Author Topic: Lost Shadows - Chapter 1  (Read 192 times)

Offline David Allman

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Lost Shadows - Chapter 1
« on: October 21, 2020, 05:02:34 PM »

A massive logjam on the Chassezac River in present-day southern France burst in 3992BC.

Fawn usually rose before dawn to meet her friends by the fire. Her little group of four was responsible for stoking the fire-pit to rouse it, too. She would wake up and walk straight out to the fire-pit because she wore the same clothes to eat, sleep and live in. Except sandals. Her sandals were only for doing chores that required foraging on unfamiliar ground.

Once the sun was up, Fawn could see all the round mud huts with their reed roofs, spreading from the central gathering place in front of the fire-pit. It would take all her fingers and toes to count them. Standing at the fire-pit, Fawn could hear the adults wake with sounds of the aches and “the troubles of old people”.

After a communal firstmeal, most of the men left for the fields to sow, weed, water, break ground, harvest or grind grain or to hunt or fish while the rest tended the goats and pigs corralled behind their protective palisade. Half the women, their infants strapped to their chests, left for the fields to do whatever they needed to do during a particular season as the rest of the women tended to domestic chores. The older children stayed in the village to manage the babies while the younger children trailed either their fathers or mothers to train in the ways of hunting, farming, harvesting or shepherding. The regular rhythms of her village pleased her.

Fawn pulled another couple of gooseberries from among the bush’s many thorns and plopped them into her basket. Gooseberries… everyone in the village eats them, but no one has learned how to grow them from seed, she mused. Gooseberry picking on the hill above the village was tedious labor, but with lots of honey, it made for decent sustenance. She looked over the bush at Keenan, quietly picking, too. Keenan was the tallest and at sixteen, the oldest in the group. And wisest, thought Fawn. And best looking. I love that fox fur vest of his and how he keeps his hair trimmed just off his shoulders. Fawn felt herself blush. He enjoys letting girls feel his vest—to brag, I suppose. But his leggings and sandals are the same as the other boys, so I don’t care. She returned to her picking.

Gathering fruits and nuts for the village meals was her morning chore, and it was always pleasant enough. Well, pleasant enough on most days, but right now, it was another wet, dreary day. She and her three friends needed to go out as soon as the rain stopped so they could forage, but it seemed to her the rain never stopped. By fullday, it finally slowed to a sprinkle, so they decided to go, just to be doing something and to be together. Fawn didn’t mind being wet or standing in mud if it meant getting to spend time with her friends. She turned to look at Ouzel and Oakwood as they picked. She was glad Ouzel was there because Ouzel was nigh her sister, both born on the same day. They considered themselves twins, but with different parents.

Thinking about the family brought tears, as memories of her mother flooded her thoughts. She searched for other ideas, for something else to occupy her mind. Forcing herself to think about the village, our home by the river’s edge, her mother used to say, brought back the tears.

The misty rain became heavier. For the past kalen, a full cycle of the moon, it’d been like this. Constant drizzles punctuated by periods of torrential rain. Fawn never knew weather like this, but then, she was only thirteen. Although, when she talked about it with her mother, her mother said she’d never seen it like this either, and her mother was twice her age.

Was twice her age. The thought brought tears again. A mere three kalen earlier, Fawn talked to her mother. Now her mother was dead. Fawn knelt by her mother’s side, wiped the sweat off her brow and held her while she coughed uncontrollably. She nursed her until her dying breath.

“Fawn,” said Ouzel as she ran over to her. Fawn felt her warm embrace but said nothing. Both girls, soaking wet, clung to each other and cried. “I know, I know,” said Ouzel, patting and rubbing Fawn’s back. “When my mother died, Father let your mother be my mother. She was a mother to me and that makes us twins.”

Fawn looked into Ouzel’s eyes, trying to give a response, but could only nod. She smiled until she got her voice back, then said, “We look like sisters because we both have wet, stringy hair and smelly rain-soaked deer hide clinging to our thighs.”

Ouzel grabbed two fur tassels on either side of her vest and did a mocking dance.

Fawn and Ouzel dressed as alike as they could manage. They wore the same deer hide vests with multiple squirrel and hare tassels attached to allow for the most bounce and shimmy as they walked. They talked about tassels on numerous occasions. We have to keep the boys interested, the girls reasoned. They decorated each other’s hair with twine and twigs. Their skirts were deerskin and adorned with symbols burned into the hide.

But still, the girls weren’t similar. Fawn, already stretched to her adult height, had straw-colored hair, a faint spray of freckles and a wide-mouthed grin. Shortest of the four, Ouzel had permanent red cheeks, straight brown hair with bangs arched over big round eyes.

Keenan and Oakwood noticed the girls clinging to each other and stopped picking gooseberries at the first opportunity. But they were somber, too. They had just lost the leader of their village, Sparrow, Fawn’s mother. She’d been the village leader since they were children.

The rain beat harder and the teens ran for cover. They squatted under an oak to wait for the storm to pass. It was nice that the rain kept everything green, but this was too much. This amount of rain was unusual for any time of the year, but particularly now, since summer had begun. It never rains in the summer. Fawn waited until the clouds lightened. Now, this isn’t too bad. Maybe the sun will come out. She gave a reassuring glance at her friends, then stood. “Come on, we should go back down to the village.”

Ouzel gasped, “What’s that noise?”

Fawn froze. It was a low rumble, like the sound of a mighty herd of deer. No, a more massive beast, she thought. This is a herd of animals I don’t recognize. Do I hear trees cracking? She felt the earth quiver and slapped Keenan’s arm. “Lead us home!” she yelled and all four sprinted.

Keenan led the way down the path as the thundering hooves shook their surroundings, echoing off the hills. He looked back. “Hurry!”

Looking forward, he yelled, “Stop.” He turned around and grabbed Fawn by the arm. “Back up the hill. Move!”

The village wasn't visible from the top of the hill, though it was only a short run through the tall scrubs. They could see the river running beside the hill on one side, then the river splashed against the towering cliffs on the opposite bank from the village. The rock cliffs forced the river in a vast arc, almost circling the village, then the river became visible again on the other side of the hill as it flowed away.

Fawn looked upstream as a mountainous cloud of mist wound its way toward them, following the river’s curves. An avalanche of rolling, tumbling mounds of slate gray mud roared down the riverbed, filling it to overflowing and ripping away at the hillside. A dirty torrent of water careened through the valley. It pounded against the tall rock cliffs that forced it to curve. The ground shook. Looking down the side of the hill, she could see the river rushing toward her, choked with uprooted trees, a tangle of bushes and floundering animals. Everything bumping against each other, snaking its way downstream. The slithering beast briefly disappeared as it swept over the village, returning into view on the other side of the hill as it foamed and frothed past on its deadly rampage.

“Our village!” Fawn screamed. She rushed down the hill but near the bottom she had to stop. There was a horrible roaring and muddy water filled the pathway and surrounding woods. Boulders thudded against trees. She thought she saw an arm or a leg surface briefly. She wasn’t sure. Animals vanished. The muddy river captured everything and churned it to nothingness in its wrath. It was liquid chaos. Nothing could stand in its way. Debris blocked her path. What path? Now she was climbing over rocks. Up and over splintered trees. Making her way farther down. She forgot about her friends, closed her ears to Keenan’s cries of, “Wait for us, Fawn. Wait.”

When she reached the spelt fields, she stopped. She stood at the edge of the highest field, now covered by a jumble of downed trees moving in unison with the current. Only the towering cliff banks on the opposite side of the river remained. There was no longer a village, just a roiling mass of debris. It looked the same from the field where she stood to where the river’s edge had been, then all the way across to the cliffs on the opposite side. Not one marker remained of where her village had stood for generations. Just a mass of grayish liquid, oozing, crawling past her.

Fawn could hear her three friends trying to catch up with her and could tell they hadn’t seen anything yet. When they stopped beside her, they took their first look at what Fawn saw.

They paused, then split up to run along the edge of the mud-line, desperate for any glimmer of life. Clambering over debris as they ran this way, then over rocks and trees running that way. It was a grim scene with no sign of survivors. When they were completely drained, they came back together. It was plain there was no one or no thing left.

Exhausted, Ouzel fainted. Oakwood broke her fall and let her slip gently to the ground without taking his eyes off the scene.

“Mother!” choked Oakwood. “Where’s my mother? Where is anyone?”

Fawn looked at her friends as they surveyed the devastation, but her eyes went back to the muddy river every time she tried to look away.

“I’m glad my mother is long gone,” said Keenan. Fawn heard him gasp, then felt him move behind her and put his arms on her shoulders. “Your mother was gone just a few kalen ago. I’m sorry, I only meant I’m glad my mother didn’t go through this horror.”

Fawn raised her hand and touched the back of her fingers to his lips. “No,” she said, still staring at the mud. “I know.”

Ouzel’s moan broke Fawn’s concentration and the boys helped her up. “Oh, Oakwood,” Ouzel said, “You’ve lost your mother.”

The rain stopped abruptly as if the gods decided not to keep adding to their misery. The sun tried to burn through the clouds but never managed to shine. The group sat in a circle and talking about things that made them teary-eyed. The boys sat with their legs drawn up, their arms resting on their knees, looking across the mud. Occasionally, one of them would point a finger at something they saw and speculated with the girls on what it might be. The girls sat cross-legged, facing each other, holding hands.

“What would you do if you were sitting in your hut and a great wash of mud came flooding over you?”

Keenan shuttered at Oakwood’s question. “I don’t think I’d feel anything. It’s over so quickly. I hope so, anyway.”

“I’d thrash about and try to claw my way over to the trees.” No one responded to Oakwood while he demonstrated his actions.

Speculation and remorse continued through the afternoon, no one caring to go back up the hill.

Near dusk, Oakwood said, “Is anyone else hungry?”

Before getting a reply, he and Keenan were on their feet. The boys disappeared. Returning in the dwindling light, both still glowed with sweat from their ordeal. Oakwood said, “We couldn’t find anything. All the animals were buried in the mud or have run away.”

“We should find a place to sleep and be ready for nightfall,” said Keenan, and both girls got up. The girls tried to get the mud off their face, arms and legs, but they gave up with little improvement. They followed the boys to the top of the hill and decided it was safest to sleep in the old oak tree that had sheltered them earlier. The boys instructed the girls on how to pick a suitable branch for a sleep-place, gleaned from their fathers’ training on stalking and hunting.

The girls climbed into the tree and each found a semi-comfortable branch. Oakwood followed, but Keenan watched everyone from the ground.

“Aren’t you coming?” asked Fawn.

“No, I’m comfortable down here,” Keenan answered. Fawn watched him sit, put a hastily fashioned walking stick across his lap and lean against the trunk. She screwed up her face and turned to Oakwood and whispered, “What’s wrong with Keenan?”

“Afraid of heights,” he muttered and turned his head. That shut off the conversation, but Fawn felt there was more to know. I never knew that. Our leader is afraid of something?

The following morning, there was no rain and for the first time in days, the clouds drifted away and the sun shone. Fawn closed her eyes, took a deep breath and turned her face to the sky, Ah, sunshine at last, she thought.

After a while, they made their way down to the mud-line again. After sitting a while, Fawn said, “We never found something to eat.”

Keenan pulled the arrows out of his quiver and felt around the bottom. He pulled out two flint pieces and handed them to Fawn. “You start a fire, we’ll be back with food. There’s nothing close by to eat. We’ll have to go hunt farther away.”

“Maybe we’ll bring back a hare. A fat one.” Oakwood said to Ouzel before racing up the hill behind Keenan. The boys climbed the hill and walked toward the garrigue, leaving the girls to pick up the gooseberries they’d dropped in the melee.

 Oakwood and Keenan were headed for the meadow since it was the next most familiar place. In the meadow, the boys hoped to gather nuts or enough wild grain for the girls to make porridge. It was summer, so all the goats had been corralled below the wheat fields and swept away.

Fawn gathered a few sticks she thought were dry enough to make kindling. “Come on, Ouzel, you’re not much use trailing after me. Go that way and find some moss. Everything is soaked, so look in hollow trees for a squirrel's nest.” Fawn gave her a gentle shove in the opposite direction. “We’re going to survive. Go.”

The boys returned with some strawberry tree fruit, several handfuls of spelt and some early ripened Cicer beans they gathered in their quivers. The girls hadn’t found any dry moss or enough twigs to start a fire.

Oakwood brought back a fistful of lavender, “This is for you. I know you love lavender and you must be tired of looking at mud,” he said to Ouzel. That earned him a grateful hug.

The teens gathered under the oak to eat. Fawn picked at the bitter strawberries and the grains of spelt, softened by the rain. The beans were indigestible and would have to wait until they could be thoroughly cooked. The teens talked after the meal until the conversations died. Climbing into their nests, they made themselves as comfortable as possible. Fawn, arms crossed, wedged her body between two stable branches and stared up at the stars. Do we just keep going down to look at the mud? What do we do? Why does it matter? She buried her face in her cupped hands and wept as a gentle sleep crept along the ground and made its way up among the leaves.

Offline kelleykellimorris

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Re: Lost Shadows - Chapter 1
« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2020, 11:54:11 PM »
Perfect, I see