Word count 499
The Next Step
By Sharon Collins
As my torn skin knit itself into thick, puckered seams , angry and red, the fever and the Wiseman came together to condemned me. Dancing around me as I lay on the She-Wolf’s freshly scraped hide, he tossed grave-herbs into the fire, surrounding me with choking smoke, a barrier to protect The Clan from my dark powers. In rare moments of consciousness, I learn that I am judged too dangerous to be allowed sanctuary. Once healed, I am told, I must leave.The Wiseman has spoken and The Clan has listened. He has called me a cursed thing, a creature of darkness and evil. I am no such thing; I am only a daughter lost. But, I become voiceless, my pleas fall unheard, unheeded. I am unwanted, alone. The Hunters did not speak for me though I still wear their crusty mark on my forehead. The Headsman did not speak for me in his grief over First-Wife’s Death. Child of his I might be, but child of a third wife, especially one whose dark spirit caused the death of his favorite, I do not deserve the weight of his words. None of the women have any words left; their words have dried up like blood on the edges of their hissing curses..
The Forest’s silence is a balm to my wounded ears and broken heart. Sighing, I watch the last shattered shell disappear beneath a blanket of brittle, brown needles. Rising from my knees at the foot of the rock ledge, I whisper to the pine-scented emptiness, “I am no creature of darkness… Mother is no creature of darkness,” I add as afterthought, although of that I am not truly certain. I cannot forget her amber gaze as She, It, She licked the Wolf’s lifeblood from her fangs. I cannot forget her scream as She leapt to my rescue. Yet, I cannot either, erase the Wiseman’ words. Thinking to honor and perhaps appease Her spirit, I take two pieces of dried fish from my pouch and lay them atop the buried Necklace.
Stepping out of this now sacred spot, I gather my water-skin tying it and the pouch to my belt with a precious sinew lacing. I look at my spear and fire-bowl with its ash-covered embers, still glowing, and smile a teary smile. Second-Wife has not been unkind. I am grateful. I reach for my brindled-fur cape and scream as it jerks from my fingers and growls. Everyone of Wiseman’s dark words rush through my mind in the moments it take me to realize. And then I begin to laugh. It almost hurts to laugh; it has been so long… Carefully I lift a corner of the cape and peer under. Two unblinking eyes peer back. The growling stops and a warm tongue licks my hand; I am no longer alone. The She-Wolf’s seventh pup, pale as a mid-winter moon, has also come to say farewell to her mother. We are both Daughter’s Lost. I will call her Sister.