Feeling lightheaded, I lift the large bird I had caught on higher ground onto the Feasting Table in front of the Tribe Leaders’ houses. Its colorful feathers ruffle in the wind as its long neck drapes over the rock. I carefully place it back on the surface, the colors reminding me of my scales and of my glowing. Blue.
I lean against the table for a moment, trying to get my throbbing head to quit hurting and my vision to stop spinning. My heart pounds in my chest as if I’d just been running. I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths, hoping to regain the strength I lost.
It’s been three entire cycles since I last saw Damian. Four since I’ve seen Tamir. Questions still course through me like rain during a hurricane.
I hear Tamir’s voice once again:Things have changed.
But what has?
My eyes snap open. A boy from my tribe is standing on the other side of my kill, his eyes filled with concern as he sets his own dead animal down. “Are you okay?”
“Of course I’m okay.” I stand up straight as another boy draws closer, his hunting partner. The world sways around me a bit. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
I fidget with the animal before me. The blue color makes my gut tighten inside of me. I’m dying to tell someone about all of this, the scales, Tamir, Damian, the fish, the snakes… everything. But not him. He’s a stranger—I hardly even recognize him as one of my own tribespeople, although I know he is one.
“You don’t remember me, do you?” He asks, hurt cracking like lightning in his eyes.
I stare at him for a moment as I try to recall his name. My mind comes up blank. Something in the back of my brain tells me I should know exactly who he is—but I don’t.
He sighs and shakes his head, unhooking a squirrel from his belt and setting it next to my bird and his other small kill.
“My name is Kamier-na. I’m two years behind you. I was assigned to go with you to hunt but you wanted to go alone, even though Nan-ah said you had to take somebody. You would leave before anyone was awake and I eventually gave up.”
“Oh.” I duck my head and pick at the animals’ carcass.
I remember him now.
I’d wake up and wait for the sun to make its first appearance and dart out into the trees before anyone saw me, including him. I’ve always worked better alone. “Sorry.”
“If you need help with anything or need someone to talk to, I’m here,” he presses, walking closer to me. I take a hesitant step backwards. “I’m a great listener.”
“Look… Kamier-na. Thanks for your concern, but I’m perfectly fine.”
I turn to walk away, leaving the bird on the table for someone else to tend to. All I want is to get away from him. Just because he had been put to the task of hunting with me a handful of years ago doesn’t mean he can step into my personal life. He barely even has a spine to stand, seeing that he couldn’t confront me about it and demand I let him hunt with me. Which I wouldn’t have allowed him to anyway, even if he begged. Like I said before, I’ve always worked better alone. That’s how it’s always been and that’s how it always will be. I have to be strong and able to stand on my own if I still want to become a Tribe Leader. All of this stuff happening with my legs and the water and these two boys… maybe they’ll just go away. And I need to act as if they will.
“I know about your scales.”
My blood runs cold and I stop dead in my tracks.Did he just say…?
“I do,” he says again, and I clench my fists. My brain blocks his voice out. I take a step to walk away. Another.
“Cressa-la,” he calls after me. I pick up my pace. He yells my name again and I break into a sprint. The houses, the people, the trees all become one big blur as I race past Lily-flor—and right up to the edge of the village.
I stop abruptly and gaze out over the trees where the water is, my covered toes dangling over the treetops below. My breath comes out rapid and heavy and my heart pounds with anticipation. What if I go down there, to the waters’ edge? Would I find Tamir? Would the fish be down there, waiting for me? The mystery yanks at my heart.
I’m lost in my thoughts, the questions rising and falling and pushing and pulling like the waves in the distance. My heart seeming to burn as the falling night grows colder. The wind picks up, my long hair shifting as its cool fingers run through it. The moon begins to pull me to the water, its tugging seeming to get stronger with each cycle. I stare out at the sun as it sets, the moon tapping at the back of my skull, willing me to look at it, to fall to its gravity.
“Cressa-la,” a small voice calls. Lily-flor steps out of Tani-mah’s house, smiling up at me as she wipes her palms on her shorts. “Cressa-la, it’s time to eat.”
I shake my head, glancing over to the ball of light once more. The water transforms into its personal grave as small flecks of color begin to disappear and are replaced by the dark night. Specks of white will appear soon, and will promise us the sun will return. We must only wait for it. But it seems like an eternity will pass before morning again.
“I won’t be eating with you tonight,” I say as I walk up to her and squat down, deliberately trying to keep my eyes from the rising moon. “Tomorrow I will though, I promise.”
“But we’re not having squirrel tonight. Please?”
“Are you coming, Cressa-la?” Tani-mah asks me, her tone sharp as a spear-tip. “There’s room for one more.”
Puzzled, I stare at her for a moment. She seems so adamant on my staying, yet her voice gives off an entirely different vibe. Could she possibly know something too? Am I that terrible at keeping my own secrets?
Heart pounding, I stand up. “I can’t. Not tonight.”
“Why?” Tani-mah asks, something dangerous playing in her eyes. “Afraid of the dark, Cressa-la?”
My breath catches in my chest and my heart does a little jump. “N-no. Just tired…”
I begin to walk away, Lily-flor protesting as she chases after me. Tani-mah holds her back as I disappear into Nan-ah’s old house and lean against the now shut door, rubbing my face.
Every cycle, this is where I hide. I say it as if I have a choice. I don’t go out, I don’t eat, I just try to sleep, and yet I still end up dreaming about the moon and all the trouble it could get me into.
My feet find their way to my hammock and I lay down, my weight making it sway. My voice drifts past my lips as the ancient song I sing helps soothe my rigid heartbeat. Desperately, I attempt to ignore the voices outside my new home and block out the happy laughter of my tribe and the aching of my heart. I focus on sleeping, on dreaming. I yearn to think of anything else, something slightly normal, but the boy in the water keeps me awake with his wonder and my questions, and soon I see the sun poking through the cracks in my door.
Six cycles pass. Damian is nowhere to be seen. Tamir is out of my reach. It’s been ten cycles since anything strange has happened, besides my hiding from the moon. Summer is upon us and I must take off my boots. I’ve no idea how I will hide the scales on the bottoms of my feet. And that’s a problem.
For a few days I stay silent in my home, only slightly opening the door when someone comes knocking. They’re turned away as I tell them I don’t feel well. Some visit because they’re worried I’ll die—but I know better than that. I just need time. Time to hide my scales.
It’s a whole week before I come up with something. I’m skinnier than I should be due to the lack of food I have received, but this idea should work. I have strapped a piece of tough animal hide to the bottoms of my feet, hoping it will fix my scaly problem. Such a simple solution, I should have thought of it earlier. But it was the inner battle with the prying looks of the people and the questions that will be thrown my way.
The first day I wear it, people ask the questions I’d expected and I’m forced to lie even more. It gets easier and easier to as I rehearse what to say, but my heart grows heavier and heavier with the burdens of the lies. Soon they accept my creative reasoning and conclude I will live.
And then it’s the day before my birthday. The day before the twelfth full moon since I’ve seen Tamir, since that insane night… The day before I turn eighteen.
Everyone talks. I’m the only one turning eighteen this year and it’s been two of them since we’ve had someone attempt to become a Tribe Leader.
And now it’s my turn.
Rai-si and Tani-mah hang around me during most of the day, making small talk and asking me unimportant questions. They follow me out on my unsuccessful hunts. They eat with me. And they watch as I grow uneasy when the sun makes its decent down the sky. Tomorrow is the day I might become a Tribe Leader. It’s also the night I might get taken by the moon.
I shiver as I lay down in my hammock, every part of me dreading tomorrow.