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The fiction of S. M. Wheeler
Re: tobacco island (Reply)
Re: tobacco island
2013-08-15 08:45 pm (UTC)
There is a wet snap in the distance; no telling if it’s someone harvesting the crop or a scourge coming down so hard on a back that leather has broken bone. She sniffs the air but it’s too sour with the factory belching smoke to smell either blood or sap. The carcass of a slave can be refined to an energy to live by, but for them that don’t benefit all it serves as is a reeking reminder of the island hierarchy. With the reminder of this, she tells herself that she cannot think long: she has business.
The guard moves easy on long shanks, peers tall enough to see over the grown fields. Her neck, as ever, aches. The rings do not provide all the support she needs, and it has been too long upright and not enough spent with head laid down, vertebrae relieved of weight.
Hierarchies, she reminds herself, and of gifts related thereto. Her mother had quite a lot to say about the mouths of horses and the guard has always been one inclined to bow to matriarchal wisdom. She credits her job performance to her body and thus the ones she works for. The speeches they give to remind her and fellow workers of this are called ‘communal reassurances’. (The snapping in the distance presses at her thoughts. She shakes her ruff and scents the air again. For a cleaner world, she would give much. All of her failings can be credited to the hampering of her senses by filth.)
The snapping is closer. Instinct makes her look towards the disc, that slowly-turning home of the builders and source of all that is large in her world. Besides the usual flow of effluvia from the central sewage outflow, it is still. Too still? The guard would, if freer, investigate. As it is, her path is dictated before her. Still: that breaking among the canes. If it comes a little closer, it will be within her purview and she may investigate without repercussions, allowing she does not interrupt any other work. Her path—her speed—it is behind her; the guard comes to the gates of the cemetery and exchanges brief chatter with the two young day-guards.
Nothing, they report. Nothing and more nothing. They are not very intelligent and she does not know if they mean there has been much nothingness issuing from the graves—a thing bad enough to warrant keeping her weapons in her hands—or nothing at all happening, which warrants a nap. No use, her questioning; they are japes. She sends them away with a snap of teeth.
Duty is at her back, among the unmarked graves and given to scaling the fences twice even her height. Interest—the mighty forgive her—is all for the place she has come from. It occurs to her that the day-guards will be passing and obligated to check the odd noises. Her ruff settles; unclenched, her bottom jaw is underslung, showing her lower canines flush against her upper lip. Her fellows will see to it, and thus comforted the guard reflects on the unpleasantness which will be acquiring pain medication. That sleep will be impossible without them seems unfair. The sugar cane field abutting the path to the graveyard becomes an item to rest her eyes on while she does not watch.
When a swathe of the cane falls forward in a neat row, sliced clean through right at the base, the motion is incorrect: she draws and shoots before she thinks. Everyday annoyances aside, the limited number of actions the builders allow their workers does make her job easier.
Yet—what has done the cutting is not dead: sickles blood-slick and sap-filthy in either hand, it squats in the dirt of the path, its body concealed by a massive mask of wood painted red and black in an animal snarl worse than her own. The arms that hold those weapon-tools are muscled, black. The guard remembers shaking palm fronds, being in her mother’s arm while the women sat around the hut’s hearth and listened to the men make war on the devils outside. In her ears is the pipe, in her muscles the groaning chant. It is festival—it is—And her last thought is of the profound way in which she has transgressed, though in her confusion she does not know if it is for accepting the builder’s contract, for seeing the devil, for all these nights keeping her kinfolk’s spirits in the earth when they would have gone to be breathed by the living.
The devil recovers its sickles from the body of the guard, sparing a moment to peer down into her bewildered face. Her pain is nothing to it, and without regret the thing goes into the graveyard to wake the ghosts with the stamping of its feet that it might lead them down the path in the sugar cane it has hewn. Lungs are wanting breath, and the devil will not lower itself to fight against winded warriors.
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