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The Voice in the Wind
I laboriously pulled on the lush stem of the carrot plants that sat in rows of four, neatly distributed across our diminutive plot of churned soil.
I gathered my wicker basket filled with an abundance of woody roots and lifted it atop my head. My ebony arms may be thin but they're lightning quick and strong from carrying jugs of water across many lands. I walked as quickly as I could, my linen coral dress swishing behind me, dotted with beads at the trim. Everyone would be dressed nicer today. A boy was becoming of age.
I walked slowly up the hillside behind the guava tree.
A head popped out in front of me, a boy about twelve years old to this day with black beetle eyes and gleaming white teeth that shone like a bright skeletal light.
I dropped my basket in shock and narrowed my eyes. “Dembee!” I scolded with my hand on my hip. “You about gave me a heart attack!”
I looked at his grin, his head upside down poking out of the bushels of leaves as if he was the plant itself.
“What are you doing? I thought they got you on a leash ever sence the ceremony was coming up.” At my pathetic attempt at humor he jumped and landed lithely on his feet.
“Don’t remind me.” He sighed shoving his hands into his pockets. “They’re driving me crazy with all the hold your head high this and don’t slump that. I don’t think I can go through with it.”
I grabbed him by the shoulders and gave him one of those 1,000 degree glares that my mother loves to use. “You can and you will. It’s one night.”
“Dembee!” A shrill staccato voice, as sharp as the crack of a whip called from down the hill.
We spun and I crossed my arms behind my back. I saw the moody hefty figure of Dembee’s mother puff up the slope in her late pregnancy. She looked suspiciously from Dembee to me.
“Amari, what are you two up to?” she asked her hand laid on her stretched-tight, plum-like belly.
“I was just… helping Amari pick up her vegetables.” Dembee lied scuttling after the roots and dropping them in the dusty askew basket.
“And you!” she turned on Dembee, her nostrils flaring; I could see fire blazing in her eyes. “Where have you been young man?! I looked everywhere for you! The town won’t prosper with a village idiot! Why can’t you be more like your brother? And look at that shirt! I didn’t raise you to be an animal!” I could hear her descending down the hillside with her incesent clucking and a sulking Dembee in tow.
A few more minutes of walking and I found myself at the edge of the jungle. The whole of the village stood at least twenty feet away, all terrified of the “Evil Jungle” they refered to it. Many dark things were said to lurk in it's depths. Many dark things they couldn’t quite understand. That could drive a man crazy with a glance. That could eat the largest man in the village whole with a single swallow, like a huge sink hole, you’ll never be recovered. But of course no one tried to find anyone anymore; the men of this village were too cowardly for that. But there was one body they did find. The one body they found that made my life unbearable.
It was early in the morning, when the thick fog rolled out of the jungle and stuck in your throat. It or rather, he was found at the edge of the jungle. The tissue in his face bulged out, he had blisters from heat all over him, swollen up like large pockets of pus, eyes busted and red with blood, poison spikes lined down his back like some kind of cruel thorny backbone, and probably the most bone rattling thing of all, a ghastly smile on that shone distinctly on his face. As if he died happily, almost. But I knew it to be untrue. Any death would be better than that torture. His supposedly happy death had been a trick of the man’s eyes. He was mad, just like all the rest. It made me wonder…what is behind the walls of his secluded village? Do I even want to know? Or do I want to stay here like a respectable young girl of age, where it’s safe, and never know?
Dembee stood in the outskirts of the jungle looking terribly small compared to the looming trees. He glared determinedly into the jungle’s face as if in a silent argument with it.
The prune-like elder took a step forward and waved his staff at him. The man’s eyes closed and his palms reached toward the sky as he muttered unintelligible things under his breath. His body shook like a leaf with the strain and the whole of the village was quite. The elder’s dead eyes opened once more as he place a blindfold across Dembee’s eyes and bound his hands behind his back.
“The Leaving has begun!” he yelled. Even his voice was old and cracked, like sandpaper.
The village watched wordlessly. Time seemed to stand still just for this occasion. Even the birds in the trees ended their songs with a sigh. And then the stillness was broken by Dembee darting into the Evil Jungle, and I watched my best friend disappear, to his death.
As if on cue the village dispersed into their normal activities. Children running through the crowds of chickens making them squawk and waddle away on stumpy legs, husbands manning the market places, women weaved in a huddle group and clucked on about their husbands. It was as if the day had proceeded as usual, as if they hadn’t sent a child into the Evil Jungle. Just another boy of twelve being lost was a common occurrence here. No big deal. But not to me, I just lost my best friend. I looked to Dembee’s family. Not even they looked as fazed as I. Perplexed, yes. Maybe at little downcast like it was a rainy day, but not like they just lost a son to the mercy of the dark creatures in the Evil Jungle. Maybe they have more faith in him than I do, but them again it’s unlikely.
Later that night, when I was lying on my straw mat, I couldn’t take it anymore. I had been tossing and turning restlessly thinking of Dembee as the unidentifiable body. Bulging face, blistered, busted eyes, spiked back, gruesome smile. Over and over again in my mind. It was a film implanted in the soft tufts of my brain to play forever.
A shudder ran through me and I jumped to my feet in overwhelming darkness. It was blacker than black. Blacker than me even. I fumbled blindly around for a moment till I found my torch and lit it. I had to hold a hand over my mouth to keep from screaming for what was in front of me there.
It was the most prune-like creature I’ve ever seen. With thick wiry brows that resembled a brillow pad and milky white eyes staring up at my through a charcoal gray hood.
“Elder!” I caught my breath.
He placed a hand atop my head and opened a toothless mouth. “Just this once.”
I knew at once what he meant. He was giving my permission to go look for Dembee.
I nodded my head, astonished. I’ve never heard of this happening before.
I walked by the light of the torch, a floating ember in the black, oil-like sludge of the night air.
I stopped hesitantly at the edge of the jungle. The distinct scent of the woody bark and the fresh dew wafted out and stuck in my throat. I took a deep breath and walked in, once in it was like a whole other world. The silence o the village no longer screamed in my ear, I could hear hear crickets and rustling, putting me on edge. Vines and brambles snaked along the uneven ground like unembodied intestines. Then I heard something, lumbering footsteps coming closer. This wasn’t Dembee. Not his lithe noiseless footsteps. This was someone or something that wanted very badly to get to me. I broke out into a run,my breath coming in short gasps, in my haste I dropped my torch which extinguished on the soggy ground. I tripped over a branch and fell to the ground. I curled up into a ball unable to keep tears from springing to my eyes.
Hallucinations crowded my mind now that I was in utter darkness. Flashing yellow eyes peering out at me from the dark folds of the world, with needle-like teeth, and claws that could tear my throat out like butter. Monsters with people inside their vast bellies banging their heads against their prison-like rib cage and howling miserably into the night. And then It hit me. It was the men making themselves lose their minds not the monsters.
I got up more confident now and proceeded blindly on, the lumbering footstteps long gone and out of mind. I walked blindly, feeling for trees and thorns. I heard a stick break behind me.
“Dembee?” I asked hopefully. No answer. “Dembee?” I asked more pleading now.
I let out a breath of relief. “Yes. I came to find you. I couldn’t stop thinking about that body.” I admitted, actually smileing to myself I was so relied. After much fuss, I found the tie to the binds and undo it with shaky fingers.
We start through the jungle's dark intestines at a faster pace now without problem. I could see the sun rise leisurely in the sky as we half run half walk back to freedom. At that moment, that breaking point, when the sky explodes in multiple shades of pinks, oranges, and yellow almost made up for the previous horror.
“Look!” I gasped pointing ahead to the slight gap in the trees.
Wind grazed along the tree tops maaking the leaves rustle loudly. It wasn't the usual blistering hot, dry gust of wind. It was as cold as ice and peirced my chest like a dagger. Voices drifted along in it's wake, eerie childish voices.
“Stay. Don't go. We like you here." it said dreamily, through the trees.
The voice in the wind made my skin crawl, like fingernails down a blackboard. Yet, it was strangly comforting, like I could wrap myself in it’s lush velvety sheets and fall asleep.
“Show yourself!” I demanded up at the sky.
There was a thunderous laugh that seemed to come from the core of the earth.
“You can’t see me. I am everywhere and nowhere. I am under your very feet and I am in the air you breathe," it sayed less enticing now. It seemed to detect this and pipes back up again. "I don’t want to hurt you but I’ll have no choice if you leave. You can stay forever.”
“No! I mean no thanks.” I said backing up.
“Don’t leave! You can learn so much more about the world outside! Isn’t that what you wanted?” I stopped dead.
“How’d you know that?” I demanded forcefully.
“You can be so much happier here!” It cried.
“Dembee, we need to go!” He turns to me and blinks, confused.
“I’m not going.” It’s so unexpected that I laugh.
“You can’t be serious.”
“You heard it yourself. I could be free here!”
“So what? Your going to live out here alone? Oh yeah, you’ll have a disembodied voice to keep you company!” I growled.
“Yes.” He crossed his arms stubbornly, something he learned from me.
“Not while I’m still alive and sane!” I roared and barreled him through the jungle.
Branches grappled and tore at me, makeing large gashes in my exposed skin. I pushed Dembee out before a vine wrapped around my ankle and pulled me farther into the jungle. The voice was different now. Instead of an enchanting child’s voice it is practically purring with the pleasure of it's new catch making the ground shake. I thrashed wildly and clung to the spongy earth with my nails. But it wouldn't work, the earth was fighting me.
This is it. They’ll find me in a few days at the edge of the jungle dead. Bulging face, blistered, busted eyes, spiked back.
A hand reached through the veil of trees and grabbed my wrists. The grip loosened and I was propelled onto the soft dirt of the village.
The moment I was out a million birds took out of the trees carrying the wind’s voice in their beaks, screaming for my blood.
Life goes on as usual. After our stories they’ve ended all Leavings. No one will have to go through what we did. No one will have to be consumed or tortured by the Evil Jungle again. Everyday the nightmare of the body slips my mind more. But there’s still only one voice that will stick in my mind forever…and that’s the voice in the wind.