Half Shaman, 11

Jeb is of the Eagle Totem

Links to Previous Chapters:

1: Vigil     2: Wake Up Call      3: ArkShip in the Night

4: The Yellow City Dream       5: In the White Cell, Still

6: Soowei's Story     7: The Round-Up    8: The Meerkat Totem

9: The Narrow Yard   10: The Black Cell

Jeb has been in prison for as long as she was in Shaman School learning to get a signal to the ArkShip, so when the ArkShip returns to orbit around Lotor, she manages to sing up her call sign. Soon after she meets a mysterious stranger and a group of nomadic OldEarth-born, all of them also prisoners but there are many ways of escaping and Jeb intends hers to be through the black cell ...

11: Escape

Or I can prise out the one hundred and eighty cubes and build a staircase to the door lintel. 

I set to prising out one brick, two bricks, high-stepping impatiently with every breath I take, before bending again to the knee-high intake aperture. I pull, push to and fro, shift, shove at the only stone that shifted when I tested them. I’ve got it. Hug it to myself. Forget my stepping. Balance myself on one foot on that one stone, and wipe creep from my feet. The second stone is easier. The third fourth. I have half a dozen. 

Blessed stones! I am off the ground! I rest, leaning against the wall. Creep does not follow me up the stones. I can plan, standing still. I imagine my foot planted on the door lintel and the other on the stair yet to be built. 

I wonder how the lintel gets its strength. Will it hold me? What holds it up? It’s made of a row of doubles, glued together by their wide flat faces. Above that, is another such row reaching further to the sides and off set. Its ends are puzzled into the wall either side. Mmm. I prefer not to trust the lintel. 

And anyway, why would I want to? The wall above the lintel has no air intake. Its bricks are mud, they were added later, and so they are part of the prison make-over. The wall above lintel height on the sunrise side does have a bricked-in air intake. But all Lotor-born structures face the sunrise and Tayne’s cell lies beyond. I still don’t know what or who he is. I suspect that he squirrelled his knowledge about the Totem system from anywhere.
So I set the beginning of my stair against the sundown wall near the door. The wall is at right angles to the wall with the door in it. Will there be another cell next to the evaporation tower? I’m hopeful there is not. Prise a stone out of the wall. Peer through the gap. Is it a cell through there, or is it an office room? 

I gape. A dozen perpetual candle flames sift light from the dark. I dredge a word from my memory. It’s a chapel. An old word for what is a mud-brick extension in the blind spot of the prison. A prison chapel where once upon a time the Earth-born celebrated their special days and then disappeared from settler histories. They went into the chapels and didn’t come out. 

Or rather, the Earth-born that did not take to Totems or Shamans. “Or so it is said,” I whisper. My mother took a Totem and married my father. The dark behind me feels almost friendly compared to the dark beyond the candle flames. Who keeps these flames going? It’s been years since anyone has prayed here, there’s such a layer of dust. 

I close my eyes. I can’t let the old suspicions get to me. I let the stones that I pick out of the wall fall into the chapel. Thud, thud. They fall on Lotor’s dirt. What I’m calling creep. The Earth-born might have disappeared right here. I feel sick and escape for a minute, imagining that I am already out and walking. The desert is dark red this time of night with the red star’s light, an expanse of nothing all round. Sand. Creep. What other place can I escape to? My mind goes blank. Who can I be, just for this minute? 

Stupid. What could be more adventurous than the place I am right now? Adventure, what I’m always wanting. Huh. No one else gets themselves into the kind of scrapes I manage. And if it isn’t scrapes, it’s the flat, lonely places. 

I swallow all that down. It’s me losing myself for a minute when I should be worrying about getting out. As usual, I shudder at the responsibility. 

This time, as a result, I wobble on the stony stair to nowhere. Hole just isn’t big enough. Keep at it. I lean sidewards pushing the loosened stones through, to fall into the chapel. The air intake aperture into this room is almost as wide as the room itself. Which in this room was probably covered with a metal grill. If it was a special room. Grill is gone, the space filled with ten-cubes about five rows high.  

I’m going to squeeze through. Won’t even say try. I have to. Long narrow hole like a transverse-section of a coffin. Some kind of symbolic thing in that, I’ll think on that some time when I’m not in it any longer. I could sleep here, between the two maws. The temptation blind-sides me and I relax without having to try. 

I sleep and dream. I’m walking, slip-sliding through the sand. There’s a platform ahead. People waiting for me. A Meerkat, a Mongoose and a Puma. The Puma is the smiling man, the one who seems familiar. Then I remember him. The platform fades away and I wake in the slot. 

A half dream for a Half Shaman. The smiling man is my father’s younger brother! Very resentful at the time that I knew him. He’d expected to win the amulet. Had come especially. How will he be now, apart from smiling and trying to keep me young and dependent? Still a dream. I’m not there yet. 

“My poor child,” whispers someone from beyond the little flames.

That isn’t part of any dream! I teeter and roll out of the hole, managing to drop my feet first. Legs, hips follow. I hang by my hands. Let go. Whip around to see. Who? What? With my feet I search for the stones that I dropped this side. Stand on a couple. I can’t see. 

Then I can. 

A bent figure shuffles forward. It’s wearing slippers. “We should put those stones back,” it says. He says. It’s a very old man. “Stand on my back and I’ll hoist you up. Climb into the hole and I’ll hand them up to you. You’ll be safer in the prison than outside it.”

Did I really hear an old Earth-born man tell me to get back into the prison? I decide he maybe moved his mouth. The wind from beyond the stars blew between my ears and I didn’t hear him. 

He blinks as I sidle into the shadows. His old eyes must have been looking at the flames for a long time. I recall a plan I studied at Shaman School. At the back of a chapel, when sundown is at my left hand, there is often a foyer. 

There is, with a mountain of slippers. I take two pairs, a smaller to fit into a larger. My feet, again and almost habitually in high-stepping mode, slide in gratefully.

There are hassocks, cushions to kneel on, and cassocks, gowns for a priest … the old man moaning in the chapel? He lies down on the creep. I ignore him, I have to ignore him. I take a dark robe to cover my shaman cloak which is torn and covers me rather badly. 

I make for the back of the ventilation tower, where the Lotor-born allow no windows. Their blind spot. From there to begin my journey to the Yellow City, meeting some meerkats along the way. I hope. 


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