by Oliver Dale
Though the smoke rose in sprightly wisps above the beach, Xoco knew that Sea
and Sky had no hand in it. It was the breeze rolling off the surf that coaxed the
billowing cloud to dance. She threw another whitefish onto the flames and
watched its silver scales bubble and boil, gills puffing in the moonlight.
Xoco prayed again for an answer and cast her desires into the rising plume.
Kimpana village was functioning again, she thought, if in a limited way. The
gardens were producing. The fish were returning, slowly, of their own accord.
Does the Shaman still need to hurt me, pin me against the floor of his hut and
subject me to his savagery?
I will do anything, she thought. Anything, if you let me kill him. Let me feel his
blood on my hands. Let it course down my body, soothe the burns and cuts that
scar my thighs and spirit. But when there appeared no response, she sat back,
worried. Her hand unconsciously rubbed the rigid bulge of her abdomen,
comforting the twin gods that roosted within.
Xoco knew she wouldn't have another chance; the Shaman had gone up the
mountain of prayers to meditate, to commune with the gods about the Gambi tribe
that continued to harass and steal from them. She needed her answer now.
The tide rolled in slowly, consuming the black sands of the beach, gently lapping
first at feet and then ankles and then calves. Salt water snuffed out the fire. As
she sat and pondered, Xoco suffered a constriction of her belly. She waited
breathlessly then felt another. Warm water seeped from between her legs,
mingling with the cool waves of the sea. Was this her answer?
Xoco felt a sharp pain in her lower abdomen and pelvis; she couldn't prevent the
scream that clawed its way from her throat.
"Mother, help," she whispered, but though she tried to lift her voice with a prayer,
the suffering of childbirth wasn't enough to drive it through the palm trees, back to
the village. She needed a sacrifice.
In desperation, Xoco searched through the water, lunging for a fish she saw
beached on the sand. It was an Angelfish, with a white stripe that glowed like
starlight. Ignoring the short spikes that dug into her palm, she ripped it in two.
Chilly blood and gore gushed down her forearms. It was not a delicate prayer;
there was no fire, no smoke, but there was pain, there was suffering. It would do.
"Sea and Sky, I offer this creature to you. I ask only one favor in return: take my
voice and lift it with the breeze, with the mist and foam. Carry it to my mother for
without her help, I fear we three will not survive this tribulation."
Their answer was immediate. Xoco felt the familiar slick sheen of the prayer
covering her body, the unseen light that dropped from the sky and sank in through
her ears, her eyes, her mouth and nose like inhaled smoke. It invaded her lungs,
encircled the delicate flesh of her organs. When it consumed her completely, she
closed her eyes and whispered.
"Mother, help." Her voice floated like feathers, past the tree line of creepers and
ferns, off toward Kimpana where her Mother slumbered. And then the pain
threatened to split her apart from the spine forward. She screamed.