The Totem-Maker: beginning
Chapter One: The Little I Can Tell
(an excerpt from the very start)
I would not have asked to be born under a portent. The day of my arrival on earth began, at daybreak, with a fearsome one.
I knew the story so well, I could for years picture the event vividly; I believed even, alone most hours with my imagination, that this vision was not of my own conjuring. I was despised, and cherished all it promised.
I have come to know the world better. If I were chosen specially for anything, it was at the agency of men, and the thing was to shoulder the thankless task at hand. If I’d possessed any gift, I had by then been well taught not to nurture it, but let it die…envy bites hardest those uneasy hearts for whom glory must walk hand-in-hand with the debasement of others.
The story I recounted, though, in times I call helpless, not innocent, was one the old woman who stirred the pot…who it was always my place to serve…and who would not have me call her mother, had told first, rebukingly. She wanted her days of labor to end in rest. She dreaded the intervention of a god, tidings of great change to come.
“Lotoq,” she said. The name was allowed to be spoken, because it was thought to be a word of the old tribe that lived at its feet when there had been orchards on the flanks, green forests of pine, herds of game. This was known. But she kept her back to the mountain. Only I stared at it, ran to the open door to take a bold look. Lotoq, living mountain, god or devil, was shaped like a crouching spider. The image the more imposing because of the black ribs of rock that buttressed the snow-covered peak, the web-like wisps that spun above it.
A highway connected our town to the next, and the next after that; it also, like the temple that had risen in a mysterious way when the flood subsided, had been built by these prosperous, forgotten ones. The pavement was sound, the stones surely a thousand-weight each, and cunningly fitted. Almost no grass would grow between.
But nearby it ended, the great stones thrust up from below, as it seemed, splintered and heaved in all directions. It ended at a crevasse, deep, foul-smelling. However the rains fell, this never filled.
That month before my birth, cruel signs began to show themselves. Birds fell from the sky, sudden, and in such quantities as to block chimneys. A terrible groaning shocked the soles of the feet, coming whence none knew…but a glow, burning light in colors no fire of peat or charcoal could produce, seemed to hover, turning the snows of Lotoq to a metal-hued, steaming cloud.
Something awful and tragic had occurred, not long after, somewhere below the opposite flank.
“I cannot go near the place,” a traveler brought word, meaning of a town that had once thrived there. “I think we will never know. I think none escaped.”
And then the scouring flood, that islanded our own town, once situated on a rise, now a barren plain. Many weeks of deprivation followed this, and I was protected from sacrifice, for being born to a mute, a woman who had come with no means of telling: What was her home? What had she seen?
Thus the priests said wait, wait for another sign.
(copyright 2018 Stephanie Foster)