Saturday, February 8, 2014

Prompt: They can’t see you if you stand still

Karibe kept a close watch on their band of travellers and the horizon. They were in the middle of the salt flats, with no cover in sight. They’d scared off a young male pachti early this morning, before they were out of sight of the trees on the eastern border. He’d snuck behind young Jikob and rushed him with a roar. Nimble Saree had been first to throw her spear and wound the pachti, so it ran off screaming. Jikob was more scared than injured, and stuck close to Saree the rest of the day.

If they could make it to the sight of the western border, Karibe would feel better. Out here, the biggest danger came from above. Everyone was moving slowly and evenly, sliding feet across the gritty sand to keep their balance. Voices didn’t matter, but they spoke in hushed tones, not signing as usual.

Tchala walked next to Karibe, her baby Tchipo sleeping on her back. Karibe had tried to keep him covered, but he thrashed so much under the skins, she relented and bared his head. She was close enough to throw a skin over him if needed. Tchala gave Karibe a tired smile. Karibe wished she had a water gourd to give her. Tchala hadn’t fully recovered from carrying Tchipo, and he suckled the life out of her every day. But Tchala wouldn’t let any other nursing mother help, nor try the gempo milk most children drank after they were done on the teat.

Tired and blinded by the glinting sun, Karibe didn’t see the cloud of xicaps at first. Saree whistled an alarm and everyone froze. The xicaps’ giant flock swept back and forth across the salt flats, searching for anything moving. Small carnivorous birds that could strip a full-grown pachti to the bone in minutes, they were the scourge of Karibe’s people. She moved slowly, lifting her arm to cover Tchipo’s head with a skin and draping the sides into Tchala’s hands so she could hold him firmly against her back. Tchipo wailed, but noise wouldn’t give them away. Only motion.

Karibe and Saree started a steady, calming chant to keep everyone still while the xicaps were in sight. Karibe struggled not to break the rhythm when the flock flew closer. She had survived a xicaps flock before, but it was one of the most fearsome experiences she could imagine. Poor Jikob, the youngest of their band, was already trembling. Saree slowly reached out a hand to his shoulder as the xicaps swept among them.

Perhaps her touch startled him. Perhaps he thought it was one of the spiked-beaked birds, or their razor-sharp claws. Jikob panicked, and against his training from birth, he bolted away from the frozen tribe. The xicaps surrounded him in a black moving wall. His screams ripped the air for long moments Karibe would hear again and again in her dreams. The shape that dropped under the xicaps flock as it flew upward was nothing like Jikob.

Saree keened a rising wail, and the tribe joined in. Frozen in place until the xicaps were out of sight, they could do no more for Jikob. No more for their grief. When Karibe could no longer see the black cloud on the horizon, she turned and walked away from what was left of Jikob, and the others followed. Their grief sank with his blood into the parched ground.

Dogs in house

Time writing
~30 minutes

February word count

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