Half Shaman, 14

What Jeb sees on Tayne's Arm

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

12: The Creeping Desert   13: The Love-struck Loon

Getting to know her new friends better, Jeb sings them their totem songs until a nightmare-in-waiting overtakes them ...

14: What I Know

“We’ve done five kilometres,” Ant says from behind. “More than a third of the stage.” 

I guess he is trying to be encouraging. 

“But we will need to speed up,” Uncle says. 

 Straightaway I’m even more conscious of my feet. Raspy snail teeth are grazing over them. No! The damned creep! I almost stumble at the feeling of my foot-coverings worn through. I swallow a sob of fear. “I need two … two … squares of cloth, bandanna-sized, folded arm-sling style.” A demand, not even a please or thank you. “Sorry. I … I  meant to say please.” I’m almost in tears. 

Then I’m ashamed. I did so much yesterday without any childish emotions. I pull my hood up over my head and stump along without looking at the men or my feet. But I feel the creep advancing over my ankle-bones. 

“Use the priest’s cloak,” Uncle says.

I feel faint at the thought. “He lay down on the creep as I left the chapel. He said he was letting me go to make up for all the people he led to their end.” I want to keep in mind that I did what I did. Be strong. Not any of it was handed to me. 

“I have the squares ready, Shaman Jeb,” Ant says.

Mongoose stops me. Drops a swag behind me. “Sit, Jeb.” 

Ant kneels to help, sees what I dreaded, Lotor’s liking for the skin of my feet. I catch my lips  between my teeth. Ant helps me by pulling the cloth tight around my feet while I knot it. I keep my eyes on my work. 

Mongoose and Ant pull me to my feet. Ant scoops up the shredded cloths. Mongoose adds the swag back to his load. They exchange a meaningful glance while I high-step in place. 
I walk on, hiding my face and staring only at the next place to put my feet. 

Uncle exclaims. “There! See it?”

“Yes,” Ant says. “The damned planet is re-arranging the landscape as we approach. Changing hard sand to soft sand. It knows us.”

“Not good for Jeb,” Mongoose says. “Uncle old man, you will need to lug the luggage while Ant and I shimmy the Shaman.” The way he smiles at his own joke helps me swallow down my embarrassment. 

I walk my usual fast sprint on the spot while he and Ant drop their packs. Ant slides from his pack the sticks that were used to prop up the screens back at the platform. He and Mongoose help each other loop a rope from the back of their belts, and pass it over their shoulders. They tie the ends to the front of their belts. 

“To stop us losing our pants, Shaman Jeb,” Ant says straight-faced to my interest. A side-flung grin tells me he joked. 

They each thread an end of one of the sticks through the back of the other’s rope loops. Then thread one through the fronts. Ant has a folded cloth ready to rest over the resulting two-bar seat. They sidle up behind me. Take my arms. 

“Hup,” Mongoose says. I am jumped backward onto the sticks, so that I’m sitting between Ant and my loon. I study Mongoose’s face. Faint flush along his jawline. Faint smile in the corner of his mouth.  

 “Best foot forward, brother.” Ant slings his forearm onto Mongoose’s nearest shoulder. “So far the planet doesn’t care who we are.” 

“Don’t feel shy about holding on, Jeb,” Mongoose says. 

Ant looks past me and laughs. “Don’t feel shy about holding on, Shaman Jeb. Or you can lean back against our arms.” 

The flushing along Mongoose’s jawline deepens and makes me feel shy so I don’t lean anywhere. But I find out straightaway that for them to jog and me not to fall, I do need to hold on. What a problem to get into a tizz about.

A capital-L Loon is a totem. Mongoose wears a Mongoose tattoo on his arm. They’re both wearing long shirts, Sauger-hide belts. I take a good handful of cloth above their belts. Rest the back of my fingers on the belt. Try not to touch Ant’s side through the cloth. 

Uncle is a long way ahead. Well out of hearing. “The next thing you know, brother,” Ant says. “Is that our elders will start cleaving you to the Loon Totem.”

“It’s useless to tease, brother.” Mongoose says. “Jeb and I already discussed it.” He winks at me. Not angry. I feel almost weightless. “I’ll refuse to hear them,” he says. 

A long while later Ant says, “Four kilometres more. When we get there, there’ll be ointment. For her feet,” he says over my head. 

What am I to do about such communications? I do a little vigil. Do such words hurt anybody? Only me and only because I feel left out. I’m a bossy britches, always having to be a part of everything. But, one person can’t be a part of everything that goes on in a group I tell myself. In a minute the group will double. Later it will be huge. Then what? Most of the time I will only be able to observe. Trying to ignore what isn’t my business. How good was I ever at that?

It doesn’t feel like a vigil when I’m just worrying. What happened to the rest of the shamans? My teachers? The whole Shaman School? I’m too scared to ask. I only know enough to sing the totems. 
And signal the ship, I add for myself. Then I worry about Ant and Mongoose having to carry me for pity’s sake. I never wanted to be that kind of person. 

Carrying physically is different to the other sort of carrying. That’s my crow talking, I realise. I feel better. How can I thank Ant and Mongoose without making them embarrassed? 

Remember how good it felt back in Totem School when the Lesson of the day began with my  Totem? My crow telling me to be the Shaman. What they got me for, isn’t it? Time will tell. 

I push back my hood and I clear my throat. Start with the Ant Totem song. “Ants together carry their towns … a stone at the time …

Ant grunts surprise, then joins in the rhythm with the strongest words as I go. 

“… Ants together carry their country … a heart at the time. … Together we live, singly we die.”
I follow it with the Mongoose Totem.

“Mongoose strides into the unknown, untrammeled by fear …  He fights through unenviable risks to rescue what he holds d…”

Slof slof slof in the sand behind us. 

“You pack animals really get off on the little fucker singing? He’s got such a tinny little voice, you’d think he’s a girl masquerading.” Tayne skips as he passes us, to be out of the way of any kick Mongoose might aim at him for his insults. 

Mongoose and Ant laugh so hard and so totally out of sync with one another that they shake the contraption. 

I almost fall through because I see on Tayne’s uplifted arm the nightmare to come.


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