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Fiction Fantasy

“Blow that out! Now!” 

“But, I won’t be able to—”

“Yes, you will. Blow it out!” the boy hisses. 

The little girl blows sharply on the candle’s quivering little flame, and it turns into a puff of pale smoke in the darkness. The tip of the wick glows red for a few long seconds, then fades. 

“Come here, and keep quiet.” The boy’s voice is barely audible. The little girl with the now-dark candle comes to him with slow, careful, questing steps. When she feels his warm body with her toes, she sits, setting her candle upright on the floor between her feet and gripping it with the arches, to keep the warm wax from spilling on the floor. 

The boy scoots closer to the girl, wrapping his ragged, faded blanket around both of them like a shawl. 

“Are you warm enough, Cala?” 

“Yes, Jorinam.”

“You can use my real name. No one can hear us.” 

“Cala doesn’t feel like my real name. You’re the only one who calls me that. Everyone else calls me Verilah.”

“Cala is your name. It’s what Um and Na named you. And they named me Ladan.”

“Don't you mean Father and Mother?”

Ladan feels a pang of fear and sadness and anger as he listens to his little sister. She doesn’t even want to use the words of her own people anymore. She forgets to use his name, and doesn’t feel that hers is really hers. He can only call her Cala when they are alone together, so he reminds her every chance he gets. 

“Where are…Um and Na?” Cala ventures. 

“At home.” I hope, Ladan adds in his mind. There is no way to be sure from here.

“Do they want us to go back to them?” Cala asks. 

“Yes, of course they want us back. We’ll be taken back to Um and Na someday.” 

“Hm.” Cala has been leaning her head on Ladan’s shoulder. Now, she lifts her head and turns her face away from him. 

Ladan feels another pang of helpless distress. He doesn’t ever want to leave his sister, but he can feel her leaning away, preparing to leave him

“Do you want to hear a story before you go?” he whispers, not using any name for his sister. 

She pauses, then leans against him again. “Yes. Tell me a story, Jor—Ladan.”

He breathes in, then out halfway and freezes, looking and listening. He sees no lights or shadows moving, and hears no footsteps, or even breathing besides his sister’s. 

Ladan pulls his blanket up over their heads, and his sister rests her head on his shoulder again, putting her ear close to his mouth. It smells dusty and sweaty under the patched old blanket. The wooden floorboards are hard and cold under their skin. 

“Think of the empty mine they took us to see yesterday, and all the barren dirt we walked over.” He waits a moment, then says, “That’s not the way that land used to be.”

“Is this one of the old stories?” she breathes. It is even more important to not be overheard once they begin speaking of stories. Stories are forbidden. You do not tell stories to each other here. Only the teachers may tell stories. There will be punishment if they are caught. Some have already given up trying to tell them. But not this brother and sister. 

“No, I’m sorry, it’s not. This is a newer story. Listen carefully. This is important for you to know, and to carry on with you. Learn it so you can tell it to others.”

“I thought only the old stories were so important they needed to be remembered.” 

“No, all stories are important, but some need to be remembered a certain way because they don’t belong to any one person, but to everyone. They need to be kept the same so we can continue to learn from the same knowledge no matter how much time passes. It’s about our history being kept true.”

“Oh. Is this one a history story?” 

“Yes. But not old history, new history.”

“I’m listening.”

Ladan freezes again, listening hard, and even peeks out from under the blanket for a moment. Then he withdraws under it, like a turtle into its shell, and begins. 

“They came from across the plains into the forests and mountains where the story people lived. The story people called these new ones the hurrying people, because that was what they always appeared to be doing. They did things quickly, which was good, but they did not stop to observe before doing a thing quickly. They wanted to run where they should have been walking, in the home of another people.

“The hurrying people cut the trees from the mountains to build houses with. They did not want to live in the caves and rock houses that the story people made. The hurrying people said their houses were better, and they would build an entire city of wooden buildings on the plain. The story people were puzzled, because they did not see their homes or the hurrying people’s homes as better or worse, only different.

“More and more of the hurrying people came across the plain. They rode machines and animals that carried and dragged things to help them build their wooden city that was stretching out over the plain. They taught the story people how to ride the animals and machines, too, and how to build their wooden houses. The story people tried to teach them about the mountains and forests where they lived, but the hurrying people were too busy to listen. 

“Some of the hurrying people began to tell the story people how they needed to learn better ways. The story people did not see anything wrong with their ways. The hurrying people said they children of the story people were not learning anything important or useful in the mountains and forests, and must come to the wooden cities to learn like the children of the hurrying people. 

“The story people did not want to give up their children.

“The hurrying people said that according to their own laws, they now owned this land, and could do what they pleased. 

“The children of the story people were taken away from them, to the wooden cities. The hurrying people dug mines in the mountains to search for things hidden deep in the stone, and forced the story people to find more once it became dangerous.

“None of this was good, but now I will tell you the most terrible thing the hurrying people did: 

“They silenced the stories of the story people. They sent the oldest men and women of the story people into the mines first, and many died. The few who were left were hidden away in the mountain caves. Then the next generation was forced into labor and death. 

“And this is why we tell the stories,” the boy murmurs into his sister’s ear. “We are the story people, and the stories must be carried on. Remember the stories of our people.”

“Pinna,” the girl whispers back, the word of their people meaning “From now until no one can speak.”

May 18, 2024 03:52

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Thank you for reading. Critiques, feedback, and comments are greatly appreciated. “Hiareth” is a Welsh word that expresses an idea of longing for home, homesickness, nostalgia, and perhaps a desire for things that never were or no longer are.


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