A short story to celebrate World Book Day
The mob is coming. They will break down her doors and walls and carry her to Nacimiente Boulevard to hang from the white oak. To rot, crisp and husk in the sun.
Limbs constricting skin pulled tight like grey gloves lips drawing back exposing black gums and loose teeth. They’ll come and pluck those teeth and grind them up in a meal-tin and sell them down the valley to traders who pass through in furs with wild beards and long knives.
She’ll know little but the rap on her door and a tap with the hammer dim jerk on the neck snapping tight so tight.
But this be Gitty.
A woman who lies awake with mad thoughts being possessed and assailed by a hundred demons and as many angels, who stalks outside of her body and hunts through the fieldgrass in the forbidden north and sees The Landlords and their slaves riding stags, hunting men red-mouthed across the flat terraces of the destroyed highlands and she becomes the men and the stags and the swaying clumps, the individual blades of grass themselves as she rises and falls, calling out sometimes on her voyage and passage of greater and wilder insight.
With strange dreams reflected in the orange suns of her tranced eyes she climbs like a bird beyond the house in its rocky upland defile, beyond the wrecked and wretched earth with its rivers of sand and pathetic tribes, into a void packed full of spirits teeth straining like a mad horse in a boiling, gritted hell, wet sweat white against the tight-clamped muscles of her thighs.
The mob gathers before dawn.
Dull scrape of steel in the weary dark.
A cluster of huts encased in a dead cupola at the brow of a small mound located south of where Birmingham once stood; a village called Round Barrow for its circle of stripped bare oaks. The pincushion sky spits the first drops of a second monsoon among the furious throb of cicadas, the lazy flicking of cat tails in the little-stirred dustbowl of the valley. The desert is creeping up from the South, from the Shineland.
Upward climb the mob towards the threat of rain. Above the village and close to the summit where the sun hangs close to a lonely plateau bereft of anything but snakes and a single dwelling flush against the upward slope.
This is the house where Gitty lives.
Outside the lines, beyond the boundaries of the Barrow, visited often in secret by women, taunted by children and despised by men. For a long time the village and she had existed in uneasy alliance for she had the ways to deliver a child. And any community calls for new blood, in the fresh faces to see their own survival.
The mob carries hammers and axes and a rope.
They bay in a soft chant for blood, food for Monech the unslakeable goddess of death, the death of an outsider, the rightful slaying of an oddball nondescript interloper banned from the castes and safety of the village. They come to maim and subdue, to drag a carcass back, to sacrifice another to the hot sun imploring a respite, to let their crops grow and their children be born strong and healthy with all four limbs.
Not like the one she pulled out.
Not like Tiger’s child with his weeping little eyes and misshapen legs and lung fused to his chin who could never even breathe at all, who Gitty never even gave a chance to cry out and crawl across the floor mewling every note. The midwife has murdered her, came the call. Gitty has killed Tiger’s child.
See Tiger Generator wasn’t any old village maid. She was the wife of the fat demagogue who ruled the barrow by force. The son of the chief is dead. Gitty has murdered the son of the Snow Yang.
Snow Yang said:
“The blood needs to run in rivers new before the second monsoon. Time has come to pay. Take the steel and the bone-knives and the razors and the last guns, take the scald-pan and the bleach and the noose. Pull her down from her upside lair and rid the barrow of this whore once and for all. Do this for me my folks and we will have a righteous time of harvest and bull-blood and orgies into the dying night. Do this and the sun will ease back and the rain will fall soft and slight, the green will grow and the oaks will have new leaves again. On a roll now. We’ll feed the roots of the white oak with her blood and, brethren all, she will grow again.”
So they yomp single-file through the narrow defiles of the malformed terraces, the rice paddies put up before the strength of the sun, past burned-out and deserted hovels flush with the scent of rape and murder. Upward still, witnessed by a wire-boned fox with three legs. Up the hill to the very zenith of the summit under a dawn screaming for blood itself.
Tiger tossed and turned, far below on her lissome bed, as the mob split and pincered, separating into a lissajous figure, dual harbingers of the hunt, mad about the sparse scrub straying wildly with their improvised weapons. There were children too with wild eyes like forgotten suns and sharp little teeth bared in anticipation of the spilling of blood. They came at her hut like a pack. Running madly on the still-grey dust, kicking up silent rivulets - rose to settle, hacking at the air.
For in each of their hearts was fear.
Snow Yang was as unseen as Tiger Generator. Morbidly obese he could do little but feed on the spoils on his tribe, ruling them with intellectual savagery and the iron fist of his family. Yet his spirit rushed through the veins of each of them, driving them onward and upward, to the place where Gitty was.
The first thing that quailed them for a flush was the hawk. Riding an invisible thermal from a wind no human could see she screamed out her warning. “That be Gitty’s eyes,” said one. “Come for us, she will, in our beds. Whether we noose her or not,” said another.
It was the westward column that was stopped before they even reached Gitty's house. The interruption to their giddy march was the possession of an illegitimate child. From high marching wooden sword waving splendour to the confines of the ditch growling. She came up spitting redmouthed raging tongues, torn by briars, taken suddenly by some esoteric malevolent spirit marching subterranean through the stricken land with ill, ill intention. This is what she said:
Go back you wastrel fools
She will turn each of your hearts to poisoned waste.
Black will burn your corpses
A burly widearmed man, a survivor of the battle for London, stepped to her with his chipped axe raised against the screams of the father who knew she was not his.
“She has taken the soul of the child.” Someone screamed. And sure enough the little girl’s cheeks seemed to burst with venom as she howled in vitriolic rage at her assailant. Taking up a stick she stabbed him in the stomach as her father reached her and swept her up and away and the man with the axe was restrained, clutching at the spreading patch of blood at his midriff.
“She can take each of us at any time.”
“We should go back right now and pretend we never wanted to kill her.”
“Hush you fool! Her ears are everywhere.”
The hawk screamed from somewhere overhead as the first rays of sun broke over the land. The monsoonal clouds hovered overhead, threatening to break at any moment. One of the vanguard of the eastern column fell to his knees, clutching at his eyes howling pain. So close now they could see the hut shrouded in its little defile they stepped by the man, gaining momentum, hefting and raising their weapons for the siege.
From nowhere came the song of a wolf. A black cloud swept across the sun and as the two columns met there was a peel of thunder that made the earth twitch with its incessant anger, changing the patterns of the dust. Inside the hut, Gitty clutched her face in her hands, felt the urgent calling of the landscape. It could not now bear to give her up.
She who had called the moon in the daytime to dance about the high plane with eyes glowing orange like a madrigal cat. Gitty with her magic hand who could pluck a child like a blackberry from the broken body of a mother in a land with no anaesthetic. She did not weep for herself but for them, for their forsaken spirits, for the hell that would rain upon them. The first axe splintered the tarred timber boards of her door, busting out the hinges in a rain of rotten wood. Shadows of the cave and the mob drew back at the violent stroke, waiting to see what came from within, drawing now with a single breath.
The possessed child in the arms of her father began to gabble in tongues. Help me, help me, do not blame me, save us, save us. She implored the naked ground in a stream of invective. Then darkness swept upon them and it seemed to the mob that faces lunged at them from the black earth with violent rows of teeth and ruby eyes. The rain fell in a tropical mass and from the back of the crowd some ran onto the plateau and were swallowed by the sudden night. The sky boiled, the tempo of the thunder increased.
The hawk dropped and clutched at the eyeballs of the man on his knees and his screams reached out and lashed each of them in turn. Tiger Generator moaned and turned in her bed below.
Those children that Gitty had touched sprung red sores everywhere her hands had been, clapping at themselves like they had been stung by a hundred wasps. A tall figure seemed to stalk among the mob, standing close up against them, whispering foul and cold thoughts into their ears, plucking at them and harrying them until none could remember their task or why they found themselves in this fragile hell of night. It became quickly clear that no dawn was coming for their salvation.
A pack of starving plain dogs poured through, biting lowered hands to rob fingers and carrying away stray figures from the side of the crowd, howling as they went, led by a single white wolf immaculate and pure until he came close enough to see his collar of bones and his plaited mane of bound and broken skulls. Sometimes he walked on two legs and became a brother to the tall man, wearing a great white coat streaked with blood. It is the chaos wolf and brother madness, went the screams.
Gitty came through her broken doorway.
Long afterwards the few survivors, those the grim figures did not take or who were not driven mad by the light that burst from her, who the black earth did not simply absorb in a cannibalistic frenzy, would tell the story of her appearance to the frightened remnants of the The Barrow as the rain beat hard about them for the months that followed and they prayed for the sun to show her face for a single second.
But she did not.