Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Portent

   Above the face of the temple, only a small black spot wavered near the mount.  From the base it could have been fog, perhaps the heat of morning.  Leading upwards the stone steps were green, save for the narrow path of stone polished daily by the feet of the old man, who climbed to greet the gods and spill his sand upon the flat surface of the summit, his hand glancing outward in a spiral to pause before retracing the course in reverse.  Words passed his lips that even he could scarcely hear.
   On this day he passed a handful of maize over the sand.  Each kernel fell to cast small shadows as the light rose above the canopy of the intertwined vines and branches that surrounded.  Patches of ground brightened where only moments before a deep blackness had held.
   A sigh broke the words.  He stared at the shadows as they deepened and faded in the warming dawn.  Birds called.  The hum of the insects began.  The words continued in their steady rhythm. 
   Lifting his head, his neck cracked over shoulders limp from age.  The searing brilliance blinded him.  He lowered his head and began to pick the maize from the sand, each piece cradled in his left hand of thin skin and bones.
   With his hand closed tight, he shifted his knees to stand.  Joints popped.  He turned from the rising, and started down the narrow path of grey stone, each step taken slowly in shadow on shuddering legs.
   Closing on the final steps, he could see the people gathering, their heads lifted to trace his path.  Men stood beside younger men, each waiting with a look that was neither hope nor fear.  Their faces were the hard stone beneath his bare, calloused feet.
   Passing the final step, he moved through the faces.  He said nothing.  There were not words for what he carried.  His silence left each man fallen, as they turned from tracing his path and walked slowly away.  The gathering dismissed in a wake following his slow, limping walk, parting like the leaves of the fields after the rains had wet the ground.
   It was to be a matter of time.  That was all.  Each understood.
   As the women's screams tore the air over the village, the old man stopped his walk.  He could hear their plaints, the begging, the denial of what all knew necessary.  It was a terrible sound, but not the worst.
  Soon the true screams would begin.  The pained caterwauls of sons as their throats choked on blades and youthful blood fell over the dark soil of the fields to shine in the rising sun, covering the ground with life reserved for later times.  In desperate hope, if nothing else.

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