Short Fiction

Miriam

After the hot soup kettle had been scrubbed and set to dry in a wooden sink, after the dirt floor had been groomed with the tracings of a broom, after the last embers in the stone hearth had been shut behind clanky iron doors, after her mother kissed her forehead softly and shooed her to bed when she asked to watch the sky, after all of this, Miriam lay quietly on a straw bed covered with a crude hide which she did not yet crawl under.

The round cylinder of her snout draped across her chest, twitching lightly to the rhythm of her breathing, as quiet as she could make it.  She closed the large single eye set neatly in the very center of her ashen gray face while she concentrated.  Beyond the closed door of her room, behind walls across the dirt floor, they were lying there.  They were quiet, of course.  Silence, a withering emptiness that filled the hut with the solace of secrets scampering in the darkness, shrouded them.  She could not hear them breathe.  She could not hear the shuffle of a blanket shifting over them.

As anyone else would sense the dry golden scent of smoke from the hearth, she could sense the dreams gathering around them.

But she knew they were not asleep.  Not yet.

As anyone else would hear the distant winds of a gathering storm, she could sense them sinking lower into the depths of their subconscious.

Her breathing stopped, caught a quick breath, stopped again.  Her eye flew open.  She held her breath again, just to make sure.

Until, finally, they were asleep.

She rolled slowly across her bed, placing her feet on the floor with the whisper of kitten’s feet.  She paused.  She held her breath again.  She stood up and padded to her door.  She willed her hand to the latch, watching it float out in front of her to lift it’s wooden hasp as slowly as a drawbridge.  There was no helping the lazy oaken squeal of the wooden hinges, so she opened the door quickly, to get through the noise and be done with it.  A whiff of dust cascaded in front of the door and scurried across the floor.

She stood with one foot in her room, the other foot out.  The wisp of her feeler raised itself up like a thin uncoiling snake on top of her head.  They were not only asleep, they were in the arms of deep slumber, where dreams gave them respite from an arid sun and drenching winds that strung one day into the next, barely alive.

Miriam breathed easier, let her hand go limp, and walked quietly to the main door.  Soundlessly lifting the last latch between her and the beyond, she eased the door open and stepped into the shimmering black of night.

The night winds sang in the trees – a hundred feet tall and a thousand years old.  There were no young trees.  Miriam let her snout flutter and take in the sweet cold of night air, which sent a shiver down her back, all the way to her feet.

She walked a few paces away from the village, and up a small hill which provided a clear view of the full panorama of stars peeking down at her.  This was her third night sensing and she still felt alone, knowing she was the only one who felt it.  She closed her eye and allowed her feeler to uncurl to its full height above her head.  Very softly, a drone from a million years ago that still lived in the souls of the few who who could still feel it, wrapped her in the cocoon of its soothing timbre.  Like a new acquaintance that was yet an old friend, the vision shimmered, sometimes a sight, sometimes a sound, sometimes a feeling, sometimes just an idea.  But it was vibrant tonight.  It coalesced, consolidating all four dimensions into a single moment of pure clarity.  Miriam held her breath.  Her snout quivered.  Her eyelid fluttered and then flew open to reveal a wide pupil extracting as much light as it could from the relentless dark.

She gasped when she felt a touch on her shoulder.  She turned quickly. Her mother had found her.  It wasn’t the first time.  But it was different now.  Her mother was not scolding her and herding her back into the house.  Instead, she looked patiently at her daughter, who could not stop looking into a distance neither could see.  And yet the vision remained, stark, clear, unwavering, unmistakable and totally alien to anything either could have ever known.

Miriam’s voice quivered in a horse whisper, “They’re here.”  A tear welled up in her eye, rolled loose and splashed on the dry hard ground.  She turned suddenly to her mother, burying her face against her, throwing her thin arms around her and grasping her as tightly as her nimble hands could.  “Mama!”

A sliver of thunder rolled in from an ocean away, rumbled through the sky and disappeared to be replaced by a thin crackling and silvery hush of wind rushing over something smooth.

They both looked up to see a glint shoot across the sky, leaving a thin transparent vapor in its wake and then disappear over the horizon.  Their snouts rippled with fast breathing.  They stared at the horizon where the glint had vanished for what was, to them, a lifetime filled with a question that had no answer.  Slowly, a haze of light rose from the horizon.  It was a soft orange and yellow fog that wavered in the heat.  And there it stayed, on the horizon, for as long as they both could look.

After Miriam collapsed into the unconsciousness that followed any sensing, her mother gently cradled her in her arms and carried her back to the hut.  As she walked through the door, she looked over her shoulder one more time.

The light was still there.

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