My stomach growls as I stare at the dark water, unsure if what just happened really did happen. The boy had appeared and vanished behind the rock as if he was a part of the sea himself. My brain can’t wrap around the thought of a boy doing that… of a boy my age, even. No one I know is exactly my age.
A strange sense of unease slips into my veins as I stare at the never-ending ocean stretched out before me. Something tells me this is an unnatural occurrence. Could I be hallucinating? I haven’t eaten all day today, nor yesterday.
It growls again and I decide to make my way back to the village, the biggest one of the three on the island. The Initi Tribe is the one I call home. The others are the Wurn and Revli Tribes. Neither of them have as old of people as my tribe does, nor as many. We are the largest.
I make my way up the tall, inclined island, using branches and fallen logs to help me up the steep slope. The Tribe Leaders taught us this island used to be something called a mountain before the Flood hundreds of years ago. Our people were almost completely wiped off of the face of the Earth, but we relearned everything and banded together. That’s when the first Initi Tribe was born.
There are so many legends about them and of what they experienced. However, no one knows what it is they really saw. They kept it a secret, hiding it from the tribespeople that were later to become a part of the tribe.
The Initi Tribe was the First Tribe. Then there was a dispute between the first three Tribe Leaders and they parted ways, creating the three tribes we have now: Initi, Revli, and Wurn. The tribe names all stand for something in the ancient language used by the First Tribe Members. Today, we only know those three words in this mystery language: Initi is peace, Revli is love, and Wurn is war. These tribes were said to once work together and bring harmony to this island. And then a war broke out.
The Initi Tribe stood back, startled by the corruption between the tribes. Revli wanted to become one large tribe again and work their problems out through love, while Wurn, being the largest and most powerful tribe on the island, didn’t want to give up and share its selfish desires. It was Initi that eventually ended the war and everything was okay again.
Or at least that’s the history we’ve been taught over the years from other tribespeople and the Tribe Leaders themselves.
I finally reach the side of the rock that was chipped away and somehow flattened out by the weather, or maybe by the hands of our ancestors. Our houses made of wood and leaves are scattered along the flat rock, all leaning to one side or the other as if they are to fall over at any moment, but they are the strongest buildings to ever have been built out of the three tribes. They keep all the rain, as well as small predators, out. Without these houses, we wouldn’t have the population we have now. Everyone would be dead…
I take a deep breath and shake my head as I dust my hands off onto my shorts, little pieces of rocks falling to the ground below my bare calloused feet. We only wear shoes during the winter. It’s easier hunting when we’re barefoot.
Lily-flor walks out of a house, most likely from being informed I’d finally come home, holding a cooking knife in her hand. She looks around for a moment before her eyes focus on me. Her mouth breaks out into a smile and she runs up to me, squealing my name.
“Hello, Lily-flor,” I smile as I pick her up in a hug. I rest her on my hip and squint at her through the moonlight.
“Wonderful!” she smiles. “You were gone all day, and you missed it. Tani-mah taught me how to cook a squirrel. And it tastes really good.”
I laugh, trying to keep the pang of sadness I feel out of it. Squirrel is what we eat when we’re running low on food. There are just too many of the little rodents on the island, especially coming out of the winter. Spring and fall only come around for a few days a year, and then the heat and ice hit like there was never a trace of the other.
“That’s great, Lily-flor.”
“Did you catch anything, Cressa-la?”
I shake my head sadly.
“That’s okay,” she squirms to get down. “I like squirrel.”
She takes my hand and leads me into the house of the Head Tribe Leader’s wife, who also happens to be a Tribe Leader, Tani-mah. She’s made it twenty-one years while her husband Rai-si has made it twenty-five; they’re the oldest of the Tribe Leaders.
The door made of thick sticks creaks open and Tani-mah turns around to see who has entered.
“Ah, Cressa-la,” she smiles as she walks over to me. In the glow of the fire torch set into a block of stone I can see a tiny carcass resembling a squirrel resting on a thin stone over a small fire. “Welcome back.”
“Thank you, Tani-mah,” I smile back as she gives me a small hug. I can feel judgment radiating from her. I can always feel it.
She pulls away and turns back to her cooking, humming slightly. A lump rises in my throat. I’ve never been good enough for her.
“Did you find anything? You were gone all day, and that’s not like you, Cressa-la,” she asks over her shoulder, the brightness of the fire around the house making her tan skin and dark hair glow like the night sky.
I shake my head and she turns back around to tend to the squirrel. Suddenly I’m afraid to tell her I’d found nothing. Nothing as in deer that I hadn’t shot because I didn’t want to separate it from its mother.
But then the boy jumps to the front my mind.
“Actually,” I begin. She turns slightly, taken by surprise at my sudden word burst. “I saw a boy.”
“Saw a what?” she asks, pausing for a moment before turning the squirrel over on its back to cook.
“Where?” she asks, turning around, the flame beneath the squirrel matching the tone of her voice.
I’m taken aback by her sudden tone and body language. “Um… down below. I was in front of the trees and looking out at the water after I went into the forest and I found a baby deer—”
“You found a deer?” Tani-mah shouts. My stomach twists inside of me. “And you didn’t shoot it?”
“It was a baby, Tani-mah, and its mom was—”
“Lily-flor, can you go outside for a moment?” Tani-mah says to her sternly. Lily-flor opens her mouth to protest, but Tani-mah gives her a sharp look that shuts her right up. Her eyes are wide as makes her way past me, placing the knife on the table and watching me with wide eyes. She’ll want to know everything that happens, if she doesn’t eavesdrop from outside the house.
“I couldn’t shoot it!” I explode after Lily-flor shuts the door. “After all the babies that die here, I couldn’t—”
“Deer are animals, Cressa-la. Do you not understand that?”
“Yes, I know they are, but they still feel things.”
“Cressa-la,” she breathes, her disappointment in me blatantly obvious.
“But the boy,” I press, trying to get her to understand, trying to make her understand.
“There was no boy, Cressa-la.”
My brow furrows at her words. How would she know? She wasn’t there. “Yes, there was! There was something in the water and then he appeared behind this rock—”
“Cressa-la,” Tani-mah tries to interrupt, but I talk over her.
“—and he said he lived in the sea. He recognized me or something, but I don’t know how; I’d never seen him before. I asked him what he meant, but he didn’t tell explain—”
“Cressa-la,” she says louder, harsher, but I keep talking.
“—and he said goodbye and—and that I would see him again—”
I snap my mouth shut, breathing in and out heavily from the amount of oxygen I had used to try and tell her what happened. A fire is burning in her eyes and something inside of me is scared, like I’d found something I wasn’t supposed to, like I’m on the verge of revealing a long-kept secret. The situation I’d created makes my fingers tingle with anxiety.
“There was no boy. You’re so hungry you’re hallucinating, Cressa-la.” Tani-mah runs her fingers through the hair on top of her head and sighs heavily, closing her eyes for a moment. I had never realized how much shorter she was than I am until now. It gives me the illusion that I can be powerful, no matter how small she makes me feel. “Grab a piece of squirrel, it’s finished.”
“I said, grab a piece of squirrel, Cressa-la.”
Nodding, I swallow my words as I walk over to tear a leg off. I nibble at it as I step out into the cool night, my stomach in knots and churning at the taste of the meat. I could swear Tani-mah hates me, except for the fact she was the one that handed me Lily-flor.
She sits on the ground right below the makeshift window of the house, picking at the stones beneath her. Her hair is knotted and tangled, and it moves ever so slightly in the wind, revealing her young baby face now and then.
Lily-flor looks up at me as I shut the door and squat down to hand her the rest of my food. She needs it more than I do. I can hunt for my own.
“I believe you,” she says, taking the leg and to devouring it.
A smile slips onto my face and I tousle her hair. “Thanks, Lily-flor. That means a lot to me.”
“Was he cute?” she asks, her eyes hopeful and her voice quiet so Tani-mah won’t hear. I laugh out loud and shake my head at the ridiculous question.
“Of all the questions you could ask…”
I plop down next to her and rest my head against the house as she finishes up the leg, looking up at the stars above, and the moon that’ll bring the new babies to us. Soon, sleep weighs on me and I don’t want to get up. I certainly don’t want to escort Lily-flor back into Tani-mah’s house. Who knows what Tani-mah might say or do? And my house is at the other end of the village.
So I end up closing my eyes and dreaming, something that doesn’t seem to happen often enough.