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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Contest Entry · #2034259
Contest entry. Trying my hand at world building

He saw it blowing in the breeze. He allowed his eyes to trail it until it snagged on the brush in the gully. He did not understand this thing. Michael looked to his left and right and silently approached the object. His mother had taught him his colors and he knew this thing to be white. He slowly circled the object as it fluttered in the hot breeze.

This thing was not from this place. He tentatively touched the object with his outstretched hand. When he moved it, he could see the large red markings on it. Mama said that there used to be places where people could learn what these symbols meant. Maybe this slippery noisy wrapping came from a settlement. Occasionally, if they listened carefully, they could hear the distant drums and would know the direction to go. The drums had been silent for a very long time. This usually meant that the settlement was moving. Traveling on foot with animal skins sewn together as foot coverings was slow and painful.

One time, he asked mama why they lost their Tribe. She just looked off in a distance and said, “Survival of the fittest does not include pregnant women.” Michael did not understand but mama would not say more. It was one of the few times Mama cried. Michael did not like to see mama cry. This would be the last time he would ask about the Tribe. Michael did not know why mama was trying to find the settlement. Maybe when they found it, he would know what a settlement was, what a drum was, and learn the messages in the drum rhythms.

Michael remembered his third birthday. Mama had been watching him. He liked to show off how he could carry thing and how far he could go without getting tired. Mama said this birthday would be special for the travels would begin. They ran into encampments here and there, but the people were strange and spoke of strange things, and they would talk of strange places beyond the stars. When they started talking silly, Mama would quietly move away from the people and travel in a different direction to the sound of the drums. Michael soon learned to listen for the drums, too. When the drums grew silent, Mama and Michael would settle in for a while, or find an encampment. So many days had gone by since then he had a real home. Mama no longer tracked his birthday. Now he was six summers. Mama said he was born close to a solstice. Whatever that was. Mama knew. If he ever found a settlement that could track time again, he would have his birthday again. That’s what mama said.

Michael stopped his memories. He did not like the sadness and loneliness his memories brought. Instead, he tore the white shiny object from the brush and took it to his mother. Mama held the white flimsy sheet and nodded, and her eyes got teary again. “Thank you, Michael, for this lovely gift.”

“What is it?”

“It is called a plastic bag.”

Michael looked at it skeptically. “It’s not very strong. The skins are better for bags.”

“It’s not what you can put in it. It’s what it represents. I have seen pictures from long ago and the people put their belongings in them, like this.” Michael helped his mother put things into the gift. They had so few things. Some of their things were sticking out of the holes in the bag. “This bag means there are people close by. Come, we must try to make the settlement by nightfall.” Michael pushed the plastic bag back in the skin bag. It took many squirrels and field mice to make the bag, it took a whole deer to make his tunic and leggings, and it took a second one to make Mama’s tunic. Along the journey, there were ruins and they were able to find leggings and shirtings or dresses, but they did not last as long as the skins. Every so often mama would have to trap more animals for skins so that their clothes could be made larger.

When the bag was packed, Michael asked, “How do you know where to go?”

“You must watch the signs. Look at these branches. These are cut marks from a sharp object. An animal would not leave markings like this. Only a person who is marking a trail would cut branches like this, overturn a rock in this manner, or carve into a trunk of a tree as I have shown you. Remember the stories. There was a time when one your age did not have to know these things. But it is not that way now. You must pay attention and learn as much as you can. It is better to know the teachings of the aged ones, you never know when you will have to use the information.” Mama had been pointing at the various things as she spoke. She stopped now, and lowered her head.

Michael tried to ask her a question, but Mama put her finger to her lips and Michael remained silent and listened with her. He could hear it, too. The low buzz of many voices. Mama motioned him to climb the buttress to their left so that they could get a better view. Michael climbed as quickly as his six-year-old body would allow. Mama was much farther ahead. She was very strong and smart.

Mama reached the top of the rubble and looked down on the settlement. She was very watchful. Michael caught up in time to see mama turn her back and cry. This was not good. “Don’t cry, Mama. I’ll take care of you.”

Mama laughed and shook her head. “No, Michael, I’m happy. This is our Tribe. We found our Tribe.” She pointed to the various people that she remembered.

Michael looked down on the clan and nodded. He tried to understand what he was seeing. These acted differently than those at the encampments.

Mama motioned Michael along the ledge and found a spot in front of the shiny colors. “Michael, long ago this would have been a very beautiful building. This colored glass was highly prized. We should take some of this as tribute when we seek to rejoin the settlement.”

“I want the blue.”

Michael and his mother carefully removed the stained glass from the decaying casement and moved down on the rubble on the village side.

“Mama, what’s tribute?”

“Just an offering to mark the passage from one age to the next, overcoming an obstacle, making a request for inclusion.”

“What’s inclusion?”

“Being a part of something.”

“Oh. I don’t want inclusion.”

“We have been alone for too long. It is easier to survive with others than by ourselves.”

“Will this be like the camps? What if they don’t include us?”

“The camps were for the nomads. This is a settlement. This is different. Your father will just have to make up the tribute if the sacred glass is not enough. ”

Michael absorbed that statement. “Which one was father?”

“The fool with the shiny hat.”

“Why did my father leave us?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think he will pay the tribute?”

“Oh, he’ll pay. That much is sure. He will pay. I will name the tribute. He will pay or he will be set apart. That’s all you need to know.”

Michael watched as his mother walked tall and proud. “Give me your hand, son.” Michael did not like the way mama clinched his hand. It hurt, but he dare not complain. He had to be watchful when entering an unknown and scary place. His unease increased as he watched the villagers stop their daily routines to watch them approach. He saw the whispered speculations begin. He did not understand who they were or what they were doing. As they drew closer, Michael’s attention was attracted to the mournful moan coming from a creature standing nearby. “Mama, what is that?”

“I do not know. I have never seen that kind of animal before.”

“What’s it doing?”

“I do not know. The thing around its neck is called a harness.”

“Why is it dragging that thing in the ground?”

“I do not know. We have much to learn.”

The man who had been following the animal, left his place and approached Michael and his mother. “Name’s Seamus. What be your business here?”

Mama drew up to her full six foot height. “I am Althea, daughter of Tomas, holder of the sacred challis.”

Michael interrupted the conversation, “What’s that?”

“That be an oxen.”

“What’s that?”

“That be a plow shear.”

“What’s this?”

“This be a field. I’m a farmer. I tend the crops for the village.”

Michael nodded. “Can I be a farmer, too?”

Seamus chuckled. “I reckon so. Do you have a tribute that you can offer Clan Council?”

Michael nodded. “Mama doesn’t like the dad I got. Will you be my dad?”

Michael looked first at Seamus who bowed his head to hide a smile and then Michael looked at mama and saw her cheeks get red. Her eyes were closed and her fists were clinched. Michael surmised that he would “get it” pretty soon. “Mama, I’ll be good, I promise.”

Seamus was kind when he asked, “Who be your kin? And how did you get separated?”

Michael moved from foot to foot and tugged at his hair while mama told their story to Seamus. He could tell when Mama was agitated because her grip on his hand would get tighter every time she spit out his father’s name. It was taking a mighty long time to get to the village. Mama was real good about walking and talking, until Seamus introduced himself; now she won’t move and she won’t quit talking.

[word count: 1634]

2nd place "I'll Give You a Sentence Contest March 2015
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