Fiction: Half Shaman, 4

The Yellow City Dream

I dream.

I’m walking in the mid-day streets of the Yellow City again. I feel the warm dust between my bare toes. The sun’s light is yellow and kind.

In my reality I’ve never been there. The Yellow City doesn’t lie along the Great Parallel.

In my dreams I am there so often that I almost always know how the city got its name.

I’ve only dreamed the Yellow City since I came to the prison.

How is it possible that I can know that in a dream? I wish I had learned more in Shaman School.

Lotor learned about yellow dye from a settler, how to make it from onion-skins. From then on every Lotor-born grew onions and made yellow dye and hundreds, maybe thousands of yellow flags. They decorate every house, every building and every arch in the Yellow City.

Still walking, still in the dream, I turn a corner into a barely busy street. I turn another corner. Still none of the people I usually meet.

These people are always friendly to me even though I am an 8th generation Earth-human, and they are of the unfinished Lotor-kind. Their eyes are mud-brown the same as the mud-brick houses. Their head-hair is sparse and fine and they don’t have eyebrows or eyelashes. They look like walking talking human newborns.

I look for the stallholders and the vegetable vendors. The pharmacist, bag in hand, is nearly always running to save a life. And there are nearly always the water-men. They carry a drum of Lotor’s water on a stretcher and sell the chewy stuff by the spoonful.

Today the clay-brown street is empty and the city is a lonely place.

In the dreams I was getting used to the people. It seems impossible that they are all gone. How long since the previous time that I dreamed the Yellow City? 

Most of the walls are crumbling. The yards they enclose are dusty. They give the impression that the emptying happened quite a while ago.

Abruptly I am pulled upward. My feet lift from the street.

That’s what it feels like. As if someone didn’t like what I was thinking and pulled me out.

I’m flying?

More like sliding. My clothes aren’t sagging down as if I’m in the air. I’m sliding along a thick layer of …?

Bright doors here and there make the empty-city idea a lie. At the opposite edge of the city a stone house sits in a large walled enclosure. A pair of human people, a man and a woman, tend a garden of lush vegetables. Nearby is another stone house, also in a walled yard. A family of human girls keeps a home there under a grape arbor.

They all must be gathered in, says the dream. I need their …

Ahead now there’s a derelict tower, half-painted with a rose tint. The tower, the house at its base and the surrounding yard are empty. The tower invites me in and I glide through a window opening.

I see that the inside of the tower is lined with ten-cubes, the little cobble stones that the first settlers used to keep themselves up off the planet’s surface.

I glide back out and in the direction of the now setting sun I see the backs of the departing population, the Lotor-born, walking somewhere, a column like a river winding among the sand-hills beyond the city. I feel myself among them. Then I hear words.

“Bring along the rest of the fugitives to the …”  

Dark flames engulf the city and are coming to engulf me. Black smoke coils into the red sky. Falling ashes, and then embers, sting my arms and legs, too many to slap away. I scream.

My poor ears. Who is that screaming? My voice vibrates and sounds … sounds just like the trilled words in a totem song? They feel … like a signal?

The sounds join. Become words. Words gang up together and make sentences. A distant voice sings them as they fly by.

Gather up your people and go to the tower. The tower, the house and the walls enclosing the yard are all of settler-stone. From the tower you’ll see the path into the mountains.

I shiver. Lotor had me sliding along a thick layer of Lotor water. I fill in the planet’s missing words. <I need their energy>   <Bring along the rest of the fugitives to the Field of Dreams>

I fight my way down through the jellified water, to ground level.

***

I wake, remembering. To be safe from Lotor’s hunger, the new settlers cut ten-cube stones from Lotor’s waste mountains, and laid the stones in front of their feet until a path was made to a good place for a village.

The pioneers ate and drank and slept on the paths until more stones were cut and floors and walls and roofs and gardens could be built. Eventually nine little towns were built, the roads between them, the tower and a few houses in the Yellow City.

Lotor wove me a dream and almost caught me. Just before the end … a who-or-what burned the dream-net and sang me the path back into the mountains.

I shiver so hard that I’m cold in a minute. I wrap myself head to toe first in my cloak and then also in the blanket, and then scrunch up on the mud-brick bed. The white cell is mud-brick as is the whole prison. There’s no getting away from Lotor in here.

Thayne the Sea Eagle still snores.

Goosebumps ripple up and down my back, not only from the cold. The minute I entered shaman school the warnings began. Lotor sends dreams. She will try to catch you anyway she can.

Every time I dream about the Yellow City, it becomes more real. At the school, the head shaman warned us again and again. “Lotor will get you accustomed to her ideas by repetition,” he said. “The dreams will present an alternate reality you will begin to believe.”

I breathe to quiet my fluttering heart … it was a close call, but in the end the snarky planet failed.

I turn over on the bunk to help my brain turn my thoughts to the who-or-what who has a hundred Earth-born for me to gather up.

According to Thayne, there are half that hundred Earth-born outside right now looking for shamanic leadership. I used to comfort myself with the thought that with only three years training, I’d always be the least of the shamans. When I was taken, the school still had fourteen more suitable to lead.

I roll onto my back. How gather them up, with me in here?

The shadow that is my former self sits like a crow on my back, eating me.

I visualize the reflection of the Ark Ship faraway in the night sky.

The crow tells me the risks. What if you ready every man, woman and child for the event and it isn’t our Ark Ship? What then?

We’ll … we’ll … I don’t know. There isn’t a back-up story. I breathe deep, many times. Begin to hyperventilate. Dizzy in the head. There is no back-up story. There can be no back-up plan.

Meaning, I think after a while, I don’t … I don’t need one? Lotor will take care of us if our Ark Ship can’t?

I will not think that far. I will not.

Fiction: Half Shaman, 3

3: The Ark Ship in the Night Sky

During the night I stand below the window and stare into the quadrant of sky where I was instructed that the Ark Ship might re-appear. I see a speck of light on a regular if speedy trajectory.

My heart lurches. Is it the Ark Ship? I reach up and clutch the edge of the window hole. Can that fast-moving spot of light really be our Ark Ship?

Lightness-of-being fills me: its other name is hope.

It must be the Ark Ship repaired and coming to fetch us! The shaman school had fourteen teachers when I was taken. Are they also gone? I backtrack.

All of them were shamans and therefore, all of them were the Ark Ship’s would-be crew. They were six-year trained and for many years practiced their skills in a theoretical way.

My father died early and I was deemed to be our Ark Ship’s rightful captain by my DNA. Deemed seems to mean as said by an authority. If you ask me, rightful, sounds as though somebody might try to take the job without rights.

But the whole three years at the school, I wondered why the Ark Ship even needs a human captain? At one time I worried about that more than anything. It still doesn’t make sense. The Ark Ship runs itself, right? And if that fast-moving light-point up there is our ship, does that mean it has repaired itself after the mysterious entity’s attack? So why does the Ark Ship need a human to captain it?

My first concern has to be to get free.

There’s a crow living in my belly saying dark things about that escape. I tell it that I am still alive. The crow tells me that I am nothing but a piece of flotsam, a scrap caught in a plot organized by Lotor.

I feel my lightness-of-being start to leak away. Because who am I to hope? That too drains to my feet. Where I also keep my resolve, courage, and every other thing that needs to be trodden down because how else to survive than by rejecting anything that will endanger me?

Any little gleam in my eyes, a laugh, a smile, even a cheerful posture earns me a thump on the head or a kick where it will hurt. Sometimes, when I upset a guard or the administrator, I get the feeling I’m a finger-width from being thrown into the Black Cell.

But look, the dot of light makes another pass. It seems like it travels quite a fast orbit for it to be overhead again so soon. What if it’s the star-ship of some other visitor coming even as we arrived several hundred years ago?

I wait for a sign from the star-ship that will tell me its identity.

Or must it be the captain who begins the conversation? I think I can remember how. As a reward for being promoted into the second year of my shaman studies, I got to talk with the ship. I laugh at my expectations then. I meant to say It’s me, Zjebelle, talking with our Ark Ship.

The Head Shaman shook his head. “We’d be singing for hours. You’ll be J for Jeb. Dash dash dot dot.”

The head shaman had a soft spot for me and I wasn’t afraid to tell him my thoughts. “I don’t want the J for Jeb when the Ship’s sign is dot dash and I don’t want the C for Captain when that is dash dot dash dot. They’d be too similar in a situation of hurry,” I said intersecting a glance of thoughtful surprise between two shamans.

I’d learned about the difficulty of similar call signs … as in being called for dinner … from my mother’s inability to distinguish between Jeb, Jed and Jake when she was in a hurry. She always ended up shouting, “You lot.”

My fellow second-year shamans shuffled their feet like they said, “Get on with it, Harpy.”

Nobody stopped calling me that just because I was in shaman school.

The head shaman had us write our signals in longhand. I understood my stupidity after the first two words, and began again. Dash dash dot dot / dot / dot dot dot dot / dot dash. In longhand, I remember, gaps between letters are denoted by a slash. Giving us thirteen elements to weave into a totem song and which, in a burst of generosity, the shaman choir made the Harpy’s positive attributes. Which felt oh so good at the time. One of my classmates sent his initial letter, the other her crew initial, dash dash dot dash, and both of them were sung with the Meerkat song.

The dot of light does pass again. It doesn’t signal.

I’m disappointed though I don’t know what I should be looking for. If it is dots and dashes, should I be looking for a flickering light?

Stupid. I knock my head against the wall soundlessly, it wouldn’t do to wake the snorer in the adjacent cell. If it is the Ark Ship, its light is only a reflection of Lotor’s star, Procyon B. And, in the same way that the shamans’ signal to the ship must be secret and is hidden in the totem singing, so probably the ship’s signals to us must be made secretly, hidden in ….?

I frown. I don’t remember how the answers came when I was still in the school. If they came. 

But if the ship does still know me, it will be as Z. When I realize that, I also realize that if I can contact the Ark Ship, I’ll be able to ask it anything I want to know, including how the chain of command will work and what the crew, and everyone else, will be doing the whole long way back to Earth. If that’s where we’ll be going …

Sleep on it. That was the head shaman’s favorite vigil for getting in touch with one’s unconscious awareness which, according to that old man, is the repository of ten times more knowledge than the conscious awareness allows its owner. He often said, “Added to which, it’s a vigil we can work at without much extra work, every night.”

I lie down to sleep. 

Fiction: Half Shaman

Trial Book Cover
  1. Vigil

Jeb gulped water. She flailed and splashed, but sank to the top of her head. She hit a wall with her knuckles. Rose. Breathed, big gulps of air. Saw the sky, a round dark disk. No stars. Called. “Help!” Heard a couple of some-ones running away, their feet pounding on the hard dust of the central yard.

She trod the water faster to keep her head above it. Earth water was thinner than Lotor’s treacle-like stuff. The Earth-born ate Lotor’s water from a spoon. She bent her neck. Sucked in cool melt-in-her-mouth water with hardly a scent or flavor.

No cistern-woman would ever tolerate someone dunking in a cistern. Accidental or not, Jeb would be hauled to the magister and sentenced to waste-and-water-carrying for the rest of her time.

But this was a dream. Lucid dream, she’d had it so often. She stayed upright by paddling with her hands, hating the nightly drowning.

The sides of the dream-well tonight were dressed stone. Impossible. Lotor’s thirst for Earth’s water was legendary. Lotor would suck a human dry … say a man wandered home drunk between a pair of villages and accidentally stepped from the stone path … Lotor would’ve tossed aside his husk by the time the man’s friends came looking for him. As a child, Jeb always wondered how Lotor would suck a human dry?

But anyway, real cisterns had seamless metal envelopes inside their extruded-stone walls. How did this water not soak away between the dry-laid stones?

****

I open my eyes. Only while dreaming can I still be Jeb and even that isn’t my real name. I tip my head back to see the state of the day by the light in the window slot high in the wall opposite the door. The sky is grey. Therefore the time is dawn. Can I recall anything useful from the dream?

The fact that everything followed logically could mean something. I am getting better at lucid dreaming?

Clink.

Be still. Don’t move. I listen. I’ve been here for three years and now they put a prisoner in the next cell? Does it mean they have discovered me? Who I am? What I am? During my first week here, guards told me every day they’d be fixing the gap between the top of the share-wall and the ceiling. Nothing was ever done.

Suspicion flares through me. They left it undone purposely. It took them all this time to find the right informant? The gap is about the height of a ten-cube, enough that I hear every move the new prisoner makes. He snores now. Why not before? He snuffles sometimes. Am I meant to think that a guard broke his nose? To make me believe he is not in their pay?

Clink.

That tells me that he is in chains. He’s meant to be dangerous?

I grin silently and ferociously. He has to be dangerous to be next to me. I creep out of bed. Sling my cloak around me and silently slide down to sit cross-legged against the opposite wall.  

“I heard you, you little fake,” the prisoner says.

My cloak slithered down the wall. I laugh silently. I’m pretty sure we’ve never met. I doubt he’d call me names if he did know me.

“You’re the shaman,” he says. “It’s up to you to save me.”

“What?” I’m so astounded that I forget that I’m masquerading as a young man.

“You’re the shaman that people out there are talking about.”

The man appears not to have taken in the girlishness of my voice. I hug myself to hold still my wobbling heart. “I’m not a shaman. I was kidnapped from the school after only three years training.”

 “Half shaman, then. A fake. Couple of hundred of Lotor-born sleep in the right-hand yard. A Field of Dreams is their destination and you know what happens there?”

I don’t say a word of what I know. All Earth-born know Soowei’s story inside out. She who was the daughter of the first Captain-of-the-Ship, saved herself from the first Field of Dreams and told her story to all who came after her.

The man continues without even taking a breath. “The fifty Totems in the left-side yard are here for saving and though I’m not one of them, so am I. They’re saying that all the shamans know the way home and that there’s only the couple of you remaining. Process of elimination, wouldn’t you say?”

My heart rolls over, I swear it. When I was taken three years ago, there were eighteen shamans still in the world. Oh tell me tell me what do someone?

There’s never any answer to such whims, of course. Next time I have a minute, I’ll have to recall Soowei’s story. Might be something in it that I can use.

The prisoner is the griping sort. “Where I want to go too,” he says. “Home, I mean. I picked a fight so I could get in here alongside you. Get you going? If you do nothing, I’ll be taken to the Field of Dreams with the worn-out Lotor-spawn. So get your act together and save us.”

I narrow my mind’s eyes. Him fighting in the Lotor-born yard or in Earth-born yard makes a big difference to my suspicions as to whom he might be. I niggle at his logic. “And if you hadn’t picked a fight?”

“The salt mines. No one comes back from them either.”

With that he tells me he picked his fight among the Earth-born.

Clink. Clink.

 “Something going on outside,” he says. “Damn it, I can’t reach the window.”

Every night I stand below the wide slot in the wall that serves as my window and look up to see the stars. I look for a fast-moving speck crossing the sky. The Ark Ship. Never seen it yet.

To see the exercise yards at the base of the building, I need to step up onto the piss-pot and grab hold of the bars in the slot that stop me escaping. I cling to them while I wedge my elbows into the sides of the blessed width.

The slot’s narrow vertical dimensions are to prevent a grown man crawling through. How would it even help him with the cell not on the ground floor? Never mind, a prisoner’s lot is not to reason why. I push my right toe into a depression in the mud-bricks worn there by every prisoner in this cell since the beginning of time. With my other foot I scrabble for the angle the back wall makes with the side wall.

Spread-eagled, I can see out. “The Lotor-born are being encouraged to rise,” I say. “They that need it are helped quite gently. They are allowing themselves to be marshaled into lines. There’s a soldier doling out hunks of bread.”

 “To chew during their walk,” the prisoner says.

I contradict him. “Their gates remain shut. It seems to me that they are being trained in the lining-up procedure.”

I’m chilled by the sight of the Lotor-born cast out from their villages for being sick, lame, old, and unproductive and being ministered by prison guards. I slide down to the floor. I sit down again, hunching my cloak around me.

“If the guards don’t come to get me in the next three minutes, you’ll have till tomorrow to spare me from the salt mines,” my neighbor says.