A young man and woman walk at a brisk pace through a sunlit forest. The light filters through the leaves and passes over them as they move side by side. They are both young, and the man has shoulder length black hair, strands sticking out here and there. She is a half an inch shorter than his five feet eight inches, and her hair is in similar condition. It branches out in almost lightning-bolt shapes and curling up into sharp points at the bottom. Her face is similarly pointed with almond shaped green eyes and light pink lips. His jaw line is less defined and more angular, with prominent cheekbones and heavy brows. Neither looks as though they’ve washed in a few days, though her hair is a bit less greasy. Their tan leather clothes, a shirt and trousers for him and a long dress with a fringed bottom for her, are dirt-stained and stiff. They are holding hands but they are not smiling. He keeps an eye out to his left, and she looks ahead. He squeezes her hand after looking behind them and her lips open a fraction, and she looks to the right.
“Meda, you really need to be more alert. They’re still following us thanks to your games.” She lowers her face.
“It’s fun to pretend to have medicine, even though I don’t.”
“I just hope they’re more forgiving of your parents than they are of you.” Meda looks down again, frowning. He looks at her and puts his arm around her shoulder, drawing her closer to him. “I’m sure they’ll be fine, they didn’t even know about it until it happened.” She keeps walking as he pauses and then follows her.
“It was just a joke!”
“Meda, these things are not to be treated so lightly, even if you are just playing. Evil spirits will take any chance they can to enter your heart. You might be surprised how similar what you did is to the rituals of a witch.”
“I just… I hear about other tribes’ medicine and wish that I could do the same.”
“Maybe someday you will. Why not ask Matchitehew if he might test your potential? Perhaps your proclivity to it is a sign of its presence.
“I already have… he was no help at all.”
“No matter the case, no more curses!”
“Yes, elder. I shall not. I understand.” She leaves the house, back into the clearing. People glance at her and continue their business, and two women sewing whisper to each other. Meda glances from side to side, a slight frown upon her face. Putting her head down and her hands together, she walks past them all and towards her and her parents’ tent. As she walks, a man moves to block her path. His face is painted with clay red streaks and he he wears a necklace of quills around his neck. His cheeks are noticeably sunken, but only just so. His thick black hair is ruffled, as though he has been picking at his scalp.
“Meda. What were you talking to the elder about?”
“Nothing.” She keeps her face angled down as she speaks to him.
“Of course. That is good to hear. You are always welcome to come by again to try ad awaken your medicine, you know?” She walks by him and into the tent. He watches her as she passes, and his eyes flick down as she leans to draw back the flap. Face expressionless, he turns and leaves.
“Welcome back, Meda! What did Chogan want to talk about with you?” Her mother is hunched over her thread-work, creases in the skin to either side of her mouth and the occasional dark grey hair wending its way through the black hair that reaches to the spot between her shoulder blades.
“Well, you know how I was angry with Kimi…”
“Meda, what did you do?”
“I thought I was alone! I made a carving of a hand, wrote her name on it, and then whittled away the fingers.” Her mother shakes her head at Meda, a small smile on her face.
“What did the Kimi tree do to deserve that?”
“You know, she’s always hanging on Masou, trying to get his attention, and they’ve known each other for so long, I feel like I don’t even stand a chance.”
“But she’s not nearly as pretty as you are.” Meda looks at her mother and half smiles.
“She’s just as pretty as I am, they’ve known each other since they were kids. And they get along so well. I have trouble just looking at him, much less talking.”
“Sometimes knowing someone for so long can discourage romance, you know. You’re new and mysterious! Or, at least a little. Play to that strength instead.”
The forest is cloaked in shade as the day closes. Masou looks around in all directions. Nothing moves between the trees, but the sound of insects lends the dark a feeling of motion all the same.
“Let’s settle down for the night. I think we’ve evaded them for now, or maybe they just got tired as well. We shall start moving early just in case.” Meda nods, left hand holding her right, clasped in front of her. “Can’t say I’m too happy to leave my family and friends behind, but there’s no one I’d rather run away with.” He pulls some blankets from the pack he was carrying and spreads layer over layer on the ground with the pack lying at one end. Masou goes under the covers.
“Well? You coming?” Meda looks at him, turning more red by the second. Three minutes pass, and she crouches down and pulls up the blanket and slides under it. They lie in silence for a bit, and then she can feel movement inching over to her left. Masou’s hand touches her side, She gasps as it moves onto her stomach. She shivers at the touch and grabs his hand with hers.
“I’m… I’m just not ready.” He is looking at her, still lying on his back. He turns his head, gazing through the branches overhead and onward to the stars.
“Okay. I can wait no matter how long you need.” She rolls away from him, only her wide, shining green eyes visible above the covers.
Meda walks through the village and out into the woodland surrounding it, walking until the bare dirt becomes thick grass and underbrush. She watches the ground as she steps, avoiding thorns and patches of thistles that are less visible. The afternoon sun warms the air, and she sits with her back to a birch tree and closes her eyes, smiling in the light. There is a crunching noise from behind her, and her eyes flash open. She turns to the right, rolling from her seated position and propping herself with her arms, still half lying on the ground.
“Who’s there?” The crunching stops, and then starts again, a bit slower than before. Meda stands up, brushing off her butt and knees and peering around the tree trunks, hands resting on the white and brown bark. A girl sneaks up from behind, emerging from a tree behind her, arms reaching out. Her hair is long straight and black, and her grin reveals straight white teeth. She claps her hands down on Meda’s shoulders and yells.
“Ahhh!” She rumbles out a growling noise, like a monster getting a back rub.
“Aaaaah!” Meda lets out a high pitched yell.
“Hahaha, you’re so easy to scare!”
“Kimi! You followed me?”
“Yeah, what of it? You’re so suspicious, always sneaking off by yourself. And then trying to curse me! We were all laughing about that one for weeks.” Meda is silent, glaring at Kimi.
“Yeah, I told the rest of the girls of course! What a story. Putting that much work into something like that, even if you’re not a real witch, you certainly are a real–” Meda slaps Kimi, and the sharp clap of fingers on face echoes out through the trees. Kimi’s eyes water and she bares her teeth. The side of her face is red and she covers it with her own hand.
“You should just leave. You don’t belong here anyways. You’re just lucky the chief is so accepting, though the real reason is probably that we just don’t have enough girls as it is. Though that doesn’t matter either, no one would want you for their wife. They should’ve left you out in the woods where they found you. Your tribe had the right idea!”
“Shut up! Leave me alone!” Meda’s voice shakes and she starts to cry, turning away from Kimi and running further into the woods. Kimi does not follow her, but instead heads back towards the village, still frowning and arms folded, but she looks behind her as she walks, watching Meda as she retreats.
The sun has gone down and Meda sits at the base of another tree in the light blue dusk, head leaning forward and her arms hugging her legs in front of her. Thunder can be heard in the distance, and the occasional drop of rain plops on the leaves above. Another half an hour passes. She does not move when the storm threatens with closer lightning, nor when the sound of footsteps on grass move closer.
“Meda, what are you doing out here? I’m glad I found you. Everyone’s been looking for you for hours.” Masou stands close to her, looking down at her.
“Everyone. Sure.” She does not raise her head, her voice muffled.
“Okay, not everyone. But your parents and I and a few others. Didn’t you hear us calling?” She pulls her legs in tighter. “Come on, get up before the rain starts. Come home.” She laughs, a single scoff at his words, and raises her head. Her eyes are red and the lids swollen.
“I don’t have a home. Never.”
“How can you say that? Your parents love you, and I… I love you, too.” She stands up. There is an impression in the grass where she was sitting. She walks over to him, standing an inch away, and tilts her head up.
“You… love me?” They look into each others’ eyes, and Masou gulps and looks away. “I thought you and Kimi…” He glances at her, face still turned away from her.
“We’re just friends, always have been.” Meda raises her eyebrows and Masou looks at her. “In spite of what Kimi might want. Ever since you came here, it’s been you.” Meda lowers her eyes and then looks back up. There are tears in the corners. Masou pulls her closer, and her hands go to his chest. He kisses her just as the rain begins to fall.
They run back into the village as it continues to pour down rain. Both of them are soaked, their hair laying flat against their foreheads in black strings. The tents sag with thin pools of water that slide down the leather sides.
“Let’s get inside!” Masou points at the chief’s house and they dash towards it, hands shielding their eyes from the falling drops. Masou reaches it first and pulls back the pelt covering the door to let Meda inside. Once inside, they both stop and stare. The house is full of people, some dry and some wet from the rain. Meda’s parents are two that drip water from their hair and clothes. Her father still has his hunting tools with him. They all turn to look at the two new arrivals and several gasp and point at Meda. Masou steps forward in front of Meda such that only half of her is showing, her hands clasped in front of her.
“What’s going on here? Why is everyone here so late?” No one answers him, but instead talk to each other in low whispers. Meda’s parents remain silent, and look at the ground, arms hanging at their sides. The people part and Chogan steps to the front.
“Not everyone is here, Masou.” Masou’s mouth opens and then closes as he scans the gathering.
“… where’s Kimi? And her parents, too.” Matchitehew steps forward, stopping just short of Chogan.
“Masou, please step away from Meda, for your own safety.” Masou frowns and glares at the group.
“Why would I be–“
“Kimi is dead.” Chogan cuts him off.
“And her body… well, you can see for yourself after we’ve dealt with the witch.” Matchitehew’s face wrinkles as if he’s smelled something nasty. Masou’s eyes are wide and his face pale, shoulders shaking as he stutters.
“What… how… no…”
“Please, Masou, come here.” Chogan holds his hand out toward the stricken boy. Masou turns to Meda, whose expression mirrors his own. She looks up at him and blinks once.
“No! There’s no way…” He does not look at her.
“Where is she?” Both Chogan and Matchitehew open their mouths to speak but Chogan gestures with his hand for Matchitehew to go on.
“I don’t think you should–”
“Where is she?” Masou steps forward, fists clenched at his sides. Matchitehew pauses and then closes his eyes.
“Her body is where we found it: a little ways outside the village on the stream-bed. Her parents are there now praying for her spirit. They,” he points his finger at Meda’s parents, “found her when they were looking for her.” He moves his finger to rest on Meda.
“Why are you blaming me?” She cries, but Matchitehew fixes his gaze on Masou.
“Go. See for yourself.”
“The boy will not listen to words, Chogan. Let his eyes force the truth upon him.” Masou has already left, the curtain in the entrance falling back down. Matchitehew finally turns to face Meda. “Now, to deal with her.” Meda backs away from them, hands at her sides, fingers splayed.
( ©2015 Sean Dorsey )