In celebration of my first year as blogger and independent writer, I am this week sharing my short story, Cataclysm, with readers. I will post it a chapter a day.
Not a single drop of rain had fallen in more than six years. The earth was dry and thirsty, longing for a touch from the heavens. Hot, scorching winds kept sweeping across the arid landscape, chasing up dusty clouds that drifted on the waves of heat, to be sifted down onto the parched ground again. The hillsides of the once fertile valley were scarred with patches of black ash, marking the spots where fires had spontaneously combusted. Long, dry summers were followed by deathly winters which made way for more scorching, rainless days.
In the heat of midday, a whirlwind carried her into the midst of the small, rural community that inhabited this god forsaken land. She preferred tornados as her mode of transport, as whirlwinds tended to leave her feeling slightly dizzy afterwards. As she was only traveling a short distance from the hillside outside the small town, the whirlwind sufficed. In her wake, a storm was brewing.
Her feet, clad in heavy hiking boots, kicked up small clouds of dust as she made her way down the sun-baked dirt road that led to the cluster of buildings that formed the community’s hub. She was guided on her course by the sound of a wind charm, lightly swaying in the wind from the porch roof of the general dealer. The clear, metallic sounds led her down the street, up the stairs and onto the shady porch. With a loud thud her boots came to a standstill in front of the store door. She stood for a moment, listening to and observing her surroundings. Besides the sound of the wind charm and the occasional creak of a wind pump some distance away, everything was dead quiet.
She opened the screen door and stepped into the shadowy interior of the shop. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dark. To her right there were a couple of tables and chairs. In front of her was an old fashioned shop counter with a glass display case, in which a sparse amount of dried out candies were displayed. The shelves on the back wall were packed with a minimal selection of canned or bottled food. The shop smelled of dust and heat.
As her eyes grew accustomed to the lesser light, she saw a grey haired woman, seated at one of the tables in the far corner of the shop. The woman didn’t move. She just sat, staring at Tempe.
Tempe looked straight back at her. Neither broke eye contact.
“We have been waiting for you,” the woman spoke with a gravelly voice. “Come, come sit here with me. I have been expecting you for days now.” She indicated a chair opposite her, while her hand reached for a small copper bell that was on the table in front of her. With a light touch she sent its clear sound through the room. Somewhere in the back of the store a door opened and closed, spewing a large, black woman out, into the interior of the shop. She was carrying a tray with plates of filled mini pita breads and tall glasses of chilled cucumber and yoghurt drinks, which she placed on the table. She acknowledged Tempe with a nod of her head and a wide smile on her face. Then she soundlessly disappeared into the back of the shop again.
Tempe stood transfixed.
“I know who you are and I know why you are here. Come, have something to eat first.” The woman signalled for Tempe to join her.
Tempe’s boots clanked loudly on the wooden floors as she made her way over to the table where the woman was sitting. Shifting the backpack from her back and lowering it to the floor, she positioned it upright against the leg of the table. She took the wide brimmed, leather hat from her head and, placing it next to her backpack, lowered herself into the chair. Only then did she realize how tired her legs and feet were. She sighed deeply and gave herself over to the coolness and tranquillity of the shop.
The woman pushed a plate filled with breads over to her. Without a word Tempe took a pita from the plate and started eating. The woman kept on staring at her but Tempe kept her eyes on her plate of food. As she finished the last of the food, she pushed the plate aside, lifted her eyes and looked at the woman.
“Where do I begin?” she inquired of the woman.
“Here,…with me,” the woman answered.
“I am glad that you are willing to be the starting point. I prefer to begin with the Counterpoint. It creates unnecessary problems and obstacles if the appointed one is not willing to step into place.” Tempe explained.
“I am willing. I acknowledge that there is need for balance and for restoration, as well as for breaking down and removing as there is for building. Do what you came here to do. Do what you need to do. Please, do not delay it any longer.”
Tempe stared hard at the other woman.
“Why is the town so quiet? Where are all the others?” Tempe asked her.
“They are all over at the church. They are praying for respite from the drought.”
“Why are you not with them?”
“I am not part of them. I haven’t been for years. I do not associate with them nor they with me. After many years of battle we came to a stand-off. We let each other be.”
Pursing her lips, Tempe leaned back in her chair, still looking the woman straight in the eye.
“How can you say you are not part of them when you know that you are the Counterpoint?” Tempe challenged her. Not waiting for a reply she continued.
“How can any of you be, if you do not relate with each other? How can you be, apart from each other? To be is to acknowledge and accept each other; to find a way to relate, despite your human limitations. Everyone can only be to the extent that they understand their relation to the whole and become that part.”
A frown settled between the older woman’s eyes as she looked perplexed at Tempe.
She was startled when a sudden gush of wind shook the building and rattled the screen door in its frame. She leaned forward in her chair to look out of the window towards the street.
“Blasted winds! Their scorching heat kills everything that might still try to survive the drought. It has been even worse than before, these last couple of days. Everything that comes in its path just shrivels up and dies. It gets into the smallest corners and deepest crevices. Nothing can escape this hand of death!”
Breathing hard, she leaned back into her chair. Looking intently at Tempe she asked, “So, is there to be some respite for us?” And then a bit more hesitantly, “Is there to be respite for me?”
Tempe closed her eyes, tilted her head to the side as if listening intently. She sat like that for a long time. Minutes dragged by. Then she opened her eyes and said, “Right, so will it be then.”
She reached down to her backpack, opened it and dipped her hand deep into its belly. She brought out a white, paper scroll tied together with a red ribbon. A red, wax seal sat shining on the side of the scroll. She handed the scroll to the woman. With a hand that trembled slightly the woman took the scroll from her.
“What is this?” The woman asked.
“It is the title deed to your land,” Tempe answered. “The land has been reverted back to you. Your position as land owner and community leader is now restored.”
The woman looked into Tempe’s eyes, seeking their depths for traces of deception or mockery, but the only thing she saw was the openness of integrity and honesty.
“No, this cannot be! I made a deal with Robert, many years ago already. I gave the land and the community over to him. I made a covenant with him. You know that a covenant can only be broken by death!” The woman protested. “How can the land be given back to me now?” Her words came through lips that quivered with emotion.
“This is not respite! This is a curse to me! Will I never be alleviated from this burden?” she argued.
“I’m sorry if you feel this is a burden, Sophia,” Tempe spoke softly to her. “But this is about more than just you.”
“I made a deal with him, which became a heavy burden to me. I picked up a rock that broke my back. I have hoped; I have prayed; I have waited to be relieved from this burden. Am I to be denied?”
“This is your relief. This is the answer to your prayer,” stated Tempe.
“How can this be relief? Restoring the land to me would mean more heartache and burdens. I do not want to be restored in my position, nor do I want the land back!” Sophia objected.
“You have asked for respite; this is your relief.” Tempe affirmed. “This is about who you are,” Tempe continued firmly. “You know who you are. You know who you have been for many years. It is time for you to be you again. Take care of your land and take care of your people. Take care of yourself. Bring harmony and unity to the community again. Be the Counterpoint.”
“I don’t want to be me!” The woman screamed at Tempe. “I want to be free from this land and its people! I want to be free so that I can breathe; that I can live! I have been dying out here!
This…place…is…death…to…me!” Her fists emphasised each word as she pounded the table. The scroll rolled over the table and fell to the floor.
Her raised voice brought the black woman back into the room.
“Everything okay, Miss Sophia?” She asked as she walked up to the table. The woman just shook her head and dropped her chin to her chest.
Tempe got up from the chair, picked up her backpack and swung it onto her back. She turned and looked at the woman.
“For years you have been praying to be released from this land and its people. You have been calling for mercy and to be saved from your circumstances. Now, mercy has been bestowed upon you. This is mercy: that the land will be restored and so it’s people. Robert’s hold over the land and the community will be broken this day. Be the Keeper of it. This is where you have been planted. Grow, so that you may live. Restoration is here for you and your bloodline.”
Sophia did not look at Tempe. She lowered her head onto her forearms on the table, as a deep, sorrowful lament broke from her.
Without another word or gesture, Tempe turned away from the two women, walked across the room and out through the screen door to be met by the scorching heat outside. With a firm and even tread she walked across the street, heading towards the once white church building.
Behind her the rumbling of thunder sounded.