Half Shaman, 18


Lotor rearranging its dunes of meat-eating sand. 
In which Jeb learns about being stretchered through the desert. How the girls of her age might be thinking about her ...

Links to Previous Chapters:

Chapters 1-5     Chapters 6-9  [These links send you to the archives for January and February. Read from the bottom up.]

 10: The Black Cell   11: Escape  12: The Creeping Desert

13: The Love-struck Loon   14: What I Know   15: Ant's Idea

16: The Automatic Transponder   17: New Chief, Old Shaman


18: Walking …

There’s jogging and jogging, I think. The second kind is when a pair of people jog with a stretcher on their shoulders. The person on the stretcher jounces mercilessly and indeed must jounce to help the joggers keep their pace. Which is what I discover when I try for a change to sit with my back straight.

Wren and Meerkat, my bearers for that stretch, slow to a walk. As we’re approximately in the middle of the line, everyone behind us also slows. What’s worse, the line separates. The fast front. The slow rear. 

Limber drops back from the fast front to discover the wherefores. “You two tired already?” he asks my bearers. 

“Only been at it a couple of hundred paces,” Meerkat says. He sounds offended.

“It’s the way she is sitting, straight as a maul-handle,” Wren says. She indicates up with her thumb, steadfastly refusing to name me. “Without give in her, she elevates, comes down hard. The sticks bend further down. They want to spring off from our shoulders.”

“Show me,” Limber says. 

We proceed the few paces needed to illustrate Wren’s explanation. “She wants to ride, she’s got to move to the rhythm of the ponies,” Wren says. 

 “Wren has a point, Shaman Jeb,” Limber says. “It’s important we don’t split the group. Easier for Lotor to take out a small group than a larger one.” 

“I apologise, Wren. Meerkat. Limber.” I try to catch their eyes to show that I mean it. I force myself to relax into the cross-legged jouncing posture and my bearers resume their jogging. 

Limber springs ahead to warn the fast front about the gap, and the need for their end to slow, to allow the rest of us to catch up. 

I wonder whether the rules Puma has set for this stage are really necessary. Keep the line unbroken. The pace is a slow jog. Follow in the footsteps of the person in front. As in, keep exactly to the single-file trail. “Who leads?” I ask. I’m guessing Meerkat will answer. 

“Every thousand paces, the then-leader falls back,” Meerkat says. 

“Funny how she hasn’t noticed them checking their way to the rear? What Limber just did, didn’t he?” Wren says. 

Oh. 

I continue the conversation silently. This is my first time travelling by stretcher. I sneer at myself, that’s just an excuse. There’s a lot to see. To notice. More excuses. But none of my conversational gambits will solve the reason for Wren’s dislike, if I don’t open my mouth. “This is my first time travelling the desert. Lame excuse, I know.” 

“Limber was at the end of the front,” Meerkat says. “I never heard about anyone being born on a platform. Everyone else will have had a first time in the desert.” 

“All you boys are smitten with her, and for what?” Wren says.

“Oh!” I can’t stop myself bursting out. “I suddenly see why you persist in speaking about me. It allows you to do exactly what you just did.” 

I’m not totally sure what I am accusing Wren of, just that it suddenly made sense. The effect of my outburst is an unnatural silence in our little group. I have time to notice that the wind from the south is picking up. Its searing soughing hits the cavalcade side-on. Everyone’s clothes flap northward. 
I see Lithe skipping down the line from the front. The person he needs to pass sways to one side, Lithe sways to the other. Both manage to keep their feet on the single file path. Very clever. Why couldn’t I have noticed that before? 

Lithe reaches us. 

“Wren is done here,” Meerkat says. “But I will need a hundred thousand paces to work off my rage.”

Lithe looks to me. I shrug helplessly. I feel as hopeless as ever about my chances to fit into the society of my age group. I used to pretend high and mightiness, and that their dislike was because of my Totem. “I’m sorry.” For being what I am. 

 “I am so fucking angry,” Meerkat says conversationally. “I’ll probably strangle someone if I get loose. Get Ant,” he asides to Lithe. 

“I am so fucking angry I could burst,” Wren says. “That ugly bitch up on the sticks takes both my boyfriends, and I’ve got to carry her like she is an Earth-born princess?” 

Lithe signals to the rear.

I pull up my hood. Close my eyes. I try not to take any notice of the changeover. I hear Wren and Meerkat take the loads given them. I hear Lithe order Wren to the rear. I hear Meerkat sent to the front. Was Mongoose one of Wren’s recent boyfriends? 

“There now, my pretty,” I hear from a way to the front. The Old Shaman strokes my soul and I almost overflow. I imagine the Totem Reality. Slopes of lush grasses. Stony outcrops. A blue sky with the sun beaming down. I spread my wings and hunt down a rabbit. 

Just when I’m about to crush its life, I notice it has Wren’s face. She escapes me down a hole. I press my cloak’s hood against my eyes to soak up my tears.  

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