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author: hazard_us ([livejournal.com profile] hazard_us)
email: scorpio_kaur [at] yahoo.com



That summer, the last summer, the gods fed the hungry sun all too well, and she grew in the sky until she ate the clouds and licked at the horizon. That is what the older ones told us, the ones who made sure my brother and I were fed.

That summer my mother and father argued too loud and too often. Their words were hotter than the air outside, and many times, my brother and I fled the house with scorched ears.

So we wore as few clothes as would make us decent and ran barefoot in grass that was brown and stung the soft spots between our toes. The dirt on the roads would rise up on the wind and give us warm embraces, so that when we bathed in the river, the water around us was the color of blood and looked like our skin was come off. We lived in the dry ditches and yellowed fields until nightfall and then put ourselves to bed. It was a good summer to share with my brother.

Until one night, when mother and father's words had burned too much, and we would not go inside. They did not know they had an uprising on their hands; they did not know that we had sworn we would never return.

We stole from the pantry, though there wasn't much to steal; I took a dull knife from the kitchen cupboard because that was the only one I was allowed to use without someone to watch. We wore two blankets around our shoulders like feathered capes and flew into the woods and the night.

We went straight to the dry banks of the pond that had disappeared weeks ago and made a nest of our stolen blankets. The air laid upon us like a second flannel blanket, and we said goodnight to the moon and stars and slept.

It was the owl's call that woke us. My brother's hand sought mine, while my hand sought the knife at my side. The call came again, and my brother shivered beside me.

The song started. The voice was harsh and broken, and the words were unrecognizable. And I knew what it was. The old ones had told us many times before of the owl-witches.

The song ended, and his voice tore through the heavy air. "Little children in the woods. Little children all alone."

My brother was not shaking now, but his fingers were squeezing mine too hard. The knife would do us no good, and I prayed to the Moon above us to keep us safe from the owl-witch that was stalking the edge of our pond. I told my brother to run.

We acted wrongly. Be braves, we are told, but we were only children. We ran in fear and the branches caught our arms and legs to hold us. He did not fly after us. He did not have to hurry. He walked, and with each step I felt my heart pound harder and faster, till I hoped it would burst from the pain. The Moon did not hear that prayer either.

He found us. He held us in too strong arms and laughed. Did you know you can still hurt someone very much with a dull knife? I remember my brother screaming, and I screamed and cried and swore at the Moon hanging uselessly in the haze above us.

Then the long, hot night ended.

"Stand up, child. Stand up and face me."

I stood up, for the owl-witch had taught me that if I did not obey, I would be hurt or my brother would be broken into smaller pieces.

But I was not in the woods, or anywhere else I knew. A woman stood before me, wearing clothes that would make the fanciest dancer jealous. Her skin was red, not like mine, but a shimmering red that moved like a mirage over a hot road.

"You called to my sister. She is quite useless." Her hair licked around her shoulders, and her laugh crackled in her throat. "Do you know that she once had the vanity to clothe herself in dew? And she invited all the others to view her in her beautiful new clothes. She did not invite me, though. She was quite angry when I dropped by, and all her clothes disappeared."

She tilted her head, like a bird, and I flinched, remembering another bird. She did not notice, and asked, "Why did you call to my sister, child? What made you yell so loud that you woke me up before dawn?"

I looked her in the face, and she saw the marks he had left in my eyes, in my heart.

"Oh, child." She touched me with warm fingers, and I could hear sadness in her crackling voice. "You should not have called to my sister. He lives in her night; she will not help you against one of her own, no matter how hateful he is in her sight."

I wiped the shameful tears from my eyes. "Then who will help me?"

"It depends on the help you want. Your brother is beyond me, across the milk river, but I can help you destroy the thing that did this to you both." She crouched to look me in the eye. Her breath smelled of burning leaves. "But my help comes with a price. You will lose much."

My brother was the only thing I had, and I believed then that I had nothing to lose. "I will do anything."

She was not exactly pleased. "You're a silly child, and your elders have taught you nothing worthwhile." The woman stood up and smoothed her skin dress impatiently. "But no one will ever say of you that you are a coward. And if I help you, you will mind me. Do you understand?"

I nodded. She leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek, and it burned.

Then people were shouting and hands were reaching for me. It was noon. I was in the forest and through all that I had lost, I was found.

It has been a long year, and my loneliness has burned more every morning I wake alone. But there have been no tears, just like there has been no snow in winter, no rain in spring.

My parents are gone. My mother drove into a tree; my father left on a bus. I take care of myself, though the elders watch me out of the corner of their wrinkled eyes. They've seen the scar and caught me staring at the sun at noon. They have warned me that I will go blind if I keep staring at her. I haven’t. I won’t. I never will. She won’t let me.

And today, while I watched her move, she told me that you would be here.

I came while you slept today. I watched you in that nest of yours, made of old clothes and empty beer cans. It would have been easy to kill you when you were helpless under her light, but she had promised me that it wouldn’t be easy. She wanted you to see how weak power based on reflection and shadow really is.

After we are done, she wants to meet you. She wants to thank the ashes of what is left of you for bringing me to her.

But before that, it is my turn. It is my turn to watch you pray to the useless Moon, while she hangs in the haze above you and ignores your screams and cries. For you see, this nest, this copse, your grass, this whole forest is dry - and I have traded my dull knife for flint and steel.

It is time for your long hot night.

the end
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