The Temple's Posthole
by M.K. Hutchins
Ayin ducked into the temple, one hand wrapped around her ribs, the other one clutching her
son's hand. The poor filled this place -- some had broken bones, some writhed with yellow
snake fever. The priestesses patiently wended through them, administering bandages, salves,
"It smells funny in here," said her son, Tzi.
A thick, wet cough tensed in Ayin's lungs. She swallowed it. "Temples are a place of
reverence. Speak softer."
He rolled his eyes heavenward and sighed loudly. Only seven years old, and so dramatic.
One of the priestesses approached -- a pretty woman with a round face. "Welcome to our
temple. May the gods see fit to bring you healing."
The cough clawed up Ayin's throat. She dropped Tzi's hand and covered her mouth. She
hacked, throat burning. Tzi rubbed her back.
And then the cough faded. Ayin straightened, pulling her hand away. Orange mucous stained it.
Before she could find a handkerchief, the young priestess was cleaning her hand with a rag
smelling strongly of corn beer. "I need you to sit over here."
Ayin nodded and followed her to a mat of woven palm fronds. Tzi managed to be reverent; he
bit his lip and stared at his mother.
The priestess -- she said her name was Cham -- pressed her ear to Ayin's back and listened.
"Have you been to any Xook ruins lately?"
"I'm a looter." She'd been at the ruins of a Xook flintknapping workshop last week, but someone
had already used up the magic in the postholes. Two days' trek through the thick of the jungle,
and she hadn't even been paid. That seemed to happen a lot, lately.
Cham looked in her throat, felt her pulse, and sighed. "May the gods watch over you, because I
can't. I've seen a cough like yours before. In their later buildings, the magic-hating Xook
poisoned the bottoms of their postholes."
"I have wet lung, don't I?" Ayin's chest twisted, this time in sinking dread. She'd hoped this
was some regular cough.
Cham nodded. "It's not contagious, at least."
Ayin squeezed Tzi's shoulder. Small comfort. Her merchant-minded husband wouldn't return
from the trading roads for another half-year at least. If she died in a month, who would care for
Tzi? They had no other kin.
"Thank you," Ayin said. She took Tzi's hand and left the smells of cotton, herbs, and sickness