I’ve just been exploring some different ideas and forms the last few weeks. I’m still percolating over my next script so I’m playing with short stories.
Because I’m a playwright, I find it very easy to write dialogue. Everything else is pretty tricky.
For the second week in a row, I’ve ended up writing something that isn’t comedy. Sometimes you have to just let the story happen and see where you end up.
The genesis of this story was the idea of a human sacrifice from the point of view of the sacrifice. I used the Mayan culture as a little bit of a springboard but this isn’t supposed to be a real place or a real-time.
The stairs were steep and slick. Aracha knew better than to look behind her. If she looked down, she might lose her balance and to fall would be to die. She was going to die soon enough. No need to rush.
The gods demanded the sacrifice go of her own free will. There were no priests coercing her to climb. At least none the crowd could see.
They couldn’t see the warriors holding knives to the throats of her brothers. They couldn’t see torches ready to burn her parents’ fields. Instead, they saw a brave girl who was giving her own life so to bring rain. She was giving all of them life.
If the rain didn’t come, they would curse her name and claim she had not been worthy. Today, though, they loved her.
She hated them. They were superstitious fools who willingly ignored the truth and allowed the priests to run their lives. Virgin sacrifice had never brought rain. The seasons brought rain.
They could kill a hundred girls and the rain would come. Or it wouldn’t. She didn’t know what caused the draught. She only knew that her death wouldn’t stop it.
Her death would save the lives of her family. That was a price she would willingly pay.
The top of the temple was flat and she paused for a moment to enjoy a view only the priests and their victims would ever see. Two of them waited to “assist” her if needed.
“Assist” meant “push.” No-one had needed to tell her that.
They wore gaudy ceremonial garb meant to remind those below how important they were. Feathers were woven into their hair, fanning out in a halo around their heads. Their robes shimmered in the sun in a way that must have looked impressive from far below.
From where she stood, they were comical. They wore gigantic phalluses over their manhood to impress the worshippers who gazed upon them with misplaced admiration. Were those to please the gods? Or to appease the fragile egos of the men who claimed to speak for them?
She looked into the pit that was to be her final resting place and wondered if there was a pile of slowly decaying bodies at the bottom. With crops dying in the fields, other young women like her had made this same climb almost every week. And the same fall.
The priests had become desperate. The draught was getting worse. The gods were still angry, they claimed. They required greater sacrifice.
Now it was Aracha’s turn. She could at least take comfort that she had no sisters so her’s was the only life her parents would be forced to lose.
And one day it would rain. It always rained eventually. Why was it those fools below couldn’t see it?
The priests looked at her anxiously. If they had to push her, however subtly, the illusion could be shattered. She had to jump of her own free will.
At least it had to look that way.
With a sigh, she stepped to the edge of the pit and looked down. Even in the midday sun, she could not see the bottom. How long would she fall? She felt no shame that she was afraid. Death was a step away.
One of the priests gestured to the pit. As if she had failed to comprehend what she must do.
There was no stopping it. No turning back. No end but this. If this was to be her end, she thought, she would make it a memorable one. Summoning what bravery she could find, she leapt into the center of the pit and plummeted to die in the lifeless arms of those who had gone before.
She was surprised at how much she could see. From the top, it had seemed as if the darkness was reaching up to pull her in.
From the bottom, though, it was the light that was reaching towards her. Holding her up. No, the light wasn’t holding her up. Something else was holding her up. She wasn’t falling.
She quickly realized she was suspended on a fine net perhaps halfway down the pit. It was so fine and so soft, she hadn’t even noticed when it stopped her fall.
“Aracha,” a voice whispered softly, “come with me?”
“Quiet! They believe you are dead but they will check soon enough. You must come with me!”
The pit made the voice echo so she couldn’t figure out where it originated. But she felt a hand tug at her hair. She turned to see a woman about the age of her mother pulling her towards an opening in the rock wall of the temple.
“Come now, mistress! You must move quickly!”
“I can’t see!”
“You can see well enough! No light here!”
She scrambled along the net towards the opening, finding handles fixed to the walls so she could pull herself through. Her savior pushed her further into a narrow rock tunnel and then turned back to the net. Aracha thought she could see the woman taking a small vial from a pouch and sprinkling it on the net.
“What are you doing?”
“I am destroying the net.”
“But they will sacrifice another girl!”
“Yes. And we will build another net. Go on. I will follow you in a moment.”
Ahead of her, impossibly far it seemed, there was a light. She scrambled towards it, suddenly energized by the knowledge she was not going to be dying after all.
The light grew brighter and she could see an opening. The walls were covered in portraits of young women drawn in different hands. Self portraits, perhaps, of all the girls who had come before her.
Emerging into the light, she found herself in a room that should not have existed for it was larger than the base of the temple. There were dozens of women of different ages waiting to meet her. Many of her own age, some she recognized, rushed to embrace her.
“You are here,” they exclaimed,”it is time!”
An old woman approached her and smiled. “Aracha,” she said with surprising familiarity,”I have been waiting a long time. Longer than usual.”
“How do you know who I am?”
“We have met many times before.”
Aracha looked hard at the old woman. She was certain she would have remembered meeting someone so striking and yes, there was something familiar about her.
“I don’t think we’ve…”
“Yes we have met. I have been here for hundreds of years, helping to weave the webs that save the lives of my sisters and keep them safe from the priests. Every spring, they would throw an innocent child down the pit and I would catch her. Most of the time. Then I would make it rain so they wouldn’t sacrifice another one for another year.”
“You make it rain? So the gods are real?”
“Oh no, child. There are no gods. Not gods as the priests would have you believe. There are those who are sensitive to the turning of the season and the lives of the animals. We can convince spiders to weave a web that will save a young girl’s life. We can coax rain from the sky. Or we can convince the clouds to drift away from our lands and take the rain with them.”
“But who are you?”
“I am you. And you are me. I have been thrown down this pit a dozen times and each time, I must wait for you to renew the cycle. Take my hand.”
Aracha had known less fear when she stood on the edge of the pit. Already she could feel the knowledge from her older self reaching out to work their way into her memories.
The reflections of centuries flowed into her head. She watched herself learn how to build a sanctuary between the folds of reality. She watched herself rescue so many women from death by superstition and she mourned each time she failed. She could feel the power that grew each time her reincarnated self joined with the spirits of her past. And she knew what she had to do.
The old woman was gone. And Aracha stood alone, still in the body of a fifteen year old girl but looking much older.
The woman who had rescued her came close and looked into her eyes, searching for the old woman she had known for many years.
She was there and she was not. Each time they joined, the new incarnation of Aracha would be different from the last. This incarnation was braver. She was stronger. And she was tired of the cycle.
“Mistress,” the woman began.
Aracha interrupted her,.“We must prepare, Mischa, for they will certainly throw another soon enough.”
“But can’t you make it rain? Can’t you make them stop?”
“I can make it rain. But that will not make them stop. We deserve to live in the sun. To grow our own crops. To raise our own children. We deserve to be free from this prison I have built.”
“You told me this was a sanctuary.”
“If we cannot leave, a sanctuary is no better than a prison.
“But without rain…”
“They will send more. Yes. They will send more. But it shall not rain. It will not rain until every one of them dies or leaves this place. So prepare, Mischa. There will be many more.”
Aracha looked about the room at the women whose lives were now her responsibility. She allowed herself a moment to mourn.
Her family had been forced to sacrifice her so that they could live. And now she was forced to sacrifice them so these women could live.
It wasn’t fair. But it was the only answer.