February 1st Place Contest Entry – “The Vine”

Wanna Participate in future 7th Titan contests? Our April prompt, “Fool’s Errand,” is up and ready for your submissions on the Contest page. Submit by the due date of March 15th for a chance to win.

Chris, Kurt, and Abigail had a little in house competition to lead the charge. Our February prompt? “And the Children Shall Lead.”
Abigail took first place for our February prompt with her story “The Vine”

Cawntest-01 The Vine

by Abigail Dunard

Teva didn’t see children nearby, and the masked mothers’ singing was a faraway murmur. Teva kicked off fat-slathered boots, shed her gloves, and set aside the urn. She lifted her mask woven from innocuous dried red root: a feeble substitute for its living counterpart.

This summer’s red root crop was the healthiest in years: a good omen. The boys-made-men would grow strong, her youngest son, Reed, among them. Teva dug her toes into the silt-rich shore: good mud crop too. With good mud she would build the shelters strong, stronger than last season.

Looking out at roots ebbing with the tide, Teva could almost picture the men marching to open water, canoes on shoulders, red root brushing across their chests. In a few days they’d be off to fish, and the island would belong to mud. Mud was her domain.

But Root Ritual came first. It was her seventh and last: her lifeblood had dried years ago. Teva waded into the water, lifting her hemline above the lapping waves. Red root curled around her shins imploring to be picked. She stood among them, soaking in their secret strength.

—–
Teva held the urn by its long handle as if the root inside could hurt her. She sang, “Let the children lead the frail / The strong will be led by men / Let the red root choose my trail / Choose who burns, choose who tends.”

This, I won’t miss. The singing was an annoyance; the precautions were maddening. Teva approached the Shelter of the Un-Mothered. Bixie’s hunched figure shuffled to its entrance.

“Who seeks the wisdom of the Un-Mothered?” Bixie chanted.

“Teva: A daughter born of the root, a mother bearing root.”

“Teva?” asked Bixie, breaking ritual.

Teva heard whispers from the shelter.

Bixie’s voice shook, “For whom do you carry the urn?”

“For my child, Reed, who dies before sunrise. Let the root wake him as a man.”

“Enter and share in our wisdom.”

The room was sweltering, but ritual forbade Teva from removing her mask. Sweat soaked the dried root and ran red down her neck. Teva admired the rafters, the drum-tight bracing. The sight was far more pleasant than the accusatory glares of the gathered women. Not that Teva cared; the shame lay with them. Next year is too early, thought Teva, I have much softening to do before I join this lot.

Finishing the inspection, Bixie returned the root to the urn, never touching it. “This is a mistake.”

Teva felt every eye settle on her. “Is there fault in my offering?”

“It’s not the root, it’s the boy.”

“I have six grown sons. Six times I have tended Men’s Bonfire. All six years I have carried this very urn. I never once used it. I am strong. My sons are strong. Reed is strong.”

“Once your shelters were strong too.”

“I am tasked to choose the season of my son’s ritual. Is the root strong?”

“Perhaps too strong.”

“Morning will tell.” Teva grabbed the urn and ran out.

In her haste, Teva was nearly spotted by a group of children: bad omen. She ducked behind a pine and they passed her unseen. But it was close. Teva would have to take the outer road home, past Children’s Bonfire.

Men stacked logs as Teva passed. They spoke in hushed voices as if the ashes of tomorrow’s dead sons clung to the kindling and hung in the air. On the other side of the island, men stacked logs for Men’s Bonfire, celebrating.

The men crouched, exposing the backs of their necks to her. This, I’ll miss. While the night belonged to the children, free to roam unsupervised, mothers crept like phantoms. To see their masks meant death.

—–
“Wait one more season,” said Uri. Teva’s daughter-in-law had been waiting at the shelter when she returned to cook. Uri rubbed her pregnant stomach, as if she forgot it was there.

She may have, thought Teva as she stirred the tart’s filling. Her fourth attempt and this was the fullest she had ever been.

“As your appointed acolyte, I can say ingredients were spilled or too burnt for consumption. You won’t be accountable.”

“You have a soft heart. That school of yours has softened Reed. He will face ritual tonight. Another season under your care and he won’t pull through.”

Outside drums pounded: the time had come.

“He’ll die,” said Uri, she placed her hand on Teva’s, trying to stop the stirring.

Teva batted it away. “Hold your tongue! You know the strength of my sons.” Teva dropped the spoon and grabbed hold of Uri’s stomach. “Why do you deny my grandchildren their father’s strength? If Reed dies, it is because you have weakened him, as you weaken your unborn children.”

Teva stared at Uri’s frail face, waiting for surrender.

“Reed will die because of your pride,” said Uri, “And more will die crushed under the weight of your shelters. Melba’s twins undergo Ritual next season, her fifth and sixth. She is younger, a better build—”

Teva struck Uri across the face. “Get out.”

“I could say you made a coward’s tart, all sweets, no root. You’d take your son’s place on the pyre.” Her whisper dripped with malice.

“You wouldn’t–”

“Aunt Uri!” Reed had heard the drums. “Kiva says I can’t hug you when I’m a man.”

“Let’s make this last one big,” said Uri. She knelt down and squeezed him around the middle.

—–
Reed snored in her arms. His toes brushed the wall of the ceremonial sweat shelter Teva had built for her firstborn. The shelter was barely large enough to hold mother, son, lump of embers, and uneaten root tart.

Teva looked up through the flue: dawn threatened. Careful not to wake him, Teva lowered Reed to the ground and kissed his forehead. Teva lifted the tart to her lips and took a bite. As she chewed, she willed her aged body to purge the poison for a seventh time. Teva was strong.


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