The Passage to Publishing; Support for Writers, Editors, and Designers Facebook Group recently hosted a flash fiction challenge to write a 500-word piece inspired by the following photo. I thought I’d share my entry.
(On a side note, that support group is pretty awesome if you’re looking to make some publishing/author friends or want advice.)
Dry grit rubbed between her exposed toes with each shuffled step. Brown dust clung to glistening skin, kissed by the night wind’s song and streaked red with paint from berries. Her rapid breath added to the chorus. A raging heart leading one foot in front of the other, up the hill of her ancestors.
This would be the last pilgrimage. At dawn, she would lead the tribe east towards the rising sun. Towards the promise of fertile soil, herds to hunt, rivers that flowed faster than their horses could run. Towards hope. A flicker of chance. But no assurance.
The dry blades of grass swayed as she summited, beholding the stone arch which had watched over their people for generations. Her black hair swirled in the air, feathers dangling from the locks taking flight once more.
Having reached the peak, her long limbs collapsed to the ground. Longing fingers traced the ornate pattern of rocks embedded into the craving dirt. Tears could not replenish the land, but she let them fall anyways, unable to feign strength any further. Up here she could be weak. Where no one could see her. No one except the elders she came to invoke.
Looking into the sky’s depth, she felt their presence in the twinkling light gleaming down through the black. Each star representing a soul who had faced such trial before. Somewhere her mother was there, and her grandmother, and strong woman before. Someday she would add her own light to the heavens, but not before leaving her mark upon the dust.
And what mark would that be?
Her ears still echoed from cries of resistance. Warriors who shouted uncertainty. Aged women who stayed silent with the fear of leaving home floating in their hollow eyes. But to stay would bring certain death. Their numbers would fade with the fish and bison.
Only the children harbored no opinion. In the plain below, they slept in stick shelters unknowing tomorrow they would leave everything they had known. Yet their hands and backs would bare the greatest burden. The young ones would be counted on to resettle a new land somewhere beyond the horizon. They would bare hardship so their own children might prosper.
And if she was wrong, there would not be a future generation.
“Give me a sign.” Wind lifted the plea. “Show me I do not lead my people to death.”
Without answer, the stars traversed above, white light painted in the sky by the Gods. She found the large bear, and the salmon. The hunter with his arrow drawn and the great white bird whose wings she longed for. But the figures stayed in the heavens where they were every night, silent. The stars. The one constant as the soil turned to dust. The light which still shone each night as rivers dried.
And the stars would follow their journey. A simple truth that rushed into her soul with realization. No matter where they wandered over the coming months, the stars would be there, overhead each night. Their ancestors, their heritage. The stars would provide continuity and reassurance. She could not see beyond the horizon, but the stars could. She could survive each day and lead her people, knowing the stars would be there at night.