Half Shaman, 12

Leopard Skin, Leopard Totem Patch

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   11: Escape

With the difficulties of the black cell behind her, Jeb exults in the freedom of the desert. Until she realises the dun desert sand is just as hungry as the sand in the black cell. Fighting it off she finally comes to a mushroom-shaped platform where she catches up with her uncle. He strokes her with her birth-name, what does he want?

12: The Creeping Desert


When I am a long way from the prison, though I can still see it, I can’t stop myself celebrating. “I’m out, out, out!” I caper on Lotor’s wide desert sands in my double slippers. Starlight plays a big part lighting the world. The sand is a dark red because the exploded superstar, Procyon A, rules the night. The distance to walk is fifty kilometres. Twelve and a half hours when the speed is four kilometres an hour. 

I look back. How far have I come? Speed? What am I thinking? Slide-footing in double slippers? I may have rested in the coffin slot for all of five minutes, and I don’t feel tired right now but … And oh, water, I wish I had some. Water and food. 

Later, when I catch up with the ones I’m going to catch up with. I don’t think as far as the other possibility, though it lurks in my mind. I look back again to check how far I’ve come. 

All this time I’m slip-sliding and I’m only that distance from the prison? I’m slow. What if the ones I’m catching up to leave before I get there? Got to stop looking back.

I stop. Look back at my trail. No one walks like that. I step out of the slippers, straight into the high-stepping gait. Pick up the slippers because I feel the creep begin right away. The sand seems hungrier out here. And the sand is loose, it covers my feet with every step. The creep is significant. After divesting my left foot by wiping down it with my hand, I step back into that slipper. Wipe my wrist and hand with my other hand. My right leg in the meantime is covered to the knee. Off! Get off me!

Slip sliding it is. Can’t stop yawning. If I had a staff I would lean on it and fall asleep between two steps. My jaws crack and my eyes water. My eyelids want to fall shut. Rest. I sleep for two paces. Shock! I almost fall! 

Open wide! Smile, grin, be a clown. Is it too convenient to already wish for a platform to spend the night? Slide slide. My eyes feel so grainy I can barely see. Keep walking. At least now I can be getting somewhere, as well as keeping each of my feet in the air fifty percent of the time. Why did I bother with the robe when I already had my shaman’s cloak? The robe drags behind me, giving free rides to creeps. More and more collects at the frayed edge. I think I thought I could spread it on the creeping sand to sleep on but I don’t dare. 

The prison disappears whenever I walk through a depression. When I’m up on a dune, I see it again. But only when I look back. I was going to stop that. What is that thing ahead? The prison has squared corners and horizontal and vertical edges. This thing is a hump with a red glint on it. I slip slide a bit further, but slower. The hump rises out of the sand, it seems to have a thick stem. A mushroom? 

A couple of insects on it, waving. I must be dreaming I’m so sleepy. Another insect is coming to meet me. He turns into the smiling man. How will I greet him? He didn’t like me when I was a kid and I didn’t like him. 

He raises an arm and beckons back to the mushroom. Before I work out how to greet my uncle, a Meerkat-totem arrives who says, “Eh, Shaman. Glad to see you.” He is no older than I am. 

They take me by the arms and help me to walk faster. My eyes droop despite the speed. Both of them talk at me, asking me things, but I am too tired to take in what they say. At the base of the mushroom they consult together. They tie a rope around me below my arms. The young one passes me on a rope ladder. He and his friend, the other insect, pull me up to the top of the mushroom. 
“Whatz ut made uv?” I ask.

The other young one smiles. “It’s a glassed platform.” 

I crawl to the centre. Fall on a swag. Let my eyes close.

***

I wake and savour the smells with my eyes still closed. Water, warm, in skins. Food, cooked rice folded and moulded in rice cloths. The rice will be chewy, I can handle that. The blankets I lie on smell of use. Someone’s sweat. The creep smells. Not like hot sand. More an animal scent, a stale, dried blood smell. It surrounds the mushroom to the horizon and beyond.

“It’s safe to open your eyes, Shaman Zjebella,” someone near me says.

I do and I’m seeing the fabric of a cloak tented over me. An open weave, it has a thousand starry squares of sunlight shining through it. In other wards, it’s way past dawn. Maybe even midday. Aside of me is the smiling man, smiling. “Hello, Uncle,” I say. 

I remember that when I saw my uncle and my father next to each other, my uncle was shorter by about the length of a head and not as thin, though of course my father was sick already. Their eyes were the same colour, such a light brown as to be almost yellow. Cat eyes. 

Uncle’s smile widens. “Glad to meet you again, Zjebella. Glad to start again. Be friends this time.”

He does something uncomfortable with my name. I wish I could slough out of that identity altogether. “There’s just you and me? I thought I noticed ..?”

“We have thirteen kilometres to cover to the next overnighting platform. The boys wait for us under-side.”

“I’m quite thirsty,” I say. “Can you spare me some water?”

Uncle grins. “We dribbled a litre and a half into you while you slept, will you believe it?”

“I don’t remember.” But I lick my lips and my mouth isn’t dry. “I guess I can wait.”

“There’s a hole down to the fundament of the platform for wastes, water in a hollow near it for washing. Will you use the facilities before we go?”

All that spoken with that same almost-smile. He’s being so delicate in his statement of necessities there is nothing for it but to disappear beyond the sarong-wrap screen. Washing my hands, I see that the cuts and bruises are dabbed with a yellow ointment. No memory of that attention either. 

I let my face and hands air-dry because my cloak is torn in several places and almost shredded everywhere else. I shudder remembering the narrow confines of the coffin. OldEarth-cut stones are never polished. There isn’t enough metal for files, or any inert sand to rub over sharp edges to smoothe them. I search the platform for my slippers. 

“I tossed your slippers, Zjebella.” My uncle motions over the side. “Such rags, we’ll go quicker with you on bare feet. The planet will hardly have had a taste of you yet.”

That’s all you know, Uncle. Distant in my childhood, he seeks me out now? With what expectations? When I was a child, he talked about me as that overly dramatic girl child, hurting my father with his judgments. He forms the syllables of my name with smooth care and a loving intonation, as if he now honours me. Does he think I’m stupid? 


He points me toward the rag-and-rope ladder but I catch up the bottom of my cloak and tear off two squares. Folding them on a diagonal, I tie them around my feet, the long edges around my heels, the short angles folded over my toes and caught up in the tie-down. Then I climb down. Uncle throws down the folded screens and the swag I slept on, then follows me down the ladder. A quick twitch and the top of the ladder comes loose and snaking down. 

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