Adrift: Chapter Six

Day Five: 1,503 words (8,479 total.)

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The docks were worn and covered in algae. The storm tore up many planks and would destroy many more when the eye passed. Still, the fisherman persisted. Spear in hand, they waited for the fish. Few came, but there was nothing else to do until the shaman arrived and fate could change. Beroel was sullen as he approached the other fisherman. Usually, they were quick to reprimand him for lolling about, but the waters were so lifeless his participation didn't matter. The boy hopped up on the dock and sat on the edge, feet dangling in the water. The air was so still, but the entirety of the island was surrounded by walls of black clouds and lightning. It was all a painful anticipation. The fisherman knew their lives would be harder when the storm persisted. The second coming would be the strongest: it would take their docks, homes, and livelihood. And who would help them, the spirits? They weren't worthy to pray to the spirits. How were they worthy to be saved by them? But even if a laborer believed this, they'd never let it be heard for fear of a lashing.

"Maybe tonight one of us will change our tides," a fisherman spoke as he chewed on a branch.

Another man laughed, "Talk is they'll choose the banker's boy. Spirits don't want to disappoint if there's coin to be had."

A young boy with his hair neatly braided back chimed in, "The spirits can't be bribed. If we were worth more than this we'd be fooling around in the square too. But they know better."

The man grinned, revealing large gaps in his teeth, "You mean to tell me they don't want my radiant smile charming all the women?"

All the fisherman laughed except Beroel. He picked up one of the spears and threw it out into the ocean. He then jumped off the dock, fuming and walked down the beach. He returned to the tortoise. The girl was gone. Of course she was. She had a perfect party with a perfect performance surrounded by perfect hand-picked people. Spirits? They didn't know better. They weren't there to know. It was all a big infinite loop of rich kids getting richer and laborers adding additions to their huts along the way. Beroel stared at the tortoise. Who was there is guard it? Who was there to stop him from stomping down back into the earth. Every muscle in his body clenched. He hoisted his foot above the sculpture.

"Beroel!" a voice called.

The dreaded boy retracted his foot. Well played, tortoise. He turned around to see the braided fishing boy.

"The shaman boats are on their way."

Beroel nodded. He looked down to the tortoise and sighed.

"I see your totem has stayed up nicely." the boy with braids said.

"It's not mine. And it's certainly not a totem."

The braided boy looked out on the horizon, "I know you have your qualms with the spirits. But they listen. You just need to learn how to communicate."

"Rekas..."

"Yes?"

"...Leave me alone."

Rekas turned back towards the docks. Beroel sat down next to the tortoise. He wanted to punch it. Every thought he had told him to pound the structure down. But he didn't. There was a piece of him, admitted a very small piece, that wanted to see it stay standing forever. He would check the tortoise everyday and make sure it would not fall. This was the last of his hope and it rested solely on the life of a sand-sculpted tortoise.

The drums pounded. On the far end of the beach, he could see the shaman coming off their boats and entering the island. He didn't want to attend; it wouldn't matter anyway. Villagers rushed out to the beach to gawk at the shaman. There were three of them and they were old, scrawny, and had a blank expression on their faces. The people led them to the square with such joy. Everyone flocked from each and every pathway. Everyone from the well-to-do to the laborers. Beroel sat on the beach alone. The drumming ended with a loud bang. Fine. He sat up and attended the square as well.

He had been to many festivals and it was rare that they ended any different. A few people were chosen to participate in a trial, usually they lost, walked away sad without a totem. Maybe once or twice out of every sixty or so someone came victorious and usually their family already had a totem. Beroel was quite young last time he saw a laborer gain status. They opened a candle shop which most people refused to shop at for many moons. They'd say they were still 'smechérs' at heart. Beroel hated that word.

The ceremony had begun. The shaman chanted a prayer and the villagers bowed their heads. Beroel looked around the crowd. Their eyes were all closed shut so he didn't worry about staring for too long. He noticed Rekas on the far side of the square. He echoed every chant and knew the prayer better than anyone with a totem. Beroel didn't find it fair. Scanning the crowd, he saw the girl from the beach. Tortoise Girl he called her because he hadn't found out her name. The prayer ended as he looked at her. She opened her eyes and their gazes collided. But her eyes turned away without thought. He turned away as well.

The shaman announced the trial and their was worry in the audience. The task was to sail out to a neighboring island, Longtalon Isle, and spend the night. On most days, this would be a simple task, but the storm was on its way. There may have been one or two notches on the sundial until the eye was over and the second coming would not be kind. This trial was madness and who were the spirits to command a suicide mission? Even so, some villagers seemed pleased. The banker's boy had a grin like a Daeman. Beroel never liked that kid, and that kid didn't like 'smechérs' so the feeling was mutual.

Everyone went silent as the shaman began to announce the names. The first name was the shoemaker's son, a boy with cornrows. The crowd went mad with applause. The family blushed like hyenas in heat. They laughed and celebrated with their friends and the boy jumped for joy like he had a day off from school. Despite the harsh trial that awaited the boy, the thought of the totem and the status was too great. Beroel watched their delight from afar until he noticed Rekas joining him. He looked distressed.

"I'm sorry, Beroel."

Before getting a word out, he patted the dreaded boy on the back and walked down the southern pathway towards the beach. It was not like Rekas to miss a festival. But Beroel assumed his faith had just finally been shattered and he accepted that their wasn't a totem in his future. Beroel was glad they weren't chosen. The trial was a death sentence.

The shaman motioned for the crowd to listen as they selected the next competitor. It was an older woman who worked as a hairdresser. After her fanfare. Another villager, a man who sold curtains, was selected. As the crowd grew happier knowing their friends had a chance at greater status, the banker's boy grew colder. His eyes were like an owl's keying in on a rat as he watched the shaman. His parents seemed nervous as they looked over at him, waiting for him to pounce at any second.

But again, the shaman motioned for silence. But paused longer this time. One even held his head as if he had a headache. The crowd was anxious. The banker had to put a hand on his son's shoulder for fear he'd explode from the anticipation. The name was on the tip of the shaman's tongue. It felt like time was slowing down. It was like he was on the first syllable for a whole moon cycle. But then he finished and there was hesitation in the crowd before they began to clap.

"Beroel."

The villagers looked around, uncertain who they were clapping for. The boy was frozen. No. He wouldn't. He held still hoping their was another person named Beroel in the village. But several other laborers came up to him and carried him toward the shaman. His eyes were wide and he watched as people whom had never looked at him before gave him a half-hearted cheer. He scanned the crowd, not sure what to do, but then he noticed Tortoise Girl. She was looked direct at him. She looked so concerned. Did it worry her that he was competing in a dangerous trial? Did she fear she'd never see him again? He heard a yell from the the other side of the crowd and turned to get a close-up of a fist in his vision.

The End

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