Nathaniel Thornton thought he had found a haven.
But, as he tried — and failed — to wriggle free of the pillory, it occurred to him that he’d been wrong. The post wobbled when he fought against his shackles, but the trap would not break. The wooden framework, into which they’d locked his head and hands, remained steadfast and shut. At least no sharp blade hovered above the stocks, ready to guillotine him. Although he’d later reflect that decapitation would have been a preferable fate.
“Now, now, Nathaniel.” Heledd Cadigan, dressed in a white robe, tutted. She walked around the front of the pillory. A crown of flowers adorned her head. It wove through the Scandanavian braids of her platinum blonde hair. The creases of her face reflected her authority over the other girls. The sparkle of her crystal eyes glinted, clear and aquatic and mad. She smiled, a grin stretched across, lips pressed tight. “No need for aggression, now. We’re far past that.”
Nathaniel thought he’d seen the worst in people. He thought that if he acted in a kind and caring manner — his heart on his sleeve — others would follow suit. Others would respect and treat him with kindness. He thought that you’d only reap what you’ve sown. He’d never sown anything like this.
But, he realised, he’d made a mistake on every account. The darkness within the souls of people had no end — it plunged on forever, pitch-black. Other people wouldn’t follow his example, they’d only use his gentleness as a weapon against him. And, at last, there is no karma. Good things happen to wicked folk. Bad things happen to good people. There is no order or system. Shit happens.
“Let me go!”
Heledd tilted her head back and laughed her insanities to the sky above. The sunlight fell upon her, golden and soft. On the walls of the small courtyard, lush green vines crept their way up the stone. The windows all boarded up. The ones of the building opposite barricaded from the outside. A thick metal chain locked the door in place. “Why on Earth would I do that? It’s destiny that you’re here, Nathaniel. Do you know what your name means? Hm?”
He thrashed within the shut holes of the pillory. Wood scraped skin. Splinters deposited, scratches left to bleed. “You’re insane! Let me outta this thing!”
“It means—” she said without reply “—Gift of God.” Heledd stepped forward and cradled his bound head. If he’d been a more savage man, he’d have tried to bite her. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Even now, with the wooden boards locked into place. She crooned to him. “And that’s what you are, Nathaniel. A gift of God. You see, he has a plan for us all. And this is his plan for you. For us to let you go…” She shook her head. “Well, that would go against God, wouldn’t it?”
“Stop this!” Nathaniel’s voice cracked. “Stop this now!” It commanded none of the authority he wished to embody. It came out thin and reedy — the whine of a prepubescent boy. Not an insistence. A weak-willed plea.
“Oh, how you’d like that. To spit in the face of Mother Nature. You men are all the same. All you do is take and destroy. Rape and pillage. Burn and raze and scar. This blessing she’s laid upon the world.” Heledd grimaced. “The thing you call a virus, a disease. It’s her reckoning, don’t you see that? Mankind evolves and usurps nature’s throne. Says it’s his rightful spot.” Heledd spat on the floor. The rest of the girls — all younger — did the same.
“You’re insane!” Nothing more than a pitiful croak. The skin around his wrists and neck now red and raw. The blood trickled down his arms and his back and his face. Hot and wet and wrong.
“But Mother Nature has a trick up her sleeve. She has her reckoning. You call this blessing HuLa. Hmph. Such a human perspective! To name this most wondrous thing after ourselves. Human lyssavirus?” Heledd shook her head. “No. This is Mother Nature’s tool for rebalancing. And we are here—” she gestured to the girls “—to ensure that her tool gets put to use!” They all wore white, with various flowers and leaves stuck in their hair. “To make sure that you don’t evade her wrath, to stop you from spitting in the face of the divine!” She dropped her voice down a register: “I must insist.”
All the moisture evaporated from his mouth. The blood drained from his face. Ice rippled through every vein. No words came out, only a dry groan. Nathaniel’s eyes watered and his vision blurred. Under different circumstances, he’d have shamed himself for the tears.
In the background, two of the girls unlocked the chains from the door. Behind these, a pair — more robust than the others, arms roped with muscles — held sticks. Hooped lassos dangled from the ends. Two more flanked, spears at the ready. The metal chain clinked to the floor.
A flurry of movement.
Snarls and growls.
Clicks and howls.
Grunts and shouts from the girls. One of those with more authority barked orders to the others.
Heledd stood aside, to clear a path from the opened door to the pillory. Nathaniel got a good look at this reckoning.
And started scream.
The girls brought forward a female rager, held in place by the lassos from either side, hoops around her neck. Those who had a grip on her had faces of pure concentration. Jaws clenched. Eyes squinted. Muscles tensed. Tendons strained.
The rager wore what must have once been a white gown. Now, brown-red blood splotches stained the material. Flowers protruded from her messed-up hair at wild angles. Had she been one of them before HuLa? Or had they dressed her up post-infection? The thought seemed insane.
Her eyes stretched wide, bloodshot. Her gaze fixated upon him — right in her line of sight. She twitched. Pink foam frothed at the corners of her mouth. It dribbled down her chin and wet the collar of her dress. Unintelligible shrieks jumped from her throat in fits and bursts. Her joints cracked as she staggered down the path towards him.
Nathaniel screamed and tried to back away. But, of course, he couldn’t. He shredded his skin against the rough-hewn wood. Half-strangled himself against the lock around his neck. The boards creaked and groaned, but they did not give way.
Heledd sighed and gazed upon the rager. Her countenance indicated peace and tranquillity. “For too long has womankind been forced to subjugate and serve. All for the petty crime of a bite from an apple. Well, no longer. The second great sin of our species has been committed, this by man. By his greed, by his ego, by his arrogance. The earth bleeds, and we with it. If the second great sin has been committed, then this plague is surely the second great cleansing. Mother Nature must purge the poison from her veins. We are the Daughters of the Earth.”
All the other girls repeated this last line as the rager drew ever closer.
“We are the Daughters of the Earth.”
This is part of my project (novella?) for April’s Camp NaNo. The plan is 30 short stories, 30 characters, 30,000 words. Give or take. All set in the same city. All focused on the same event.
This is actually #17 in the project. I also submitted part #1 to the monthly #BlogBattle, and parts #3 and #10 to Reedsy.