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Jul 24, 2011

Excerpt: The Unfinished Song, Sacrifice

Rthan

Rthan’s old hut had been dismantled after he had fallen in battle, as was customary. During his captivity, his tribe had mourned him as one already dead.

On his return to the tribe, a new hut was built. Kinsmen in Sharkshead and others from his birth clanhold, folk who had heard he still lived and come to see if it was true, helped him with the building. Six sturdy rib bones from a whale provided the main support, around which was woven a skeleton dome of femurs and fibulae. Then layers and layers of skins rubbed in lard, fur side down, facing the interior, were stretched tight and lashed to the bones, so that when the hut was finished, it was slick and waterproof on the outside, soft and warm inside. Kinsmen thumped his back and insulted him affectionately, lighting the hearth fire as their last favor before they left him alone in his new house.

The fire burned blue. Against the light, he could see Meira’s silhouette. The little girl stroked a patch of otter fur.

“Otter is my favorite fur,” she said. “I love how thick and supple it is.”

Rthan closed his empty hand. On his wedding night, he had stroked his wife’s hair, whispering to her, “Soft as otter fur.” After their daughter was born, he remembered stroking the soft black down on her head in amazement. “Just like yours,” he’d told his wife.

Meira turned to him, big blue eyes in her heart-shaped face. “I can be a baby if you prefer, Daddy. I can be any age you want.”

“Could you…” Shame filled him at his need. “It is said that other faeries take the shapes of men’s wives, tricking them into infidelity. But you have always appeared to me as my daughter. Never once as my wife.”

“You never objected before.”

“I miss her.”

The little girl shifted and matured. Breasts sprouted, hips widened, hair lengthened. “I can be older, if that’s what you want, Daddy.”

“No!”

“Don’t be angry, Daddy.” Little girl again. About eight, her age when she had been murdered, eight years ago.

“I asked for my wife, not for some sick fae game. Never mind.”

“I will live with you, just as before. I will be everything to you.”

Before. The first days after he had lost his family were a blur to him. Then one day he found the interior of his hut illuminated with an eerie blue glow. His daughter waited for him. He didn’t understand. He thought she was alive, that the attack on the clanhold had all been a terrible dream, he’d even searched the yard for her mother. But as he hugged Meira and rained kisses on her long black hair, he had noticed how coarse and strange it was, how clammy and cool her skin, how pale and bluish. Yet he had not questioned her closely, not at first. Instead, he fed her and told her the jokes Meira had always loved best, just to hear her slightly frog-like laugh.

She had given him the gift of his own memories, mirrored back to him. His favorite days, like pearls plucked from the oyster husks of his daughter’s life, beaded on a worry string, to be rubbed between finger and thumb in a restless circle. A favorite was the day he had returned after a successful whale hunt, when pungent smoke from roasting blubber permeated everything in the hut. She wheedled him for a piece of the succulent fat, but her mother had said not until the feast that would be shared with the rest of the clan. He’d sneaked her a piece and she popped the whole thing in her mouth. Her cheeks had puffed up just like a walrus. Many, many times they had reenacted the details of that day.

Those reenactments were always missing something, of course. His wife was never there, whereas she should have been. Nor any one else from the clan. If a kinsman came in while the play was in progress, the blue light died, and Meira vanished, leaving Rthan telling jokes to the fur wall. Then, when the interloper finally left, the play would begin anew, all the same words, jokes, and laughs.

Rthan wondered if he could go through that again. What had once been a crutch felt like a net. The thought of repeating, word for word, every line he had exchanged with his dead daughter repulsed him now. The repetition only showed him the one thing the faery could never give him: a woman to hold and love and seed with more children, children who changed with time, who cried as well as laughed, who could one day outgrow him, leave him, and one far day, show him a grandchild with a head of black fuzz soft as otter fur.

The Unfinished Song: Sacrifice (Book 3) is coming soon. Email me if you want to be alerted as soon as it's out...the first day, it will be available for just $.99 on Amazon and free on Smashwords!

2 comments:

scott g.f.bailey said...

This is nice, and it flows well. I like the details, they accumulate well and the whole thing feels solid. I might like a few kinsmen's names in the hut-building paragraph, like the person who actually lit the fire maybe?

This is creepy:

“I can be a baby if you prefer, Daddy. I can be any age you want.”

It's the "Daddy" that makes it so.

Sunshineshelle said...

Ohh wonderfully unsettling!!! Great tale :)