We are at Week 41/52, and I’m starting to feel a little panic at the idea of finding the right ending and wrapping it up before the last Saturday! Of course, a book probably wouldn’t have 52 chapters, and many of these scenes aren’t proper chapters, anyway. 52 was chosen based on the weeks of the year, not for any creative aesthetic. This is just me telling myself (and you) the story. Thanks for listening!
Sharna’s face was damp, and she resisted the urge to wipe it with her palms. The room grew quiet as the cloud coalesced. She could hear her own breathing and feel her heartbeat pound in her neck.
Think beyond. Bigger things. A place where I belong.
She’d been repeating this mantra on the long walk with the others to the Fathers’ keep. She couldn’t reconcile what the Fathers must have done to cause the Mothers to leave. The Fathers might be awful with their Culling and destruction, but the Mothers were no better by Sharna’s reckoning.
Sharna didn’t think the problem would be resolved with more anger, and her anxiety grew as she waited for the Fathers to show themselves. Her only weapon was her anger. The Dawn resistance had wanted her to kill the Fathers, but was that really something she was prepared to consider? It had seemed easy when she was staring into the starving faces of Jay and the others, but now she wasn’t so sure.
Three men walked out of the mist. No, two men and a boy. The boy was younger than Sharna herself, while the other two were middle-aged and elderly. The boy hung back shyly at first, and then overcame some inner fear to straighten his shoulders and stretch out his hand in a mannerly attempt at introduction.
“Welcome to the Clouds.”
Sharna couldn’t bring herself to be rude, even though she knew the Fathers were not her friends. “Thanks, I guess.” When she touched the boy’s hand, her fingers ached. The joints grew knobby and her nails thickened. Her entire hand aged instantly. With a cry, she pulled it out of his grasp to cradle it to her chest. She glared at the boy.
“Oh! Sorry. I didn’t think. You can fix it, yes?” He tilted his head and watched her with glittering brown eyes.
Sharna could, but that would give away any advantage by showing them her magic. Right now, her fear was greater than her anger. If she tried and failed, that might be worse than them seeing her succeed. She felt lonely and small as her anxieties grew bigger.
“We’re relieved you’re here. It’s a mess out there.” He turned to look at the two older men as if to gauge their reaction to this understatement of fact.
Sharna raised an eyebrow. “A bit.”
The middle-aged man stepped forward and Sharna stumbled in her panic to keep him at a safe distance. When he spoke, his voice was empty and deep like a bowl scraped clean. “Yes. A bit of hunger and degradation. Death, even. We are without balance.”
The eldest man added, “The people do not see us as benevolent, so we are without even the smallest joy. Their belief sustains their fear, their fear sustains their hunger, and so even we go hungry.” He moved his jaw as if chewing the air.
Sharna looked down at her aged hand. “Did you do this to them? To the Mothers? Is that why they left?”
The three put their heads together to murmur at each other. Getting their stories straight, she thought. It was a strong, cynical thought. She whispered at her hand while they were distracted. The skin softened, the knuckles receded, and the pain dissipated. She worked the hand in and out of a fist in relief.
“We don’t know, but we suspect.”
“Yes, a glimmer of an idea. It’s not our strength you know.”
“Creative thinking is hard for us,” added the boy.
They were all talking at once, and Sharna huffed at them, her anger held like the tiniest ember banked against her fear. “What do you suspect, then?”
The middle-aged man stepped forward. “Have you ever made something you’re proud of or built something from the bottom up?”
Sharna backed up a few more paces. “Don’t get any closer,” she warned.
The boy interrupted, “Have you ever created?”
The eldest mumbled, “Grown things, even.”
“Yes. I grew food for my friends before I came here. They were starving. No thanks to you.” Stay angry.
All three of them nodded. “Yes. Growing food. That’s good.”
There was a pause, and Sharna knew what they were going to say before the eldest answered, “Our role is to undo your work. Tear it down. Burn it. Make it into ashes and dust. Even now that food you grew is decaying. That is us.”
The boy had tears in his eyes. “They hated us.”
(See you next Saturday!)