catch the spirit sickness?” asked the girl.
“No, child. Spirit sickness is rare. It isn’t like a cold or the seasonal ills. It happens when the spirit and the body become separate,” her great-grandmother explained.
Nagge wrinkled her nose, thinking. How does a spirit separate from a body?”
“When you die!” Foy made a choking sound and pretended to fall off his stool.
His sister rolled her eyes. “Really, Grandmama, how does it happen?”
“No one is quite sure. There used to be healers who could call the spirits back to the living bodies they had left, but anyone with that knowledge is gone now.”
“When a spirit leaves a person’s body, what happens?”
“The person gets sick, and sometimes cannot even move or talk. It depends upon how close the spirit lingers.”
“Can you see a spirit when it leaves the body?”
“You have more questions than appetite this morning, Nagge! Eat your cereal. You have lessons today and you’ll be learning about the orchard plants.” Old Ciannait rose from the table. Over her shoulder, she admonished the children,”Eat well, because you’ll get hungry talking about the food plants of the farms.”
The children grinned at each other, knowing that their grandmother would make the lesson fun.
After their lessons, the children were released to play. Their great-grandmother’s only requirement was that they bring back one piece of fresh produce from the market for each of the four people in their home, and that each had to be different. They were told to talk to the market vendors about each fruit or vegetable, and to report to her what the vendor said about it.
The children raced each other to the open market near the great wall that surrounded the city. In the shade of the north wall farmers had stalls from which they distributed their produce. Crafters such as the potters, weavers, and basket makers also maintained stalls.
Their first stop was for a peach. Both children loved the sweet, juicy fruits and even when they had not been assigned the chore, in the warm months they might find their way to Momo’s stall where he sweetest, juiciest peaches sat waiting for people to claim them.
Momo’s stall was closed when they arrived, and the bent old woman was nowhere to be seen. The stalls on either side of hers were doing a brisk business, though. Neither vendor had seen Momo and both were too busy to talk to a pair of children. Nagge and Foy visited several other stalls. Knowing that Ciannait would expect them to bring home four completely different items, they visited the root seller, the bean vendor, and the squash seller. The children were determined not to go home without peaches, and asked after old Momo at every stall. No one had seen the old lady.
“I think we should go to her house and check on her,” Nagge said after they had exhausted their search of the market for knowledge of the peach vendor.
“She’s probably in the orchard with Ben,” Foy said. He was unconcerned about Momo herself, but his mouth watered for the sweet peaches. “Maybe Mama will bring home peaches today, since she’s helping Ben, too.”
“Maybe.” Nagge’s brow furrowed. “I don’t think Momo goes to the orchard much anymore.”
Foy shrugged. “Then let’s go check on her. You want to, and you’ll keep talking about it until we do.”
Nagge grinned. “Yes, I will,” she admitted.
Momo’s apartment was east of the marketplace, down a wide street that at night was lined with the barrows of the farmers. The walls of the homes were as white as the wall that surrounded the city itself, and the staggered rooftops of the buildings rose and fell with no perceivable rhythm. Each rooftop was planted with a garden, a place for the inhabitants within to grow herbs and a few vegetables for quick harvest for their dinner tables.
Interspersed among the buildings were slim towers, some narrower than a man’s shoulders, and some with more that one peak. The towers were made of the same mud-covered stone as the walls of the dwellings, but looked like the weathered remains of brittle, leafless trees, resting for the winter even against the blue skies.
The children made their way across the city’s north side, stopping to speak to the adults who greeted them. They raced each other the last few steps to the old peach seller’s door, but the old woman’s home was shuttered and the children’s calls went unanswered.
“She must have gone to the orchard,” Foy proclaimed.
“Momo hasn’t been to the orchard this year at all,” objected Nagge.
“Where else would she be?”
“How should I know? Maybe she’s gone to visit a friend. Maybe she’s just sleeping.”
“Sleeping? In the middle of the day?” The notion of a nap was completely alien to the boy. Even if Momo were sleeping, it seemed only logical to his eight year old brain that their calls would summon her since their cries always got the attention of Grandmama, who was older than Momo. The fact that old Momo might not have Ciannait’s health would never have occurred to him.
“I think perhaps we should check on her.” Nagge’s troubled expression arrested Foy’s attention.
“You think she might really be sick?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
The pair of them looked at Momo’s door, this time with a little trepidation.
“So, open it,” urged Foy.
“Let’s call her again.” They called. Still there was no answer.
Nagge reached out and touched the door. Just as she put her hand on the handle, Momo’s voice sounded from within.
“Here, now, what’s all the racket about?” The old woman sounded gruff and hoarse. She pulled open the door and blinked in the sunlight at the two children on her stoop.”Nagge? What are you and Foy doing here? Come in, come in.” Momo left the door open and without waiting for an answer turned and shuffled back into the dark interior of her home.
The children exchanged a look, then followed.
“We looked for you in the market. We wanted peaches.” Nagge told her. Foy looked around the apartment, obviously hoping to spot unclaimed peaches lying around loose, waiting to be given to him.
“You’ll not find me at the market today,” muttered Momo. “Nor are you going to find me there tomorrow. Or ever again.”
The children looked aghast at each other. “Never again? Why not? Aren’t there any more peaches?” Foy’s high voice wavered with momentary panic.
“Of course there are peaches, silly,” Nagge said quickly. “But, Momo, why aren’t you going to be in the market?”
The old lady snorted. “Ben says he wants Hanh to take over those duties. Not that she’s likely to get her lazy backside out of bed long enough to set the peaches out for anyone to see.”
“If Hanh’s going to be in the market, what will you do?” Nagge liked visiting with Momo, and was glad the old lady was there to give children extra fruit.
“I don’t yet know. I may help with tutoring or with the creche. I may just stay here in my apartment and enjoy my peaceful old age. Hanh won’t last long. She’ll sleep in the stall, if I’m any judge.” Momo sounded disgusted with her daughter in law.
“Mama went to the orchard to help Ben today,” Foy offered. “Do you have any extra peaches here?”
Momo raised an eyebrow, twisted her mouth into a grimace. “Ben better know what he friend he has in Minna,” she said. “Here, boy. There are always peaches in this house.” She handed both children a plump, firm fruit. “Now what are you doing here and not playing somewhere?”
“Grandmama told us to find four different foods from the market,” Nagge explained between bites of the juicy, sweet fruit. “We decided one of those ought to be a peach.”
“Oh? And how will she know you found a peach at all?”
“We’ll bring one back, of course,” said the little girl. Then Nagge’s eyes widened. “Only we’ve eaten our peaches!”
Momo laughed. “So you still need a peach for Ciannait, do you?” She grinned at the children’s solemn nods. “Fortunately for you I happen to have extras. Here.”
With grateful smiles the children accepted four more peaches and tucked them into the pack with the other food from the marketplace.
“Now get on with you,” scolded Momo, and watched the children cheerfully bounce out of the apartment and into the sunny street. “Mind you, don’t get caught by the Hruang on the way home!” she called after them with a smile.
Nagge and Foy had heard the stories of the Hruang. Their great-grandmother, who was one of the oldest people in the city behind the Wall, claimed she had seen one many years ago as a child herself. It was this story Foy had begged for at breakfast.
The beast had been captured by a band of hunters, and had died in the central marketplace from the stones thrown by angry old men and women who remembered the days of terror brought by the Hruang. When she told the story the old lady described the horrific claws and fangs of the beast, its bulging muscles and its naked flesh, but at the same time her tale evoked sympathy for the beast, captured and dying alone, injured, uncomforted, never itself having done wrong to its killers.
The frightening creatures had not come close to the walled city of Gaerwyn in generations. The wall was too intimidating to them, according to Ciannait. They would never bother, or dare, come close now. According to Minna, the children’s mother, such a beast was the stuff of legend, if it had ever roamed the world at all.
“Let’s go to the orchard,” Foy suggested, his mouth once again full of peach. No one was supposed to go outside Gaerwyn’s walls except on business, and children were never to go out without their parents. Since their mother was at the orchard, though, Foy and Nagge might be able talk the adults at the gate into allowing them to pass.
The rhythmic calls and movement of the people in the market provided the children with cover to slip out the city gate. The adults nearby were engaged with their bartering and bickering, their gossip and their industry. None paid attention to the two children. Nagge and Foy walked confidently near the opening in the great white wall.
They watched the dyemakers and the threadmakers, whose stalls were near the gate. Practiced in the art of sneaking out of the gate, the children asked questions and talked with the spinners who eventually told the children to move on and stop bothering them. The timing was perfect, as far as the children were concerned. They had seen the dyers toss their dyes into the boiling pot and knew that they would be shooed away from there, too, as they dyers were busy dipping the fabrics and threads into the steaming cauldrons.
As expected, the dyemakers shouted at the children to move back as they brought bolts of plain cloth over to the big pots for dipping in the hot dye. Nagge and Foy edged around the unguarded opening in the wall, sidestepped around its corner, and once out of sight of any adults ran to the great gray boulders that served as steps down to the valley where the orchards lay below the city.
The boulders had been left there by mysterious giants of the past, in a convenient formation that allowed relatively easy passage down the steep hillside to the fertile river valley below. Small, twisted trees grew amid the granite outcroppings. The stone was worn smooth by the passage of generations of feet. It was debated among the sagamen as to whether ancient chisels actually carved either the boulder steps or the base of the great wall that surrounded Gaerwyn.
“I am the leader of the Hruang, and I demand treasure!” cried Foy, making his child’s high voice deep to growl at his sister, standing on the boulder above his sister, glaring down at her with his small fists on his hips.
“The Hruang never demanded treasure,” objected Nagge, her status as the elder making her all-knowledgeable. “They just attacked and killed people.”
The boy stuck his chin out defiantly. “Well, this time I want treasure.”
Nagge grabbed a stick fallen from a nearby scrub tree and waved it at her brother. “Never! We will fight to the death!”
Foy saw a larger stick lying half on a granite step below in, to Nagge’s left and out of her sight. He made it to the weapon just as his older sister found her way to the side of the boulder where he had jumped.
They sparred with their weapons, shouting, growling, and happily banging their sticks. Foy had the better, stronger weapon. Nagge’s scrubby stick was older and drier, and a power thwack by Foy’s fresher weapon disarmed her. She shrieked.
“Admit defeat!” roared her little brother.
“You have defeated us, oh mighty Hruang!” cried the girl, crouching and covering her head with her arms.
“You must bring me treasure or I will take it myself from every home!”
“Will you attack our people if we give it to you?”
“No. I’ll take your things and go back to the other side of the mountains.”
“Sure,” said Nagge, standing slowly and assuming the persona of the Gaerwyn City Leader. “Drop your weapons and come close, and we will give you what you ask for. You have to promise to go away forever, though.”
“Give me good treasure and I won’t have to come back.” The small Hruang-boy’s avarice gleamed in his grin.
“Oh, we’ll give you the best. We promise. But you have to leave your weapons to come get it because we’re too afraid of you otherwise.”
The boy dropped the stick he brandished as a sword and took two steps closer to where his sister spread an imaginary pile of gifts. The girl bowed low to her brother, hiding her smile. “Please, honorable Hruang, take these gifts and leave us in peace!” she cried.
Foy swaggered closer, holding out the skirt of his tunic so it could be filled with riches. Nagge described each handful of leaves, each rock, each cluster of twigs as another impossibly desirable treasure. “A crown of silver, sparkling with precious gems. An ivory hunting horn, carved with scenes from legend. A bolt of the finest cloth, worked with threads of gold. An ancient scroll containing the secrets of the ages. Rare medicinal herbs. A vial of delicate perfume, guaranteed to make even Hruang smell pleasant.” Her litany of valuables brought a superior smile to her brother’s eyes as each item weighed more heavily in the stretching fabric of his outstretched pouch.
“Take more!” pleaded the eager treasure giver, piling the small boy’s Hruang arms full of leaves and twigs to represent the choicest of plunder.
When his skinny arms were full of the promised treasure, the Nagge leaped on Foy with a leafy branch, swatting at him with it. Howling, the boy dropped the leaves and twigs and leapt toward his own discarded branch.
“You cheated!” he yelled.
“I did not! I tricked you!” his older sister retorted gleefully, swatting him with a new branch she had surreptitiously retrieved during the treasure collection process and driving him backward along the rocky path.
The boy’s battle cry was another howl of indignation. Being older and stronger, his sister was able to drive him back further, laughing as she did so. The fierce duel of the branches brought them along the path to a flat place that overlooked the valley and led to another hill. Nagge stopped her attack long enough to catch her wind, and Foy ran up the path to the top of the crest beyond.
He stood upon it, throwing out his chest like the bravest hero of battles, bellowing his outraged superiority to the empty land beyond the whipping wind and throwing wide his skinny arms. His sister laughed and jumped to her place beside him.
She struck a mocking pose with one hand on her hip and a graceful arm outstretched to accept the adoring cheers of imaginary crowds. She bowed deeply. This time her brother laughed as well. The children jumped from the rocky crag to greet the throngs of their admirers.
In sudden panic they seized each other.
To be continued…
Karyan was in a foul humor. He lagged behind the rest of the breck, muttering to himself. He knew they were going the wrong direction. Didn’t he have the best locus of them all? But no, Mauro was leader of the Keary Tynan, and if he said something was black then Mauro was determined to say it was white. If he said go east to get to the Gathering, Mauro would insist the way was southwest. Stupid Mauro.
Stupid Mauro and stupid Brenna. Had she not sided with Mauro the breck wouldn’t be wasting time. They had already traveled two hours under Mauro’s orders, and Karyan blamed Brenna as much as Mauro. Beautiful Brenna, with the laughing eyes and the perfect teeth, the raven hair that tended to slip and slide and shine in the sun…
Now he was going moony over her. She’s moony over Mauro and I’m moony over her, Karyan grumbled to himself. He was getting over his moony feelings, though, the more he saw her simper in Mauro’s shadow. Why was it that the women all thought Mauro was so great? Why did anyone think Mauro was so great, for that matter? He was muscular and handsome, sure, but he was as dumb as a rock. Mauro was only chosen Leader because he acts like he knows what he’s doing, Karyan realized. He doesn’t know any more that anyone else, and he knows less than I do about how to get to the Gathering. Stupid Mauro.
Malina and Tamal were beginning to fall behind the rest of the group, he saw. When they had slowed enough for him to meet them, he greeted them silently and waited for them to speak. The three of them kept walking, but allowed themselves to get slightly further behind.
“We should be there by now,” Tamal said at last.
“How far away do you think we are?” Tamal was attempting to get Karyan to speak against Mauro’s leadership decision, but after the argument the breck had over Karyan’s objection earlier in the day, Karyan was not feeling cooperative.
“Farther away than we were this morning,” Karyan replied.
“We think so, too,” Malina said.
“Then tell Mauro. Otherwise we’re going to be wandering in the wilderness for forty days and nights and we’ll just keep getting farther away.”
Malina twisted her mouth at his sharp tone. “We think Mauro will just change direction gradually and circle around to get to the Gathering. He won’t admit he made a mistake and turn around.”
“Maybe.” Karyan shrugged again. He hoped Mauro would be shown to be a complete fool in front of the entire breck. He hoped that by nightfall the breck was still wandering and would have to walk back an entire day to get to the Gathering. He hoped that they missed the Gathering altogether because of Mauro’s incompetence. Stupid Mauro.
“You should tell some of the others,” Malina said.
“Me? I tried to tell everyone this morning. No one listened then, including you. Why would they listen now?”
“Because my locus tells me that we’re farther away, too,” Tamal said.
“Right, well, maybe you should tell someone else, then.” Nothing would please Karyan more than to be proven right, but he wasn’t going to insist that the breck listen to him now. He was enjoying his sulk far too much for that.
“We should tell them together. Your locus is better than mine. I’m sure some of the others are also sensing the distance,” Tamal argued.
Karyan stopped. “Why should I tell anyone anything?” he demanded. “Mauro’s the leader. He knows all and sees all and hears all and locates all. I’m just a lowly Tynan, young and unproven, stumbling after my leader hoping someday to have his attention. Maybe he’ll let me repair his boots or something. They’ll need repairing after all this trekking we’re doing without reason.”
Tamal sighed and exchanged a look with Malina. “I know your feelings are hurt because of Mauro’s decision this morning, but…”
Karyan snorted in disgust.
“Really, Karyan!” Malina exclaimed. “You’re angry because of this and the fact is we need to get to the gathering. Mauro’s leading us the wrong way, and your locus is better than either mine or Tamal’s and we know it’s the wrong direction, too!”
Other members of the breck were stopping now, looking back at the discussion between the three of them.
Karyan crossed his arms. “I’ve already said what I think. Repeating it isn’t going to change the mind of the great and infallible Mauro.”
Malina put her hands on her hips. “You’re a mule!” she snapped. “You act like Mauro’s decision was a personal attack on you, and it wasn’t!”
“No, it wasn’t personal at all,” said Karyan agreeably. “When he said he wasn’t going to listen to one voice of dissent he wasn’t talking about me at all. When he said that my concerns were the ravings of a spoiled brat, he wasn’t personally attacking me at all.”
“Karyan, look, you’re acting like a child, just like this morning. You don’t want to do anything unless it’s done your way. We need to talk to Mauro and explain what we sense.” Tamal was trying to sound reasonable.
“I already did that, or did you forget? And besides, I am a child. You heard Mauro this morning.”
The rest of the breck was making its way back to where the three of them stood. Mauro was bring up the rear, the beautiful Brenna at his side.
Tamal and Malina opened the discussion to the rest of the group. A few had the grace to look uncomfortable.
“Actually, I was sort of thinking we were headed the wrong way, too,” offered Siyamak, his dark eyes looking toubled.
Karyan leaned against a boulder, his arms still crossed, still closed to the rest. He looked up, pretending to study the cloudless sky.
The other members of the breck came closer. Tamal and Malina led the discussion, and the Keary Tynan debated their location.
Abruptly, all discussion stopped. The Keary looked over Karyan’s head, their mouths collectively agape. Karyan, still closed to the breck’s discussion, noticed the shift in their attention nevertheless. He looked up, just as the two strangest Tynan he had ever seen jumped directly into the midst of the debating Keary.
“I’m lonely,” Minna admitted.
“So am I.” He didn’t look at her, but looked away, beyond the trees, down the path to the valley.
“I didn’t like living with the children’s father, but I’m still lonely for a man. Crazy, isn’t it?” Her words were thoughtful, musing. She let her sewing drop to her lap, stilling her hands. Instead of following his gaze, Minna looked the other way, down to the sparkling lake that fed the crops and watered the livestock. They were both quiet for several minutes.
“Do you know what I miss?” Minna’s voice had a dreamy quality to it.
Unnoticed by her, Ben had leaned back into the grass and was watching the clouds and they took on the colors of late afternoon. He turned his face toward her now, seeing that her chin was in her hand, her eyes glazed in her daydream. Startled by how young she looked with wisps of hair escaping her braided coil, he could only stare. In this light, her hair looked like flaming silk of scarlet, gold, even platinum. Her face, normally creased with worry and sorrow, was unlined. The angle of the sun softened her colors and melted them into swirling hues that echoed the sunset. He longed to paint her.
“I miss kissing.” Minna continued, and seemed to be only peripherally aware of Ben’s presence and completely oblivious to his attention. “I miss really, really kissing. I miss those deep, enthusiastic, passionate kisses that only new lovers kiss. I miss touching. I miss the feel of fingertips brushing against my skin. I miss kisses that take my breath away and a light touch that makes me shiver with anticipation. I miss him taking my face in his hands, looking deep into my eyes, tangling his fingers in my hair…” Her voice drifted into silence.
Ben drank in the shading, the shapes, the colors. If he never saw her like this again, if she never opened her soul this way again, he had to remember it. He had to keep this moment in his heart and his mind. He willed her to continue.
“I miss romance,” she said softly. “I miss that feeling of being desired by someone.”
Ben let out a breath, long, steady and low.
“I want passion all the time,” she continued. “I’m greedy for it. What’s so sad is that it only happens at the beginning of a relationship. Every relationship I’ve ever seen gets to the point where the passion fades, and there’s nothing there but habit, complacent routine.”
Belying his assumption that she didn’t remember he was there, she suddenly turned to him. “I want the kind of passion that happens when he comes home and I’m standing at the stove, and he comes up behind me, gently moves my hair aside and kisses me on the neck. I want to lean back against him and close my eyes and savor the feeling of being loved and wanted.”
Her breath came fast. “I want the passion that happens when I touch his shoulder as I walk past, and he reaches for me and pulls me into his lap. I want the kind of passion that happens when he says he’s going for a shower and he pulls me in with him, then we bathe each other slowly and carefully, with serious attention to every inch of skin. I want the kind of passion that happens when he wakes me in the night just because he wants to touch me, and wants me to touch him.”
Ben’s eyes widened. His lips parted.
“I want passion that stays,” Minna said fiercely. “I want passion that is just as physical as it is emotional. I want to desire, and I want to be desired. I want to feel my skin become electric under his touch, to yield to his touch, to open my heart and my soul and my body to him, to give him every drop of what I have to give. I want to trace the outline of his body and feel it respond to me. I want to watch him sleep next to me. I want to wake up because he is watching me sleep. I want to be in his heart, and I want to give him mine. I want to drink his essence and know that he drinks mine, too. I want to be his passion, and I want him to be mine.”
I was just about to leave my office for the evening and head to the Twisted Wench Daiquiri Lounge for an evening libation when I heard their voices.
“I can’t believe you did that to me!”
“I didn’t do anything to you. You did it yourself!”
“Ladies, please,” a male voice interjected. “Wench won’t like it if you are screaming at each other. Let’s just talk to her about the situation.”
Agincourt? Sir Agincourt Finsbury-Pikestaff? Was that the voice of my trusted, loyal operator of the Satellite Virgin Training Academy on the Moon? I wasn’t expecting him, and it seemed he was bringing a problem to me. Usually his assistant, Teri the Boopster, handled routine matters. This must be serious!
I opened the door to my office just as they approached. Yes, there was Agincourt. I couldn’t help but smile to see him. He’s my brother, you understand, and I adore him even if he does quaff a few too many pints now and again.
“Agi!” I exclaimed, holding my arms out for the requisite hug. Instead of the big squeeze he normally gives me, he stopped and gave me an exasperated look. I was startled, to say the least. “What seems to be the problem?” I asked, eyeing the two trainees accompanying him.
One, a tall, slim blonde, clearly had been wearing her long hair in a ponytail. That ponytail no longer looked very neat, though. It certainly wasn’t a look we encouraged out Virgins to display. Great hanks of hair stuck out at odd angles from her head, and red streaks that looked for all the world like claw marks decorated one of her cheeks.
The other, a small brunette, had high color in her cheeks and a bloody nose. A bruise on one of her upper arms was darkening before my eyes.
Agincourt was talking.
“It seems that there was a bit of an accident during the zero-G pole dance exercise,” Agincourt began. He was clearly upset and more than a bit aggravated with his two charges.
Before he could continue the brunette interrupted. “Accident! It was no accident! She pushed me!”
“I was spotting you, not pushing you!” retorted the blonde.
“Ladies, it seems we might need to calm down before we discuss it further.” One thing I had learned in my year of operating the Virgin Training School was that angry Virgins needed to be coddled and soothed. Only after tempers cooled would I be able to make sense of the situation.
I led them into my office. They were grumbling and snarling at each other. I sighed. My daiquiri and the Twisted Wench were looking like a fond dream at this point.
“Wenchy, dear, I am so very sorry to bring this situation to you,” Agincourt said as I brewed a tisane loaded with herbs of comfort and calming properties.
“Hand me that small box of valerian root?” I asked Agincourt. He passed it to me. As I added a large dose of it to the mixture, he started to tell me about the situation.
“Not yet,” I said. Let’s give the girls some tea and let’s us have something a little stronger, shall we?”
He grinned at me. “You know me well,” he chuckled. I was glad he could smile. I was beginning to wonder if this dispute wasn’t taking its toll on him. I poured us both a healthy serving of a lovely, smooth Irish Cream. We took our first sips as the kettle whistled. I poured the water over my herbal recipe and carried the pot to the conversation area of my office. One trainee sat on each sofa, glowering at the other across the gorgeous marquetry inlay of my antique Italian coffee table.
Agincourt again began to speak, but I shushed him. I poured the herbal concoction for the trainees, setting one cup before each of them.
“Drink,” I ordered.
I had them empty one cup and start on another before I let them speak. The silence was difficult at first, but finally the warm drink and its herbal contents did the trick and the two young women began to calm down. I could tell by their slower breathing and the way they sipped slowly at their second cups that my concoction was working.
“Now,” I said. “I would like to hear first from Sir Agincourt. After he tells what he understands the situation to be, you each will have a chance to add to his explanation or correct it as you see fit.” The trainees nodded.
Agincourt cleared his throat. “As you know, the trainees practice the pole dance in zero-G on the Moon. Cyndi has appointed several of the more advanced trainees as assistant instructors.”
“That’s me,” the blonde broke in.
I shot her a warning look. “Sir Agi first, then you will have a chance,” I murmured. She settled back into her plushly upholstered cushions.
“Yes, well, erm…” Agincourt took another sip of his Irish Cream. Finding a bit of determination from somewhere within his glass, he continued. “After demonstrating the move she was teaching, the assistant instructor allowed the student trainee to attempt the move. Unfortunately, the trainee wasn’t quite properly balanced …”
“I was perfectly balanced! She pushed me!” the brunette declared hotly.
“I most certainly did not,” the blonde assistant stated emphatically. “I was spotting you and attempting to adjust your balance and you fell.”
“I fell, all right! I fell right on my nose. If it swells up and no one will offer camels for me, all this training will be for nothing!” She glared across the table at her erstwhile instructor.
“Unfortunately,” Agincourt continued, “After the fall I’m afraid the two got into a bit of a fight.”
I shook my head in disbelief, wondering if “Deportment” would be yet another class we would have to add to the curriculum.
“Why in the world would a fight have ensued?” I asked. I looked at the petite brunette, who I expect swung the first claw.
“Because she pushed me!”
“I did not!”
“Ladies, ladies. Please. Agincourt, were there any witnesses?”
My gallant brother looked uncomfortable. “Well, erm, yes.”
“I was filming the class at the time. I was the one who separated them, and then, of course, got them down here to the school for you to deal with as Head Mistress. Have you any Guinness?”
The subject change was meant to distract me from the fact that a male had been watching my Virgins in training. It was meant to distract me from the fact that my brother had been watching them.
“Oh, Agi, what will I do with you?” I sighed. Both Virgins had fallen asleep by this time. Good. The valerian root worked.
Agi and I watched the video. Here it is. Tell me if you believe the trainee was pushed, or if she fell. Then, in the comments, tell me what I should do about Agi, and recommend to me suitable disciplinary measures for the fighting Virgins.
In those days, when there was no king in Israel, a certain Levite, residing in the remote parts of the hill country of Ephraim, took to himself a concubine from Bethlehem in Judah. But his concubine became angry with him and she went away to her father’s house at Bethlehem in Judah, and was there some four months. Then her husband set out after her, to speak tenderly to her and bring her back. Judges 19:1-3
“It’s Bobby Wayne!”
The shock at hearing my husband’s name was only slightly less than the shock of hearing it spoken with such pleasure by my father. Exchanging a look with Mama, I moved to the kitchen window. The familiar F-150 was indeed in the driveway, and Daddy, who had been working on his old Camaro under the shade of the live oak, was stuffing a shop rag in his hip pocket and walking toward the truck with a grin on his face.
I couldn’t believe it. Daddy knew why I had left. The meth had led Bobby to more and more erratic behavior, and by the time I was able to get the money together to get back home I was practically unable to use my left arm any more. I think Bobby had broken it at least twice, and the second time he didn’t let me go to the hospital for two weeks. They said they’d have to break it again and do surgery, and he said he didn’t have the money to pay for it, so it never did heal right. Finally it seemed like the muscles just seemed to quit working in it.
But Daddy was greeting him like a long lost son, not the abuser of his only daughter.
Bobby stayed three days. By Monday morning, Daddy had loaded my things into the bed of the pickup and told me my place was with my husband. Mama didn’t argue about it any more after Daddy popped her in the mouth Saturday afternoon. I had no choice. Bobby had been making sweet promises about how good things were going to be. I thought that if things got bad I’d just walk out again.
We were on the outskirts of the city, about an hour and a half from home, when Bobby told me he had to go see a man there for business. Since the only business Bobby ever did involved things like guns and drugs, I knew we weren’t likely to go to a good neighborhood. I was right.
We were in an area that had clearly seen better days. “Urban blight” is the euphemism for it. Porches sagged without anyone standing on them. Graffiti covered everything from the walls of the homes to the fire hydrants to the sidewalks, and I could understand none of the writing. No one ever taught me this other language or the script in which it was written.
Bobby parked on the street in front of what looked like a store front that had been converted to living quarters. Before getting out of the truck he reached under his seat and removed his pistol. He checked it to be sure it was loaded, then stuck it into his pants at the waist, covering it with his t-shirt. “Stay in the truck,” he said.
As I waited, tough looking men drove by. I saw no women. No children played outside. Finally I lay down on the seat and slept.
Bobby had been inside almost three hours when a group of men approached the truck. When they tapped on the window I sat up, confused for a moment. An ugly scar bisected the cheek of the tall man who demanded Bobby’s whereabouts through the slightly lowered window. Wordlessly, I pointed at the building. The tall man stomped off, his followers behind them. There were about ten of them.
They pounded on the door, and although they apparently talked with whomever was on the other side, I could hear nothing. I saw the angry looks on the men’s faces, though. I saw two unsheath knives. Another’s gun was poorly concealed in the waistband of his jeans. A man on the edge of that crowd leaned down and picked up a piece of pipe.
While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, a perverse lot, surrounded the house, and started pounding on the door. They said to the old man, the master of the house, “Bring out the man who came into your house that we may have intercourse with him.” And the man, master of the house, went out to them and said to them, “No, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Since this man is my guest, do not do this vile thing. Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine; let me bring them out now. Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.” – Judges 19:22-24
The door opened then, and I saw an older man holding a young girl by the arm. She couldn’t have been more than twelve or thirteen years old and she looked terrified. He shoved the child toward the crowd of men, but the tall one with the scar pushed her back inside. There was more discussion. Gesturing, and then loud voices told me that they wanted my husband, they wanted him now, and they wanted him dead.
Bobby had taken the keys with him when he went inside. I locked the doors of the truck and sat in the middle of the seat. I was afraid, but I didn’t panic until I heard the thundering demand from the tall, scarred man: “If he won’t come out here and answer us like a man, he’s a pussy. We want the pussy. If you don’t give us that pussy, we’ll take his other pussy!” He was pointing at the truck. He was pointing at me.
The men surrounded the truck. Terrified, I refused to open the doors. The man with the pipe struck the window on the passenger side. It took him several tries, but finally it shattered and he reached inside and unlocked the door. They pulled me out of the truck. At first I screamed my husband’s name. Then I simply screamed.
They more than raped me.
Every man in that crowd had his turn, and several of them had more than one turn in more than one place on my horrified body. I lost track of the number of times each took me, and the way each took me. My abdomen felt near to exploding, then was numb. Two at once, three at once, there were more than I could count. I knew I was bleeding because they pulled away from me drenched in my blood.
Apparently their access was not easy enough, because they pulled my legs apart to more easily get at me from front and back at the same time. My hips and thighs cracked audibly, and I knew I would not be walking again any time soon.
When they forced my mouth open to defile me there, too, I bit down. Mercifully I felt only the first few of their blows to my head. After that, I lost consciousness.
As morning appeared the woman came and fell down at the door of the man’s house where her master was, until it was light. In the morning her master got up, opened the doors of the house, and when he went out to go on his way there was his concubine lying at the door of the house, with her hands on the threshold. – Judges 19:26-27
“Get up. We are going.”
I lay on the pavement at the door to the house. I couldn’t answer. My jaw was probably broken, and the teeth on the left side of my mouth were gone. Painfully I lifted my head slightly and dropped it again. I could only see out of my right eye, and Bobby looked blurry even out of it.
He reached down and yanked on my arm. I screamed wordlessly. It was obviously broken and the shoulder was probably dislocated as well. My legs had no feeling in them. I couldn’t walk. Bobby dragged me whimpering to the truck and threw me in the passenger side, ignoring the fact that I was naked and the broken glass was ripping my skin to shreds.
I died on the way home.
When he had entered his house, he took a knife, and grasping his concubine he cut her into twelve pieces, limb by limb and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel. – Judges 19:29
What I found to be humorous about the whole affair was that he packaged up the parts of my body and mailed them to the men in that crowd. He also mailed a piece of me to the man in whose house he had hid. He sent my head to my parents. Daddy opened the package and vomited. I laughed.
I haunt them all. The pieces of my flesh that were sent to each man allow me to stay with him. The fact that their flesh is part of me because of that awful night allows me to stay as long as I wish. I have learned to give them boils, to call lice and fleas to their hairiest regions, to drench them in a stench so powerful none can stand near them, to afflict them with breath so fetid even their vicious dogs turn away from them. They don’t sleep at night, these twelve men who wronged me. The man whose seed created me, the man whose seed claimed me as his wife, and the ten men whose seed defiled me against my will do not sleep because of the wrongs done to me.
The thirteenth man, the one whose seed never became a part of me, is haunted by his own daughter, whose reproachful eyes remind him of the woman he sacrificed, and remind him that he nearly sacrificed her.
She prays to the bit of finger she saved from the rotting flesh that was delivered to their door by an unsuspecting postman. She prays to me to help her escape the madman she calls her father.
She will kill him soon.
I will help her.