Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The Reader (04/15/10)
TITLE: I Am Daroushka
By Dusti (Bramlage) Zarse
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Daroushka grabbed her doll of twigs, crawled to the straw tic, and pulled it aside. Her father, thin and gaunt, stood at the window.
Daroushka dug her fingers between the floorboards and pulled, revealing a hidden door. She scampered beneath before watching the world go dark. Soon, she heard her father push the straw tic back into place.
A wet, moldy stench filled her nostrils, and she shoved her doll of cedar twigs beneath her nose. When something crawled over her foot, she clamped her teeth down on her hand to keep from screaming. She hated the hole…but she hated the men more.
They’d taken her mother.
They would take her, Father said, if they knew she existed.
Females were rare.
She’d watched from the woods as men of the village caught her mother outside the hut. They’d beaten her father for “hoarding a woman” and dragged her mother away screaming. Daroushka felt shame. Her father wasn’t a fighter, but he would have gone after her mother if it weren’t for her.
“They’re gone, Daroushka.”
The light returned, and she climbed out of the hole.
“What did they want, Papa?”
At the window, Daroushka saw the sacks of fruit were gone.
“What will we eat?” Daroushka asked.
“God will provide.”
That night, a wounded Fosling (akin to an Earthly deer), died on their stoop.
“But I will sac-sacrifice to You,” Daroushka mouthed as she lay on the floor, reading to herself. “With the voice of thanks-giving; that which I have vowed I will pay. Sal-va-tion is from the LORD.” She ran her finger over the words. “Then the LORD com-man-ded the fish, and it vom-it-ed Jonah up onto the dry land.”
Daroushka looked up and froze as her eyes locked with those of a man in the doorway.
“The man who lived here is dead,” Daroushka whispered, desperately. “I found him dead by the river and pushed him in. I’ve been living here alone.”
He eyed her, taking in her spindly legs and slender form; she knew he was trying to picture her pushing a dead man into the river. “Where’d you come from?”
“You know what the penalty is for this?” The man waved the book in front of her face, and then hauled her out the door. Daroushka prayed her father wouldn’t see.
Past the village, she was forced through the gates of a tall, stone structure. The tattered remnants of a red, white, and blue flag hung limp in the stale air. In the courtyard, the wreckage of the Apollo 25 jutted up from a deep crater. Daroushka had heard the stories. Men from a far away planet had traveled here, only to lack the fuel to return home. That had been three hundred years ago.
“We caught her with this.”
Daroushka was shoved to the floor before the king as the man tossed him the book.
The king stared.
Daroushka prayed that death was painless. No one was allowed to be a Reader except the King’s Counsel. Her father had broken the law by teaching her.
The king’s bark echoed through the room, and Daroushka felt herself propelled to her feet and thrust toward him. Then the king summoned his Readers, who came bearing a large, faded book. He ordered them to read from the first page.
“It says, ‘The Readers are the Magi of the land,’ my lord.”
The king frowned. He nodded to Daroushka, telling her to read it.
Daroushka stepped forward, her voice shaking as she sealed her fate. “ ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…’ ”
The king slammed the book.
The Readers smirked.
The king stared. “Their eyes look, but they do not read,” he murmured. “I had thought so. Tell me, Daroushka—” a hush fell over the room— “do you know the story of this…this Gawd?”
The Readers objected, but the king silenced them with a glance.
Daroushka prayed for the words.
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