Snowcase #23 • 24 August 2007 • The SnowBlog
Prospero, this next writer's pseudoynm, writes when the spirit take him and shakes him till his teeth rattle. Prospero is afraid of ghosts and suffers a lot from whiplash. He has submitted Family Fortunes, a piece of flash fiction.
On an forgotten rock somewhere in an unremembered sea, a tiny community struggles to survive on what the uncaring waves throw up on their shore. There was no need to call anyone to a Gathering. In a community that survived by using and re-using every scrap of everything until there was no known way of making any further use of it; knowledge was as valuable as seed corn and knowledge of a Gathering spread faster than blight.
Of the one hundred and eighteen islanders all but three were there. Ram Sheepman was near his time and so was Distaff Carder. Her mother would help Distaff deliver the baby. Old age would deliver Ram.
Stoically indifferent to the bitter cold the Islanders stood outside the hut in their family groups eyeing each other with fearful jealousy. Although they relied on one another for their familys skills and although they were bound with bonds of kinship, first blood was the strongest bond of all, and first blood did not extend beyond parents and siblings.
There were no words of congratulation or sympathy for the Carders or Sheepman. A birth was a burden beyond the loss of the two Gatherers, and a death though one less mouth to feed also meant one less pair of hands to glean. As the thought leapt from mind to mind so heads turned to look at the Carvers. Blade Carver stared at the ground in front of him. As family head he bore the stares, although he knew the starers were thinking of his father. Branch Carver had killed his six year old son with a single furious blow when the child had failed to return with his allotted cache. Although the loss of the childs share had been a tragedy for the family, the loss of a Gatherer in his first season, after surviving the difficult childhood years, was much worse. It was not the death that had appalled the Islanders, but the waste. Five years of food and clothes and caring. A few days later Branch disappeared and with him the confusion and uncertainty that had plagued the island since Stones death. Strangely, the sacrifice had restored the islanders equilibrium.
This time it was the youngest family head who entered the hut first. Before it had been the eldest. The wind carried away most of the sound as the groups held hands and offered family prayers for good fortune in the selection. They all knew one family would leave the Gathering tonight and go to their croft and grieve. They all knew one of the eleven tokens was blank.
Inside the hut, in total darkness, Stem Wheatsower took a token and fumbled for the first of the slots in the frame. He slipped the token in and a moment later Shout Hogcaller announced a Three for the Wheatsowers.
The eight Wheatsowers outside the hut immediately moved together to the cliffs edge and gazed down at the wreck.
Huddled together they discussed their strategy as the third family to Gather. As each was only allowed to carry what they could hold in their own arms it was essential they work together.
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