Etchings by EliasBrahe

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Much of her existence in the New World revolved around finding food. But, that was how it always was, even before the Wrath. There was never enough food. She sat with her back towards a rocky dune as the bright, blue sun thrashed the sky with the last of day's righteous anger. The wan clouds screamed for mercy in purple pleas and brilliant orange protests.

Her fingers danced impatiently at the edges of her fire. At last, she greedily plucked out the charred morsel. Tearing into the skinny, undercooked animal, she stared in unblinking awe at the beauty of the fading horizon.

The meal did not suffice. Nothing ever did. However, she would not risk hunting for more at night. Those that waited for the sun's passing would come jig with her the line between predator and prey. Her fire sat close to the Children's lair. And she was not ready.

She had more important tasks, anyway. Five pinches of ash, some chosen animal parts, a few collected dry berries and roots, and a tiny dribble of precious water. All these dashed together in a warped, steel bowl.

When the mixture lazily boiled on the flame, she dipped in the needle. This one, she started along the bridge of her nose and fanned out, mimicking the horizon. And something, someone, else? Her precious, gracious Momma, who's gift had been empathy. The Old Man had been unable to understand Tressa, or Momma. He had saved her from the other survivors; his last act before leaving her, like the rest.

Tressa dipped the needle and continued, working along sharp cheekbones and sunken eyes. Momma was gone; abducted by God. He took her up to the sky and destroyed the Old World with his floating palace, leaving behind the New World.

The designs would look much like those she had etched along her entire body. The patterns mimicked Momma's serene, steel enshrouded likeness, but held the spirit of the New World, as well. Tressa knew her before God gave her the armor. But, she chose to remember her like this; active, regal, and powerful. Tressa required no mirror to mark her face. She could feel that her patterns were true.

The survivors cast her away because of her etchings. They focused on petty worries, now alien in this vibrant existence. Oh, they were glad enough when her sketches had saved them. Momma's lost Children, those from below, had attacked to devour them. Much of the New World was about food. And the Old Man was now too aged to dance, anymore.

Then came their fussing, whining, and scolding. They babbled about bringing back the Old World, yelled at her about eating, eating! and other pointlessness, like baths! Tressa sharply blew out her dust crusted nostrils. The next etchings were around her mouth and chin. The Children, at least, understood what Mother's voice meant. How it felt.

"I'm here. It's alright. We are together. The noises terrified you. The gas choked you. The fires burnt you. The violence broke you. But, I am here now. You're alone no longer."

It was that soothing voice which had called the Children together to unity. And her voice had called to Tressa in the fires. Before Momma, they were all lost, forsaken by those who made them that way. As she was, again.

She grimaced. The needle pierced the scar which tugged her mouth into a rueful smirk. She had smirked since the fires took her parents.

The Children remained somewhat unified, even after God stole Momma. Why had the Children not taken her with them? Was it her gift? Momma had explained gifts. Countless, tiny creatures lived in her, helped her survive and fueled her gift. She never understood how something could be too small to see, yet so powerful. And why did they not speak?

She brushed back twisted, matted locks of dark brown hair. The hairline was all that remained. Tomorrow, she would go, and they would accept her. The Children would see Momma's likeness in the etchings and take in Tressa as their own. Wrapping her tattered cloak around her, she curled up next to the embers.

The morning sun beat down on her brightly. Silently and quickly, she donned her cloak, gloves, glasses, and wrappings. Her stomach howled in hunger, warning her of impending starvation. Looking around desperately, she spotted a bone in the ashes. Cracking it, she sucked out marrow and wandered into the bright and shimmering wilderness.

She saw the toppling ruin which the dying scout had reported from a distance. In its shade was the pit. She trudged on. The heat from sands beat up at her. As the building leaned high over her, she saw figures in the shadows. Momma's Children always moved, never stopped. One twisted its head towards her. The others turned wordlessly. More poured from the mouth of the pit as she approached.

Just within the shadow, she removed her outer layers as Children started loping soundlessly towards her. They would recognize. In her sleeveless tunic, patched pants, and boots, Tressa opened arms toward them. Now in hundreds, they jogged close in an ever-changing formation to form a semi-circle around her.

The Children momentarily regarded her with their familiar, unfocussed eyes. Each one of the hundreds looked apart from the rest. They appeared much like her, dirty and disheveled. But, they moved in unison; connected, even in Momma's absence. Tressa smiled.

A hulking, muscular man hissed. The rest took up the sound and the lost Children charged. Everything became clear. They would never recognize Momma in her. She had not the gifts. Momma, and her empathy, were gifts of the Old World. Tressa was a gift of the New. She touched the world with art.

As the mass around her surged and closed in to dance, Tressa's tattoos twisted and writhed on her skin. The big man closed the distance first, reaching out. The etchings on her body lashed out like vipers among the Children.

The End

~~~

Etchings, a short story set in a mysterious post-apocalyptic environment, took first place in the ScienceFiction challenge "Alone" (November 2017).

True to his writing style, it's author doesn't reveal much about himself...


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