I cannot tell you how excited I am that this story is progressing. There are definite moments of struggle for me but mostly its been a hell of a ride. Here is chapter two (I’ve just finished writing chapter 5)!
“Climb onto the cart, girl. You may ride within, on the roof, or you may walk.” Josef said as he strapped the cart rigging to the Blusterbeast. Its mighty horns protruded from its forehead and shone in the early morning sunlight as it stamped its massive feet. Its rough skin was wrinkled over a body that was big enough to hold four of me on his back with no problem.
Gemma was a rare Oasis blessed with a female and a male Blusterbeast and every ten years, we would be blessed with a yearling. I walked up to the cart and the eye of the Blusterbeast rolled to stare at me. He always frightened me, even as an adult. That bulbous blue eye followed me as I wandered to the cart I would be riding in. Its lashes fluttering in the soft breeze of the morning.
This year we were trading its child. The baby with softer skin was just under my height with three small humps on its forehead where its horns would come in. We were trading her for a wife. The baby was tied to the back of the cart that I was to ride and I couldn’t help but wander closer to it.
“Stop there, girl. Do not touch it. It will become attached to you and we need it to be attached to its new owner.” Josef yelled at me from the top of the front cart. He had the reigns in his hands as the men did a count and check of the wares and baggage. I was granted a bag full of alpaca yarn I had spun and dyed myself, my collection of needles and hooks, and my small sketchbook with my patterns and designs. They saw it as a trade of craftsman, but I saw it as a luxury they were allowing me. I never could admit the pride I felt from my creations. Or the secreted patterns of intricate designs I had created. Only my mother knew.
I climbed onto the top of the cart and settled myself in, my bag of yarn on one side, my patterns on the other. I intended to keep myself busy as we made the three day treck across the Deadlands to the meeting place. I decided I should start on a blanket, as I had to leave mine behind.
The caravan started into the woods that surrounded our clearing and I suddenly felt the trepidation of this journey. The little yearling walked trudged along next to the cart, once in a while making strange soft noises as we continued to the border of the oasis. I said a quick prayer for strength and started on the blanket.
Hours had passed and my fingers began to cramp as we came to the edge of the wood. It was like a line drawn in the land. There were barren trees and then, nothing. Pure white sand as far as the eye could see. We stopped and Josef walked across the tops of the carts. He reached me and stopped. Just at the edge of my skirts.
“It will get hot quickly, but we will not stop. If you choose to go inside of the cart, now is the time to do it. If you need to relieve yourself, also, now is the time to do it. I have made this trek a thousand times and more to the point that I understand if you feel the need to remove the top layer of clothing. I will not be looking back at you unless you call my name. If you feel faint, sick, dizzy, call my name. If you need to stop and relieve yourself, call my name. If you hear me call out to you, or if we stop, you need to dress quickly and come down from the top of the cart.” He sighed a heavy sigh and looked directly at my eyes for the first time in my life. I couldn’t help but feel frightened as a man had never looked at me before.
“I need to warn you, there are such things as storms you’ve never seen before. There is no rain, just wind and the wind will create a devil in the form of sand. We will stop, we will ride out any storm that comes our way. You will need to be inside the cart. It will be blinding if you stay outside during a storm. Do you understand?”
“Yes. I have prayed heavily for strength and to grant us safe passage. I can only knit, and pray.” I held up my needles so he may see the creation I’d started and he nodded his head. Josef turned, and walked back to the front cart. I was sitting on the third and last cart. I stood, and climbed down, wandered into the wood a bit, relieved myself and came back, only to sit on a small cushion that was not there before. He said nothing, and I did not thank him. I sat and continued my work as we started out into the Deadlands.
Josef was right. It was not long before I was stripping my overdress from my shoulders and setting up the screen above my head. It was hotter than anything I’d ever experienced before in my life. Sweat poured down my back and between my breasts as I continued my project in silence. All around was nothing but sand. Gemma had disappeared from my sight quite a while ago and I had sat in silent reverence to my new found status. Many hours had passed when we stopped by an outcropping of rocks. It was as if a hillside of limestone stuck out of the sand, offering us shelter from the night. I slipped my overdress back on after I inspected my now much darker skin.
“Why do we not continue through the night?” I asked as I climbed down the cart and avoided the baby blusterbeast.
“There are creatures you’ve never imagined that survive in this desert. We cannot become their nightly meal. We must stay protected. I shall rise with the sun and we shall start again. You are set up to sleep in the last cart. I shall sleep in the front. If you hear anything, play as if you were dead. Do not make a sound.” Josef walked away and proceeded to set up camp against the large rocks.
Soon, he had a small blaze going as he cooked poultry over the fire. I sat across the pit and ate in silence. I feared him. He was a man and I knew nothing of them. I knew Gemma was filled with them and they did hard labor but I knew nothing of their inner thoughts, their minds. I had heard the tales of ancient men wallowing in the pleasures of women. We were merely slaves to their wills. We looked the way they wanted us to, we spoke the way they thought was proper. We were there strictly for their pleasure even if it caused us pain. The acts were never described but the idea was sickening to me.
As I thought about it, I couldn’t help the curious idea that crossed my mind. How were we any different now? The elders were made up of men. I have no rights. We are not a people of freedoms. The thoughts alone made me want to cry. Not because of my situation, that was unchangeable. But because it was a grievous sin to question the life I was granted.
The sound of a lone screeching animal filled the night and I began to shake in fear. “Drink some water, and go to sleep. I will keep watch with the beasts. We will be okay.” He handed me the large skin of water and I drank my fill.
I stripped in my cart and rolled out my bed. It was nothing but a stuffed pelt but at least it was something. Once the night set in, the temperature dropped to the point of me shivering even with my thick shawl wrapped around my shoulders. I huddled in my pelt and slept with my yarn bag as a pillow. I fell asleep to the sound of wind and screeching birds.
The next morning I awoke before the sun, listening to Josef getting ready to leave. I dressed and stepped out in time to watch him feed the yearling. “Will you be riding up top, Mora?”
“Yes, I think so. As long as I have the canopy up, I feel better than in the baking heat of the cart.” I walked away down a hill of sand and relieved myself before climbing back up on the cart and readying myself for day two.
We started again, just as the sun was rising in the east. The heat pounded down on us as we delved deeper into the Deadlands and I slowly began to feel as though we were lost. I drank sparingly from my waterskin and continued my blanket project, fearing the results of letting my mind wander again. I had much atonement to be done once I became a member of my new Oasis.
At some point during the day, I had the sudden urge to look up only to be blessed with the view of the the skeletal remains of a huge beast. I stared at it in shock as I realized I would fit perfectly into the belly of that long gone creature, until I noticed someone had already thought of that. There, within the rib cage rested the skeleton of a human being. It leaned up against a giant rib, its bleached white teeth grinning from a broken skull.
“Don’t look at it.” Josef said from the first cart.
“I am sorry.” I said back. Turning my head, I knew the image would forever be burned into my memory.
“We will have only two more nights and then you will be with your new family. You were chosen for a reason, Mora. You represent the Gemma Oasis very well. You are a model member of the Oasis and we feel as though we honor Dios in this trade. You must look upon that with humility and grace.”
“I do. I no pride. However I know that I must continue to try to do my best for the sake of Gemma.” I answered remotely. It was a natural response, one taught to me as far back as I could remember. Everything was done for the sake of Gemma and Dios.
By the end of the second day, my hair was soaked with sweat and my waterskin was half empty. I sat in nothing but my underthings beneath the small canopy I had put up on the top of the cart. Once in a while a huge bird would fly across the sky, silent in its vigilance. Its wings glittered in the sunlight and all I could think of was to be free and be able to fly. We stopped at a small watering hole, allowing the blusterbeast and its yearling to drink deeply, replenishing its internal supply. I myself refilled my waterskin before climbing back up and continuing the blanket.
We rode on for what seemed like forever until the sun began to set. Josef stopped, I dressed and he set up camp. The blanket was now large enough to cover a small child’s bed, in soft muted colors of the trees. Greens, browns and a few soft hints of yellow. We sat and ate and again I curled into my stuffed pelt for sleep. The wind picked up tonight, howling through the rocks we had chosen as our sanctuary. The door of my cart rattled as the wind blasted against it, yet still, I was able to drift into sleep.
I awoke to the sound of stomping as my cart shook from force. I dressed and peeked through the latched window only to be blasted by sand. I could hear the yearling crying and mewling in the horrible storm.
“Josef!” I called out.
“Josef!” I screamed but there was no response. The wind whipped my door open and I could barely see the yearling struggling against the storm. I reached out, grabbed its rope and pulled it in. I could hear the screeching birds as they flew above the sand storm.
“Hear me Dios! Save Us! Do not let us parish in this storm!” I screamed into the night, tasting the sand on my lips.
Finally the yearling reached the cart and I hauled it inside. It was huge, the floorboards creaking under its steps. Its eyes watering and red as its second set of lids had not fully developed and the storm had caused much pain. I pulled the door shut behind it, latching it with a large piece of wood.
The yearling collapsed next to my pelt, whimpering. I took my waterskin and dripped water over its eyes, washing away the sand. “Shhh… It’s okay. We will survive this together and in the morning, Josef will take us home.” I whispered in its ear. It seemed to calm itself to the sound of my voice as I rinsed its eyes and settled it down next to me. There I sat, all night, with the head of a blusterbeast yearling in my lap as it slept, and a storm raging outside around us.