eM:I-elle, A Techno Fairy Tale.
Part 1: There Was...
Written By Ivan Overmoyer
Illustrations by Ross Chirico
Copyright (c) 2014, All Rights Reserved
(Don't know what's going on? Start from the beginning!)
Down past where red mosses grow,
O'er the cleary waters,
Lies an oasis where I go
To see the one I love.
A simple melody, Cabel sang softly. His voice high and reedy, he thought, not suitable for song, but he could not stop himself, and so the music came timid from his mouth.
Sand lies on the grassy shores,
'Round oasis waters,
and there sits the one who pours
her heart to only me.
This last line came quieter than the rest, and with a grimace. It had pronounced better in his thoughts. Another sheaf of insulage grass he pulled from the roof beams, fragile and damp and flecked white with mold and musky dust smell. Last of the rotted sheaves. He dropped it past the edge wall and listened for the plak of it landing on the mulch pile below. Allowed himself to stand, feet wide on thin beams, hands to back, craning face-up and gazed on the plates, six-sided, forming the ceiling so high above.
Judging the sun strength from above it was perhaps mid-day. He thought this and his gut grumbled the affirmative yes, it was time to eat. Down he went, balance over sloping roof beams, grip ladder and climbed jaunting down rung by rung until soles hit solid ground.
“Was that her new poem?”
Cabel jumped at the voice unexpected. The young girl behind him, blanket-wrapped, barefoot and dirty, her eyes questioned his, bug and new and dark brown. Pressure left his chest. “No, Tamarind. Those were my own musings.”
“What about? I barely heard.” She stood rock-still, not even a shiver in the frigid air of the day.
“Nothing important,” Cabel replied smiling. A bundle of rag sat lumpy by the house wall, his fingers snagged the knot at the top and he lifted it next to a stone, then sat. “Come, Tamarind, share my lunch.”
The shroud of blanket, wrapping girl, stepped lightly to the stone and sat by Cabel, waiting for him to untie. The sack held bread and pig cheese, both he broke and gave pieces to her, waiting patiently by him.
“There was a new poem, you said.” A bite of cheese, a bite of bread.
“There was,” replied he, “there is.”
Another bite of cheese, another bite of bread, dull flavor mixing textures on her tongue. “Where is it?”
“In my father's house.” He ate quiet and slow, the way he imagined the poet must.
“Why didn't you bring it for me to see?”
“One does not carry treasure when he works.”
“It could be damaged, or lost.”
“When can I see it?”
“When I am not so busy.”
“But when will that be? You've not given me a reading lesson in six days.”
“I don't know,” sighed Cabel. “I have food to make up. I will try soon.”
“Is it hard?”
“Working for food.”
And Cabel thought, bread and cheese tongued in his cheek. Houses of Shady Grey drifted foggy through his thoughts, the roofs, the walls, the doors, the people... men and women and their children, farmers, hunters, builders and cleaners, crafters and servers... and the poet. She dwelled long on his mind, and he smiled. “I don't work for food, I work for the village. We all do. The food is thanks.”
Tamarind furrowed brow. “But you need it to live.”
“Then I am lucky I am liked.” His meal finished, Cabel wound sackcloth to his arm and stood as the door from the house opened. A woman, mouse-brown of hair wisps reaching from underhood looked timid from inside.
“Cabel,” said she, “your work is finished?”
Head tick-tocked side to side, “no,” he answered. “I've yet to put on the new thatch.”
“Ah. Is Tamarind bothering you too much?”
He smiled, again tick-tocked. “No. I like the company.”
A single breathless nod. “Good then. I go townward, on errands. Tamarind, stay with Cabel, and do as he says.”
“I'll report your work to Smith before I return.”
“My thanks,” with a bow.
A nod and off down path, clutching cloak in one hand and basket in other. Cabel started around the hovel's side and gathered up two large baskets stuffed with reed grasses. Well-practiced ease, he slung them each over a shoulder and walked no-handed upward, rung by rung till feet met roof board. The baskets he set side by side and went to work. A moment later and the faint creak of barefoot girl up ladder met his ears. Wordless, the child began taking sheaves of thatch from their baskets and laying them as Cabel did on the roof's crosspieces.
“You have been practicing your letters, yes?” Cabel inquired as he bound the sheaves.
“Yes,” Tamarind replied. “And I taught Mum as well.”
Cabel flinched. “Your mother wants to learn?”
Little shoulders bobbed. “I don't know. She was just curious, I think.” Another sheaf laid by its brothers. “But she liked Fiddler of Grasses when I read it and she asked me of the letters, so I told her how you showed me to read them. She said not to show Smith, or to speak of it to him.”
“Ah...” The word left as a laugh. “Wise words.”
A pause in talk. Another sheaf. “Why should we not tell Smith? Do letters upset him?”
Cabel leaned back from his work, elbows resting on knees. “Smith's mind... works in numbers. Letters distract and confuse him. A man who does as he cannot allow that.”
The girl thought. “But Mum said I shouldn't even let him know I am learning them. Why?”
“He may not understand that others don't live with numbers as he does.”
“Can't we just tell him?”
Cabel sighed. “Have you ever spoken to him?” Her head slowly shook. “I thought not. You should do as your mother says.”
They worked long in the day laying sheaves over meager roof, binding to the beams, going over letters and their sounds. The sky grew dark and Tamarind's mother returned, smell of smoke and food issued from the smoke hole soon after. The girl was called inside and bid Cabel farewell as light rain started to fall. The warmth and must of the smoke comforted him in the droplets falling around him. Work finished. Clambered down wet rungs, slung baskets bound by rope over one shoulder, ladder over other. It was a long, hard trek home to his own meal. He sang softly through the mist.
Bango, come see! A beetle I've caught, a beetle! Corner of the room, a pile of rags, rump of an ilvi stuck out tail flailing. Back feet scraped stone floor, Senegal dragged out his catch, a black beetle skull-sized and struggling silent in his jaws.
Bango flopped her flat feet forward, away from trying to get her sister to wrestle, nose-holes woofing at the shiny black carapace. Pretty glistenbug, sparkle and shine! Excitement electrified her tail. There might be more! Where found you it?
Under pile, yonder, Senegal replied, the beetle sluggish scraping to escape his jaws.
Bango leapt into the pile thrashing cloth around her slinky middle. I want one! I want to see it sparkle in the sun!
Senegal watching, tossed his catch a little and regripped with teeth, carrying the bug off to a quiet corner. Tested carapace with his jaws and felt it give, spiky legs gently pricking tongue, taste bland and empty. Oh, but the curious nerve, it burns...
Do not eat the beetle, Senegal.
Dropped the prize suddenly, like a guilty dog, looking around to see who had caught. Voice in his head, ancient and wise... Mother Critter? Eyed the bug crawling blind across stone.
Senegal, you know better.
He was by Mother's box, mistaken its slats for a room corner. Looked up guilty, saw long ears peek over the edge. But wild moss pigs eat the beetles, why not us?
And are you a moss pig?
I am not...
Grow you tired of her writings?
You wish to grow sick?
You will leave the beetles, you will leave the meal.
No more from the matriarch. Ears sank below the rim of the box and Senegal slunk to a quiet spot to mope off his humiliation. By the box, beetle took out aftwings and buzzed to air, spiraling confused to the wall, away and found itself sudden and unexpected tangled in short brown hair.
Wordless, Emielle's hand raised, closed cagelike around the insect, pulling it from her head and around to her eyes, like waking from a dream. “Oh, hello.” A glance around the room, and the Ilvi in her lap squirmed from lack of ear-fondle. Next it jumped back to floor as the poet's crossed lap unfolded, walked, disappeared through cloth-covered door.
Monk grunted to himself, disturbed from his nap. Plod across floor to underchair, finding young Senegal already there. Snort. Young one, what troubles you here?
Slowly opened eyes, logi in low light. Mother Critter held chosen words for me she did. A scolding scalds.
Shivery spine and a tiny hiss. I'll give you another if you pun at me again, whelp. Half turned away, then pause. Wait, the Mother Critter had words?
Hard ones, she did. But Monk already bouncing away, calling for his brother. Awakened in his hidey hole by Monk's frantic cries, Mung unfurled and climb-squeezed through dry-rot wood and plaster, up into the main room. Out in the open he shook dust from fur and yawned, stretching front feet luxuriously.
Monk, what excites you so? Almost midday it is.
Bounce twist, jump circles around his brother. Mother Critter awakes! Wee ones must be named soon!
So fast Mung's front paws moved to scramble they slipped and chin hit floor. Senegal uncurled, looked to Bijou. Too young are we to understand the excitement?
Bijou peered from his vantage at the two ilvi running about, scratching at Mother Critter's box. It must be, he answered.
And Terak, woken by commotion struggled out of her shirtsleeve and plodded sleepy to where Monk and Mung danced. And what happens here, older nonaps?
As Monk clawed wooden sides Mung bounced his paws, sniffing the wee one's nose. Mother is finished her feeding the kits. They go on written word today, and they will choose their names.
And we can take the overflow! Monk with his head stretched back, down the boxside.
Yes. For this the Starchaser sacrifices a book. A rare delicacy for the likes of us.
A book? Terak yawned. Never tasted one of those.
Senegal perked his head and Bijou leapt from his table, the only oblivious was Bango, still rooting the ragpile for beetles. Monk clawed over the top of the box, pushing his shoulders in. And for that they come. Typical. The kits, curled and sleeping tucked safe in Mother Critter's crescent moon tummy. Two striped brown and grey, one fluffy brown, the last shiny black. Mother looked sleepy up to Monk's inquiring rose. She thought nothing to him, her eyes half closed, contented and tired. Monk's tongue flicked over his nostrils. Rest yourself, Mother. I only come to look. We wait upon Emielle for their names. And Mother Critter rested her head again.
As the youngsters gathered slowly around the box Mung plodded to the twitching ragpile. Buried his head inside where Bango fought fiercely with her tail, dragged her out by the scruff of her neck. Let go! I'm snakefighting!
You're tailfighting. Now come, this is important. The babies will be named.
And why should I care?
You will have new siblings to look after. Also there is a book in it for us.
Suddenly stopped struggling. A book?
Now sit still. Plomp on the ground, and she sat straight as Mung ordered, but tail still flicked about.
Monk lifts his head, looks about the room. Where comes the poet? These new youngsters need their food.
Wordless Mung leapt up and out of the room. Through curtain door and wallhole he went and turned head to sniff the wind. Horizon drear and grey, rocky flat but for the town far downhill. He smelled before he saw her bundled figure sat on a low boulder overlooking the valley. Her must and dusty cloth danced to him on the wind and tickled his nose with its comfort familiarity. He bounded for her over scrub, rock and dirt, slowing to stop at the rock upon which she sat, and his rump it dust as he straightened upright by her side.
Eyes wide blue at nothing, clear of all but hair that blew in breezes around her face. She only moved to plop a friendly hand between Mung's ears. A sigh, they shared. What troubles you, Starchaser? He knew she could not hear him like his brother and sisters did. She was not built like they, not privy to their bickerings, their games, their little world. Yet somehow he knew she would answer. She always did, in time. A long while they sat and the babies and Mother Critter and their imminent feast gnawed at the back of his mind but still he sat, waiting as her fingers scritch-scritched at his fur crown.
“Something's changed, Mung,” she murmured after a moment, and what words he understood he cocked his ear to listen. “Something's different, and I fear what's changed is me.” She sighed. “I think I may have lost my touch, if such is what I had.”
Inclined his face to move her fingers to a better spot. A touch you have. You feed us well.
“I keep productive for you, your brothers and sisters... I have to keep you fed, but I feel there's such limited supply.” Head leaned back, eyes to the CitySky. “And all the books you bring me cannot seem to rekindle the fire, as grateful as I am. I use the same words over and over... how to avoid shallow cliché, when my reserve dwindles so.” A rueful laugh and renewed scritching for Mung's batwing ears. “I often wonder how it tastes to you. Do you get bored with my tired words? Is the taste as bland as I imagine?”
Mung stared, his head cocked.
“And for how long I've been here, this house on this hill, living on what charity I can trade for verse... I would trade books but none will take them, be they treasure or trash.”
The Odann are a strange bunch, they are. They know not worth when they see it.
“Oh Mung,” she whispered... “What am I doing here?” Her eyes closed and he could feel her trying to remember, felt her mind straining against the wall it had built itself to protect her. And Mung reined in his own memories for fear that they would leak into hers. He knew she had seen the empties from him the other night, and he could not put her through something like that again. He had to protect her. Instead he thought of the kits curled tight against Mother's bosom, and nuzzled her knee. Broke from her thoughts she looked down into his expectant eyes.
You care for us, Starchaser, and we for you. And she smiled and he felt a small hope that she had heard him blossom in his belly, one last look to the horizon she gave and the light peeking under the great CitySky before she stood, started back to her leany shack with ilvi eagerly in tow.
Back inside they went to see the congregation round Mother Critter's wooden box, Matriarch now sleeping. And Emielle smiled, animals parted to let her through while Mung took place next to a fidgeting sister. Poet knelt by the box and gentle, slow, reached inside and one by one removed four babies, laid the new long bodies over arm. She turned, set them one by one, side by side on her blanket bed. A glance round and she chose her book, which she had tried so hard to read since Monk and Mung's return. A quick flip through and she set the book open for the kits as the older ilvi gathered slowly round.
Fluffy brown crawled forward first, tender claws dragging weak body forward to the new smell. Reaching page the young female scraped paper with claw, working toward what word smelled sweetest. Emielle assisted, turning page for the new muscles just learning to scratch, until finally stopped, turned snout to meet the hunted letters. Emielle leaned forward, read, then careful with pen point tore the word from its page.
A timid lick, and picked paper up by tongue with slow mealy-mouthed chewing. The next forward was grey and brown, one of two male twins. Two pages scratched by before the word was found.
The second twin came next, sensing a word on the same page.
And lastly small and black, runty male, scratched by page after page until finally.
As younglings digested their first word, Emielle took the book to Mother Critter, nudged her with knuckle till she gently woke. “Here Mother. Eat your fill. You no longer share with four.” Book placed open in Mother's box, a sleepy sniff and pages tore out with teeth.
The poet turned to find kits surrounded by ilvi, sniffing curious and licking secrets into their ears. She knelt, closed her eyes, listened. Will they understand us? Not yet, they've eaten but one word. When will they eat more? Their bodies must get used to it first. They've only just been weaned from Mother's meditation. Will they join us to eat the book? Eek! Twem just licked my nose! The younglings gathered round the weaned kits grunting and dancing and investigating. Monk looked on, bug Mung distracted, saw the poet smile, eyes shut.
Mung, his brother noticed, What troubles you here?
A look or two between the poet and Monk, and Mung saw that his brother didn't see, perhaps didn't understand. Nothing.
This month's featured artist is Ross Chirico. You can view more of his work at his website, www.chiricodesign.com. (If you've been to Rochester NY, you may have already seen some!)
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