This month’s theme is “monster,” to be interpreted any way. This week’s story comes from Dorothy Colinco.
by Dorothy Colinco
He had plucked a woman from her tribe, reaching back into time and space to place her here and now, wherever that was. Wherever this sterile room with the chrome table and white walls was. The organization’s work required some unpleasantness, which was not made easier by the fact that the subjects were unsuspecting of the inevitable and irreversible damage. Of course, the damage was never physical. They were not so cruel as to inflict physical pain. But the pain was real nonetheless, and sacrifices had to be made for the advancement of the greater good.
The woman was now seated awkwardly on the chair. He felt stupid for making her sit there; of course she didn’t know how to sit in a chair. Had he expected her to lean back with her feet flat against the floor, arms crossed in front of her chest? He should’ve known she would sit – more accurately, squat – with her feet on the seat of the chair and her bottom hanging between her heels, knees up to her armpits as though she were squatting over a makeshift toilet in the ground.
He was able to communicate with her in the language and gestures she used with her tribe. She, of course, was a gatherer, her fingers stained the color of wild berries and covered with tough skin that long ago resisted the lacerations of the thorns.
“Are you scared?” He asked. She only looked at him, but in her eyes he saw that universal expression of understanding. She had understood him, and she was scared, but she was not about to admit it to this hunter, though his garments, she noticed, were not stained with the blood and fat of prey. Her son of only 50 moons had surely hunted more prey than him.
“Don’t be,” he said, and he was not unkind, which surprised her.
“I only mean to show you something. To ask questions. I won’t harm you.” Still she remained silent. He gestured, and food was brought into her room by two other women. They didn’t speak to or look at her. “Eat,” he urged. She could not resist the smells emanating from the pile before her, and she ate, gingerly at first, and eventually without restraint. She had none.
“How many are in your tribe?” He began with the questions. She saw no harm in answering him. He did not seem to want to harm her or her people. If he was planning an attack, they would be ready. Or long gone.
“We are 50 in number. Strong enough to keep other tribes away. Small enough to feed each other.”
“How many other tribes are there?”
She bit into something she was sure was venison, but it was more flavorful than any venison the hunters ever brought back. She chewed while she thought about his question.
“We know there are four other tribes. But we have heard tales of even more. Perhaps there are 10, but that is only legend. We have seen only four.”
She saw a look pass over his face. It was the look of a hunter who was about to kill a small, defenseless rabbit. There was no viciousness in that look. Only pity, and that was even more confusing.
He asked more questions, questions about their rituals. About losses they have suffered. About violence within their tribe and with others. She has endured three great losses in her life – her mother’s son when he fell off a cliff during a hunt, an elder when he grew ill and never awoke, and her own child, her second, only 12 moons, not even old enough to name.
He asked how big the other tribes were. How far they traveled. He asked her to paint the world on the wall using her fingers and paste from the brightest berries. She drew their pack, then the trails she remembered, then the locations where they met other tribes or found evidence they left behind. On the wall, her tribe was the size of her palm, and the world she could cover with her torso.
Again, that look from the hunter.
Next, he showed her a painting of an orb, the color of deep water and grass mixed with swirls of a rabbit’s fur. “Do you know what this is?”
Her silence answered for her.
He knew what the protocol asked him to do. To delay it would only be cruel. So he began.
He told her she was wrong. That there were more tribes than she thought.
“So the legends are true? There are 10?” When he was silent, she pressed, “15? 30? How many?” She wanted to know. His silence meant he thought the numbers low, but she could not begin to comprehend 10 tribes the size of hers. Where were they all? Who were they all? What were their names?
He told her. Painstakingly, he told her of the numbers. And then he told her worst parts. What they had done to each other. What happens to the equivalent of 10 of her tribes every day. That there are children without tribes. That there are children with tribes who still let them starve. That in some very large tribes, some dine on what the hunter brings and some dine not at all. That just recently, one hunter hurt a group bigger than her tribe, killed them, and still no one knows why.
They do not deal in physical pain. But that does not stop the subjects from weeping and crying out. From clutching their stomachs with revulsion.
Finally, he hands her the monster. It fits in her palm and it glows brightly. Here she finally sees the other tribes. Here, she sees the suffering over and over, in its myriad forms, and she cannot comprehend it. She was not made to. And still she clutches the monster because she cannot look away. She cannot unknow the truths and untruths she now possesses. Like so many before her, she is consumed.
The Spot Writers—Our Members:
Val Muller: http://www.valmuller.com/blog/
Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/
Dorothy Colinco: www.dorothycolinco.com
CaraMarie Christy: https://calamariwriting.wordpress.com/