Word Count 500
One Small Step
By Sharon Collins
Standing on the edge of Judgement, for that is what this cliff-edge is called, her prehensile toes curl over the rim. Her body fights exhaustion while her brain, uncomfortably large in its sloping brain-case, fights frustration. For countless generations this cliff-edge has been where guilt is decided and punishment delivered. The accused stand on Judgement for three moonrises. The watchers rotating through the hours, are also required to stand. Victims, when the crime is not victimless, are allowed to crouch and watch as well. On this third night, the entire clan crouches in condemnation as the Headsman has argued all are victims of her crime. The witnesses know the guilty are always weak and when sleep loosens their knots of protest, they fall into Justice, as that is what the abyss is called. The innocent stay strong; their knots never loosen; they stand and walk into the Fourth Sunrise.
She is so close to the Fourth Sunrise. Already its pearlescence warms the East reminding her of the evidence against her. Scattered at her feet are beautiful shells, perfect in their half-wholeness, not shattered as tradition demands. Suddenly the wounded pad of her thumb throbs; she licks the ragged cut still seeping and remembers…
Four days ago as the tide receded, she collected clams with the woman. Sitting on the hardpan, they arranged their smashing stones and began the dangerous business of extracting the juicy meat. The clacking clatter of their work, reminded her of the gulls, also feasting on the beach. Watching them, she hit a large shell with a glancing blow. It exploded, a shard embedding itself in the flesh of her thumb. Nursing the wound, she witnessed a gull scoop a shell and flap back into the sky. Hovering above her, it let the shell drop. Landing with a loud crack, she watched as the shell released its lock and slowly sprung open. Seconds later, the gull swallowed its glistening bounty and scooped up another. Struck by the simplicity, she gathered several clams and climbed the steep track up the cliff side and cast them onto the hard sand at the water’s edge. By the time she climbed back down the gulls had enjoyed her efforts. All the open shells were empty. Angry, she adapted. Calling her daughter, she explained. Again, she climbed and cast. This time the reward was theirs to reap and reap they did. Her clay bowl, filled to the rim, drew envious glances. Suddenly they were all collecting, climbing, and casting. That is, all were except the Headsman’s woman. Returning to the cave, she reported. Crime was being committed; tradition was being broken. Change could not tolerated; evolution not allowed. She was accused of the greatest transgression. She had done something different.
As the sun breaks above the horizon, the Headsman approaches, hands open in welcome and holding a necklace of broken shells, symbol of acquiescence. Hers to accept. She hovers like a gull, step back into ignorance? Step forward into freedom? She steps…