Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Up and Down (04/02/09)
TITLE: Broken Wings
By Ruth Neilson
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The wind pushed the swings carelessly around. Hanna paused just short of them. To even think of taking a seat on one was forbidden, and yet, at ten, she was still drawn to them. Carefully, she looked over her shoulder, then to the left and right. No one was around.
Everyone else in the compound was busy partaking in the communal meal.
Abba had commanded her to fast and pray for the night. She had questioned one of the commandments given by the Guides. Now she was being punished. The swings were calling her.
Her stomach churned as she made her decision.
Hanna made her way the last few steps towards the swings. Tentatively, she grasped the chains, expecting one of the Guides to punish her immediately. Hanna frowned as she tried to remember the Guides' names. There was Atl—who guided the waters; Xipil—who consumed those who were unworthy with fire; and then there was Eztli—who...Hanna shook her head. Eztli had something to do with blood and punishment. She shivered and released the chain.
Hanna knew she would be punished, not only by Abba but also by the Guides for her doubts.
The swings continued to move under the dark sky.
She breathed a prayer and closed her eyes, grasping the chain tightly, expecting Xipil to consume her in that moment. When it didn't come, she accepted the permission and sank onto the plastic seat.
Slowly, Hanna began to pump her legs in a familiar motion, pushing her higher and further. Up...down...up...down... Her long skirt caught the wind and Hanna resisted the urge to giggle as it billowed wide.
Abba always spoke of praying to the Guides, but, she didn’t know how. Did they even hear ten-year-old's prayers? She shrugged, leaning her head back and gazed at up at the stars as her legs went up. Idly, she wondered, which of the Guides made the stars?
Her legs went down, snapping her back and head back up. It didn't matter, though. Her legs slowed in their pumping. Hanna thought she heard one of the trailer doors swing open with a squeal. If Abba or anyone caught her on the swings...the punishment would be horrible. The swing continued to drift, up and down before finally coming to a stop.
Abba had told her to pray, to seek understanding instead of questioning her elders. But, which of the Guides would she pray to? None of them seemed to be who she was supposed to pray to. Maybe momma would know, Hanna realized.
The wind whistled around her ears and Hanna giggled softly as the door slammed shut. No one was looking for her yet. It was probably one of the boys, getting his scriptures for the nightly readings.
In that moment, Hanna grinned and pumped her legs again. She was only ten after all. Things that Abba spoke about were above her head.
The swing began to move pushing her body higher. Hanna held her arms out to the side, the wind making her feel like she was flying. She closed her eyes and imagined that her body kept going up, up, up, until she was surrounded by the stars. Nothing but her and whatever god there was out there.
"Hanna. Hanna!" Abba's voice broke through her solitude. Her trip through the stars stopped as a chain jerked without warning. She was physically flying up...up...up...before falling down, crashing hard on the ground. There was a sickening crunch and Hanna struggled not to cry out. It was her fault after all. A whimper escaped as she tried to cradle her arm close.
Abba loomed over her and leaned down. His large hand grasped her throbbing arm, causing her to scream in pain. With a smooth motion, he yanked her to her feet. Hot tears streamed down Hanna's face, as she whimpered louder. He pulled her closer, and Hanna could smell garlic on his breath.
"Have you learned your lesson?" he growled.
Abba squeezed her arm tighter and snarled, "Answer me. Have you learned your lesson?"
"Y-yes, Abba," she managed. Satisfied, he released her arm, throwing her back down to the ground.
The swings creaked, inviting her once again to come to them. Hanna sat huddled on the ground, staring at the temptation. Eztli had found his punishment after all.
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