Ok so since I really don’t have time for Nano this year, but I’m very disappointed about that, I’ve decided that during the month of Nov, I’m going to do mini-chapters for Flash instead that are pieces of the story I had hoped to write for Nano.
This one follows immediately on Knowing -- my second flash fiction attempt.
Enjoy! And as always, comments very welcome!
. . .
The Next Step
Jezina lay where she had fallen. Frozen. Afraid even to breath. She had no idea if she'd been seen or heard, and she promised herself that if she was discovered she would not scream. She would not have that be the last thing Denaf and her friends in the village ever heard from her.
A hand clamped tightly over her mouth causing an instinctive primal fight reaction, but the one holding her was stronger. "Jezi, quit it!" the voice hissed. The combination of her nickname and the fact that her attacker apparently didn't want to be heard either was sufficient to break through Jezina's blind panic. The hand over her face softened when she stopped struggling. "When I let you go, slide backwards twenty feet silently. There's a log there you should be able to fit in. Once there, stay completely still until the forest comes to life again, then count to two thousand. If all sounds as it should crawl towards the moon until you reach the edge of the trees, then run until daylight."
Jezina turned to look at the woman she'd always considered a mentor. Her eyes conveyed both her panic and her gratitude. "Go," Elder Kesa whispered. "Live well." the standard parting took on new meaning this night as Kesa turned her back on Jezina, calling to the others as she approached them, "I don't know what you heard. Whatever it was is long gone now." Jezina used the sound of her voice as cover to slide to the recommended hiding spot.
She focused on her breathing. In and out as quietly as possible, but the pounding of her heart sounded like an off-beat drummer. Entirely too loud and too fast; she was sure they'd be able to hear it. And so she let her mind drift. Trying to think of happy and relaxing times -- playing with Denaf as a child, or learning to pick herbs with Elder Kesa. And yet each memory brought her right back to the present as her entire history was wrapped up in the people who would, given the chance, ensure she had no future.
A foot stepped right in front of her log. She held her breath and closed her eyes. If I can't see you, you can't see me -- a child's way of viewing the universe, but in Jezina's terror she wouldn’t risk that whoever it was would sense they were being watched. She waited until the foot moved away, only seconds but time felt interminable. She exhaled slowly, as quietly as possible. She could hear voices -- it would seem they were dividing up the body of the kelah. With a sickening heart, Jezina realized what the "sacred meat" was at the Kreis festivals. A celebration of life, giving thanks to Aliah any time a kelah visited. Jezina's body wanted to wretch violently, but survival instinct kept her still and silent.
The elders left with the body of the traveler whose only crime had been to cross the wall. None of their conversation had lead Jezina to think they suspected there was another in the woods that night. That one of their own had crossed the wall. But the forest remained eerily silent and remembering Kesa's instructions, Jezina remained hidden. Sure enough, several minutes later Jezina heard a leaf crunch on the nearby trail. Somebody following behind, she knew not why. She did not even want to know why.
Before too long, night sounds returned to the forest. A hoot of an owl in the distance, the scurry of tiny feet through the underbrush, the occasional bird sound telling Jezi that normality had returned to the night. After counting very slowly to two thousand, using the internal chant as a way to focus and stay calm, Jezina hesitantly crawled out of her log. Feeling very exposed, she froze, understanding for the first time what it meant to be a prey animal. But knowing she couldn't stay there, and recalling the explicit instruction to crawl rather than walk, Jezi slowly and painfully made her way through the night towards the moon.
It was a long crawl. The forest seemed endless and the trail non-existent. The moon had all but set when Jezina reached the edge of the forest. Her hands and arms were all cut up. Her wrists and back screaming from the unusual effort. But Jezina ignored all that and got up and ran. She knew it was only a short time before her absence would be noted and knew also that she needed to be as far away as possible when that happened.
She found herself going up a series of rolling meadows. Tricky to run in as the grass was long and tangled her already exhausted legs. Each time she crested a hill it was to reveal another one. Just one more, she told herself, forcing her legs to keep going. She only knew that she had to keep going. Where was irrelevant. The sun was rising behind her. It would be warm soon.
As she crested yet another hill she was greeted by the strangest sight. She figured quickly that it was a dwelling. But rather than being made of clay and thatch like those in her village, the material used was transparent and seemed to soak up the rising sunlight. It was strangely welcoming, but Jezina was hesitant, unsure as to whether she should approach.
The decision was made for her when the young boy ran out to the yard. He saw her and before she could react, he had alerted the others in the home. Within moments there was a woman in the yard with the boy. She was followed shortly by a man who rested his hand on her shoulder and a girl, apparently a few years older than the first child. Jezina could also see another young man, nearer her own age, behind the clear wall but though his eyes met hers, he did not deign to acknowledge her, choosing instead to turn and disappear deeper into the dwelling.
The woman called to Jezina, her words in a language Jezina had never heard, and while her tone was welcoming, Jezi was very hesitant about approaching. The woman spoke again; the words had a different sound to them but still she could not understand. Jezina held her hands out in front of her, palms forward, fingers down, in the formal greeting of a traveler. It was a sign she had never thought she'd have reason to use, and wasn't entirely convinced she'd done it right. But the girl started signing rapidly in response. Too rapidly, Jezina's basic grasp couldn't follow what she'd said. The woman seemed to realize this and spoke to the girl who then signed two simple messages slowly. Welcome. Enter.
And so with equal measure of fear and hope, Jezina crossed the transparent wall.